Asteroid Buzzes Earth on Tuesday!

Posted on November 06, 2011

On November 8, 2011, an asteroid named 2005 YU55 (hereinafter referred to as “Yolanda”) will pass .85 lunar distances from the Earth — closer than the moon!  It has a 400 meter diameter, the size of an aircraft carrier, and is dark and nearly spherical.  [Click the image above for an animated view of the asteroid’s path].

At its closest, Yolanda will be visible from the Earth’s southern hemisphere.  Officials are employing one of the coolest-looking telescopes — Arecibo, star of “Goldeneye” and “Contact” — to create an extraordinarily detailed image and 3D model of the asteroid as it zips by.

Yolanda is classified as a “potentially hazardous object,” but it will not hit the Earth or moon.  The only defensive action being taken on Tuesday is the introduction of Tobii Technology’s new eye-controlled version of Asteroids at Dave and Buster’s in Times Square.  Read that story here.

The next time an object will pass this close to Earth (that we know about) is 2028, when asteroid (153814) 2001 WN5 will pass to within 0.6 lunar distances.  In the mean time, we recommend that you find your nearest Atari Asteroids arcade machine and do your part.

NASA Near Earth Object Program page on Yolanda:


Monochrome Game Design: Parallax

Posted on November 03, 2011

Zi Ye and Jesse Burstyn at Toasty Games (well, actually they are Toasty Games) are developing Parallax, a new game with a sharp black and white design.  From their website:

Parallax is an interdimensional platforming and puzzle-solving game. The goal in each level is to reach the exit by travelling between two overlapping dimensions through rifts. Parallax challenges the player to think beyond the spatial boundaries of traditional platformers.

What caught our eye is the minimal, black and white design.  Parallax’s creators told ars technica that they tried out more realistic shaders and colors before settling on this scheme.  “It’s a striking, bold look, and fits the game’s play brilliantly.”  And speaking to DIYgamer, “We think this gives Parallax a rare level of visual cohesion.”

We here at don’t pay much attention to new (post-1979) games outside the Asteroids family, and even then, we mostly admire the elegant minimalism of the original.  But we tip our hat to Parallax.  It’s not being retro, visually busy, or cute.  It’s a product of 21st century computing.  But it boils the visuals down to simple lines, and in doing so, manages to create a rich, three-dimensional world with a timeless feel.  We look forward to playing it!

Ye and Burstyn have just submitted a beta demo of Parallax to the 2012 Independent Game Festival (IGF).  Follow Parallax Game on facebook, Toasty Games on twitter, and visit their website.  Watch the IGF trailer below.

NASA Survey Finds Fewer Asteroids Near Earth

Posted on October 20, 2011

Observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveal that there are fewer near-Earth midsize asteroids than originally thought (link).  It seems the photon cannons are working.

WISE is also searching for the origins of the dinosaur-killing asteroid.  NASA’s caption for this artist’s rendition reads:

Scientists think that a giant asteroid, which broke up long ago in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, eventually made its way to Earth and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Data from NASA’s WISE mission likely rules out the leading suspect, a member of a family of asteroids called Baptistina, so the search for the origins of the dinosaur-killing asteroid goes on.

But check out these actual pictures taken by WISE.  Stunning.  A wide-field infrared imager is the way to photograph space.


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 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.


Robot Spaceship Arrives at Giant Asteroid! (Real)

Posted on July 16, 2011

Almost four years ago, NASA launched the robotic spaceship Dawn toward the asteroid belt. In the early hours of Saturday morning (July 16, 2011), it reached its first destination: the GIANT ASTEROID / protoplanet, Vesta.

Dawn will use its photon canon to blast Vesta into small pieces, and then smaller pieces, until it is completely vaporized.


Dawn will actually spend one year in orbit, checking out the asteroid with a visible camera (taking 3D pictures), a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. Then it heads off to the icy dwarf planet Ceres, where it will hang out doing the same thing from February to July, 2015.

The robotic spaceship uses an ion thruster propulsion system burning Xenon fuel, like the one NASA used on the Deep Space 1 mission. We are not making these words up, people! Read that sentence again. This is the future!

Vesta was the 4th asteroid ever discovered, back in 1807. It’s 330 miles across, the size of Arizona, and chunks of it have broken off (presumably as the result of photon canon blasts) and actually reached Earth as meteors. The mission’s goal is to learn more about how the solar system formed, and already, the images sent back a few days ago are looking pretty sharp.  We’ll check in throughout the year to see how things are going.

For more information and pictures, visit NASA’s website: the Dawn mission page (“Journey to the Asteroid Belt”) and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s Dawn website.