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Asteroids Game (History, Instructions, & FAQs)

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

What Was Asteroids?

Asteroids (along with the seminal Space Invaders) must be one of the most famous arcade games of all time. It was released by Atari all the way back in 1979—and now it is time to play it again.

It was (and still is) is one of the most popular and influential games to come out of the golden age of video games. It was quite something back in 1979, as it used a two dimensional vector display that 'wraps' around the screen display—which was extremely clever, novel, and exciting.

So let's have a look back at one of the most played arcade games from one of the most influential companies ever...

Note the vector display in the Asteroids arcade game.

Note the vector display in the Asteroids arcade game.

What Is the History of the Asteroids Arcade Game?

This classic game was a hit in the US and became Atari's best selling game of all time (at that point anyway).

Atari had been in the process of manufacturing another vector style game called Lunar Lander, but demand for Asteroids was so high that production of Lunar Lander was put on hold for a while so they could pour more time and effort into this game instead.

This arcade game became so popular with gamers that amusement arcade operators sometimes had to install larger coin boxes to hold the amount of cash that was being spent by players. Kerching!

A modern take on a classic game—Asteroids is given a facelift.

A modern take on a classic game—Asteroids is given a facelift.

Is Asteroids Available Today?

Asteroids constantly undergoes modern reworking. With versions available for modern PCs and gaming consoles, your Asteroids options are never limited.

Plenty of versions are available for Android devices, Windows tablets and Apple products. Many of them are good but I still love the good old fashioned monochrome vector cabinet! As far as home versions go, the one that tops my list is the version that was developed for the MB Vectrex console.

Game over man, Game over! You succumb to the horde of asteroids in this classic game

Game over man, Game over! You succumb to the horde of asteroids in this classic game

How to Play Asteroids

  • The player controlled a triangular space ship that could rotate clockwise, anti-clockwise, and could fire shots forwards from its 'nose'. The ship could also thrust forwards, coupled with superb inertia acceleration and deceleration.
  • As the ship moved this inertia momentum slowly decreased, and the ship would eventually come to a standstill again if thrust was not applied. You could only move the ship in the direction it was pointing.
  • The player could also use 'hyperspace' jumps in an emergency, causing the ship to vanish before reappearing in a random location on the screen (with the risk of self-destructing or appearing on top of an asteroid - it was bum squeakingly nerve-wracking on later levels).
  • Each level began with a few asteroids drifting and floating in random directions across the screen. All in-game objects wrapped around the screen edges, for example an asteroid that drifts off the top area of the screen would re-appear at the bottom of the screen and continue drifting in the same direction. It was very nicely done.
  • As the player shot asteroids, they shattered into smaller pieces that usually moved faster and were obviously more difficult to shoot. Smaller asteroids that were destroyed also scored higher points.
  • Periodically, a UFO would appear on one side of the screen (accompanied by a warning klaxon) and move across to the other side before disappearing.
  • These enemies are of two kinds: Large saucers fired in random directions, while the small saucers were more hostile and actually aimed at the player's ship. Nasty.
  • The minimalist soundtrack featured a deep-toned electronic pulsing noise, which quickened as the asteroid density was reduced by the player's shooting. This really ramped up the excitement within the game and was a very good touch by the games developers.
  • Once the screen had been cleared of all asteroids (and flying saucers if any are on screen), a new set of large asteroids appeared, usually denser in number than the last. Like most games of the era the game was endless and only ended when the player had lost all of his or her lives.

Video: Asteroids Arcade Game in Action

What's the Legacy of Asteroids?

This game was so popular that it was converted to pretty much every home computer and console imaginable. Official and unofficial versions were created for the Vic 20, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, ZX81, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC 464, Oric 1 and Oric Atmos.

One of the greatest conversions to home media had to be the version for the MB Vectrex console; a machine blessed with the hardware to do the original game justice.

There were hundreds of ZX Spectrum Games based around asteroids, and one of the first titles I tried was a colourful effort called Deep Space which I remember picking up as a budget release.

The likes of the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and the Amiga CD 32 were treated to more modern versions of Asteroids such as Blasteroids and Super Stardust. If you were a Miggy owner then these titles were worthy additions to your Amiga Games collection.