# Coding Breakout’s brick-breaking action | Wireframe #11

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Atari’s Breakout was one of the earliest video game blockbusters. Here’s how to recreate it in Python.

The original Breakout, designed by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, and famously built by a young Steve Wozniak.

## Atari Breakout

The games industry owes a lot to the humble bat and ball. Designed by Allan Alcorn in 1972, Pong was a simplified version of table tennis, where the player moved a bat and scored points by ricocheting a ball past their opponent. About four years later, Atari’s Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow figured out a way of making Pong into a single-player game. The result was 1976’s Breakout, which rotated Pong’s action 90 degrees and replaced the second player with a wall of bricks.

Points were scored by deflecting the ball off the bat and destroying the bricks; as in Pong, the player would lose the game if the ball left the play area. Breakout was a hit for Atari, and remains one of those game ideas that has never quite faded from view; in the 1980s, Taito’s Arkanoid updated the action with collectible power-ups, multiple stages with different layouts of bricks, and enemies that disrupted the trajectory of the player’s ball.

Breakout had an impact on other genres too: game designer Tomohiro Nishikado came up with the idea for Space Invaders by switching Breakout’s bat with a base that shot bullets, while Breakout’s bricks became aliens that moved and fired back at the player.

Courtesy of Daniel Pope, here’s a simple Breakout game written in Python. To get it running on your system, you’ll first need to install Pygame Zero. And download the code for Breakout here.

## Bricks and balls in Python

The code above, written by Daniel Pope, shows you just how easy it is to get a basic version of Breakout up and running in Python, using the Pygame Zero library. Like Atari’s original, this version draws a wall of blocks on the screen, sets a ball bouncing around, and gives the player a paddle, which can be controlled by moving the mouse left and right. The ball physics are simple to grasp too. The ball has a velocity, `vel` – which is a vector, or a pair of numbers: `vx` for the x direction and `vy` for the y direction.

The program loop checks the position of the ball and whether it’s collided with a brick or the edge of the play area. If the ball hits the left side of the play area, the ball’s x velocity `vx` is set to positive, thus sending it bouncing to the right. If the ball hits the right side, `vx` is set to a negative number, so the ball moves left. Likewise, when the ball hits the top or bottom of a brick, we set the sign of the y velocity `vy`, and so on for the collisions with the bat and the top of the play area and the sides of bricks. Collisions set the sign of `vx` and `vy` but never change the magnitude. This is called a perfectly elastic collision.

To this basic framework, you could add all kinds of additional features: a 2012 talk by developers Martin Jonasson and Petri Purho, which you can watch on YouTube here, shows how the Breakout concept can be given new life with the addition of a few modern design ideas.

You can read this feature and more besides in Wireframe issue 11, available now in Tesco, WHSmith, and all good independent UK newsagents.

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