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.
"As missile base commander, you occupy the "hot seat" in Missile Control. ... Today, the analysts assure you the enemy is in battle-ready posture. "Could they be mistaken?" you wonder. "Could this buildup really be exercises? war games?" ... It's only a question of time now before the enemy launches ICBM's targeted for the remaining free cities of the world. "How much time?" you ask yourself. "Will it be tonight?" Instinctively your hand moves to the hot line. "Ring, blast you! Get it over with!""
The above is an excerpt from the Missile Command manual's preface, fleshing out the game's circumstances as Atari manuals are wont to do. What I find interesting about it is how the emotions detailed there are interchangable between the fictitious commander and the player, but also to anyone else who is faced with the threat of nuclear attack. It's that emotional accessibility, that play on fear, that has allowed Missile Command to age so gracefully.
Of course, what I'm really here to talk about is the gorgeous cover. It's perhaps one of the blunter, less-imaginative Atari 400/800 covers we've featured in this series, as it (very stylishly) portrays the essence of the game: the point-of-view of the player manning the missile command console and the point-of-view of the enemy, seen only through hostile missles, making a beeline for a generic city. No embellishment, no fictional portrtait of our nemesis, no civilian point-of-view – it's very cut-and-dry. But then again, that's exactly what the game is: a very detached, very objective perspective of defending a nuclear attack and the inevitable defeat that comes with it.
Apart from the cover and the preface, the manual isn't terribly notable, although I am a fan of the colloquialisms in the 'Game Tips' chapter. Terms like 'Don't Defend Dirt' and 'Missile Umbrella' liven up what's normally a dreadfully dull section, as most of these tips boil down to little more than common sense tactics. Regardless, you'll find the 20 page manual available for download below, as it is a handsome primer for the game.
The full Missile Command Atari 400/800 manual (PDF - 7.5MB)