Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Houston, the Eagle is now in the hands of drunken bar patrons… Atari’s Lunar Lander put you in control of a manned moon mission, with only a few instruments to guide you to a safe touchdown on the rocky surface. Descending on a vector-drawn moonscape, you battled the natural laws of gravity, friction and momentum with the help of three simple controls—two rotational buttons and a throttle lever (a third button, “Abort,” offered a new chance if things got out of hand).
Starting at the top of the screen, you guided the lunar lander to a safe patch of ground below. A display on the upper left of the screen let you know your module’s current altitude, horizontal speed and vertical speed, and with the proper combination of rotation and thrust, you had to correct your course and your speed in order to touch down safely. Once you got close enough to the surface, the display would magnify to a 2x close-up for clearer control.
Fuel supplies were limited on this mission, and once they were gone, so was your game. Extra coins would buy more, but extra fuel was also awarded for a “good” landing (as opposed to “hard” or “crash”). Points were also awarded for the prettiness of the touchdown—50 for good, 15 for hard, 5 for crash. And for an extra challenge, special spots of ground would multiply your score.
Lunar Lander also gave experienced game players their choice of starting levels. These four “missions”—Training, Cadet, Prime and Command—offered tougher landscapes and more realistic physical factors (atmospheric friction, rotational momentum, etc.)
Lunar Lander’s glowing vector graphics, real-world physics and rumbling engine sound effects drew in crowds of wannabe astronauts, but the game was soon overshadowed by its Atari vector cousin, Asteroids. Over the years, home computer knockoffs of Lunar Lander became commonplace, but none could replicate the kick of the original experience, of first taking the reins of NASA’s pride and joy.