Asteroids was released in November 1979.
Asteroids was a much celebrated arcade game that captured the imaginations of millions of players, while capturing a good many quarters as well.
Originally called 'Cosmos', Asteroids' original design brief was a simple copy of Cinematronics' "Space Wars
"; with asteroids littering the play-field purely for visual effect. 'Cosmos' was also once known as 'Planet Grab', in which the player had to claim a planet by touching it with their spaceship. 'Cosmos' allowed players to blow up the planets and duel with another ship, Space Wars-style. Only in Asteroids, which arrived two years later, did Atari engineer Lyle Rains, introduce the concept of free-floating rocks.
On June 17, 1980, Atari's Asteroids and Lunar Lander were the first two video games to ever be registered in the Copyright Office.
The first 200 Asteroids machines were actually Lunar Lander cabinets; Asteroids was so successful that Atari cut Lunar Lander's production run and released the 200 aforementioned machines, complete with their original Lunar Lander cabinet art.
Asteroids remains Atari's bestselling arcade game of all time, with approximately 56,565 units produced (47,840 upright and 8,725 cocktail) in total.
Remembrances from the Video Game Masters : Working on Asteroids was so intense that Lyle Rains and Ed Logg often dreamt about their work.
Lyle Rains : 'In the course of my work I have always found that there are times during the development process when the project gets to me in such a way that I'm eating, drinking, sleeping, and breathing the project. When I close my eyes the images of the screen are there and I dream about them at night. There is something just very intense when you live with a project like that day and night, for months at a time. When we were working on Asteroids, I would play Asteroids for a number of hours in the evening, then I'd go home and I'd close my eyes, and as I was drifting off to sleep I'd see the asteroids floating around the screen.'.
Ed Logg : 'I was shooting the asteroids all night long; I'd just play the game over and over and over in my head, just as if you were playing it in real life. To a certain extent, 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. I know what it's going to look like before I even get there.'.
Popular from the Start : a good barometer of a game's future success was how popular it was within the labs at Atari. The software developers often had to chase people away from their Prototype machines when they arrived at their desks in the morning or returned from lunch.
Lyle Rains : 'The development on the really good games gets bogged down, because people want to play them all the time. I was in the lab quite often playing Asteroids, as were many other people.'.
On the overall popularity of Asteroids, Steve Calfee said : 'A lot of people really liked it. Somehow, there's something about people, they like to clean spaces. With Asteroids it's easy to measure your accomplishment, you're breaking big rocks into little rocks and then the little rocks into nothing. It's sort of a metaphor for life.'.
Rich Adam recalled his own first encounter with Asteroids : 'I'll never forget going into the lab and seeing that game for the first time. It was like an adrenaline rush. I'm out flying this spaceship and it's the miraculous escape. I've got this situation where I've got tons of these boulders flying around the screen, I have almost nowhere to go. I get to blast my way out of it and cheat death one more time; that's a good fantasy, you've got all these things flying around and yet you're able to survive.'
Howard Delman described what it was like creating the sounds for Asteroids : 'In those days there were no all-purpose sound chips like we have now, so I had to create a hardware circuit for each sound. I would string together electrical circuits that would produce an output wave-form that corresponded to the wave-form of the sound. When put through an amplifier and a loud-speaker, it would sound like whatever I was trying to create. The boom-boom-boom background sound was sort of meant to be like a heartbeat, and the idea was that as the game progressed, the sound speeded up, and the player's heart would speed up, too. You know, stress!'.
The Great 25-Cent Escape : On the intensity of playing Asteroids, Ed Rotberg recalled : 'Asteroids was just so intense in the fact that you had a concept of all around fantasy. You had to keep your eyes constantly in motion around the screen because the danger could be coming from any direction, at anytime, and it was always so imminent. In Asteroids it was just you out there, trying to survive. It's an incredibly intense game. The tuning in terms of how fast the spaceship turns and how fast the bullets move and how far they go and how fast the asteroids can go, just all the tuning that Ed Logg put into that, is real artistry.'.
Asteroids is considered, artistically, to be a video-game masterpiece. Ed Logg opines : 'The simple fact that the spaceship in Asteroids continues to move after you cut thrust, providing a wee glimpse of the Newtonian mechanics of actual space flight, triggered the imaginations of many users'.
Rich Adam said : 'Asteroids fulfilled the fantasy of being out in space, with no gravity, and free floating. The spaceship had a very elegant grace. A lot of motion in the game had grace, even the way the boulders floated around.'.
And the game's epic quality was noted by Ed Rotberg : 'What Asteroids allows players to do is to put themselves in an incredible predicament, and then extricate themselves from it. You feel like a hero coming out of it.'.
There was a modified version of Asteroids that was given the nick-name "Turtleroids"; this was part of a long series of practical jokes against the vice-president of marketing for Atari who was feeling jaded in his feeling towards a game concept called 'Turtle Races'. One day, Ed switched the PROMs of the golden edition of Asteroids in the lobby of Atari so that the little and big UFOs were replaced by turtles, thus providing them with a constant reminder. Another practical joke involving Asteroids was a slight modification in the prototype of the game, because Owen Rubin (initials ORR on most Atari high score tables) kept filling up the high score tables when the programmers were not around. So, they modified the program to replace Owen's initials with Ed's own to keep him away.
In a monumental display of overconfidence on the part of the Atari programmers, Asteroids rolls over at only 99,999 points. Several players during days-long marathon games have scored over 100,000,000...
Asteroids keeps track of up to 255 extra men. If the player has too many, the game may slow down, probably due to the processor having to draw all the extra men on the screen.
John McAllister holds the official record for this game with 41,838,740 points on April 5, 2010.
The default high score screen of "Cyberball 2072
" features names of many Atari arcade games, including ASTEROID.
Asteroids inspired a catchy hit song by Buckner and Garcia called 'Hyperspace' released on the 'Pac-Man Fever' album.
An Asteroids unit appears in the 1982 movie 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High', in the 1983 movie 'WarGames', in the 1983 movie 'Terms of Endearment', in the 1983 movie 'Joysticks', in the 1984 movie 'Night of the Comet', in the 1984 movie 'The Iceman', in the 1985 movie 'Remo Williams - The Adventure Begins' and in the 1983 movie 'The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie - Strange Brew'.
An upright Asteroids unit appears in the 38 Special music video 'Caught Up In You'.
Known licensed releases:
Asteroids (Taito Corp.)
Super Meteor (Hoei)
Known unlicensed releases: