Asteroids Movie Gets Another New Writer

Posted on November 16, 2012

Jez Butterworth has been brought on to rewrite Universal’s film adaptation of Asteroids.

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 previous posts about the Asteroids movie here.

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…

Asteroids’ Ed Logg Honored With 2012 Pioneer Award

Posted on February 07, 2012

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.” [1]

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.” [2]

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.

[UPDATE]

Watch Gamespot’s video of Mark Cerny presenting Ed Logg with the award.  It begins at 36:35.

LINKS!

AIAS website: http://www.interactive.org/
AIAS twitter feed: @AcademyIAS

[1] Excellent Wired.com article on Ed Logg
[2] AIAS press release about the award
Excellent article on Computer Space at Technologizer.com

Asteroids Movie Gets New Writer

Posted on November 12, 2011

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 Releases Asteroids: Gunner for iOS

Posted on November 10, 2011

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

Barcade Philly Opens, Brooklyn Turns 7

Posted on October 10, 2011

 

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.

 

Asteroids Movie Still Seeks Director

Posted on September 15, 2011

The folks at Collider.com interviewed Roland Emmerich at the Toronto Film Festival the other day, and learned that he’s passed on directing the film adaptation of our beloved game.

It was reported several months ago that the king of apocalyptic blockbusters (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) had been offered the spot, but apparently he’ll be shooting Singularity next, about the moment when the evolution in technology surpasses biology… and starts governing California. Clearly he underestimates the magnitude of a vector-based triangle shooting vector-based polygons. Anyway, we hope someone of equal cinematic genius (for real — we’re fans) will eventually fill the spot.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers 2Imagine ThatG.I. Joe) is producing the picture at Universal Studios, with Matt Lopez (Race to Witch Mountain and Bedtime Stories) as writer.  Read more here.

Read the Collider interview here.

Asteroids Coming To Game Nation Theme Park

Posted on August 23, 2011

In May, 2010, some folks announced their plans to create Game Nation, an experiential video game theme park and resort. They’re still working out details like the park’s location, but they just announced licensing with Atari.

“The possibility of having great classic games like Centipede, Asteroids and Missile Command made into fully interactive rides and attractions would certainly be a global success,” announces Game Nation’s website.

Now if they include Atari’s Roller Coaster Tycoon, things could get pretty meta.

Classic Games Adapted For Stage In “Theater Of The Arcade”

Posted on August 10, 2011

For decades, Atari Asteroids has been calling out for dramatic adaptation, and Jeff Lewonczyk has responded with his play, “Theater of the Arcade.” The work is five scenes inspired by classic video games, each written in the style of a different well-known playwright.

The official synopsis reads: “A violent brute holds an innocent young woman captive and attacks anyone who dares approach. A glutton eats everything in sight while running away from the ghosts that haunt him. A lone survivor forges a peril-ridden path towards a lush refuge he can never reach. Are these the plots of classic video games, or are they searing narratives of modernist drama?”

The Asteroids scene is entitled “Magdalene Magellan Mars,” and channels the voice of David Mamet. “Theater of the Arcade” was originally part of the 2010 Game Play festival, and is about to have its second staging in the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, with 5 performances from August 13-27.

We spoke with Jeff Lewonczyk to find out more.

Atari Asteroids: What was your inspiration for Theater of the Arcade?

Jeff Lewonczyk: The Brick has been doing this video-game theater festival called Game Play for the past few years. Early last year, when we were discussing programming for the second (2010) edition, I casually blurted out that I thought it would be fun to do a play that actually treated the narratives of old-school video games as if they were the stuff of serious theater. Gyda Arber, the festival’s producer and curator and a good friend, immediately volunteered to direct it if I were ever to write it. So I kind of did it on a dare to myself.

As I worked more on each of the pieces, I grew more and more intrigued by what went into developing something essentially non-narrative into a story format. In order to make it work to the fullest extent, I realized that each of the plays needed to have an analogue in the theater world, and so I ended up using each game to parody a specific playwright with a highly recognizable style. The result ended up being a weird hybrid, which satisfied both gamers and theater fans, but in very different (though often highly overlapping) ways.

AA: What drew you to the games that you ended up adapting?

JL: Mostly, they were the games I grew up with. I was never a skilled gamer per se, but I had a friend who had an Atari 2600, and going over there and playing it – or, more likely, watching him play it – was like a window onto another realm. Also, these games were just in the air at that time, pop-culture wise – cartoons, cereal, novelty music, you name it. I was always attracted to the iconography of those early games, and they retain a high nostalgia value for me. However, I think a reason I found myself drawn to adapting those, as opposed to later-generation games, is that they’re wide open to interpretation. Like, what kind of story is Pac-Man, really? Who the hell is this yellow guy, and why is he consigned to a haunted maze where all he can do is run around and eat? Or take Asteroids – who exactly is flying this ship, and why is he (or she?) trying to blow up all these space rocks? There were a lot of possibilities.

AA: What can you tell us about the Asteroids play, “Magdalene Magellan Mars?”

JL: Well, I don’t want to give TOO much away, since we’re about to open in a remount of Theater of the Arcade at the New York International Fringe Festival on August 13, but I will say that it’s about the question I asked above: who’s flying these ships, and why? It’s essentially a power struggle between two pilots, an old pro and a younger hotshot, who are both called in for questioning to find out which one of them is shirking his duties and not blowing the asteroids into small enough pieces. There’s also a sexual element, since the interrogator is female, and there hasn’t been a woman on their base in years. Excitement!

AA: And what’s the connection between Asteroids and David Mamet?

JL: The truth is, it took me a while to fall into that combination. I had known from the beginning that I wanted one of the pieces in the show to be one of the outer-space games, but I couldn’t decide between Asteroids, Missile Command or Space Invaders. When I started thinking about playwrights, I realized that Mamet would be a great choice, since blowing things up is an inherently masculine activity that brought to mind the testosterone-fueled real-estate world of Glengarry Glenn Ross. The clincher for Asteroids, though, was nearly abstract – Mamet’s intentionally choppy and fragmented language reminded me of the ever-smaller pieces of detritus that result from blowing up asteroids. The combination of fragmented space rocks, fragmented language, and the fragmenting of human beings when they’re isolated on a remote base on another planet destroying things for a living all came together into a single storyline.

AA: Brilliant. Now beyond your background knowledge, growing up around the Atari 2600 and reading plays, what sort of new research did you do in creating this piece?

JL: I played the game online quite a bit, and I read up on its history via Wikipedia and a few other gaming history sites. The truth is, though the piece is riddled with references to the game play, there were some things I wasn’t able to incorporate without being awkward or contrived. The UFO, for instance, doesn’t make an appearance, nor does the hyperspace function. I definitely had some purists grouse about that to me after the show, but what can you do? It’s a work of fiction – sometimes you need to sacrifice details for the big picture.

AA: Have you done anything else like this play?

JL: Not exactly. Everything I’ve ever worked on has had elements of pastiche, but not to the extent of doing direct parodies of existing playwrights or adapting existing entities into a new form like this. Still, I’m in love with the idea of reinventing the things we see in our culture and the world into new terms and seeing where the transformation leads, and this show definitely falls into that. I’ve had people suggest that I could just keep churning out short plays based on games, but I feel like I’d run out of truly archetypal games rather quickly, and that it would lose its luster fast. That being said, I do still kind of want to do Space Invaders as a big musical dance number, or a Shakespearean Joust, or – and this is the one that I actually spent a while trying to accomplish for the original run – a Chekhovian take on Tetris. So maybe I’ll return to the idea at some point – only time will tell.

Discovery Bay Games Makes Official Atari Controller

Posted on August 04, 2011

Two months ago, the WSJ causally mentioned that Discovery Bay Games was developing a controller for the Atari’s Greatest Hits app on iPad. There was no other mention of this anywhere. Yesterday, Discovery Bay Games issued an official press release, saying that, yes, they are in fact developing the device in official partnership with Atari.

Seattle – August 3, 2011 – Discovery Bay Games is pleased to announce it has partnered with Atari, a global creator, producer and publisher of interactive entertainment, to develop, manufacture and distribute a gaming accessory to work with Atari’s Greatest Hits App for iPad.

“With over three million downloads to date, the ‘Atari’s Greatest Hits’ App is already popular among gamers worldwide. We’re eager to build on this success,” said Craig Olson, CEO, Discovery Bay Games. “We believe our partnership with Atari will enable consumers worldwide to build upon an already amazing retro-gaming experience.”

“There’s significant opportunity to add more value and take ‘Atari’s Greatest Hits’ App to an entirely new level with an analog controller, and we’ve turned to Discovery Bay Games to do exactly that,” said Lee Jacobson, SVP of Licensing, Atari Inc. “The controller will deliver a true mobile arcade experience, complimenting classic titles including Centipede® or Asteroids®.”

 

iCade, Vectrex Got There First

Posted on July 27, 2011

There’s been a flurry of geekblog talk about the iCade cabinet for the iPad, which will turn your Apple device into a bluetooth-controlled mini arcade. But almost 30 years ago, a group of folks near Boston built the Mini-Cade to house a Vectrex.

Only seven exist.  The Vectrex Museum has the full story here.