About Tempest

Tempest, created in 1981, was an awesome arcade game that transported the player into abstract realms of space. Soaring into its second decade of life, Tempest is still the favorite of devotees who seek to become one with this adventure through hyperspace.

The Creation of Tempest

Dave Theurer, who designed the game and wrote the software, said his original intention was to make a first-person perspective of the Space Invaders game, but he ended up doing something completely new and different.
Rich Adam: "Dave implemented a first-person Space Invaders. Everybody played it but they didn't keep coming back. You could tell when you had something cool, the engineers kept coming back. This was good and bad because there were times when you wanted to work on your game and everybody would want to be playing it. But when he was doing the first-person Space Invaders, Dave didn't run into this problem of everyone wanting to play the game. . . and he said to himself: 'Well, maybe this isn't working. What can I do?' Then I came in one day and all of a sudden he had this round tube with these things coming up it. I said, 'What the heck is that Dave?' He said, 'I don't know. Aliens from the center of the Earth? I don't know.' I think he said something about having had a dream about it. I said, 'How does it work?' He said, 'I don't know. They're coming up around the edge of this thing and you're trying to blow them away.' He just sort of started out with this concept and took it from there. I can see why he would say that Tempest was certainly his proudest achievement. He worked extremely hard on that. It's pure creation from his own brain."

Remembrances from the Video Game Masters

Although known for his hard work and for his ability to focus on and conquer exceedingly tough software problems, Dave Theurer looks back upon his days at Atari as having been fun and rewarding.
Dave Theurer: "It was just so exciting working on these new games. All my life I loved explosions. When I went to college I was a chemistry major because I wanted to do something where I could make explosions. When I was a kid I had a chemistry set and I'd blow stuff up all the time. Eventually, you learn that you can't really do that in real life, so the next best thing is to do it on the screen, so here I was blowing stuff up on the screen. Simulating real life is fun too. It's almost like you can create your own universe. Well, you are creating your own universe. That's rewarding, to see something come alive."

Playing games, both video and pinball, was a constant part of life for the engineers at Atari.
Dan Pliskin: "In the morning, I used to go in and I'd make up a pot of Italian roast or French roast coffee and pour myself a big mug. Then I'd go and sit it on a pinball machine and drink coffee and play pinball until scores got up to, like, a couple hundred thousand. That would be my indication that I was sharp enough to go and design something."

Popular from the Start

Tempest was a game that immediately captivated people from the very start.
Lyle Rains: "Like a number of these games that were very addictive, the Tempest controls were good enough to where once you learned how to manipulate them you could almost become one with the machine. That is, a good Tempest player gets to spin that knob and do the firing in the right time and get into sync with the machine or get into a rhythm. I don't know exactly what to call it, but you were so close to the action that part of you entered the experience. You forgot about what was going on around you and you were just there. And you could get very good at it. I think what people like is the ability to accomplish amazing things."

The Great 25-Cent Escape

Not only did players often find a sense of welcome escape in the video games they played, but this was very much the intention of some of the great game designers.
Dave Theurer: "I want to design it for a guy who's totally frazzled by his job and needs a way to temporarily escape. There's a certain class of games . . . where you just get into a trance when you're playing them. As long as you're in this trance you'll do fine."

This exerpt is from the Microsoft Arcade "History of the Game"