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The History of Atari: 1971-1977

November 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 20 Next

1973: Innovative Leisure

Besides fighting copycats and legal battles in 1973, Atari continued to strengthen their engineering team, and create new games. At this point, creating games was almost entirely an engineering process. All the gameplay, graphics, and controls were governed by the TTL discreet logic and mechanical engineering skills of the technical team. For this reason, Atari continued to hire as many good technical people as possible. In June of 1973, Al Alcorn hired Steve Bristow to help create new games. Bristow was a fellow Ampex employee, and great engineer. He would stay at Atari for more than 10 years. Bristow and Alcorn, along with a couple of electrical engineers, set out with a directive from Bushnell to develop more games in vein of Pong. xxxix

However, while Bushnell concentrated on the engineers, the manufacturing process was in trouble. Pong games were breaking down, and customers were complaining that Atari’s machines were not reliable. Part of this problem was that Atari was not able to pay enough money to its manufacturing staff.

“We were hiring people as fast as we could and paying them hippie wages, which was still above minimum wage. It was a situation where we were doing an awful lot of training”xl - Nolan Bushnell

Equipment “disappeared” from their facilities daily. They needed to make some kind of move to allay the fears of their customers.

To do this Atari created the “Durastress” trademark and began marketing their games as meeting “Military Specification 883” to their customers. “Military Specification 883” is defined by the Department Of Defense “Standard Test Methods and Procedures for Microelectronics”, and was a requirement for defense contractors. While their arcade games might not have required this process, it sure looked good on their advertising and showed that Atari, at least in print, was trying to seem more reliable. To improve manufacturing, Atari hired outside experts and began giving benefits to their line staff that were almost unheard of at the time.

“...all employees received the same medical benefits as the executives” ”xli
- Nolan Bushnell

At just about the same time, Atari created the first real slogan to describe their products:

“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.”xlii
- Nolan Bushnell

On July 16th, 1973 saw Atari second coin-op release, Space Race. It might not have been the complete innovation they needed, and while it was not exactly Pong, Atari made sure their customers knew it did not fall far from the tree.

“From The Originators Of Pong...” xliii - Space Race flyer

Space Race was designed by Al Alcorn as a two player-only timed game involving two ships flying towards the top of the screen. Players controlled the vertical position of the ships, and attempted to dodge asteroids to get to the top of the screen.. If they made it to the top, they received 1 point. The service manual has "Pong" scratched-out and "Space Race" written over it.xliv The machine is basically Pong with different TTL logic. Atari licensed the game to Bally/Midway under the name Asteroid.

Atari quickly followed-up Space Race with their second Pong-style game, Pong Doubles, in the Autumn of 1973. It was a 2-4 player version of Pong designed to stave off some of their growing competition.

“Atari’s New Video Game. 2 Or 4 Players”xlv
- Pong Doubles Flyer

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 20 Next

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