Category Archives: 2600

A Completely Bonkers TV Ad for Pole Position

A lot of people might remember the manic ads that Sega put out in the 90’s (SEGAAA!), and consider them the apex (or nadir) of video game advertisements.

But Atari kind of created the mold here, with this insane 60 second spot that aired in 1983, announcing the crossing of their arcade hit Pole Position over to the 2600 and 5200 video game systems. You know that any ad which starts with a giant hand reaching down and shaking the douche-bag corporate executive “who keeps interesting things from happening” and family out of their VW Rabbit and into Formula One racecars is DEFINITELY a keeper.

Please enjoy the mayhem, and remember: THIS WAY, CLARENCE!

Journey Escape, a video game for the Atari 2600 video game console

Super Charged Communists Infiltrate the Atari 2600!

The Supercharger was one of those devices released later in the lifecycle of the 2600, designed to extend the life of the console which, by 1982, was incredibly popular but outclassed by the newer game systems. Made by Starpath (formerly Arcadia before having to change their name to avoid confusion with Emerson’s Arcadia 2001 console), the Supercharger was an elongated cartridge that added another 6K of RAM to Atari’s old warhorse. Not only that, but it also had a cable that you would plug into the 1/4″ jack of any cassette tape recorder, and load in games for the system via cassette. Thusly, not only did you get more RAM for your 2600 but also bigger games.

One such game being the delightfully titled Communist Mutants from Space. It is yet another Galaxian knock-off, albeit with some twists from the formula like different types of missiles you could fire at the Commies swooping down at you, or shields to defect their godless shots, or a time-warp feature to either rewind a fatal mistake, like letting government take control of all means of production from god-fearing capitalists.

It had a cool cover, too.

Communist Mutants From Space, a home video game for the Supercharger, on the Atari 2600 console

Not just commies, but mutant commies. From space!

But there’s something familiar about those commies, even if they are mutants and from space. Something about their shininess,  about how their design is both round AND sharp at the same time… let’s journey down to the next paragraph for the answer, shall we?

It’s because the cover to the game was drawn by Alton Kelley, who, along with Stanley Mouse, made the super-cool rock album covers for Journey, one of the biggest rock bands of the 70’s and 80’s. Kelley was particularly responsible for the famous Scarab escape vehicle feature on the cover of, you guessed it, Journey’s Escape album. Maybe you’ll see some Communistic similarities in it.

Cover of Escape, a rock album by Journey

Journey makes its Escape, 1981

A closer look at that Scarab vehicle:

It’s also in space!

Pretty nifty. Of course, Communist Mutants From Space isn’t the only video game connection to Journey. The band had two games of their own. Data East made Journey Escape for the 2600, and Bally/Midway made an arcade version called simply, Journey.

For more fascinating information about the Supercharger add-on for the 2600journey over to this article here at The Dot Eaters.

For more info on the Data Age Journey game, smash your way out of the egg and zoom over to this article.

Sources:
Communist Mutants From Space Cover from Moby Games: https://www.mobygames.com/game/atari-2600/communist-mutants-from-space/cover-art/gameCoverId,24124/
Escape cover art from Overstock.com: https://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/American-Art-Decor-Journey-Escape-Framed-Album-Cover-Wall-Art/17522214/product.html

 

The NES, a home video game console by Nintendo

The 30th Anniversary of the NES

It’s a toss-up as to what I would consider the most important video game console ever made. I could say the Atari VCS (later renamed the 2600), for it helped popularize the market for programmable video games. It wasn’t the first, but it was certainly the most popular of the first-wave game machines.

But as ground-breaking as the VCS was, I have to give the nod to the Nintendo Entertainment System, first hitting American shores on October 18, 1985. In the face of the collapse of the entire video game market in 1983-1984, the NES was test marketed in the NYC area over the Christmas season. A redesigned version of Nintendo’s popular Japanese market Famicom console, great pains were taken to inoculate the NES from video gaming’s diseased past, diseased at least according to retailers and distributers of video games. The NES was made to look like a sleek piece of A/V equipment, to the point where the action of inserting a game cartridge was made to be analogous to putting a videotape into a VCR. It was also accompanied by a robotic game mate called ROB, to capitalize on the then-current wave of toy robots like Teddy Ruxpin.

 

This all helped to move NES units, with 50,000 consoles sold during the NYC test. By the time the NES rolled out wide in the fall of 1986, 350,000 to 400,000 sets had been sold.  But nothing helped spur sales like the 1986 release of Super Mario Bros., a magnificent side-scrolling adventure by Shigeru Miyamoto that caused NES units to fly off shelves faster than a Koopa Paratroopa. By 1987, the NES was the most popular toy in America, and had made the video game industry the fastest-growing segment of the toy industry, again.

The Atari VCS may have helped popularize the industry, but absent Atari, somebody would have come up with an improved, programmable video game system eventually. Only Hiroshi Yamauchi and the NES could have saved video games.

For more information on the Nintendo Entertainment System, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory. If you’d like to enter the Mushroom Kingdom yourself, or try your hand at some of the other cartridges that helped save videogames, you can Buy Nintendo NES Games here.

Activision Puts One Over the Net

Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Berkeley in 1972, Alan Miller would eventually answer a Silicon Valley want ad and thus become an early game designer for Atari and their 2600 (then called the VCS) console in 1977, joining the company several months before the release of Atari’s seminal games machine. After some pedestrian releases like Surround and Hangman for the console, Miller made the ground-breaking Basketball in 1978, featuring a trapezoid court that startled a lot of people with its illusion of depth in the playfield. Miller pushed the then-known programming limits of the 2600, and subsequently went on to become one of the founding members of Activision, the first third-party publisher of 2600 games.

While at Activision, Miller would take the trapezoid court of Basketball, duplicate it and stack the two vertically for the cartridge featured in today’s game ad, 1981’s Tennis. He would also add a shadow to the ball, a seemingly small graphical tweak that did wonders for helping players orient their positions on the court.

When it came to making great sports games as real as they could be on Atari’s flagship video game console, Alan Miller had no reservations.

For more information on Alan Miller, Activision and the Atari 2600, consult your local Dot Eaters bitstory.

Tennis by Activision, for the Atari VCS 1981