My God! It's full of vectors!

Tempest is pretty much the end all, be all of vector arcade games. This is the the single most collected vector game among hard core collectors, although Asteroids is technically a little more common. This 1980 title was Atari's first color vector game. It was designed by Dave Theurer. It seems that Dave had the idea in a dream, he dreamed about monsters crawling up from a hole in the ground. But Atari wanted a 3-D monster game, they ended up with Tempest, which isn't quite 3-D, but is certainly stunning, even by today's standards.

The first prototype version of Tempest was entitled "Aliens". It was wickedly difficult and not quite complete. Soon after came Vortex which was a lot like the final version of Tempest, with only minor changes. There were then three distinct software revisions of the Tempest that actually shipped. I personally cannot tell the difference between the three versions, but apparently the differences were large enough that Clay Cowgill created a Tempest Multigame kit just so Tempest owners could toggle between the various versions (and prototype versions), on a single machine.

The last Tempest version of note is Tempest Tubes which is an alternate level version of the original. You can upgrade (or downgrade, depending on how you look at it), your Tempest machine to Tempest Tubes by swapping a few ROM chips on the Tempest ROM board.

The game

Tempest is a spinner game. You control a little yellow shooter that gets to move around on the outside of a tunnel. The tunnel falls away from you in a vanishing point perspective. Each level presents you with a different tunnel, that has a different shape to it. Some of them aren't even proper tunnels because they do not actually connect (some are just lines, et cetera).

The bad guys start at the bottom of the tunnel and quickly work their way up towards your shooter. You have to blast them before they get to the top. Once an enemy reaches the top it will start moving around up there, you can still shoot them, but it is much harder to do so without them hitting you first.

Your weapons are a blaster and a superzapper. The blaster just shoots like any normal video game laser. The superzapper is different though. You can use it twice on each screen. It will kill all the enemies the first time you use it on any given screen. The second time it will only kill some of them.

Some of the enemies leave green lines behind when they move. You have to dodge these lines in the little warp sequence between each level. This is usually easy to do, but sometimes it seems like nearly every tunnel segment has a green line on it, which makes it quite a bit harder to pick the correct one.

The Machine

Tempest was available in three different dedicated cabinets. An upright, a cabaret, and a cocktail. The cabaret was an ugly little abomination, and I shall never mention it again. The others are described below.

The upright machine came in a nice arrow shaped cabinet that featured one long straight angled line from the top of the cabinet to the bottom of the control panel. This design makes it very easy to spot converted Tempest cabinets. The Tempest marquee had a whole bunch of glowing purple lines along with an evil looking crawly thing that looked like it was coming right at you. The sideart had kind of a spacey look to it, with a bunch of red lines radiating out from a central point that had monsters crawling out of it!

The control panel had more spacey lines and holes graphics, along with an optical spinner and a pair of fire buttons.

The cocktail version was a black square table with a woodgrain top. It had red lines and instructions underneath the glass, with player control panels on either side. For some reason the monitors on these were installed butted up against one side, instead of centered. I am really not sure why they did that, but it must have been a space issue of some sort.

Both the cocktail and the upright used a color X-Y monitor. These are notorious for early failure, but they can usually be repaired if you are willing to spend a lot of money on them.

Where to play

You can play Tempest on the Sony Playstation with the Arcade's Greatest Hits: Atari Collection 1 disc. Or you can download the MAME emulator and play it that way. When using MAME you might have trouble controlling the game with the mouse, try using a trackball instead (or a real spinner if you have one). The reason is that you can't continually move the mouse in one direction without picking it up, and you will get blasted if you stop to pick up the mouse.

Let me guess, you probably want to add a Tempest machine to your arcade game collection. Well first thing you should do is go to the bank and take out all your money. Then go online and select one of the many Tempest games that are always available. Try to find one in your area, because shipping can be expensive. Then pull out that $1000+ that the seller wants! Upon receiving your Tempest game you should immediately have the monitor checked out by a knowledgeable technician. Have him do whatever fixes or upgrades it needs, and pay him his $300+. Then you can sit back and cry at your empty wallet, but smile at your shiny new Tempest machine that will hopefully last a few years before the X-Y monitor gives out again.