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Breakout (Arcade) artwork

Breakout (Arcade) review

"Introduction and History 


Introduction and History 

Just when the public was convinced there was no more to come from Pong and clones, Atari drops Breakout onto the scene. Breakout quickly became an arcade favorite with its more complicated game play and much higher skill curve but still simplistic controls.

In the mid 1970s Atari felt the burn from competitors' Pong clones. While Atari already had plenty of games in its lineup, only Pong and Tank were real successes. To combat poor sales, Atari hired Steve Jobs, future co-founder of Apple Computers, to program Breakout. Jobs found the task too difficult, however, and could not figure out how to build the circuitry, so he called upon his good friend Steve Wozniak to assist in programming. From this point, Woz finished Breakout's design in a mere four days. Satisfied with the results, Atari paid Jobs five thousand dollars for the Breakout prototype. Jobs lied to Wozniak about the amount of the payment and gave him his ''half'': three hundred fifty dollars. Also being the nice guy he was, Jobs also took full credit for the design of Breakout. 

However, none of this mattered since Atari's hippies-turned-engineers could not figure out Wozniak's design for manufacturing. Instead, Breakout was redesigned. 


Like Pong and just about every other Atari game to this point, Breakout was just a collection of simple circuits. As a result, graphics are extremely simplistic and very reminiscent of Pong. However, Breakout's graphics have considerably more detail and even color. Breakout is labeled as the world's first color game, which is a real technicality. Atari's engineers tried but failed to figure out how to display shades of gray. Try as they may, Breakout's circuitry renders only zero (black) or one (bright white). The ''colors'' are an illusion, created by thin strips of filtered tape placed on top of the screen. Although a low-tech solution, the results are quite pleasing as the simple shades of Gray add more atmosphere to the game than one would expect. 

Other graphics to note are the more reasonably sized score and stage numbers compared to Pong and separation between the bricks with a black border. 


Again, the sound is Pong-like for the same reasons as the graphics. The machine beeps when the ball hits the paddle, wall, and bricks. An added twist is as the ball hits higher echelons of bricks, the pitch of the beep escalates. Added with the color graphics, the higher pitches make the higher level rows of bricks seem more important.


Believe it or not, Breakout has a story. Though not too involved, a quick look at the cabinet art reveals Breakout's title is literal. The player is a prisoner with a hammer who must break down a brick wall to escape. What a paddle and ball have to do with this I do not know. I also cannot figure why one must destroy the entire wall; I would think a narrow corridor through would suffice. Then again, who said convicts were the brightest of folks? 

Controls and Mechanics 

In Breakout, a player uses a paddle and ball to knock down rows of a brick wall with a 14 9 grid of rectangular bricks. Upon contacting a brick, the ball reflects in the opposite direction and the brick disappears from play. Higher level bricks are worth more points but make the ball travel faster. Contacting every brick ends the stage and advances to the next.

Breakout inherits the paddle control knob from Pong. Unfortunately, four years of experience did not teach Atari to make the knob any bigger. Still one must grasp the control between two fingers, which can quickly fatigue hands. Otherwise, the great control seen in Pong returns to Breakout. Breakout is for one or two players, though players must play alternately.

Like Pong, the player's paddle is two pixels, though one will find its size much less comfortable here because of ball speed. The ball also goes in a random spot upon volley as well. It doesn't aim for your paddle, so players must be vigilant when the ball is not on screen. 


Because of ball speed, paddle size, and various angles required to hit every brick on screen, Breakout can be quite a challenge. Of course some dedicated players seem unnaturally good and efficient at playing the game.

Interestingly enough, Breakout is quite clever in bringing the world an effectively challenging one player game. Development of effective artificial intelligence was still a few years away, but the game's mechanics eliminate the need for one. Getting to the next stage was difficult and interesting enough. 


Breakout's higher challenge and more aggressive and interesting game play make the sequel to Pong significantly more fun than the original. However, Breakout still suffers from repetitive game play; not much variety is seen and all levels are the same. Two player gaming is an afterthought and can be accomplished about the same by just taking turns on alternate one player games. 


Breakout serves as a much needed update to the classic Pong. Despite its repetition, Breakout remains innovative and fun to play.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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