Gonna take a little break (as if it hasn’t been long enough) from the usual Arcade Mania articles that focus on individual games to talk about some of my favorite arcade game developers. There’s no better place to start than with one of the originals: Atari. Or more specifically, Atari Games, but you can’t really mention one without the other.
Atari, of course, is one of the grandfathers of the videogame industry, and they made their mark with a little game called Pong. That’s a bit before my time, however. I’ve never played the original arcade version of Pong, and a lot of early Atari games I only have vague recollections of. However, I did eventually become a fan of Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Tempest and Crystal Castles.
It was around the mid-’80s when Atari was split into two companies: Atari Corp, the home division, and Atari Games, the arcade division. It was Atari Games that consisted of most of the original Atari staff, and thus was a truer successor to the company’s legacy.
By the late ’80s, the Japanese invasion had begun, both in the home market and the arcades. Atari Games was one of the few American videogame companies that still stood out to me during that time, not just because they had a recognizable name, but because they still made really fun, clever games that held up next to their Japanese counterparts. In fact, their games even had a distinctly American feel that made them stand out even more.
Some of my favorites include Paperboy, Toobin’, RoadBlasters and Marble Madness. All of these games, in the classic Atari tradition, take a very simple, even inane, concept, and turn it into a surprisingly fun and addictive game. They also did it with charm and humor that made them memorable to me for years to come. And with the exception of RoadBlasters, the games I mentioned are all generally non-violent and thrived in a time when fighting games and shooting games were becoming increasingly graphic.
One silly thing I always remembered about Atari Games was the “bell” sound that some of their games made whenever you dropped in a quarter. It’s just one of those charming little details that contributed to the company’s identity.
As the ’90s wore on, I lost interest in a lot of their games for some reason. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never really spent much time with the likes of San Francisco Rush or Gauntlet Legends. Atari Games was eventually bought out by Midway, absorbed into the company, and ultimately disbanded. Their assets are now owned by Warner Bros Entertainment. But for me, Atari Games was a big part of the classic arcade landscape, and certainly a part of my arcade-hopping childhood.