Placing unsuspecting gamers right in the heart of a terrifying storm, Atari’s Tempest literally put a whole new perspective on video games. With dazzling color vector graphics (an arcade first), the game was set in a gravity well, a forced-perspective structure with your claw-like yellow “Blaster” skirting around the outside rim. From inside the blackness, hordes of enemies approached, sliding up and around the walls, ready to destroy you on contact.
The 16 Tempest shapes ranged from simple circles, rectangles and triangles to trickier V-shapes, binocular-like double ovals and more. As the levels got tougher, so did the enemies, from side-stepping red Flippers to swirly green Spikers, Flipper Tankers (which split into two Flippers when hit) and speedy Fuseballs.
Once all the on-screen targets were destroyed, the player flew head-on into a new level, shooting or carefully avoiding any green spikes left behind by the Spikers. After all 16 playfields were beaten, the game sent players through new variations on the same shapes, this time with a higher skill level and new enemies-the ultra-tough Pulsars, Fuseball Tankers and Pulsar Tankers.
Designer Dave Theurer had already scored one 1980 hit with Missile Command, and Tempest (released the following year) carried that game’s sense of mounting pressure, increasing the tempo to a fever pitch as the action progressed. Not even the screen-clearing “Superzapper” (limited to two uses per stage) was enough to relieve the tension.
The paranoia-inducing pace of Tempest propelled it to the height of popularity, and it is still fondly remembered by anyone who had the pleasure of dumping a bucketful of quarters into the highly-addictive arcade game. If you have recollections of a sweat-dripping brow as you tried to keep the world safe from these vector graphic enemies, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this chaotic coin-op game from yesteryear.