Tempest is a 1981 arcade game by Atari Inc.. It takes place on a three-dimensional surface, sometimes wrapped into a tube, which is viewed from one end and is divided into either 15 or 16 lanes, depending upon whether the tube’s shape was closed or open, respectively. The player controls a claw-shaped “blaster” that sits on the edge of the surface, snapping from segment to segment as a rotary knob is turned.
Tempest was one of the first games to use vector display technology. It was also the first to let players choose their starting level (a system Atari called “SkillStep”). This feature increases the maximum starting level depending on the player’s performance in the previous game, essentially allowing the player to continue. Tempest was one of the first video games with a progressive level design where the levels themselves varied rather than giving the player the same layout with increasing difficulty.
The goal in Tempest is to survive for as long as possible, and score as many points as possible, by clearing the screen of enemies that appear on the playing field. The player’s ship can rapid-fire shots down the tunnel, destroying any enemies within the same segment, and is also equipped with a Superzapper, which, once per level, destroys all enemies currently on the playing field. (A second use of the Superzapper in a level destroys one random enemy.)
Enemies swirl at the far end of the playing field, then enter it and move toward the player. When all enemies in a level are destroyed or reach the player’s end of the playing field, the player “warps” to the next level by traveling down the field. As the player warps to the next level, he or she must avoid or shoot away any spikes. The player loses a ship when an enemy comes into contact with the ship, shoots it or otherwise destroys it, or if the ship hits a spike while warping. The player earns new ships at certain point thresholds, and may hold up to six ships at once. The game ends when enemies destroy all of the player’s ships.
There are multiple types of enemies, each with a different behavior pattern. At higher levels, some enemies place spikes in the middle of the lane. These spikes travel toward the player and destroy the player’s ship when the player warps out to the next playing field. Other enemies travel towards the player’s end of the playing field while firing at the player, then flip from lane to lane, killing the player if it moves onto the lane that the player is on. Firing while this type of enemy is changing from an adjacent lane kills it.
There are 8 enemy types: Flippers, Tankers, Spikers, Spikes, Fuseballs, Pulsars, Fuseball Tankers and Pulsar Tankers. Tempest features sixteen unique geometric shapes for the playing fields, some of which are closed tubes that allow the player to loop around, while others are open fields with distinct left and right endpoints. When all 16 screens have been played, the sequence repeats with a different color scheme and higher difficulty, including the invisible (black) levels (65–80). Each sequence of levels adds additional faster, deadlier enemies. After level 99, the level number stops incrementing, and one of the 16 variations randomly appears after each player death or the successful completion of subsequent levels.