37 years of Breakout
May 14, 2013 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Not a Doodle, but an Easter egg Google has a fun way to celebrate Atari Breakout's 37th anniversary.
posted by doctornemo (42 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, that's clever. Is there anybody who makes a decent USB paddle controller these days? I've got a jones for some real Breakout/Arkanoid/etc.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:28 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Beat level 1. Image search immediately did a search for "wolverine" and generated a second level populated with new images. Anyone know if there's a pattern?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2013

I could do this all day. MUST GO TO WORK.

Thanks for the smile Google.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This made me so unbearably happy when I saw it this morning. I got all the way to "Creme Brulee" before i finally crashed. Now I can gladly go for the next 30 odd years, knowing that like bicycle riding, Breakout is in me forever.
posted by Mchelly at 6:37 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breakout is fun, but Kaboom! is the bomb.
posted by swift at 6:40 AM on May 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Okay, that's just fun. Yay!
posted by rmd1023 at 6:40 AM on May 14, 2013

Going to Maine - after Atari Breakout images, mine next went to a search for something that started with B (don't remember what the second level image was and I'm now on my work machine so i can't check till later), then C (creme brulee), so I assumed it was straight alphabetical order. Now I feel like I have to go back in! Argh!
posted by Mchelly at 6:40 AM on May 14, 2013

I forgot how big a PITA it was to hit the last block. Christ, I feel really old now - I recall when this came out.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you are interested in Breakout, video games, or mind body-machine-interaction, definitely try out the following free PDF version of David Sudnow's "Pilgrim in the Microworld". Published in 1983, it chronicles Sudnow's descent into madness and addiction as he becomes quite literally obsessed with Breakout (though he keeps the focus on the game, the personal story is always lurking around the edges). Extraordinarily prescient writing about video games. His style can get in the way of his subject at times but it's a short read and definitely worth it.

Free PDF of "Pilgrim in the Microworld"
posted by soy bean at 6:46 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Playing this with a mouse feels almost like cheating, until the pointer goes off screen.
posted by vanar sena at 6:48 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay. Atari Breakout -> Mexico City -> Australian Shepherd. I guess it's random. Sigh.
posted by Mchelly at 6:49 AM on May 14, 2013

"Just like riding a bicycle" is exactly the thought that occurred to me as well.
posted by drlith at 6:52 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I'm gonna play that all day I need a stack of quarters and a jean jacket.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

Dammit, it was 463!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on May 14, 2013

Yep, I'm still really bad at Breakout.
posted by elmer benson at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2013

posted by Mezentian at 7:05 AM on May 14, 2013

Okay. Dakar -> Curry Chicken -> Ratatouille -> London -> Ibiza -> Juice -> Apple Pie.

Definitely random.

I checked purely in the interests of science, of course. (2820 points!)
posted by Mchelly at 7:20 AM on May 14, 2013

Level 2: Horse
Level 3: Puppy
Level 4: Ceviche
posted by shakespeherian at 7:27 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breakout is the greatest game ever. EVER.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:28 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yay! Super fun.
posted by Glinn at 7:29 AM on May 14, 2013

Breakout plus weird random input lag is very frustrating!
posted by smackfu at 7:38 AM on May 14, 2013

Many years of gaming later, there is still little more satisfying than breaking through to the top with a tiny tunnel and watching it eliminate the upper rows itself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:40 AM on May 14, 2013 [18 favorites]

For the record, I got kimchi for level 1. Then stopped there because I'm at work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2013

Oh god, I loved Breakout and Super Breakout on my 2600. Also Warlords and Night Driver. Basically, I loved the paddle.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Basically, I loved the paddle.

Yeah, me too. And the hairbrush. And the... wait. We might be talking about different things.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 7:55 AM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Basically, I loved the paddle.

Yeah, me too. And the hairbrush.

Is that you, Stevie?
posted by TedW at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got Boston Terriers on round 2, which made the whole thing doubly wistful as I just lost my dear little Boston Terrier.
posted by Mister_A at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2013

The 1986 game "Arkanoid" inserted a risible backstory into a basic Breakout ripoff/clone. Your paddle is the "Vaus", which is actually a spaceship trapped in space warped by someone; after doing a lot of breakouty stuff and leveling up, you fight a big boss named "Doh" (which admittedly Breakout did not have; and this was a few years before Homer).

A magazine from decades ago (Creative Computing?) reviewed a fake game with a similar story of aligning dimensional polarities, handwave, handwave, and it turned out to be tic tac toe.
posted by kurumi at 8:49 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breakout is the greatest First game ever. EVER.
All things old become new again.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2013

Level 2 for me was papaya.
posted by Splunge at 10:54 AM on May 14, 2013

I got Boston Terriers on round 2, which made the whole thing doubly wistful as I just lost my dear little Boston Terrier.

If I were more conspiratorially-minded, I would suspect that Google was data-mining your life in order to psyche you out at video games.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:07 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

You young ones might not know this, but there was a time when you could buy something called Video Pinball, which was a game console that only allow you to play a certain number of games on your TV. My family had one of those consoles and, after a slight electrocution scare as my father installed it on our old color TV, we had what can only be termed genuine months of family fun. My mother would wait until my brother and I had gone to bed and then would play this until all hours of the night. We didn't know this until years later, but she was a gaming junkie. We thought she just loved us and wanted us to have the latest Atari or Colecovision or whatever, but the truth was she gave herself carpel tunnel syndrome playing the first Atari version of Pac Man.

She's still a pretty avid gamer (though she leans more to Words with Friends these days) but really Video Pinball (which included Breakout) was her gateway drug.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:03 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Finished two levels, over 1K points, before quitting because, although it's cool, it's still Breakout.

The original arcade Breakout, legend has it, was written by Steve Wozinak himself. Atari had contracted with his friend Jobs to make it (not "write"; see below), and Jobs went ahead and contracted it to Woz for a fraction of the money they gave him.

Arcade Breakout had no processor; like Pong, it was implemented using discrete logic components in hardware, and so it's not emulateable because there's nothing to emulate. The best you can do is recreate it. It also used a black and white monitor; a sheet of color cellophane was used to provide the colored wall (which means the ball changes color when it reaches that part of the screen). Space Invaders used that trick too.

Arcade Breakout is one of those nearly-forgotten games that dates to the early days of arcades, before Space Invaders exploded and, for five short years, turned arcade gaming into a multi-billion dollar a year industry.

Breakout has two levels. If you clear the first board of bricks you get a second, after which the game ends regardless of the number of balls you have left. This fits into the "extended play" paradigm of arcade games prevalent at the time: games were of a limited maximum length, generally, but if you did well that length would be extended once only. Space Invaders overturned that, replacing it with a single extra life. I think it's Asteroids that was the first to offer indefinite extra lives.

After Breakout Atari released Super Breakout, which had several improvements on the original, and then the 2600 versions which are the most-recognized versions today. 2600 Breakout has an entertaining (for a little while) mode called Breakthru, where the ball smashes through the wall completely, producing interesting melodic noises as it does so. 2600 Super Breakout has two particularly interesting modes, one with captive balls in the wall that can be released for multiball play, and another in which the wall slowly descends as you play, revealing new walls to break, going on until you finally lose.

Breakout is one of those ubiquitous games that even people who weren't alive in the 2600 age tend to know, it's soaked into the culture like Pac-Man. It might even be more ubiquitous than that actually; because its algorithms are very easy to implement in software (poor Woz had to do it the hard way), it's a favorite early project for beginning game programmers.

The most well-known Breakout port is probably Taito's Arkanoid, mentioned above. Atari themselves revisited the game with "Off The Wall," one of their last late classic, pre-Street Fighter II (I call them "Silver age") releases, which supported up to three players (each taking a side of the board) and had powerups and other weird play elements.

Breakout look simple, but there's a bit of subtlety in the behavior of the paddle. First, to really play it you have to have an analogue or rotary controller; a joystick doesn't offer enough precision to play well. The angle at which the ball comes off depends on where on the paddle it hits; collisions towards the edge send the ball away at sharper angles. The game's manual on the 2600 notes that after certain numbers of hits the game starts hitting the ball back at sharper angles.

Breakout is a vestige from a time when people could play video games uncritically, as a game more than an experience. When people play checkers, they don't complain about the make of the pieces or the design of the board; they concentrate on the rules and their implications, understanding that to be the game. So it is with Breakout; the rules are more important than their implementation. As game hardware increased in power, other aspects than the basic rules became prominent, and the superficial aspects of gaming became seen as increasingly important. Yet even now, almost all games are implemented with a fairly simple (often unvarying between games) basic set of rules, with level design, a.k.a. scenario, providing distinction between them.

Yet for some reason some of those old games are still playable now; Breakout is still somewhat fun, and Atari's Sprint series, from around the same time, are still rather cool if you can find some like-minded people to play it with, and of course one of the rare machines still in existence. In fact, these games' lack of superficial elements helps them; because of the extremely limited nature of hardware from the time (the Atari 2600 had more powerful hardware in some respects, since it was color and at least it had a processor!), everything in the game is directly related to the act of playing and doing well at it. This makes these games very simple to immediately comprehend. Well, that's how I'm currently explaining it. There is definitely something different about these very old video games though.
posted by JHarris at 12:10 PM on May 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

You can think of a game's display, when using a cathode-ray-tube monitor, as being a one-dimensional signal. The display hardware, like with a TV, traces the electron beam left to right over and over, dropping down a line each time, and when the beam is "on" it excites the phosphor coating of the screen and produces light. That's how video monitors produce an image.

When you're creating an image yourself rather than using a camera, you're basically using logic components to *choose* when to tun the electron beam on, rather than using a pre-recorded signal. Your hardware can also send blanking signals, which reset the beam to the start, and with the combination of the two you can produce a coherent display. To produce a rectangle, for example, you turn on the beam for a set portion of one scan line relative to its start; and then just make sure to turn it on and off at the same time relative to its start on successive lines. And that's it; that's how you make all your graphics.

In fact, that's how you still make all your graphics to this day; it's just that now we have successive layers of hardware abstraction between the processor and the display, and plasma or LCD screens instead of cathode rays. But the ultimate principle is the same.
posted by JHarris at 12:24 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I finally played through the first level to see what they gave me next. And it was pictures of sloths. I feel so rewarded.

And not to be a pedant, but are the sound effects wrong? Or am I just remember Super Breakout?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:33 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I mentioned the Woz-and-Jobs story on the creation of Breakout was a legend sort of thing. Wikipedia reports it, but mentions that Wozniak's design wasn't useable by Atari.
posted by JHarris at 1:05 PM on May 14, 2013

FWIW, my second level was "Horse Drawing." It was like a grand prize.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:30 PM on May 14, 2013

Arkanoid was a lot of fun and I sunk a fair amount of time in the DS version too.
posted by ersatz at 3:26 PM on May 14, 2013

She's still a pretty avid gamer (though she leans more to Words with Friends these days) but really Video Pinball (which included Breakout) was her gateway drug.

Joey Michaels, I had the exact same experience with my mother, with the same Video Pinball console. I was all about the pinball games, but she was mesmerized by breakout and would watch while I played it, tutting quietly when I missed a brick.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:11 PM on May 14, 2013

Metafiler: revealing new walls to break, going on until you finally lose.
posted by Sutekh at 3:57 PM on May 18, 2013

That's fascinating stuff, JHarris, thanks!
posted by Sutekh at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2013

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