Tag Archives: Atari

Living off the Atari Name

Atari is a name that can turn on the fog machine of video game nostalgia for me.  From the early days of Pong and other arcade classics to the Atari 2600, the company was a big deal for me in the 70s and early 80s.  If things had worked out differently I would have even been pretty happy to get an Atari 800 computer rather than the Apple II I ended up with.

Lots of good memories and few bad ones at this point, though I will say that my 1983 Christmas wasn’t ruined by a rash of titles for the 2600 so badly received that Atari literally dug a whole in the ground to bury excess stock and caused the 1983 video game crash.  I was using an Apple II by then and barely noticed.

The company as I knew it was over, but the name still had value.  Jack Tammel bought it and made some pretty decent computers under the Atari ST logo and a couple of hand helds, the Atari Lynx and Jaguar.  But by then it was a off-brand, living on its past more than its present, and the name has been passed through various companies attempt to cash in on the name recognition it had.

One of the odd things about Nintendo and its complete failure to correctly gauge the popularity of its NES Classic machine a couple years back was that the owners of Atari have been making money off of retro games, in software and hardware form, for decades now.  It is a proven, evergreen concept, because they wouldn’t keep rolling out new variations and updated support if it wasn’t worth the effort.

But there is always somebody looking for a way to milk a little bit more out of the name.  Back in 2017 it was announced that there would be a new Atari VCS console.  While it certainly gets points for design, updating the classic 2600 console styling, it isn’t clear to me what the attraction is going to be aside from the classic Atari game which you can run on your PC already or on one of the many versions of retro consoles they have shipped over the years.  Destined for failure is all I can think, if it ever ships.

All of which leads me to the latest attempt to cash in on the Atari name.  No, not the proposed Atari Hotels, which I think would have fallen apart even without the current pandemic, but the Atari Casino.

Atari, Now with Gambling

I meant to write about this back in early April when I got the first press release, and I wish I had.  They had a bunch of crypto currency logos on their site, but they have since changed their mind I guess and are going all in on the Atari Token as the core of their operation.  After all, selling the chips and getting people to give them straight back to you is the simplest route to profit.  Their planned operations are listed as:

  • Casino and lottery games in virtual currency: primarily licensing
  • Casino and lottery games in real money: licensing or direct exploitation
  • Casino and lottery games in cryptocurrency: partnership with ICICB
  • We have also granted a license to Gametaco for eSports

People go around and around on pay to win and developer greed and whether or not loot boxes are gambling morally, legally, or both.  But this is a straight up drive to take a household brand and turn it into a vice.  As they say on the site:

Due to the borderless nature of cryptocurrencies, anyone can gamble anywhere. That’s a huge advantage for the players. Payouts arrive to the players in a much faster fashion, because crypto transactions are much faster than bank transfers. Because cryptocurrencies are more flexible than fiat, we are able to bypass some restriction that fiat currencies have and provide you with the best possible experience.

Basically, come launder your money here!

I expect that this will draw scrutiny of governments all over.  Complaining about lock boxes with “what about the children!” appeals gets you a few sound bites and some low effort responses.  But something that might keep a government from collecting taxes they feel they are owed… well, expect a legislative microscope up your ass.  Go ask Google and Facebook.  They EU can’t stop coming up with ways to try and shake them down for doing well.

I just wonder if this is going to kill the Atari name off as a brand with value or not.  Or maybe that has already happened and it is just people with misty water colored memories from 50 years back that still recognize the brand for what it once was.

Pong is 40 Today

What was probably the first successful arcade video game, Pong, turned 40 today, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

I am old enough to remember when this seemed incredibly new and different.  And fun.  This game was fun.  I remember begging for quarters to play it at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Jose when I was a kid. (I cannot believe that place is still there.)

Quarters to play this!

That is it…

This is the game that made Atari a household name.  There were numerous knock-offs, and every home video game console had to have a version of Pong for the next decade.  I think the NES might have been the first without a “two paddles and a ball” game by default.

The first video game console in our home was the Atari Super Pong version, which had FOUR… count them… FOUR variations on the game.

I cannot even remember what those four were.  One was a solo version that was essentially you versus a wall, though you could turn the other controller to make a gap in the wall.  Wozniak and Jobs would come along in a bit and turn that idea into Breakout, the prototypical “lone nerd in a losing battle” video game.

And the Atari 2600 came with paddle controllers primarily so you could play Pong, though I recall it being useful the Casino card games as well. (Which, if nothing else, taught me that in Blackjack, Vegas Rules suck.  Unless, of course, you are the house.)

So remember Pong today, for it is the mother of all “how the hell was this ever fun?” video games.

Star Trek Online Options We’d Like to See

Star Trek Online.  It’s coming.

Okay, so the myriad of pre-order and special edition options that Atari and Cryptic have announced so far (are they done yet?)  have certainly made the task of what to buy a little more challenging than is common for an MMO launch.

Still, we all have another choice here.

We can complain about how Cryptic and Atari have apparently gone off the rails on the bonus item front.

Or we can embrace change and encourage it towards it ultimate silly destination.

(Personally, I plan to do both, but that is another story.)

So in the interest of embracing change, I have begun to formulate a list additional pre-order, special edition, or other purchase option bonus features that I think Cryptic and/or Atari should look into.

That is what I have come up with so far.

What other options should Cryptic and Atari consider?

I’m sure I can think of more.

Or maybe I’ll go watch that fleet action video yet again and try to forget this.

Star Trek Online – More Desicions on What to Buy

We have already been exposed to the variety of pre-order options that Star Trek Online offers.  To get the item you want you have to purchase your pre-order from the right vendor.

Now Atari and Cryptic have announced another wrinkle in the decision process with their press release regarding the Collector’s Edition and Digital Deluxe Edition of the game.

ATARI PRESENTS STAR TREK™ ONLINE COLLECTOR’S EDITION AND DIGITAL DELUXE EDITION FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY

Special Packages Contain Exclusive Content, Collectibles, and Game Access

New York, NY (December 11, 2009) – Atari, Inc., one of the world’s most recognized videogame publishers, and acclaimed MMO developer Cryptic Studios™, announced today a Collector’s Edition and a Digital Deluxe Edition of Star Trek Online, available for purchase on February 2, 2010, for a limited time only. Both packages include exclusive content, collectibles and game access.  Right now, the $79.99 Collector’s Edition can be pre-ordered at GameStop.com and the $59.99 Digital Deluxe Edition can be pre-ordered at Direct2Drive and STEAM.  Both special editions are also available at Atari.com.

“True Star Trek fans are sure to appreciate the exclusive features the Star Trek Online Collector’s Edition and Digital Deluxe Edition boast,” says Jim Wilson, President and CEO of Atari, Inc.  “With extended content and one-of-a-kind collectible items, Star Trek fans and gamers alike can experience the full extent of the Star Trek experience.”

The Star Trek Online Collector’s Edition adds to the experience with such bonus features as:

  • Deluxe Packaging: Futuristic 3dX holography set in a high quality brushed aluminum finish.  Heavy duty construction with magnetic closures and nested compartments for all components.
  • Deluxe Manual: High-end, hardbound, art book, manual and disc case in a single, elegant package. “HD Printing” on over 40 glossy pages highlights exclusive art from the Star Trek Online universe.
  • Communicator Badge: High-quality cast-metal design based on the in-game badge model. Fully 3D sculpted with recessed burst and curved contours.
  • Guest Passes:  Credit card style buddy passes to invite three of your friends for a three-day trial of Star Trek Online.  Codes can be transmitted digitally or physically.
  • Red Matter Capacitor (in-game item): A unique item that charges up and delivers extra energy to all of your ship’s equipment for a short time.
  • “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Uniform (in-game item): Uniform Options from “The Next Generation” Series.  The timeless look worn by Picard, Data and Riker.
  • “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Uniform (in-game item): Uniform Options from the “Deep Space Nine” Series.  Gray shoulders on a black uniform, just like Sisko, Worf and Dax.

The Star Trek Online Digital Deluxe Edition offers such bonuses as five exclusive in-game items as well as the ability to play as a “Joined Trill” – a symbiote that grants you several lifetimes of experience.  The five exclusive in-game items include:

  • Original Star Trek Uniform Set: Three uniforms from the original series (blue, red, yellow).

  • Exclusive “KHAAAN!” Emote: An unforgettable moment from the second Star Trek Film.  This exclusive emote allows players to relive Kirk’s unforgettable moment of fury, with the timeless cry… “KHAAAN!”

  • Exclusive Klingon Blood Wine Toast Emote: Raise a glass like a Klingon!  Greet other players with an exclusive Klingon gesture –the blood wine toast.

  • Unique Registry Prefix: Give your ship the coveted NX prefix, seen only on a handful of elite Starfleet vessels like the Defiant, 22nd century Enterprise, and Prometheus.

  • Unique Ship Item: Automated Defense Battery. This Tactical Module grants any ship a passive 360 arc attack power with a short range.

In Star Trek Online, the Star Trek universe will appear for the first time one a truly massive scale. In this massively multiplayer online game, players can pioneer their own destiny as Captain of a Federation ship or become a Klingon Warlord and expand the Empire to the far reaches of the galaxy. Players will visit iconic locations from the popular Star Trek fiction, travel to unexplored star systems, and contact new alien species. Every moment spent playing Star Trek Online will feel like a new Star Trek episode in which you are the hero. Immerse yourself in the future of the Trek universe as it moves into the 25th century: a time of shifting alliances and new discoveries. As the Captain of your very own ship, it’s up to you to lead your crew on missions that span the galaxy.

Star Trek Online is a licensed product from CBS Consumer Products.  For more information, please visit: www.startrekonline.com

Now I had seen in various places most what came with the Collector’s Edition, though the Red Matter Capacitor is a new twist. (And perhaps skirting a bit too close to the last movie.)

The Collector's Edition

But the Digital Deluxe Edition?  A “Khaaan!” emote?  And I don’t get it with the Collector’s Edition?  And the uniform set from the original series?

What are they thinking, making the original series ship and the original series uniforms essentially mutually exclusive?  Did somebody pass out these bonus items by drawing them out of a hat?

I need that “Khaaan!” emote right about now.

And this is only going to get worse I bet when we find out what the European distributors are going to be handing out.  You just wait until we find out the French are getting a Joan Collins “City on the Edge of Forever” bridge crew member or some such.

I suppose we will all be able to identify who bought which version where on day one.

Cryptic, you’re making me crazy.

DadHacker

Yesterday I saw on the blog of Jason Scott, (creator of “BBS: The Documentary,” a topic near to my heart, having been a sysop and having had a FidoNet address back in the early 90s) a link to another interesting blog.

Called DadHacker, it covers a wide variety of topics being, well, a blog.

And while the randomness of people’s writing whims do not always lead to a good read, this site is worth a peek.

I even found an entry on MMORPGs.

But the gems in this blog are the entries about the authors days at Atari. Posts like, “Donkey Kong and Me,” “Super Pac-Man,” and “The Atari ST” (part 1 and part 2).

If you like this sort of computer ancient history, go take a look.

Christmas 1977

Christmas twenty nine years ago was the last time I really wanted something for Christmas.

I was twelve years old and, while I did not believe in Santa any more, I still believed that happiness could be found in the form of a present under the tree.

I knew what I wanted to find under the tree. I knew and I wanted it so bad it hurt! It hurt worse than any puppy love crush of my youth. If I did not get this for Christmas, only blackness and despair would follow.

I wanted an Atari 2600.

The coveted box I saw in so many stores

Oh yes I did. It was the dawn of the video game age. Pong, Space Wars, Tank, Lunar Lander, were around and I was hooked. And then, in the fall of 1977, the Atari 2600 was released. Video games at home! It even came with Tank!

I cannot stress this enough. As only a young boy can, I knew I just had to have an Atari 2600.

As Christmas approached, I watched the ads. Everybody had the Atari 2600. Do you hear that Sony? Atari had enough units for everybody who wanted one!

There was one problem. One big problem. The price.

I remember vividly the standard retail price of an Atari 2600 in Santa Clara county at Christmas 1977.

It was $144.

Time for a moment of perspective with help from our friends at Measuring Worth.

How much was $144 to me?

In 2005, $144.00 from 1977 is worth:

$464.00 using the Consumer Price Index
$379.76 using the GDP deflator
$439.54 using the unskilled wage
$655.69 using the nominal GDP per capita
$883.17 using the relative share of GDP

So, somewhere between $380 and $900 in today’s dollars.

Not a killer. Not enough to break the bank, but a lot more than my dad was going to spend on a Christmas present.

It would be like my daughter asking for an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, but that would only play, say, My Little Pony games. I would not buy that for her. My father loves football, and there was no football game for the 2600, so I knew there would be no deal there.

Still, I had hope.

I grew up with the luxury of being the first child in my generation on both sides of my family. The first grandchild. The first nephew. And I remained in that position for a number of years. It is an enviable position, being the first child. Even when siblings and cousins come along, for a while you have no competition when it comes to Christmas presents.

So I went to work. I was subtle at first, or what passes for subtle in a twelve year old boy. I mentioned, A LOT, the Atari 2600, where it was for sale, and all of the games that came with it. It said right on the box that Combat included 27 games! (I was to drink that bitter draft later. I did not know it really meant 3 games with 9 very small variations.)

As Christmas approached, I made a greater effort to ensure there was no doubt in the mind of any living relative that what I really wanted for Christmas was an Atari 2600.

I began to annoy my father. Realizing that ground was fallow, I stopped all action on that front.

Soon it was mid December. The days crept by. Worry and doubt were in my mind. Would I get this for Christmas?

I concentrated my effort on my grandparents. That was where the money was. Those were the happy adults who were always so nice, who were always so indulgent compared to my mother or father. (And boy, doesn’t that one sting now that I am a parent.)

I cut all pretense. I laid out what I wanted. I made brazen offers. Get me just this and do not worry about anything else. Get together as a group and buy it. I was willing to mortgage next years birthday presents to get one. Whatever it took, I was willing to go there.

Soon it was Christmas Eve. We went out to visit relatives and friends, ending up at my father’s parents. This was the first opportunity.

The evening wore on. I tried to play it cool. The die was cast. There was no point in any more brokering. I just had to wait.

But it was hard to wait. And there were a lot of presents over there at my grandparents house. Too many there for me to discreetly measure boxes and check tags.

Finally, dinner was over, dessert was done, the table was cleared, dishes clean, and the time for presents was at hand.

I politely opened up the smaller presents, knowing they were not what I was looking for.  I played it cool on the outside while inside was a turmoil of doubt and desire. Then we were down to the last few boxes, the best presents saved for last, and there was one there for me. A big box. Just big enough I thought.

But not quite the right dimensions. I opened it up. It was not an Atari 2600. It was a competitor, a video game consol from Coleco.

I stifled my pain.

In hindsight, I wish I still had this system. It is so rare that no fellow nerd has put up a Wikipedia article about it. It was in the shape of a triangle. On one side it had a steering wheel, for driving games. On the next side it had a pistol hooked in for shooting games, and on the final side it had two controller for the Pong knock-off that came with it. It had a triangular cartridge on the top so you could play different gun, pong, or driving related games on it.

This system is so rare that I have never seen another one nor have I ever met anybody who ever had one. It got completely swamped by the 2600, so I never saw another game cartridge for it. (Addendum: It was the Colect Telstar Arcade)

I could see my grandparents decision process later. To them, this looked like a much better game. It was much more accessible to them, with a steering wheel and a gun. So much better than those two funny little stick controllers on that Atari. It even cost more than the 2600. They went up market for me!

I remember this lesson as well, now that I am a parent. Don’t try to buy an item that is comparable to what your child wants and tell them it is just as good or better. Either get what they asked for or avoid it altogether. Your idea of what is comparable will never fly with your child.

So home we went that night, no 2600 in hand yet. But I still had one more chance. I knew it would not show up at home the next morning, but that afternoon we were spending with the other side of the family. Grandma’s house.

Grandma had come through for me in the past. This was the woman who took me to see “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in the theater when I was 9 years old. This was the woman who had both The New Yorker and MAD Magazine delivered to her home. I still had hope!

And the hope was well founded. It was a much smaller group at her house than the previous night. The minute we walked in the door I could see a present of exactly the right dimensions under the tree.

I knew it was there.

We got through dinner. We got through dessert. We made our way over to the presents. I let the smaller presents go past, letting that box linger in the corner of my eye. I went with that. I knew it was a big present. I knew what it was. I could play it cool until we got to that one. Soon, it was the last thing under the tree.

And then I got to open it. And there it was, an Atari 2600.

I cannot say I heard “Ode to Joy” in my head at that moment, like Alex in “Clockwork Orange,” but I might as well have. It was that sort of moment for a 12 year old boy.

And I played that thing to death. It wasn’t until I bought a second hand Apple II+ six years later that the 2600 got any rest.

I saved up and bought cartridges, some great (Adventure!) and some not so great (Pac-Man). I broke half a dozen joysticks in that time, but my grandmother would always drive me over to the Atari offices off of Borregas Avenue in Sunnyvale where they had an unofficial replacement policy for kids who showed up on their doorstep. (Nobody wants to send a kid away unhappy.)

In 1985 I gave my whole Atari 2600 setup to a friend. Games like Wizardy, Castle Wolfenstein, and Ultima III had lured me away, but I still remember the 2600 fondly.

The Atari 2600 was the gateway to computer gaming for me and made me the noob I am today.