Lot #320
Atari 'Missile Command' and 'Nuclear War' T-Shirts (c. 1980) from the collection of David Sherman

This lot has closed

Estimate: $400+


Very rare pair of vintage t-shirts from the early 1980s, both deriving from the personal collection of David Sherman, lead hardware designer of the innovative Atari games Missile Command and I, Robot. The first is a navy blue Hanes Beefy-T t-shirt, size medium (38-40), with the front featuring fantastic rocket imagery for the classic 1980 Atari arcade game Missile Command. The second is a white t-shirt with a green trim collar and sleeves, size extra-large, which contains Mark Vallen’s classic 1980 silkscreen print entitled ‘Nuclear War?! …There Goes My Career!’ In overall fine, used condition, with some light scattered stains to the Vallen shirt.

According to Sherman: ‘During the development of this game, circa 1980, myself and Dave Theurer, the game programmer, both firmly believed that we would end up as gas particles embedded in the nuclear explosion that took out Lockheed and Moffett Field. Dave had many nightmares during development and I would lay there for 1/2 hour every night waiting to see the super bright light in the window.

With Missile Command, one of the things we both insisted on was that there would be no offense against enemy cities in the game, only defense. The game was purposefully made to fill you with dread and feel hopelessly over-classed by the pace of the assault from space.

We also discontinued a feature of railroads supplying new anti-missiles to the missile bases. It was a complex feature to tune, and good players inevitably started sacrificing far cities at the end of the railroad line to preserve anything at all. This seemed like a bridge too far to make a real part of the gameplay.

The piece-de-resistance was the end-of-the-game explosion, which prompted the words THE END to fill the screen. This scene was eventually used in movies such as War Games and Terminator 2.

Wearing my ‘Nuclear War, there goes my career’ t-shirt for all-night debug sessions seemed to me to be the perfect ironic touch. Irony was my way of coping with developing entertainment about mega-death. For what it’s worth, many Atari engineers would spend a lot of time thinking it through when asked to add violence to games in the early 80s. It seems like a very old-fashioned attitude now.’

From the Collection of David Sherman

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Science and Technology
  • Dates: #650 - Ended December 15, 2022