It was the 1980s, and the Cold War was still going on. The United States and Russia (the USSR) had nuclear missiles pointed at each other, and we were all afraid of that day that the news told us to kiss our butts goodbye when those nukes finally got launched.
It never happened, of course, given that the fact that we’re all still here and our countries are not a nuclear post-apocalyptic wasteland. But it seemed nearly a foregone conclusion at the time, at least if popular culture was to be believed. We were, according to our culture at the time, one failed negotiation or one misunderstanding away from nuclear annihilation.
So let’s make a videogame about it, because why not.
Missile Command was you against nuclear missiles, represented by simple descending line strokes created by a single point heading towards a line of cities you must protect with three bunkers filled with defensive missiles that will knock out the warheads. If one of the nuclear missiles hits your bunker, you lose the missiles in that bunker for the rest of the round (you had three buttons to select which bunker you wanted to fire from); if one hit a city, you lost that city (you can score enough points to gain one back at a time, sort of like getting extra lives in other games). Lose all your cities, and it’s game over. Helping the enemy attackers are ships that fly across and can launch additional missiles, and other types of attacks such as one that can evade your defensive missiles. Helping is the fact that the explosion of enemy attacks can cause a chain reaction to destroy other enemy attacks, making positioning of your defensive explosions critical.
The game is really fun to play, even back when it seemed like the “game over” scenario might be all too real. What is missing in most emulation setups these days is the large-ish trackball controls that allow quick and precise movement of the targeting cursor; a mouse, however, is a very acceptable substitute, making the game very much playable with any decent computer emulation configuration.
And heck, if the young John Conner could play it in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day when faced with the very real and seemingly unavoidable situation of being wiped out by a nuclear attack, it has to be good, right?