I ignored this game for years, since I had played Centipede so much in so many different formats over the years. However, when I recently popped the game back in, I was astounded at the extremely high quality of 5200 Centipede. 5200 Centipede is the best version of the game I've played outside of the arcade itself (the Coin-op was designed and created by Ed Logg, and also Donna Bailey).

While playing with the analog joystick works fine, if you have a good condition 5200 Trak-Ball controller, you're in for some great gaming sessions! After playing 5200 Centipede with the Trak-ball, it seems believable that the 5200 was designed with this game in mind! However, this could not be further from the truth. The Centipede project for the 5200 started as the project of Frank Hausman. In time it was seen at Atari that the project was running late and W. Sean Hennessy was pulled off his 5200 Tennis project to help out. Andrew Fuchs did Centipede's audio and Mimi (Rogers?) worked on the graphics. Note that Andrew Fuchs did the audio for just about all the 5200 titles. All of these people worked at 275 Gibraltar and contributed to this award-winning port.

5200 Centipede was Frank Hausman's project. Atari coin-op provided Mr. Hausman with the arcade game code about 6 months in advance of the deadline. A month past the deadline, George Kiss asked Sean Hennessy to put Tennis on the back-burner and to work with Frank on bringing the conversion to completion. After significant effort to quickly finish the game, it was done. And the game turned out to be extremely challenging. That spider is FAST and SMART. The animation of spider and flea is smooth and shows fine attention to detail; even the pop-up point values show more 'effect' and animation than you might expect. For these reasons, and also the fatter characters you get, make me actually prefer this version over the PSX/PC emulated original Centipede. You see, even though that version is 'arcade perfect', it is shrunk a bit to fit on the TV, and you must use the PSX controller. The 5200's fatter character graphics are very pleasing.

If you actually are not familiar with the game Centipede, it is a one-screen vertical shooter. Your 'wand' is at the bottom shooting upwards at a segmented centipede; when you shoot it, it splinters into 2 multiple segments, with the lead segment turning into a high-points "head". Much of the high-scoring tactics in Centipede involve trying to shoot it from head to tail, in effect turning each segment into a 'head' right before you shoot it in turn. You play in a mushroom field, and each shot segment turns into an additional screen-cluttering 'shroom. Shrooms take about 3 hits to destroy them. In addition to the Centipede war, you must contend with a bouncing, erratic spider who leaps from the sides of the screen. The secret is that he never reverses direction, so if you get 'behind' the spider, it cannot harm you. Spiders yield 300, 600, or 900 points depending on their proximity to your wand shooter. Fleas also drop additional shrooms, and scorpions will dart through the screen, poisoning mushrooms! When the centipede segments hit a poisoned shroom, they drop straight down the screen to your wand's playfield. There are lots of variables to contend with, making Centipede an excellent and popular classic shooter!

Centipede differed from other similar shooters of the day, such as Space Invaders and Galaxians, in that you can move horizontally and vertically on the screen. You can travel about a 4th of the way up the screen, and you must to avoid segments. 5200 Centipede is highly recommended, especially with the 5200 Trak-ball controller!

Addendum July 26 2001 -------------------------------------------

Frank Hausman posted the following reply to me on the Digital Press message board recently. His comments give us 5200 enthusiasts another peek inside of Atari 5200 development, as contrasted with the Atari 8bit computer developed titles. Since Mr. Hausman posted this on a public message board, I didn't think he'd have a problem with my incorporating it here for you 5200 Centipede fans!

Mr. Hausman says: "... Many Atari 800 games were not ported for the 5200 because we had better controllers, more rom space, and the attitude that our games should ALL look and play better than those on the 800. 800 Centipede was done in character-map mode - it had few colors and didn't look good. If I'd ported that, 5200 Centipede would have won no awards, though I might have lasted longer at Atari. Home Game Division management supported my choice to port the coin-op game instead of the 800 game all the way until it was late for Christmas. The 800 code was just unfaithful to the coin-op's look and feel. So I alienated the graphics department getting the graphics right, and stressed out on the bitmap refresh, synchronous scheduling, and gameplay code. The smart spider was an idea that didn't make it into official release, but has happily survived in preproduction roms. Late in the project, Sean Hennessy did great debugging work critical to release of the game.

"The 5200 analog joystick was intended from the start to offer absolute (Missile Command) and relative/speed (Centipede) positioning gameplay. Absolute positioning in Centipede was roundly rejected by playtesters, even as an option. The speeds that the shooter can move are critical to game play, so joystick emulation of the trackball, with speed proportional to stick position, was what I did.

ddendum June 4 2002 -------------------------------------------

Sean Hennessy (also responsible for the 5200 and Atari 8bit port of Pengo, CX5236) told me the following concerning his views and memories of 5200 Centipede. It's interesting to note the different points of view between Frank and Sean.

Mr. Hennessy says: "... Frank, as anyone would understand at that time in the project, was strung a bit too tight. Frank made a number of invalid assumptions based on the original Coin-op code that did not play on the 5200. One example being the Coin-op motion algorithm was tightly coupled to the screen orientation, aspect ratio, and individual segment graphics. The home TV orientation of the 5200 played hell with the segment separation at each turn. We worked around the clock for well over a month to finish the code and correct the problems. I recall one event in particular where I found it necessary to implement the solution to a problem as a separate exercise in order to demonstrate it would work because Frank refused to accept any of my code rewrite recommendations at face value. Steve Apour and the other members of our QA test team were instrumental once the game made it into test. George awarded a significant share of the project team bonus pool to me as recognition of my contribution.

The Centipede 5200 effort is really not that significant. It was just a conversion of an terrific Coin-op game concept. I would prefer you focus on the original developers. The 2600 was the real focus of the development and revenue source for the group. I did well there at Atari and enjoyed my time there but missed the 2600 gravy train."


Be that as it may, I still greatly enjoy playing 5200 Centipede, and I extremely dislike the Atari 8bit version. I highly recommend you try out 5200 Centipede!

Back to Cafeman's main page