People have been posting technical videos about Atari Asteroids on YouTube lately.
Here are (1) an arcade Asteroids Y-vector test point hooked up to an oscilloscope, (2) a short clip of an Asteroids machine with a vector glitch, and (3) a page-turn review of an Atari Asteroids operations manual and schematic.
Here’s the goal: having an Asteroids arcade machine at home, with authentic electronics and true vector display, but which isn’t the size of a refrigerator. Jürgen Müller in Hamburg, Germany, has built just that.
His half-scale Asteroids cabinet uses an original Asteroids game PCB and 9″ vector monitor from a broken Vectrex, housed in a custom-built cabinet. He also built a custom XY driver circuit to bring the Vectrex display up to the drawing speed required by Asteroids.
The project is well-documented on Müller’s website: http://www.e-basteln.de/asteroids/asteroids_intro.html
[UPDATE] We’ve gotten word that the on-site Internet connection may be spotty, but check back though out the weekend. Search for Bruce Glick Asteroids on Twitch. We’ll post a direct link once we know it.
[UPDATE 2] The direct link is http://twitch.tv/bruceasteroids.
Glick is working up to a world-record attempt. He’s got his eye on John McAllister’s 2010 high score of 41,838,740, although beating it won’t be an easy feat. Before that, Asteroids was the longest-standing unbeaten arcade game record, set in 1982 by Scott Safran.
But Glick isn’t just doing this for personal glory. He’s doing it for the kids. We spoke with him to find out more.
Atari Asteroids: How did you first come up with the idea for this marathon session?
Bruce Glick: I guess it was just a natural progression. I needed to do something in a live setting and I want the experience before I make the attempt at the record.
AA: Why is a live setting important?
BG: It’s the way Scott Safran did it back in the day, and that’s how it should be done now. Too many people are doing these exclusively on the internet. Takes the coolness out of it. Plus there’s way more pressure.
AA: Last year, you completed a 36-hour-straight session where you scored 18,000,000. What was that like?
BG: It was awesome! Never attempted anything like this before. All my neighbors and some friends came over at different intervals to watch and cheer me on.
AA: How have you been preparing for this upcoming 48-hour session?
BG: My actual game play is sporadic due to my heavy work load. When I do play it’s more for an hour or two at a time, working on technique and reflex. My real training has come in the form of exercise for physical health. I felt this was extremely important for me. I was definitely overweight and not in the best shape. I am proud to say since October 30th I’ve lost 40 lbs and exercise regularly.
AA: I hear you’ve gotten involved with the McKenna Claire Foundation for this event.
BG: The McKenna Claire Foundation raises money for pediatric brain cancer research. I figured if I’m going to do something that’s going to attract attention and people will be watching, then I might as well make it worth-while. They have made a huge impact in our town, and it’s for a great cause.
I met with Dave and Kristine Wetzel [the foundation’s Co-Founders and McKenna’s parents], and they were nice enough to give my wife and me a jacket with the MCF logo on it. I will be wearing it in the morning during my runs. It is very inspiring to me.
AA: It sounds like kids’ health is very important to you.
BG: Yes, it’s the future of our country. “The Biggest Loser” has really touched on the subject this season. The fact that video games are being blamed for a large portion of the epidemic doesn’t sit well with me. I know it defiantly plays a part in it.
I want to show kids that doing something like a 48-hour marathon actually takes physical training and good health to achieve. Kids shouldn’t spend countless hours gaming. Even when I was a kid and we had our Atari 2600 and our local arcade we still rode bikes, skateboards, built forts. We did stuff.
AA: You have your own Asteroids machine. What other arcade games do you own?
BG: I currently have two Asteroids machines, Gauntlet 2, Galaxian, Missile Command, and a MAME system (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator). It has pretty much every game you can think of plus all the ones you forgot about.
AA: What do you look for in an Asteroids machine, for an event like this?
BG: I just play it and if she’s smooth it’s good. These games are so old they’re either in good condition or they’re not. One thing to consider is the PCB basically the heart of the game. If the PCB looks good no cracks in the solder, no blistering of capacitors or burn spots any where then it’s probably good. It’s really just luck to get one that works well.
The machine that I will be doing my 48-hour on is the biggest piece of crap ever. Seriously it’s embarrassing how messed up it is. The reason I play it is because its internals are nice. It’s basically the Millennium Falcon.
AA: So what can people expect on February 8-10? If they’re in the area, can they stop by Mama’s?
BG: Yes, yes! It’s open to the public — it’s a live forum. I will have all my games down there for people to play so anybody, even McAllister, could roll up and go head to head with me. Mama’s has great service, food, and atmosphere. They have a nice bar and big screens for watching your favorite sporting event. Anybody is welcome to walk up and talk to me. I may not be able to make good eye contact but I will definitely be able to answer any questions anybody has or just talk about whatever.
I don’t know if McAllister has seen your site or knows anything about me, but it sure would be cool if he was in the area that weekend. I would love to meet that guy. He is a legend in the vintage video game world, and if anybody doesn’t know, the current world record holder.
AA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BG: Just for the record I’m not looking for personal notoriety. I just want to raise money for the foundation and play my game. It’s really not about me — it’s about everyone else involved. Without all the great people that have been helping me I wouldn’t be answering these questions or doing the 48-hour at Mama’s. Generating interest in vintage games is always cool though.
This news comes one year after Evan Spiliotopoulos succeeded Matt Lopez as scribe. Will Butterworth be able to finally boil the game’s complex story down to a screen-worthy script?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura is producing.
Read the recent Variety article here.
[Update] The AV Club has a good write-up here. Harold Pinter was Butterworth’s mentor. If only di Bonaventura decided to make an art film…
On Thursday, (Feb 9) the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) will present its 2012 AIAS Pioneer Award to Ed Logg, the man who created Asteroids as we know it.
Some history: In February of 1962, several programmers at MIT created Spacewar!. At the time, it was only available to those few with access to a massive computer, like university students. But nine years later, Nolan Bushnell brought the game’s idea into the arcade with Computer Space, developed at Nutting Associates. He and Ted Dabney took their proceeds from the game and founded Atari, which took off with Pong (1972).
Ed Logg had also played Spacewar! while studying at Stanford’s AI Lab, and followed his interest to Atari’s arcade division by the late 1970′s. His first completed assignment there was Super Breakout in 1978.
He ended up in a brainstorming session with Atari executive Lyle Rains. A follow-up to Computer Space had been shelved long before, due to rights and other issues, but Rains now wanted to resume work on a new spaceship shooting game. This time, instead of shooting another spaceship with an asteroid as incidental debris, the asteroid would be the focus.
Logg suggested using a high-resolution vector display instead of the standard televisions used in other games, which would allow for increased speed and precision. He also introduced greater complexity than Asteroids‘ predecessors. “Computer Space has a pattern,” Logg explains. “You just go through it and you keep running through it.” 
Pong had variety in its play, but simplicity in its controls. Computer Space had more complicated controls, but simple play. Logg thought it would be fun to put the two together.
Logg says, “I play a lot of the games in my mind long before I ever write them because you have to get all the interactions down pat before you can start programming.” 
Mark Cerny, Atari colleague, friend, and presenter of Thursday’s award, recalls, “What I learned from Ed was that creating the fun of a game did not require complex algorithms as much as it required the right approach… it was putting all the proper features in the game in the correct order. Of course, you needed an amazing intuition as to which were the ‘proper’ features, that was the difficulty in replicating Ed’s strategy!”
During Asteroids‘ development, other Atari employees would wait for Logg to go home, to get a chance to play. Asteroids was released in 1979, and has gone down as one of the most successful video games of all time. Logg clearly got it right, because the original is no less challenging, fun, or elegant over 30 years later.
Logg will be the third recipient of the AIAS Pioneer award. The Academy says, “As an innovator, game designer and programmer, Ed’s work contributed to the creation of some of the most iconic entertainment properties – including Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet – arcade games that continue to shape the way that modern games are designed today.”
The awards will take place during the DICE conference in Las Vegas, and will be streamed live on GameSpot.com beginning at 7 PM PST. They will show a short video segment with interviews on his career.
Watch Gamespot’s video of Mark Cerny presenting Ed Logg with the award. It begins at 36:35.
After two years in development at Universal Studios, the Atari Asteroids movie has a new writer: Evan Spilotopoulos. He recently worked on next summer’s Snow White and the Huntsman (watch the first trailer here), and past credits include a number of Disney animated sequels and prequels.
Read the Hollywood Reporter story here
For more about the Asteroids movie: www.atariasteroids.net/archives/tag/film
Atari released its latest official version of Asteroids today — Asteroids: Gunner, for Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Experience the next evolution in the legendary Asteroids franchise!
Blast your way through deadly asteroids fields and alien war ships to become the most wealthy and powerful Gunner in space history. Work your way to the top of the gritty crystal mining business by traversing through the galaxy and collecting the treasures of the cosmos. Upgrade your ship as you climb up the intergalactic ranks and become a force to be reckoned with!
Asteroids made its arcade debut in 1979, and was followed up by Asteroids Deluxe and home game console versions (Atari 2600 etc). Atari all but disappeared from the scene for a while, but returned with revamped versions of their classic titles starting last year. Asteroids Online for Facebook was among the first, now followed by Asteroids: Gunner for iOS.
We first heard about this title in September, when the Edmonton Sun ran an article about local Canadian game company Fluik being commissioned for the job. “[Fluik CEO] Rubba was headhunted by Atari after they played his game Gunner Galaxies — starring a spaceship-piloting chicken who also blasts incoming asteroids — at a conference earlier this year.” Rubba sounded psyched to work with Atari.
Asteroids: Gunner is similar in concept to Asteroids Online, but simplifies the sprawling universe to just 3 galaxies, and many ship options and variations to three (the original Dart, the heavy-duty Bomber, and the robust Miner). The plot is also slightly revised: instead of working for the good of your mining company, you’re out for personal wealth and glory (plus, saving the Earth).
Both are more complicated than Asteroids (1979), where you are a polygon destroying other polygons.
The initial download is free from the iTunes App Store, and you accumulate in-game wealth from mined minerals for certain weapons upgrades. You have one ship and access to one galaxy. Further ships and galaxies can be purchased for the price of an average game, and there are online networking options.
The game play is fairly simple. The ship is locked in the screen’s center; one thumb controller scrolls the background, and the other is shooting plus aim. Unlike a lot of modern Asteroids clones, the graphics are sharp and uncluttered. And rather than a driving heavy metal soundtrack, the score has soothing Native American flute-like sounds with and a background beat.
In-game bonus items include gold, health restoration, and extra shields which function like a flower in Super Mario Brothers or power pellet in Pac-Man. You can also customize extra weapons, but again, they have a simple, straight-forward interface.
The game scales nicely, and is a pleasure to play on both iPad and the smaller iPhone (unlike Atari’s Greatest Hits, where some titles like arcade Asteroids are impossibly small on the iPhone/iPod — although it’s great otherwise). Of course, we’d rather have a beautiful, clunky vector screen, but you can’t carry that in your pocket.
Official Atari Asteroids: Gunner page: http://www.atari.com/games/asteroids_gunner/ios
More on Atari’s Online and Mobile strategy: http://www.atariasteroids.net/archives/457
Good times for east coast Barcade this week!
The original Barcade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn opened seven years ago, and will be celebrating its anniversary on Thursday, October 13. But bigger news is that the third location just opened on Monday (today!) in Philadelphia. It houses Asteroids Deluxe, along with a whole slew of other classic arcade games and good craft beer. This follows on the heels of a Jersey City Barcade opening this past April, so if you’re meandering through the tri-state area with too many quarters and not enough pints, you know where to go.
Visit the Barcade website for more information about all three locations.