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The History of Atari: 1971-1977

November 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 10 of 20 Next

1975: Innovate Or Die

With his newly fully-realized company, Bushnell was firing on all cylinders. The parties and game design sessions continued, and Atari started getting reputation as the place to “work hard and party harder”. As the engineering group grew in size and importance, it got the reputation of being a very informal and laid-back place to work.

About this time, Nolan Bushnell created a manifesto that described their business. Bushnell was pushing to define Atari’s place in the entertainment world.

“We define our product as innovative leisure. We will build the best products possible, and serve our markets in such a way that through time the Atari name is synonymous with: quality, imagination, research, after-sale service, and social responsibility.” - Nolan Bushnell's Atari Manifesto

The manifesto also described Bushnell’s ideas for the ideal workplace:

“A corporation is simply people banding together in an organized fashion to produce products or accomplishments which would not be possible otherwise. When the goals of Atari and the goals of its people are in harmony, Atari is strong and its people are happy and satisfied.” - Nolan Bushnell's Atari Manifesto

It went on to describe a couple ways people would be treated:

“Maintain a social atmosphere where we can be friends and comrades apart from the organizational hierarchy. Encourage and promote personal growth through education and training such as that we may all reach our individual potentialities.” - Nolan Bushnell's Atari Manifesto

However, if it seemed like a fun place to work, Atari was also a very difficult job. For instance, while there were no set hours, you had to make games well or get out. There was little room for time wasters or people who were not interested in making games, and making them well.lxiv

“Atari's strategy was actually quite simple and, I think, quite elegant. We were known as a party place, but the important thing is that parties didn't happen unless quotas were made. We had a lot of parties because people made their numbers.” lxv - Nolan Bushnell

1975: Coin-Op Division

Shark Jaws The coin-operated games that Atari produced in 1975 built on the success of Tank! And the strides in innovation they had made the previous year. Since the success of Tank! had brought more people into the arcades and proved that more than Pong could be successful, it was easier to sell more and different types of games. While there still were a couple Pong-style games (i.e. Goal IV), and the odd R&D offshoot (Compugraph Photo Machine) many were Tank!-inspired military concepts.

In January Atari released Pursuit, a WWI game in which you shoot down enemy planes in your crosshairs. Later that year came Anti-Aircraft, which played much like the VCS launch title Air Sea Battle that would appear two years later (it also included an undocumented switch that could turn the planes into UFOslxvi). Still later, in October 1975 came Jet Fighter, another game that would see its home debut two years later on the VCS Combat cartridge.

"Atari’s Jet Fighter is a video action game in which players pilot two airplanes across the sky in a fast-moving duel."- Jet Fighter marketing flyer

Throughout the year, new versions of Tank! arrived as well, including Tank 2, Tank III, and a cocktail table version of the original Tank. Tank 2 added land mines represented by X's.

Throughout 1975, Atari continued producing racing games. One of the first of the year was in March with Hi-Way, a sit-down cockpit-style driving game, the first with a scrolling playfield that Atari patented (and perpetuated) for many years. They also continued to produce the single screen, multiplayer racing games that they invented with Gran Trak 20, but now allowing many more people to play once.

New 8 Player version of the greatest money-maker ever! - Indy 800 marketing flyer

Indy 800 was an 8-player racing game with a full-color screen. An optional control module allowed an official “starter” to facilitate tournaments. The game included a mirrored canopy to allow spectators to view the racing action, and even equipped each driver with their own horn. The entire cabinet took up 16 square feet of space.

Another multi-player racing game was released in October 1975 with Steeplechase. This time the theme was horse racing, and the game could be played by as many as 6 people at once. Atari also tried its hand at a demolition derby style game with Crash 'n Score in October of 1975.

Crash 'n Score is a video action game in which one or two players drive race cars on a rectangular playfield and earn score points by driving through lighted score flags. During play a player has to maneuver his car around certain obstacles and has to avoid the opponent car.”
- Crash 'n Score service manual

Atari’s most notorious coin-op game from 1975 was probably Shark Jaws. Shark Jaws was a one player game designed to capitalize on the movie Jaws. Legend has it that Atari tried to secure the rights to the movie Jaws, but failed. Instead of jeopardizing Atari, Bushnell created “Horror Games” specifically for this game, and released it anyway. The game was very simple, consisting of a swimmer, fish, and shark. The swimmer had to catch the fish, without being eaten by the shark.

“Atari had a real crude attitude about things. Jaws was such a big movie and we decided we would do a game that was sharks eating people. We decided we would do it under the nom de plum of 'Horror Games'. Shark Jaws was actually a huge success, we sold a couple thousand.”lxvii - Nolan Bushnell

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