Company: Atari
Model #:
Tod Frye
Year: 1981
The Atari 5200 version was unreleased


One of Atari's most successful coin-ops, Asteroids was a cultural phenomenon up its release in 1979.  People lined up to play this addictive vector graphics shooter.  Asteroids was so popular that it spawned numerous knock offs (including one for the Atari 5200) with in turn spurred several dozen lawsuits.  Since, unlike Space Invaders, Atari had a clear copyright on Asteroids almost all of these knock offs disappeared or were drastically changed once the legal dust settled.


One of the interesting things about the original Asteroids coin-op didn't use a joystick at all.  All the movement was controlled via buttons (rotation, thrust, warp, etc.) much like the later Williams hit Defender.  While this control scheme worked well enough, many people found it a bit intimidating and were happy to see that the home versions resorted to using the standard joystick (with exception to the 5200 version's non-centering stick).  The basic premise of the game was quite simple. shoot all the asteroids without getting hit.  Of course this is as easy as it sounds, not only are the asteroids constantly drifting around the screen, but they break apart into smaller and smaller asteroids when it.  It's quite possible to have a screen full of tiny little rocks aiming for your ship before you know it.  Patience and timing are the key to success.


As much fun as it is to blast rocks all day, it wouldn't be much of a game if you were left to your own devices.  In order to complicate things the local alien population has decided that they don't like your kind hanging around their part of the galaxy.  In order to entice you to move on, periodically a flying saucer will appear and start taking pot shots at you.  Sauces come in three sizes, with the smallest size being quite fast and deadly.  Saucers will occasionally hit asteroids while shooting, but their goal is to destroy you.  Clever players quickly learned that destroying all but one of the asteroids on the screen and hunting down saucers was the key to a high score (and long play time).  Atari made sure to correct this strategy with their sequel Asteroids Deluxe.


Like the Atari 2600 version, the Atari 8-bit version of Asteroids forgoes the vector graphics of the arcade game and instead uses raster graphics.  This means that the once hollow looking asteroids are now solid blobs of rock, as are the sauces and your ship (the S.S. Triangle as Homer Simpson called it).  While this works well enough, the game does lose some of its 'bleakness of outer space' with the addition of color.  Interestingly, many people think that the asteroids look better as hollow vectors than they do as filled in circles.


The Atari 8-bit (and unreleased 5200) version of Asteroids is one of the few games that was capable of supporting four players simultaneously.  This can lead to some interesting grudge matches.  Players can choose from three different play modes: Melee, Co-op, and Team.  In Melee mode, all the players appear on the screen at once in a sort of free-for-all.  Co-op mode is similar to Melee, but all the players share a pool of lives.  As long as one player as at least one life left, the game will continue.  In Team mode the players are separated into two teams which compete against each other.  Each play mode has two options available: Patrol or Combat.  In Patrol each players shots travel harmlessly through the other ships, but in Combat mode players can shoot each other for points (or just for fun).  Players can also choose several different defensive options such as Shields, Hyperspace, Flip Over (you turn 180 degrees instantly), or even No Effect (no defensive options but you gain points quicker).  The the defensive options are triggered by pressing down on the joystick.  Players may also choose Bounce (asteroids bounce off the edge of the screen) or Fast/Slow asteroids with the B and F keys.


While the Atari 8-bit version of Asteroids isn't going to win any awards, it plays well enough.  The graphics are nothing special, they get the job done.  One feels that a much more interesting looking port could have been created than the 'serviceable' version that was released.  The addition of the extra modes and four player option adds a bit more fun to a decidedly lackluster port.  It's interesting to note that Asteroids was Tod Frye's only Atari 8-bit game, he was strictly an Atari 2600 programmer otherwise.  Perhaps Tod was still learning the hardware when making this port? 


Version Cart Text Description
4/1/81 Asteroids 4-1-81 Very close to final
4/2/81 Asteroids 4-2-81 PCS
Final version


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