Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Fresh off their success with Pong, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and engineer Al Alcorn headed for the stars with their next game, Space Race. Bushnell had already crashed and burned with a previous space game, the pioneering Computer Space, but with a clever new game idea and the fame of Pong to back them up, he decided to give it another go.
Space Race pitted two rocket jockeys against each other in a race to cross a deadly asteroid field. Starting at the bottom of the screen, players moved upward, trying to adjust their speed in order to avoid the outer space projectiles that flew sideways across the screen. The two-way joystick prevented any left/right movement, forcing the video pilots to time their travels carefully.
Racing against the clock, players tried to bring as many ships as possible to the top, earning points for each successful journey. If your ship collided with an asteroid, a new craft had to start from the beginning, and your opponent scored a bonus point.
Space Race may have been a little too ahead of its time, since Frogger turned a similar concept into a major hit eight years later (admittedly, with brighter color graphics and lateral movement). Whatever the reason, Space Race was unable to match the success of Pong, and relatively few machines were produced. Atari sold the rights to Bally Midway (who released the game as Asteroid, singular, and not to be confused with Atari's Asteroids, plural) then moved on to later successes like Tank and Breakout.