Centipede (video game)

Centipede is a vertically-oriented shoot 'em up arcade game produced by Atari in 1980. It is regarded as the first arcade game created by a woman, Dona Bailey, who programmed the game along with Ed Logg. It was also the first arcade coin-operated game to have a significant female player base. The player defends against swarms of insects, completing a round after eliminating the centipede that winds down the playing field.


The player is represented by a small, "somewhat humanoid head" at the bottom of the screen. The player moves the character about the bottom area of the screen with a trackball and fires laser shots at a centipede advancing from the top of the screen down through a field of mushrooms. Shooting any section of the centipede creates a mushroom; shooting one of the middle segments splits the centipede into two pieces at that point. Each piece then continues independently on its way down the board.

The centipede starts at the top of the screen, traveling either left or right. When it hits a mushroom or the edge of the screen, it drops one level and switches direction. Thus, more mushrooms on the screen cause the centipede to descend more rapidly. The player can destroy mushrooms by shooting them, but each takes four hits to destroy.

If the centipede reaches the bottom of the screen, it moves back and forth within the player area and one-segment "head" centipedes are periodically added. This continues until the player has eliminated both the original centipede and all heads. When all the centipede's segments are destroyed, a new centipede forms at the top of the screen. Every time a centipede is eliminated, however, the next one is one segment shorter and is accompanied by one additional, fast-moving "head" centipede. A player loses a life when hit by a centipede or another enemy, such as a spider or a flea. The flea leaves mushrooms behind when fewer than five are in the player area, though the number required increases with level of difficulty.

There are also scorpions, which poison every mushroom they touch, but these never appear in the player's movement region. A centipede touching a poisoned mushroom hurtles straight toward the player's area. Upon reaching it, it returns to normal behavior.

World record scores

Eric Ginner of Mountain View, CA, was the first Centipede champion, winning the 1981 Atari National Championships, held in Chicago, October 18, 1981. By the end of 1982, both Darren Olsen of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, FL, had attained over 25 million points on Centipede, primarily using the "trap" technique of play.

To verify differences in gameplay, the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard divided Centipede gameplay into two categories: "Marathon" (using the trap, the blob and other tricks) and "Tournament" (using no tricks, just constantly firing — commonly called the "shoot-em-up" method.)

Today, Twin Galaxies only accepts submissions on Tournament play. The world record for Tournament play now stands at 7,111,111 points, achieved by Donald Hayes of Salem, NH, on November 5 2000 at the Funspot Family Fun Center in Weirs Beach, NH. The feat took approximately 9 hours of non-stop play on one quarter. On February 5, 2001, Hayes was honored by his local City Hall for his accomplishment.



Centipede was followed by Millipede in 1982, a somewhat less successful arcade game. In 1992, Atari Games developed a prototype of an arcade game called Arcade Classics for their 20th anniversary. It included Missile Command 2 and Super Centipede.

In 1998, Hasbro-owned Atari released a new version of the game for the PC, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. This version looks and plays very differently to the original game, with free movement around the map, 3D graphics, and a campaign which can be played in single-player or multiplayer mode. The original version of Centipede is available in this version, albeit with slightly updated graphics.


Home systems

Centipede, like many other Atari arcade games, was ported to Atari's own systems, such as the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and Atari 7800. A prototype was created for the Atari Lynx but never released. Atari's Atarisoft also created versions for other consoles and home computers of the era, for example the Apple II and Commodore 64.

Centipede was also released for the PC in 1993 as part of the Microsoft Arcade, in 1999 as part of Atari Arcade Hits 1 (which would become one half of Atari Anniversary Edition in 2001), and in 2003 as part of Atari: 80 Classic Games in One! The PlayStation saw the game appear as part of Atari Anniversary Edition Redux in 2001.

Centipede has also been made available for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 (in both arcade and Atari 2600 versions) as part of Atari Anthology in 2004. The Xbox Live Arcade version was bundled with the sequel Millipede, which included an "evolution mode", featuring high-definition graphics and special effects like motion blur, trails, and particle-based explosions. Centipede was released via Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360 on May 2 2007.

Centipede is often included in handheld TV games that have become popular in recent years.

Other platforms

Glu Mobile released a licensed cellular phone version of Centipede that includes the original game as well as updated gameplay, skins, and modes.

An official shockwave version was also released.


Like most other popular arcade games of the era, Centipede was widely imitated by third-party software vendors.


Home systems

Board game

In 1983, Milton Bradley released a board game based on the video game. The board game pits two players against each other in a race to be the first person to the opponent's home base with a centipede. Each player can utilize a blaster, as well as a scorpion and spider, to slow the opposing centipede's advance.

In popular culture

  • In 1982, Buckner & Garcia recorded a song called "Ode to a Centipede" using sound effects from the game and released it on the album Pac-Man Fever.
  • The artwork from the arcade machine cabinet is used for the cover artwork of the 2004 single "Reptilia" by the band The Strokes.


External links

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