Despite its almost legendary status among video games fans, Space Invaders was of course not the only iconic video game from the 1970s; this article is all about Asteroids, the immensely addictive but frustrating waste of time and money featuring what appeared to be a letter ‘A’ in the centre of the screen, trying to fend off flying rocks. Refresh your memory below:
Recall the screeching spaceship which periodically lumbered across the screen, remember the hyperspace button which 8 out of 10 times plonked you in front of a giant asteroid and don’t forget how awkward it was to navigate around the screen with the thrust button.
Despite my cynicism, Asteroids was Atari’s best selling game of all time; designed and
created by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg, it was released in 1979 and demand was so great that there were not enough Asteroids arcade cabinets. Several hundred were installed in ‘Lunar Lander’ cabinets and many of the coin boxes were enlarged to take account of its popularity.
So it was ridiculously popular and it wasn’t long before one or two skilled players worked out how to play for hours on a single credit. After each wave of asteroids was destroyed, a new wave brought more and faster rocks. But what if you only nearly completed the first wave? What if you just left a couple of small rocks flying around harmlessly? You could then pick off the valuable spaceships as you wanted for 1000 points each every time they flew drunkenly across the screen.
Lessons were learned and later versions of Asteroids dealt with this oversight in various ways; Asteroids Deluxe (1980) and Blasteroids (1987) were examples of Atari’s iterations and improvements. The addictive qualities of the game play should not be underestimated; it was ported to many different Atari consoles and those of other manufacturers. A testament to its popularity is that it is still included (in various versions) on retro console collections and can be found online in many places.