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Atari graphics killed the video star

Peter Griffin cries "I am proud to scream, I LOVE ATARI!"

Bleep, bleep..bleep, Doopdoop blgrrrrh. Ahhh, the warm fuzzy feeling any nostalgic video gamer who is over 20 feels when they hear that beautiful analog funk.

Bringing back the funky 80's feeling of sneaking out of the house after dinner and jumping on the mongoose and absolutely bolting up the street to your more fortunate friend who was blessed by the Christmas god with an Atari Video Computer System. Blasting though the front door, under his parents legs and diving straight into the action-packed head to head death match of Combat (Network play?? Bah, we had friends back then), the stress inducing reflex twisting attack of the killer coloured cornflakes from outer space with Asteroids, the comical whizbangery of Frogger and the high level of programming genius and "great graphics" of Pitfall. I could go on forever for I am proud to scream "I LOVE ATARI".

Image of Atari LogoThe word Atari is synonymous with its original machines like the 2600, 2600 II and to a lesser extent the 7800. Say the A word to anyone and you'll be drenched with fond, fuzzy memories of a bygone era when it held the world at ransom with this new found avenue for personal leisure and enjoyment that the TV worshipping populace was searching for. This new technology was allowing us to discover, as the original press releases said, "a world you never knew existed". I hear that!!

From then on, nothing else was good enough as board games were falling flat, cards were for alcoholic gamblers and even the much loved TV was losing its coolness. But, over the next couple of years we became too comfortable with the simple games that we had and needed something more as our human instincts for progression came into play, thus creating a craving for better graphics, new challenges and deeper game play. We were becoming bored with the wood grain Trojan and new machines with more power started creeping in, pushing the Atari under the bed with Monopoly and Uno, effectively dissolving the "Atari era".

From then on, Atari never gained any acknowledgment and/or success for their entertainment offerings since those old days, (besides the odd arcade game) which for a company that almost single handedly brought video gaming out of arcades and into the international household consciousness is pretty rough. The Lynx colour hand-held game machine never really made a dent in the gaming market (which was the first colour hand-held available) even though it was a decent machine, due to lack of sales and support.

Image of Jaguar 64 consoleSuch was the fate of the Jaguar console which was years ahead of the Playstation etc. but never got any support and subsequently carted some pretty poor games. Admittedly, the hardware is pretty dated now, but still it was ahead of the SNES & Megadrive back in the day. The point is that Atari were still trying to break new ground, but it was an uphill battle as I believe no one took them seriously as they had a too strong association with the old machines. I guess those rusted old pixilated shacks were a little bit too tough to break.

In our present era of the console war and the "my box has more bits than yours" argument continues in playgrounds and workplaces around the world, its sobering and head-numbingly enjoyable to rip into a fiery one man battle of skill in Pac-man, rather than playa million dollar game that looks all pretty, but is as enjoyable as a colonic irrigation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a retro retard with my head in the blue eye shadow of the 80's. I think the new generation of consoles are great and I'm currently the proud owner of a Nintendo 64, but one cannot leave the loving grasp of the old "stick in box with orange button and wood grain console" that's the size of a small third world country with about as much processing power as an analogue watch. (Man WOOD GRAIN!!! I say bring that funky stuff back!! Nintendo 128 "Wood grain edition"...DAMN!). Just like Cornflakes, the simple things in life are often the best.

Now, I'm not sure if it is nostalgia talking (which no doubt plays some sort of a part in my love for the beast), but there is just a little bit of magic in playing a single game for countless hours on end with less on screen and in memory during its entire duration than the intro of a modern game. When you think about it, the basis of games has never really evolved and has no need to anyway, as they are only a vehicle for enjoyment which relies on how well that vehicle drives.

Dodge things, shoot things, race things etc. The roots have never and will never change (unless we suddenly decide lopping off our own limbs and eating them is more fun). The game play is all that the Atari had to rely on, as the graphics were as minimal as possible, and only used just to let you know what's going on, so you couldn't mask a bad game with sexy graphics as so many developers do today. When will they learn. The old games are making their way back though, through retro repackaging of old games on new machines, but it's like the difference between a real Moog keyboard and a digital emulation.

Adding to that theme, the sound is a major part of what makes the Atari so immortally cool. The sounds that come from that piece of electronic genius are some of the coolest electro blurps, bleeps & farps ever invented (apparently sharing the same sound board design as the king of boogie rock, the Moog keyboard). As soon as you hear the first strains of Galaxian, it's obvious that this game is lurvveee in a cartridge and even my non-game addicted friends agree, there's more lovin' going on in every dodgy Atari pixel than a million rendered polygons on a Playstation. Yet another valid reason why that danged Atari keeps dragging you back for just one more game of Video Olympics.

Image of Pong game boxSure, you may neglect the old machine for a while, but as soon as you remember, BAM your straight back into it. Its like the difference between a new car, and a 1970 427 2 door Ford Thunderbird. The new car will dazzle you with it's reliability and comfort for a while, but after 6 months, you realise it's a soulless shell of money grabbing corporate rubbish.

The old Ford Thunderbird may be a bit rougher, have a few niggly problems, but the satisfaction you gain is endless as it has CHARACTER. Something the mid 80's killed and the 90's are reinforcing. And what a shame that is.

Like I mentioned before, game play rocks. I'm not saying that every old game rules, but the classics are true classics in the honest sense of the word. They will never be banished from that magical place in your mind with all your memories of your greatest glories and triumphs gently wrapped up in galactical foil and cotton wool. When you're truly into any game of decent substance, not just floundering about, you totally forget about the simplicity of the games graphics, for whatever lacks in the graphics is made up with imagination. (Remember that?) You become totally consumed as the outside world becomes that static white haze which engulfs the tunnel of vision that surrounds your screen. Your insistent problems of mortal life sizzle into the void as you teleport your starfighter only to find that you are placed in front of the largest pink cornflake you have ever seen about to smash you into space dust.

This feeling from any good video game is universal despite it being old or new, which is why I love them oh so much. I still whip out my Megadrive and whack on the odd few classic games like Madden 92 and I am currently head deep in Lylat Wars on my 64, but it is still no Atari. Just like a new BMX ain't no Dragster with chopper forks and an AM radio. Both cool, but for different reasons.

Though, as the years march on by, the games and machines become less and less reliable, joysticks start to break down (which is when you start using an old Megadrive controller) and it's obvious that the life of this "forefather of the modern electronic entertainment age" may be coming to an end. But there will always be the slaves of the old Atari, and I can see the legions growing now as we may now have pretty tricky machines but, akin to the CD vs Vinyl debates, some people such as myself argue that you can't upgrade style. And, as any Vinyl collector will know, the feeling of digging up some long lost classic in a dusty old flea market, finding an Atari with games all boxed is like heaven on a stick.

Because of the growing scarceness of Atari and associated machinery, a certain collectors mentality is coming into the mix. Hopefully it never becomes too cool otherwise the cash hungry opportunists will, just like old Star Wars toys, scam all the remaining hardware and try to sell it for a million bucks. The elite of us all know that we don't need the padding of comfort of the newest invention to lull us into happy land...

What I wonder is will todays kids whose roots lie in Megadrive's, SNES', Playstation's, Saturn's and Dreamcast's value them in years to come as we value the old Atari? Only time will tell...

Ok, so you own one or intend to own one soon. This is what you need to know...

Love your Atari and it'll love back
Mr Atari is getting on in the years, so here is a little guide of how to take care of the biggest (physically and historically) game machine in the universe. I know it all sounds a bit obvious, but it's amazing how easy these things are to forget and how little people actually adopt the practice of loving your little robot-o-fun:

  • When your finished making party, take the power pack OUT of the power point or turn the power point off as they frizzle in a minute.
  • Try to rig up a cover for the whole machine to avoid dust getting in the cartridge slot and switches as it will kill it because they aren't the most resilient machines and you ain't gonna get no warranty punk.
  • Keep your game cartridges with the bit you put in the machine covered for the same reason as above.
  • Don't force the cartridges in and out as they should just pop in without much of a click. Its more like you moosh them in.
  • ALWAYS turn the consoles power switch off before inserting and removing games, otherwise you'll frank the game and you'll be destined to look at fuzzy lines which sucks more bangers than Pauline Hanson.

Search and Destroy
Finding the perfect Atari can be easy and difficult at the same time. It just takes a little commitment kid. Firstly, go ask all your relatives as that can uncover a few surprises. Flea markets are your friend, and also, your friends are your friends so ask around and most people are more than happy to offload their old "junk" onto you. You'll be amazed as driving controllers, spare paddles and strange games you never knew existed may pop up where you least expect it. Also look in local papers and the trading post. and I've even seen them at cash converters. The whole system with controllers and a good amount of games should only set you back around $20. Any more and you want to be getting a load of stuff.

Show us ya goods!
CONSOLE: This is your vehicle to distant worlds. There are a few different versions of the Atari like the CX2600 which was the first issue with the wood grain in the front, the 2600 that was all 1980 modernistic and the 7800 which was the last ditch effort for the Atari posse which had slightly better graphics but not much else. All the games play on pretty much any of them.

JOYSTICK: The most common piece of hardware and easiest to find as they are pretty much everywhere. If they break, which they like to do pretty often, an old Megadrive controller will suffice.

PADDLE CONTROLLER: You'll need this for Breakout, Video Olympics, all pong variations and a fair few more games, so it's almost a necessity that you find one so you can play some of the best games on the machine. Hard to find in working order.

DRIVING CONTROLLER: Basically the same as the Paddle, but for some reason, is the only controller that works on driving games. Good to have as there are some great driving games (Street racer, Indy 500).

KEYBOARD CONTROLLER: Needed for the educational games and the basic programming game. Not really necessary at all, but cool to have because they are so pathetically cool.

POWER PACK: An overlooked accessory, they don't take long to burn out, so its more than likely you will need to repair or find a replacement from Tandy which is a bummer because the original pack looks funky as hell with the silver symbol just concreting your social status as the king roger. Oh well...

The games, the games, what about the games?
There are hundreds of games floating around, from the garden variety games to some full on ones that you may only ever see once like on multi-pack cartridges with elves jumping mushrooms and stuff. It's basically the harder you look the more you'll find. It sounds stupid but you'll get addicted to the hunt for games and hardware and soon you will have about 5 machines, a plethora of controllers and much gameage, and still be looking for more.

The search is almost as cool as playing the games themselves, but prepare to meet many nerds who think that their machine is so vintage it's worth $500. Atari's rule!

Glossary of terms

  • Bleep, bleep..bleep, Doopdoop blgrrrr are the silly sounds people make when being nostalgic :-)


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #7, October 2000

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