It's safe to say an arcade game is a hit when the company resorts to putting the game inside another game's cabinet, just to keep up with demand. Such was the case in 1979, when Atari started shipping Asteroids in cabinets originally built for Lunar Lander. Of course, plenty of Asteroids cabinets also shipped, and in the end approximately 100,000 units left Atari's factories, making Asteroids one of the ten best-selling arcade games of all time.
The story of Asteroids begins with that other game, Lunar Lander. Released in 1978, the vector-based game challenged players to land a module on the surface of the moon. Lunar Lander was not a very successful game, but its hardware turned out to be just about perfect for Atari's next vector game. In particular, the Digital Vector Generator, developed by Atari engineers and first used in Lunar Lander, proved quite capable of drawing dozens of objects on screen. Other hardware, freed from the task of creating graphics and driving a vector monitor, could then be used to actually track the positions and interactions of all of those objects. These hardware pieces, together with a little more memory than what was given to Lunar Lander, helped make Asteroids a success. Of course, a great idea by Lyle Rains and excellent programming by Ed Logg and Dominic Walsh certainly helped.
Several sequels and home releases have contributed to the Asteroids legacy. The Atari 2600 version is perhaps the most notable, becoming a major hit in its own right. Still, the original will always be the best, especially when played on a real vector monitor, capable of producing brilliant laser shots like no modern television or computer monitor can.