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A History of Gaming Platforms: Atari 8-Bit Computers


July 31, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next
 

Tramiel formed Atari Corporation, and his leadership changed the course of both divisions after The Great Video Game Crash of 1984. He took the company out of the video game market and focused on the development of a new 16-bit line of computers. Atari staked its future on its 16-bit Atari ST systems, which launched in 1985.

However, the company began to focus on video games again in 1986, leaving even fewer resources for properly supporting the 8-bit computers. Still, even as "third choice" systems for a good portion of their initial run, the Atari 8-bit computers were a success, especially considering the early exits of many competitors. The Atari Corporation officially dropped its support for the 8-bit computer line on January 1, 1992.

Software

Despite their many promising and often unmatched technical features, the Atari 8-bit computers took years after they were first launched to gain market momentum. However, these systems eventually received a wealth of software support on cartridge, cassette and 5.25" floppy disk.

Although most often used in educational language software, cassettes could support data and recorded audio at the same time, since the proprietary recorder used a stereo signal similar to how the APF Imagination Machine's and a few select other computer cassette drives functioned.

"The original Atari 800 is unique in the history of home computers. It has four built-in joystick ports, all easily accessible from the front of the unit (early games like mule and survivor took advantage of the four joystick ports). It has two heavy-duty cartridge slots. The top hatch also flips open to easily plug in expandable memory cards. The Atari 800 was built like a tank with a very robust keyboard. Unfortunately, these unique features are missing on all later models where the design was streamlined." - Mike Vox, Armchair Arcade website, August 2004


Games such as Datamost's 1983 platformer, Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory, made excellent use of the Atari 8-bit systems' color options. While the Atari 8-bit's colors are noticeably muted in comparison to other contemporary platforms and can be difficult to manipulate, in the hands of skilled programmers, the results could be impressive.

Unlike Apple, Atari was secretive about the inner workings of their systems. Often, no one would know something was even possible until Atari itself used the technique in a game or grudgingly divulged the information.

This "trade secret" approach sometimes left a quality gap between first-party and third-party games. Nevertheless, clever programmers eventually found ways around Atari's corporate policies to make impressive games of their own.

Some critics point to On-line Systems' maze game, Jawbreaker, as a turning point in 1981 for technically sound third party titles on the platform, but it wouldn't be until the following year that consumers would start to see this reflected en masse. In the end, the best games for Atari's 8-bit series were at least a technical match for what was available on most other 8-bit computer systems.


Rampant piracy almost killed Lucasfilm's entry into the software market before it began, but a name change to LucasArts and dozens of games later, the company is still going strong. Titles such as the 1986 classics Rescue on Fractalus (pictured) and Ballblazer got the company off to a great start.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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