Centipede (video game)

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Arcade promotional flyer
Developer(s)Atari, Inc.
Publisher(s)Atari, Inc.
Superior Software (BBC)
Namco (Japan)
Designer(s)Dona Bailey
Ed Logg
Programmer(s)Dona Bailey
Richard M. P. Hanson Edit this on Wikidata
SeriesCentipede Edit this on Wikidata
Platform(s)Arcade, Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, BBC Micro, ColecoVision, C64, IBM PC, Intellivision, TI-99/4A, VIC-20
June 1981
Atari 2600
Atari 5200
Atari 7800
Genre(s)Fixed shooter
Mode(s)Up to 2 players, alternating turns
CabinetUpright, cocktail
CPU1 × 6502 @ 1.512 MHz
Sound1 × POKEY @ 1.512 MHz
DisplayRaster, 240×256, vertical orientation, palette colors 16

Centipede is a vertically oriented fixed shooter arcade game produced by Atari, Inc. in June 1981.[1] The game was designed by Dona Bailey and Ed Logg. It was one of the most commercially successful games from the video arcade's golden age. The player fights off centipedes, spiders, scorpions and fleas, completing a round after eliminating the centipede that winds down the playing field.

Centipede was ported to Atari's own Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and Atari 8-bit family. Under the Atarisoft label, the game was sold for the Apple II, Commodore 64, ColecoVision, VIC-20, IBM PC (as a booter), Intellivision, and TI-99/4A. Superior Software published the port for the BBC Micro.


According to the game's instruction manual, the player takes the role of a garden gnome armed with a magic wand and has to defend his mushroom forest from the invasion of giant centipedes, spiders, fleas, and scorpions.


Screenshot of Centipede's gameplay

The player's fighter is represented by a small insect-like head at the bottom of the screen. The player moves it around the bottom area of the screen with a trackball and fires small darts at a segmented centipede advancing from the top of the screen down through a field of mushrooms. Each segment of the centipede become a mushroom when shot; shooting one of the middle segments splits the centipede into two pieces at that point. Each piece then continues independently on its way down the screen, with the rear piece sprouting its own head. If the head is destroyed, the segment behind it becomes the next head. Shooting the head is worth 100 points while the other segments are 10. The centipede starts at the top of the screen, traveling either left or right. When it touches a mushroom or reached the edge of the screen, it descends one level and reverses direction. The player can destroy mushrooms by shooting them, but each takes four shots to destroy. At higher levels, the screen can become increasingly crowded with mushrooms due to player/enemy actions, causing the centipede to descend more rapidly.

Arcade machine

Once the centipede reaches the bottom of the screen, it moves back and forth within the player area and one-segment "head" centipedes will periodically appear from the side. This continues until the player has eliminated both the original centipede and all heads. When all the centipede's segments are destroyed, another one enters from the top of the screen. The initial centipede is 10 or 12 segments long, including the head; each successive centipede is one segment shorter and accompanied by one detached, faster-moving head. This pattern continues until all segments are separate heads, after which it repeats with a single full-length centipede.

The player also encounters other creatures besides the centipedes. Fleas drop vertically and disappear upon touching the bottom of the screen, occasionally leaving a trail of mushrooms in their path when only a few mushrooms are in the player movement area; they are worth 200 points and takes two shots to destroy. Spiders move across the player area in a zig-zag pattern and eat some of the mushrooms; they are worth 300, 600, or 900 points depending on how close the player shoots it. Scorpions move horizontally across the screen, turning every mushroom they touch into poisonous mushrooms. Scorpions are also worth the most points of all enemies with 1,000 points each. A centipede touching a poisonous mushroom will change color and hurtle straight down toward the bottom, then return to normal behavior upon reaching it. This "poisoned" centipede can be very challenging to avoid if it appears as multiple separated segments.

The fighter will be destroyed when hit by any enemy, after which any poisonous or partially damaged mushrooms revert to normal. 5 points are awarded for each regenerated mushroom. The player gains extra lives every 12,000 points (10,000 in several ported versions).


Dona Bailey and Ed Logg developed Centipede for Atari.[2] Logg, a supervisor, said that he did the design, while Bailey did about half of the programming.[3] Bailey was one of the few female game programmers in the industry.[4] Logg stated that the game was intended to attract women players; he believed that its design was not biased by gender, unlike a fighting or sports game. Bailey said, "I really like pastels ... I really wanted it to look different, to be visually arresting."[5][3] They succeeded; Centipede was one of the first arcade coin-operated games to have a significant female player base.[6] How to Win Video Games (1982) estimated that half of its players and 60% of Pac-Man's were women, while 95% of Defender players were men.[7]


Atari 8-bit computer cartridge (1982)

In 1983 Softline readers named Centipede ninth on the magazine's Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity.[8] The game received the award for "1984 Best Computer Action Game" at the 5th annual Arkie Awards where the judges described it as "pack[ing] a real roundhouse punch", and suggested that some "insist that [the Centipede] Atari cartridge is the best home-arcade edition you can buy".[9]:28 David H. Ahl of Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games said that the Atari 5200 version was "delightful fun".[10]

In a 1984 Video review of the Apple II version of the game, Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz commented that "the graphic limits of the Apple crimp the style," and expressed disappointment in the game's "sluggish" interfacing with trackball controllers.[11]

In 1996, Next Generation listed the arcade version as number 84 on their "Top 100 Games of All Time", praising the cool concept, trackball control, and that it is accessible enough that "any human on the planet can play it well enough to enjoy it" yet "hard enough that even excellent gamers find it challenging."[12]



Sequels and remakes[edit]

Centipede was followed by Millipede in 1982, a somewhat less successful arcade game. In 1992, Atari Games developed a prototype of an arcade game called Arcade Classics for their 20th anniversary, which includes Missile Command 2 and Super Centipede with co-op 2-player mode.[15]

A 3D fantasy role-playing game based on the original game was being developed by Dark Science and planned to be published for the Atari Jaguar CD[16] under the working title Centipede 2000 as part of a series of arcade game updates for the systems by Atari Corporation, but work on the project was stopped by Atari Corp. six months later due to marketing executives at the company deciding that remaking classic Atari titles was not in their interest before they discontinued the Jaguar and merged with JT Storage in 1996, while the source code of the project no longer exists,[17][18] with the only remaining proof of its existence being a short video clip of the in-game engine created for it that was provided by the developer.[19]

In 1998, Hasbro-owned Atari Interactive released a new version of the game for the PC, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. This version looks and plays very differently from the original game, with free movement around the map, 3D graphics, and a campaign which can be played in single-player or multiplayer mode. The original version of Centipede is available in this version, with slightly updated graphics.[citation needed] The computer version of Centipede's 1998 remake sold 176,713 units and earned $2.22 million from January through October 2000 in North America, according to PC Data.[20]

In 2011, Centipede: Infestation was released for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii. This was a more story-driven remake that was set in a post-apocalyptic world and is played from a top-down perspective. It also makes use of motion controls, such as using the Wii Remote pointer to determine which direction to shoot, or the 3DS touchscreen to quickly change weapons. Players can also grow plants that can assist them in battle.


The Centipede concept was widely cloned, especially for home systems.

Arcade clones[edit]

  • War of the Bugs or Monsterous Manouvers [sic] in a Mushroom Maze, by Food and Fun Corp./Armenia Ltd in 1981[21]
  • Jackler, by Konami in 1982[22]
  • Slither, by GDI in 1982 and ported to ColecoVision[23]

Mobile clones[edit]

  • Centiplode by Gazzapper Games (2016), Android
  • Retro Centipede by ClassicMania Games (2018), Android.

Home system clones[edit]

Board games[edit]

In 1983, Milton Bradley released a board game based on the video game. The board game pits two players against each other in a race to be the first person to the opponent's home base with a centipede. Each player can utilize a blaster, as well as a scorpion and spider, to slow the opposing centipede's advance.[38]

In March 2017, IDW Publishing announced that a new board game based on Centipede was in development. The game will be co-developed by Jon Gilmour and Cardboard Fortress Games, and is scheduled to be released in Fall 2017.[39]

Competitive arena[edit]

The game was chosen for the final round of the 1981 Atari World Championships run by Tournament Games International. The men's champion was Eric Ginner and the women's champion was Ok-Soo Han.[40]

The world record score on the arcade version of Centipede was 16,389,547 points by Jim Schneider of the USA on August 1, 1984.[41]

Donald Hayes of Windham, New Hampshire, USA, scored a world record 7,111,111 points under tournament rules on the arcade version of Centipede on November 5, 2000.[42][43]

In other media[edit]

In 1989, a deadpan narration describing the original game appeared on side 2 of Negativland's third cassette release, The Weatherman (SSTC902), which consisted of clips from the live Over the Edge radio show sometime between 1982 and 1984. The narrator may be Ed Logg.[44]

American Indie Rock band The Strokes used promotional artwork for the game on their 2003 single, Reptilia.

Centipede appears in the film Pixels.[45]

In the Samurai Jack episode 'Jack is naked', the underground city is serviced by a network of centipede trains which are revealed in a runaway train sequence to be controlled by a trackball.

In May 2016, It was announced that Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films has closed a deal to partner with Atari to produce and finance both Centipede and Missile Command.[46]


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