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  • Centipede (Atari 5200)

    Centipede (Atari 5200)

    http://darth-azrael.tumblr.com/post/172772493175/pandablu-centipede-atari-5200

    Centipede was another genre defining game by Atari. It was similar to Space Invaders in that you operated from the bottom the screen at things coming towards you. The differences are higher speed, more varied objects and the ability to move vertically to some degree. It was one further step towards the vertical scrolling shooters that would soon come along.

    In Centipede, the goal is to destroy centipedes and other bugs that infest your garden. The centipede weaves its way back and forth across the screen, changing directions whenever it encounters a mushroom. Periodically other menaces will come along like the spider that bounces across the screen, the scorpion that crawls across or the flea that dive bombs you. To make things more difficult, the centipede breaks into multiple pieces any time you hit a part other than the head or tail. As levels progress, the bugs get faster and faster.

    There were many home ports of centipede. The Atari 5200 version, which is essentially the same as the Atari 8-bit computer version, is a very good port and was a nice step up graphically from the Atari 2600 version. For the best experience you can use a trackball instead of a joystick to mimic the arcade experience.

    There have been a number of releases of the arcade version of Centipede and the Atari 7800 version has been released via the Atari Flashback consoles. However, as far as I am aware there has never been a re-release of the Atari 5200 or Atari 8-bit versions. To play these you will have to track down some original hardware and software or resort to emulation. If you have never played centipede (and I can’t imagine there are that many people who call themselves gamers that haven’t), you should definitely try at least one version. The arcade version is best of course but the vast majority of home ports are very good as well. Even the Atari 2600 version plays well even if the graphics are a step down.





  • Atari Club Christmas Catalog (1984)

    Atari Club was and Atari fan club of sorts you could join for $1. For your dollar you got a subscription to Atari Age and discounts on various Atari merchandise. This catalog was also mailed out to club members for the Christmas 1984 season and includes various discounts and deals. I’m not sure how these compared to what you could get at your local K-Mart (or wherever) though.

    Atari had so much cool stuff in 1984 but it is a shame they could not get their marketing and pricing right. Their lineup was too complicated and innovation in terms of new games was at a low point. It is interesting to look at this catalog and get an idea of what their strategy was though.

    That’s a pretty ugly cover. I don’t think the ceramic Christmas tree joystick topper was an actual product thank goodness.

    This page has various accessories and other Atari related paraphernalia. A few of those things would be neat to have today like that Atari mug (7), hat and scarf (5), and that VCS carrying case (9). I think I have one of those “Modular Cartridge Library” game holders (3). Trackballs, joysticks and other game and game system storage devices are here as well. Those remote control joysticks (12) look especially cool but $69 is extraordinarily expensive, especially for the time.

    This page features the Atari 5200. It’s interesting to note that the Atari 2600 does not seem to be featured in this catalog. They still sold it and would for years to come but it isn’t here. They seemed to want to sell you an Atari 5200 with an Atari VCS adapter instead for $215 (after rebate). That’s over $500 in today’s dollars. Not a bad strategy. Push gamers towards the new system while maintaining backwards compatibility. The problem was this was a huge amount of money for a system that had already been out a couple of years, especially when they had the Atari 7800 ready to go but refused to market it. The Atari 5200 was a capable enough system but Atari seemed to want to mostly push new and improved versions of games it released for the Atari 2600 instead of innovating. The NES was already out in Japan and would be released in the U.S. in less than a year at a price of $179 (club discount not needed) just for comparison.

    The carrying case and trackball look pretty cool but not at those prices.

    Now we get into the computer line. Basically at this point they were pushing two computers. The Atari 800 was one of the original two computers Atari introduced in 1979 and was serving as their low end model at this point. The Atari 1200XL was Atari’s first attempt to update the line to compete with the Commodore 64. Unfortunately, it was still too expensive and suffered from a number of problems. The Atari 600XL and 800XL would soon take its place. The Atari 800 was about the same price as a Commodore 64 at this point but the 1200XL was a closer match in terms of capabilities but was far more expensive. And that disk drive was astronomically priced at $400. Commodore’s disk drive was about half as much at this point. I suppose there was always the “Program Recorder”.

    Another page of Atari 5200 stuff. It just has the system priced without the Atari 2600 adapter and game. Though you can see a list of games available here too. As you can see, the vast majority of these were available for the Atari 2600 and those are some pretty high prices for games that had, for the most part, been around for several years in one form or another.

    Here we have some exclusive Atari Club games for the Atari 2600. These games are pretty rare today because of their limited release. Gravitar was released to stores with a different label but the original silver label is hard to find.

    And who wouldn’t want to finance their expensive Atari purchases with easy payments?

    Finally, we have some more computer stuff just packaged with other items. It mostly looks like a way to jack up the prices to me. At least I’m not sure the things they are adding are worth the price increase over the base systems.

    Atari had a lot of nice things, particularly the computers. It’s just that the prices were really too high and they made some dumb marketing moves. The Atari 7800 should have been in this catalog along with some innovative games and they should have courted some decent third party development as well. They also had the opportunity to market the NES but that’s another story. They made some of the same mistakes with the Jaguar nearly a decade later. They also would have also been better off to simplify their computer line. This catalog features the 2nd and 3rd iterations of their 8-bit line. There would be another four iterations not counting the ones that were announced and/or developed but never saw the light of day. I’ve always been an Atari fan but I’m glad I had a Commodore 64.

    Atari Club Christmas Catalog (1984)

    http://darth-azrael.tumblr.com/post/170224832622/atari-club-christmas-catalog-1984


  • Star Wars: The Arcade Game

    Star Wars: The Arcade Game was how most of the home ports of the Star Wars arcade game were titled. Seems a bit redundant but there’s marketing for you. The original arcade game was an impressive looking (even today I think it looks impressive) vector graphics based space flight combat game. You pilot an X-Wing on approach to the Death Star and then take part in the trench run to destroy the Death Star. The original arcade game was released in 1983 with a large number of home ports to follow later in 1983, 1984 and beyond.

    Initially, Star Wars was ported by Parker Brothers to the Atari 8-bit, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Commodore 64 and ColecoVision. Later in 1987 and 1988 it was ported to the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS based PCs among others. In addition, it was ported again to the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit so there are multiple versions of this game out there for those platforms.

    Today, there’s not really any reason to track down these home versions. Quality varies among the different ports but the arcade original is much better. You’ll have to resort to emulation to play it though as there has been no official release of an arcade perfect home version as far as I know.

    The images above are from a commercial for the original 1983/84 home ports. The version of the game shown is the Atari 5200 version. Except for perhaps the game graphics I think this commercial probably would have been more likely to reduce sales than increase them.

    Star Wars (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, ColecoVision)