Video Game: Missile Command

"What's the bluntest point made by this game? That you can't win. No matter how many stages you survive, or how much time you spend playing, you can't beat Missile Command. Nuclear war has no winners. Your job is futile, but you do it anyway because you can buy people a few more minutes of hope."
Daniel Floyd, Extra Credits, "Narrative Mechanics"

Missile Command (1980) was the most violent video game ever released, at least until DEFCON came along. Missile Command portrayed a stark view of nuclear war at the height of Cold War paranoia. The player was given command of three anti-ballistic missile bases, with which six otherwise defenseless cities had to be defended against wave after wave of ICBMs, nuclear bombers, and orbital battle stations. The game featured simple yet realistic animations of mushroom clouds wiping out entire cities whenever the player failed to intercept an incoming warhead, and a nightmarish explosion effect when the player (inevitably) finally lost the game.

GCC created an enhancement kit called Super Missile Attack for Missile Command machines. Atari was not amused and sued GCC. They settled on GCC producing three games for Atari (Food Fight, Quantum, and a never-finished game).

Just a year later (1982), a sequel for two players competing to destroy each other was prototyped and tested, but ultimately never released. It later resurfaced and was shown to the public in 2012, for the first time in 30 years.

Missile Command has examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The bombers and killsats do not appear in the Atari 2600 version due to memory limitations.
  • Badass Pacifist: In the first game, at least, you can only fire back in self-defense; you can't actually attack whichever country is firing missiles at you.
  • Cosmetic Award: If you make the high score screen, you'll bypass the usual Game Over screen. However, this was only in the arcade version.
  • Destructible Projectiles: The whole point of the gameplay.
  • Game Over: Only here, it's not just the end of the game, it's the end of civilization itself.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Taken to its Logical Extreme, especially considering the times.
  • Palette Swap: To shake things up every few levels.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit computer versions were modified to have missiles fired from one single base instead of three. The Game Boy version by Accolade modified it to have two missile bases.