The enigma of the 1980s arcade, Tempest was too strange and abstract a game to achieve blockbuster mainstream success, but it had a hardcore following among gaming aficionados.
Tempest was a vector graphics game, but unlike, say, Asteroids, it was in full color. You played a kind of cartoon pincer, or bracket, that scampers around the opening of a tube, or sometimes along the edge of a plane, and fires at enemies sliding up toward it along said tube or plane.
The controls consisted of a spinning rotary knob, which allowed the player to zip around the screen with enormous speed, a fire button (you could hold it down for a gratifyingly rapid rapid-fire mode), and a Superzapper button, which could clear the screen of enemies once per level.
The sense of three-dimensional space conveyed by the vector graphics was awesomely vertiginous — you felt like you could fall right into the screen, and slide down that tube. Bizarre as it was, Tempest has no true heirs, but it did pioneer one popular and lasting feature: you could choose from a range of starting difficulty levels, from Novice to Expert.