As part of a marketing push (an area where CEO Ray Kassar excelled at), Atari created a two-minute ad for arcade game Dig Dug. The funny thing about all this hoopla is that Atari hadn’t actually made the game: it was licensed by the company from Namco for release in North America.
Dig Dug gameplay
Taking five days to film, the full ad ran in theatres during the summer of 1982, while a shorter 30 second version ran on TV. Originally, 60’s singing and dancing sensation Chubby Checker (The Twist) was to sing the catchy theme song in the ad, but Atari ultimately went with a younger singer, perhaps for reasons of demographics. You can hear Chubby’s versionhere on the Atari Museum Public Group on Facebook. The song was posted by Matt Osborne, the son of Don Osborne, who was Atari’s VP of Marketing at the time. Upon listening to it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Atari made a huge mistake not going with Chubby.
As for the visuals, the various special effects in the ad were handled by production designer Jim Spencer and crew, who among other projects had the effects-laden movie Poltergeist under their belt. They would subsequently work on films like Innerspace and Gremlins.
Created by advertising agency Young & Rubicam and directed by Manny Perez, the spot would go on to snag a 1983 Clio award in the Cinema and Advertising category. It might not be high art, but at least it reflects the most important aspect of the video game it’s shilling: it’s a lot of fun. It also got the job done for Atari; by their estimations the theatrical ad and shortened TV spots had by August of 1982 increased public awareness of Dig Dug by a whopping 227% over markets without the ads. This converted into 30% higher coin drops for the arcade game in those same markets. I can Dig that!
I’ve recently hammered out four new videos in my Video Games Evolved series. I pay tribute to Bump ‘N’ Jump, Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Zaxxon.
Usually I do a run-through with the game as practice and then start recording gameplay footage, but of course with the arcade version of Zaxxon it took maybe 5 plays before I could survive long enough to get useable footage because the game is so bloody hard. The Atari and Intellivision versions are the most dramatic departures from the arcade, at least graphically. Sure, you can understand why the limitations of these two warhorses require a scale-back from the cool isometric pseudo-3D of the original, but still…. belch. That ain’t Zaxxon. They come off more as a sparse River Raid, without the river.
One game where the INTY comes off surprisingly best is its Bump ‘N’ Jump port. Usually the ColecoVision runs away with these arcade translations, but here, the Intellivision definitely captures the look and tone of the original arcade better than the CV. Heck, even the 2600 version holds its own. Will wonders never cease?