The History of Atari: 1971-1977
November 6, 2007 Page 19 of 20
Besides engrossing two player action, Air-Sea Battle was packaged behind some of the best box-art ever created for a video game. The art was painted by Cliff Spohn, who also painted the amazing art for Combat, Street Racer and several later games.
"Those paintings on the box detailed exactly how I felt about the games. The graphics were so minimal at the time, the boxes formed an important part of game play experience. When I was playing Air-Sea Battle, I was playing in that painting." - Anonymous Atari Fan
Video Olympics was programmed by Joe Decuir. It included every imaginable variation of Pong. The idea was to make any and all dedicated Pong units obsolete with this cartridge. The game allowed 1-4 players, and contained many variations and was based on Atari coin-ops like Pong, Pong Doubles, Goal IV, Quadrapong and Rebound.
Surround was programmed by Alan Miller in four months.cxv It was based on the Dominos coin-op with added variations.
“Surround was based on a game play concept implemented in several arcade games in the mid-70s, such as Atari’s Dominos, Gremlin’s Blockade, and Meadow’s Bigfoot.” cxvi - Alan Miller
Indy 500 was programmed by Ed Riddle. It was based on the Gran Trak 10, Gran Trak 20, Indy 4, Sprint, LeMans, and Crash n' Score coin-ops. Indy 500 shipped with the “Racing Controllers” included in the box.
“A total of 14 game variations enliven this auto sports cartridge. It is priced somewhat higher than all the other early Atari releases because it includes a pair of specially designed game controllers.”cxvii - Arnie Katz And Bill Kunkel
Also released were Star Ship programmed by Bob Whitehead and based on the Starship 1 coin-op, Blackjack programmed by Bob Whitehead, and Basic Math programmed by Gary Palmer.
The late shipments and consumer indifference led to soft sales for Christmas 1977. The VCS was the best selling console that season, but that did not amount to much. By the end of the 1977-1978 fiscal year in June, Atari had sold most of the 400,000 units manufactured, and had sales of $120 million, but still lost money on the VCS.cxviii
"People didn't know whether to spend $30 to $50 on the numerous dedicated games that were still on the shelves or slap down $180 for the VCS, a considerably larger expense.”cxix - Alan Miller
The nine original cartridges were thought to stretch the Atari VCS to the limit. Just before its release, Bushnell quickly started to work on a follow-up machine. He, wanted to create a next-generation VCS that fixed all the limitations of the original unit.
“In the Summer of 1977, I went back to Grass Valley to work with Ron and Steve on the next generation machine.”cxx - Joe Decuir
Nolan Bushnell was convinced that hardware only had a 2-year life-span, and he wanted to make sure Atari was ready with a follow-up to the VCS as soon as possible. However, with sluggish initial sales, the VCS had to prove itself in the marketplace first before any new consoles could be fully developed.
[Look forward to the continuation of The History of Atari on Gamasutra.com.]
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