Atari Party East took place on Saturday, September 9th, 2017 on a beautiful, late summer afternoon in Somerset NJ, not far from the former World’s Fair Drive area locations of the east coast customer service offices and repair facilities of Atari, during the company’s late 1970s and early 1980s glory days.
What is Atari Party? Atari Party is a celebration of everything Atari! Encompassing all the products that made Atari an amazing company, including arcade video game cabinets, home video game consoles, various home computer lines and everything in between. The original Atari Party concept was the brainchild of Bill Kendrick, who founded and coordinated the event in and around Davis, California from 2009 through 2016. This year’s west coast event will be held on Sunday, October 1st, at the public library in Davis, California, with new man in charge, Marlin “MacRorie” Bates, at the helm.
At Atari Party East, there was a lineup of arcade video games including a four-player Atari Gauntlet, a Centuri Phoenix, a Midway Ms. Pac-Man, a Nintendo Popeye, a Data East Karate Champ as well as others. There is nothing quite as exciting as a highly animated, four-player, marathon game of Gauntlet, at once both team-oriented and extremely competitive, with shouts of “Warrior needs food, badly!” and “Wizard is about to die!” as you clear floor after floor of baddies, while stealing food and potions from your cohorts, in this classic hack and slash dungeon crawl. These three-hundred pound pleasure machines, once icons of the arcade scene, are now just shadows of a golden age, mostly in the hands of collectors and enthusiasts, doing their part to restore and preserve these pieces of Americana and maybe, at the same time, just a little bit of the salad days of their youth.
Classic Atari game consoles setup for play included the 2600 VCS, the 5200 Super System, the XEGS game machine and the 64-bit Jaguar game console. Other consoles included Atari Video Pinball and a stand-alone home Pong unit.
Rob Wanenchak brought his prized ATARI 2800. This rare, Japanese-released Atari 2800 console has four controller ports, rather than just the two controller ports on a standard Atari 2600 console. Its unique game controllers are a combination of an eight direction joystick and an integrated 270-degree paddle. Rob also brought along a handful of his personal collection of Atari 2600 homebrews and other, more rare Atari 2600 game cartridge variations.
Influential podcaster Robert “Ferg” Ferguson, host of the popular The Atari 2600 Game By Game Podcast, returned to his old stomping grounds of central Jersey for Atari Party East 2017. Ferg brought his Atari 7800, as well as a selection of some Atari 7800 game cartridges. He also brought his Edladdin Supreme 78 arcade-quality joystick controller and an Edladdin Seagull 78 converter which allows you to use Sega Genesis controllers on the Atari 7800 console. While at the event, Ferg also did a Facebook Live unboxing of the Atari 2600 homebrews Scramble and Star Castle, which are available from the AtariAge store.
Also on display, was a full lineup of Atari 8-bit computers. Recent released homebrews, including Atarinet and Tempest Elite were up and running on the 8-bits. A group of 130XE computers, running the multiplayer game Multi-Dash, were networked together using an SIO Port networking rig built by Nir Dary and provided by Randy Kindig, a co-host of ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast.
Peter Fletcher, fresh off his hugely popular Vintage Computer Festival East Battle Chess: Tournament of Micros exhibit, bought an Atari ST, an Atari Falcon, an Atari Lynx 16-bit handheld game console and an XEGS game console. He had a multitude of various Atari computers all networked together for some multiplayer Midi-Maze mayhem! There was also a competitive game of JHL 15 Hockey running on Peter’s Jaguar.
Paul Rickards, the creator of the popular WiFi232 Internet Hayes Modem for retro computers brought some of his tech including an upgraded Atari Video Music unit which was displaying Atari-generated psychedelic images on a 1702 monitor. He also brought along his upgrade for the Hayes Chronograph real-time clock which allows the chronograph to set the time on its own by employing a ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller with wireless internet access to NTP and HTTP for configuration. Brilliant, this one!
Also setup for play were a Legacy Engineering designed Atari Flashback 2 and a Raspberry Pi 3 running the latest RetroPie software that was loaded up with Atari 2600 and other system ROMs.
Jamie Lendino, author and Editor-in-Chief of ExtremeTech.com, was on hand with his trusty Sharpie pen, graciously signing copies of his new book Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation. Mike Montana, co-author along with his father Richard, of the niche Atari 2600 word game Glib released by Selchow & Righter was also in attendance, talking shop. Jason Scott, creator of BBS The Documentary and GET LAMP: The Text Adventure Documentary made a cameo appearance as did Evan Koblentz, Director of the Vintage Computer Federation.
There were many other attendees who brought both Atari related items, tables and chairs, and/or food and drinks to share. This amazing, community-supported, day long event was the first Atari Party East. Hopefully it will grow into a larger, annual event, to help preserve the history of Atari, its products and culture, as well as be a showcase for new homebrew software and hardware.