Tony Temple Celebrates 40 Years of Missile Command

Jason Bennett,

January 16, 2021 10:34 AM

Release of his new book Missile Commander marks the latest achievement in gamer's storied career


For Tony Temple, the old proverb that “every journey begins with a single step” might be more apt if it referenced the first press on an arcade machine’s fire button. 

But then again, one could argue his odyssey actually began as he passed by Rita’s Cafe - “a dark, grim, horrible place” intoned Tony - on his walk home one Saturday afternoon in Bristol during the waning months of 1982. For on this day, the usual curtain-adored windows and fogged glass betrayed a colorful glow. Intrigued, he gathered his courage and passed through the cafe’s doors to find a gleaming arcade cabinet boasting a large monitor depicting incoming nuclear missiles and a frantic counter-attack from three ground bases aiming to destroy the warheads before they exploded over 8-bit cityscapes. From that first encounter, an obsession was born.

But one that was short-lived when it came to passing hours in front of the machine. The following year, a pan fire gutted Rita’s, and with it, Tony’s quest to reach a million points until many years later. 

In contrast to his peers, Tony first made his mark in arcade competition during the 2000s rather than the 1980s. As a result, he was an unknown commodity when he achieved a new world record of 1,967,830 points in March 2006, surpassing one of the longest standing “golden age” scores for the title on tournament settings. In 2009, Tony made the trip across the pond to participate in the annual Funspot classic arcade game tournament at Laconia, New Hampshire where he increased his score again. Then the following year, Tony submitted the current record of 4,472,570

During this time, Tony quickly established himself as a top-flight competitor, earning a Guinness record and his own trading card in the Twin Galaxies' Superstars of 2011 and Walter Day Superstars of 2014 series. In addition to being a regular fixture at stateside events like Florida Freeplay, Tony has also built a reputation as one of the United Kingdom’s most pre-eminent commentators on the classic arcade game scene. His site, the Arcade Blogger, is a veritable treasure trove of gaming history and culture, featuring podcasts, articles, and blogs in addition to his work restoring neglected and damaged arcade cabinets of yesteryear. 

Tony with a prototype cabinet [Source: Missile Commander]

For the last several years, Tony traded time between fire buttons and a keyboard as he worked on a special project. Released in December 2020 to coincide with Missile Command’s 40th anniversary, the aptly-titled Missile Commander combines a compelling biography of Tony’s arcade journey from the streets of his childhood home to annual pilgrimages to the largest arcade expos in the US with a rich account of Atari coin-op history that focuses on the efforts of programmer Dave Theuer to develop a Cold War cautionary tale about the zero-sum game of nuclear war.

In many ways the release of Missile Commander is a logical culmination of Tony’s long-standing relationship with Atari’s memorable title, but its appearance is also aimed at filling in gaps in popular knowledge around the game.

“I’ve always felt that the story of the development of Missile Command has never been properly told,” explained Tony at arcadeblogger.com, “and I wanted to address that. The icing on the cake (well, for me at least), is that Dave Theurer, the creator of Missile Command was good enough to write the foreword.”

And the results speak for themselves: Missile Commander is a richly detailed, superbly engaging work that weaves together Atari’s development of the game with Tony’s ascension as a classic arcade game player. Punctuated with vivid photos and compelling anecdotes, Missile Commander also gives readers the opportunity to view never-before-seen prototype sketches and plans for “what might have been.” 

In short, Tony’s latest offering is a testament to his skill with words as well as sprites and offers a world class read for both newcomers and veterans alike.


Available as ebook or hardcover, you can purchase your copy or obtain more information by visiting The Arcade Blogger

Cover image source: Missile Commander/Tony Temple



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