One of Atari’s most critically-acclaimed and successful video game series of all time, Tempest, continues to impress today for both its addictive gameplay and spartan yet beautiful vector graphics. Premiering in the arcades in 1981, Tempest is the first cabinet to make use of Atari’s then cutting-edge Color-Quadrascan Vector Display technology. Vector graphics use lines and geometric shapes to depict gameplay and are still used today in games.
Initially conceived as a sort of three dimensional version of the ultra successful Space Invaders by Taito, Tempest eventually made its own name for itself and really shines as its own type of game in and of itself.
Unlike Atari’s other games, Tempest was the first to introduce a difficult or level select. How easy or hard the game was depended on the level the player was currently attempting. Like other Atari games, there isn’t a narrative or clear end to Tempest but that wasn’t really the purpose of arcade games at that time.
Players control a spaceship consisting of two triangles that crawls along the edges of the playfield which is typically a tube shape. The main goal is to survive the endless waves of enemies and get a high score to move on to the next stage. There are 16 stage variants that the player cycles through as they progress through the game, their cycle being denoted by a change of color. Of course, the game is over when the player loses all the ships available but progression through the game awards new ships intermittently.
Currently, Tempest series guru Jeff Minter has made two authorized sequels with a fourth reportedly in the works per a 2017 article. Named Tempest 2000, 3000, and 4000 respectively, these sequels maintain the original’s core gameplay but add flare in the way of color graphics and amazing soundtracks. Tempest 2000, in particular, is noted as one of the best games available for Atari’s swansong console, the Jaguar. Tempest 3000, bizarrely, was tailor made for the NUON technology that powered some DVD players. For those unaware, NUON was a kind of video game technology platform in the vein of the 3DO that producers attempted to bake-in to consumer-grade devices. It went nowhere, of course. Tempest 3000, however, existed as a demo game for the unit and, as impressive as Tempest is as a game, we’re sure this didn’t do the tech many favors in terms of showing off its prowess.
The Tempest series is a touchstone for many gamers because it is such a mastery of the art of gamecraft.
Tempest not only demonstrates that graphics can be beautiful without being complicated but also that derivative ideas can turn into entirely different concepts themselves. It is hard to discount how big of a video game phenomenon Space Invaders was. Tempest’s initial conception as a 3D realization of that legendary title birthed a new type of genre and game entirely. For that reason, Tempest belongs in the video game hall of game alongside other stalwarts like Pac Man and the aforementioned Space Invaders.