Asteroids (Atari, 1979)
June 26th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Recently, Dayna and I went to the Oskar Blues Bar in Lyons, Colorado. We’re taking a look at some places to have our actual wedding. As I have flown for every single wedding I have ever attended, with the exception of my friend Fodge and a Fort Collins Legend known as “Captain Kick-Ass,” I have decided to make virtually everyone I know fly to our wedding. But at the same time, having it in our backyard would be awkward because that’s where we hide the bodies and most of my friends have a long history of digging for exotics. Lyons is a few miles over, so that’s perfect.

Dayna recently took a job that has her in Lyons, and more importantly, has her at lunchtime in Lyons. She is able to go to the Oskar Blues Bar with some regularity. Here is a quick recap of how our conversations about this have gone. KEEPING IN MIND, that OBB may as well be my Hajj.

Dayna: They had Burger Madness at Oskar’s today!
Robb: Awwwwww, this is BULLSHIT!

I am happy for her. But imagine your favorite place in the world. Now imagine someone you love with all your heart going there so often and it being such a common happening that they have time to check out neighboring on-fire shacks when they go (which they DO). They could be re-enacting the beginning of Infocom’s “Trinity” while I am near the Blues Bar, and I wouldn’t even poke my head out to check.

Dayna told me that there was an Asteroids machine in the lobby.

Now, there is already a world-famous arcade downstairs. And several dozen pinball games down the street from ole Oskar. But Asteroids?! I immediately started with the questions.

“Was it an Asteroids, or an Asteroids Deluxe?” I asked. You know, I really do take her for granted. Honestly, the only two people in my life I could get away asking that question to without someone attempting a swirlie on me would be Dayna and Pinner. And there is a 50/50 chance that Pinner would make a crack about how I originally had an Asteroids clone in my Top 100 Games list and not Asteroids proper. An Asteroids question asked, and no sarcasm returned….? This is why I am marrying this girl.

She couldn’t say for sure that it was a regular Asteroids. She said she didn’t remember the words “Deluxe” being anywhere.

So we went. I actually walked right by the thing. Totally missed it in the lobby. In fact, I started to give her shit about it ever being there. Then she pointed to it. It’s one of the heaviest games of its era. It’s a hulking beast that I didn’t own mostly because of its savage girth. And apparently, in certain lobbies, it slinks.

Dayna gave me a quarter to play. I have played a lot of Asteroids in recent days, because I have a GP2X system that runs MAME. But it has a very, very, very shitty thumb pad, and certainly nothing like the actual controls on a real Asteroids machine, which are all leaf buttons. They are glorious. Any version of this played with a joystick is just missing the point. When you play this thing, you are not some obnoxious a-hole with a gamepad in his hand. You are SPACE COMMANDER MAN, operating his SPACE COMMAND SHIP by pressing buttons to rotate and fire and thrust and hide like MOTHERFUCKING CHEKOV or something.

And the screen. The screen! There used to be an Asteroids Deluxe cabaret machine downstairs at Oskar’s. I’d estimate the monitor at 13″. To see the real and true thing, on the original game, with a nice bezel, is other-worldly.

How the fuck did they get it so correct? How did Ed Logg put something together that is so timeless, even to this day? It feels like you are piloting a fucking spaceship. I have no idea what that would really feel like. And sure, because momentum is not conserved, it isn’t even accurate. It’s inaccurate, but more truthful than if it was. That’s what people say about fiction. The buttons are exactly the right size. They are spaced perfectly. The ship moves just the right amount when you press a button to rotate it. It is perfection. My life is richer for having experienced the Real Thing again.

So I bought one from Evil Exidy. I’ve installed the high score save kit, and the thing is running like a tank. A flawless, burn-free, recently-capped-monitor tank. It’s where Xenophobe used to be, and it’s fitting: Xenophobe was the one arcade game I had that never gave me any trouble, and Asteroids (almost a year later, now!) has behaved exactly the same way.

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