We all know Atari. Even those whom have barely played any video games know what Atari is and some might even know what Atari used to be. Sure the Magnavox Odyssey was the very first home video game console but Atari was the company that truly made console gaming a pastime. After their dedicated Pong machines they came out with the 2600 in 1977 and to this day that system is seen as the mother of all other video game consoles. The true pioneer in home gaming and the start of a huge home console boom. Yet it was also the start of a huge downward spiral not just for the company but for home consoles as well.
Atari’s name is practically synonymous with the video game crash of 1982 and for good reason. The market was oversaturated, the games were bad, people didn’t know what to get or what game worked for what system. It was a mess. Not only that but you also had video game companies churn out games faster and faster to make the holiday shopping rush and that’s where we got E.T. The game that some claim to be the sole reason why the market crashed back then. Even though I disagree with this statement, it doesn’t help that ever since 1982, Atari was on life support and things went from bad to worse. in 1986 they released the Atari 7800 but with the NES out and making killer sales figures Atari never really stood a chance. Only 56 games were made for the system and when you compare that to the massive library of the NES or even the SEGA Master System, there was never a competition. Further down the line during the 4th console generation Atari became a bit of a joke. They released systems like the XE Game System (1987), the Atari Lynx (1989), and finally starting the 5th generation to compete with SEGA and Nintendo the Atari Jaguar (1993), their first 64 bit console, and the last one they’ll ever make. The ads for the Jaguar were targeting SEGA and Nintendo hard since at the time both companies had their 16-bit consoles out. Atari thought that having more bits would be a game changer but sadly it wasn’t. Once the Jaguar failed and Atari was pushed out of the computer industry it was essentially curtains for the company. This once massive giant of video games was now a shell of its former self.
Now, why do I have a say in all of this? I wasn’t alive in the early 80’s to witness the crash, I wasn’t there to discover the first ever easter egg in Adventure, and I certainly wasn’t there when E.T. and Pac-Man came out for the 2600. So why do I have something to say about a company that was essentially dead when I was born? Well as stated before I love video game history, I love reading and learning about what happened before and how we got to where we are today. Atari is one of those companies that completely holds my fascination and admiration. I was able to get my hands on a controller and play some Atari games thanks to my parents buying me a Plug-N-Play and retro gaming conventions. I have played the so called atrocities of E.T. and Pac-Man but I have also played classics like Pong and Pitfall. What really bums me out is when people online bright up Atari, 9 times out of 10 it’s about all the things Atari did to screw up and not about what they did to further the video game industry. You didn’t need to put up fixtures to your television set to play games like the Odyssey, you didn’t need to spend money at the arcades to play video games anymore, and without Atari’s rules at the time we wouldn’t have easter eggs in video games. I could only imagine what was going through that kid’s head when he/she was playing Adventure and discovered Warren Robinett’s name in the secret room.
So why bring this up? Well last month I’ve been noticing more and more Atari apparel and paraphernalia coming out and being readily available at places where I shop. Now just because I can buy things with Atari’s logo on them doesn’t mean that Atari is making a comeback, far from it, but it IS nice to know that the old system is in the minds of the people again. Be it older fans who are wanting a nostalgia trip, and even some younger fans who are interested in what the older days were like. Luckily people are still able to play these games thanks to the Atari Flashback Classic games for PS4 and Xbox One, and the Flash Back system from AT Games.
Sadly, even with all the good for gaming they did, Atari will always be remembered by how hard they fell. Unfortunately that may be what Atari will always be known for, but I would like to try something different. I want to try and focus on the positive things Atari did while still remembering the bad. Even though they did things that severely screwed up their company and for games in the early 80’s, Atari did some amazing things. They have brought us true timeless classics and gaming practices that are still used to this day. Their games made box art a thing that now there’s an entire book about those art pieces. Atari’s legacy and history can’t be changed, but we can certainly look at them a little differently than we do now.