Jump to content

Missile Command

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Missile Command
North American arcade flyer
Developer(s)Atari, Inc.
Game Boy
Designer(s)Dave Theurer[2]
Programmer(s)Rich Adam
Dave Theurer
Composer(s)Rich Adam
Platform(s)Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Game Boy, Lynx
Atari 2600
  • NA: April 1981
Atari 8-bit
Atari 5200
Atari ST
Game Boy
Genre(s)Shoot 'em up
Mode(s)1-2 players alternating turns

Missile Command is a 1980 shoot 'em up arcade video game developed and published by Atari, Inc. and licensed to Sega for Japanese and European releases. It was designed by Dave Theurer, who also designed Atari's vector graphics game Tempest from the same year.[2] The game was released during the Cold War, and the player uses a trackball to defend six cities from intercontinental ballistic missiles by launching anti-ballistic missiles from three bases.

Atari brought the game to its home systems beginning with the 1981 Atari VCS conversion by Rob Fulop.[2] Numerous contemporaneous clones and modern remakes followed. Atari's 1981 port to the Atari 8-bit computers was reused for the Atari 5200 (1982) and built into the Atari XEGS (1987).


The player's six cities are being attacked by an endless hail of ballistic missiles, some of which split like multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. New weapons are introduced in later levels: smart bombs that can evade a less-than-perfectly targeted missile, and bomber planes and satellites that fly across the screen launching missiles of their own. As a regional commander of three anti-missile batteries, the player must defend six cities in their zone from being destroyed.


The game is played by moving a crosshair across the sky background via a trackball and pressing one of three buttons to launch a counter-missile from the appropriate battery. Counter-missiles explode upon reaching the crosshair, leaving a fireball that persists for several seconds and destroys any enemy missiles that enter it. There are three batteries, each with ten missiles; a battery becomes useless when all its missiles have been launched or if it is destroyed by enemy fire, whichever occurs first. The missiles of the central battery fly to their targets at much greater speed; only these missiles can effectively kill a smart bomb at a distance.

The game is staged as a series of levels of increasing difficulty; each level contains a set number of incoming enemy weapons. The weapons attack both the cities and the missile batteries and can destroy any target with one hit. Enemy weapons are only able to destroy three cities during one level. A level ends when all enemy weaponry is destroyed or reaches its target. A player who runs out of missiles no longer has control over the remainder of the level. At the conclusion of a level, the player receives bonus points for all remaining missiles and cities; at preset score intervals, the player earns a bonus city that can be used to replace a destroyed one at the end of the current level. These bonus cities can be kept in reserve and are automatically deployed as needed. The scoring multiplier begins at 1x and advances by 1x after every second level, to a maximum of 6x; this multiplier affects both target and bonus values.

The game inevitably ends once all six cities are destroyed and the player neither has any in reserve nor earns one during the current level. Like most early arcade games, there is no way to "win"; the enemy weapons become faster and more prolific with each new level. The game, then, is just a contest in seeing how long the player can survive. On conclusion of the game, the screen displays "The End", rather than "Game Over", signifying that "in the end, all is lost. There is no winner".[3] This conclusion is skipped, however, if the player makes the high score list and the game prompts the player to enter their initials.


When the game was originally designed, the six cities were meant to represent six cities in California: Eureka, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego.[3] Later in development the names of the cities varied depending on the game level being played, but eventually city names were removed completely.

While programming Missile Command, the lead programmer, Dave Theurer, suffered from nightmares of these cities being destroyed by a nuclear blast.[4][5]


Atari 5200 version

Missile Command was ported to the Atari 2600 in 1981.[6] The game's instruction manual describes a war between two planets: Zardon (the defending player) and Krytol. The original arcade game contains no reference to these worlds. On level 13, if the player uses all of his or her missiles without scoring any points, at the end of the game the city on the right will turn into "RF" – the initials of the programmer Rob Fulop. This Easter egg is originally documented in Atari Age (Volume 1, issue #2) in a letter to the editor by Joseph Nickischer, and is the second one publicly acknowledged by Atari. In an interview with Paleotronic Magazine, Fulop stated that Atari paid him for his work by giving him a Safeway coupon for a free turkey, which motivated him to leave the company and co-found competing developer Imagic.[7]

Missile Command was released for Atari 8-bit computers in 1981 and an identical version for the Atari 5200 in 1982. The same Atari 8-bit port was later used in the 1987 Atari XEGS as a built-in game that boots up if there isn't a cartridge or keyboard in the console.


Missile Command is considered one of the great classic video games from the Golden Age of Arcade Games. The game is also interesting in its manifestation of the Cold War's effects on popular culture,[11] in that the game features an implementation of National Missile Defense and parallels real-life nuclear war.

The game sold nearly 20,000 arcade cabinets.[12] Missile Command was a commercial success for Sega in Japan, where it was among the top-ten highest-grossing arcade video games of 1980.[13]

In 1983, Softline readers named Missile Command for the Atari 8-bit computers eighth on the magazine's Top Thirty list of Atari programs by popularity.[14] In a retrospective review, Brett Weiss of Allgame gave the arcade version a perfect score of 5 out of 5, in terms of controls, frenetic gameplay, sound effects, theme, and strategic aiming and firing.[8]

In 1995, Flux magazine ranked the arcade version 24th on their "Top 100 Video Games".[15]




Missile Command has seen many re-releases in many Atari compilation titles:


In late 1980, a two-player sequel Missile Command 2 was field tested but never released,[17] although at least one prototype appeared in an arcade in Santa Clara, California. This game was similar to the original except that each player had their own set of cities and missile batteries and the players could cooperate to save each other's cities from the onslaught.

In 1992, Atari developed a prototype of an arcade game called Arcade Classics for their 20th anniversary, which included Missile Command 2 and Super Centipede. Despite its name, however, this version was not the unreleased sequel, but an enhanced remake of the first game.

In 1981, an enhancement kit was made by General Computer Corp. to convert Missile Command into Super Missile Attack. This made the game even harder, and added a UFO to the player's enemies.

In 1982, Atari released a game called Liberator, which was seen by some as being a sequel to Missile Command with the situation essentially reversed; in Liberator, the player is the one attacking planetary bases from orbit.[18]

Updated versions[edit]

Missile Command for the Xbox 360

Enhanced versions of Missile Command were released for the Atari Lynx and Game Boy.

An updated version called Missile Command 3D was released for the Atari Jaguar in 1995. It contains three versions of the game: Classic (a straight port of the arcade game), 3D (graphically upgraded and with a rotating viewpoint), and Virtual.[19] It is the only game that works with the virtual reality helmet from Virtuality.

Hasbro Interactive released a 3D remake of Missile Command for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation in 1999.

Missile Command: Recharged with high-definition graphics was released via Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360 on July 4, 2007.

Missile Command was released for the iPhone and iPod Touch for US$5 on September 23, 2008. It includes two gameplay modes ("Ultra" and "Classic").

In March 2020, Atari released a new remake, Missile Command: Recharged, on mobile platforms.[20] On May 27, the remake also made it to Nintendo Switch as well as home computers via Steam,[21] later on released as a launch title on the Atari VCS.[22]

An updated version of the game was announced in 2018 for the Intellivision Amico.[23] While neither the Intellivision Amico version of Missile Command nor the Amico console itself have yet released, a mobile version was announced in late 2023, as part of Intellivision's Amico Home initiative. This version was released for Android the same year, with an iOS version being announced for a later release.[24]


Contemporary Missile Command clones include Missile Defense (1981) for the Apple II, Stratos (1982) for the TRS-80, Missile Control (1983) for the BBC Micro, Repulsar (1983) for the ZX Spectrum, and Barrage (1983) for the TI-99/4A. Silas Warner programmed the 1980 clone ABM for the Apple II several years before writing Castle Wolfenstein.[2] Similarly, John Field programmed the Missile Command-like game ICBM (1981), then went on to create Axis Assassin,[2] one of the first five games published by Electronic Arts.

Atomic Command, a clone of Missile Command, is playable on the Pip-Boy interface in the Fallout 4 video game.[25]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Missile Command was referenced in the 1980 episode "Call Girl" of the TV sitcom Barney Miller, which features a detective who is hooked on the game.[26]
  • In the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John Connor plays the game in an arcade, echoing the film's theme of a future global nuclear war.
  • The documentary High Score (2006) follows William Carlton, a Portland, Oregon gamer, on his quest to beat the Missile Command high score record for Marathon settings.[27]
  • In the 2010 open world survival horror video game, Deadly Premonition, the game is mentioned by the protagonist Francis York Morgan, while driving.
  • In the 2008 episode "Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer" of the NBC show Chuck, a weapons satellite access code is hidden in the (fictitious) kill screen of Missile Command by its programmer, Mr. Morimoto (Clyde Kusatsu).[28]
  • In the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Missile Command's "The End" screen is used to help illustrate the film's ending.[29]
  • The game is shown in the opening title sequence of the 2013 FX television series The Americans.

Film connection and adaptation[edit]

The gameplay of Missile Command, specifically, the contrails left by incoming ICBMs, and the visuals of cities being destroyed by nuclear warheads on a video display screen, strongly resembles the opening nuclear war scenes from the 1977 film, Damnation Alley.

In February 2010, Atari was talking with several studios to turn Missile Command into a film.[30] 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to bring Missile Command to film the following year.[31] In May 2016, Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films closed a deal to partner with Atari to produce and finance both Centipede and Missile Command.[32]

World records[edit]

Two types of world records are monitored for the arcade version of Missile Command: Marathon and Tournament settings. Both settings allow the player to start with six cities. Marathon settings award bonus cities, while in tournament mode bonus cities are not awarded at any point in the game.

Marathon settings[edit]

In 1981, Floridian Jody Bowles played a Missile Command arcade game for 30 hours at The Filling Station Eatery in Pensacola. Bowles scored 41,399,845 points with one quarter using Marathon settings, besting the previous known record, according to Atari spokesman Mike Fournell.[33] The record was broken when Victor Ali of the United States scored 80,364,995 points in 1982.

Beginning on March 15, 2013, Victor Sandberg of Sweden scored 81,796,035 points live on Twitch after 56 hours of play.[34] On December 27 of the same year, Sandberg started a 71-hour and 41 minute game with a score of 103,809,990—10 points short of getting an additional 176 cities.[34]

Tournament settings[edit]

On July 3, 1985, Roy Shildt of Los Angeles set a world record in tournament-set Missile Command, with a score of 1,695,265, as verified by Twin Galaxies. This score, as well it earning his induction into the Video Game Hall of Fame, were published in the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records.[35]

After more than 20 years, on March 9, 2006, UK-based gamer Tony Temple set a new world record of 1,967,830 points, also with Tournament settings as confirmed by Twin Galaxies. Temple's score was published in the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records Gamer's Edition, although Guinness noted that the score was controversial due to Temple playing on game settings that increased cursor speed and was therefore easier than those of Roy Shildt, the previous record holder.[36] Tony Temple increased his world record on two occasions, culminating in a score of 4,472,570[citation needed] in 2 hours and 57 minutes–verified on September 9, 2010. This is the first verified time that a player passed wave 256 under tournament settings; the game difficulty starts over at wave 1 again.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ミサイルコマンドコックピット筺体版" [Missile Command cockpit cabinet version]. Media Arts Database. Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hague, James. "The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers".
  3. ^ a b "The Creation of Missile Command and the haunting of its creator, Dave Theurer". polygon.com. 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  4. ^ Blue Wizard Is About To Die!, Pg. 140, Seth Flynn Barkan, ISBN 0-9741000-0-5
  5. ^ Extra Credits: Narrative Mechanics
  6. ^ Missile Command arcade video game by Atari, Inc. (1980)
  7. ^ "An Interview with Atari 2600 developer and Imagic Co-Founder Rob Fulop". Paleotronic Magazine. 29 March 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  8. ^ a b Weiss, Brett Alan. "Missile Command - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  9. ^ Irwin, Jeff. "Missile Command (Atari 5200) Review". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  10. ^ Cook, Brad. "Missile Command (Game Boy Color) Review". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  11. ^ "8 Bit Apocalypse by Alex Rubens". 13 November 2018.
  12. ^ Fulton, Jeff; Fulton, Steve (2010). "A short history of Missile Command". The essential guide to Flash games: building interactive entertainment with ActionScript 3.0 (New ed.). Berkeley, California: Friends of ED. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4302-2614-7. Retrieved February 7, 2012. While certainly not the size of Asteroids, the game was still a huge hit with almost 20,000 units sold.
  13. ^ "ベストスリー 本紙調査 (調査対象1980年) 〜 アーケードゲーム機" [Best Three Book Survey (Survey Target 1980) ~ Arcade Game Machines] (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 159. Amusement Press, Inc. 15 February 1981. p. 2.
  14. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. March 1983. p. 44. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  15. ^ "Top 100 Video Games". Flux (4). Harris Publications: 27. April 1995.
  16. ^ "GAMES Magazine #34". December 1982.
  17. ^ Missile Command 2 - Videogame by Atari, arcade-museum.com
  18. ^ Liberator - Videogame by Atari, arcade-museum.com
  19. ^ "Next Wave: Missile Command 3D". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 78. Sendai Publishing. January 1996. p. 132.
  20. ^ Atari Missile Command Recharged Review on YouTube
  21. ^ Ronaghan, Neal (2020-05-27). "Missile Command: Recharged (Switch) Review". Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  22. ^ Shea, Brian (July 1, 2020). "Atari's New Console, The VCS, Launches This Fall". Game Informer. GameStop. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
  23. ^ "Intellivision Reveals Initial Details For The Upcoming Amico Home Video Game Console!". PR Newswire (Press release). October 22, 2018.
  24. ^ "Intellivision launches app version of Amico console, as hardware remains distant". Eurogamer. 2023-11-23. Retrieved 2024-02-09.
  25. ^ Atomic Command (Missile Command) Retro Game in Fallout 4 Gameplay, Youtube
  26. ^ "Call Girl". Barney Miller. Season 7. Episode 6. December 18, 1980.
  27. ^ "High Score". Highscoremovie.com. Archived from the original on April 11, 2016.
  28. ^ "Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer Season Episode Guide on". Tv.com. Archived from the original on 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  29. ^ "Atari's Missile Command, a potential Hollywood franchise". Los Angeles Times. 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2010-06-26.
  30. ^ "24 Frames". Los Angeles Times.
  31. ^ Graser, Marc (2011-01-11). "Atari arms 'Missile Command' for bigscreen". Variety.
  32. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 12, 2016). "Atari Classic Arcade Games Centipede & Missile Command Headed for Big Screen". Deadline.
  33. ^ Man Plays Video Game 30 Hours To Win Record With One Quarter. Ocala Star-Banner. 4 May 1981.
  34. ^ a b DiskborsteMC's Twitch.tv channel
  35. ^ 1986 Guinness Book of World Records. Bantam Books. 1986. p. 559.
  36. ^ 2008 Guinness Book of World Records. Little Brown Books. 2008. p. 234. On March 9, 2006, Tony Temple (UK) scores 1,967,830 on Missile Command under Twin Galaxies tournament settings. This has caused much controversy; previous record holder Roy Shildt (USA) scores 1,695,265 in 1985 using a harder setting that decreases cursor speed

External links[edit]