ASCII Astro: an iPhone game with a retro twist

We’ve recently released a new iPhone app, and just for kicks this one is a game.


When I was younger, every time I got my hands on a new model of computer, I had to write a variant of this spaceshippy ASCII obstacle course. I think the very first iteration was on the TRS-80 Model 3 that was in my eighth-grade classroom. (I’m not sure how wise it is to be dating myself on the internet, but that’s how it went down, so there ya go.)

It was a BASIC program that printed out new lines to the bottom of the screen, while an ASCII spaceship on the top of the screen could be controlled by the arrow keys (or, for the especially ancient versions of this program, the comma and period keys). The program would PEEK the screen (ahh, PEEK and POKE, the hacker tools of the mid-80s) to see if a crash was imminent.

Variants of this program moved to my first Very Own Computer, a Commodore 64… and the Very First Computer That I Got Paid For Using, an Apple II. (I think it was actually an Apple ][.)

(Not to brag or anything, but I became familiar enough with the addresses that needed to be PEEKed and POKEd that I was able to sneak into department stores’ computer displays and enter a quick version of this program for the next customer to play. This was a favorite coming-of-age activity for those of a certain generation.)

This program never had a name, and honestly it never needed one. It was simple, fun, and if someone tripped over the power cord it was lost forever. (Unless a nerd like me wandered by again.)

Somehow I omitted a PC version, and I never got around to a Macintosh version either. But there were HP calculator versions for both the HP 42S and the HP 48 SX. (PEEK and POKE weren’t quite as exposed as they were in the olden days, though, so the program got more complicated.)

I’ve been using and developing for iOS devices for long enough that it is finally time to face the inevitable: the iPhone needs this app.

During a Clarkwood Retreat, ASCII Astro was a primary focus. The retro ASCII obstacles scrolling up were necessary, of course, but with a device as sophisticated as the iPhone, we could let the accelerometer control the spaceship.

That’s why the only instructions included in the game are these:


That’s really all there is to it.

And that’s really a quick brain dump of how ASCII Astro finally made it to the iPhone, where I daresay it’s the most satisfying variant of this 2.5-decade-old chestnut yet.



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