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1981 Atari Catalog
April 13, 2008 12:09 PM   Subscribe

It's the 1981 Atari product catalog!
posted by mr_crash_davis (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know, I have things like this kicking around. It never occurs to me to scan them and put them on the net. Nice to see, though.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:14 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting that they could get away with those huge illustrations that have little to do with the actual gameplay and only the tiniest of screen shots. Then again, it's only been until very recently that ads for videogames all featured the pre-rendered cut scenes and none of the actual gameplay graphics, so I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
posted by Dave Faris at 12:24 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, thank God someone's mom stayed her hand.
posted by dhartung at 12:32 PM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


They were called Atari and they didn't offer Go? wth, Atari
posted by noble_rot at 12:35 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here -- may as well throw this into the mix. Atari Force comic books.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:40 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see all these games re-made with exactly the same gameplay but added the bestest super-duper graphics that can be made be man. It'd be pretty cool.
posted by meech at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2008


$5 says some bored kid could re-write all these games in Flash over a weekend. As long as he's not on my lawn.
posted by GuyZero at 1:01 PM on April 13, 2008


And it's no Atari Teenage Riot.
posted by GuyZero at 1:03 PM on April 13, 2008


I love how, in the advertising for the games, they show a BIG artist's representation of the game, and then a little tiny screenshot of the game itself. It makes me think of how the old-school games were largely representational. Half of the fun happened in your head.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:07 PM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I like these, but it's really interesting that we do this for technology, but not other items, due to the rapid pace of change we've experienced. No one is going to make a big deal out of a 1981 catalog for Encyclopedia Brittanica or Electrolux vacuums.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2008


I found it interesting from a social standpoint. There were exactly two black characters in the entire booklet, both depicted as athletes (oddly, the football illustration didn't have any black players). Other ethnic groups simply didn't exist.

Women were rare, and almost inevitably spectators rather than participants in whatever was happening. The only participating woman I saw I'm not quite sure was a woman: one of the two people sitting in front of the console in the Asteroids illustration had big eyelashes and appeared to be gazing adoringly at the person to her left.

Any person doing well in a theoretically thoughtful or nerdy game was depcited with glasses, glasses wearers were completely absent in any other context.

I was rather amazed that they included any actual screenshots, and also by how bad the graphics look in retrospect. Somehow I remember them as being better.

As for the games, my biggest geek embarrassment is that although I played Adventure religiously, tried to map it out, poked into its odd corners, etc I never even knew the easter egg was there. I never even found the dot, much less the programmer's room.
posted by sotonohito at 1:12 PM on April 13, 2008


It's been buried away in my subconscious for, oh, 27 years now, but it just came flooding back -- that deep, recurring disappointment upon inserting a brand-new game cartridge, toggling the switch to start the game, and then realizing that the crappy graphics on the screen in no way resembled the dramatic illustration on the box or the cartridge.

And then sitting cross-legged in front of the TV for six hours on a Saturday, only to later (proudly, smugly) nurse a hard-fought joystick callous.

Sometimes being an adult sucks.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:12 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Evidently the person who said they couldn't find George Dakota, founder of the Atari Game Club, hasn't heard of Zabasearch. Would be interesting to call George and see how that Game Club worked out.
posted by crapmatic at 1:32 PM on April 13, 2008


Now I'm wondering what the Atari Game Club mystery gifts were.
posted by crapmatic at 1:33 PM on April 13, 2008


I'd like to see all these games re-made with exactly the same gameplay but added the bestest super-duper graphics that can be made be man. It'd be pretty cool.

Your wish is, to a certain extent, Atari's command. Note that the super-duper graphics versions mostly suck and the old versions remain pretty cool.
posted by The Bellman at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2008


$5 says some bored kid could re-write all these games in Flash over a weekend

Maybe so. However, back in 1981, programming an Atari 2600 was basically like programming the electron beam of the TV directly in a brain-dead variant of 6502 assembler. Games were edited, compiled and linked on Atari's VAX, then tested by burning the object code to an EPROM and playing it in a real 2600. No special dev kits with emulators then. And no "test, change this line of code, test again": EPROMs were expensive, so you had to have a pretty complete work-in-progress version and be pretty sure it all worked before you even tested the game for the first time. That way, the sales people could at least show the prototype at conventions, use it for catalogs, etc.

And even with that primitive environment, these guys created games like Yar's Revenge and Warlords that people still play and enjoy to this day. Go download a 2600 emulator and play some Yar's Revenge or Defender or Pitfall, I gurantee you'll have fun. The great thing about these games is the graphics and sound were so primitive and clunky, the only selling point they had was how fun the actual gameplay was. That's why you can play them today and still have fun.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:04 PM on April 13, 2008 [10 favorites]


I probably pored over this catalogue at the time so it was great to see it again. For my part I probably spent more time playing Combat in its various variations than anything else - although they did manage pretty good ports of Asteroids and Defender.

I had forgotten about the substantial range of pretty crappy games that they also supplied.
It was a surprise to think that anybody had actually made a BASIC programming game for the 2600 - that had to be a disappointing gift even for a raining afternoon in the early 80s. It is strange to recall the percentage of players at the time who were also BASIC progammers - at least in the UK where we had the Sinclair and Acorn computers of the time lying around.
posted by rongorongo at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2008


That being said, this attitude, which is unfortunately shared by a lot of classic gaming enthusiasts:

I'll take any of these games over Grand Theft Auto II: San Vice Andreas City or whatever it's called.

is ridiculous. First of all, he picked two of the most fun, innovative and engrossing games of all time, GTA: San Andreas and GTA: Vice City (and he knows what they're called) to illustrate his point, but we'll forget that for a moment. Basically, it's like saying "I'll take a Marx Brothers vaudeville show over The Godfather XVIII or whatever it's called". Were these games innovative for their time? Yes. Are they even still enjoyable today? Yes. But they're certainly not BETTER than the modern state-of-the-art. Star Raiders is not better than Mass Effect in any concievable way. People that take this attitude are missing out on a lot of amazing games in order to prove some kind of silly, self-defeating point to no one. I can enjoy playing 2600 games, but I'd be an idiot to replace my XBox 360 with a 6-switch woodgrain 2600 from 1977.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


programming an Atari 2600 was basically like programming the electron beam of the TV directly in a brain-dead variant of 6502 assembler

Yeah, I know. I wasn't actually trying to slight those old-school developers but it's more of a sense of amazement that what took several guys many, many days could now be reproduced so easily & cheaply. Desktop Tower Defense is ten times the game that any Atari game was for a fraction of the effort. But believe me, I respect those guys the same way I respect those crazy pioneers who crossed the US on foot and/or horse. It killed many of them and now you'd sleep through it. It's just crazy.

And this is coming from someone who actually tried to solve ET once. Sheesh
posted by GuyZero at 5:25 PM on April 13, 2008


The version of the catalog I had didn't specify that you needed to send in a check or money order for $1, so I taped an actual dollar bill to the form and sent it off. Three years later, the envelope was returned to me unopened.
posted by clearlynuts at 5:27 PM on April 13, 2008


Star Raiders is not better than Mass Effect in any concievable way.

I would actually disagree. The Wii is outselling the XBox on a unit basis because of the one thing Star Raiders has over Mass Effect: simplicity. The XBox is a pretty good example of a disruptive technology situation - xbox games keep getting more and mor complex to appeal to hardcore gamers while there's an even faster-growing market of people who want a lot less out of a video game. I got a DS a while ago and you know what I'm fricking hooked on? Pokemon. (there - I said it). it totally reminds me of Ultima IV and similar games. Which are, to me, a lot more enjoyable than WoW or whatever. Those games are too fricking much. Give me Star Raiders over Mass Effect any day.
posted by GuyZero at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I like these, but it's really interesting that we do this for technology, but not other items, due to the rapid pace of change we've experienced. No one is going to make a big deal out of a 1981 catalog for Encyclopedia Brittanica or Electrolux vacuums.

Not so fast!

The 1983 Shelburne Holiday Catalog.

You're welcome!
posted by jscott at 5:48 PM on April 13, 2008


1978 Atari commercial.
80's Atari commercial.
Mario Brothers, New from Atari!

and games in action:

Mario bros. for Atari 2600.
mario bros arcade.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 PM on April 13, 2008


I think I was a member of the Atari Game Club back in the day. At least, I remember subscribing to a newsletter/magazine called "Atari Games". I'm sure of the title because one time they had a contest where you had to come up with all the words that could be formed from the letters A T A R I G A M E S. And so I spent night after night at the kitchen table, plodding through the dictionary checking all the possible combinations of those letters. Which, come to think of it, probably taught me a bit about combinatorials and a lot about obscure words -- I still remember "aegis".

The rules for the contest mentioned the official dictionary (which the words had to be in), which probably was the edition on the shelf at the magazine's office. Well, I went from library to library looking for that edition, and eventually gave up and just went with the abridged OED that we had at home. I sent in my entry, which was something like 6 pages of words, and never heard anything back.

Got a killer score in Space Invaders, though.

Then I moved on to the Commodore 64, then a 286 PC, then a 486 ....
posted by intermod at 6:33 PM on April 13, 2008


I wonder if fun with numbers would pass the Mathematician's Lament muster for a holistic approach to numbers...
posted by yoyoceramic at 7:59 PM on April 13, 2008


Three years later, the envelope was returned to me unopened.

Truly, a different age.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 PM on April 13, 2008


You know what's sad? The "game" I wanted most from that catalog was BASIC Programming. :-)

I was 6 when that catalog was in circulation. Grade 1. We had a 2600 and I played it obsessively. Mainly Warlords and Breakout, and then Pacman, and Laser Blaster. But there was always something about that damn BASIC cartridge that compelled me, even after I'd had exposure to an Apple][ and some good old Applesoft BASIC.

Never did get it, but this thread prompted me to check out what it was all about. A bit of googlefu and voila: Basic_Programming. Man, am I ever glad I never got that disaster. My little nerd heart would've segfaulted.
posted by C.Batt at 10:08 PM on April 13, 2008


I remember playing Superman on the Atari 2600.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep. {This was Superman walking}

STATIC NOISE. {This was Superman flying. Wonkily. Forcing me to land.}

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep. STATIC NOISE. Beep. STATIC NOISE. Beep beep. STATIC NOISE.

Yep, I remember playing Superman on the Atari 2600. For all of 30 seconds before giving up on it.

Pitfall was the only decent game on the whole system.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:19 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Pitfall was the only decent game on the whole system."
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:19 PM on April 14

And this ad proves it! Still makes me wanna play it.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:29 PM on April 13, 2008


The Wii is outselling the XBox on a unit basis because of the one thing Star Raiders has over Mass Effect: simplicity.

Well, you have a point there. Not too long ago I would have responded to Nintendo's idea of "we're going to give people who don't like video games something to play" with "they already have something - every other activity that isn't video games", but they're clearly on to something. The good games for the Wii (Mario Galaxy being the best example) are tons of fun, however they're unfortunately far outnumbered by "Licensed Kiddie Cartoon Or Movie Character's Adventures In Lazily Executed Inanity" type shit, which is the same problem the GBA had and the DS still has but is overcoming with time.

My original point still stands, though: even the simplest DS or Wii game is far more complex than a 2600 or ColecoVision game. Some of the really serious classic games enthusiasts have this elitist attitude that everything was already done as good as it can be 25 years ago and everything since is all sizzle and no steak, and you can see the elitism in the "Grand Theft Auto II San Vice Andreas City" comment I quoted. A related and similar group are the Gameplay Nazis, who would play "Quest For Paris Hilton's Used Tampon" if it had solid gameplay with no consideration for story, graphics, music, or anything else that makes up a game, who I consider equally silly. That's more a matter of opinion, though. I'll play something with frustrating, crappy controls for at least a while if it has a really awesome story.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:01 AM on April 14, 2008


Back when we had a Vic 20, I remember being jealous of the neighbors with an Atari.
posted by salvia at 12:28 AM on April 14, 2008


can see the elitism in the "Grand Theft Auto II San Vice Andreas City" comment I quoted

I would love to see someone do a 2600 take on GTA Vice or San Andreas.

*dot moves up to block. pushes off other dot. takes block away.*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:19 AM on April 14, 2008


I remember seeing this exact catalog in a box in my attic about five years ago when I was moving out of my house. It's probably still there because damned if I'd throw that away.

And yeah, I loved Adventure so much. I continue to dream that the hero from Adventure- yes, the dot- is made into a playable character in one of the Smash Bros. games. I don't think Nintendo understands how happy that would make so many people.

$5 says some bored kid could re-write all these games in Flash over a weekend

There isn't even a need for that. A few years ago I downloaded an emulator and a file for almost every single Atari game ever made- something like 300-400 games; maybe more if my memory's off. I do remember, though, that the entire package was about 3 megabytes.

The entire existence of the Atari 2600- all the games we bought, all the years we played it, all the fun we had- can fit on two floppy disks. I try not to think about that for too long to avoid nosebleeds.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:23 AM on April 14, 2008


Tell me about it. I spend the better part of my college fund, one quarter at a time, at Arnie's Place in Westport, Connecticut between 1979 and 1981.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:22 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gee! All this with 8mhz of processing power & 640k ram. I remember Arnie's Place in Westport was pretty advanced for the Westport CT culture. It had a Casino atomosphere.
posted by kokomo at 10:59 AM on April 14, 2008


Effigy--I had totally forgotten about the Superman game and the annoying sound effects. I think I recall crashing some blob into a phone booth.

My take on pitfall was that it was just never ending. The same thing over and over and over, but, the graphics were a bit cooler than the rest.

I can't say the same thing for Pac-man or that ET fraud. God was that awful.
posted by Todd Lokken at 12:46 PM on April 14, 2008


My take on pitfall was that it was just never ending. The same thing over and over and over, but, the graphics were a bit cooler than the rest.

Pitfall at least had a 20-minute timer. The goal was to not only survive, but collect as much treasure as you can in that time. Most games, of course, ended in death, death, death, except for those guys who were able to grab all the treasure and brag about it (it's been done.)

Pitfall 2, on the other hand, had unlimited lives and no timer. The game either ended when you successfully navigated the maze, collected the treasure and rescued your sidekicks, or when you got so incredibly sick of the repetitive background music that you ripped the cartridge out of the console and threw it against the wall. Or maybe you'd just switch the game off; either way.
posted by Spatch at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2008


My mom still plays with my Colecovision. She loves Frogger.
posted by dasheekeejones at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2008


My favorite Atari game was Adventure--I've found it online (I can't remember where), but I thought it was funny that I remembered how to get through the mazes as I did 25 years ago.
posted by Todd Lokken at 1:02 PM on April 17, 2008


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