|Programmer(s)||Bradley G. Stewart|
|Platform(s)||Arcade, Atari 2600|
|Release||May 13, 1976|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Cabinet||Upright and cocktail|
|Display||Vertical orientation, Raster, standard resolution B&W with color overlay|
Breakout is an arcade game developed and published by Atari, Inc., and released on May 13, 1976. It was conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, influenced by the seminal 1972 Atari arcade game Pong, and built by Steve Wozniak, aided by Steve Jobs.
Breakout was the basis and inspiration for certain aspects of the Apple II personal computer. In 1978, the game was ported to the Atari 2600 and a sequel was made, Super Breakout, which four years later became the "pack-in game" for the Atari 5200 console. Breakout spawned an entire genre of Breakout clones, and the concept found new legs with Taito's 1986 Arkanoid, which itself spawned dozens of imitators.
In Breakout, a layer of bricks lines the top third of the screen and the goal is to destroy them all. A ball moves straight around the screen, bouncing off the top and two sides of the screen. When a brick is hit, the ball bounces back and the brick is destroyed. The player loses a turn when the ball touches the bottom of the screen; to prevent this from happening, the player has a horizontally movable paddle to bounce the ball upward, keeping it in play.
Breakout begins with eight rows of bricks, with each two rows a different color. The color order from the bottom up is yellow, green, orange and red. Using a single ball, the player must knock down as many bricks as possible by using the walls and/or the paddle below to ricochet the ball against the bricks and eliminate them. If the player's paddle misses the ball's rebound, he or she will lose a turn. The player has three turns to try to clear two screens of bricks. Yellow bricks earn one point each, green bricks earn three points, orange bricks earn five points and the top-level red bricks score seven points each. The paddle shrinks to one-half its size after the ball has broken through the red row and hit the upper wall. Ball speed increases at specific intervals: after four hits, after twelve hits, and after making contact with the orange and red rows.
The highest score achievable for one player is 896; this is done by eliminating two screens of bricks worth 448 points per screen. Once the second screen of bricks is destroyed, the ball in play harmlessly bounces off empty walls until the player restarts the game, as no additional screens are provided. However, a secret way to score beyond the 896 maximum is to play the game in two-player mode. If "Player One" completes the first screen on his or her third and last ball, then immediately and deliberately allows the ball to "drain", Player One's second screen is transferred to "Player Two" as a third screen, allowing Player Two to score a maximum of 1,344 points if he or she is adept enough to keep the third ball in play that long. Once the third screen is eliminated, the game is over.
The original arcade cabinet of Breakout featured artwork that revealed the game's plot to be that of a prison escape. According to this release, the player is actually playing as one of a prison's inmates attempting to knock a ball and chain into a wall of their prison cell with a mallet. If the player successfully destroys the wall in-game, their inmate escapes with others following.
Breakout, a discrete logic (non-microprocessor) game, was designed by Nolan Bushnell, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Bristow, all three of whom were involved with Atari and its Kee Games subsidiary. Atari produced innovative video games using the Pong hardware as a means of competition against companies making "Pong clones". Bushnell wanted to turn Pong into a single player game, where the player would use a paddle to maintain a ball that depletes a wall of bricks. Bushnell was certain the game would be popular, and he and Bristow partnered to produce a concept. Al Alcorn was assigned as the Breakout project manager, and began development with Cyan Engineering in 1975. Bushnell assigned Steve Jobs to design a prototype. Jobs was offered $750, with an award for every TTL (transistor-transistor logic) chip fewer than 50. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days.
Bushnell offered the bonus because he disliked how new Atari games required 150 to 170 chips; he knew that Jobs' friend Steve Wozniak, an employee of Hewlett-Packard, had designed a version of Pong that used about 30 chips. Jobs had little specialized knowledge of circuit board design but knew Wozniak was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips. He convinced Wozniak to work with him, promising to split the fee evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had "tricky little designs" difficult to understand for most engineers. Near the end of development, Wozniak considered moving the high score to the screen's top, but Jobs claimed Bushnell wanted it at the bottom; Wozniak was unaware of any truth to his claims. The original deadline was met after Wozniak worked at Atari four nights straight, doing some additional designs while at his day job at Hewlett-Packard. This equated to a bonus of $5,000, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak. Wozniak has stated he only received payment of $350; he believed for years that Atari had promised $700 for a design using fewer than 50 chips, and $1000 for fewer than 40, stating in 1984 "We only got 700 bucks for it." Wozniak was the engineer, and Jobs was the breadboarder and tester. Wozniak's original design used 42 chips; the final, working breadboard he and Jobs delivered to Atari used 44, but Wozniak said, "We were so tired we couldn't cut it down."
Atari was unable to use Wozniak's design. By designing the board with as few chips as possible, he made the design difficult to manufacture; it was too compact and complicated to be feasible with Atari's manufacturing methods. However, Wozniak claims Atari could not understand the design, and speculates "maybe some engineer there was trying to make some kind of modification to it." Atari ended up designing their own version for production, which contained about 100 TTL chips. Wozniak found the gameplay to be the same as his original creation, and could not find any differences.
The original arcade version of Breakout was ported to the Atari 2600 by Brad Stewart. Brad Stewart and Ian Shepherd were both available to program Breakout for the 2600 and competed in the original version of Breakout for the programming rights; Brad won. The game was published in 1978, but with only six rows of bricks, and the player is given five turns to clear two walls instead of three. In the Breakthru variant, the ball does not bounce off of the bricks, but continues through them until it hits the wall. Atari had this term trademarked and used it in addition to Breakout to describe gameplay, especially in look-alike games and remakes.
Atari's 1977 dedicated Video Pinball console includes a Breakout game.
Breakout directly influenced Wozniak's design for the Apple II computer. He said, "A lot of features of the Apple II went in because I had designed Breakout for Atari. I had designed it in hardware. I wanted to write it in software now." This included his design of color graphics circuitry, the addition of game paddle support and sound, and graphics commands in Integer BASIC, with which he wrote Brick Out, a software clone of his own hardware game. Wozniak said in 1984:
Basically, all the game features were put in just so I could show off the game I was familiar with--Breakout--at the Homebrew Computer Club. It was the most satisfying day of my life [when] I demonstrated Breakout—totally written in BASIC. It seemed like a huge step to me. After designing hardware arcade games, I knew that being able to program them in BASIC was going to change the world.
In 2011 Atari S.A. released an updated version of Breakout as Breakout Boost. The chief difference is the addition of improved graphics, power-ups, and unique brick types.
Pilgrim in the Microworld is an autobiography by David Sudnow detailing his obsession with Breakout. Sudnow describes studying the game's mechanics, visiting the manufacturer in Silicon Valley, and interviewing the programmers.
For Kid Stuff Records, John Braden recorded a 7-in 33 RPM record telling the story of Super Breakout. This science fiction story dealt with NASA astronaut Captain John Stewart Chang returning from a routine mission transporting titanium ore from Io to space station New California. He encounters a rainbow barrier, presumably a force of nature, that seems to have no end on either side. He has three lobbing missiles of white light that he can bounce off the hull of his shuttle, and they prove able to break through the layers of the force field. With his life support systems failing, what follows is a test of endurance turned game as he strives to break through the barrier in space.
On the 37th anniversary of the game's release, Google released a secret version of Breakout accessible by typing "atari breakout" in Google images. The image thumbnails form the breakout bricks, turn different colors, and after a ball and paddle appear the game begins.