Together Retro Game Club – Tempest

Presented by Fastbilly & Racketboy
New To Together Retro? Check out the introduction to the club

This month we are going back to the days before Back to the Future for a classic arcade game.  Tempest is one of if not the finest examples of the early arcade.  It is also an oddity in that many view its remakes are better than the original.  We will be covering only official versions of Tempest this month, but we will have a list of clones and influenced bys incase you want a different game.  So get your spinner ready, its Tempest time.



Released in 1981, Tempest was a game of firsts.  One of the first tube shooters, the first game with a selectable difficulty level, and the first Color-Quadrascan vector game.  It is funny how a game that started out as a 3d version of Space Invaders that initially failed, became an icon of the vector age of gaming.  Creator Dave Theurer said that it wasnt taking with the other programmers, so he changed it to be something about aliens coming out of the middle of the Earth (rumor is from a dream he had previously).  And with that Tempest became the quarter sucking masterpiece we have today.

The oddest part of the Tempest story comes in 1994.  On the new Atari Jaguar a new version of Tempest was released.  Tempest 2000 featured updates to the original game.  It added collectible powerups, more stages, and one amazing soundtrack.  Tempest quickly became one of the essential Jaguar games and still commands a high price on reselling sites.  There were several ports of Tempest 2000 to other consoles and the PC but all of them fail to be as good as the Jaguar version.

Tempest features 15 stages (called webs) and only 5 different enemies.  But don’t let the perceived lack of variety deter you.  Holding true to the original gameplay of the 80s arcades, Tempest is easy to learn how to play, but takes a lifetime to master.  Utilizing just a spinner and a button Tempest can easily take the player out of our world and into its own.  Tempest 2000 only further enhanced this with its techno soundtrack.


Being from the golden age of the arcade, Tempest has countless clones, but we are going to focus on the two main titles:

  • Tempest – 1980 – Arcade
  • Tempest 2000 – 1994 – Atari Jaguar


  • Tempest – Tempest has been released on most every pc ever released, Xbox/PS2, DS, 360, and a plethora of other platforms.  There is also a planned release of the Atari 5200 cartridge by the fandom (the official cart never got out of the prototype stage)
  • Tempest 2000 – Tempest 2000 was only released on the Jaguar, PC, and Saturn.  The PSX got a version called Tempest X3 which had major changes to the game.  The PC and Saturn ports also had changes, but not as drastic as X3.  It is widely considered that the Jaguar version is the best.  And while the original game was played with a spinner, the Jaguar never had an official one released for it.  But there is a hidden option in the menu that enables spinners – there is extensive documentation on how to build your own spinner on Tempest 2000 fansites.

Suggested Fan Games

Tempest Trivia

Since Tempest was an official Atari Bulletin back in December of 1981; on an original Tempest machine – pre Serial 17426 there was a bug with the J1 rom on the pcb.  So if the player got a score of over 170,000 there was a 12% chance of the cabinet to start giving 40 credits per token.   Now that’s my kind of bug for an arcade game.

Emulation Help

Racketboy Emulation Forum

Together Retro Discussion

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Nice look at a classic. I took a look at Tempest 2000 and the enhanced remake Tempest 3000 (for the Nuon console) a while back at Byte Cellar. I also grabbed a modified Jaguar controller to better enjoy Tempest 2000.

BDD says:

The “bug” in the arcade game was actually a security “feature” that Dave programmed into the game that checked the placement of certain items, such as the “(c) Atari” text. Before the machine shipped, Dave tweaked the placement of certain items, which triggered the security and caused the feature to turn into a bug. He initially blamed the hardware, but then discovered that he actually caused the bug. Pretty funny.

There was also a planned Atari 2600 port that was cancelled (the prototype ROM image is available at AtariAge; info at; good thing it was killed).

I personally didn’t care for Minter’s ports of the game. I dunno; rose-colored glasses, I suppose. The visuals just seemed a little too “busy” and distracting for me.

The dream wasn’t a rumor. Theurer stated that he would occasionally have the dream as a child, and he never forgot it. I archived an interview with Dave that has since disappeared from the web; check it out at

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