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Gamephemera: Centipede (Atari 400/800)

September 15, 2006 By Glenn Turner

Gamephemera is an intermittent look at the documentation, paperwork and sundry other bits that were lovingly crafted to accompany the publishing of a video game.

Centipede was one of those games that, as a youth, I didn't conceptually get. Sure, I knew what a centipede was and I recognized many of the shapes utilized in the game, but when I looked at the game's field I didn't see a garden filled with bugs. And I certainly didn't envision the game to look anything like R. Archey's Centipede cover artwork*:

This cover art is available as a desktop wallpaper in the following resolutions**:
1680x1050 | 1280x1024 | 1024x768 | 800x600

Mr. Archey's depiction of the Centipede world feels much, much too tranquil for my tastes. While Centipede's garden, at least in theory, seems less threatening than the cold, vacant space of games like Galaxian or Space Invaders, the relentless action of the titular creature ensured that there'd be little in the way of peace-and-quiet.

With that said, I rather like the image of the spider in Our Hero's (according to some, it's a gnome) pocket, trying to net the scorpion. That's a crafty spider! And a rather amusingly detailed one at that. Sure, this manual's artwork isn't as crisp or energetic as our prior articles, but they do present an interesting vision of the game. Visions such as this confusing portrait, which either looks foreboding, or rather harmonious, depending on whether you're a glass-half-full or half-empty fellow:


Scoring your game is rather magnificently drawn, as you'll see in this lush two-page spread:

Scoring Your Game

And that conveniently brings me to the real reason why I decided to showcase this manual. On the back of it I found the following scrawled via the tip of a ballpoint pen:


It seems quaint today, almost as quaint as the game's cover art, to see high scores physically written down because they couldn't be preserved any other way and, I must say, it does elicit a twinge of nostalgia deep down in me. Seeing those personalized bits, even though they technically mar the document, makes items such as this manual real ephemera and not just lost pieces of paper. These documents were used, read, and written on - not as post-it notes, but as a tangible part of the game.

And now you can stare at Warren's homemade leaderboard whenever you want, if you download the full Centipede Atari 400/800 manual (PDF - 3.5MB)!

* This same artwork, as well as the interior illustrations I'm sure, were featured in the large-format version of the manual. This article concerns itself with a smaller-format version.

** Thanks go out to csweasel from our forum for the desktop wallpaper idea, although I fear this week's artwork will not break our bandwidth-allotment bank. Also, I swear I'll pick a non-Atari platform next week!

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2 comments for ‘Gamephemera: Centipede (Atari 400/800)’

#1 Soup Sep 16, 2006 05:42am

wow, that looks more like a Kid's First Insect Book than a game's artwork.

I remember seeing the Centipede cabinets in the arcades. The harsh two-tone green letters on black looked surprisingly menacing. Not to mention the centipede THEY painted on the side was done animal horror movie style, thrusting itself out at the viewer, pinchers glistening, maw wide open to devour you.

My kiddie brain couldn't handle the quickness needed to pilot your ship with necessary agility. In retrospect, I miss having a chance to really hone my skills on those trackball-type interfaces.

(sidenote, might want to check some of the links to the wallpapers. I got super_breakout when i tried the 1680)

#2 Glenn Turner Sep 16, 2006 03:21pm

Oops, thanks for pointing out that the wallpaper links were bad - I don't know how I let that slip through.

I agree with ya about the original arcade cabinet art - it's hard to forget that design, and it's completely antithetical to the image painted here, for whatever reason. It's just an odd manual all around!