Placing unsuspecting gamers right in the heart of a terrifying storm, Atari’s Tempest put a whole new perspective on video games. With dazzling QuadraScan™ colour 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 carried that game’s sense of mounting pressure, increasing the tempo to a fever pitch as the game went on. Not even the screen-clearing “Superzapper” (limited to two uses per stage) was enough to relieve the tension.
That paranoia-inducing pace turned Tempest into one of the arcade’s most sought-after action classics, sharing a berth with such fast-paced favourites as Robotron: 2084 and Theurer’s own Missile Command.