Have You Ever Heard Of 1978’s Orbit From Atari?

Have You Ever Heard Of 1978’s Orbit From Atari?

Friends, today is the 26th of the month which naturally means it is Atari Day once again. That time of every single month we can all join together and celebrate the legacy of Atari as well as it’s continuing importance. Today I thought I would talk about Orbit from 1978, an arcade game that I first encountered at a local bowling alley. Orbit is a game that I fondly recall from my youth although many Players that I have talked to at the arcade have no recollection of the game!

When showing my fellow Arcade Addicts gameplay footage of Orbit they generally point out the similarities to 1962’s Spacewar! by Steve Russell. One of the first widely played computer games across various campuses of the day. And to be honest there is a reason for that as Owen Rubin, the game’s designer and programmer has gone on record saying:
“I did a game called Orbit which was a rip off of SpaceWars vector game.”

[Via] Ferrari Fan 68

Rubin has had a hand in some pretty noteworthy arcade games, just a few of those include Cannonball, Battlezone, Gravitar, and Major Havoc. Owen also designed and programmed Triple Hunt back in 1977, a light gun game that allowed the arcade owner to change the shooting game from Hit the Bear, Raccoon Hunt, and Witch Hunt. If you would like to see this arcade title in action, the Arcade Hunters YouTube channel has you covered!

Over on KLOV they have listed Orbit as uncommon in rarity and that seems right by me as I’ve not seen the 1978 arcade game since that bowling alley. Actually I have had rather a hard time trying to find a really good image of the arcade cabinet itself. Thankfully the Arcade Flyer Archive, which is also part of the International Arcade Museum can give us a pretty good look at the game.
Orbit - Atari - 1978 - Arcade Flyer Archive

Thanks to the Internet Archive, the service manual for the game shows just how crazy some of the playing options were – of course bear in mind this came out in 1978, the same year as Midway’s arcade hit Space Invaders! Compare the left and right button controls to Rubin’s 22 button control scheme. Granted 10 of those buttons alter how the game itself is played, such as how gravity behaves during gameplay or even removing the stars on the playfield.
Orbit - Atari - Arcade Manual - Internet Archive

Now in my youth, one of the things that attracted me to the game was that the ships displayed on screen bore a rather striking resemblance to both the USS Enterprise as well as an D7-Class Klingon battlecruiser.
Orbit - Atari - 1978 - Arcade Screen

Was I good at the game? No. Not in the least and while some of that had to do with the fact I was around 6 at the time, it didn’t stop me from developing some very strong memories of the game. For example, getting hit by another player’s shot in the game didn’t necessarily mean you were dead – you might actually find yourself with a portion or even tiny piece of your ship still zipping across the screen. At that bowling alley that is exactly what happened when my Father and I were playing, he won the game with only 1/4th of his ship remaining!
Orbit - Surviving Ship - Atari - Arcade Game

Okay, ready to see Orbit in action for yourself?


Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I own a working orbit game . Bounce back and reverse gravity are a real hoot, But The instant stop/start will make you cry laughing. Bought it from my friend tom 20 years ago. He had 2 at the time. Never have seen another.

  2. Steve, I am getting the idea it is something of a rare game and as others have mentioned online – a lot of people have confused it with Space Duel.

  3. Oh, that is awesome information, Brian! Thanks for the info and the heads up on the interview!

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