Category Archives: VCS/2600

Conan gets a clue

Conan O’Brien Takes On Retro Games

These days, mountainous-haired carrot-top Conan O’Brien seems to be taking a lead from Jimmy Fallon, who replaced O’Brien on NBC’s Late Night back in 2009. Conan went on to host the vaunted late night talk show The Tonight Show, a run that only lasted months. Fallon himself has since been tasked to take over The Tonight Show when current host Jay Leno steps down, perhaps even permanently this time.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to dwell on the revolving-door morass that is late night television in America.  It is meant to point out that O’Brien himself has started to mine video games for comedic value, much like Fallon has pretty much from day one.  Fallon played Wii games on his show when Nintendo’s revolutionary console came out, and has featured other popular games in front of the camera.

This focus on video game playing by late night hosts seems on the whole to be tapping the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos of game play that litter YouTube and twitch.tv these days. Germain to this site, O’Brien featured a “Throwback Edition” of his Clueless Gamer segment last week, playing games from the Atari 2600 library. Among the savaged product was the big kahuna of awful classic games, the impenetrable E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a game so dense and confusing, and with such high-hopes pinned upon it at release in 1982, that its abject failure was one of the reasons the entire video game industry cratered in 1983-84.

Gaze upon the spectacle of Conan O’Brien sampling the best (and worst) games from one of the most popular video game systems of all time:

Celebrating 15 years online

The Dot Eaters 15th Anniversary Re-Launch Party

Tomorrow, May 16 we will be holding a shindig to celebrate our 15th anniversary online, as well as the launch of our revamped site, which came online May 1.  The details are as follows:

The venue will be Saviari Tea & Cocktail Lounge, located at 926 King St. West.  It’s at the intersection of King W. and Strachan, the next major intersection West of Bathurst St., in Toronto, Ontario.


View Larger Map

The event will run from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.  There will be classic video game stations set up to play, including Mattel’s Intellivision and the Coleco ColecoVision. We will also be running a game tournament, playing Atari’s infamous 2600 version of Pac-Man.  Here’s how the prizes will break down:

1st Prize: a $50 dollar EB Games gift card

2nd Prize: a pair of tickets to the Game On exhibit currently running at the Ontario Science Centre.  This is an amazing exhibit of the history of video games, from PONG right up to modern systems and games.

3rd Prize: a $20 dollar gift card for A & C Games, a video game store specializing in retro games and systems.

In addition, each winner will receive a retro video game T-Shirt from Chop Shop Goods.  As well, there are 50 discounted tickets to the Ontario Science Centre for everyone, first come first served.

The event is free to attend, and there is a $5 registration fee to enter the Pac-Man competition.  There is a cash bar, and appetizers will be served.  To RSVP for the event, please shoot an email to contact@thedoteaters.com or use the contact form on this site on the Contact Us page.

See you there!

The dreaded Luthor

The Ad Game: Vanguard for Atari VCS/2600

Vanguard was an arcade game developed by “shadow” developer TOSE, and released in Japan by SNK in late 1981 and licensed for North America by Centuri.  It was an important intermediate step towards modern side-scrolling shoot-em-ups such as Gradius and R-Type, improving on a genre first formed by William’s seminal Defender.

Today in the Ad Game we feature a TV commercial for the Atari 2600 port of Vanguard:

Vanguard was definitely a great arcade game, and the 2600 version a spectacular port that demonstrates the amazing things Atari programmers were able to pull off with the platform as it matured.  This ad, however, doesn’t do any of that justice.For instance, who trades off the joystick to their buddies in the middle of a game?  Hard to keep your concentration and momentum going with some jerk begging for the joystick.  Just wait until he crashes, it won’t be long to wait.  Try shouting “The wall, the wall!” into his ear, that oughta speed up his destruction.One of the big innovations touted in Vanguard was the ability to shoot in four directions, but in the ad the shooting looks pretty spastic.  The key to any successful shooter is the precision of your shots, and here it looks like the gunner is having a seizure.Then, of course, we have the hulking Luthor, who’s sole responsibility is to defeat the Gond, the boss at the end of the round.  A man of few words, it is rumoured that Luthor once, when a kid refused to give up the joystick to him, stuffed the poor bastard’s hand completely into the cartridge slot.  We can only know his moods by his demented chuckling.Perhaps Luthor is related to Beavis?

The Visual Cortex: Joust An Ad

Today the Visual Cortex hatches an ad for the Atari 2600 and 5200 versions of Williams’ arcade hit Joust: 

Click to enlarge

Running in periodicals in 1984, it’s short on actual screenshots of the game, and heavy on artist renditions of the action. I also find it humourous how it tries to sex-up the “beasts of the air” you fly in the game, the ostriches from the original arcade game.   The ad copy starts off with an unusual, confusing take on the classic opening words of the Star Wars movies:

Well, which is it?  Long ago, or a distant future?  Anyway, I don’t think I want to purchase a game that spits eggs out of my TV screen, from whence evil, sharp-taloned dragons attack me.

1983 – E.T.’s Final Home Recreated

ET Box Cover

Perfectly captured in forlorn sepia tones is the fate of the E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial game by Atari, infamous for helping sink the company and its flagship console the 2600, and thus the rest of the U.S. video game industry in 1983 – 1984.  Created by artist Pauline Acalin, these 6×6 digital prints feature the rejected 8-bit fugitive wandering a landfill, while the ghosts of slightly more popular electronic aliens look on mourning his fate.  The work is simply titled “1983″.

The hand-signed prints can be purchased at the Yetee Gallery space on Storenvy, for $20.  For more information on the E.T. game and the great video game crash, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

via Kotaku

The Roots of Activision

These days, although one of the most prolific game developers and publishers around, Activision is probably best known as the company behind the Call of Duty series. Starting as an entry into the WWII-shooter sweepstakes that was all the rage in the early 2000′s, the games moved into a more modern setting with, yes, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games that have become a license to print money in recent years.  A lot of people now deride Activision as simply resting on its laurels, content to spin money from what are essentially the same games released year after year with each new incarnation of the Modern Warfare series.

The company had a much more nobel and creative beginning.  Founded in 1979 by former Atari programmers who wrote some of the first games for that illustrious company, its raison d’être was to give creative license and proper accreditation to those the founders thought the most important to the success of any game platform: the people creating the games.  That, and to make some of the very best games for what was then the leading console, the Atari VCS/2600.

Throwing the astounding creativity of those early days into sharp relief compared to the moribund Activision of today is the Activision Anthology, a collection of wondrous 8-bit games now released for IOS devices.  The seemingly made-for-touch-devices Kaboom! is included free, with 45 other gems such as Pitfall!, Barnstorming and Enduro available as an in-app purchase for $6.99.  Another purchase tier lets you buy the games in 11 game bundles, each for $2.99.  They feature multiple control schemes, to help you acclimatize from rubber Atari joystick to touch screen.  There is also a lot of historical documentation included, such as original artwork, manuals and tips from the original programmers.

Those longing for the days when creativity was the watchword of the video game industry instead of a fossilized memory can gorge themselves on the best of the best with the Activision Anthology.  For more information on the company and the games that helped build the foundation of the industry, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Atari Is Born, 40 Years Ago Today

Early Atari Logo

Out of the ashes of Computer Space, an unpopular first attempt at an arcade video game which was  released by Nutting Associates in 1971, 27-year-old Nolan Bushnell, along with partner Ted Dabney, incorporated Atari, Inc. today in 1972.  Their next attempt, the first game released by the new company, would be a slightly bigger success: PONG.

Bushnell and Dabney had created Computer Space under the auspices of an informal company they dubbed Syzygy, pronounced siz-eh-jee, a term meaning the Earth, Moon and Sun in perfect alignment.  Thankfully a candle-making commune had already registered that name, so Bushnell took a term from the Japanese game Go he liked to play, and Atari was born.

Dabney, Bushnell, Unknown and Alcorn

PONG was an instant success, a quicky paddle-ball video game hammered out by Atari employee Al Alcorn, the immense profits of which would carry the company for years.  Five years later Atari would create the Video Computer System (later renamed the 2600) home console, which initially struggled but would eventually come to define home video games after the licensing of the Taito/Midway hit arcade game Space Invaders for the games machine.  Bushnell eventually sold Atari to Warner Communications, and was muscled out by management in 1978.  The name Atari became synonymous with home video games, with the company ruling the roost until the great video-game crash of 1983-1984 would utterly destroy the entire industry.

Atari was eventually split into two companies: industry stalwart Jack Tramiel, fresh off his departure from Commodore, would pick up the consumer division of Atari in 1984 to form Atari Corporation, with Warner continuing the arcade division separately as Atari Games, Inc..  They would eventually sell to Namco in 1985.  The Tramiel-led Atari would move more deeply into computers with the Atari ST line, while Atari Games made such arcade games as Marble Madness (1984), Super Sprint (1986) and Hard Drivin’ (1989).

Bushnell relaxing, 1999

Tramiel eventually merged Atari Corp with hard drive manufacturer JTS, who in turn sold remaining assets to Hasbro in 1998 for a paltry 5 million dollars.  French software maker Infogrames would end up purchasing Hasbro in 2000, and rebrand the entire company using the Atari, Inc. name in 2001.  Coming around in a neat circle, Nolan Bushnell eventually joined the board of Atari in 2010.

So raise a glass to the company that created the video game industry, 40 years young today.  As always, for more history of Atari and the games that helped define it and the rest of the video game landscape, consult your local The Dot Eaters article.

Have You Played Atari On iOS Today?

Atari and Vancouver developer Code Mystics have dropped a metric tonne of retro joy onto the Apple App Store with Atari’s Greatest Hits, for iOS devices. The app allows you to play up to 100 classic Atari games; a few of their most famous arcade entries, but the majority of games come from the catalog of games released for the VCS/2600 home console. Only a small sampling of games are available for free, with 4-pack game downloads available for .99 cents, or you can get the whole 100 game enchilada for 15 bucks.

The app is universal, and I’d recommend playing it on the iPad, as the arcade games feature a representation of the original screen bezel, which shrinks down the playfield a bit too much on the iPhone. The games offer both landscape and profile mode, but not every one has that option to switch. The control methods on offer vary as well, and some work decidedly better than others. On the whole, however, I find the sliding controls that invariably represent dials or trackballs to be too sluggish, and their speed is not configurable. This definitely needs to be addressed by a patch to make these games workable. As for joysticks, the small virtual button that stands in for the stick is small, and I find my thumb constantly sliding off of it, or worse: pressing a different direction or multiple directions as once, deadly for games like Asteroids that put different, drastic actions like thrust or hyperspace on the up and down joystick positions.  Classic video game emulation is often slagged for missing that intrinsic satisfaction that comes from holding a joystick in your hand while playing. Since precise control is sometimes the only thing going for these games, in particular those for the VCS/2600, the sluggishness on offer here is pretty close to a deal-breaker.

Sometimes the controls work, however, as evidenced by the sliders that control the paddles in PONG.  But if you really want to capture that arcade feeling, the iCADE, set for release in June, will scratch that itch.  Originally a clever 2010 April Fool’s joke perpetrated by Think Geek, intense user demand has actually made the crazy idea reality.  Greatest Hits has support for the iCADE built right in, and makers ION will be releasing an API that will allow other games to support the mini-cabinet.

Even without the iCADE, however, Greatest Hits is a wonderful app for classic video game aficionados.  They will also be jazzed about the extras that come with some games, such as game artwork, scanned colour manuals, and more.  Some, however, are concerned that the package is infringing on iTune rules about apps downloading and running external code, represented by the ROM code downloaded in the game packs in order to play these classic gems.  A double-standard does seem to have been set with the acceptance of Atari’s Greatest Hits into the app store.  So perhaps games looking for a little nostalgia had better grab this baby fast.