I have already told here that my pininos in gaming had to do with Nintendo, but we can go further back. Yes, even more. Surely you already realized that I do not cook at the first boil, so it will not seem strange to you that I talk about that, when I was very little, I lived something of that glorious era in which gaming was considered a passing fad. It was also a time when much was done with little. There were a lot of forgettable titles, but I got to play some that stuck in my memory and that always bring back good memories.
The Atari 2600 was released in 1977. The original package came with 2 joystick and 2 knob-type controls, as well as a title that was initially Combat and later it was changed to Pac-Man. Later a bundle with both was sold. Just as the era of stone or bronze existed, in those years the era of wood was lived. I remember that all things classified as elegant and luxurious were finished in this material or some other that simulated it. The originally called Video Computer System from Atari was no exception, since its front part had a molding with these characteristics that gave it a very vintage appearance. Later other plastic models appeared with a more modern and less bulky design, in addition to having some integrated titles. I also had one of these and the truth was a delight to play without inserting cartridges, although doing so also had its charm.
The significance of this archaic but significant console lies in having brought home many Atari classics that were previously only known from the arcades. The format chosen was that of the legendary cartridge which, although Atari did not release it, it certainly did make it popular. I remember that my brother and I had a very good collection with different genres. He has always been a sports fan, so we had one for baseball and one for American football, as well as one for tennis, which I loved because of the fluidity of movement of the players. I invested many hours in Megamania, a title similar to Space Invaders but with more dynamism that can become very addictive. We also had some oddities like Oink! Y Swordquest: Earthworld. The latter deserves a separate text, as it represents one of the most ambitious metagame projects in history. As to Oink! I can tell it’s based on the tale of The 3 Little Pigs and the Big Bad WolfBut don’t let that put you off, because it is an addictive experience.
Spent hours playing Pac-Man. Despite being one of the worst ports ever made in the franchise, I had a lot of fun and was always looking to break my records. Speaking of records, these were the most important at that time, since most games had no end, but consisted of infinite loops with increasing difficulty. Maybe Space Invaders be one of the most representative titles of this phenomenon, since tournaments were even organized in which players with apparently superhuman abilities excelled with scores out of all proportion. Today you can still see competitions of this style, although with very different formats.
Controlling the Atari 2600 was simple and sophisticated at the same time. It was a rectangular base with a red button in the upper left corner and a joystick in the center. It was not very ergonomic, but it worked very well and in a short time it was possible to get used to using it. I really liked the rubber base of the joystick and how flexible it was. There was one game in particular where this artifact suffered a lot and was at high risk of breaking down: Decathlon. It is the only title I can remember in which to run you had to move the lever quickly from side to side. My brother and I played frantically and on more than one occasion we ended up with blisters on the palm of our hand, but with the satisfaction of having achieved a good record. Few Olympic-themed games are as fun as Decathlon.
Another title that absorbed much of my time was Berzerk, where you control a character who must eliminate a series of robots while avoiding their shots and the walls, which are electrified. I remember I didn’t go that far, but boy did I try and feel like a hero when I discovered that the hero can be positioned in such a way that enemy projectiles pass between his head and the rest of his body without hurting him. Today I know that it has more than 65,000 screens and that if you take too long in a scene a happy face called Evil Otto appears that is indestructible. With this it is clear that the idea of Snow Bros. It was not original, although it was very effective in giving the player an additional challenge.
Without a doubt the most significant title of the system is Space Invaders, a permanent and immovable benchmark in the industry. It was the first killer app in gaming and established the shooter genre by inspiring waves of titles like Defender Y Asteroids. Designers of the stature of Miyamoto or Kojima recognize the great impact of space invaders and how their gameplay opened the door to try things that had not been thought of before, such as the fact that enemies could attack the character or player’s ship. The creation of Tomohiro Nishikado broke the mold of the sports-themed games that prevailed at the time to give way to more action-oriented experiences and adventures developed in fictional settings. It’s funny how a project that was generated so many years ago continues to have influence to this day.
Being such a transcendent game, it has some associated myths, such as that of the shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan in the late 1970s. There is evidence that such a thing did not happen, but that the owners of the arcades constantly deposited those coins in the bank to keep them in circulation. There’s a Article very interesting that it analyzes all this more thoroughly and contains very precise data about it. Either way, we can see that the video game fever didn’t start with Minecraft The Pokémon, but has been documented for many years before. The appearance of Space Invaders In Atari 2600 it translated into an exponential increase in its sales, which quadrupled and that led to the founding of Activision and some other third party studios that gave great support to the console until the famous video game crisis arrived in 1983.
Ironically, Pac-Man It was the console’s best-selling title, but its poor quality meant that people were no longer as excited about what the company produced. The biggest problem in my opinion was the excessive production of games that did not have any quality control, with which the market began to saturate with garbage and little by little it began to lose relevance. There we entered a kind of vortex whose exit would come from Japan but, as the famous Mexican commercial would say, that is another story.
The word Atari was synonymous with video games for several years. Despite the fact that several models and upgraded versions such as the Atari 7800 were produced, when people spoke of the brand they usually referred to the 2600 model. Unfortunately Atari could never overcome the success of this system, despite having tried it on multiple occasions. Currently you can buy classic consoles with a selection of the most representative titles. Thus it is possible to relive the experiences in such rudimentary environments and sound effects so peculiar that they appealed to a great extent to the imagination of the players.
Although it was very small and I don’t have as many memories of the Atari 2600 as I do, for example, of the NES or the SNES, I consider it a great system that was my gateway to this wonderful world in which we love to immerse ourselves so much. It also has a special value for me for certain moments that I spent with my family in those years. Whenever I see a cartridge or some console, it is inevitable for me to think about the wonderful simplicity of both the control and the games, as well as the fact that we could have fun with proposals that now seem to be from prehistory … and they are.
Have you ever played or own an Atari 2600? Tell me in the comments and I’ll wait for you next week for another #Retro Friday. Merry Christmas!