When I lived and worked in Austin, TX, I had a twelve inch long, one inch wide centipede emerge from beneath my desk. When it crawled to the floor, I threw a box of catalogs (32 pounds) at it. It emerged uncrushed. I finally had to bludgeon it with a hammer, and even this took a lot of work. I loved Texas, but I hated the bugs.

I live in a huge house that is very old. And in the basement there are centipedes. They're perfectly happy to live in the basement all summer, but come the Autumn, their feet get cold and they start looking for heat.

Big centipedes with lots of legs.

((((((((((((((((((
((((((((((((((((((

Sort of like that, only bigger. And they have a head. But they move so fast I've never actually seen a head, so I can't create one from memory.

My room is on the second floor, far above the basement. Being an old building, it has deep sub-floors and the sub-floors are connected by passages through which run pipes and the like.

I've lain awake at night, tracing the paths of centipedes to my room. I know how they do it. They climb the pipes, scuttle through the sub-floor, climb more pipes up into another sub-floor. And do you know where they come out? Through the hole in the bottom of my closet! I can't patch the hole because I'd have to rebuild the closet to get to it.

I don’t like killing them, but they’re really hard to catch. So during the day when I can see them, I throw a damp cloth over them, scoop them up and put them outside. They probably run around the side of the building, climb through the basement window and start all over again, but at least they’re having fun instead of being dead.

I’d say, over all, that I have a good relationship with centipedes.

Except at night, when I can’t see them. I can only lay on my futon on the 125 year-old oak floor, ten feet from the hole in my closet and hope that they don’t figure out that the very best place to warm their feet is where I am.

An arcade game from Atari, Centipede was the predecessor of Millipede.
+------------------------------+
|   300ÜÜ     27165            | < score and health
|                              |
|                              |
|                              |
|          8                   |
|   8          8               |
|    8                8        |
|                   8      8   |
|          8              8    |
|      8    ôoooooooooo       º| < centipede
|            88                |
|              8  8            |
|                     8     8  |
|                  8         8 |
|                 8            |
|      8 8                     |
|     8                        |
|                    88        |
|º                 8           |
|   8         8                |
|   8                   8      |
|          =o=        8        | < spider
| 8                   8        |
|        8         8        8  |
|        8       |             |
|                Ü             | < player
|                              |
+------------------------------+

The actual playfield is 30 cells by 30 cells (the diagram above is designed for proportion rather than cell-for-cell accuracy). Player can move in any direction within the bottom 6 rows and shoot (one shot on screen due to sprite limitations).

The spider

A spider wanders in from the side and moves randomly in eight directions. One shot will destroy it. You get more points for shooting it from close range; point blank nets you 900.

The centipede

A centipede of ten or so segments moves across the screen, moving one square toward the bottom when it hits a wall. One shot will take out a segment and turn it into a mushroom.

Mushrooms

It takes four shots to get rid of a mushroom, and you get only one measly point for doing so.

The flea

When you don't have a lot of mushrooms on the field, a flea will drop straight down the field, leaving mushrooms in its path. It takes two shots to kill a flea. Some people get rid of all their mushrooms to attract fleas, which are worth 100 points a piece.

The snake

Every once in a while, a snake will wander in from one side of the screen. Every mushroom it touches will turn poisonous; a centipede that touches a poisonous mushroom will head straight for the bottom of the screen. Shooting one will net you a metric buttload of points.

This game has touch damage; three touches from an enemy will end your game.

From Japanese Mythology...

In the mountains near Lake Biwa, lived the Centipede, a monstrous, outsized creature that preyed upon the people who lived there.
The Dragon King of Lake Biwa called upon Hidesato, a legendary hero in Japanese myth, to slay the Centipede.

Hidesato killed the creature using an arrow coated with his own saliva, fired into the Centipede's brain.
For this mighty feat, the Dragon King rewarded him with a ricebag that would never run empty.

Centipede was an old arcade game released by Atari way back in 1980.

The story

It is always been said that Centipede was the first video game ever designed by a woman (Dona Bailey), although recent interviews with members of the original Centipede team have made it clear that Dona only played a minor role in the project.

Centipede has long been considered a true classic (no matter who actually designed the game), and it has inspired several sequels and computer clones, and been ported to several early console systems.

The game

In Centipede you are attempting to gain as many points as possible, by shooting down your assorted enemies, and by destroying all the segments of the roaming "centipede". You control a little "gun" that is confined to the bottom fifth of a mushroom littered screen. The centipede moves from side to side across the screen, reversing direction (and moving closer towards the bottom), every time it encounters an obstacle. It is composed of segments that must be shot, and it will break into smaller centipedes as you shoot away individual segments (which become mushroom obstacles). Upon reaching the bottom of the screen the centipede begins to work its way back up, and it is reinforced by a second centipede head, which enters at the top of the players area.

On the first level the centipede begins as a single unit (until you shoot it up a bit that is), on the second level it begins in two parts, the third level in three parts, and so on until all the segments start independently of each other.

The centipede is not the only enemy that you must deal with. The spider bounces around in the player's movement zone (but is semi-useful because it destroys the mushrooms that litter the playfield and get in the way). The spider is rather easy to kill, but another one will soon take its place. The flea serves to add mushrooms to the screen. Whenever the screen contains less than a magic number of mushrooms, the flea will drop from the top of the screen leaving a vertical array of mushrooms behind. I myself have found the flea to be the most difficult enemy, but other people seem to have no problem with it. As a matter of fact one of the high score techniques is to trap the centipede and shoot fleas forever (the centipede can be trapped in the bottom section by carefully shooting away sections of it, until it is enclosed in a box). Using that technique has been declared illegal for purposes of achieving the world record score (according to Twin Galaxies, the people who track the record scores on video games).

The scorpion is particularly dangerous, not because it attacks the player, but because it turns regular mushrooms into poisonous mushrooms. When the centipede encounters one of these it will dive for the bottom of the screen quickly, and then head back up (which can be tough to avoid).

You get a bonus life for every 12,000 points. This means that a skilled player can play the game forever, gaining a bonus life every few levels. This is possible because the levels do not ramp up in difficulty forever). So you can basically play endlessly once you reach a certain level of skill. This makes beating the world record score a simple matter of endurance.

The Machine

Centipede came in three different from factors, upright, cabaret, and a cocktail table. The uprights were by far the most common. All of them can be converted to Millipede with only minor effort. They all have control panels with a trackball, although the upright version uses a larger ball than the other ones do. All of the trackballs are prone to wear and tear, but replacement parts are readily available.

The upright was in a white cabinet that was similar in construction to the Asteroids cabinet. The game featured ornate painted sideart of a truly evil looking green bug, while the monitor bezel and marquee basically copied the same picture, but from a different angle.

The cabaret was an ugly looking little thing, with woodgrained sides, and a nameplate down by the coin box (I think all cabaret style games are ugly, so I might be biased in judging this machines appearance).

The cocktail version is black and woodgrained, as has two control panels. The only graphics on this one are a pair of Centipede logos underneath the glass (the same design is also repeated on the control panels.

Where to play

Centipede was so popular that you may actually be able to find a real machine to play on (my local arcade had one last time I checked). If you wish to play at home you can try the Atari 2600 cartridge, or any of the various ports or clones. You can even use the MAME emulator, but it doesn't control correctly unless you have a trackball.

If you want to add this to your arcade game collection, then you better have some money, as Centipede is a very overpriced title (think $700+ for an upright in "fair" condition). I say pass on this one, as you could purchase two or three very nice games for the price of a single Centipede in average condition.

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