Centipede Marquee

Centipede - Upright - 1981 - Atari

Some History

Centipede, for almost two decades, has been my "all time" favourite coin-op arcade game. As a product of the 60's (wedged between the Baby Boomers and Generation X), I spent the majority of my teen years hanging out in video arcades, salivating over the then incredible selection available at the time (Tempest, Defender, Asteroids, Galaxian, Missile Command and Pac Man.) But, it was Centipede, with its wickedly colourful marquee (the forked tongued centipede twining itself salaciously around mushrooms) that lured me with a sense of urgency. Never had I, or likely ever will, play a coin-op game with such passion and fervour. I recall forgoing the last bus home at night (a good half hour ride) just to ensure the safety of my high score! Years passed, academia became the focus of my life and visitations to arcades became less frequent. However, when I did take the time to patronize an arcade, I would first search for my favourites -- Centipede, Galaxian and Tempest (in order), and then peruse the "latest and greatest" (that which held the quarters of the teens) of that day. I would casually play such modern games, but never leave the arcade without spending at least a couple of dollars on the classics. Even today, my heart still hammers in my chest, akin to a confrontation with an old lover, upon seeing Centipede in an arcade.

Recently, the love and central focus of my life, TFM began his hobby of coin-ops. Asking me for my favourite games, I told him -- he balked at Tempest (the troublesome vector monitor -- a horror for some collectors, I understand). With my birthday a couple months away, TFM secured a Centipede game -- unbeknownst to me. One day I received a cryptic e-mail from TFM, informing me that "The Invasion Begins." Then, on the Wednesday prior to my birthday, I entered our apartment and saw my electronic lover from the past -- the heart palpitations nearly turned into a seizure -- the invasion had arrived. I still cannot believe I own Centipede!

About the Game Play

The control panel houses a track ball on the right hand side and a fire button to the left. The far left side of the panel contains two small red lit buttons to choose one or two player mode. Immediately upon selecting either one or two player mode, the game begins and the centipede descends, pulling upon every fibre of concentration you possess.

The screen of the first wave is littered with intermittent mushrooms -- solid for all intents and purposes. The bottom one fifth of the screen contains the player's shooter arena -- the shooter being a small serpent head shaped piece, controlled by the track ball. The shooter can fire shots straight upwards by pressing the fire button for each shot or holding the fire button down for rapid fire [my preferred method of playing.] Only one shot will remain on the screen at a time [so you want to make sure you are hitting actual targets and not just randomly shooting -- an easy pathway to slip down in the heat of the game -- but you won't have to worry about this for long as the screen fills up pretty quick with targets.]

The centipede (one head with many sections comprising a tail) begins its travels at the top centre of the screen, moving back and forth, dropping down one "line" at a time as it impacts with either a mushroom or the side of the screen. Each time the centipede is shot (the section having been shot transforms into a mushroom), a section of the tail becomes another head (randomly shooting the centipede will create many "heads" -- both a plus and negative.) The centipede(s) work itself downwards towards the bottom of the screen. If the player has been unable to eliminate the entire centipede by the time it reaches the very bottom of the screen, each section then winds its way upwards -- however, at each turn (impact with the side of the screen or a mushroom), another head appears in the lower fifth of the screen. The heads will appear to multiply like rabbits, and if a certain calmness is not maintained by the player, death is imminent (just take as many with you as possible -- they are points after all.)

Two other targets the player will encounter in the first wave are mushrooms and spiders. Mushrooms are stationary and require four shots before being completely destroyed. Spiders seem to have an intelligent mind and know where you are (seem being the operative word, as they do appear randomly if often.) Spiders dominate the bottom fifth of the screen and work their way from one side to the other (they cannot move backwards once they've appeared) in 45 degree diagonal movements and straight up and down movements. Spiders are a boon in that they do destroy the mushrooms they come in contact with -- but they just as easily destroy the player's shooter.

During the second wave, complete with a new centipede and more spiders -- all in a new colour scheme, the player will be faced with a new opponent -- the flea. Fleas drop straight down from the top of the screen to the bottom, leaving a trail of mushrooms in its wake. Fleas appear when there are fewer mushrooms on the screen than should be during a particular wave (as the waves progress, more mushrooms are required to prevent the fleas from dropping.) The fleas can be targeted (must be shot twice to be destroyed -- but be warned, after the first shot, the flea speeds up) and mushrooms thusly prevented from appearing in the lower portion of the screen [I personally like to keep the lower fifth of the screen as empty as possible because once the centipede reaches that point, you will need all the space you can muster to eliminate the centipede.]

During the fourth wave, a scorpion [appears more like a slug to me] makes its appearance and continues to appear randomly throughout the remainder of the game. The scorpion moves horizontally from one side of the screen to the other, poisoning any mushrooms it comes across (the player will know the poisoned mushrooms by their brightness and different colour from the other mushrooms.) When the centipede comes in direct contact with a poisoned mushroom, it will suddenly drop straight down towards the bottom of the screen until it either connects with the bottom of the screen or its head is shot by the player's shooter. The scorpion requires only one shot from the shooter to be destroyed.

As the waves progress, opponents move faster and the difficulty increases -- hysteria is often a direct result of playing this incredible game. The colour scheme of the board changes with each wave, enhancing enjoyment and playability of the game. The player is originally given three shooters with extra shooters awarded every 12,000 points.

Points are awarded as follows (with shots required for destruction in brackets):
Centipede section = 10 points (1 shot)
Centipede head = 100 points (1 shot)
Mushrooms = 1 point (4 shots)
Spiders = 300, 600, or 900 points
(depending on the proximity of the spider to the shooter (1 shot))
Fleas = 200 points (2 shots)
Scorpion = 1000 points (1 shot)

An interesting point of trivia regarding Centipede is that it was created by a woman -- it certainly has a woman's addictive and deadly touch! I am still attempting to regain the expertise for playing Centipede that I possessed in the 80's -- at least I have the highest score on my game (for the moment.)

Xandria (Copyright 1996 Akasa Publishing)

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