News Article

Atari Turns 40 Today

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

The original gaming behemoth

Current-day gamers are familiar with just three game console manufacturers at the top of the tree: Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. Some who are older may remember when SEGA was in its pomp and challenging Nintendo in the 1990s, but for those that care to go even further back, Atari comes into the picture.

Atari is 40 years old today, and was at its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Atari 2600 being its definitive console. Since that period the company has since had more owners than can be counted on both hands, but in those rose-tinted good-old-days it was the master of home console gaming. Let's not forget that Nintendo, before it decided there was money to be made in this game console lark, saw arcade ports such as Mario Bros. on Atari 2600. There was even a dispute between the two companies as Nintendo sought to contract Atari to release its Famicom (which would become NES) in North America. The deal went sour and, well, Nintendo's done just fine since.

Although Atari released consoles into the 1990s, it was overpowered by Nintendo and SEGA, and is now resigned to a fate as a game publisher. In the days of synthesised music and baggy, brightly coloured trousers, however, they were top of the game.

Fun fact: The man who founded Atari, Nolan Bushnell, also founded the Chuck E. Cheese chain of restaurants. He cannot, however, be held responsible for Chuck E. Cheese's Arcade Room on DSiWare.

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User Comments (64)

bezerker99

#3

bezerker99 said:

Vanguard was a really awesome shmup on the 2600. Good times. Happy B-Day, Atari!!!

Number_6

#6

Number_6 said:

One of the most exciting days of my life was getting my 2600 and Yar's Revenge when I was a kid. No kidding.

arrmixer

#7

arrmixer said:

awesome used to love to play the atari eventhough I was barely 4 at the time.. wonder how old the Com 64 is then??

GuitarAnthony

#8

GuitarAnthony said:

Remember kids, Atari and Nintendo ALMOST were in business together on a system. The big N offered the NES to Atari for distribution and Atari would design the shell. Atari was in between CEO's so no decision was ever made.

James

#11

James said:

I grew up with an Atari ST. I remember when floppy disks were around and 1MB of RAM was a lot.

Yes, I'm old.

WingedSnagret

#12

WingedSnagret said:

I remember watching a documentary on Netflix (on my Wii ironically) called Game On!, which was the history of video games from the primitive radar based tennis game, all the way to the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 systems. Lots of fascinating stuff. And @James, even though I'm only 16, I still faintly remember playing certain games on floppy disks! :)

Wheels2050

#14

Wheels2050 said:

@James: I know you were joking, but I think that says more about the incredible rate at which computing technology has progressed than your age!

We got a 286 when I was 5, which was later upgraded to a 386. I remember being absolutely blown away when I saw screenshots of Quake II in a PC gaming magazine - I had never imagined graphics could get that good!

(To be fair, if you had a 3D accelerator it had coloured lighting and some other pretty spectacular effects like transparent water!)

WingedSnagret

#15

WingedSnagret said:

Oh yeah, my favorite part of the documentary was when they talked about the time that Nintendo and Sony almost became partners, but all it led to was the infamous Youtube Poop material that infests the Internet today. "These are the faces of evil!"

dizzy_boy

#19

dizzy_boy said:

I never had an atari, but i did have a commodore vic 20, which was the one the came out before the C64. that had alot of good games on it.
good thing about the vic 20 was that it played cassette games aswell as cartridge games. commodore even made a ram expansion cartridge for the larger cassette games.
and anyone whoever moans about PS1 games loading up slowly, you`ve never had to wait almost 5 minutes for each level of a game to load off a cassette.

Koos

#20

Koos said:

I also had an Atari and XT PC's but that's not old. Old are people who experienced WW 2 for example. Before TVs even. Where Radio was the hip thing.

TheGreenSpiny

#21

TheGreenSpiny said:

My first gaming console. It was a hand-me-down from my older brother. I remember the hours spent on Missle Command and Combat.

Kirk

#22

Kirk said:

I was never that into Atari back in the day but it still holds a special place in my heart because it built the foundations of this great industry. I'd really love to see Atari return to it's full glory one day.

Burning_Spear

#25

Burning_Spear said:

Man the hours my sister and I spent with the 2600. Saturday nights I would bring it to my friend's house and we'd play in the basement until the wee hours of the morning. I'm not sure if I've ever played any other console more than that thing. Those were the days.

MrArcade

#26

MrArcade said:

I have a 2600 jr. sitting next to the TV in my bedroom, and i love it. I really appreciate the system and i never played one as a child coz im only 17.

Ren

#28

Ren said:

makes me feel old fer realz. That 2600 was the seed for so many wasted hours that turned into... well, here I am! just reading junk about the games I'll go home and play each night to achieve... um, not much.
I had an uncle in Toronto who was a programmer for Atari or some such game company. He gave us a bare cartridge board and a ziplock bag full of game chips that we just pushed into the board that stayed plugged into the cartridge slot always. Little pokey game chips got lost in the shag carpet now and again and we had to bend the contacts back into place to fit them in again.
our copper joystick contacts would wear out and we took them apart and set new ones back on leaving the rubber cover off, so our 2600 system looked like some hacker machine but we always kept it running out of... probably addiction. as a pretty poor family we had an awesome system going to keep that high tech thing running before any of the neighbors did. We were playing some frostbite and blinding speed for a while, with that old never ending level progression they used to use. I'd like to see todays gamers keep up with some of those games after a couple hours on one of those, nothing changing but extreme speed; faster stuff than anything Sonic ever did.
by the time Nintendo came around we couldn't afford one for a while but I sure as hell found a way after our love affair with Atari. Can't forget those roots. How far they fell! So sad when I played a Jaguar in the Sega Genesis time, what was that about ?

MAB

#29

MAB said:

My first big leap into gaming and still a classic today :) you can throw your GPU's and HD1080p out the window because they need not apply here. I'm talkin real games like

DARK CHAMBERS
BUMP N JUMP
H.E.R.O.
KEYSTONE KAPERS
CRYSTAL CAVES
RIVER RAID
BATTLEZONE
DOUBLE DRAGON
SKATEBOARDIN'
PITFALL
POLE POSITION
COMMANDO
MISSLE COMMAND
RAMPAGE
SPACE INVADERS
GHOSTBUSTERS

The list goes on forever...
Great memories.
NLife should put together a retrospective of games with pics and staff opinions ;)

Rawk_Hawk

#31

Rawk_Hawk said:

I have a Missile Command problem too just like the kid in the video. That game is awesome

retro_player_22

#33

retro_player_22 said:

Why are there no Atari 2600 games release for VC yet? For a 2-Bit console it shouldn't be that hard to emulate all the 2600 games on VC.

DestinyMan

#36

DestinyMan said:

The only games I played on this company that started it all were a few. Pong, Missle Command, and Space Invaders are all simple, but fun games that show just how video games can still engage people even with the simplest presentation. There was no fancy graphics or epic music. Back then, just having fun was what mattered.

Steamboat_Willie

#37

Steamboat_Willie said:

The first console I owned. I was so excited when I got the system because that meant I could play Pac-Man without having to go to the arcade. Then I played it. :(

I don't remember much about the system and most of its games anymore, but I do remember having a blast playing Combat, Pitfall, and Adventure on it.

Happy birthday, Atari.

Mr_Nose

#41

Mr_Nose said:

I play Atari on Stella, on my Wii, very nearly every day. The Wii remote is perfect for it, especially tilting it for the paddle games. The only way to play 2600 games, even with Stella, is on a real TV in the living room.

I'm the proud owner of a heavy sixer, and the lighter model that came after, as well.

Long live Atari.

HandheldGuru97

#42

HandheldGuru97 said:

Happy birthday Atari! Since I am only 14 Atari was long gone by the time I was born. Still I did manage to pick an Atari Lynx off of Ebay recently. Very awesome little handheld. Wait it isn't so small considering it is about the size of a kitten.

Undead_terror

#43

Undead_terror said:

they could always do a big atari game collection for this event,that game at 0:20 actually looked fun to me,but at least the commercial didnt turn out to be like this

alot of the jaguar games sucked

Yanchamaru

#44

Yanchamaru said:

The 2600 was my first system. I still have it connected to my old tube TV in the basement.

paburrows

#48

paburrows said:

Loved the Atari! Adventure (a somewhat Father of The Legend of Zelda), was my favorite.

WaveBoy

#50

WaveBoy said:

PitFall(which was just awesome)among a couple of others like this one game that my uncle introduced me to back when i was around 6, where you're basically running away from this square or circular monster or whatever it was...As simple as the graphics(considering i was used to the NES) were, they managed to frighten me for some reason...It was pretty INtense. Wish i knew the name of the game!

I need to Disco-tronic it up and finally get one off eBay with MadAussieBloke's most gnarly Atar recommendations. PitFall, DarkChambers, ET( I just have to!) and Crystal Caves are high on the list!

WolfRamHeart

#51

WolfRamHeart said:

Man, Atari is just five years older than me. :O

The Atari 2600 was my very first video game console. I didn't have it for long because as soon as the NES came out I traded up. Still, it was an awesome system and I had a lot of great memories playing it. Happy Birthday Atari!

Ras

#52

Ras said:

Without thinking about it too much. I'd say Pitfall 2 was my favorite VCS game. It was kind of unusual in that it had a big, defined play space, unlike the first with random screens. I remember there being certain steps you had to take to advance, and it was tough going for me as a kid.

Atari kind of left a bad taste in my mouth with the Jaguar. Diehard Gamefan really hyped the system. After I bought one, they suddenly changed their tune and treated it like a joke. It kind of was.

MAB

#53

MAB said:

@Wavesta don't forget to put H.E.R.O. on your list as that would be high up on my fave scale ;) and it was created by the same dude behind Pitfall :)

SavageBlackWolf

#54

SavageBlackWolf said:

I still got one of the orginals my gf gave to me and a newer version they released a couple years ago. It's still one of my favorite systems. Happy Birthday Atari !

Sean_Aaron

#56

Sean_Aaron said:

The 2600 was my first and is still my favourite classic console. I love the Greatest Hits on iOS (still need an iCade), but I do wish they would license the 2600 catalogue from Activison because those were my favourite games and Activision seems to have little regard for its classic IP.

mbarnhart

#57

mbarnhart said:

As I'm currently sitting in my certification class for Windows Enterprise Server 2008, and reminiscing about Atrari, and all the old technology we used to use in my house as a kid. We had a computer (can't think of the name of it) which connected to our TV and had a cassette tape drive to store and read data, I remember our first Windows PC (Windows 3.1, which ran Windows as a shell not a full OS), and even the fist Apple I ever put my hands on the Apple IIe. My how technology has changed.

But, my love of gaming has more or less stayed the same, I still love playing Tempest, Joust, Galaga, Haunted House, Pac-Man, Ultima (PC obviously), Dungeouns and Dragons (again PC). It's just that technology has made it easier for me to access my retro gaming, and I don't have to take up extra real estate keeping my old consoles around. Virtual Console on WII and 3DS were huge reasons why I bought the next gen consoles from Nintendo. Although the PS3 is getting better with PS one and PS 2 classics being more available now too.

NIN10DOXD

#58

NIN10DOXD said:

We shall all pay homage by sitting down and trying to beat E.T. without wanting to strangle a puppy.

colortvgame

#59

colortvgame said:

I've been reading David Sheff's Game Over (again), and the history of Atari Games is remarkable. They formed the company Tengen in order to get a license from Nintendo to make NES games. But when essential chips for NES cartridges became very scarce, Nintendo wouldn't let Tengen purchase chips for itself (the quality of the chips wasn't high enough). This led Tengen into engineering a way to get around the NES lockout technology, thereby creating NES games without a license. And then there's the lawsuit over Nintendo's "monopoly"... what a great read!

Supereor

#60

Supereor said:

I remember when the Xbox and PS2 was popular, and I grew up playing Nintendo DS.
But... what's Atari?

RetrogamerFan

#61

RetrogamerFan said:

Happy Birthday Atari!
I think i'll play some Atari Anthology (PS2) over the weekend in recognition of this.
Some great games on there - Gravitar, Centipede, Missile Command, Space Duel, Tempest, Asteroids, Atari Video Cube, Yars Revenge
& not so great... Fun With Numbers, Football, Home Run (in fact most of the sports titles have not aged well at all)

NeoShinobi

#62

NeoShinobi said:

It'd be hard to think of how video games would be like today if it wasn't fro Atari

Joust, Moonsweeper, Berzerk, River Raid, Vanguard and Solaris were my favorites.

Grummer

#63

Grummer said:

Star Raiders!, Defender and Pac Man!! how can i forget? sorry happy belated Birthday Atari!!!
i remember very well Blue Max (WW1 bi plane semi-3D (much like Zaxxon) was awesome!
, anyway loading BlueMax took 18 mins to long, it was a big game (had a 600XL then a 800XL) used cassette...BallBlazer was fun too, unreal sound effects the 800XL had 64Kb ram at that time, (1985-1988) it was huge...now hard to believe that even a simple picture on a PC cant even hold 64KB!!!! everythings changed...
I thank Atari for Star Raiders !! it helped me through high school.

atariman

#64

atariman said:

I love Atari! I hope Atari is reading this, HAPPY 40th BIRTHDAY Atari! you made the best console ever made! the Atari 2600. Here's my top 5 consoles

1.Atari 2600
2. Intellivision
3.Atari 5200
4. Odyssey 2
5. Atari Lynx

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