Friday, December 30, 2011


Centipede is one of the core classic arcade machines, and also one of the most challenging. Along with Pac-Man, Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders, this game was released just as video games were beginning to take the country by storm. Atari would be the major player for the first five years, with Missile Command, Tempest, Centipede, Frogger, and dozens of other amazing games occupying corners of arcades across America. CEntipede sold an impressive 50,00 units, second only to the 1979 epic, Asteroids. Centipede designers Ed Logg and Dona Bailey did the world a favor by making this game, and helped to define what exactly a "video game" was.

You've probably played Centipede before, but you might not have dug very deep because of the difficulty. Most players will last a few minutes, skilled players might make it 10 minutes. Champions, however, can play for hours.

I'm not a champion. I am, however, working on my high score this week ever since receiving Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 for Christmas, as well as Skyward Sword, Gradius Galaxies, Gradius 3 & 4 compilation, and many other awesome retro titles.

Centipede, unlike most other shooters, doesn't take place in space. Instead, you shoot centipedes, spiders, fleas, and scorpions in a garden of death. Never before has gardening been host to such a glorious arena as in Centipede and its followup, Millipede.

The rules are simple: hit the centipede and it turns into a mushroom. Hit it in the middle, and it splits. The other pests will attack, and you can hit them for points as well. Spiders create poison mushrooms which cause the centipedes to enter into a blind rage and charge the bottom of the screen. If you take too long to kill the centipede, more single heads will appear. If too few mushrooms exists near the bottom, fleas will fall from the top, leaving trails of mushrooms. Destroy the centipede to progress the level, and the colors will change.

People often speak about insects in this game, however, only the fleas are insects. Centipedes and millipedes are myriapoda, a distinct subphylum of arthropods; scorpions and spiders are, of course, arachnids.

Several strategies exists, from leaving a single column open (under the 1,000s digit of the high score), to control the path of the centipede and using safe zones, but the core of all strategies relies on the now time-tested double formula of 1) not missing and 2) not getting hit. Having only one available bullet at a time makes missing once a potential disaster.

My all time high score is something in the 50,000s and it was earned a few years ago on an arcade machine out of town. I haven't been able to break 30k on M.A.M.E. or the DS recently, but I can feel my skills improving.

As simple as they might seem, Centipede's graphics are perfect. They messed it up a little in Millipede, which was not as successful as the original. Everything (except the player) perfectly represents what it is meant to. The player has to create the "garden" in their imagination using the sprites as ideograms in a colorful field. The black background, like this site, serve to make the colors as bright and eye-catching as possible.

And it worked. Centipede has been ported to just about every system and cell phone extant. Additionally, a 3D Version for Dreamcast, PC, and Playstation was made; I'd like to look at that title more in-depth in the future. A reboot of the series on the Wii was recently created as well, but it looks to be a below-average 3D run-n-gun.

Centipede is awesome. Even the cabinet art is awesome. If you have a centipede high score, email me the screenshot or post a link to the image in this thread. It's strictly honor system, so no save states, emulator abuse, or troublemaking. If you email me your screenshot I'll post it in a new post with any others I receive.

One thing you don't want to do: play Centipede with digital controls. The original cabinet uses a trackball and a single button--the ideal way to experience the game, but a method of playing which is not immediately available to everyone (including myself at the moment). Luckily, in M.A.M.E. you can easily use your mouse, just set the sensitivity super high. The DS version is fantastic because you use the stylus to control as well as vertical orientation (a la Brain Age). My scores on the DS have been slightly higher than on the computer, but I still feel like it's more fun on the big screen.

Enjoy the gigantic Centipede gallery!

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