Some things are instantly addictive. One sweet taste and you’re immediately hooked for life. No, I’m not talking about anything illicit. I’m talking about things like Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, Lay’s Potato Chips (Betcha can’t eat just one!), and Astrosmash for the Intellivision.
Released in 1981, the game quickly became on of Intellivision’s most popular titles, replacing Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack as the game included with the purchase of the console. Over one million copies sold (a feat shared by Major League Baseball, NFL Football, Space Battle, and Space Armada).
The premise of the game is insanely simple. You control a laser and you have to blast objects falling to the earth (including meteors and bombs). An alien spaceship occasionally appears as well. You move your canon left to right, shooting the falling objects. As gameplay goes on, the objects begin falling faster. However, if you start losing lives the objects slow down again. Points were gained by destroying objects. If falling meteors hit the ground, points were deducted. In moments of desperation, to keep from getting destroyed, you could engage the “hyperspace” feature, which would warp you to a new screen location.
The game began as a clone of the game Asteroid, and was designed by John P. Sohl (a self described “computer guy” who has also worked in the cancer research business). Sohl was one of the “Blue Sky Rangers,” the core group of programmers who started Intellivision’s in-house software development. Their identities were a closely guarded secret to keep corporate headhunters from Atari away. The team (which later grew to 110 members) were dubbed the “Blue Sky Rangers” by Howard Polskin in a 1982 article he wrote for TV Guide. The article describes them as,”…guys who talk as though they could do their math homework without hand-held calculators.” He goes on to say that the Blue Sky team are, “mostly under 30 and border on that fine line between eccentric and brilliant. They’re paid to think (between $20,000 and $40,000 a year) and it reflects in their appearance. They’re haphazardly dressed. For the most part, their eyes seem sunken and hollow from countless hours spent toiling indoors in front of computer terminals. They all work in carpeted cubicles in a vast windowless room that seems designed to turn their thoughts inward.” Their workday sounds like something a dream, describing how the team’s daily “routine” involved play testing the product and how members typically found their way to an arcade to unwind after the business day ended. The game refers to Sohl as “Josh” (the article’s attempt to further protect the programmer’s identity from Atari) and mentions that he had previously worked at the UCLA School of Medicine in bio-mathematical cancer research.
Like the popular Night Stalker, Astrosmash is one of the titles that Tommy Tallarico and the folks at Intellivision Entertainment say will be re-imagined and released on the new Intellivision Amico system (slated for release in 2020). With such an iconic, popular game, they’ll have large shoes to fill. If their team is anywhere near as creative and devoted as the original Blue Sky Rangers, I’m sure they’ll be up to the challenge.