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Asteroids is a video arcade game released in 1979 by Atari Inc. It was one of the most popular and influential games of the Golden Age of Arcade Games. Asteroids uses vector graphics 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.


Asteroids was inspired, in a roundabout way, by the seminal Spacewar!, the first computer-based video game. In 1977 a stand-up arcade game version was produced as Space Wars, which included a number of optional versions and added a floating asteroid as a visual device. Asteroids is essentially a one-player version of Spacewar!, featuring the "wedge" ship from the original and promoting the asteroids to be the main opponent.

The game was conceived by Lyle Rains and programmed and designed by Ed Logg.[1][2] Asteroids was a hit in the United States and became Atari's best selling game of all time.[3] Atari had been in the process of releasing another vector game, Lunar Lander, but demand for Asteroids was so high they stopped further production of Lunar Lander so they could begin building Asteroids. The first 200 Asteroids machines were sent out in Lunar Lander cabinets. Asteroids was so popular that video arcade owners sometimes had to install larger boxes to hold the amount of quarters that were spent by players.

Asteroids is also the first game to use Atari's "QuadraScan" vector-refresh system. (A full-color version known as "Color-QuadraScan" was later developed for games such as Space Duel and Tempest.)

Game Play

The objective of Asteroids is to score as many points as possible by destroying asteroids and flying saucers. The player controls a 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 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 twelve. The game is over when the player has lost all of his/her 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. 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. This led to experienced players being able to play indefinitely on a single credit.[4] 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. This means that the game 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, CA, in 1978. The prototype was given to engineer Howard Delman, who refined it, produced 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.


Due to its success, Asteroids was followed by three sequels:

  • Asteroids Deluxe (1980)
  • Space Duel (1982)
  • Blasteroids (1987)

The Killer List of Videogames (KLOV) credits this game as one of the "Top 100 Videogames." Readers of the KLOV credit it as the seventh most popular game.

The game play in Asteroids was imitated by many games that followed. For example, one of the objects of Sinistar is to shoot asteroids in order to get them to release resources which the player needs to collect.


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 utilize 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. 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 has also used the game for its other late '90s and 2000's anthology series. Essentially, if one looks for this game, one will be able to find it somewhere.

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.)

Asteroids was released via Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360 on November 28, 2007, with an option for special revamped HD graphics and a high-speed "throttle monkey" mode.[5]

Clones and Bootlegs

There have been countless unofficial ports of Asteroids produced. These include near-copies such as Acornsoft's Meteors, as well as those with expanded game play and background, such as Astrogeddon, Stardust, Spheres of Chaos and Astro Fire.

Other Platforms

Glu Mobile released a licensed cellular phone version of Asteroids that includes the original game as well as updated game play, skins, and modes.[6]

Record Breaking Game play

On November 13, 1982, 15-year-old Scott Safran, of Cherry Hill, NJ, set a world record of 41,336,440 points on the classic 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 more than fifteen years, until 2002, when it was discovered that he had died in an accident in 1989. In a special ceremony in Philadelphia on April 27, 2002, Walter Day of Twin Galaxies presented a special award to the surviving members of Scott Safran's family, commemorating the Asteroid Champion's achievement.

In March 2004, Portland, Oregon resident Bill Carlton attempted to break the world record for playing an arcade version of Asteroids, playing over 27 hours before his machine malfunctioned, ending his record run. He scored 12.7 million points, putting him in 5th place in the all-time Asteroids rankings.

Comedian Jim Norton (Frunkus) once got the record score for the game Asteroids. This led him to have his picture on a local New Jersey paper.

In July of 1982, two men in Hyde Park, NY played on one quarter and got a score of 48,830,930. They actually quit the game because they were just too run down. Matthew Collier and John Denver both of Hyde Park at the time, alternated every 100,000 pts which took about 12 minutes, trying to briefly nap on their off time. The lengthy session took 84 hours, as they played in a laundry mat after convincing the owner to allow them to lock themselves in at night. Both men were only 17 at the time, and tried to contact Guinness, but they seemed uninterested at the time, because so many records were falling so often in the video game field. They did make the local radio and newspapers, but that was the extent of their 15 minutes of fame. Although John did not master many other games at the time, Matt had mastered almost all of them, spending almost every quarter he earned on video games.

Asteroids in Popular Culture

In 1982, Buckner and Garcia recorded a song titled "Hyperspace", using sound effects from the game, and released it on the album Pac-Man Fever.

In the film "National Lampoon's vacation Rusty asks his cousin Dale if he has Asteroids to which he replies "No but my dad does he can't even sit on the toilet some days"


  1. http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=asteroids&page=detail&id=126
  2. Allgame article
  3. http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=asteroids&page=detail&id=126
  4. GameArchive article on "Lurking" strategy
  5. Gamerscore Blog, XBLA announcement
  6. http://www.glu.com/noram/pages/product.aspx?pr=Asteroids

External Links

Asteroids in the News