Asteroids for Atari 2600

"On a quiet serene evening the Cosmic Space Patrol sets out for the usual night cruise through the boulevards of space. This beat was always the same; calm, no action, and no excitement. For some reason this night feels different. Shortly before 0200 hours some form of intergalactic material is sighted through the visual particle counter. The material is too large a mass to measure. It's drifting closer. Lookout, it's a giant asteroid boulder and it's headed straight for the Cosmic Spacecraft. The only chance for survival is to dodge the boulder or destroy it. Destroying it doesn't just mean breaking it up, it meens vaporizing it. Small asteroid boulders are equally as fatal as large ones.
Whew, the boulder just missed colliding with the Cosmic Spacecraft, but suddenly the Cosmic Space Patrol find themselves surrounded by thousands of the deadly asteroids. The Cosmic Space Patrol must act quickly to save their spacecraft and spare their lives. The spacecraft is equipped with photon torpedoes, hyperspace, shields, and flip control. The Cosmic Space Patrol is highly trained to handle this situation. Could you do as good a job as the Cosmic Space Patrol? How would you protect yourself if you were caught in a deadly asteroid belt? This is your big chance to fly through the dimensions of space and fend against asteroid boulders. The longer you survive, the more space hazards you'll encounter." - Asteroids manual, pages 2-3

Descriptive Information

Asteroids is a popular adaptation of one of Atari's own arcade games. The basic elements of the Asteroids game screen are the spaceship, asteroids of various sizes, and UFOs and satellites, which are quite dangerous and appear occasionally. The objective of the game is to destroy as many asteroids, UFOs, and satellites as possible while having your ship avoid being hit.

The game controls and effects are similar to those of Combat. You rotate counterclockwise and push the joystick forward to exert thrust in the direction your ship is pointing. Pulling back on the joystick invokes special features, depending on the game number selected. The red "fire" button shoots deadly "photon torpedoes" at your enemies in space. You can have a maximum of two torpedoes on the screen at any one time. (Beginners may find it helpful, especially when faced with large asteroids, to fire almost continually.)

When hit by your torpedoes, a large asteroid breaks into two medium-sized asteroids (one in the children's game), a medium-sized asteroid breaks into one small asteroid, and the small asteroid disintegrates. Thus, if all your shots are accurate, it would take you five shots to wipe out all traces of each large asteroid (also called a "big rock").

Beginners and intermediate players will probably use the thrust controls sparingly. Unlike Combat's tank games, in Asteroids when you release the thrust control you do not stop immediately; you continue to coast through space. It is quite difficult to determine your exact stopping point in advance. Thus once you stray from the centre of the screen, it may not be an easy matter to return safely to that centre spot later. In fact, you may never get back!

Game Selection and Difficulty

There are 66 games that can be chosen via the "game select" switch, comprising various combinations of the following features:

Here is the game select matrix. For those few without table support in their browsers, I apologize.

S = Slow, F = Fast
Extra Life
5/10/20 = 1 extra life every 5,000/10,000/20,000 points, N = no extra ships
H = Hyperspace, SH = Shields, FL = Flip, W = Without Features

In the children's game (games 33/66), the asteroids move slowly, an extra life is earned every 5,000 points, hyperspace is the extra feature, each board only contains four asteroids (instead of six on waves two and three and seven thereafter), and large asteroids break up into one medium-sized asteroid instead of two.
One Player 123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233
Two Player 343536373839404142434445464748495051525354555657585960616263646566
Extra Life 5510102020NN5510102020NN5510102020NN5510102020NN

As is generally the case for Atari games, difficulty B is for beginning players, and difficulty A for advanced players. Difficulty A introduces UFOs and satellites that try to shoot your ship down.


Points scored for hitting:

Small Asteroids
100 points
Medium Asteroids
50 points
Large Asteroids
20 points
200 points
1000 points

The screen has only five digits for score; therefore your score returns to zero after reaching the 100,000 point total. For scores above that, you have to remember what your base score is. (Once you get scores in that range, you usually don't mind a bit of mental scorekeeping.)

Your ship always starts off a new game screen facing the top of the screen; in the arcade game, the ship starts afresh facing the direction in which it was last aimed.

UFOs and satellites enter the screen from either side (never from the top or bottom) in games played at A difficulty. They enter approximately every 20 seconds. They proced to harass you, firing deadly shots at your ship. The satellites fire in apparently random directions; the UFOs fire intelligently, trying to hit you. Each can fire only one shot at a time at you. The more deadly UFO is recognised by its smaller size and its higher-pitched engine sound. UFOs don't appear during the first 7,000 or so points of the game. Also note that you will see extra satellites during the first few thousand points immediately following the 100,000 mark. Both UFOs and satellites exit on the side of the screen opposite to their entry point, unless you destroy them first.

Helpful Hints and Guidelines

This section contains information that could help you survive in space for longer periods of time.

Know the Rock Movements

In addition to knowing how your ship is maneuvered, knowledge of how the asteroids (rocks) move is important to high scoring at Asteroids. Depending on the situation, the size of the rock, and the speed of te rock, different results will occur when the asteroid is hit by your torpedo. Some of these situations are described below:

Large, normal-speed rocks
In the normal (slow) speed Asteroids game, when a large rock is hit, it splits into two medium-sized rocks; one moves at a slight angle towards you and the other moves farther away.
Large, fast rocks
In the fast-rock Asteroids game, when a large rock is hit, it splits into two medium-sized rocks of which one continues straight up and down (as the large rock did) and the other goes at some random diagonal angle (toward or away from you).
Medium, normal-speed rocks
In the normal (slow) speed Asteroids game, when a medium-sized rock is hit it becomes a small asteroid moving "opposite" to its predecessor. For example, if it had been a medium-sized one moving closer to you, it becomes a small one moving farther away from you.
Medium, fast rocks
In the fast-rock game, when a medium-sized asteroid is hit:
  1. If it had been doing straight up and down, it now moves at a diagonal angle; or
  2. if it had been going at a diagonal angle, it now moves straight up and down.

Stay in the Middle

Since your ship is generally difficult to control precisely, always try to stay in the centre of the screen in the slow-rock game. Rotate and shoot from that central position, especially near the beginning of the game.

Work on One Rock and Its Descendants

After hitting one large asteroid, work immediately on the resulting medium asteroids and then the resulting small asteroids. In other words, work on one asteroid and the rocks coming from it before starting to attack other large asteroids. This strategy applies primarily to the fast-rock game, where having multiple, hard-to-hit small rocks moving diagonally can make the game very difficult.

First Nail the Ones at the Angles

In the fast-rock game, you may find it helpful to first tend to the rocks that break off and go at an angle, and then take care of the straight up-and-down rocks.

Practice Maneuvering Your Ship

Use of the thrust control to move your ship to a desired location is a real art in Asteroids. Both beginners and intermediates can benefit a lot from practice of this art. Here's a good way to practice and concentrate on your movement: Play the children's game (game 33) and eliminate all the rocks except one. This then leaves you ample time to practice ship mobility and control.

The Last Rock

When eliminating the final asteroid on the screen, be sure that you are positioned away from the sides of the screen; this is because new asteroids almost always appear near the sides. Your ideal location is, of course, at the screen's centre.

Fire Twice at the Medium-Sized Rocks

When firing at the medium-sized asteroids, fire two shots in rapid succession. This increases the possibility of eliminating two rocks (the medium one and the small one it generates). If possible, you should fire at the leading edge of the medium-sized asteroid (the edge toward the direction in which it is traveling).

Shields and Big Rocks Don't Mix

In games having the shield feature, it should be noted that the shields last only for a second or so. With even slightly imperfect timing, the shield may not entirely protect you during the passing of a large asteroid. Therefore in shield games it is a good strategy to use your first several shots to hit the large asteroids, breaking them up into components whose sizes the shields can "cover."

Make the Most of Crashing

You will, from time to time, find yourself in a situation where you cannot possibly avoid crashing into one of the enemy objects. For example, if you are cornered by several objects and cannot avoid crashing, you should crash into the object worth the most points and therefore make the most of your plight. In general, smaller objects are worth more points (see the scoring table again). Thus when you have to crash, head for the smallest enemy object. You may even find that you miss the small object entirely and live to fight another day!

Shoot More Ahead of Ships

Since the UFOs and satellites are noticeably faster than the asteroids, shooting at them has to be planned slightly differently. You have to shoot farther out in front of the enemy spaceships, to allow for their greater speed. In the back of your mind, you should be thinking, "lead the ships more than the rocks."

Don't Give Up

Often when a rock or enemy missile is apparently heading right for you at close range, you get the impression that it's all over for you. But it's important to hang in there and keep your concentration up, because there is always the possibility of escape. If you give up too soon and it turns out that you do escape, a secondary rock (which you have ignored) may catch you right in the wake of that narrow escape! So keep up your concentration and always be awake and looking forward to your next manoeuvre.

Best Angles for Shooting

Generally, shooting straight up or down or to the side is a better angle to shoot, to ensure that torpedoes leave the screen sooner. Don't forget that you can only have two shots on the screen at a time!

Torpedo Wraparound

When you are away from the screen centre, your torpedoes have the feature of wrapping around and reentering the screen from the opposite edge.

Number of Rocks Per Board

Board 1
4 rocks
Board 2, 3
6 rocks
Board 4+
7 rocks

Hyper All You Want

In games with the hyperspace feature, pulling back on the control causes your ship to disappear (so you can avoid being hit); however, the ship appears at some random location on the screen. The danger in this is that you could reappear right in the immediate path of a rock or an enemy missile, resulting in spontaneous destruction of your ship. In the arcade version of Asteroids if you use the hyperspace feature too much in a short period of time, then your ship is likely to self-destruct without any contact with rocks or missiles. In the home Asteroids you can use hyperspace all you want; you will not blow up just from too much use of the feature - the only way to blow up via hyperspace is if you do happen to land in the immediate path of a rock or enemy missile!

Shield Overuse Wears It Out

In games with the shield feature, pulling back on the control puts a shield around your ship to protect it from any rock or enemy missile. The shield will normally last for about two seconds. However, if you use the feature too much (say, about four times in a row), the shield loses its effectiveness and will then only last for around a second the next time you try it. The same loss results if you try to hold the control back for more than a two-second period. Therefore only use the shield when you have to; don't waste a lot of shield use on situations where it isn't necessary.

Flip Is Not That Helpful

In games with the flip feature, pulling back on the control results in your ship's rotating to a point exactly opposite to its direction at the time of the flip. The ship's location does not change, just its direction. The flip feature is better than no extra feature at all, but it is not much help for targets that are near 90-degree-rotation angles from your current direction. For many targets, it is no slower to rotate directly than it is to flip and then have to rotate almost 90 degrees anyway.

Hunting Ships

In difficulty A, UFOs and satellites (enemy spaceships) appear once in a while to harass you. They can wipe you out, but you can accumulate a lot of extra points if you get them first. While completely destroying an entire wave of asteroids (35 large, medium, and small asteroids in total) nets you 2,240 points, just destroying a single UFO nets you 1,000 points. So, the way to really rack up high totals is to hunt ships. Lots of players like to hunt by going straight up and down, thrusting occasionally to keep in motion (so as not to be a sitting duck.) Do not thrust continuously; thrust and coast. Keep your eyes and ears open for enemy ships' locations and engine sounds.

A final word of advice: The game with shields seems to be the best one for hunting ships, and the best time to do so is when you have only one or two (medium or small) rocks remaining.