Tony Temple is the creator and owner of arcadeblogger.com and author of Missile Commander: A journey to the top of an arcade classic. As the Guinness world record holder on Missile Command, Tony shares some insight into the challenges faced by Atari when creating this iconic arcade title.
In creating the original coin operated version of Missile Command, its programmers Dave Theurer and Rich Adam would ultimately leave a great deal out of the finished product. Creating Missile Command was something of a journey. Ideas were programmed, tested and then would live or die depending on feedback from colleagues and players. Here are a few features originally intended to form part of Missile Command that ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor.
The initial brief from their boss, Steve Calfee, described a scenario where the player protects bases along the Californian coastline from an onslaught on enemy missiles. The proposal was that this gameplay environment would be represented as a radar display.
The suggestion of players interfacing the game through a radar screen was actually implemented early in development by the two young programmers. But it quickly became clear that having large parts of the display literally disappear as the radar swept across the screen was far from practical.
Early brainstorming sessions threw up a multitude of other ideas that on paper sounded interesting, but ultimately had to be left out of the final game:
But perhaps the biggest U-turn, was the removal of the huge attract panel from the prototype version of the game. This large panel was lit with incandescent bulbs and was intended to inform the player of the status of their game at any point.
It was an imposing piece of design, that played into the immersive nature of the subject matter. However, during the field testing, the universal feedback was that it was nothing more than a distraction. Players found it very difficult to look at the panel, figure out what information they needed, then go back to the screen – it was like closing your eyes for a few seconds in the middle of all the mayhem going on.
The game also went through several name changes. Originally called Coastal Defence Game, other name ideas included World War 3, Armageddon, Apocalypse and Edge of Blight, before Gene Lipkin, Head of Sales and Marketing came up with the final name: Missile Command.
The arcade version of Missile Command is a sum of its parts, a distilled and refined version of what might have been a much more complex, but probably less successful game. On release in arcades across the world, it went on to sell over 14,000 units. It was a big hit for Atari.
The release of Missile Command would answer Atari’s mantra perfectly: The game was Easy to learn, difficult to master.
Copies of Tony Temple’s Missile Commander book can be ordered directly here.