All About Asteroids
What you need to know about the greatest Atari game
By Gregory D. GeorgeSeptember 7, 2001
games in history are as recognized as the Atari classic, Asteroids.
The pounding sound effects, simple graphics, and strangely addictive
gameplay has permeated throughout all of American society. One only has
to watch TV shows like NBC's Freaks and Geeks, or the
classic film National Lampoon's Vacation to realize just how
entrenched this game has become in our popular culture.
The one, the only, the original and the best, Asteroids by Atari.
Not many games have been copied or ported as often as Asteroids.
Pac-Man perhaps, or Space Invaders, would definitely be nearest competitors for the clone crown. Even today, Asteroids
clones and ports are popping up as Java applets, or in current releases
for modern game systems such as the Sega Dreamcast.
The idea of Asteroids was originally conceived by
Lyle Raines who was Atari's vice president of engineering in 1979. Ed
Logg, eventually took the lead on the project and is credited with it's
The game's concept is simple: Shoot the slow moving
large rocks into medium sized rocks. Shoot the medium sized rocks into
even smaller rocks. The smaller the size of the rocks, the faster they
move. This asteroid field puts the player in an ever-increasing danger
zone of flying debris. The UFO's were added to spice things up and
keep the player from just sitting there avoiding the asteroids.
Asteroids was designed on the same hardware as
another of Atari's classics: Lunar Lander. Both games used the
high resolution, black and white vector-scan screens. Yet Lunar Lander
never became the world-wide phenomena that Asteroids did. Asteroids
was so popular when it was released, it replaced Space Invaders
as the king of the arcades and gave Atari enough cash to be financially
independent from Warner.
"Senior engineer Steve Calfee reflected that
Asteroids appeals to some low, primitive drive in the human mind to
clean and take control of the environment. Blasting asteroids into
rubble until a once-crowded screen turned into a neat black field
appealed to people whose lives were nothing but a field of chaos. For
them, Asteroids became a metaphor for life." - Paul Schuytema,
Microsoft Arcade, The Official Strategy Guide.
Asteroids Deluxe removed the
randomized hyperspace and included a shield instead.
added some strange new features.
moved the series from vector to raster.
by Sega. Down and dirty blasting action.
Sequels, Variants, and Clones
Atari tried to improve on the original Asteroids game
introducing Asteroids Deluxe in 1980. This version of the game offered
animated graphics, better sound, and more in-depth gameplay. It also
included a color backdrop to make the game more interesting to play.
Also in 1980, Atari released Space Duel which
included multi-player capability, complex physics, improved sound
effects, and, most importantly, color vector graphics. Unfortunately, Space
Duel was never as popular or as well known as the original primarily
due to the strangeness of the objects being blasted. No longer was the
player fighting an endless armada of asteroids and UFOs, but a strange
assortment of geometric shapes. People used to rock-blasting didn't know
what to make of the new game.
Atari's most recent Asteroidsrevision came in 1987 from
Atari Games. Blasteroids did away with the vector screens in
favor of more modern raster images. Blasteroids added morphing
ships, power-ups, and highly detailed images.
Then there is Space Fury,
Sega's answer to Asteroids. This game took all of the familiar
concepts and melted them together into a very unique action game. Unlike
the slow, methodical pace of Asteroids, Space Fury is a
pure action game. Your adversary is a one-eyed alien taunting you at
every step. Who could forget his condescending statement he makes when
you plunk your quarters into the machine: "So, a creature for MY
There are too many home versions of Asteroids, to be able to
catalog them all! From official versions to shareware clones, the game
has managed to appear on practically every video game console and
computer in one form or another!
Asteroids for the Atari 2600
was quite an accomplishment as it was the first 2600 game to reach a
whopping 8K in size! This is quite a feat considering that the 2600 was
designed to only address 4K of memory. While the 2600 version lacked the
originals vector graphics, it did include the core gameplay and enough
options (hyperspace, shields, flip, UFOs, easy or hard asteroids) to
keep gamers happy at home.
Other versions of Asteroids
include those for Atari systems such as the 7800, Lynx, 8-bit computer
line, and the ST line. One important exception, is the Atari 5200. This
version, identical to the 8-bit home computer versions, was never
released and exists only as a prototype. Atari also released home
versions of Asteroids through it's AtariSoft label for competing
game and computer systems.
The Atari Jaguar, while never
receiving an official Asteroids game did get some hobby versions
of the game written. One of which can be found at
Some home clones of Asteroids include
Mine Storm for the Vectrex, Astro Smash for the
Intellivision (although some would call this one a stretch), and Space
Fury for the ColecoVision.
Reviving a Legacy
In 1993 Microsoft released Microsoft Arcade which included a
conversion of Asteroids for PC compatibles. In 1998, Activision
released the latest version of Asteroids for PC compatibles and the Sony
PlayStation. In 2001, Infogrames released Atari Anniversary for
the Dreamcast and PC compatibles which included perfect emulated
versions of Asteroids and other classic Atari games.
Asteroids 3D by Activision.
Home versions of Asteroids will always be
available. Whether it is emulated versions of the real thing, updated
versions with modern graphics and sounds, or clones written by someone
who "just wanted to prove that they could."
There is no
stopping the enduring legacy of Asteroids. Along with Pong,
Pac-Man, and Space Invaders, Asteroids
will forever be a part of American history and culture.
Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video Games, 3rd Edition, by Leonard
Microsoft Arcade: The Official Strategy Guide, by Paul Schuytema.