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Breakout (video game)

U.S. arcade flyer of Breakout.
An early arcade flyer of Breakout.

Developer(s) Atari, Inc.
Publisher(s) Atari, Inc.
Designer(s) Nolan Bushnell (conception),
Steve Bristow (conception),[1]
Steve Wozniak (prototype)
Platform(s) Arcade, Various
Release date(s) April 1976 (1976-04)
Genre(s) Arcade
Mode(s) Up to 2 players, alternating turns
Cabinet Upright and cocktail
Display Horizontal orientation, Raster, medium resolution

Breakout is an arcade game developed and published by Atari, Inc.[2] It was conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, influenced by the 1972 Atari arcade game Pong, and built by Steve Wozniak aided by Steve Jobs. The game was ported to multiple platforms and upgraded to video games such as Super Breakout. In addition, Breakout was the basis and inspiration for certain aspects of the Apple II personal computer.

In the game, a layer of bricks lines the top third of the screen. A ball travels across the screen, bouncing off the top and side walls of the screen. When a brick is hit, the ball bounces away and the brick is destroyed. The player loses a turn when the ball touches the bottom of the screen. To prevent this from happening, the player has a movable paddle to bounce the ball upward, keeping it in play.


  • Gameplay 1
  • History and development 2
  • Re-releases 3
    • Ports 3.1
    • Super Breakout 3.2
      • Other platforms 3.2.1
    • Breakout 2000 3.3
    • IBM PC and PlayStation 3.4
    • Mobile 3.5
    • Unofficial variations 3.6
  • Legacy 4
    • Apple II 4.1
    • Pilgrim in the Microworld 4.2
    • Super Breakout story 4.3
    • Other games 4.4
    • Google commemorative version 4.5
  • References 5


Breakout begins with eight rows of bricks, with each two rows a different color. The color order from the bottom up is yellow, green, orange and red. Using a single ball, the player must knock down as many bricks as possible by using the walls and/or the paddle below to ricochet the ball against the bricks and eliminate them. If the player's paddle misses the ball's rebound, he or she will lose a turn. The player has three turns to try to clear two screens of bricks. Yellow bricks earn one point each, green bricks earn three points, orange bricks earn five points and the top-level red bricks score seven points each. The paddle shrinks to one-half its size after the ball has broken through the red row and hit the upper wall. Ball speed increases at specific intervals: after four hits, after twelve hits, and after making contact with the orange and red rows.

The highest score achievable for one player is 896; this is done by eliminating two screens of bricks worth 448 points each. Once the second screen of bricks is destroyed, the ball in play harmlessly bounces off empty walls until the player relinquishes the game, as no additional screens are provided. However, a secret way to score beyond the 896 maximum is to play the game in two-player mode. If "Player One" completes the first screen on his or her third and last ball, then immediately and deliberately allows the ball to "drain," Player One's second screen is transferred to "Player Two" as a third screen, allowing Player Two to score a maximum of 1,344 points if he is adept enough to keep the third ball in play that long. Once the third screen is eliminated, the game is over.

History and development

Breakout, a discrete logic (non-microprocessor) game, was designed by Nolan Bushnell, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Bristow, all three of whom were involved with Atari and its Kee Games subsidiary. Atari produced innovative video games using the Pong hardware as a means of competition against companies making "Pong clones."[3] Bushnell wanted to turn Pong into a single player game, where the player would use a paddle to maintain a ball that depletes a wall of bricks. Bushnell was certain the game would be popular, and the two partnered to produce a concept. Al Alcorn was assigned as the project manager, and began development with Cyan Engineering in 1975. Bushnell assigned Steve Jobs to design a prototype. Jobs was offered $750, with an award for every TTL (transistor-transistor logic) chip fewer than 50. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days.[4]

Bushnell offered the bonus because he disliked how new Atari games required 150 to 170 chips; he knew that Jobs' friend Steve Wozniak, an employee of Hewlett-Packard, had designed a version of Pong that used about 30 chips.[5] Jobs had little specialized knowledge of circuit board design but knew Wozniak was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips. He convinced Wozniak to work with him, promising to split the fee evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had "tricky little designs" difficult to understand for most engineers. Near the end of development, Wozniak considered moving the high score to the screen's top, but Jobs claimed Bushnell wanted it at the bottom; Wozniak was unaware of any truth to his claims. The original deadline was met after Wozniak worked at Atari four nights straight, doing some additional designs while at his day job at Hewlett-Packard. This equated to a bonus of $5,000, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak. Wozniak has stated he only received payment of $350;[6][7][8][9][10][11] he believed for years that Atari had promised $700 for a design using fewer than 50 chips, and $1000 for fewer than 40, stating in 1984 "we only got 700 bucks for it." Wozniak was the engineer, and Jobs was the breadboarder and tester. Wozniak's original design used 42 chips; the final, working breadboard he and Jobs delivered to Atari used 44, but Wozniak said, "We were so tired we couldn't cut it down."[5]

Atari was unable to use Wozniak's design. By designing the board with as few chips as possible, he made the design difficult to manufacture; it was too compact and complicated to be feasible with Atari's manufacturing methods. However, Wozniak claims Atari could not understand the design, and speculates "maybe some engineer there was trying to make some kind of modification to it." Atari ended up designing their own version for production, which contained about 100 TTL chips. Wozniak found the gameplay to be the same as his original creation, and could not find any differences.[7][8][9][10][12][13]

The arcade cabinet uses a black and white monitor. However, the monitor has strips of colored cellophane placed over it so that the bricks appear to be in color.



Atari 2600 home version of Breakout.

The original arcade version of Breakout has been officially ported to several systems, such as Video Pinball, the Atari 5200 (included in Super Breakout), and the Atari 2600.

The Atari 2600 port was programmed by Brad Stewart. Stewart had been working on a backup project for the Atari 2600, which was eventually canceled. Consequently, Brad and Ian Shepherd were both available to program Breakout for the Atari 2600. They decided to compete in the original version of Breakout for the programming rights. In the end, Brad won. In development, he didn't receive help of the original designers (and was unaware who they were), and felt that there were few obstacles to overcome. Difficulties arose with the Television Interface Adaptor. The game was published in 1978 and was conceptually the same, but with a few key differences. First, there were only six rows of bricks. Second, the player is given five turns to clear two walls instead of three. One notable addition was the Breakthru variant, where the ball does not bounce off of the bricks, but continues through them until it hits the wall. Atari had this term trademarked and used it as a sister term to Breakout in order to describe gameplay, especially in look-alike games and remakes.

In 2010, the game was re-released in a Taco Bell promotion, in which a series of four classic Atari game CD-ROMs (Centipede, Lunar Lander, Super Breakout and Asteroids) were given away in kids' meals, and were also available for purchase separately. Although the disc is titled Super Breakout, the game is a simulation of the original TTL Breakout, and also features an "evolved" gameplay mode. Legacy Engineering developed this series of games for the promotion.

Super Breakout

The success of the game resulted in the development of Super Breakout a couple of years later. While ostensibly very similar to Breakout – the layout, sound, and general behavior of the game is identical – Super Breakout is a microprocessor based game instead of discrete logic, programmed by Asteroids programmer Ed Logg using an early MOS 6502 chip. He developed Super Breakout after hearing that Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, wanted Breakout updated.[14] Super Breakout can therefore be emulated in MAME and is also featured in a number of different Atari compilation packs. The original Breakout has not been featured, since there is no processor in Breakout — the game would have been more "simulated" than emulated.

In Super Breakout, there are three different and more advanced game types from which the player can choose:

  • Double gives the player control of two bats at the same time—one placed above the other—and two balls. Losing a life occurs only when both balls go out of play, and points are doubled while the player is able to juggle both balls without losing either.
  • Cavity retains the single bat and ball of Breakout, but two other balls are enclosed on the other side of the wall, which the player must free before they, too, can be used to destroy additional bricks. Points are increased for this, but triple points are available if the player can keep all three balls in play.
  • Progressive also has the single bat and ball, but as the ball hits the paddle, the entire wall gradually advances downwards step by step, gaining in speed the longer the ball lasts in play.

Other platforms

The original iPod had an Easter Egg where you could hold down the center button for a few seconds in the "About" menu, and Breakout would appear.[15][16] Glu Mobile released a licensed cellular phone version of Super Breakout that includes the original game as well as updated gameplay, skins, and modes.[17] In 2008, Atari released the game for the iPhone and iPod Touch via Apple's App Store.

The arcade and Atari 2600 versions of Super Breakout were made available on Microsoft's Game Room service for its Xbox 360 console and for Windows-based PCs on May 5, 2010 and September 1, 2010 respectively.

Breakout 2000

There was also a reinvented Breakout 2000 game for the Atari Jaguar game console. The object of the game remains the same but in a 3D playfield. There are a total of ten different phases to survive, each consisting of five playfields. Each playfield is more difficult to clear than the prior one, and each phase adds more difficulty and features.

The game features good and bad power-ups somewhat similar to Arkanoid. There are unbreakable bricks, multi-hit bricks and stacked bricks. Ball movement is limited to the lower level of stacked bricks, so breaking a lower brick allows the stacked bricks to fall into the now vacated location. The game also features a two-player mode that allows two people (or a person and the computer) to compete head to head. In this mode a player's ball can loop around to the other player's playfield and break the opponent's bricks. A double ″2X″ bonus is awarded for breaking the opponent's bricks.

IBM PC and PlayStation

Breakout was once again updated for the IBM PC and also for the PlayStation. This version featured an ongoing storyline. In it, the character of Bouncer must rescue Daisy and his friends from the evil Batnix after he attacks their island. With advice of Coach Steel, he travels to different lands to rescue his friends before Batnix takes over the world:

  • Tutorial - Bouncer must break out of Batnix's prison to rescue his friends. After that, he must outrun a wolf.
  • Egypt - Against a backdrop of Egyptian desert sits a giant pyramid, its secrets hidden from view. Only total destruction will unlock all its treasures. Beneath the pyramid are secret tombs through which Bouncer must battle in order to reach the Mummy's Lair where a final battle with a mummy will rescue his first friend.
  • Farm - Bouncer must use his Breakout skills to defeat sheep, chickens, and ducks to rescue his second friend. After that, he must outrun another wolf.
  • Castle - A giant Dragon carries a captive into a majestic, towering medieval castle surrounded by a deep moat. Bouncer must first defeat the knight guards on the drawbridge before he can enter the castle. Then Bouncer must tear down a wall and prevent the serfs from rebuilding it. Once Bouncer has completed several different challenges, he must climb the castle tower to the Dragon’s nest and do battle with the Dragon to save another one of his friends.
  • Factory - Batnix has devised an evil robot henchman to guard his captives in his diabolical factory. A series of devious, puzzle-like levels must be negotiated before Bouncer battles the deranged robot to complete his mission.
  • Space - Bouncer launches a rocket into space in order to chase the evil Batnix and rescue Daisy. Bouncer must use his Breakout skills to deflect killer asteroids. Afterwards, he must face Batnix in a final showdown and rescue Daisy.


In 2011 Atari S.A. released and updated version of Breakout, Breakout Boost. The game is similar to the original with the chief difference being the addition of improved graphics and deeper gameplay features such as power ups (Fire, Acid, Splitting, and Grenade Balls), unique brick types (Exploding, Mystery, x4, and Metal bricks), and Boost Control. The faster your ball goes, the more points you’ll get.

Unofficial variations

Many unofficial variations of Breakout were created for home computer platforms such as Apple II Plus, TRS-80 and PC. A version of the game called Little Brick Out was included on the DOS 3.2 System Master disk for the Apple II. Disney Club Penguin also has a version of this game called Ice Bricks in mission 3, "Case of the Missing Coins", with 10 levels.


Apple II

Breakout directly influenced Wozniak's design for the Apple II computer. He said, "A lot of features of the Apple II went in because I had designed Breakout for Atari. I had designed it in hardware. I wanted to write it in software now."[18] This included his design of color graphics circuitry, the addition of game paddle support and sound, and graphics commands in Integer BASIC, with which he wrote Little Brick Out, a software clone of his own hardware game.[19] Wozniak said in 1984:[5]

Basically, all the game features were put in just so I could show off the game I was familiar with—Breakout—at the Homebrew Computer Club. It was the most satisfying day of my life [when] I demonstrated Breakout—totally written in BASIC. It seemed like a huge step to me. After designing hardware arcade games, I knew that being able to program them in BASIC was going to change the world.

Pilgrim in the Microworld

Pilgrim in the Microworld is an autobiography by David Sudnow detailing his obsession with Breakout. Sudnow describes studying the game's mechanics, visiting the manufacturer in Silicon Valley, and interviewing the programmers.[20]

Super Breakout story

For Kid Stuff Records, John Braden recorded a 7-in 3313 RPM record telling the story of Super Breakout. This science fiction story dealt with NASA astronaut Captain John Stewart Chang returning from a routine mission transporting titanium ore from Io to space station New California. He encounters a rainbow barrier, presumably a force of nature, that seems to have no end on either side. He has three lobbing missiles of white light that he can bounce off the hull of his shuttle, and they prove able to break through the layers of the force field. With his life support systems failing, what follows is a test of endurance turned game as he strives to break through the barrier in space.

Other games

Since the original release of Breakout, there have been many clones and updates for various platforms, known as "Breakout clones."

  • Arcade remakes include Atari's own Super Breakout and Taito's Arkanoid as well as Namco's Quester.
  • Handheld devices have had variants included with them as well. The most notable are those designed for rotary control, such as the iPod and the BlackBerry's Brick Breaker. The iriver got Brickmania on the RockBox OS. An earlier handheld variant was Nintendo's Alleyway, released in 1989 for the original Game Boy system.
  • Microvision The earliest handheld device with swapable cartridges, ca 1979, shipped with Block Buster, a simplistic Breakout clone.
  • The bonus stage in Pinball plays like Breakout.
  • An updated version called Bebop was made in the 1990s.
  • A mini-game in Major Havoc was played for a few seconds before starting each level.
  • Later versions of Turbo Pascal included Breakout, with source code, as an example of the Object Pascal language.
  • A mini-game in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is based on Breakout.[21]
  • Peggle is based on a combination of pachinko machines along with the mechanics of Breakout.[22]
  • Hardball is a free computer game similar to Breakout which was made for the Palm OS.
  • A BASIC version of Breakout called "Thro' the wall" was included as part of the Horizons welcome and introduction package for the ZX Spectrum computer.[23]
  • The Miniclip puzzle game "Smashing."
  • The 2009 PC game Shatter (video game) from Sidhe Interactive features the same basic paddle-and-ball mechanic with additional mechanics such as the ability to 'suck' or 'blow' from the paddle.
  • The 2011 PC game Wizorb from Tribute Games fuses a Breakout clone with a role-playing game
  • On New Nintendo 3DS, if you tap in the Mario theme, a version of Breakout appears.[24]

Google commemorative version

On the 37th anniversary of the game's release, Google released a secret version of Breakout. In order for users to access it, they had to type "Atari Breakout" on the Images search section. After clicking enter, the search makes the images turn different colors and a little ball and paddle are seen at the bottom. This is still accessible as of the release date. [2]


  1. ^ Obituary: Gaming pioneer Steve Bristow helped design Tank, Breakout, by Kyle Orland, Feb 25, 2015, Ars Technica
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press.  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b c Williams, Gregg; Moore, Rob (December 1984). "The Apple Story / Part 1: Early History". BYTE (interview). pp. A67. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Letters – General Questions Answered,
  7. ^ a b Wozniak, Steven: "iWoz", a: pages 147–148, b: page 180. W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN 978-0-393-06143-7
  8. ^ a b Kent, Steven: The Ultimate History of Video Games, pages 71–73. Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  9. ^ a b Breakout | The Dot Eaters
  10. ^ a b Arcade History: Breakout
  11. ^ Classic Gaming: A Complete History of Breakout
  12. ^ Phosphor-Dot Fossils: Breakout
  13. ^ Features - Woz Was Here - Steve Wozniak On His Gaming Past
  14. ^ Chris Kohler (November 17, 2011). "Asteroids Designer Ed Logg Honored With Pioneer Award".  
  15. ^ "Consumer Electronics Review: Apple iPod". 2002-01-31. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  16. ^ 10 Fascinating Facts You Didn’t Know About Apple Number 8. The First iPod Had A Secret Easter Egg
  17. ^
  18. ^ Connick, Jack. "...And Then There Was Apple." Call-A.P.P.L.E. Oct 1986: 24.
  19. ^ Wozniak, Steve (2014-05-01). "How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "When Television Marries Computer; By Howard Gardner". The New York Times. March 27, 1983. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  21. ^ Sonic the Hedgehog
  22. ^ "FEATURE: The Making of Peggle".  
  23. ^ Review Review of ZX Starter package Archived February 7, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Sam Byford. "The New Nintendo 3DS loads a secret game when you tap out the Mario theme". The Verge. Vox Media. 
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