It turns out that Eddie Izzard’s all-time favourite computer game is Asteroids.
He recently told The Guardian, “I was king of Asteroids back in the day. I’d play one game for an hour-and-half and get scores of over a million.”
He described his experience to Chris Hardwick (also an Asteroids fan) on The Nerdist podcast in 2014:
“It was so odd, because I was… at first year at university, and the people– I would go to the next door halls of residence, where I wasn’t known at all. Not that I was very well known in my hall of residence. And I would get on the machine, and people would talk about me as if I wasn’t there, ’cause they thought I was part of the machine. Like I’d become part of the machine. They’d kind of go, ‘God, it’s really weird. Yeah, that’s all he does… Look at the number of space ships.’ And they were sitting right next to me doing that, and I just thought, this is weird.” (Nerdist podcast #513 at 1:09:22).
But wait, there’s more! The comedian, marathon runner, and future mayor of London, also has a real asteroid named after him: 2002 RY237 is now officially 196000 Izzard. Visit JPL’s database for details.
“Successful Asteroids play requires a Zenlike diffusion of concentration, in which the player sees everything but looks at nothing in particular.”
This insight was written by David Owen in the February, 1981 issue of Esquire magazine. His article, “Invasion of the Asteroids,” is some of the finest reporting we’ve ever seen, documenting the game at the height of its popularity.
The story starts out in the video arcades of Manhattan, where the expected crowd of teens is joined by professional men in suits, who regularly forgo their lunch break for a chance to play Asteroids. The author then makes a pilgrimage to Atari HQ in Sunnyvale, California, and speaks with Lyle Rains (V.P. of engineering and the man with the idea), Ed Logg (the programmer who made Asteroids what it is), Howard Delman (head of engineers, who designed the game’s printed circuit board and created its sounds), and others.
The trip ends with a glimpse of Asteroids Deluxe, still in development at the time, and being tested at a local arcade.
David Owen’s voice is that of a fan and Asteroids purist, who understands the nuances of the game. He has gone on to have a prolific career as a journalist and author, including five books on golf — perhaps there is some connection between the games?
In any case, this article is a fantastic snapshot from the time when an Asteroids machine could be found on every corner. The article was just put online by Alex Belth at The Daily Beast: read it here.
In addition to running this website, your humble blog host likes to tinker.
This past summer I had access to a laser cutter, CNC router, and some creative technology experts in New York — so I decided to learn some new tools and make a desktop Atari Asteroids controller running an arcade machine emulator (MAME) on a tiny Raspberry Pi computer. All you need to provide is power in and audio/video out.
Read the full write-up on my personal site for a walkthrough of the fabrication, plus design files.
And for anyone looking to build an Asteroids control panel, here’s the image I traced from an original:
Extremely Decent beats Hollywood to the punch.
Just when we thought there couldn’t be anything cooler in the world of Asteroids, there’s this:
It’s Human Asteroids, a project by Two Bit Circus for their proposed STEAM Carnival, designed to turn kids on to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
Human Asteroids uses a Microsoft Kinect to track the player in a rolling chair, who becomes the spaceship. Asteroids are projected on the ground with lasers, and the player fires with a smartphone.
The player in the video is Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari.
The STEAM Carnival has a Kickstarter campaign going until midnight on June 2, 2013. If successful (and at the time of writing, they’re close), they plan to take the Carnival on the road at several major west coast American cities.
[UPDATE] This story has been making the rounds today, and Two Bit Circus has just passed its fundraising goal of $100,000, with two days still to go.
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.