For all of the mass frenzy created by the introduction of Pong in 1972, the excitement started to wane four years later, as the public was eager for new and exciting arcade games. As a result, future Apple computer creators Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak put their heads together and the result was Breakout, the newest chapter in coin-operated game history that was destined to sweep the world.
The ball and paddle were already familiar to legions of Pong fans. Less familiar was a series of rows of bricks at the top of the screen. While the entire game was in black in white, game designers cleverly placed an overlay of colored cellophane strips over the screen giving the illusion of a color game. And like all early video games, the concept was pretty simple. Using the paddle, players guided the ball towards the rows of bricks, which eliminated them each time the ball came in contact. Play continued as long as the ball was kept in play and never made it past the trusty paddle. Once all of the bricks were eliminated, a new wall was introduced. Making things slightly more complicated, the paddle size would eventually decrease to half the size and the ball speed would increase as the more difficult upper layers of bricks were reached. Two players could play Breakout, taking turns until their three individual lives were used up.
Breakout was an immediate success, and within a year, Atari responded with a sequel called Super Breakout. In this version, new alterations included a “cavity” section, where two additional balls were trapped within the bricks. Free them, by removing the surrounding bricks and you soon had multiple balls to work with. And all three balls had to get past the paddle before a player lost their turn. Also, another variation caused additional rows of bricks to appear at the top of the screen, pushing the lower bricks towards the paddle and intensifying the action significantly.
Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and if so, the developers should feel overwhelmingly flattered. Thanks to the success of both Breakout and Super Breakout, countless cloned versions of the game have found their way to arcades, home gaming systems and PC’s over the years. A quick search on the internet can have one reliving the glory days of Breakout in mere minutes. And for anyone who takes the time to boot up a good ol’ game of Breakout and relive the simpler time of arcade games, one thing quickly becomes evident. Simple doesn’t equate into boring. Some of the most simple games continue to be the most addictive.
If you caught the Breakout bug back in the 70s, we welcome your memories in our comments section, as we pay tribute to this classic and innovative arcade game from Atari.