A decade had passed since humans set foot on the moon, when Atari decided to give their quarter-bearing customers a whack at it. Released in 1979, Lunar Lander was a challenging, pressure-filled adventure that probably sucked up enough quarters during its short existence to finance the real Apollo mission.
Lunar Lander‘s screen displayed simple vector graphics of the Moon’s surface that turned out to be surprisingly rocky and jagged. Those hoping for a soft landing on a landscape of green cheese were in for a rude surprise. The lander had thrusters to counteract gravity and could rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Points were awarded for successful landings, proportionate to the difficulty of the terrain. A throttle controlled thruster burn, two buttons rotated the lander in either direction, and a third ‘abort’ button was your last chance in case something went wrong.
The game offered several levels of difficulty that featured increasingly harder landing surfaces. From Training to Cadet to Prime to Command, players of all skill levels could try their luck at bringing down the lander. The screen displayed a wealth of information based on real world physics, like altitude, horizontal and vertical speed and fuel levels. Approach and landing used up fuel and if your lander was still in the air when that fuel ran out, it was a fast, short fall to the surface. Thankfully, pumping more quarters into the game bought you more fuel.
Lunar Lander remained a popular arcade game until Atari unleashed another space-based vector graphics game later that year, called Asteroids. It’s safe to say we all know who won that war. Still, Lunar Lander lives on in the hearts of many as one of their earliest arcade game memories. And if you really get a hankerin’ to play, it’s pretty easy to find online versions.
If you financed a few lunar missions of your own, playing the addictive game of Lunar Lander, we welcome your memories in our comments section.