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The History of Atari: 1971-1977

November 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 15 of 20 Next

1977 Coin-ops

With all the drama on the consumer side, the coin-op division of Atari sailed into 1977 building off of Breakout and its successful microprocessor advances from 1976. The infusion of marketing people from Warner had an almost instant effect, as the coin division launched a monthly newsletter named “Atari Coin Connection”. This monthly newsletter would act as Atari’s official mouthpiece to amusement operators for game announcements, promotions, etc. The downside to the influx of new marketing people into Atari was that some creative freedom got lost in the process. The days of batting around games in a hot tub that were quickly green-lit and put into production were over. Fierce brainstorming sessions still existed, but the days of engineering and R&D leading the charge at Atari were quickly evaporating, with the newly bolstered marketing department filling the void. Coin-op designers like Owen R. Rubin would come up with ideas that were quickly shot down by the V.P. of marketing.

“It happened so often, that we would have the hardware engineer add a button under the table that would cause the hardware to crash, so when the VP came into the lab, we could not show him them game. That only worked for a while. “
xciii - Owen R. Rubin

superbug For the most part, the coin-ops of 1977 took few chances and built on already established concepts. Racing contests continued to fill up much of Atari’s 1977 coin-up lineup. Sprint 4 and Sprint 8 (4 and 8 players respectively) were multiplayer follow-ups to phenomenally successful Sprint 2 microprocessor-based racing game from 1976, which itself was a distant cousin of Gran Trak 10. However, the new power of the microprocessor-based coin-ops allowed Atari’s coin-op division to move into other types of racing games. In June they released Drag Race, which allowed one or two players too complete in a side-view drag race, complete with detailed, animated cars. September saw the release of Super Bug, designed by Howard Delman, a top-down, multi-directional scrolling racing game.

Super Bug was my first coin-operated video game. It presented a top down view of a city street. (Its original name was 'City Driver'.) The player had a fixed amount of time to drive his bright yellow 'bug' as far as he could. Obviously, the idea was to drive as fast as possible. This was made difficult by sudden turns in the road, surprise oil slicks, sand traps, and parked cars.” - Howard Delman xciv

Beyond racing games, Atari was trying to design a multitude of other games based co concepts that could not have been easily created in the pure TTL logic era. Dominoes (designed by Dennis Koble) released in January, took the concept of Gremlin’s Blockade coin-op and added a Domino theme. Pool Shark, released in June, played a top-down game of pool, complete with realistic physics.

Pool Shark is an Atari game that simulates the game of Pocket Pool (no pun intended) on 23” monitor.” - Actual introduction from Pool Shark operations and service manual

The concentration on military themed coin-ops continued unabated as well, with Destroyer in September, another game that would be mined for the VCS game Air-Sea Battle later that year (along with Anti-Aircraft from ‘76). More significant was Canyon Bomber, released in November. A strikingly different game from most in the arcade, Canyon Bomber took the basic concept of Breakout, and turned it on its head.

“As the aircraft fly over the canyon at random speeds, players press a simple push-button control to bomb as many targets as possible without missing”- Canyon Bomber marketing flyer

Canyon Bomber was another game by Howard Delman, one of the new crop of coin-op designers who helped bridge the gap between the TTL games of old and the new microprocessor-based games.

“I designed the hardware and wrote the software. The logic was still all TTL, but now the micropressor was the MOSTEK 6502. I wrote the code in assembly, and won a friendly bet with my supervisor by fitting the code into a single 2K ROM. (Take THAT Windows programers!)”xcv
- Howard Delman

Not quite military, but a gun-based game nonetheless, Triple Hunt, designed by Owen R. Rubin, was significant in that it was a single arcade game that could be converted into three separate light-gun games: Hit The Bear, Witch Hunt, and Raccoon Hunt.

However, one of the best selling games (3500 unitsxcvi) for Atari in 1977 came in June: Starship 1.

''Sensors detect another quarter in your pocket, deposit it to be the captain of Starship 1'' - Starship 1 message on attract screen xcvii

Starship 1 was a space combat game that used 3D perspective, and space ships that looked remarkably similar to those from Star Trek. It was obvious though, that the mammoth success of Star Wars, released in the movie theaters just a month earlier, had an effect on the timing of Starship 1, as the game included “proton torpedoes”, and allowed the player to destroy entire planets.

Article Start Previous Page 15 of 20 Next

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