Atari History



In the beginning there was Computer Space. This was Nolan Bushnell's version of the popular computer game Spacewar. He worked on it all through 1970 in his daughter's bedroom and then licensed it to Bill Nutting Associates under the Syzygy Engineering title.  Says Nutting: "We blew the coin-op industry's mind." The company only built 1,500 of them. Nutting wanted to do another game and approached Nolan, he agreed to license another game to them.   Nutting wanted to own the game, however Nolan had the technology and wanted to retain control of it, Nolan and Nutting tried to come to terms on a deal, but in the end Nolan and fellow partner Ted Dabney went off and decided that instead of licensing their technology to other companies to manufacture they would design and sell games on their own, Syzygy Engineering/Atari Inc. was born.   On June 27, 1972 Atari, Inc was officially registered and in a few months their first product became the "Pong heard around the world" as the sound of a digital ball made of light would bounce off the walls of its digital playfield and into history as the game that started the big bang explosion of Video Arcade Entertainment.

Pong, the smash hit and Atari's first game.

November 29, 1972

Atari  Pong would be a smash hit and Nolan knew it.  Nolan being the superb salesman that he is, convinced Midway that Nutting didn't want it, and told Nutting that Midway didn't want it either, so Bushnell took the $500 in royalties he'd made off of Computer Space and set Al Alcorn to work on designing a simple game of TV tennis. He and partner Ted Dabney started Atari. Needless to say, Pong was a monster and before it could be patented, every company copied it, including Allied Leisure where Gene Lipkin was working at the time. "Nolan would roll over fresh if he hears this," says Lipkin, "but our Paddle Battle was a better game." Even Nutting Associates got into the Pong game with their own version called Space Pong. Pong would see many different cabinet versions from cocktail tables to dog houses to even Pong's in wooden barrels! Unfortunately Pong attracted so much attention, a certain company by the name of Magnavox took notice and for good reason, months earlier they demonstrated a home TV video game called Odyssey and Atari's new Pong game was strikingly similar, too much so. So after a little checking by Magnavox lawyers, sure enough, on the Magnavox guest book for the demonstration was the signature of none other then Nolan Bushnell himself. Magnavox sued Atari, Bushnell & Atari agreed to a license under the Sanders/Magnavox patents for which Atari paid a fixed sum as a paid-up license in June of 1976 for domestic games. In later years Atari paid much more for foreign rights. All in all, the settlement was certainly in Atari's favor due to its huge success with Pong and its many variations and flavors.


Space Race.... from the originators of Pong.    Space Race, Atari's second coin-op video game was a high tech outer space version of a drag strip.   You raced as one player against the clock or two players could go head to head racing through space, avoiding meteors and asteroids to get the best time.    Atari's new sales flyers were now in vivid color and with attractive models as well. 

(History Note: The owners/operators manuals in the Space Race cabinets were actually Atari Pong manuals and have the name PONG scribbled out and Space Race hand written over the top of the scribbled out Pong name)


Rebound from Atari.  Taking the concept of Pong to an entirely new "angle" so to speak.  Rebound was Atari's video game version of Volleyball.    The game required two players to compete head to head in this game and with enough practice, players could learn to angle the ball and beat their opponent.    Although a black & white game, it came in a rather uniquely designed cabinet with colorful graphics on the sides.

The original video maze game, Gotcha was Atari's fourth effort (Space Race was the second, Pong Doubles the third).  This photo was reproduced from the original brochure.  They just don't make 'em like they used to.   The controller is a not what you think, its not a Trakball, nope that wouldn't happen until Atari Football a few years later.   The controller on this game was a joystick with a domed top to it, well actuall a pair of them on the control panel...   oddly or humorously enough...   they look like a pair of breasts.      Atari designers certainly knew how to have a lot of fun.

No one is really sure who invented Tank!


After Super Pong came Quadrapong.  What's interesting is that this was essentially the same game as Elimination, which was created by Kee Games, Joe Keenan's company.  Bushnell and Keenan decided that the best way to reach the most distributors was to design and manufacture similar games but under different names. The first experiment of this sort was Rebound (Atari) and Spike (Kee).  The key distinction between the two was a "spike" button Spike had.  According to Steve Bristow, the designer, "If you timed it right you could do a real killer spike."


Touch Me followed Grand Track 10 Formula K, Atari's first driving games, and World Cup Football into the arcades. Most people probably know Touch Me as Simon. Atari also came out with a hand-held Touch Me. The last batch of Pong games came next: Pin-Pong, which was video pinball, and the inimitable Doctor Pong (aka, Puppy Pong). That's right, someone had the bright idea to put Pong in a cabinet shaped like Snoopy's doghouse. Steve Bristow explains.- "The idea was to put it in a doctor's waiting room and set it on freeplay. We put it out, but doctors didn't want to pay for it. I understand Schulz wasn't crazy about it either.  " 

Tank was the next true milestone in Atari's history. Who invented it, however, is a matter of opinion. Some credit Lyle Rains, who was the engineering v.p. in coin-op until only recently in 1982, but Steve Bristow says it was he who came up with the concept.  (For you VCS fans, Tank is Combat CX-2601.)  "I was working on it when I hired Lyle," he recalls, "Then I gave it to him and he finished it. A lot of the implementation was his, but the original idea was mine."  Both agree that Tank carried Atari through 1975.

Atari was always catching flak from the Pinball industry that video games would never surpass Pinball games in sales or game play. Atari's answer to them: PinPong, a pinball version of Pong. Later on Atari would introduce a newer version of Pin-Pong known as Video Pinball into the arcades, Video Pinball entered the home market as a stand alone console and also as a cartridge for the Atari 2600 VCS. 
Gran Trak 10, Atari's 1974 venture into the world of video racing games. Featuring excellent sound effects sound as the racing sound of your engine, squeal of the tires and realistic grash sound. For added realism it included a real steering wheel, shift lever and pedals. Gran Trak 10 gave an over head look down at the course that your car had to race through. A monster of a game in a monster of a cabinet which weighed a whopping 400 lbs!

Qwak!  A unique and innovative game from Atari in 1974. Players fire at flying on-screen ducks using a rifle with a light gun attached to the end. Your shots would appear on the screen as you fired, ducks would "veer" away from missed shots.   If a duck was shot it would fall into the marsh to be retrieved by your on-screen digital dog. The coin-op incorporated a unique alarm system that if the gun was stolen or tampered with the game would emit a loud buzzing sound. 

Indy 800, one of the biggest video games to be made in the 1970s


Atari's Crash N' Score. Numbered cones appear randomly on the screen and you must frantically steering your car through the course and crash into the cones in proper order making for a fun filled game where crashing into things is the name of the game.  Color overlays on the B&W play-field give the look of color graphics adding to the game playing experience.

Indy 800 by Kee Games, 8 way competition with fully color graphics, exciting sound effects, realistic controls add up to a lot of fun. A special optional remote starter button could be used to start a race by a amusement operator who held competitions. Spectators could watch the excite through overhead mirrors looking down onto the play-field, this was a monster of a game taking up 16 square feet and a real crowd pleaser.

Anti-Aircraft hit the streets only a month after Tank II. The object of the game was pretty similar to Missle Command --  Blow planes out of the sky with cannon fire. Even the fire buttons were similar (Sorry, no Trak Ball yet). Actually, it has more in common with the Air-Sea Battle cartridge from the Atari 2600.

Ahhhh, the good-old days when you could base a game on a movie and not have pay for the rights to it. Atari had Shark Jaws, someone else had Killer Shark and there were probably a few more variations on the theme.   Atari advertised it as "exciting underwater video terror . . . Gulp!" 

The final building plan for the Stunt Cycle controls featuring a real motorcycle handlebar!


Move over Evil Knevil, here come the digital daredevils!!!   Stunt Cycle let the player use a real motorcycle handlebar equipped with throttle for hair raising on-screen jumps off of ramps, over buses even pull wheelies.    This was a great game and Atari turned it into a stand alone home console as well as an unreleased version of Stunt Cycle for the Atari VCS 2600.

In Quiz Show 1 or 2 Players could be quiz on anything from Sports, Movies, People and General questions. Using color overlays to give it a faux color graphics effect you could choose from over 250 questions with up to 4,000 possible answers.    A fun and enjoyable game, but completely overshadowed by another game which was released in April 1976... Breakout.

One of Atari's many driving games throughout its early years, Lemans featured 1O different tracks, each named after a famous raceway.  Slow and clunky, Lemans was definitely not a milestone by any stretch of the imagination.   However the game was a challenge and still a lot of fun!

Compugraph Foto, A computer takes your photo and in 90 seconds prints out a 14" X 11" sheet of computer graphics which looks just like you!!!  (Well.... sorta)  This behemoth weighing in at 950lbs could be used in shopping centers, malls, amusement parks or special events to add that special high-tech twist to getting your photo taken.

Night Driver and Midway's 280-Zzzzzap both were released at the 76 A.M.O.A. show.  Both exhibited the first use of first person driving.  In Night Driver, you sat in the driver's seat (only Atari's second sitdown, Hi-Way was the first) and wound along an eerie stretch of road.  It was also converted into a cartridge for the VCS which stayed true to form.   Although by todays standards its certainly no SF Rush, but it is a remarkable fun game both in the arcade version and the Atari 2600 VCS version.

Steve Jobs' most famous game, designed so brilliantly, no one could copy it!

April 13, 1976

The ultimate in Pong, Breakout was designed by "this non-degreed engineer, but sharp kid from Palo Alto, "explains Steve Bristow, "named Steve Jobs." Jobs had an unusual working arrangement with Atari at the time. Bushnell would describe a game and specify a certain number of integrated circuits (ICs) he wanted jobs to use.  For every IC he saved he received a $1OO bonus. Jobs turned out a very compact prototype of what turned into Breakout.  "I think he brought it down from 80 to 30 ICs, " says Bristow.  "It wasn't common but that's how that one happened. " In truth it was Job's friend Steve Wozniak who designed Breakout, not Jobs. However jobs received a $5,000 bonus and told Wozniak it was only $700 and gave Steve Wozniak his "50%" ...  $350. Years later this truth would come out and it would add to the already increasing friction between the two which eventually lead to Steve Wozniak quitting Apple. Meanwhile at Atari, the Breakout design was ingenious, however no one could figure it out so production could not begin, so it had to be redesigned all over again by someone else. 

Horse racing video game style!!!   With lighted control buttons that matched your players horse up to 4 people could race against one another.    Add to this, realistic sound effects like hoof beating, galloping and crowds cheering all made up for a unique and very entertaining change in coin-op video game play. 

"The first game I ever came out with, "says Imagic's v.p. of software development Dennis Koble, "was Sprint 2, which is still a good game.  " Atari's first mass-produced microprocessor-based game, Sprint 2 has legs.  People are still raving about its slick action.  Says Howie Delman, whose credits include Asteroids: "It's one of the great, great all-time games.  "

Atari's only projector game ever, F-I was a first for Atari in another more interesting respect: It was licensed through Namco (Galaxian, Pac-Man, Dig Dug) in Japan.    Although unique in its concept and design, F-1 didn't fair as well as hoped, but it is still another one of Atari's long line of racing games. 

The first of the wide-bodies, The Atarians was the company's initial attempt to break into the pinball market.  Atari followed with a string of games, including Time 2000, Airborne Avenger, Middle Earth and Space Rider. Atari would also introduce one of the largest pinballs ever made... Hercules. The game was so huge that it used cue balls as the pinballs! Atari's last pinball before the group was shutdown in 1979 was Superman. At least they went out in style!

Cops s' Robbers had up to 4 player action. Look down into the streets of gangster land as you race and shoot at your opponents. Beer trucks provide cover from "da coppers!" to make your escape or make a hit. 4 Settings, up to 3 minutes of play per quarter. Its a deal you can't refuse!


Atari Destroyer was a unique 1 player experience. With a combination of realistic controls, sound effects and the use of 3D cardboard graphics overlaying the monitor the game gave the player a feel of playing a realistic sea battle game. With sonar and explosion sounds from the left and right speakers the game had a fully immersed experience.... for 1977. The unit could have variable time settings or set on demonstration mode. It also offered "Durastress" reliability and "Instapart" 24-hour parts turnaround to keep the unit up and running.

Produced and sold under Atari's secretly owned competitor KEE Games, Super Bug gave racing fans a new twist on playing an overhead view racing game.   Designed by Howard Delman Super Bug had both Novice and Expert tracks and also had random track layouts to keep racers on their toes.   Another nice feature was multi-language text support.

Howie Delman's second Atari project (Super Bug was his first),   Canyon Bomber was quickly converted for the VCS.   He describes it as "upside-down Breakout" and says it was a far superior two-player competitive game than when played one person versus the computer.  He modified the Sprint 2's circuitry, then programmed it. 


Another Dennis Koble effort, Avalanche is a great example of a game that everybody has played but probably doesn't know.  There's no question that Activision's Kaboom (by Larry Kaplan, another Atari alumnis) was a rendition of Avalanche.  And while we're on the subject, Drag Race, which came out 10 months earlier, has since become Dragster, another Activision Title.

The first of a slew of Atari sports games (introducing Le Trak Ball), Football was without a doubt the best of the bunch.  You had sweeps and keepers and down-and-outs and a video gridiron that seemed like it could go on forever.  For a quarter you got a minute-and-a-half, but fanatics were known to pop in 10 bucks worth and go the full hour.   The best Atari game since Super Breakout, which came out the month before. 


Atari's next to last pinball game raised a few bushy eyebrows for the obvious reasons.  Seven feet high, and with cue balls to boot.  Hercules will forever be the Goliath of the pinball era. Superman was Atari's last pin game and it was killed during the production run.

Lunar Lander is an interesting story for a lot of reasons. It was game that had been around forever on PDP and IBM computers (only in text). It was Atari's first game that utilized an XY hardware system (vector graphics). It had already sold 5,000 units when Atari killed it to make room for Asteroids on the assembly line. Collectors, take note:  Delman says that there are 200 Asteroids that went out in Lunar Lander cabinets, same art and all. 

Video Pinball was an instant winner.   With fluorescent "disco" 3-D playfield, challenging targets, bumpers, slingshots, rollovers and drop targets Atari Video Pinball had it all, but without all the mechanical objects associated with classic pinball games. Everything was produced on the video screen. Even a pinball "nudge" feature is included to give a more realistic feel to the play action.

Atari SUBS was the first two-monitor video game from Atari. The intriguing submarine battle puts each player in control of a search and destroy mission. Using a realistic sonar locating image, accurate steering and firing controls, the players must act quickly to score hits. The unique cabinet design allows each of the two players to use their own TV monitor.   In addition to the dual monitor, this was the first game with an operator optional add-a-coin or regular credit coinage mode.   In add-a-coin mode, the game can be set on eight different times per coin. 

Sprint 4.  Atari racing with 10 user selectable tracks on a big 25" color monitor. Realistic sound effects such as motor, screech and even crash sounds. To add to the realism each player has life-like steering wheels, 4 speed shifters and gas pedals.


Atari's Monte Carlo racing game, putting a new twist on the video racing game. Now the player navigates a winding track that they can only see a small window of the size of the screen instead of a whole overhead view as before.  Vivid colors, realistic sound effects and even driver ratings. 8 Tracks to choose from, extended play, find fuel for extra time, plus the operator could set various levels and languages as well.

November, 1980

Battlezone was the first coin-op to offer an almost fully immersed first person vector graphic gaming world. In fact, so realistic was this game that is got the attention of the US Army who hired Atari to redesign the game using simulated controls from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and modified the software with tragectory and other more real world combat settings for training purposes. Ed Rotberg, a v.p. of engineering at Videa, programmed both versions (arcade and army). He preferred working on the original.  "Battlezone", says Rotberg, "was the first truly first-person game." Yet another first for Atari.

Asteroids goes one better than the original with newer features and harder challenges


Let's go back to November 6, 1979 when Asteroids, Atari's best selling coin-op game of all time (70,000 units), was released. The story goes that Asteroids was once a game called Cosmos. Actually, Cosmos was once known as Planet Grab, in which you had to claim a planet by touching it.  Anyway, Ed Logg programmed Asteroids, Delman did the circuitry, and Lyle Rains nursed the idea until rocks began swimming around in his head.  Asteriods Deluxe goes one better with newer features and harder challenges.

June, 1981

Atari's second bestselling coin-op game, Centipede is basically Space Invaders with a Trak Ball. One of the few female engineers in the business, Donna Bailey programmed it.  "My main focus is graphics," she says.  "For instance, I really like pastels, which is why there are so many pinks and greens and violets in Centipede.   I really think the visuals should be arresting." Centipede was a truly unique and colorful game, not only attracting the attention regular gamers, but also appealing to female players as well. Centipede has been re-released by Atari Interactive for the PC, Playstation and the new Sega Dreamcast.

October, 1981

After the success with its XY games Atari decided it was time to go techni-color with Tempest.  With its 96 levels and skill-step innovation (you could start the game at a higher level if you wished), Tempest carried the state-of-the-art banner until Zaxxon came along.   It was designed by Dave Theurer of Missile Command renown. Tempest is one of the most sought after coin-op games to own.

April, 1982

Dig Dug is the first confection Atari licensed since F-1 and Kangaroo was their second. Meanwhile,  Atari readied to license Racket as well. The company dumped Tunnel Hunt on Centauri because manufacturing was all booked --- or so they say.


Atari first attempt into the new and exciting world of interactive laserdisc technology, Firefox was based on the movie by the same title starring Clint Eastwood.    Following the storyline of the movie, you have stolen the secret Soviet fighter and must bring it back safely to the United States.

Crystal Castles introduced us all to Bentley Bear, the cute little character who has to recover stones within a haunted castle.   This is a fun and challenging game, lots of pleasant colors and landscapes made this a game that appealed to almost everyone for fun, cuteness and a challenge.

Three Screens, no waiting (except on the long lines to play this game when it first came out).   TX-1 was Atari's entry into fully emersed surround action.   With 3 seperate screens making up an almost 270 degree view, players were fully out racing in an almost life-like environment.   TX-1 was a truly enjoyable game. 


Remember when video games were fun and challenging and you didn't need to do a 25 step combo joystick-fire button sequence to get your character to do something?   Well Paperboy was just such a game, lots of fun, challenge and laughs.    It stars your average kid next door trying to earn a buck while being chased by dogs, avoiding cars and doing some dirt biking on the side.   This was the true spirit of Atari Games... fun!

Return of the Jedi.   Based on the third part of the Star Wars Trilogy, Atari brought to arcades every mover goers dream, to actually be a part of the Star Wars saga.   ROTJ takes you through multiple scenarios and challenges from Speedbiking through the Endor forest to piloting the Millennium Falcon through the structural interior of the newly built second Death Star.

Peter Pak Rat is yet another enjoyable game which stays within Nolan's unwritten rule of video games "Make it easy to learn, and hard to master".   Peter Pack Rat gives you a simple premise, find and pack away as much junk as possible and earn as many points as possible before his enemies get him.


VSRBI, Virtual Sports Runs Batted In was another of Atari's sports arcade coin-ops. Sports games as a general rule usually do only luke warm compared to action arcade games like Asteroids, Tempest, and others. VSRBI was a well designed baseball game with good views of the field, realistic action and good background sound effects.   All in all a very good coin-op baseball game.


Blasteroids, Atari's third version of Asteroids.  Asteroids Deluxe being the second. Blasteroids combined excellent color shading, high speed graphics processing and excellent sound effects to create a modern and updated look and feel for the classic Atari Asteroids. Of course, in most cases the sequels never quite live up the original and although Blasteroids was an excellent game... you can't beat the original.


Toobin was again, Atari Games return to the classic, clean and simple fun coin-op game. You control your character riding along inside a large inner-tube down through streams, rapids and waterfalls while dodging an assortment of characters and creatures looking to bump, jump and knock you off. Toobin was a truly full enjoyable game, right up Atari Games alley... 


Skull & Crossbones, Atari Games swashbuckling  third person interactive action adventure game had a unique premise, good action and skill moves and an interest lot of rag-tag pirates, parrots and other bad-guys to go up against.


Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters.... ok, say that title 10 times straight! Known for its unusually long name, Escape was based on a cartoon-ish premise to combined an action arcade game with a cast of characters to choose from.


Rampart was a fast paced coin-op strategy game. Break down your opponents defenses, storm the castle and claim victory. Rampart was a unique and highly involved arcade game from Atari Games Corp. 


This was River Raid taken to the max!  Hydra was a superb action coin-op game where you could spend more time out of the water then riding along in it.   The cabinet was also unique and an eye catcher as well.   Atari Games did an excellent job with this game.   Hydra was also ported to the Atari Lynx Portable game system.

Surprisingly, rebound was nearly the exact same as Pong, but with a different story, players imagined a completely different world.


Off The Wall was interesting in that you could relate to the game as being a 1991 souped-up version of Super Breakout. The game was simple, challenging and a lot of fun.   Colorful backgrounds and some really funky rebound sounds made for a very good game. 


Road Riot was one of many excellent racing simulations. You choose your player and compete in player against computer or head to head with a side-by-side player in a rather large roll-cage coin-op cabinet arrangement Road Riot is a great off-road game.



Cops, Atari Games first person police simulator.    Did you ever want to be put into one of those Police simulators to see how good or bad you'd do in a situation.   Well, here is your chance. You take on a first person view and have to aim and shoot at suspects without shooting innocent bystanders and victims.   If you really got into the game and started to hit the higher levels this was one heart pounding game! 


Taking your hum-drum fighting games to a new dimension, Primal Rage pitted the nastiest group of creatures against one another in this game of predator against predator battle, no round-house kicks here, just out and out claws, teeth and cunning.


Atari's Area 51:  Government cover-ups, germ warfare, ufo's, genetic engineering, CIA secrets, Nuclear weapons, top secret access, alien invasions..... AREA 51. This high tech shooter combines an action packed plot with great gameplay and sound effects for a truly exciting experience.   Powered by a modified version of the Atari Corp Jaguar 64 home game console called Co-Jag, this game really packs a punch!


Slam the basketball for higher scores, real voice announcer and background music add to the whole experience.   Large LED displays keep track of the score.  A unique a refreshing change for the same old, same old sports entertainment games.


Hockey so real that after you play you had better go check and make sure you've got all your teeth!   4 Player action, all the NHL teams, key NHL players, smooth moving camera views, realistic sound effects and announcements make for the ultimate in a video game hockey experience by Atari. 


Can you handle the RUSH? Up to 8 coinop cabinets can be linked for the ultimate in high speed multi-player mayhem in the streets of San Francisco.   You'll drive cars which spend as much time in the air as on the pavement as you race at radical speeds until you feel your heart pound, your palms sweat, until you feel the... RUSH.