Codex Gamicus
This article is about the arcade game. For other uses, see Breakout (genre).

Breakout is an arcade game developed by Atari, Inc and introduced on May 13, 1976. It was conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, and influenced by the 1972 arcade game Pong, also by Atari. The game was ported to video game consoles and upgraded to video games such as Super Breakout. In addition, Breakout was the basis and inspiration for books, video games, and the Apple II personal computer.

In the game, a layer of bricks lines the top third of the screen. A ball travels across the screen, bouncing off the top and side walls of the screen. When a brick is hit, the ball bounces away and the brick is destroyed. The player loses a turn when the ball touches the bottom of the screen. To prevent this from happening, the player has a movable paddle to bounce the ball upward, keeping it in play.

The arcade cabinet uses a black and white monitor. However, the monitor has strips of colored cellophane] placed over it so that the bricks appear to be in color.

History and development[]

Breakout, a discrete logic (non-microprocessor) game, was conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, after the latter had "rejoined" Atari after the merge of Atari subsidiary Kee Games.

They had an idea to turn Pong into a single player game, where the player would use a ball to deplete a wall of bricks without missing the ball on its rebound. Bushnell was certain the game would be popular, and the two partnered to produce a concept. Al Alcorn was assigned as the project manager, and began development with Cyan Engineering in 1975. The same year, Alcorn assigned Steve Jobs to design a prototype. Jobs was offered US$750, with an extra $100 each time a chip was eliminated from the prospected design. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days.

Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak—employee of Hewlett-Packard—was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware design with the prospect of splitting the $750 wage. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had "tricky little designs" difficult to understand for most engineers. Near the end of development, Wozniak considered moving the high score to the screen's top, but Jobs claimed Bushnell wanted it at the bottom; Wozniak was unaware of any truth to his claims. The original deadline was met after Wozniak did not sleep for four days straight. In the end 50 chips were removed from Jobs' original design. This equated to a US$5,000 bonus, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak, instead only paying him $375.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Atari was unable to use Steve Wozniak's design. By designing the board with as few chips as possible, he also cut down the amount of TTL (transistor-transistor logic) chips to 42. This made the design difficult to manufacture—it was too compact and complicated to be feasible with Atari's manufacturing methods. However, Wozniak claims Atari could not understand the design, and speculates "maybe some engineer there was trying to make some kind of modification to it". Atari ended up designing their own version for production, which contained about 100 TTL chips. Wozniak found the gameplay to be the same as his original creation, and could not find any differences.[2][3][4][5][7][8]


Breakout begins with eight rows of bricks, with each two rows a different color. The color order from the bottom up is yellow, green, orange and red. Using a single ball, the player must knock down as many bricks as possible by using the walls and/or the paddle below to ricochet the ball against the bricks and eliminate them. If the player's paddle misses the ball's rebound, he or she loses a turn. The player has three turns to try to clear two screens of bricks. Yellow bricks earn one point each, green bricks earn three points, orange bricks earn five points and the top-level red bricks score seven points each. To add to the challenge, the paddle shrinks to one-half its size after the ball has broken through the red row and hit the upper wall. In addition, ball speed increases at specific intervals: after four hits, after twelve hits, and after making contact with the orange and red rows.

The maximum score that one player can achieve is 896, by eliminating two screens of bricks of 448 points each. Once the second screen of bricks is destroyed, the ball in play harmlessly bounces off empty walls until the player finally relinquishes the game, as no additional screens are provided. However, a secret way to score beyond the 896 maximum is to play the game in two-player mode. If Player One completes the first screen on his or her third and last ball, then immediately and deliberately allows the ball to "drain," Player One's second screen is transferred to Player Two as a third screen, allowing Player Two to score a maximum of 1344 points if he or she is adept enough to keep the third ball in play that long. Once the third screen is eliminated, the game is over.



The original arcade version of Breakout has been officially ported to several systems, such as Video Pinball, the Atari 5200 (included in Super Breakout), and the Atari 2600.

The Atari 2600 port was programmed by Brad Stewart. Stewart had been working on a backup project for the Atari 2600, which was eventually cancelled. Consequently, Brad and Ian Shepherd were both available to program Breakout for the Atari 2600. They decided to compete in the original version of Breakout for the programming rights. In the end, Brad won. In development, he didn't receive help of the original designers (and was unaware who they were), and felt that there were few obstacles to overcome. Difficulties arose with the Television Interface Adapter. The game was published in 1978 and was conceptually the same, but with a few key differences. First, there were only six rows of bricks. Second, the player is given five turns to clear two walls instead of three. One notable addition was the Breakthru variant, where the ball does not bounce off of the bricks, but continues through them until it hits the wall. Atari had this term trademarked and used it as a sister term to Breakout in order to describe gameplay, especially in look-alike games and remakes.

In 2010, the game was re-released in a Taco Bell promotion, in which a series of four classic Atari game CD-ROMs (Centipede, Lunar Lander, Super Breakout, and Asteroids) were given away in kids' meals, and were also available for purchase separately. Although the disc is titled Super Breakout, the game is a simulation of the original TTL Breakout, and also features an "evolved" gameplay mode. Legacy Engineering developed this series of games for the promotion.

Super Breakout[]

The success of the game resulted in the development of Super Breakout a couple of years later. While ostensibly very similar to Breakout – the layout, sound, and general behavior of the game is identical – Super Breakout is a microprocessor based game instead of discrete logic, programmed by Asteroids programmer Ed Logg using an early M6502 chip. Super Breakout can therefore be emulated in MAME and is also featured in a number of different Atari compilation packs. The original Breakout has not been featured, since there is no processor in Breakout — the game would have been more "simulated" than emulated.

In Super Breakout, there are three different and more advanced game types from which the player can choose:

  • Double gives the player control of two bats at the same time—one placed above the other—and two balls. Losing a life occurs only when both balls go out of play, and points are doubled while the player is able to juggle both balls without losing either.
  • Cavity retains the single bat and ball of Breakout, but two other balls are enclosed on the other side of the wall, which the player must free before they, too, can be used to destroy additional bricks. Points are increased for this, but triple points are available if the player can keep all three balls in play.
  • Progressive also has the single bat and ball, but as the ball hits the paddle, the entire wall gradually advances downwards step by step, gaining in speed the longer the ball lasts in play.

Other platforms[]

Glu Mobile released a licensed cellular phone version of Super Breakout that includes the original game as well as updated gameplay, skins, and modes.[9] In 2008, Atari released the game for the iPhone and iPod Touch via Apple's App Store.

Super Breakout was made available on Microsoft's Game Room service for its Xbox 360 console and for Windows-based PCs in May 2010.

Breakout 2000[]

There was also a reinvented Breakout 2000 game for the Atari Jaguar game console. Breakout 2000 was a 3-D version of the arcade classic. Designed for one or two players. The object of the game remained the same but in a 3D playfield. There were a total of ten different Phases to survive, each consisting of five playfields. Each playfield was more difficult to clear than prior one, and each Phase added even more difficulty and features.

The game featured good and bad power-ups somewhat similar to Arkanoid. There were unbreakable bricks, multi-hit bricks and stacked bricks. Ball movement was limited to the lower level of stacked bricks so breaking a lower brick would allow the stacked bricks to fall into the now vacated location. The game also featured a 2 player mode that allowed two people (or a person and the computer) to compete head to head. In this mode a player's ball could loop around to the other player's playing field and break the opponent's bricks. A 2X bonus was awarded for breaking your opponent's bricks.

IBM PC and PlayStation[]

Breakout was once again updated for the IBM PC and also for the PlayStation. This version featured an ongoing storyline. In it, the character of Bouncer must rescue Daisy and his friends from the evil Batnix. With advice of Coach Steel, he travels different lands to rescue his friends:

  • Tutorial: Bouncer must break out of Batnix's prison to rescue his friends. After that, he must escape a wolf.
  • Egypt: Against a backdrop of Egyptian desert sits a giant pyramid, its secrets hidden from view. Only total destruction will unlock all its treasures. Beneath the pyramid are secret tombs through which Bouncer must battle in order to reach the Mummy's Lair, where a final battle will rescue his first friend.
  • Farm: Bouncer must use his Breakout skills to defeat sheep, chickens, and ducks to rescue his second friend. After that, he must outrun another wolf.
  • Castle: A giant Dragon carries a captive into a majestic, towering medieval castle surrounded by a deep moat. Bouncer must first defeat the knight guards on the drawbridge before he can enter the castle. Once Bouncer has completed several different challenges, he must climb the castle tower to the Dragon’s nest and do battle with the Dragon to save another one of his friends.
  • Factory: Batnix has devised an evil robot henchman to guard his captives in his diabolical factory. A series of devious, puzzle-like levels must be negotiated before Bouncer battles the deranged robot to complete his mission.
  • Space: Bouncer launches a rocket into space in order to chase the evil Batnix and rescue Daisy. Bouncer must use his Breakout skills to deflect killer asteroids.

Unofficial variations[]

Many unofficial variations of Breakout were created for home computer platforms such as Apple II Plus, TRS-80 and PC. A version of the game called "Little Brick Out" was included on the DOS 3.2 System Master disk for the Apple II.



Apple II[]

Breakout directly influenced Steve Wozniak's design for the Apple II computer — "A lot of features of the Apple II went in because I had designed Breakout for Atari. I had designed it in hardware. I wanted to write it in software now."[10] This included his design of color graphics circuitry and the now infamous beep and click sound circuitry. It also directly influenced his design of Integer BASIC (which he referred to as "Game Basic"), with his Integer BASIC version of Breakout being the first "proof of concept" application running on the prototype Apple II. His desire to play Breakout on his new computer also led to the addition of a paddle interface, and ultimately the bundling of paddle controllers and a cassette tape containing the code for Breakout for the Apple II's commercial release.

Pilgrim in the Microworld[]

Pilgrim in the Microworld is an autobiography by David Sudnow detailing his obsession with Breakout. Sudnow describes studying the game's mechanics, visiting the manufacturer in Silicon Valley, and interviewing the programmers.[11]

Super Breakout story[]

For Kid Stuff Records, John Braden recorded a 7-in 33 1/3 RPM record telling the story of Super Breakout. This science fiction story dealt with NASA astronaut Captain John Stewart Chang returning from a routine mission transporting titanium ore from Io to space station New California. He encounters a rainbow barrier, presumably a force of nature, that seems to have no end on either side. He has three lobbing missiles of white light that he can bounce off the hull of his shuttle, and they prove able to break through the layers of the force field. With his life support systems failing, what follows is a test of endurance turned game as he strives to break through the barrier in space.[citation needed]

Other games[]

  • Arcade remakes include Atari's own Super Breakout and Taito's Arkanoid as well as Namco's Quester.
  • Handheld devices have had variants included with them as well. The most notable are those designed for rotary control, such as the iPod and the BlackBerry's Brick Breaker. The iriver got Brickmania on the RockBox OS. An earlier handheld variant was Nintendo's Alleyway, released in 1989 for the original Game Boy system.
  • Microvision The earliest handheld device with swapable cartridges, ca 1979, shipped with Block Buster, a simplistic Breakout clone.
  • An updated version called Bebop was made in the 90s.
  • Later versions of Turbo Pascal included Breakout, with source code, as an example of the Object Pascal language.
  • Currently Sega's newest mini-game on SONIC the Hedgehog (2006) is based on Breakout.[12]
  • Peggle is based on a combination of pachinko machines along with the mechanics of Breakout.[13]
  • Hardball is a free computer game similar to breakout which was made for the Palm OS.


  1. Letters – General Questions Answered,
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wozniak, Steven: "iWoz", a: pages 147–148, b: page 180. W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN 13:978-0-393-06143-7
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kent, Steven: The Ultimate History of Video Games, pages 71-73. Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Player 2 Stage 1: The Coin Eaters
  5. 5.0 5.1 Arcade History: Breakout
  6. Classic Gaming: A Complete History of Breakout
  7. Phosphor-Dot Fossils: Breakout
  8. Features - Woz Was Here - Steve Wozniak On His Gaming Past
  10. Connick, Jack. "...And Then There Was Apple". Call-A.P.P.L.E. Oct 1986: 24.
  11. "When Television Marries Computer; By Howard Gardner". The New York Times. March 27, 1983. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  12. Sonic the Hedgehog
  13. FEATURE: The Making of Peggle. Edge (2007-11-27). Retrieved on 2009-05-29