Codex Gamicus

Asteroids is a classic arcade game released by Atari in 1979. It was one of their most popular titles of all time. It was inspired by one of the earliest examples of a video game, Spacewar. The object of the game is to control a triangular space ship in the vast emptiness of space, shooting asteroids as they came in to the screen.

The screen wrapped around, much like in Pac-Man, so that if you went off the screen to the left, you would appear on the right side. Additionally, you had to deal with the physics. The ship could not stop on a dime, so learning how to control your ship's momentum is key to avoid hitting asteroids. When hit, asteroids broke up into smaller pieces, and those smaller pieces broke up into even smaller pieces. Eventually, the smallest piece will just disappear and not break up into more. Occasionally, there would be large and small UFOs that crossed the screen, firing shots; the large UFOs fire randomly about while the small UFOs aim for your ship. Shooting the UFOs before they either reach the other side of the screen or get hit by an asteroid will earn you points.

The visuals were simple black & white vector graphics. One of its follow-up games, Space Duel, used color vector graphics like Tempest and Star Wars.

As players managed to get incredibly high scores on the game, Atari created a sequel game that would defeat their efforts: Asteroids Deluxe.


  • Large asteroid—20 points
  • Mid-sized asteroid—50 points
  • Small asteroid—100 points
  • Large saucer—200 points
  • Small saucer—1000 points

Atari 2600 Version[]

The Atari 2600 version of Asteroids was one of the first game cartridges that used a technique called bank-switching, which fooled the 2600 into reading more game storage memory than it was thought capable of doing. Despite this technological advance, the asteroids were pretty much limited to moving in vertical directions, only slightly shifting their horizontal positions, and they were also prone to flicker.

The Atari 2600 version featured 66 different game variations, which besides the standard one- and two-player options included fast and slow asteroids, four different defenses (hyperspace, shield, flip, and none), four point values for earning bonus ships (5,000 points, 10,000 points, 20,000 points, and none), and a children's version.


Atari adapted the home computer version of this game to be released for the Atari 5200, but it was never released due to the controls not functioning properly. A similar game called Meteorites by Electro Concepts was released in its place.


The trick is to not move the ship, just rotate and shoot from the center.