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Atari 50 Would possibly Be The Greatest Video Recreation Anthology Ever

A dramatically lit Atari 2600 console appears on a menu screen for the Atari 50 anthology.

Screenshot: Digital Eclipse / Atari

Yesterday in a Twitter thread, the gaming historian Frank Cifaldi mentioned this in regards to the work completed by his group, the Video Recreation Historical past Basis: “Everyone knows the place the ROMs are hiding on-line. We don’t want video games, we want CONTEXT to inform tales.” It assisted me understand why I believe Digital Eclipse’s new compilation of Atari video games, Atari 50, is so important. Crammed not simply with video games however with timelines charting the historical past of Atari’s world-changing forays into gaming and, better of all, interviews with a few of the individuals who formed that historical past, Atari 50 supplies the context we want as a way to perceive simply how vital and revolutionary these video games are.

Right here’s a short clip during which Tim Schafer, the designer of video games like Grim Fandango and Psychonauts, talks in regards to the landmark 1980 Atari title Journey, which can present only one instance of how Atari 50 helps put issues into perspective.

This tendency towards contextualizing Atari’s video games extends all through the compilation. If you wish to simply leap proper to an inventory of the playable included video games, you are able to do that. (It’s a curated record, not a complete one, which incorporates many necessities however is lacking others, some—just like the fascinating Atari 2600 sport Superman—little question for licensing causes.) However the default mode during which Atari 50 presents its assortment of video games to you is by way of an interactive historic timeline the place you possibly can examine Atari’s ups and downs, the challenges its programmers confronted engaged on the Atari 2600 {hardware}, and a lot extra, all whereas enjoying the video games that every period of Atari produced.

An Atari 2600 with an Asteroids cartridge inserted is shown in front of an early 1980s-style TV depicting a screen from the game accompanied by text about how the Atari VCS/2600 was the first computer in millions of homes.

Screenshot: Digital Eclipse / Atari

It’s so great, and a part of what makes it great are its candid and revealing interviews and historic particulars. There’s all the time a hazard with one thing like this that what you’ll get is clear, shiny PR masquerading as historical past, one thing that tries to current all the things as neat and tidy. However that is no airbrushed business for the Atari model. As you’re employed your manner by means of the timeline, you encounter tales of clueless CEOs misunderstanding the character of the enterprise, of employees being severely underpaid for his or her superb and immensely worthwhile creations (and typically breaking off to kind third-party builders like Activision and Imagic), and of drug use within the hallowed halls of Atari’s Sunnyvale headquarters.

I’m sufficiently old to recollect the Atari 2600’s heyday, and one factor that’s been a bit unhappy for me in more moderen many years is seeing many individuals be both ignorant or dismissive of Atari’s contributions to sport historical past. I do know that in some methods Atari 2600 video games will be exhausting to return to when you’ve grown up with video games which can be much more technologically refined, however the work designers did on Atari’s console and arcade video games was colossal. I nonetheless assume many of those video games are genuinely nice. Warlords is without doubt one of the most thrilling pick-up-and-play aggressive multiplayer video games of all time, and Star Raiders—the Atari 5200’s “killer app”—is completely extraordinary at creating a way of touring by means of huge sectors of area to tackle an alien menace. However what we have to protect the magnitude of those contributions to sport historical past isn’t simply the ROMs themselves, which, sure, are in all places, simply accessible by anybody who desires to hunt them out. It’s the voices of the individuals who had been there, and an knowledgeable perspective on the magnitude of their achievements inside the context of the time during which they occurred.

One of many struggles of online game historians is that the business is dominated by companies, and companies don’t actually care about preserving their historical past, they solely care about earning profits. Atari 50 is so refreshing as a result of it feels just like the folks behind it cared about providing an trustworthy perspective on this historical past whereas additionally celebrating the achievements of those good designers and innovators. (Howard Scott Warshaw, the genius behind Yars’ Revenge, Atari’s best-selling unique sport for the 2600, is a very vigorous and spirited interview within the assortment.) I’d love nothing greater than for different corporations to begin following go well with, providing us anthologies which can be rather more than anthologies—which can be interactive historical past.

Think about if Nintendo put out a compilation crammed not simply with early Famicom and NES video games, however with archival video footage, frank interviews with famed sport designer Shigeru Miyamoto and different figures who had been there, that collectively provided a wealthy, complicated perspective on that period of Nintendo historical past. In all chance, such a factor won’t ever occur as a result of Nintendo is way too protecting of its model to place out one thing that isn’t only a shiny business for itself, however one can dream. Within the meantime, Atari 50 presents each an essential have a look at video video games’ previous, and an thrilling have a look at what the way forward for online game anthologies may very well be.

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