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Centipede Arcade Game by Atari - Classic Reviews

Updated on May 11, 2013
Graphic from the Centipede Arcade Flyer
Graphic from the Centipede Arcade Flyer | Source

Centipede Origins

Atari released the Centipede arcade game in 1981, the brainchild of game designers Ed Logg and Dona Bailey, with the former handling most of the game development.

It is Bailey's involvement in the creation of Centipede however that is most notable, given she was the first ever woman credited with designing an arcade game. Bailey had joined Atari from General Motors after developing an interest in video games through playing Space Invaders in a local arcade. Her experience programming chips used for climate control in cars were directly transferrable to Atari, which used the same Motorola processors in their games at the time. As a lone female in an all-male department, Dona was drawn towards the Centipede project as it seemed the least violent, and she thought it would have wider appeal to players of all kinds, just as the earlier PacMan had.

On its launch the game was incredibly popular, selling all over the world with over 40,000 units shipped, second only to Asteroids as Atari's most popular arcade game.

Centipede World Record

The official high score on the Centipede arcade game was set in November 2000, by US gamer Donald Hayes with 7,111,111 points.

Centipede Gameplay

Centipede is an arcade shooter in the style of Space Invaders, but with a number of key differences in the gameplay. First, your character can move in more than one axis, having the ability to move not just left and right, but up and down the screen area. The second difference to Space Invaders is the behaviour of the enemy character, the Centipede of the title, which begins the game as a series of connected segments, snaking left and right down the screen. As the Centipede is shot, it breaks into 2 creatures that then move independently. The movement of the Centipede segments is affected by mushrooms which infest the playing field, causing the enemy to drop down the screen and change direction when struck. The behaviour of the enemy Centipede and the placement of the mushrooms made for a lot of variety in gameplay, and allowed differing tactics to be employed to clear the screen. To spice things up, various other enemies are introduced, including a mushroom-generating flea, a spider, and a poisonous scorpion, all of which can be destroyed by the player.

Rather than using a joystick to control movement, the player character is controlled via a trackball, similar to the type used in Atari's Missile Command game, with a button to shoot.The level is complete when all of the Centipede components have been destroyed, and a new Centipede is created at the top of the screen.

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Centipede Upright CabinetCentiped Cocktai Cabinet
Centipede Upright Cabinet
Centipede Upright Cabinet | Source
Centiped Cocktai Cabinet
Centiped Cocktai Cabinet | Source

Centipede Arcade Cabinets

As with many of the early arcade games, the cabinets came in both standard upright and sit-down cocktail versions.

The upright cabinets include the iconic centipede side art, similar in style to the Galaxian cabinet, with a huge alien-like insect climbing the side of the machine. The control panel is notable for its lack of joysticks, as it uses a trackball to control the player character, coupled with a single fire button to launch missiles.

The rarer cocktail cabinet version had controls for 2 players on either side of the unit, allowing the screen to flip between turns to show the playfield in the correct orientation.

Millipede by Atari - Arcade Screenshot
Millipede by Atari - Arcade Screenshot | Source

Centipede Arcade Sequels

Centipede was such a popular game in the arcades that a sequel was inevitable, and Atari obliged in 1982 with the logical follow-up, Millipede.

The primary changes in the sequel involved the introduction of all new enemy creatures, including an earwig, bee, spider, worm, beetle, dragonfly and mosquito, each with their own behaviour patterns. There was also an insectiside bomb that would appear at random, and could be shot to destroy any bugs in it's blast radius. At certai points the Centipede would be replaced by waves of particular creatures, who must be completely destroyed before progressing to the next level.

Not as popular as the original Centipede, Millipede was still a great game and had it's own official home conversions for the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment system.

Centipede Title Screen for the Atari 2600
Centipede Title Screen for the Atari 2600 | Source

Centipede Home Conversions

Like many of Atari's other arcade hits such as Asteroids, a home version was created to satisfy the needs of players looking to experience the game outside the arcade. The Centipede game created for the Atari 2600 was a functional conversion, if not graphically perfect, and replicated well the fell of the arcade machine.

Due to the limitations of the Atari 2600 the mushrooms in the original were replaced by coloured blocks, as well as the player character. Despite the lack of a trackball, and the blocky graphics, the game was very popular. Later Atari consoles also had their own releases of Centipede, with improved graphics.

Clones of the game were released on many consoles and home computers at the time, including a great version by Alligata software for the UK's BBC Micro called Bug Blaster, which was also released on the Commodore 64.

Centipede Origins for the iPad and iPhone
Centipede Origins for the iPad and iPhone | Source

Playing Centipede Today

Centipede is available to play today on a number of modern consoles, including recent versions produced for the XBOX 360 as part of XBOX Live Arcade and the Game Room, as downloadable titles.

There is also an officially licensed iOS version for iPhone and iPad, which can be dowloaded from the Apple App Store. Centipede Origins has upgradeable weapons and mutuple levels, and is a great version loosely based on the original game.

For a more authentic version, an App is available titled Atari Acade Classics, which includes a faithful conversion of the original Centipede along with other retro games. The touch controls can be a little fiddly, but its the closest thing to playing on an 80's machine today.

Centipede Poll

Where did you first play Centipede?

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    • profile image

      Jacobb9205 3 years ago

      Looks great! Must play lol!

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 4 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      Spectipede! I think I remember that one... and if I had a pound for every PacMan clone on the Spectrum I'd be reasonably better off!

    • RetroBrothers profile image

      Martin Allan 4 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      The first version of Centipede I played was Spectipede on the ZX Spectrum.

      I then played the Atari 2600 version