Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.
June 27, 2022

Happy Monday. Want to feel old? Read below. Or don't want to feel old? Please read on, anyway.

Today's edition: 840 words, 3 minutes.

1 big thing: Atari's golden anniversary

Photo of a black and brown video game console with a controller attached
Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Legendary video game company Atari turns 50 today, five decades after it was incorporated by co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney in Sunnyvale, California.

Why it matters: Atari popularized video games as we know them, first in public, then in the home.

  • Atari’s 1972 Pong, ubiquitous in bars and restaurants, was the first commercially successful arcade machine, credited by IGN with bringing “video games out of the realm of computer science, out of university labs, and into places where 'real people' congregated.”
  • Its VCS console, also known as the Atari 2600, was similarly revolutionary, enrapturing players in the late 1970s and early '80s with the likes of Asteroids, Breakout, Missile Command and Taito’s massive Space Invaders.
  • Not just the box: the 2600’s joystick — square base, black stick, big red button — became a tech design icon.

Yes, but: Atari soon began a decades-long slide, as its 2600 market collapsed beneath a glut of bad games like the notorious 1982 rush-job E.T.

  • The company has been a bit player in the industry ever since, releasing failed consoles like the 1990s Atari Jaguar, and switching corporate owners several times.

Atari’s current incarnation: a French-owned two-division enterprise.

  • One part is making games, including “recharged” versions of Centipede and other classics for PC and console (including its own newer version of the VCS).
  • The other half of the current Atari makes blockchain products.

A subtler legacy: In 1979, frustration by some Atari game makers who wanted better credit and pay led to the creation of an upstart developer-centric outfit called Activision.

2. Atari memories

Video game screenshot of a blocky spaceship shooting upward at yellow aliens
Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 via MobyGames user Servo

Many of Axios Gaming’s readers wrote in to share their Atari memories. A sampling:

  • "My best girlfriend in school had an Atari that I pined after. We played endless hours of Pong, Asteroids, Frogger, Donkey Kong ... ah, a simpler time." — Jenn
  • "I remember playing Track & Field on Atari so much with my friends that we’d lose skin from moving that joystick back and forth so fast, trying to make that dude run." — Peter
  • "I had some absurdly high score on Space Invaders. Had to play for like an hour or more to get it any higher. I would really focus on the game and one evening as I was completely in the zone my 2-year-old daughter walked up next to me (I didn't notice her) and she pulled out the cartridge. I honestly thought I was dying or having a stroke or some other life-altering experience." — William
  • "Atari gave me my Silicon Valley tech career for all of two months, in 1976 … soldering switches for the Pong game. So for eight weeks, I sat with about five other workers at one of a half dozen or so rotating plywood tables in an industrial park building. We soldered all day long with two 15-minute coffee breaks and a 30-minute lunch, during which I ran. It was hardly glamorous and did not require any coding. But I gained a memorable taste of assembly line work, and a glimpse of a pioneering era." — Randall

3. Need to know

🚨 Nearly 50 more video game companies — including Niantic (Pokémon Go), Bethesda (Fallout, Starfield) and esports organization Team Liquid — have reacted to Friday’s overturning of Roe V. Wade with public support for reproductive rights and/or pledges to back employees’ health care needs. (Last week: Game studios publicly criticize Roe v. Wade ruling)

🎮 A researcher whose work has been widely cited as proof that violent video games don’t make players violent says his team’s new meta-analysis of studies about sexualized games “failed to find a statistically significant link between videos games and either sexist attitudes or psychological well-being,” PsyPost reports.

🤔 Nintendo will hold a “partner showcase” online tomorrow, previewing upcoming third-party games as it remains mum on any big homegrown non-Pokémon releases it has in store for the last three months of the year. The company usually announces such games in June.

🎤 Riot Games will begin testing new “voice evaluation” tech next month that is intended to analyze in-game voice chat for toxic behavior, the company says (via IGN).

🎮 Former Sega of America president and PlayStation executive Bernie Stolar, who helped launch Sega’s Dreamcast console, has died at 75, GamesBeat reports.

4. Game recommendation: Metroid Dread

Video game screenshot showing the side view of a character in red, white and blue armor running through a cave
Screenshot: Nintendo

Some late praise for last October’s challenging but thrilling Metroid Dread.

  • The Nintendo Switch game features protagonist Samus Aran in a sci-fi side-scrolling adventure that mixes cave exploration and combat against aliens.
  • The clever layout of its quest sets it apart.
  • Metroid games are about feeling lost and slowly figuring out how to proceed, usually by acquiring new abilities that let you overcome obstacles you encountered earlier.
  • Never before in this series have I felt so mystified yet had such a satisfying time finding my way.

New Switch owners often ask me for game recommendations.

  • I usually send them toward Animal Crossing or Mario Kart (they tend to already have Breath of the Wild).
  • Now that I’ve finished it, I’d recommend Metroid too. Even if you have to Google your way to unearth some of its best-hidden treasures.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Centipede > Asteroids > Missile Command.