I asked my parents about their thoughts on their first console.
They worked out that they bought the 2600 before I was born, so at least as early as 1980. Apparently it cost about $500 AUD when Dad bought it. This was at a time when average wages were $250 per week. Doing an estimate, the PS4 costing $550 AUD is MUCH more affordable than the Atari, or indeed many other consoles from times past.
Having the Atari 2600 gave my parents the freedom to choose what the TV screen showed them which was rare for that time. It was also something they could interact with. There was very little else at the time that could replicate this level of interactivity, especially something that could make use of the television.
It’s a strange world to think of, where the ‘modern’ entertainment was so limited. Remember this was an age when my parents (and many other people) had to stay up past midnight to watch Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who. VCRs were still fairly rare in 1980. Conventional wisdom would always put gaming consoles after video tapes, but it was not the case. It is interesting to think that my parents were indeed avid gamers, and my Dad remains one today.
There are a large group of people, to whom the Atari 2600 is their first and only experience with playing video games. Everything else after it is regarded as ‘oh I’m too old for games’ but the 2600 was played by everyone! This console holds some of my earliest video game experience.
Previous articles of mine have focused on specific Atari 2600 games, especially River Raid II. I want to look at my Atari 2600 collection and decide if it was a good one or not. Readers be aware, I bought only a few of these games. Most were bought before I was born! Here is a short review of all my family’s 2600 games.
Ahh, now this is a classic, not a bad version of the arcade original either. I played this heaps, but I remember Dad said you shouldn’t fly around and just stay in the middle and only use teleport to avoid asteroids/UFOs. It was good advice! 7/10
I remember buying this from K-Mart in the LATE ’80s! The game was at least six years old, but K-Mart still had it new. It was $20 and fun. It got too hard though and my tiny brain couldn’t cope with this defender clone. 7/10
I believe this was the Atari 2600’s pack in game. The tank v tank levels were so much fun in what was a two player only experience. With wall bouncing bullets switched on things get tense and you are screaming in delight when your shot hits home. 9/10
High concept, unique control system and unforgettable sound effects. Rescue stranded aliens and defend your mother ship against meteors? Yes please. Apparently it was the first ever console game sequel. I never owned the previous game, Atlantis. 10/10
This game is getting your chicken across a road. It is a big road, a multi-lane freeway to be exact! This is a bad version of Frogger, with no side movement for your chicken. Just forward and back. Also you don’t even DIE when you’re hit by a car, you just get pushed back a bit. Amazing car effects though. 3/10
I played an Amiga version of this, but the 2600 version I bought never worked. Oh, a score… ?/10
Amazingly repetitive game (aren’t they all) but with some very satisfying combat. Control a UFO and laser enemy tanks. Best part is that if you get shot down, you can crash into them! Very satisfying if you get an extra life from that. 8/10
I always walked the wrong way, apparently. I was terrible at this game and never appreciated it for the technical and design accomplishment that it was! 6/10
Terrible compared to the original River Raid? I don’t think so. Complex and with a hint of sim, this was a very enjoyable shooter. My Grandfather agreed! I loved how you could raise and lower your altitude! SUCH REALISM. 8/10
Defender clone. I remember liking it, but being really bad at it. Isn’t that life? 6/10
Complicated space combat simulator. You needed a keypad (sold separately) to manage the hyperspace map. Goal? Shoot down the enemy spaceships before they destroy your starbase. Imagine Wing Commander, but primitive in every way. It was ambitious for the far superior Atari 8bit computers, so when it was converted to the Atari 2600, it was a pale version of the original (which I never played). I would stare at the cover art, wishing for a game to look like that. There was one, it was called Freespace 2. Bah, my copy didn’t even have that sweet overlay! 6/10
Aside from a few other games, there you have it, my (parents’) little collection! I am surprised at what I felt I should give the games. My rating isn’t from playing them again, but more reflecting on what they contributed to my game playing experience and to a wider world of games. Cosmic Ark as a result, stands out as a true classic and as a great experience for me. Check out this sweet commercial for Laser Blast!
Controlling a spacecraft is the premise of a huge number of video games. It’s natural that something beyond almost all of our capabilities would be a popular genre. Just like walking to the shops and buying milk isn’t a popular genre, unless you’re a girl. Vast sexism aside, spaceshipping across the video game universe is generally regarded to have begun with Asteroids. Space War WAS around in the ’60s, but that wasn’t available to many people. Atari’s Asteroids had you control a spaceship in a wrap-around map. Blowing up the asteroids that fly through each level is the only way to survive and progress. Moving your ship is done by adding thrust and facing a direction (somewhat like tank controls). I almost never moved when I played it as a youngster as I’d panic and lose control of the ship.
From roughly ’89 to ’94 I hardly touched the Atari and Asteroids remained unplayed. Fair enough really, I had an Amiga to play! I had a good go at Blasteroids, which was something of a sequel to Asteroids. I enjoyed that quite a lot, but I never found myself completely drawn into it. Maybe it was too hard, who knows?
My interest in the Asteroids genre was rekindled with my first sighting of Stardust. The Amiga Power cover disk that gave me my first taste of the game was fantastic, if a little misleading. It’d be nearly TWO years before I’d play the full game, given the release schedule. The bulk of the game involves flying a spaceship around dozens of wrap-around screens, shooting asteroids. Occasionally you’d have to shoot down a flying saucer and collect power ups. Your craft can be powered by different weapons and have its engine power increased. The ‘world’ map was divided into galaxies, each one having six levels. You were able to choose the order that you visited these levels, but it was always best to follow the correct order since you start the game quite weak. Each galaxy had an ‘end boss‘ fight at its conclusion, which featured a variety of huge and intimidating spaceships.
The game’s standout feature was its warp tunnel sequences. The view changed to behind your ship and you had to avoid incoming asteroids, mines and giant blades. The Amiga Power cover disk featured the first of these tunnels, hence giving a slightly misleading view of the game. When I bought the full game, I was initially disappointed that it didn’t have more of these sequences (they probably make up 5-10% of the game at the most) but I’ve since realised they’d be boring if used any more than that. Mixed in with these tunnel sections were underwater ‘multi dimensional shooter’ levels, much like the game Thrust and Sub-Terrainia. These levels posed more of a challenge to navigate, with only the walls and your own carelessness to fight against.
Stardust features a blistering dance/trance soundtrack, which every second Amiga game seemed to have. No complaints here, since it is fantastic (I’m listening to it as I write this).
Stardust was a great version of Asteroids, with its detailed and colourful visuals, combined with some excellent variations in the bonus levels. Bloodhouse (now Housemarque), were the Finnish developer behind Stardust, which have successively remade the game four times. These remakes include the Amiga 1200 enhanced version in ’94 right through to Super Stardust Delta for the PlayStation Vita in 2012. Happily, these versions have been well received. It is comforting to know that a small developer from a small country can continue to do what it did 20 years ago, and still have a market.
Last week, the computer industry lost one of its heavyweights. Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International, died aged 83. Unlike Steve Jobs, who was taken decades before his full run, we can marvel at the gamut of Tramiel’s achievements, knowing (as far as we can) that he finished his work on this Earth.
Wow, I didn’t know this would turn into a philosophy blog!
Tramielwas a very colourful and divisive character during the earlier years of the Personal Computer. Born in 1928 into a Jewish family in Poland, he survived the Auschwitz death camps, but like so many others lost most of his family. After
working for the US Army repairing typewriters he decided to go into business for himself.
He’d founded Commodore as initially an importer of typewriters, then adding machines. However by the 60’s he’d worked out (correctly) that there was soon to be no use for these products and that Japan was too difficult to compete against in these areas.
While much is made of the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it was really Tramiel and Commodore who began the pricing war that made personal commuters affordable. ‘For the masses not the classes’ Tramiel once proclaimed and it is something he pushed very hard. A Commodore 64 was US$595 on launch, expensive but still within the reach of most Americans, West Europeans and Australasians. The Apple Macintosh, released two years later was priced at an alarming US$2,495, affordable by only the four richest Kings of Europe, if my knowledge of the 1980s is correct. Apple did not take part in the price war, but it ended up nearly ruining Commodore. However they were in a commanding position for the rest of the eighties having surged ahead of all of its competition.
The Tramiel pricing war finished off Atari in its original form, but surprisingly, he ended up acquiring it in 1984 as Tramiel had left Commodore earlier that year. He effectively resurrected his former rival and was running the company while Atari developed their ST, the BITTER rival to the Commodore Amiga.
So I will pour one out to this amazing man. While he was not present during the Commodore’s Amiga years, I doubt there would have been an Amiga without his vital input and drive. Affordable home computing owes much to this man and his aggressive marketing and shrewd business sense.