Despite unique cultural tastes, despite the many differences between the two genders (hair full of body vs. body full of hair, two pairs of shoes vs. too many pairs of shoes), despite the widest generation gap, there are two things that transcend all discrepancies and appeal to everyone: hating bugs and shooting crap. Atari saw a golden opportunity and prescribed exactly the right medicine to a want-to-kill-bugs market, which up until then had only been populated by Frogs. Clearly someone needed to compete with current mainstays like Dungeon of Death (which has no relevance to this article; I just like the name because it’s freakin’ metal). They succeeded in making a very popular game–it was Atari’s second most successful game, after Asteroids. There were many reasons Centipede resounded so well with gamers. One of the reasons was its bright, joyful colors. Like Pac-Man, the game’s vivid colors popped off the screen. Also like Pac-Man, it was a terrifying survival-horror game in which a lone survivor is endlessly pursued by enemies until he is devoured. I kid, they’re both kind of lighthearted.
Centipede, in another first, features autonomous enemy A.I. Sure, previous games like Video Olympics were programmed with algorithms to simulate human input, but they only followed a very specific set of instructions (pg. 39-40) Pac-Man took it a step further by having each ghost follow a specific movement pattern, but it was still just a railroad track. Centipede featured the first true A.I.; the willful movement of the enemies built on the already compelling gameplay of Space Invaders. Aside from what’s inside the game itself, Centipede is also notable because it was the first game to be designed by a woman.
Actually, the protagonist was represented as a caped elf in the VCS and 5200 versions. In the comic based on the game he is a little elfish boy with a magic wand named Oliver. Why exactly he would name his wand Oliver is beyond me. I guess the charm of graphics these simple is that they’re just enough to give you an idea of what you’re looking at, and then let your imagination fill in the rest. This is still a common feature today.
With that picture I think I set a new record for going the farthest off-topic in the shortest amount of time. Yay, me. Anyway, the last thing I wanted to say about Centipede‘s appeal is that it demands a full range of skill from the player. From the book The Video Master’s Guide to Centipede:
The following lists some of the mental skills required to be a good video game player.
1. Reaction time
4. Planning and anticipation
6. Perceptual organization
7. Timing and rhythm
8. Pattern learning and recognition
CENTIPEDE has no apparent single skill that stands out; no one skill is at the heart of the game. Instead, it offers an incredibly satisfying mix of just about every skill that has so far been used in past video games. Not only are so many various skills required, but they are each required at a high level in order to fully master the game. CENTIPEDE, in borrowing from the best of what has gone before, culminates in a peak game-playing experience.
The current record for a single game of Centipede rests at 7,111,111 points set by Donald Hayes on November 5th, 2000. My humble score of 17,414 demonstrates that I do not possess a strong showing of the mental skills required to be a good gamer. I am quite pleased, however, to announce that I have the raw physical strength of approximately 1.2 college girls.