Game 25: Asteroids Deluxe (Atari, 1980)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Tournament (Hard). Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life every 10,000 points.
Dip-switch:(R5) 1-2=ON; 3=OFF; 4-5=ON; 6=OFF; 7-8=ON. Dip-switch:(L8) 1=ON; 2=OFF; 3-8=ON. Dip-switch:(M12) 1-2=ON; 3-4=OFF/Unused

Current Record holders

1st: 167,790 - Donavan Stepp - 2004
...
33rd: 5,520 - Ron Corcoran - 1981

Nice – It’s bloody Arkanoid all over again, no sooner am I rid of Asteroids, here comes a “remix” version from a year later. Now I know I actually ended up quite enjoying Asteroids after all those years of playing it like a mong, but lets not bloody push it eh Atari? Nevertheless I am but a pawn in all of this so I need to move on with the job, head held up high (Also, I’ve taken a peek and this is the last Asteroid game on the list for now, so it’s not so bad).

But what’s this? Surely some kind of tomfoolery is afoot – in fact I’m sure of it. Now, I know that it hasn’t been that long since I watched Back to the future but if I were a betting man I would stick a quid on time travel being a reality. Why? Well, before you get the science museum on the phone, it’s not through any fancy formulas or any such gubbins – the proof is right here in front of us: this game. How can that possibly be? It’s as if some of the Atari devs had read my last entry and aimed to address each and every issue I had – in some sort of future past land.

Before we go into that, let’s look at what we have here. You don’t hear the term “Deluxe” much these days and when you do it tends to indicate a wanky marketing attempt at classing up something above it’s true worth. Deluxe chicken burger at McDonalds is just a normal chicken burger filled with a few unused sauces from the back room and a slightly herbier bread. Deluxe DVD editions tend to just be the same as the normal one, just with a snazzy shiny cardboard sleeve. Case and point: Ferrero Rocher are considered the deluxe chocolate when really they are about as classy as a box full of donkeyballs dipped in sawdusty chocolate. What I’m trying to say via the wonderful world of simile is that Deluxe very rarely is a good thing. Also, take a look at the year, 1980 – only one year after the original, another bad sign – especially considering how popular the original was at the time. Oh dear, what have Atari done?

I’ll tell you what they’ve done – improved the original in pretty much EVERY way.

First thing they noticed was that the original was just too damn easy. Arcades in those days were all about getting people onto the machines, getting their quarter, making them their bitch and sending them home to mumma. The trick was all about doing it in such a way that made it a challenge rather than a chore – meaning the players would flock back for another go. What they *didn’t* want was a game that people could sit at for hours on the same measly quarter – bad news bears. With Asteroids they had just that, and to make it worse it was a massively popular machine by all accounts so queues and pissed off people were common. Can you just imagine; the brand new game of the hour is right there in front of you, but before you can get a go you have to watch some fuck sit there not even shooting the last few rocks but just picking off the flying saucer every now and then - FOR HOURS. No no no, that’s no way for a “deluxe” machine to behave, so straight away the difficulty is ramped up something rotten.

How do you make a game as simple as Asteroids that much more difficult? Good question. They did this in several ways – first off the default DIP SWITCH settings are “tournament (hard)” – no mucking about with this baby, you come anywhere near it and whether you like it or not you’re in a tournament buster, and a hard one at that. As a result the whole game seems a little faster and a lot more frantic – the smaller chunks of asteroid especially whip about like, well whippets and can be a right bugger to avoid if you have a couple on the go at once.

Secondly we have a new enemy in our midst! It starts of innocuously enough – floating around like a big gay gangbang hexagon, but as soon as you shoot it, it splits up firstly into 3 paired up “friends” and then into 6 individual ships of undetermined sexuality. Probably enraged by this turn of events they then make it their life’s aim to go and duff you up – which considering that they are lovers and not fighters and don’t actually have any guns, consists of them basically trying to bum you. Hold on captain, what’s with all of this gay stuff I hear you cry? Well, calm down Graham Norton – just *look* at the formation these six brave ships choose to fly in. Before that though, imagine six youngsters, just graduated from evil flying academy - 5 long years of combat and aerobatics training, these six lads are the creme de la creme, the top one percent, THE elite. Today they finally get to go out on active duty; apparently some crazy man is out there shooting all of the rocks! Jesus, the humanity of it – he MUST be stopped at all costs. It gets better for our young evil heroes however, lest not to dilute the talent they have all been chosen to fly out in the same formation – oh, how perfect! As they walk to their fighter craft, they can barely hold back the tears of joy – in the distance you see their parents, proud as can be, saluting their pride and joy as they all go out to battle.

They then fly out looking like this:

Now – I may or may not be correct here, and I am by no means an expert on such matters, but that right there is NOT a military formation. That right there is a homosexual “conga line” in full flow. Also, as one would expect when all of the ships in question have their thrusters faced *inwards* they just aimlessly float about, clearly too engrossed in their deviancy.

No matter, once they are shot apart they can be a right bugger to avoid and combined with a screen full of rocks and the occasional flying saucer it can all get a bit too much.

Ah yes – the flying saucers. Clearly the victim of the exploit in the first game, what has become of them? Well, you like to shoot the flying saucers over and over again for the easy biggie points eh? Well this time round they really like shooting you as well, in fact they love a bit of it. Where before the large flying saucer was clearly piloted by Ray Charles and would barely even get near you with any of its shots, this time round after a few warning shots it flings one right at you. I don’t know the exact science (I know, shocking) but it feels like pretty much every 3rd or 4th shot is aimed right at your chops without fail. As for the smaller flying saucer, this time around they may as well have bloody homing shots as they get you shot almost before you can see the wee little buggers – small angry man syndrome at its finest. Something else I noticed, and thought was quite minor at the time, was the fact that the flying saucer’s shots now wrap across the screen as well. I was pretty sure that they didn’t used to , so I looked it up – and by jove it was good that I did. Well, not good in a save the world sort of way, but good in the context of this thing. You see, the “shooting nowt but flying saucers all day” exploit of the first game was made all the easier by the fact that their shots stopped at the edge of the screen while yours wrapped. Apparently the pro’s at this particular tactic used to hide right up there in the extreme corner of the screen and then regardless off which side the flying saucer would enter, they could simply spin and shoot it without much risk of being hit themselves – the crafty beggars! Therefore, with this version the fact that the flying saucer shots also wrap, twinned with their new found accuracy is a direct blow to this tactic and hoorah to that I say – in fact, it addresses pretty much everything I moaned about with the first game. How convenient. Hmmmmmm.

Which brings us to the records – immediately it’s clear that this bump in difficulty plus the measures to stop the exploit have had significant effect. While the top score on the original Asteroids was in the tens of millions, the high score here is a mere 167 thousand. Of course I say mere, I can’t score anywhere near that – but considering the scoring system is near identical that’s a pretty major difference it has to be said. Good signs indeed, as it saves me from another long winded rant, which was nice. Also however, there has clearly been a competition involving this game at FUNSPOT – the “FUNSPOT classic 2006″ as a matter of fact. How do I know this? Well, there are literally dozens of records on the list that are attributed to various people at that event, that’s how. What this means in real money is that there was a mini tournament at the event and basically anyone with a score in that tournament entered the record books. The effect of this is twofold: Firstly it’s a good thing as it means more achievable scores for guys like us but with that it also means that the records are slightly less impressive due to the fact that anyone that turned up and played are on there. Of course, that being said, the last score on the list (33rd) was from 1984 so there were obviously no mugs playing that day as they had all beaten that. Would I be within that group or would I be one of the mugs? Well, before the last entry I would have been already looking for the handle on my head, but now I have a new found confidence in such things – I actually felt comfortable with my performance and improvement on the original, bring it on!

Booting this bugger up, I again leave the artwork enabled as I seem to remember there being some sort of backdrop when I saw the actual machine at FUNSPOT – a backdrop that complimented the striking glow of the vectors pretty well if my memory serves me correctly. Again however, it just doesn’t have the same look in MAME, in fact with the duller graphics it actually ends up being pretty distracting which is a shame. It doesn’t really get in the way though, so I leave it on for the authentic experience – and authentic experience I get. Buoyed by my apparent new found skill I flounder in perhaps a little too confidentially and make the first mistake straight away by aiming at the large rocks first. Soon the screen is full of speedy small shards of asteroid and it makes even my “wave” technique proper hard to carry off. It’s here that I discover a life saver – the hyperspace button is gone (wahey!) and in it’s place we now have a “shield” button (double wahey!). The shield button proves to be an inspired addition and it single-handedly prevents my first score being absolutely woeful. Small rock flying your way? Tap the shield button and *boing* - the dirt is gone! Ahem, I mean the rock is gone - like a crazy interspace game of bumper cars, just with erm, spaceships and asteroids.

As is always the way with life, with this new found super power I suddenly feel like I can take on the very best, only to taste disappointment in the shape of a rock when the shield runs out and stops working. That’s right, the shield turned from being a world beater to a wet squib in a matter of seconds. I’m being harsh of course, it’s still a great addition, certainly better than that poxy hyperspace killer of yesteryear – just it all seemed so easy for a minute there – what was I thinking?

Score: 14,680

Still, not a bad score that for such a poor go – good enough for 23rd place no less (told you some of the scores were a bit pish).

I still find it hard to believe just how much better this version is, everywhere you look there are considered improvements. The ship you control has doubled in complexity, it is now twice as detailled with TWO whole polygons, giving it a decidedly attractive facelift. The controls too feel improved and I am really beginning to enjoy playing, especially in the more frantic moments.

Deep into my second go, and I’m sensibly keeping the amount of whizzy rocks to a minimum and it’s all going rather well. That is until the 15,000 mark. Partly because the screen is temptingly telling me that the next bonus life is but 5,000 points away, but mostly it’s due to being double teamed by the flying saucers and the big gay formation ships. The tactic for the formation is thus: Shoot to seperate them and then run away like a little girl. Once you are about half a screen away, turn round and shoot at them as they stream towards you. They’re quite slow and it would appear that they don’t arrive until the rocks are somewhat scarce. I would like to think that it is another genius design decision, but it’s most probably due to the fact that the poor 1981 hardware can’t handle that many things on the screen at once, bless it. Whatever the reason, they’re slow and they get all they deserve. However, in another cunning move, nicely avoiding another of the original’s problems that I pointed out, these babies are one of the main ways that the game gets you thrown out on your ear. You see, they may start off slow, but they get progressively faster each and every time they are vanquished and appear again. This may not seem much, but just you wait until you are faced with six speedy ships chasing you about like a benny hill sketch (although without any old bald man head slapping unfortunately, or the music….awwww). In fact they get really rather fast by the time you get anywhere near 20,000 and I soon began to dread them arriving at all. They did, they chased, I died.

Score: 22,740

Better this time, although my bonus life at 20k didn’t last long. Good enough for 21st place now, so we’re on the up!

Really really enjoying this game though, and I feel somehow like a traitor to my former self and my old established hate for the game nags at me each time I play – but I can’t really fault it, I just can’t! The collision detection is absolutely spot on, the graphics smooth and bold, the challenge in this deluxe version is really well pitched – it’s just a bloody ace game. My third and final go goes pretty much the same way as the second, but this time for some reason the small angry flying saucers appear a little earlier in the game and that proves much too much, especially when combined with the faster formation ships. Absolute carnage.

Score: 23,680

No improvement in the rankings there, but the top 10 score is only a whisker away at less than double (ok, it’s quite a whisker I admit) and I fully reckon with practice I could get well up there. Stick this fecker on the list of gooduns, in the place of Asteroids itself of course – this is one I really quite fancy getting good at. Interestingly I read that the deluxe version, despite being an improvement in every way (those time travelling idea stealing gits – I didn’t even get a credit!) didn’t do that well at all money and popularity wise, especially compared to the original. That really is a shame as it is so much better whilst being very very similar. For me this is the definitive Asteroids game and without the exploit it is the one that everyone should be playing that’s for sure.

(On an interesting note, as I write this, Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe has been released on the Xbox 360 Live arcade and although I haven’t tried them myself I would recommend you all give it a bash. I can’t see how the controls would map to a joypad but if you have a 360 it can’t hurt to try can it?)

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4 Responses to Game 25: Asteroids Deluxe (Atari, 1980)

  1. Steve says:

    Blimey this is a hard little tinker isn’t it. I’ve never played the “Deluxe” version before but I agree, it is a massive improvement. Here are my scores.

    1:4080
    2:6810
    3:13380

    In my defense I am a bit drunk… and I forgot about the shield until the final go. Also it doesn’t feel very natural to lurch your thumb across the keyboard to find the spacebar everytime a bullet comes near you.

    Anyway. A fine read. I appreciate the effort.

  2. Gareth says:

    I’ve been really enjoying the blog so far – it really is a great read. You’ve helped me discover plenty (alright, about 11) of games I never would have played, Asteroids Deluxe being one of them (I hadn’t got a clue that there was a sequel of any sort to the original). Of all the games you’ve covered so far though Alpine Ski is the one I’ve returned to the most!

    So…any news on the next updates(s)?

  3. Mah says:

    Umm… no new updates? So, I guess your quest hasn’t entered in 2008 yet?

  4. ColbyWolf says:

    :(

    Maybe next month?

    This is a busy project, I know, But it’d be good to know if RL has swmped you down, or if you’re still working on it, if you’ve given up until you have more time, forever, etc… :)

    Give those of us dropping by the site and idea if we should keep doing it, or come back in 2 months, or what.. :)

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