Lost In Translation/Missile Command

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This page is a stub for arcade games that are part of the Lost In Translation series using information based on MAME (version 0.113u2).
For an example of preferred content and layout please refer to Out Run or The Ninja Warriors.

Missile Command
Missile Command marquee.
No screen shot.
Missile Command control panel.
Manufacturer Atari
Released 1980
3 Button(s)
Main CPU M6502 (@ 1.250 MHz)
Sound CPU Mono
POKEY (@ 1.250 MHz)
Raster (Horizontal)
256 x 231 pixels
61.04 Hz
8 Palette colours
Screens 1
ROM Info 7 ROMs
12,320 bytes (12.03 KiB)
MAME ID missile · missile2 · sprmatkd · suprmatk

About The Game

Missile Command is an arcade video game depicting an Armageddon style war in which players defend their bases and cities with antiballistic missiles (ABMs). The enemy - the game computer – launches incoming waves of attack missiles. These weapons may be either individual or branching attack missiles. In addition, the enemy occasionally launches missiles from a fast-moving 'killer' satellite or from bombers. The enemy also launches 'smart' missiles that usually avoid explosions.

Players receive varying numbers of points for intercepting attack missiles, for having unused missiles still in their bases' arsenals, and for having their cities undamaged after a missile wave.

The play mode begins when either start pushbutton is pressed. The mode ends when the player's last city is destroyed.

The 3 bases - Alpha, Delta and Omega - each have 10 ABMs ready to be fired. Players must be careful to fire the missiles more or less evenly from among those bases, because no more missiles are granted until the screen resets in preparation for a new wave of attack missiles. If the enemy missiles strike a city or base, the colorful buildings or base will change to the solid color of the landscape.

The game continues until all cities are destroyed. Missile Command has no operator-selectable fixed time length. Thus a highly skilled player can play longer than the novice.

During the second wave, a 'killer' satellite and/or bomber will appear on the screen, moving quickly and launching attack missiles at the bases and cities. Players get bonus points for shooting down the satellites or bombers.

The general approach for getting high point scores is fairly quickly discovered : try to launch your ABMs when the enemy missiles have just appeared at the top of the screen. Then they are clustered together, where one ABM can usually destroy several enemy missiles. In the later more advanced waves, players can lay out a blanket of explosions.

Additional Technical Information

Players : 2

Control : trackball

Buttons : 3 - for firing the missiles

=> [A] from Alpha Base, [B] from Delta Base, [C] from Omega Base


Released in June 1980.

Licensed to Sega for Japan market.

Missile Command, was an immensely popular arcade game that combined great game play with a rather chilling message about the dangers of war. Approximately 20,000 units were produced.

Originally called 'Armaggedon', Missile Command was designed at a time that the United States and Russia were locked in a fierce 'cold war'. Missile Command was originally going to have a large status panel as part of its marquee which indicated the status of the bases and cities but it was eliminated when the designers learned that players lost track of on-screen gameplay when they looked up at the panel. There is a picture of a prototype cabinet with the status panel on page 60 of the book 'High Score : The Illustrated History of Electronics Games, 2nd Edition'.

The Creation of Missile Command

The idea for Missile Command began with a magazine story about satellites that captured the attention of Atari's president, who passed the clipping to Lyle Rains. Rains asked Dave Theurer to lead the effort in creating the classic, action-packed arcade game.

Remembrances from the Video Game Masters

Recalling the birth of Missile Command, Dave Theurer said : "The request was for a game where there are missiles attacking the California coast and the player is defending the coast. They said, take it from here and write up a game proposal. In the first proposal it was the California coast. "Part of creating a great game is knowing what to strip away. Some of the first baggage the developers dropped was geographic identifications because of the frightful scenario of the game. And then they stripped away more. Dave Theurer : "The original suggestion was for there to be a scanning radar, but I immediately said, no way! It would be just too hard for the player because he wouldn't be able to see what was going on. We chucked that idea. And when we first developed the game, we added railroads to transport missiles from the cities to the missile bases. That got to be too complicated and people got confused... if you get too complicated, people won't play. We also had submarines for a while but that didn't work out so we ripped them out, too.".

The smart bombs presented the most difficult challenge in writing the code for Missile Command. Dave Theurer : "These little diamond-shape guys can evade your explosions. The only way you can kill them is if the explosion starts out right on top of them. Programming that was the hardest part. They had to be intelligent because the little guy had to look around on the screen to see what he had to avoid and he had to figure out the best path to go around what there was to avoid. Of course, if I made it too smart, then the player couldn't kill it and they'd be guaranteed instant death. So it had to be a fine line between smarter than the dumb missiles, yet not totally unkillable.".

Nerves of steel is the way Rich Adam one of the Missile Command team members described his coworker : "Dave Theurer was extremely detail oriented, very thorough, very disciplined. He had nerves of steel, would never get rattled, and worked tirelessly. You need nerves of steel because if your code doesn't work it's your fault, something inside that code is not correct. There's really nowhere to hide. The real Achilles' heel with a lot of software people, I believe, is that they spin their wheels and they go through this denial phase : 'It can't be my code! How could anything possibly be wrong with it? My code is so straightforward!' Well, it's so straightforward you might not have thought of a nuance. So, that's why it takes nerves of steel, I think. The work requires sort of a cold, methodical approach to the software."

Even before it shipped, Missile Command had intense fans. Speaking of the play the game got just within the labs of Atari, Ed Rotberg said : "There were guys there that would literally have to worship that game for hours at a time. Their hands were sweating, and it was a definite adrenaline rush." Describing some of the dedicated players at Atari, Dave Theurer said : "We were in the same building as the consumer division and there were a couple of guys from that division who would come down and spend all day playing Missile Command. I don't know what they did upstairs, but they would spend the entire day playing the game."

The Great 25-Cent Escape

The escape from reality could sometimes have frightful consequences. The horrifying subject matter of Missile Command had an impact on the developers. Dave Theurer : "It was pretty scary. During the project and for 6 months after the project, I'd wake up in a cold sweat because I'd have these dreams where I'd see the missile streak coming in and I'd see the impact. I would be up on top of a mountain and I'd see the missiles coming in, and I'd know it would be about 30 seconds until the blast hit and fried me to a crisp.".

Steve Calfee : "Everybody I know who really got into the game had nightmares about nuclear war.". The game was nearly shipped with a name that carried the message of the end of the world... Armageddon. Steve Calfee : "We had this big thing about the name of the game. From the beginning, it was called Armageddon. The management, themselves, didn't know what the word meant and they thought none of the kids would. Then we went through this big thing of naming it. Engineering loved the name Armageddon, and we always wanted to call it that. From the very top came the message, 'We can't use that name, nobody'll know what it means, and nobody can spell it.'" Placing the game in the context of the previous decade, Ed Rotberg said : "The thing about Missile Command is that the world was not nearly as stable politically as it is now. There is a little bit of a spooky message in that whole game when you have that final cloud at the end.".

Victor Ali holds the official record for this game on 'Marathon' settings with 80,364,995 points.

Roy Shildt holds the official record for this game on 'Tournament' settings with 1,695,265 points.

Hacks of this game are known as "Super Missile Attack" and "Missile Combat".

A Missile Command unit appears in the 1982 movie 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High', in the 1991 movie 'Terminator 2 - Judgment Day' and in the 1995 movie 'Species'.

A Missile Command upright cabinet appears in the Judas Priest music video 'Freewheel Burning'. The game's THE END screen appears at the end of the video.

In 1982, a multi-player sequel was planned but never released. This game would have have been identical to the first except with twice as many cities and batteries and the players cooperating to save each other's cities from the onslaught.

In 1982, Atari released a set of 12 collector pins including : "Missile Command", "Battle Zone", "Tempest", "Asteroids Deluxe", "Space Duel", "Centipede", "Gravitar", "Dig Dug", "Kangaroo", "Xevious", "Millipede" and "Food Fight".


Points are awarded for destroying enemy missiles, ships and planes :

Target Points
Missile 25
Killer Satellite 100
Bomber 100
Smart Bomb 125

Bonus points are awarded at the end of each stage for any cities and missiles remaining :

Item Points
Each unused missiles 5
Each saved city 100

A scoring multiplier based on the wave being played is displayed at the start of each level :

Wave Multiplier
1 & 2 1x
3 & 4 2x
5 & 6 3x
7 & 8 4x
9 & 10 5x
11 and above 6x

Tips and tricks

  • A sound tactic used by many is to fire a sweeping barrage of missiles across the top of the screen at the start of a wave thereby taking out many of the first shots fired by the enemy.
  • There are usually two main attack waves per stage. Just when it looks like things have calmed down, another assault commences. Repeating the strategy above is a good idea.
  • The enemy bombs which avoid your missiles are usually fooled by a couple of quick missiles being fired on opposite sides of the bomb, but overlapping. The bomb cannot then escape.


  1. Missile Command (1980)
  2. Missile Command 3D (1995, Atari Jaguar)


From hiscore table
Dave Theurer (DFT)
Steve Calfee (SRC)
Rich Adam (RDA)

Cabinet and Artwork


Atari 2600 (1981)
Atari 5200 (1982)
Emerson Arcadia (1982, "Missile War")
Atari XEGS
Nintendo Game Boy (1991)
Sega Master System (1992, "Arcade Smash Hits")
Atari Lynx (1994)
Nintendo Game Boy (1995, "Asteroids / Missile Command")
Sega Game Gear (1996, "Arcade Classics")
Sega Mega Drive (1996, "Arcade Classics")
Sony PlayStation (1996, "Arcade's Greatest Hits - The Atari Collection 1")
Nintendo Super Famicom (1997, "Arcade's Greatest Hits - The Atari Collection 1")
Sega Saturn (1997, "Arcade's Greatest Hits - The Atari Collection 1")
Nintendo Game Boy Colors (1999)
Sony PlayStation (1999)
Sony PlayStation (2001, "Atari Anniversary Edition Redux")
Sega Dreamcast (2001, "Atari Anniversary Edition")
Nintendo Game Boy Advance (2002, "Atari Anniversary Advance")
Sony PlayStation 2 (2004, "Atari Anthology") (Appears in both arcade and Atari 2600 forms.)
Microsoft XBOX (2004, "Atari Anthology") (Appears in both arcade and Atari 2600 forms.)
Nintendo DS (2005, "Retro Atari Classics")
Atari 800 (1981)
Tandy Color Computer (1981, "Polaris")
Tandy Color Computer (1982, "Defense")
Tandy Color Computer (1982, "Missile Attack")
Commodore C64 (1983)
ZX-Spectrum (1983, "Missile Defence" - Anirog Software)
Acorn Electron (1983, "Missile Control" - Gemini)
BBC B (1983, "Missile Control" - Gemini)
ZX-Spectrum (1983, "Missile Command" - Anirog Software)
VTech Laser-VZ ("Missile Attack")
BBC B ("Missile Strike" - Superior)
Atari ST (1986)
PC [MS Windows, 3.5] (1993, "Microsoft Arcade")
PC [MS Windows 95] (1995, "Patriot Command", part of "Windows Arcade Pack")
PC [MS Windows, CD-ROM] (1999)(This port was re-released in 2002 as part of "Atari Revival".)
PC [MS Windows, CD-ROM] (1999, "Atari Arcade hits 1")
PC [MS Windows, CD-ROM] (2001, "Atari Anniversary Edition")
PC [MS Windows, CD-ROM] (2003, "Atari - 80 Classic Games in One!") (Appears in both arcade and Atari 2600 forms.)
Atari 10 in 1 TV Game (2002 - Jakk's Pacific)
Mobile phone [Motorola T720] (2002)
Nokia N-Gage (2005, "Atari Masterpieces Volume 1")
Atari Flashback 2 (2005)

Soundtrack Releases

Album Name Catalogue No. Released Publisher Comments
Missile Command KSS-5031[1] 1982-01-01 Kid Stuff Records & Tapes Vinyl version.
Arcade Ambiance 1981 N/A[2] 2002-01-01 Andy Hofle Digital download only.

External Links


The contents of this page are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
The sources used include MAME (version 0.113u2) and history.dat (revision 1.28 - 2008-10-18).
Please see http://www.arcade-history.com for credits.