Atari is a company that is often credited as being fundamental in ushering in the video game era. Although they have had a tumultuous history, their games remain widely popular today, and are still routinely licensed and produced.
History of Atari
Atari was originally founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Soon after founding, the company hired their first engineer, Allan Alcorn. Alcorn is responsible for designing Pong, although the game was initially designed as a test. Pong quickly developed into the company’s first product that was commercially shipped.
Pong saw such rapid growth that Sears Roebuck eventually approached the company about selling the game for in-home use. Atari agreed, helping to create one of the first mainstream home video game systems.
This led to the release of the Atari 2600, a Video Computer System. The console was a programmable gaming console that was multiprocessor based. The unit, which retailed for approximately $215, came equipped with two joysticks and two paddle controllers. The unit had an expected life of two to three years.
Many video game manufacturers at the time focused their marketing and sales tactics around the holiday season, but Atari decided to market their 2600 device year-round. In 1979, Atari sold nearly 400,000 units for a net profit of nearly $20 million. While the 2600 was being pushed, Atari continued producing new arcade games.
After the video game industry crashed in 1983, Atari was sold and split multiple times. Atari bounced back in 1984 with the Atari 7800 gaming system. This system was compatible with the original Atari 2600, but also featured the ability to play new arcade games.
However, by 1996, Atari had clearly been left behind in the video game battle. They did not have a new product after their two previous designs, the Lynx and the Jaguar, had failed. The company was sold again.
Although Atari may have fallen behind in the modern video games race, they were the pioneer in commercializing at-home video game consoles. They also started a craze throughout the country with their arcade games, which remain popular today. Many of their games, such as Pac Man, are instantly recognizable and can be seen in many establishments around the world.
A comprehensive breakdown of Atari’s history can be found on the company’s website.
Atari games revolutionized video games as we know them today. Many Atari games, including the ones detailed below, began as arcade video games. They were all brought into the homes of American children on devices such as the Atari 2600 and the Atari 7800.
Pong is an original video game and is widely considered the first video game to have commercial success. The game is very basic ping-pong game and features two-dimensional graphics. Atari Pong helped establish the video game industry and jumpstart the innovation needed to create many of the games that will be detailed below.
The game was originally released as an arcade game in Andy Capp’s Tavern. The game was a huge success, with patrons coming to the bar solely to play the game. After a while, the game began to spread to other bars, restaurants, and arcades. It was estimated that Pong was bringing in around $40 each day per machine, four times as much revenue as any other arcade game.
The original Pong machine sold for $1095, meaning businesses could see a return on investment in as little as one month. The cost of the machine, which was considered modest for an arcade game at the time, helped fuel the spread of Pong across the nation.
After being released as an arcade game, Pong was released as a home console, sold exclusively through Sears. About 150,000 Pong units were sold when it was released during the 1975 holiday season. Pong was also one of the original release titles included with the Atari 2600. Entertainment Weekly ranked Pong as the top game ever released by Atari.
Breakout was one of the most popular games developed by Atari. Atari Breakout, which shows clear similarities to its predecessor Pong, was released on May 13, 1976. In fact, Breakout has been called “Pong turned on its side.” The circuit design for the game was given to a rising engineer named Steve Jobs. That name should sound familiar, as Jobs went on to later found Apple.
In the game, a ball bounces across the screen. Gamers use the joystick to prevent the ball from touching the bottom of the screen. There are rows of bricks on the screen. The goal of the game is for the bouncing ball to destroy the bricks.
Each layer of bricks is assigned a points value. The more bricks that are broken, the higher one’s score is. Players can score a maximum of 896 points. The success of Atari Breakout eventually led to the creation of other similar games, including Super Breakout.
Looking to try Atari Breakout? You can play it right in Google Image Search. Use your mouse to prevent the ball from falling to the floor!
Another Atari game that got its start in an arcade, Pac-Man remains a staple of American culture today. The game was originally released in Japan in 1980 but was released in the United States shortly thereafter.
Pac-Man was unique as an arcade game because it found success creating its own genre. Pong was a sports-based genre, while other games like Space Invaders and Asteroids were popular as a part of the space shooter genre. Pac-man didn’t really fit into either of those categories. Pac-Man saw great success and spinoffs, including Ms. Pac-Man and the animated television series “Pac-Man.”
It was estimated that by the time ‘90s came, Pac-Man had already generated more than $2.5 billion as an arcade game alone. The Davie-Brown Index has indicated that Pac-Mac is the most recognizable video game character among American consumers, even more recognizable than Pac-Man. 94% of Americans have said they recognize who Pac-Man is.
Atari Centipede was released in 1980 as a shooter arcade game. As arcade games entered their golden age, Centipede was one of the first of the era to see commercial success. Players score points by killing various creates, including mushrooms, centipedes, fleas, spiders, and scorpions. The more points a user obtains, the higher chance they have of gaining an extra life and extending gameplay.
In 1983, Softline readers indicated in a poll that of the Top 30 Atari 8-bit programs, Centipede ranked ninth. Centipede was also awarded the “Best Computer Action Game” at the 1984 Arkie Awards.
Recent Additions to the Atari Line
Over the past decade, there have been a few additions to the Atari line that have focused on the success Atari had in the past.
The Atari Flashback represents a line of consoles that have appeared since 2004. From 2004-2011, the line was marketed by Atari. In 2011, marketing for the devices shifted from Atari to AtGames. The Atari Flashback is a plug-and-play console that emulates either the original Atari 2600 or Atari 7800 console. However, instead of gamers inserting read-only memory cartridges, the games are built into the system.
The original Atari Flashback from 2004 was similar to an Atari 7800, one of the only differences being seen in the controllers. Although the controllers were the same in resemblance, the Flashback controllers were slightly smaller than the original 7800 controllers. The original Flashback came with twenty built-in games.
Different variations of the Flashback continued to be released throughout the years. The latest release, which came in September 2017, was the Atari Flashback 8. This version featured significantly more games, with 105 options being built into the console.
There was also an Atari Flashback 8 Gold version released. This version is significantly more modernized than its predecessors. The 8 Gold addition is able to connect to televisions via HDMI video output, which not only improves the display resolution of the game but also makes it more widely available for use on modern television sets. The 8 Gold also comes 2.4GH wireless controllers.
The Flashback 8 Gold has also made improvements to gameplay, as users can now pause, rewind, and save the game. There are 120 game options available on the 8 Flashback Gold, 15 more than the standard Flashback 8. An extensive review and comparison of the 8 Flashback Gold can be found here.
September 2017 also marked the release of the second edition of the Atari Flashback Portable. The Flashback Portable hosts 70 games including Pac-Man, which was not seen in the original portable release.
Atari Emulators allow you to play your favorite Atari games on your computer. Popular Atari Emulators include:
- BizHawk, a multi-system, open-source emulator designed for Tool-Assisted Speedruns
- Retroarch, a multi-platform, open-source emulator with a frontend Libretro API
- Stella, a freeware emulator that is designed for multiple platforms
- Z26, a freeware emulator that is designed for Windows and DOS