After receiving this book as a gift last Christmas, it recently finally reached the top of my reading stack, and I’ve just finished it. Missile Commander is many things: history, tech manual, biography, and some crazy stories. And it’s a book that needed to happen.
Missile Commander is authored by Tony Temple, who runs my other favorite gaming blog, The Arcade Blogger, and co-hosts the excellent The Ted Dabney Experience podcast. Temple also happens to be the official Missile Command world champion — like, by a huge-ass margin. Having first bested the previous WR by a few hundred thousand points, Temple went on to blow past his own record by several hundred thousand more, and eventually completely obliterate that score by double.
So yeah, I trust this guy to tell the story of Missile Command.
Starting off with the story of the creation of the game itself, approximately the first half of the book centers around its designer Dave Theurer. We get a detailed picture of the growing pains and design decisions that went into Missile Command and its development into the finely-tuned game that it turned out to be, and we learn about the game’s manufacture, release, and how it became a huge hit. We even learn about GCC, the upstart group of programmers who reverse-engineered the game and released the gray-market Super Missile Attack modification kit (and then famously went on to create Ms. Pac-Man).
The narrative then turns to Temple’s discovery of the game as a teenager in a local game room, and the special place it occupied in his life at that early age. We can all relate to the ’80s arcade nostalgia that oozes out of his recollections, no matter where we grew up (Temple is British, but the scenes of sketchy arcades and their casts of characters could have just as easily happened here in the States, too).
After that, the focus somewhat jarringly shifts to the tall tales of Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt, a character anyone who’s followed the American classic gaming high score scene probably knows, for better or worse. Shildt was the first registered holder of the Missile Command world record back in the mid-1980s. But why, exactly, are we suddenly hearing about him in Temple’s book? Oh don’t worry, it all comes together soon enough.
Once all of these elements have been established, Temple recounts his rediscovery of the game as an adult, his acquisition of his very own MC cabinet, and soon, his world record attempts that led to his first achievement of beating Shildt’s decades-old score, which is then posted on the famous Twin Galaxies high score board.
And if you know anything about Mr. Awesome, you can already smell that this is where the Shildt hits the fan.
What unfolds from there is a tale of obsession, conspiracy, and wildly varying levels of sportsmanship from all involved. Suffice it to say, while starting as a fairly sterile history of the development of a vintage arcade title, the book just gets juicier as it progresses through its latter half.
Fortunately for us, Temple retains a cool demeanor throughout the maelstrom of madness that Mr. Awesome unleashes on him. Other than documenting the objective history of Missile Command and the chronicling of his ascent to becoming the new world record holder, Temple’s recounting of his side of the Shildtstorm that he consequently had to endure is reason enough that this book deserved to be written and released.
In this lovely hardcover tome with a slick, illustrated cover, you’ll find everything you need to know about Missile Command, from stories about its production to detailed gameplay observations and strategies, as well as some awesome archival photographs. Dave Theurer himself penned the foreword, giving the book as official a stamp of approval as anyone could ask for.
Missile Commander is a great read. I’m super happy for my fellow retro gaming blogger for producing this important and entertaining volume that belongs on every video game history buff’s shelf.