The 30th Anniversary Of The Death And Birth Of Atari
On July 2, 1984, Warner Communications, after reeling from Atari, Inc.’s massive losses in 1983, sold the home console and computer divisions of the company to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel’s company called Tramel Technology Limited (or TTL). Upon receiving the assets from Warner, TTL was renamed Atari Corporation. Warner kept the arcade division, and renamed it Atari Games. Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Atari breakup.
I’ve considered myself an amateur Atari historian for the past 25 years, learning about the history of the company from its founding in 1972 all the way through to its current trajectory. While I have nothing but reverence for the original Atari, Inc., I do not have real nostalgia for that incarnation of the company because I was too young to really appreciate it. The Split occurred when I was four years old. I had just recently learned to read, count, and create pretend television stations at that age. Sure, I played the systems from that era since I was nine, and arcade games like Pole Position since I was five, but I wasn’t there for the glory days of Atari when it was the system to have.
However, I was there for the days of the Atari Corporation and Atari Games. And whatever I feel about the business structure or management decisions that were made back then that led to its demise in 1996, it still holds true that my long-term introduction to Atari was through the XE Game System – a computer/console hybrid that was sold by Atari Corporation beginning in 1987.
My all time favorite arcade games are the San Francisco Rush series from Atari Games (granted – Atari Games was already sold to WMS by that time, but was still the same entity). I got my 2600 after I got my XEGS, but that was the result of me getting 2600 cartridges that couldn’t fit into an XEGS, so Mom purchased an Atari 2600 Jr. system to accommodate.
The console division could have withered on the vine at Warner entirely in much the same way the home console division of Mattel did, especially after the rise of Nintendo. But the Atari Corporation allowed it to live on for 14 more years with some great products – including the XEGS, the Atari 7800, handheld Atari Lynx, and the oft-maligned (yet still fun) Atari Jaguar. This was the Atari I grew up with. This is the Atari Corporation of Don Thomas, John Skrutch, Bill Rehbock, Ron Beltramo, John Mathieson, Jeff Minter, Leonard Tramiel, Sam Tramiel, Jack Tramiel, and all the rest of the tireless developers, testers, staff, and other employees that helped create the games that entertained and the systems that educated.
The coin-op games division fared a little better – surviving through 2003 with Rush 2049 being their last Atari-labeled game. They also released fantastic games like Area 51, War: Final Assault, Paperboy, S.T.U.N. Runner, Hard Drivin’, RoadBlasters, California Speed, and many others. This is the Atari Games of Mark Pierce, Spencer Lindsay, Ed Logg, Stephen Riesenberger, John Ray, Aaron Hightower, Michael Henry, Gunnar Madsen, and the rest of the fantastic programmers, hardware developers, staff and other employees that gave me new hope whenever I saw the Atari logo in the arcade.
While the Atari, Inc. of Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney, Al Alcorn, David Crane, Carla Meninsky, Bob Polaro, Rod Zydybel, Howard Scott Warshaw, Dave Theurer, Todd Frye, Rob Fulop, Gene N. Landrum, Ph.D. and the rest of the pioneers of the video game industry was torn asunder irreparably on this date 30 years ago, I take some solace in knowing that the name continued on under the capable hands of fantastic people for the next couple decades doing their best to create games, systems, and cabinets that were to take gaming to a new level.