Retro Coin Op Synopsis

A fast-paced, visually pleasing mix of fantasy and action made Centipede a tremendous hit at the arcade. It was also the first arcade game designed by a woman, Dona Bailey (in conjunction with Atari legend Ed Logg), bringing a new perspective that drew as many female players as male players to the crowded Centipede cabinet.

Bailey’s preference for eye-catching pastel colors played an integral part in the game’s success. The screen was filled with striking violets, greens, baby blues and other hues, and each new level brought a new color scheme. It was one of the best-looking games in the arcade, but if that were all Centipede had going for it, the game would have been nothing more than an arcade footnote.

What Centipede had in terms of look, it more than matched in terms of game playing enjoyment. Earlier shooting games like Space Invaders and Galaxian had allowed only side-to-side movement, but Centipede introduced a full range of motion within the bottom fifth of the screen. Using the small trackball control, you maneuvered your diamond-shaped gun around a garden war zone of spiders, centipedes, fleas, scorpions and mushrooms, blasting away at everything in sight. Collisions with mushrooms were fine, but if you hit anything else, it would cost you a precious life.

The centipede itself began at the top of the screen, zig-zagging its way to the bottom and changing direction every time it hit an obstacle. A hit from your blaster would take out only a single segment, splitting the creepy crawler in two. As the levels progressed, the centipede became more and more disjointed, until it entered every level already split into several individual, independently moving segments. Once a segment hit bottom, it began its trek back up, while extra segments would randomly join the party from the side of the screen.

Adding to the chaos were the centipede’s pest buddies. The madly hopping spider popped out near the bottom of the screen, flitting about until it either left the screen, got vaporized, or managed to collide with your gun. The fleas dropped from the top of the screen in straight lines, leaving extra mushrooms in their wake. Moving horizontally across the screen, the scorpion turned every mushroom it hit into a glowing poisonous mushroom. If a centipede hit one of these infected fungi, it would make a beeline (centipedeline?) straight for the bottom of the screen.

Did we mention it was overwhelmingly fast? Centipede moved at a breakneck speed, offering no breathers between levels and a constant barrage of deadly bugs. The funky background music and sounds only made things more stressful, which apparently was exactly what gamers wanted. Centipede was a smash hit, Atari’s second-highest selling machine behind the original Asteroids, and players flocked to the machines in near-record numbers.

A follow-up, Millipede, was released in 1983, introducing a cast of all-new bugs and new features like explosive DDT bombs. The sequel was another huge success, and both games remain favorites of the gaming community well after their initial release.

Arcade Machine Release History

1980 - Centipede
1983 - Millipede

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