Atari Week – I played Atari today

Here in the UK we end up with higher prices for software and hardware. This was particularly noticeable with the Atari 2600 VCS. New cartridges in the early 1980’s were £40 or more. (Ten years later SNES cartridges reached that price again – and went higher, with Super Street Fighter 2 nearly £70). And each new purchase was a gamble. There was only one magazine, issued by the official fan club, giving glowing reviews with little in the way of criticism. If you bought a bad game, it cost you.

The hardware was also expensive. The $99 price tag in 1980 for a new VCS system became more than £120 for UK purchasers. The number of outlets stocking the console and its games grew steadily, but it was the home computer boom that led to a rapid growth in independent software shops.

But old Atari hardware has kept the interest of collectors, meaning the rare and unusual items retain a high value. As a collector, I only have a couple of Atari machines at present, the Jaguar and the 2600. I do have some other Atari stories though.

One of my earliest gaming memories is a funny story. Going into the nearest town by bus with family, my brother and I went to Boot’s. This chain of chemists expanded into toys and electronics, with larger branches stocking both hardware and software. It was an Atari 800 that caught my eye that day, before I had a C64 at home. We spent more than an hour playing Mr. Do – a very good conversion, and very addictive. The shop was about to close when we realised what the time was. With moments to spare we rushed back to the bus station…

A friend of mine at school had an Atari ST – and I was jealous. (He also had an imported American NES, which was my first proper contact with that console). When I visited his I got to play great ST games including Speedball (the violent future sport by British developers The Bitmap Brothers), Defender of the Crown and the epic Dungeon Master. Although I sided with Amiga fans in schoolyard arguments, I could see the ST was a good machine in its own right. Another friend was into music and used the Steinberg MIDI software to drive his awesome keyboard.

The Atari Jaguar hardware was based on British designs, and it was a British programmer who created one of the Jag’s killer apps – Jeff Minter, with Tempest 2000. Adding so many features to the basic gameplay, improving the visuals and pulling together a superb soundtrack, this was a big hit for the console. I played it so often at retro events and exhibitions I decided to add the console to my collection. However it is sad to report that the current “Atari” stopped conversions of Minter’s new game based on the classic Tempest theme. TxK appeared on the PS Vita and work was underway for PS4 and PC versions (the latter with support for VR hardware, taking the game into a new dimension). Atari claimed infringements of its copyright on Tempest 2000, seemingly oblivious to the fact it was Minter’s work!

Another Jaguar hit was also British – Aliens versus Predator, from UK developers Rebellion. This FPS built on Doom by adding three different characters with differing missions – the Xenomorph, the Predator and a Colonial Marine. Inspired by the comic book series and years before the film, this cartridge is still selling for high prices.

Another firm favourite at retro events is the multiplayer Warlords. Controlled with paddles, this conversion of the arcade game is superb on the VCS. The skill needed to knock another player out and the tension of being close to elimination generates that “one more go” feeling. I picked up a console, paddles and unboxed carts from a fellow collector and it’s a great addition to my collection.

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About Merman

Gaming since the 1980s, Nintendo and Commodore C64 fan, writer for Retro Gamer and gamesTM

One Comment

  1. As much as I absolutely loved my 2600, to this day, I have not played a single game on any other Atari platform. Maybe some day. Anyway, it was nice to see how Atari was seen by someone not from North America. It’s weird, but I typically only see video games before the 8-bit era as a Japanese and North American thing. Not surprised they were popular elsewhere as well, I just don’t hear about i much.

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