Asteroids (video game)
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Promotional flyer for Asteroids.
|Designer(s)||Lyle Rains and Ed Logg|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Cabinet||Upright and cocktail|
|CPU||MOS Technology 6502|
Asteroids is a video arcade game released in November 1979 by Atari Inc. It was one of the most popular and influential games of the Golden Age of Arcade Games, selling 70,000 arcade cabinets. Asteroids uses a vector display and a two-dimensional view that wraps around in both screen axes. The player controls a spaceship in an asteroid field which is periodically traversed by flying saucers. The object of the game is to shoot and destroy asteroids and saucers while not colliding with either, or being hit by the saucers' counter-fire.
The game was conceived by Lyle Rains and programmed and designed by Dominic Walsh and Ed Logg. It was implemented on hardware developed by Howard Delman. Asteroids was a hit in the United States and became Atari's best selling game of all time. Atari had been in the process of manufacturing another vector game, Lunar Lander, but demand for Asteroids was so high "that several hundred Asteroids games were shipped in Lunar Lander cabinets." Asteroids was so popular that video arcade operators sometimes had to install larger boxes to hold the number of coins that were spent by players.
The objective of Asteroids is to score as many points as possible by destroying asteroids and flying saucers. The player controls a triangular-shaped ship that can rotate left and right, fire shots straight forward, and thrust forward. As the ship moves, momentum is not conserved – the ship eventually comes to a stop again when not thrusting. The player can also send their ship into hyperspace, causing it to disappear and reappear in a random location on the screen (with the risk of self-destructing or appearing on top of an asteroid).
Each stage starts with a few large asteroids drifting in random directions on the screen. Objects wrap around screen edges – for instance, an asteroid that drifts off the top edge of the screen reappears at the bottom and continues moving in the same direction. As the player shoots asteroids, they break into smaller asteroids that frequently move faster and are more difficult to hit. Smaller asteroids also score higher points. Periodically, a flying saucer appears on one side of the screen and moves across to the other before disappearing again. The saucers are of two kinds: Large saucers fire in random directions, while small saucers aim at the player's ship.
The minimalist soundtrack features a memorable deep-toned electronic "heartbeat", which quickens as the asteroid density is reduced by the player's fire.
Once the screen has been cleared of all asteroids and flying saucers, a new set of large asteroids appears. The number of asteroids increases each round up to a maximum of 12. The game is over when the player has lost all of his lives.
Like many games of its time, Asteroids contains several bugs that were mostly the result of the original programmers underestimating the game's popularity or the skill of its players. The maximum possible score in this game is 99,990 points, after which it "rolls over" back to zero. Other common terms for this bug were "turn over" and "flip over". Also, an oversight in the small saucer's programming gave rise to a popular strategy known as "lurking" — because the saucer could only shoot directly at the player's position on the screen, the player could "hide" at the opposite end of the screen and shoot across the screen boundary, while remaining relatively safe. Another popular method of exploiting this bug was to simply use thrust to keep the ship in motion with 1 or 2 asteroids in the play field, allowing the player to pick off as many 1,000 point UFOs as possible. This led to experienced players being able to play indefinitely on a single credit. This oversight was addressed in the game's sequel, Asteroids Deluxe, and led to significant changes in the way game developers designed and tested their games in the future.
On some early versions of the game, it was also possible to hide the ship in the score area indefinitely without being hit by asteroids.
Technical description 
The Asteroids arcade machine is a vector game, in which the graphics are composed entirely of lines which are drawn on a vector monitor. The hardware consists primarily of a standard MOS 6502 CPU, which executes the game program, and the Digital Vector Generator (DVG), vector processing circuitry developed by Atari themselves. As the 6502 by itself was too slow to control both the game play and the vector hardware at the same time, the latter task was delegated to the DVG.
The original design concepts of the DVG came out of Atari's off-campus research lab in Grass Valley, California, in 1978. The prototype was given to engineer Howard Delman, who refined it, productized it, and then added additional features for Atari's first vector game, Lunar Lander. When it was decided that Asteroids would be a vector game as well, Delman modified a Lunar Lander circuit board for Ed Logg. More memory was added, as was the circuitry for the many sounds in the game. That original Asteroids prototype board still exists, and is currently in Delman's personal collection.
For each picture frame, the 6502 writes graphics commands for the DVG into a defined area of RAM (the vector RAM), and then asks the DVG to draw the corresponding vector image on the screen. The DVG reads the commands and generates appropriate signals for the vector monitor. There are DVG commands for positioning the cathode ray, for drawing a line to a specified destination, calling a subroutine with further commands, and so on.
Asteroids also features various sound effects, each of which is implemented by its own circuitry. There are seven distinct audio circuits, designed by Howard Delman. The CPU activates these audio circuits (and other hardware components) by writing to special memory addresses (memory mapped ports). The inputs from the player's controls (buttons) are also mapped into the CPU address space
The main Asteroids game program uses only 6 KB of ROM code. Another 2 KB of vector ROM contains the descriptions of the main graphical elements (rocks, saucer, player's ship, explosion pictures, letters, and digits) in the form of DVG commands.
Because of the game's success, a sequel followed in 1981 dubbed Asteroids Deluxe. As in the original game, the onscreen objects were tinted blue, and a shield that depleted with use replaced the hyperspace feature. In addition, the asteroids rotated, a new enemy dubbed a killer satellite was added to the game, which would, when shot, break apart into three smaller ships that homed on the player's position. Also included was a "3-D" monitor surround that glowed in the white-UV light. The ship and asteroids appeared to "float" over this cardboard backdrop. Two more sequels followed this, Space Duel in 1982 and Blasteroids in 1987.
The gameplay in Asteroids was imitated by many games that followed. For example, one of the objects of Sinistar is to shoot asteroids to get them to release resources which the player needs to collect.
Ports and follow-ups 
Asteroids has been ported to multiple systems, including many of Atari's systems (Atari 2600, 7800, Atari Lynx) and many others. The 2600 port was the first game to use a bank-switched cartridge, doubling available ROM space. A port was in development for the 5200 and advertised as a launch title but never officially released, although an unofficial release was produced by AtariAge. The Atari 7800 version was a launch title and featured co-operative play, it was the built in game on the European Atari 7800 release. 1993 saw a release for PCs with Windows 3.1 as part of the original Microsoft Arcade package. Also, a new version of Asteroids was developed for PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Windows, and the Game Boy Color in the late 1990s. A port was also included on Atari's Cosmos system, but the system never saw release. Many of the recent TV Games series of old Atari games have included either the 2600 or arcade versions of Asteroids. Atari also used the game for its other late '90s and 2000s anthology series.
Asteroids Hyper 64 is an update to the 1979 arcade shooter Asteroids released for the Nintendo 64 on December 14, 1999. It includes fully 3D environments, new weapons, over 50 levels, and a 2 player split-screen mode; including a Versus mode, a Co-op mode, and a Team mode.
In 2001, Infogrames released Atari Anniversary Edition for the Sega Dreamcast and PC compatibles which included emulated versions of Asteroids and other classics.
In 2004, Asteroids (Including both the Atari 2600 port and the arcade original, along with Asteroids Deluxe) were included as part of Atari Anthology for both Xbox and PlayStation 2, using Digital Eclipse's emulation technology. (This package was released for the PC a year earlier under the title Atari: 80 Classic Games in One.)
Both Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe were also re-released to Microsoft's Game Room download service for the Xbox 360 and Windows-based PCs in 2010. The Atari 2600 version of Asteroids was also released in July 2010 for Game Room.
Glu Mobile released a licensed cellular phone version of Asteroids that includes the original game as well as updated gameplay, skins, and modes.Game Room – Asteroids was released on Windows Phone on February 23, 2011.
Asteroids was released as part of Atari Greatest Hits for iPhone on June, 2011.
Asteroids Gunner was released on the iOS and Android app stores on November, 2011.
Clones and bootlegs 
There have been many unofficial ports of Asteroids produced. These include near-copies such as Acornsoft's Meteors and Ambrosia Software's Maelstrom, as well as those with expanded gameplay and background, such as Asterax, Astrogeddon, Stardust, Spheres of Chaos and Astro Fire. The Vectrex had a built-in similar game called "Minestorm". Even on the Sony PSP, homebrew Asteroids were made on that platform when hacked.
Highest score 
On November 13, 1982, 15 year old Scott Safran of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, set a world record of 41,336,440 points on the arcade game Asteroids. He beat the 40,101,910 point score set by Leo Daniels of Carolina Beach on February 6, 1982. To congratulate Safran on his accomplishment, the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard searched for him for four years until 2002, when it was discovered that he had died in an accident in 1989. In a ceremony in Philadelphia on April 27, 2002, Walter Day of Twin Galaxies presented an award to the surviving members of Safran's family, commemorating the Asteroid Champion's achievement.
On April 6, 2010, John McAllister set a preliminary record score of 41,338,740 after 58 hours, streamed live over the Internet, breaking the record set by Scott Safran 27 years earlier.
- Wolf, Mark J.P. (2008). The video game explosion: A history from Pong to Playstation and beyond. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-313-33868-X. "In November of that year, Atari also released Asteroids, which became an arcade classic and one of the best-known vector games, exceeding 70,000 units produced (the production line for Lunar Lander was eventually switched over to producing Asteroids units)."
- Brett Alan Weiss. "Asteroids". allgame. Macrovision. Retrieved June 6, 2009.
- Demaria, Russel; Wilson, Johnny I. (2004). High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2nd ed.).
- Asteroids Flyer, 1979, Atari, Inc.
- Owen, David. "Invasion OF THE Asteroids". FHM 2 (81): 62. Archived from the original on August 1, 2008. "players began to figure out that if they picked off all but one or two little asteroids, they could safely lurk around the edges of the screen and wait for the saucer to appear"
- Atari 800XL
- "Production Numbers". Atari. 1999. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
- Tom Eberspecher (November 26, 2007). "Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe on Xbox LIVE Arcade". Gamerscore Blog. Microsoft Games Global Marketing team. Archived from the original on June 02 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2009.
- "Asteroids". Glu Games. Glu Mobile. Archived from the original on October 6, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2009.
- Chris Kohler (November 13, 2008). "Nov. 13, 1982: Teen Sets Asteroids Record in 3-Day Marathon". Wired. Conde Nast. Retrieved June 7, 2009.
- "Asteroids Player Smashes 27-Year-Old High Score". Wired. April 5, 2010. Archived from the original on April 07 2010. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
- Kit, Borys (July 2, 2009). "'Asteroids' lands at Universal". Reuters.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Asteroids (video game)|
- Asteroids at the Killer List of Videogames
- Asteroids at the Arcade History database
- Official online version of Asteroids at Atari
- Asteroids at MobyGames
- Asteroids guide at StrategyWiki
- All About Asteroids at Atari Times
- Article at The Dot Eaters, featuring a history of Asteroids
- Edge Magazine The Making Of: Asteroids