How to play Gravitar

Message from Atari Mission Control:

(description from the flyer)

Your mission is to travel to alien planets, wipe out enemy bunkers, gather fuel units, and make the solar systems safe for you and future generations of space pioneers. Fuel units should be collected on each planet…fuel is depleted each time Thrust and Shield/Tractor are utilized. Measures should be taken to insure ship safety…use Shield against enemy fire from bunkers and alien ships.

There are three solar systems in each universe, with five planets in the first two solar systems and four planets in the third. Gravity is positive. After completing missions in positive gravity solar systems, ships travel to a new universe with three negative gravity solar systems. Following this is a dark universe where terrain of planets is invisible (though gravity is positive). Finally, the ship travels to a dark universe with negative gravity.

Gameplay Overview

One of the best descriptions of the gameplay I read is that it’s a combination of Asteroids and Lunar Lander (only harder).

OK, so first of all -- There are four Universes:
Positive Gravity / Visible Landscape
Negative Gravity / Visible Landscape
Positive Gravity / Invisible Landscape
Negative Gravity / Invisible Landscape

If you complete all the planets in the first universe, you will move on to the next.
If you complete all four universes, the game starts over in the first universe.
See the flowchart of the 4 Solar Systems


Within each universe, there are three solar systems. Each solar system contains a Red Planet, sometimes referred to as a spiral tunnel (which is very difficult to complete, especially after the first or second red planets.

The Interior of the Red Planet
Timing is critical to accomplishment of mission -- the clock in the center ticks away valuable seconds. Steer your ship down the narrow tunnel, blast the reactor and escape from the tunnel, all in under 23 seconds. If mission is completed successfully, Red Planet will provide link to the next solar system.

If you choose not to attempt the red planet, then there are the regular planets you will need to destroy to get to the next solar system.

In the 1st and 2nd solar system there are four planets and in the 3rd solar system there are three planets. So that’s 11 planets you will need to complete to get to the next universe.

Each universe is arranged with the same 11 planets and the red planet, in the same configuration. Once you learn the layout of the planets, you will know what to expect as you enter the other universes.


Tractoring Fuel
Use the the Tractor/Shield control button to collect fuel cells. The tractor beam must reach to the surface of planet to beam fuel up to ship.
see: Fuel tips

Enemy ships pursue at all times. If one of the alien ships is allowed to come too close, both enemy and your ship are transported immediately into deep space for a dogfight. Once in deep space, it's a fight to the death; only one ship will be victorious (actually both ships can be destroyed if the alien ship rams into you -- shields will not protect you. At this point you must shoot and destroy the alien ship or be destroyed).

Fuel cells = 2,500 fuel units
Red Alien Ships = 100 points
Red Bunkers / Gun turrets = 250 points
Reactor = 500 points
Completed mission on Red Planet = 7,500 fuel units

Bonus points are based on how quickly you destroy enemy bunkers and exit planet.

Super Bonus is awarded on completion of mission on first planet of player's choice. Super Bonus points are based on the difficulty of the first planet completed, with each planet in the first solar system worth progressively more points. If the player successfully completes mission on a chosen higher planet, he or she earns a bonus based on the number of points for the planets skipped as well as for the one just completed.

Co-Pilot List records 8 top scores and initials of players who achieved them.

Control Panel
Rotate Left, Rotate Right, Thrust, Fire, Tractor/Shield


Object of the game
To patrol the solar system in your spaceship, picking up fuel pods and destroying enemy ships and gun turrets.


The Universe

The world of Gravitar is huge and perhaps a bit overwhelming at first. Let's look at what you can expect to find in the early part of the game.

The first screen, or universe, consists of six planetary bodies. The red and yellow star-shaped object to the north and east of your starting point is the Death Star. It exerts a gravitational pull that tries to suck your ship into its deadly maw. Thrust to avoid, and fly to one of the other planets. The descriptions of the planets are what you'll see if you visit them in order of their point totals. If you visit more difficult planets first, other planets have even more gun turrets!

Northeast Planet (2,000 points) -- This is just a simple line of terrain with two gun turrets and two fuel cells. Watch for the red enemy spaceships.

Southeast Planet (4,000 points) -- This one's a bit trickier with four gun turrets and two fuel cells. One turret is located on the underside of a floating island, which requires careful maneuvering.

Southwest Planet (6,000 points) -- Six gun turrets and three fuel pods greet you on this planet, but two of the turrets are hanging upside down from a ledge, and the others are nestled in valleys.

Northwest Planet (8,000 points) -- There are eight gun turrets and four fuel pods on this planet, all spread on the surface of a circular world. You must orbit around the surface, maneuvering your craft carefully to take out the guns, some of which will place you in a deadly crossfire.

Red Planet, West (9,000 points) -- This is the most difficult of the planets in the first universe. You must pilot your spaceship down a narrow corridor and shoot the reactor, all in the space of 23 seconds.

Once you've conquered all the planets, you will move on to the next universe. The next universe has negative gravity, which requires you to rethink your maneuvering skills. The universe after that has invisible terrain with positive gravity, and the final universe has invisible terrain with negative gravity. Good luck!



First, understand that Gravitar is not an easy game. Difficulty was one reason why it didn't fare very well in the arcades. But, if you persist, you will find it to be extremely addictive, and it has a hard-core following among some gamers.

Learning to control the spaceship is paramount. Thrust speed can get very fast. Don't hold your finger down on the arrow keys. Instead, use light taps to delicately maneuver your ship around the terrain.

Your ship only has four shots visible at one time on the screen. Unlike Asteroids and other Atari shooter games, this one requires precision aiming. Rapid firing may cause you to be out of ammo when you most need it. Make one shot count.

The overall score is at the top of the screen. Underneath this is your remaining fuel. You don't get points for picking up fuel, but you do get 2,500 fuel units. Pick them up only when needed. A planet's mission score can be seen in the upper right of the screen. It counts down the longer you spend on the planet, so try to accomplish your mission quickly.

Year: 1982 Mfg: Atari
Production Numbers: Upright 5427 units,
Cost New in 1982: $2095
Technical: PCB Boards are can be swapped with Black Widow or Space Duel although controls need to be modified.

History of The Game

Released in 1982, Gravitar did not do well in the arcades, primarily because of its difficulty. While beautiful to look at for its time, the learning curve was too steep too early. When you're plugging quarters into a machine, you stop playing a tough game.

But interest in the title has resurged among hard-core arcade gamers. This is because once the controls are mastered, the game is phenomenally addictive. You know you can take out that gun turret next time -- you were so close!

Gravitar was the first game ever to have a real-time dynamic perspective. When you enter a planet, the screen zooms in to give you a closer look. You may laugh now, but for 1982, that was truly amazing. Gravitar was designed by Mike Hally, who went on to be the designer for Atari's smash arcade hit, Star Wars.

Tips and Tricks

Learning to control the ship is the most difficult task. The thruster must be used sparingly, with delicate jabs at the arrow keys to carefully position the ship for a shot.

Time is something to keep in mind because the longer you spend on a planet surface, the fewer the points. But rushing is a sure way to destroy your ship. Position your ship and make every shot count.

When visiting a planet, turn your ship around so it's nose up, and hit the thruster to slow your descent. Wait to shoot until the screen zooms in.

Gravitar is hard. Don't get frustrated. Keep playing (remember, it's free, you don't have to put quarters into the machine) and eventually you'll get the hang of ship control and the strong gravity force.