Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Puns aside, I have had this mega flu for the last couple of weeks. On top of a rather large work load with my other hobby (being in a band, www.giantkitty.com) has somewhat prevented me from blogging about arcade games. Or doing the 456 things I want to fix on some of these games. Not that being bed ridden doesn't have its advantages. I started scouring the internet seeking out my next arcade game adventure. However after stalking several deals on the internet swap shop sites I finally caught a decent one. Well, it was a bit more than just decent. So we gassed up the van and headed about an hour north of Houston.
Tempest is on what I would call my "bucket list" of games to have in the collection. I would also boldly state it is probably on a lot of collectors "bucket lists". Developed by programmer Dave Theurer, and rumored to have been inspired by a nightmare, the game involves firing your abstract shaped space noodle thing into a changing 3-D grid of deadly monsters coning at you from the horizon of the grid. You have to act fast or get fried. Instead of a joystick you use a spinner controller, which really helps with the fast pace of the game. (Check out the excellent wiki article about the game for more information) You could argue the overall artistic style of abstract spaces and game concepts makes Tempest the first almost surrealist game experiences.
Tempest has a lot of things going for it. Firstly it is a vector game. For those of you who don't know, vector monitors are very unique. Unlike traditional CRT style monitors of the era, vector monitors produce exacting straight lines from point to point. There is no jaggedness to lines, and the animation is often much smoother than other games of the era (Tempest was released in 1981). Vector graphics can scale with no loss in resolution, which wouldn't really be an option for traditional "Raster" games until many years later and the advent of processors powerful enough to make high resolution polygons. Even then, one could argue there is something truly magical about vector graphics. They have an almost timeless quality. Second, the cabinet is just gorgeous. Its wedge style construction was unique to this game only and really stands out compared to other cabinet designs of this era. Finally the game play itself is vivid to look at, fast paced, and enjoyable to play.
Tempest was also Atari's first color vector display, creating amazingly vivid blues, greens, and reds. This became somewhat of a problem for Atari however, since the hit game was difficult to translate to home versions. Those exact vector graphics just couldn't be down translated to less powerful low resolution raster based home machines. Although an Atari 2600 version was developed, it was never officially released (prototypes exist, and it's almost unplayable). Other versions for the Atari 8-Bit computers and at the time new powerful Atari 5200 also never saw the light of day during the 80's, although versions of these games are now available thanks to the hard work of hobbyists and retired Atari employees. Tempest became one of the few classic arcade games of the early 80's that never got a home release, maybe making it even cooler.
Vector monitors also have a huge negative: they are somewhat unreliable. Although the Atari system was somewhat better built than some other companies, these monitors take a lot of care and understanding to keep running. This one has had what is called a LV2000 low voltage kit installed to help with its durability. Still, my experience tells me with any vector game it's not a matter of if it will have issues down the road but just when it will have issues. This particular example however does have an interesting history behind it.
Home owned for over 30 years, the gentleman I purchased it from bought several games from a going out of business Chuck-E-Cheese Pizza in 1985 (which I presume was in Fort Worth from the documents I found in the bottom of the game). He not only bought this Tempest, but also a Dragon's Lair and a Q*Bert. It's hard to argue with his talent for choosing both future classics and some of the most unreliable arcade games to keep running. Dragon's Lair and Q*Bert were unloaded at some point when they stopped working (which I would bet was at some point in the 90's) but the little Tempest soldiered on. Despite the amount of roach poops in the bottom of the cabinet, the game was a pretty clean and shockingly correct example, something that is getting to be a rarity in collecting anymore. Finding an original unaltered game, that also still functions is getting rare in a time where so many of these games have been either destroyed or turned into multi-arcade machines. The other amazing thing is I am now only the 3rd owner of this 37 year old arcade machine.
It did however at some point in its life take a nasty fall, chipping the back top panels of the cabinet. The left side isn't so bad, and the side art is pretty minty on this side with very few dings... the color still pops and there are zero signs of fading.
The right side wasn't so lucky; a much larger chunk of the cabinet is missing. The side art on this side is badly scratched and gouged. Still presentable, and these flaws don't really in my opinion distract from an amazing example of a true survivor. I am debating to keep it as it is, or repair this damage at some point. I guess everyone has battle scars, and it's tempting (more puns) just to keep it as is.