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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 1
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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 1

January 27, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

Atari Corporation's method of "unloading furniture" would continue at its warehouses and word quickly spread around the area. Cort Allen of Plesanton, California was another customer of the Atari warehouse sale. While Ansuini had purchased one filing cabinet filled with VCS/2600 source code, Allen purchased forty-four filing cabinets from Atari. The filing cabinets Allen purchased did not contain any Atari source code. What Allen found inside the cabinets would nonetheless turn out to be an astounding discovery.

Allen was in need of an integrated circuit tester for his business, Quest Consulting. He had heard from an Atari employee that the company was selling them at one of its warehouses located on Sycamore Drive in Milpitas, California. Allen made his way over to the Atari warehouse and would purchase a Megatest Q8000 Test System, used for testing PROMs (Programmable Read Only Memory). He recalls a chaotic scene from that day:

"I saw boxes of new, unsold games, many arcade game consoles, furniture, file cabinets, office equipment, supplies, and such. There were large 18-wheelers pulling into the loading docks hastily filled with contents from other Atari buildings in the area."

A few days later Allen would be informed of yet another sale where Atari was selling filing cabinets for $2.00 a piece. A friend of Allen's, who shared office space with him, purchased four of these cabinets and brought them into his office.

Allen looked inside the cabinets that his friend had purchased, discovered Atari documents, and decided to travel to the Atari warehouse where another chaotic scene was unfolding.

Allen didn't want the cabinets; instead he wanted what was inside the cabinets. It may have been business as usual at Atari, but as Allen recalls the scene, one could describe it as tragic.

Atari's history was once again being unloaded from offices by wheelbarrows and literally being thrown out into garbage dumpsters outside.

Allen asked an Atari employee on the warehouse loading dock if he could purchase the forty-four remaining wooden file cabinets. The Atari employee agreed with a $2.00 price for each cabinet, but innocently insisted that the contents of each cabinet be dumped in the trash. This would allow Allen to haul them home at a lighter weight. Allen was very careful to ask the Atari employee if he could keep the documents inside the cabinets. The bewildered Atari employee agreed and the sale was completed. Allen would haul 350 pounds of wooden Atari filing cabinets back to his home.

Inside the cabinets Allen discovered a treasure trove of watercolor frame design diagrams for various Atari published games including Namco's Pole Position and Dig Dug. Design diagrams for Atari's own in-house games were also found, including graphics and artwork for Atari Basketball and Golf.

Design graphics and artwork also appeared for a mysterious console called the "Kee Games Video Game System". Marketing tie-in materials with Sears department stores were uncovered. Carton and instruction manual proofs for the French, German, Spanish, and Italian language versions of select Atari games were also kept in the cabinets.

One of the more fascinating pieces found in one of the cabinets was Atari Corporation's own interpretation of games they had licensed from Nintendo at that time. Mario and Luigi character artwork intended for Atari's cartridge box and manual artwork was found with department notations.

In all, 2000 different pieces were contained within the cabinets from Atari Corporation's 1981-1983 history. In 2007 Sotheby's estimated that the documents were worth between $150,000 to $250,000. An auction was held in June of that year, and the contents were included in a sale titled "Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana". A detailed description of the contents can still be found on the Sotheby's website.

The items failed to sell at the Sotheby's auction in New York City, and Allen paid for them to be shipped back to his home. He still holds on to all contents of the cabinets, hoping to find a buyer and planning to put forth any proceeds of a sale towards the college loans burdening his two children.

"As I thought at the time I purchased them, the documentation I now have contains a snapshot into the history of Atari. It is a historical archive of many of the thought processes that went into the design of their games. You see the hand drawings the creative designer had as he drew up the characters. I bought the documents at the time to preserve this history, and because these were the "original" documents, only one set ever existed, and these were that set. I also felt that many of the original artwork might someday be valuable.

"Any one of these reasons was enough for me to purchase the cabinets and I have stored these documents for over 25 years now. I would like to see all the documents stay together. I would hope that someone will go through each of the 161 'packets' and produce a small history of the development and design of each Atari product."

That said, Allen is still trying to decide whether or not to break up the pieces from the documents or keep it all together as a collection.

"I enjoy looking through the documents and always enjoy what I see. However, I really am not the person who should be owning these; they belong to history. Yes, I am very willing to put these items up for sale. They need to be placed into some archive someplace. As with anything, the value is what someone feels it is worth. I often get offers from collectors for some of the original artwork."

On a side note, Allen's friend eventually threw away his four cabinets of Atari documents years later.

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