Atari Asteroids



Asteroids, completed at the end of 1979, was a much celebrated arcade game that captured the imaginations of millions of players, while capturing a good many quarters as well.

The Creation of Asteroids

Asteroids was inspired by Lyle Rains, who suggested to Ed Logg that players might enjoy shooting big rocks into smaller pieces. "I guess the way I describe it is that I'm the father of Asteroids," Rains said. "Ed Logg is the mother of Asteroids, because he had to live with it for nine months and deliver finished product. All I had to do was to provide a seed."

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 sped 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 a video game artistic masterpiece."
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 epic quality of the game 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."