Asteroids is a 2D, vector-display-based arcade game developed by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg and released by Atari in November 1979. The gameplay revolves around a single spacecraft trapped in an asteroid field that attempts to survive for as long as possible by destroying any space rocks that get close. The Atari 2600 version came out in 1981.
The game plays a minor role in the Ready Player One novel.
Gunfire wasn’t uncommon in the stacks, but it still shook me up. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, so I decided to kill the remaining hours until dawn by brushing up on a few coin-op classics. Galaga, Defender, Asteroids. These games were outdated digital dinosaurs that had become museum pieces long before I was born. But I was a gunter, so I didn’t think of them as quaint low-res antiques. To me, they were hallowed artifacts. Pillars of the pantheon. When I played the classics, I did so with a determined sort of reverence.
Ready Player One p. 13
The setup is super simple: you’ve got a single ship and a massive field of space rocks. Your mission is to reduce them to nothingness while avoiding being hit. You get three lives, endless ammo, limitless fuel, and the ability to blindly hyperjump around the field. Your reward for destroying all of the asteroids … is more asteroids.
Unlike Defender, which requires lightning-fast reflexes, Asteroids is a more forgiving game. It can certainly get frantic, especially when the space rocks are flying fast and erratically, but there are also built-in lulls as you clear each map.
Its gameplay is addictive, if repetitive. It’s not a game I can really lose myself in anymore, but it’s one of my favorites from the Golden Age of Video Games. So much so that one of the walls in my game room is decorated with vector-style decals.
Ah, Asteroids. One spaceship endlessly dodging and blasting its way through an endless field of giant rocks (and the occasional rogue UFO). The game was one of my first video game loves, right alongside Space Invaders. It took on two distinct flavors for me: the stark, simple line-art arcade version (1979), which I played at the local roller skating rink, and the colorful (but still basic) Atari 2600 version (1981) that my friends and I spent endless Saturday afternoons playing.
We got so good at the Atari version that we’d have to purposefully crash our ships to end the game when our parents called us for dinner. After one particularly long, 6-hour marathon, we finally got tired of the game (and then moved on to the equally classic Yar’s Revenge).
Years later, in high school, my friend Dave and I would blow throw a roll of quarters playing Blasteroids in our local arcade before breaking to grab a few slices of pizza.
Today, the memory of Asteroids lives on in my game room, where huge decals inspired by the original game fill one wall. Few people outside of my family and gaming group had seen it pre-COVID, but during the pandemic, it’s become a meeting ice breaker. People see the decals, ask about them, and suddenly we’re reminiscing about old video games.
As one of the pillars of vintage gaming, Asteroids spawned a number of sequels and variants.
- Asteroids Deluxe (1981) – A vector-based follow-up to the original game which replaced hyperspace jumping with shields and a new UFO type that broke apart when hit … and then sent its fragments hunting the player.
- Blasteroids (1987) – The third sequel to Asteroids, which featured raster graphics, two-player capabilities, and bosses. My favorite version of the game.
- Asteroids Recharged (2021) – An updated version of the game for Nintendo Switch.
Looking for more space rock fun? Check out Moby Games’ huge list of variants.
Programming your own Asteroids video game
Unsurprisingly, people love programming their own variants:
- Zigurous: How to make Asteroids in Unity (video)
- Real Python: Build an Asteroids Game With Python and Pygame
- The Scratch Jedi: How to Create Asteroids Game on Scratch
- My High Score (Arcade): 7,760
- My High Score (Atari 2600): 12,390
Where to Play
- What technology would be needed to play the Asteroids video game in real life?
- In the video game Asteroids, if the largest asteroid was the size of 121 Hermione, what real asteroid would be closest in size to the smallest asteroid?
- Do video game arcades with vintage retro games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command still exist?