It’s not uncommon for a developer to revisit one of their most successful properties in an effort to revitalize the brand, usually as a reboot. 2013’s Tomb Raider is an excellent example of a company (in this case, Square Enix) not radically changing their already successful formula. They simply gave it a more hardcore and modern feel, a far cry of how the series first began. On the other side of the spectrum, you have franchises like Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment first crafted Warcraft as a real-time strategy (RTS) game where the player commanded a vast army against either a computer or their friends. It was an enormous success with three core games and a handful of expansions. Then World of Warcraft came, abandoning the RTS format for a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). It’s since become Blizzard’s flagship title, and now people born in 2004 associate Warcraft with raids and vast open worlds, not strategic commanding. Truly these are only two examples of a practice that has since become exceptionally normal.
However, nothing can compare to what was announced earlier this week. This may even take the prize for most radical change of a single property that’s over 30 years old. Details are exceptionally slim, but what we know is that Atari is taking their 1979 mega hit Asteroids and making it an online multiplayer open world survival game. It will be called Asteroids: Outpost. Apparently this game will have you shoot asteroids (obviously) to get resources/defend the base that you are building on a giant asteroid. You’ll also fight off other people who want to destroy your property. There is no release date set outside of “soon,” but people are buzzing about this title for a couple reasons. One is that it came completely out of left field. If anyone is claiming that they expected this to happen, they are definitely a dirty liar. The other is the fact that Atari is taking one of the most iconic and simplistic games in history, and completely renovating it. It can either become the next surprise hit or a permanent example of why you should never mess with success.
Asteroids was very much a sign of the times when it first blew people away. The video game industry as we know it wasn’t even ten years old and no one really knew what to expect. When Atari first rolled out this cabinet, it was completely revolutionary. Flying a tiny triangle ship while simultaneously shooting misshapen asteroids and UFOs seems like nothing now, but the industry hadn’t seen anything like this before. People absolutely ate the game up and willingly used their loose change to get the highest score. The simple design attracted the masses, making it a game that practically anyone could become a master of. It was one of the original examples of something that made players say, “Let me give it one more try,” only to go back for at least five more turns. This all lead to Atari making an absolute killing in business revenue and Asteroids to become one of the best selling arcade games in history.
The simplicity of Asteroids has allowed it to stand the test of time. Even now, in a world where people can turn on a console and romp around fully realized worlds that sometimes even make real life seem exceedingly boring, Asteroids remains. Major companies still release updates for it too. Back in 2007, an HD version came to Xbox Live boasting the classic gameplay with a stronger visual appeal and a few extra features. The original vector graphic game was included in an Atari Greatest Hits titled for the Nintendo DS in 2011. There are several other examples of this, and that’s just with official game companies too. People well versed in programming can now replicate Asteroids with ease anywhere, which really isn’t that shocking nowadays when people can play Doom on Canon printer.
Since Asteroids predates me by ten years to the month, it’s massive popularity had definitely waned by the time I reached the appropriate age to play games. By that point Nintendo had already taken over and Sega was fighting for success. The games were colorful, story driven adventures that greatly occupied my time. I didn’t have to go to an arcade to play. All I had to do was pop in a cartridge and turn on the television. Within minutes I was blasting robots as Mega Man or chasing after Bowser with Mario to rescue Princess Peach. With the industry rapidly changing right before my eyes, I had no reason to make Asteroids a priority. I have played the game many times over the years, but those moments were infrequent and I never actually owned my own copy. A close friend of mine had an Asteroids cabinet in his basement which made me incredibly jealous. Perhaps I’m the exact demographic Atari is hoping to hit. The young adults who grew up after Asteroids and will be more likely to play a game like Asteroids: Outpost.
No one knows at this time if Asteroids: Outpost will be a success. From a business standpoint, Atari does have a lot to gain by giving this the Asteroids name. The property is easily one of the most iconic in gaming. It’s not the most successful by a long shot, but everyone knows about it. That’s what is generating initial interest too. People are noticing this game because it’s a re-imagining of a classic. Nearly everything about it is completely different. If this game was only called Outpost, it honestly wouldn’t get this amount of early attention. People might have noticed it because it’s from Atari and does sounds like an interesting game. By calling the game Asteroids: Outpost, Atari is instantly putting the spotlight on it. Now they’re going to have to really deliver. The original game is legendary and this one has some big shoes to fill if it hopes to honor the name.
If this does succeed though, I look forward Atari’s possible follow up: Pong All-Stars, which I imagine will be a massive online tennis tournament.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.