Further to the above writeup, Missile Command's real-world inspiration comes from the ABM
defences around Moscow
which were completed in 1972
and upgraded in the early 1980s. Comprising a set of short-range nuclear missiles armed with 2 - 3 megaton
warheads, the engagement sequence was similar to that of the game (if one assumes that the upper half of the play area is orbital space), although under control of a powerful radar
system (and not a soldier with a trackball
). Unlike the game, there were four sites and not three, and only one city; like the game, however, the defence
s were only capable of delaying armageddon, not preventing it entirely. Currently, the system exists in a curious twilight world - too expensive to maintain effectively, too valuable to abandon. If used in anger the missiles would have had adverse effects flash and EMP effects on people and electrical equipment not in shelters, although as the missiles exploded outside the atmosphere the shock and fallout were greatly lessened (not that they would have been much of a consideration at the time). ABMs were one of the reasons behind the development of MIRV
s, 'Multiple Independently-targetted Re-entry Vehicles', the other being a desire to wiggle out of SALT
treaty obligations which set limits on the number of missiles, but not warheads.
Missile Command was one of a handful of cold war video games to deal directly and unsensationally with real-world nuclear armageddon, being both chilling and blackly comic in its bathetic treatment of something which, at the time, did not seem particularly funny. The strategy outlined in The BooBooKitty's writeup above - 'the most important things to defend are your missile silos... it is not as big a deal if you lose a city' - is close to that of American nuclear strategy at the time (the American equivalent of the Moscow ABM system was sited around Grand Forks Missile Base, not Washington DC).
By peculiar coincidence, Grand Forks is also the home of 'Advanced Business Methods (ABM)', a company which sells photocopiers.
As the instructions for the Atari 2600 version above make clear, the concept was sufficiently touchy for home versions of the game to be set on an alien planet (although the curious colour scheme of the arcade machine - purple ground and black sky - creates sufficient ambiguity for this contrivance to go un-noticed, it could also be due to the limits of the hardware). As with Tetris, the game becomes progressively more demoralizing as it goes on - there is no way to win, and after a short while gameplay degenerates into a desperate scramble for survival. Initially, the player is determined to protect every city and silo, but before long it becomes apparent that a form of triage must be applied - triage on a grand scale. In a clever piece of copywriting, the end, when it comes, is definitive - it isn't 'an ending', it's 'The End', the absolute end of everything, a dazzling electromagnetic orgasm of annihilation.
Of course, the only way to win is not to play.