Atari 2600 Review: Steeplechase on 7800 Avenue
By Brian Thomas Barnhart |
Alright everybody, welcome back to another episode of 7800 Avenue! I have a full house tonight! In fact, I have the beautiful cast here, from Ragtime. We’re just finishing up today, in fact, today is the final performance of our play and we thought we’d hang out a bit and play some Atari today before the show. With me today I have Marquell, I have Kylie, Sandra, and Candace.
So today we’re playing Steeplechase, a very old 1980 4-Player horse racing game, but we are going to do something a little different…
We are actually going to bet in between, and make it a little more, you know, adult fun. We don’t have any real money because we are all artists, so we’re using Monopoly money. But we’re going to have fun none the less. Are you guys ready to play some Steeplechase? Sounds like a challenge! Here we go, Steeplechase for Atari 2600!
“I’m gonna get my job started, I’m gonna be going rolla, roller skating. I’m just trying to get this job started. Where is my girl-friends at? We should get the song started, we should get this business going, we should get the arena going.”
– Michael Kearns
Finding these old games has given us ideas. We really want to enjoy these games and make an adventure out of them. You may have noticed it on the show before… when it comes to Atari we’re all about putting a new twist on an old classic. The idea of finding these old games and breathing new life into it. It’s about turning Atari into a party. Inviting people over for a few drinks, maybe a movie somewhere along the way, and making Atari the center of the party.
We did it with Yars’, when we celebrated Howard Scott Warshaw Day with Team Play Yars’ Revenge. And now we’re doing it with the gambling aspect of real horse racing at home. Instead of Poker night, why not have a Steeplechase night and walk away with a little extra in your pocket?
Steeplechase was originally released as an Atari arcade game in 1975. In the arcade game, up to six players can simultaneously compete against each other, each on their own horse while the computer controls a seventh horse at the bottom. The 2600 version of Steeplechase has four players.
Use a Joystick instead of Paddle Controllers to control 2 horses by pressing Left & Right.
Think about this for a minute. Genius started with one quarter and Space War. Then along came PONG, 2 quarters and a 100% increase in the amount of coinage going into the machine per game. That’s 2 players right there. Then a game like Steeplechase where six people are playing at the same time. But you know what? This was a deal. Two players could play on one quarter. When have you ever seen that in an arcade? In one round of gaming Atari is giving two players for the price of one and generating three times the revenue. That’s genius. It also happens to be a lot of fun to play.
Nolan Bushnell always spoke of a social aspect to gaming. How many couples first met striking up a conversation while challenging each other at PONG?
Six players huddled around a single arcade cabinet. Possibly in a bar. Possibly in the Regal Beagle. With Larry and Jack trying to claim their prey that night around the Steeplechase machine. Young adults rubbing up against each other, it’s 1975, what more can you ask?
If you look for a Steeplechase cartridge, you’ll only find it in a Sears version. Steeplechase was a Sears exclusive Atari game. Sears and Atari had this really great business relationship stemming back to the beginning of Atari’s Home Consumer Division, when they launched PONG. It’s thanks to Sears that Atari was able to become a household name.
In the early days, Sears had an exclusive relationship with Atari. They helped them get started with PONG and it became a huge hit that Christmas. There was a guy who was running the Sporting Goods department at Sears who had heard about Atari.
In those days Sears was doing really well at Christmas with Ping-Pong tables and Pool tables for the recreation room. The guy from Sears flew from Chicago the next morning and asked Nolan Bushnell how many PONGs they could build. Atari was able to build 25,000 PONGs, but Nolan exaggerated and told the guy they could build 75,000. The Sears guy said “Great! I’ll give you an order for 150,000 of them!”
Atari realized they could probably build enough units to fulfill the Sears order with the exception of one thing: they needed the money to make it all happen. The guy from Sears said “Oh don’t worry about it, I’ll introduce you to Sears bank!” Sears owned H&R Block at the time and helped set up a credit line for Atari where every time a PONG dropped off the end of the production line, Sears would advance Atari 80% of the money.
Suddenly, Atari was in business. Ever since then, Sears and Atari had a really close business relationship, and these guys all made a lot of money together. In the early 1980s, Sears was the place to go for video games! They had a huge selection and all the best games were there.
Atari created private label versions of Atari games for Sears, which were sold under the Sears Tele-Games brand. Part of this deal meant that Atari would develop four games that would be exclusive to Sears: Stellar Track, Submarine Commander, Steeplechase, and, at least initially, Super Breakout.
So Steeplechase has the notoriety of being one of these few games that were exclusive to Sears. And like Warlords, it’s also one of the only Atari 2600 games that can have up to four players at the same time. It’s a great party game! And that’s why we’re playing it today.
Well that was Steeplechase on Atari 2600! I want to thank my guests for being here in our episode today. We are going to get ready to put on a show. It’s the last one! The last one for Ragtime. Join us next time on 7800 Avenue! And check out Lynx Lounge and Jag Bar, those are great shows and we do it all here in the new studio and talk about some really great Atari games. See you on the next episode of 7800 Avenue!
Steeplechase was programmed by Jim Huether at Atari, and was released by Sears Tele-Games for use on Atari 2600 compatible systems in 1980.
Brian Thomas Barnhart is a classic gaming aficionado, retro pop culture connoisseur, and a Senior Fellow at Atari I/O. He is host of The Jag Bar, Lynx Lounge, 7800 Avenue, and the Atari I/O After Hours Podcast. Brian is a Moderator in the Atari I/O Forums under the name btbfilms76. You can follow him on Instagram and at his YouTube channel.