Although the PlayStation and Xbox generation might find it difficult to believe, Atari is one of the most important names in video game history and the news of its recent bankruptcy marked a sad day for the industry.
Not only is the company Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded synonymous with some of the best-known early arcade hits such as Pong, Asteroids and Centipede, it played a vital role in shaping the home console market in the 1970s and '80s with the Atari 2600, as well as making an impact on home computing with its 8-bit range and the Atari ST.
The infamous video games crash of 1983 dealt Atari a heavy blow, and the rise of Nintendo in the console market was the beginning of the end for its hardware ambitions, but it endured, and always remained around as a brand in one form or another.
The Atari Jaguar line marked the company's last hardware venture but not the end of its legacy. With the studio's very existence in the balance, Digital Spy takes a look at Atari's contribution to video gaming over the years.
1977-1982: The Atari 2600 kickstarts the home console gaming movement
Atari achieved a great deal in the arcade sector in its early years, kickstarting video gaming as a medium with the unprecedented success that was 1973's Pong and bringing it to the home market in the years that followed. However, its impact on the console market was of greater significance.
Gallery: 12 classic Atari games from the '70s and '80s:
The Atari 2600 came bundled with two joysticks, a pair of paddle controllers and a game cartridge - initially Combat, later Pac-Man. Fairchild's Channel F was Atari's main competitor at launch, a machine that pre-dated the 2600 and was equally capable of handling Pong clones.
Unfortunately for Fairchild, the public's appetite for simplistic bat and ball titles began to wane in the late 1970s and the company bowed out of video game hardware, believing it was another ephemeral fad.
This move essentially handed Atari the entire home console market, and it was around this time that programmers discovered ways of fulfilling the potential of the hardware at hand, allowing for the development of increasingly sophisticated software. When the public realised it was possible to play games other than Pong on the 2600, they came back in droves.
Pac-Man and Space Invaders
Sales of the Atari 2600 reached one million in 1979, and that figure doubled when the firm licensed out Taito's now-iconic Space Invaders for release on the system the following year. Business continued to boom in the ensuing years, helped on by phenomenally popular third-party games such as Namco's Pac-Man and Activision's Pitfall. The machine hit the sales milestone of ten million by 1982.
Atari released numerous revised models of its flagship console during its lifecycle, the first being a near-identical version with two of the machine's six difficulty switches moved to the rear. All-black four-switch models hit the market in 1982, earning the nickname Darth Vader due to its colour scheme. These were the first systems to officially bear the Atari 2600 moniker as the Atari 5200 debuted that same year.
1983-1985: The great video gaming crash and beyond
Atari enjoyed several years at the top before things started to unravel. The Atari 2600 may have started the video gaming boom, but the company failed to capitalise on its success.
The manufacturer's follow-up to the system, the Atari 5200, proved a spectacular flop. It may have been more powerful than its predecessor and competitors such as the ColecoVision, but the 1982 machine was heavily criticised for its poorly-designed analogue controllers that refused to centre and hefty launch price of $270.
Not only was Atari struggling to replicate the success of its first home console, the company was suffering from quite the image problem. Programmers were becoming disgruntled over the firm's failure to credit them for their work and many left to form their own independent ventures, the most successful of which was Activision.
Moreover, a development house called Mystique had begun churning out a wave of pornographic games for its console. The most controversial of these was Custer's Revenge, a title that was condemned by rights groups over its depiction of simulated rape and led to its programmers being sued by Atari.
These problems seemed almost insignificant when the video game crash of 1983 reared its ugly head. This was a period of crippling recession that ripped through the industry between 1983 and '85 and it struck Atari hard, causing it to haemorrhage as much as $10,000 per day at one point.
E.T., Pac-Man and Nintendo pile on the problems
Although Atari was credited with giving rise to the home console craze, it was also blamed for the crash by some. The firm's market saturation and the poor reception some of its most high-profile releases - namely E.T. the Extraterrestrial and the lacklustre Pac-Man port - received are often cited as contributory factors to the crash.
Nintendo entered the home console market around this time and the runaway success of its NES console put further pressure on the already-crumbling Atari. A deal between the two firms to release the console in the West as a joint venture was on the table at one point before it broke down.
Atari's financial turmoil led to parent company Warner Communications offloading a significant portion of its assets to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel's Tramel Technology and the company was essentially divided into two. Warner retained Atari's arcade business - but later offloaded it to Namco - and Tramiel's slice of the firm became known as Atari Corporation.
Under the banner of Atari Corporation, the firm launched a renewed assault on the console market, releasing the Atari 7800 ProSystem in 1986, a project that was shelved due to the video game crash three years earlier.
The Atari 7800 was a superior machine to the failed 5200 in virtually every way, with simple digital joysticks and the ability to play 2600 games, a feature that made it the first games console to support backwards compatibility without the need for a hardware add-on.
Although its sales figures and third-party support paled in comparison to the NES, the 7800 was a profitable venture for Atari thanks in no small part to the enduring popularity of the 2600's vast catalogue of games.
The company's second major console venture as Atari Corporation was unveiled in 1987 in the shape of the Atari XEGS, an 8-bit machine that could act as either a dedicated gaming system or a basic home computer thanks to its support for Atari keyboards and other peripherals.
Unfortunately for Tramiel and co, the meteoric rise of the NES on a global scale and the emergence of the Sega Master System rendered the XEGS a commercial failure destined only for the pages of gaming's forgotten history.
1988-1996: Atari Corporation and the Atari Lynx
Following the failure of the Atari XEGS, Tramiel made home computing his company's top priority. Atari had experienced success in this sector with its 8-bit family of machines, and sought to build on that with the 1985 launch of the Atari ST, a 16-bit PC with 32-bit internals touted as a competitor to the Apple Mac and Commodore Amiga.
Although technologically inferior to the Amiga, the ST found success among musicians thanks to its built-in MIDI support and was favoured in the business sector for its CAD and desktop publishing capabilities.
The profits generated by the Atari ST helped fund another bid for a slice of the video gaming pie. In 1989 the manufacturer made a play for the handheld market with the release of the world's first colour LCD portable gaming device, the Atari Lynx.
Although clunky in design, the Atari Lynx was a powerful piece of kit in its day, with advanced graphics and an ambidextrous layout. Nintendo released its handheld Game Boy that same year, a relatively underpowered device with monochromatic visuals that should theoretically have been swept aside by the Lynx.
However, there was an upset on the cards when Atari was only able to make limited stock available to retailers for Christmas that year, allowing the Game Boy to gain a significant market share advantage, a position its lower price tag and longer battery life helped it consolidate.
Last throw of the dice: The Atari Jaguar
After unsuccessfully suing Nintendo for holding an alleged illegal monopoly of the market, Atari opted to take the battle to them in the marketplace with the release of the world's first 64-bit console, the Atari Jaguar.
Atari's boasts that the Jaguar was a 64-bit system was disputed by some, who pointed out that its CPU and GPU executed only a 32-bit instruction sets, but there was no doubt it had Nintendo's SNES and Sega's Mega Drive thoroughly outgunned.
Despite its superior chipset, the system's wafer-thin software library saw it trounced in the marketplace by its 16-bit rivals. The Jaguar did play host to a handful of decent games, namely Alien vs Predator, Rayman, Tempest 2000 and a solid Doom port, but it didn't have a prayer when fifth-generation machines emerged.
The release of a CD-ROM add-on failed to save the Jaguar and it was discontinued after just three years on the market, selling less than 250,000 units. Like many failed hardware ventures, it still maintains something of a cult following but can only be considered a misstep for Atari.
Doom and Alien vs Predator
1996-present: The wilderness years
Following the commercial failure of the Lynx and Jaguar, Atari changed hands multiple times. After merging with disk drive-maker JTS in 1996, the company became little more than a license holder for its software properties and the Atari band was subsequently sold to Hasbro for $5 million in 1998.
Hasbro was in turn acquired by French holding company Infogrames in 2000, and they had big plans to revitalise the Atari brand. Minor PlayStation 2 hits MX Rider and Splashdown bore the company's iconic logo on their packaging and the firm's US arm was soon renamed Atari, Inc. The business it purchased from Hasbro became the separate corporate entity Atari Interactive.
MX Rider and Neverwinter Nights
Infogrames continued to embrace the Atari branding and in 2009 it became known as Atari, SA, with games including Neverwinter Nights, a remake of 1982 classic Yars Revenge and Test Drive Unlimited 2 released under that banner.
However, Atari, SA has struggled with debt in recent years, posting losses in the tens of millions since 2005. This led to Atari Inc and three of its affiliates filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York in a bid to break free of the financially-crippled company once known as Infogrames.
Unlimited Drive 2 and Yars Revenge
Although many believe the true Atari died with the demise of the 2600, it would be a tragedy for video gaming if the brand was to disappear altogether, as it is the company that brought us some of the most important arcade titles of all time and helped shape the home console market as we know it.
Atari US is currently in the process of finding a buyer with a view to breaking away from its parent company and setting itself up in the mobile gaming sector. Given the brand's association with retro gaming and the success of these titles on portable devices, this could be the perfect market for Atari.
As far we're concerned, there will always be a place for them in the video games industry.
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