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A Moment of Silence for Atari


I’m going to wax a little nostalgic here. Silicon Alley Insider’s Peter Kafka has a post up about French company Infogrames buying the rest of Atari that it doesn’t own. Kafka’s take is that the plan is to ultimately shutter Atari, the company, and to use the Atari name as a brand for several of its games.

Atari is a relic now. But once, it was so mighty. I came of age during the Atari Supremacy (early 1980s). And it really was an obsession for my friends and me.

Atari 2600 was the bomb. I mean, you had to have it. I think we paid something like $120 for the 2600 console. That was too high, you would get it for less. If you could find it. We found one and by God, I was going to have it, no matter the price. I also bought a small black & white TV to use it.

You got Missile Command and Combat with the 2600. Those were just fine for getting started. I played the heck out of that Missile Command game. Combat was OK, but could get a little boring after a while.

So you had to get new games. Man that was the best. Atari had all these great games in the pipeline to keep you salivating. They also drew from their successful line of arcade games, and those of others.

And it wasn’t just Atari making games. Activision too.

What were those games that had us kids so excited?

  • Space Invaders was one of the first big hits. It started in the arcades, was hugely popular for the 2600 console. I liked it, but it was not a huge favorite for me.
  • Asteroids was hugely anticipated. Big blobs moving up and down the screen, with your little triangle spaceship shooting them. Clifton got this game first in our neighborhood, so we all went to his house.
  • Frogger was just fun. I can still hear the sound of that frog making its way across the road: “boip” “boip” boip”.
  • PacMan was like a movie blockbuster. It had been huge in the arcades, and we couldn’t wait for it to come to the 2600.
  • Defender was another arcade crossover. I liked the 2600 version better than the arcade game, because I never got the hang of all those buttons.
  • Donkey Kong was my personal favorite arcade game. In the arcade, I got to the third pie factory. The 2600 was disappointing, because it didn’t include the pie factory.
  • Adventure was fun, if only for tapping into the geeky Dungeons & Dragons wave that was afflicting us dorks.
  • Centipede was eagerly anticipated, as it had been a big arcade hit. The 2600 version was a faithful reproduction.

Other things have fond memories for me. The original joystick. I really like the simplicity of the joystick and the red button. The Nintendo Wii brings back some of the simplicity. I also loved the little manuals that came with each game. Fun graphics, and little hints for the game. I loved that was in Sunnyvale, CA. “Sunnyvale” sounded funny to my Virginia ears. There was an Atari gaming magazine I used to read, Atari Age. It would include playing tips and reveal the “easter eggs” planted in the games.

Atari really was an important part of my generation’s growing up. Eventually, new game consoles supplanted Atari’s 2600. Atari came out with the 5200 (twice as good!). Coleco came out with ColecoVision (played 2600 games and had Donkey Kong with the pie factory!). Mattel had Intellivision.

Today we have some of the most amazing game consoles. Makes the Atari 2600 look so quaint.

I never had another game console after the 2600. I lusted for the ColecoVision, but alas never got it for Christmas. I moved on to other pursuits (TRS-80 anyone?). But the Atari 2600 had a permanent home in my memories.

I got the Atari Flashback II as a gift a couple Christmas’s ago. It’s got a few of my favorites: Adventure, Asteroids, Haunted House, Yars Revenge. It’s still a satisfying experience.

And still sitting in my storage closet? My original Atari 2600. Old faithful. I play it from time to time, and it’s still fun. That’s going to be someone’s inheritance one day.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

One Response to A Moment of Silence for Atari

  1. cosmictap says:

    Ah I love this kind of nostalgia… so fun… when the idea of 1 meg of RAM seemed like the wildest of sci-fi…

    I lusted after the Coleco ADAM. Never did get one. ;)

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