Missile Command

created and published by Atari in 1980, running on Arcade
type: shooter
genre: Defense game, Serious game, Missile Command-like
setting: Present
perspective: side view
player options: single player
languages: eng
Find at EMMA
bootleg(s): Super Missile Attack

Personal review

Traditional 1979-81 Atari arcade game, but an impressive challenge thanks to its format of missiles that, once aimed, take time to reach their targets.
# 2002-12-11 20:26:28


Very few games had proper endings in early videogame history. This one does. It may be first game where losing is intended to be a proper ending.

The six cities are intended to represent Eureka, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego, all in California, USA.
Interestingly, Eureka was in a supposedly in a zone least likely to be a target of nuclear weapons. However, this may have just been Cold War propaganda and no historical sources confirm this. The city has a potentially great harbor and was the site of the third nuclear power plant in the world in 1954 (though not officially). The nuclear power plant there in fact has been a constant focus of misinformation. It was knowingly built inside an earthquake fault line (the area has 3 large faults and many smaller ones). It was supposedly shut down in 1976 due to the 'discovery' of the 'new' faultline it was built in. Public outcry after 4 earthquakes in 5 months ranging from 4.5 to 5.7 was probably what lead to the sudden 'discovery' of the known facts. They announced that refueling and seismic upgrades would be performed. This was of the type of reactor design where the rods were never meant to be removed. So when there were spent, the housings were opened though they were never designed to be, and the rods were just forced all the way through the other end of housing. Leaving a gaping hole in the housing and the rods 'somewhere' underground outside of the structure (hopefully they would at least fall into the water pool that provided some shielding). New rods had to be somehow moved in to an area where no human could survive and then maneuvered into the housings then the housings closed again. Tightly, hopefully. After a flurry of initial activity, two years followed with no apparent further work. New rods were successfully inserted 2 years before? Then came three mile island. In 1976 there was a sudden announcement that it was not cost effective to turn the reactor back on due to changing regulations. The plant would remain off, all radioactive materials safely and immediately removed, and the building would be torn down by 1983. 1983 came and went. In 1988, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission designated the plant SAFSTOR. That means the plant can now be shut down (now shut down?!) and everyone waits for the nuclear materials to decay from their super ultra mega deadly dangerous state to mere ultra mega deadly dangerous state so they are safer to move. ..., ... This wait can take as long as 60 years according to USNRC. BTW, their uranium-238 (that's what they claimed to be using) would be half as dangerous (just as deadly) in 109 after shut down and 75% less dangerous (just as deadly) in 218 years and 87.5% less dangerous (just as deadly) in 327 years (and so on). Never the less, The company announce in 1996 that "all radioactive materials had been removed". And in 1999 that "all radioactive materials had been removed". And in 1999 that "all radioactive materials had been removed". And in 2002 that "all radioactive materials had been removed". And in 2004 that three nuclear fuel rods that were planned to be removed from the facility next year were unaccounted for due to conflicting records regarding their exact location. Nuclear fuel rods would be amongst "all radioactive materials" by most people's definition. A 1 million dollar investigation determined they were in the water pool. Water in the water pool would be amongst "all radioactive materials" by most people's definition. The location of the rods remained undetermined. In 2008 the company announced that had finished moving all spent nuclear fuel into dry cask storage on site. On site?... "removed" would be thought of as "removed" by most people's definition. They had nothing to say about the three missing rods that must still be setting in the water pool (unless they are underground inside the faultline the reactor was built in). In 2010 they started constructing huge buildings that enclosed the entire site, not just the reactor building, and even the surrounding cow fields (mmmmm beef, its whats for dinner for hungry little mutants). The roof and most of the building walls were removed last year exposing brand new multi-fuel Wärtsilä reciprocating engine-generators and the old coal generators that everyone has told are not longer being used to generate electricity despite their continued movement and production of smoke (which the company insists is 100% pure water steam, same as the mills and pulp mills in the area once insisted). Work on the new generators was announced finished soon after and also that "all radioactive materials had been removed". Except the three missing rods of course. The reactor building is still there. USNRC requires complete dismantling of SAFSTOR sites in a maximum of 60 years. That means, in this case, all radioactive materials had been removed and the three missing rods accounted for by 2048. I'm sure it will be done before then, at least twice.

Missile Command II planned for a 1982 release would have been a 2-player cooperative version of the game. It was to have the USA protagonist (player 1) and his USSR counterpart protagonist (player 2) cooperating; each destroying missiles launched by the others' country and ones launched from their own, in order to protect cities on both sides. The "Missile Command II" seen in Arcade Classics is merely a graphics update to the first, not this originally intended cooperative game.

Missile Command was created in a time when Nuclear Holocaust was the biggest fear of most of the population of the USA. Missile Command is propaganda and the message is ominous; tally it however you like but in the end everyone dies. Death by nuclear blast or by fallout, there's just no way to win a nuclear war, so don't start one. It was discussed if there should be an end where the player was told, 'you did it, no more incoming missiles. now lets all proceed with dying from fallout'. While many game of the past had no win conditions due to technical reasons and the youthfulness of the industry, Missile Command's end game conditions were carefully debated, anguished over, and decided. The game’s designer experienced nuclear holocaust every night in his nightmares. There are no game mechanics that are the result of technical limitations or coincidences in Missile Command. The perceived slow travel of the ICBM’s and anti missiles (because of the vast distance they are traveling), is part of the anguish. The perceived slow expansion of nuclear blasts (because of scale) was carefully designed to look like the infamous videos of real nuclear tests. The game mechanic of running out of anti-missiles was not created due to memory constraints or to balance gameplay, it happens so the player can frantically do nothing about it as ICBM’s rain down. It doesn't coincidentally torture the player as many games do can be played into an unwinible state by accident or if the player is off-track; it does so purposefully with an unwinable state at all times and finishes it off with a helpless state. Missile Command does not end with the standard "Game Over", it ends with the very carefully chosen serious statement, "The End". The score is merely imparts a quantified futility in the player and the experience, in some small way, of the insanity of taking any action in a nuclear war (therefore the insanity of starting one to begin with). And it encourage quarters from another individual set on quantifying a higher futility of course. A hollow victory is offered to the next player to beat the current high score; while the world ends, they get to record their initials.

The point of Missile Command really is to lose.
(Zerothis) - # 2007-05-02 07:56:47

Technical specs

additional hardware: Custom arcade hardware, Trackball,
display: raster

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Missile Command in-game screen.
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