Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/06/27/ten_highlights_from_40_years_of_atari/

Ten... highlights from 40 years of Atari

Pong on...

By Caleb Cox

Posted in Games, 27th June 2012 16:48 GMT

Antique code show With Atari celebrating its 40th anniversary today, we thought we'd look back at the company's rise and fall in the computing world, in case you're either too young or - worst case scenario - too addled to remember.

Or you haven't yet seen the Atari feature on El Reg.

Either way, here's ten highlights from Atari's history that you may or may not already know.

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Atari was founded on 27 June 1972, of course. Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney had originally wanted to call their company Syzygy. But as that moniker had already been nabbed, Atari Incorporated was born.

The founders, under the Syzygy name, had previously worked upon Nutting Associate's Computer Space, widely accepted as the world's first coin-operated arcade game.

Atari is founded
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After videogaming's popularity soared following the 1972 arcade release of Pong, Atari proposed a version for television sets and subsequently launched Home Pong in 1975, selling around 200,000 units.

Released first exclusively through Sears, the game sold in high volume and become the retailer's most successful product at the time.

Home Pong
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Steve Jobs - then an employee of Atari - was asked to develop the game Breakout in 1976. Jobs turned to old chum and HP employee Steve Wozniak to design it for him.

The two split the $750 payment they received for the task, which was turned around in four days after Wozniak went without sleep for the entire period. Jobs received a bonus for the fast turnaround, but apparently kept this secret from Woz, only paying him $375 in total.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
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Bushnell and Dabney sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976, a move that generated the funds they need to develop the Atari 2600, which was released the following year, selling nearly 30 million units over its lifespan.

The Atari 2600 is undoubtedly one of the godfathers of games consoles and popularised the use of the cartridge format.

Atari 2600
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Atari launched the 400 and 800 in 1979, the first of its popular 8-bit home computers. Both were originally released with 8KB memory, expandable to 48KB.

They were also the first computers designed with custom co-processor chips, and several versions were launched following an initial major production run. The company would go on to shift 4m computers over the next decade.

Atari 400

Games galore...

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Atari published some fantastic games in the years to come, with 1979's Asteroids dethroning Space Invaders as the best-selling arcade game, and 1980's Battlezone wowing gamers with 3D visuals.

Atari was even commissioned to turn the latter into a version for military training. Titled The Bradley Trainer, it is considered to be the first VR training device used by the US Army.

Battlezone
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E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was released in 1982 and completely bombed. Not only did Atari skip audience testing, but it went against Steven Spielberg's own ideas for the game and everything was turned around far too quickly.

Atari had paid $20-25 million for the rights and suffered massive financial losses in the years to come. Millions of copies were eventually buried in a New Mexican landfill. Videogame movie tie-ins… gotta love 'em.

E.T The Extra Terrestrial
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During the North American game crash of the mid-1980s, Atari's revenues dropped 97 per cent, allowing Commodore founder Jack Tramiel to purchase Atari from Warner Communications.

The company then released the Atari XE and Atari ST in 1985, with a graphical interface to compete with Apple. The ST was subsequently known as the "Jackintosh".

Atari ST
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In 1988, Atari acquired "Handy", which was renamed the Lynx and released as the world's first colour handheld gaming system. Unfortunately for Atari, Nintendo launched its bestselling Game Boy at the same time.

This wiped the floor in the handheld market so it was no surprise, the Lynx failed to attract third-party developers and was later abandoned.

Atari Lynx
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With the 8-bit series discontinued by 1992, and Atari's final PC attempt, the Falcon 30, taking its last breath a year later, the company's focus shifted entirely towards its next home system, the Atari Jaguar.

Although promoted as the first 64-bit games system, the Jaguar was a commercial flop and essentially ended Atari's involvement in the home console business.

Atari Jaguar

While for the last two decades, Atari has essentially been watered down and swallowed up by various mergers and buyouts, it did continue to churn out the videogames, notably jumping on the mobile bandwagon last year with the release of Atari Greatest Hits.

The company returns this year with the relaunch of the official Atari website, which is full of free online games, retail titles, forum discussions and news. Check it out and show some support for a firm any respectable gamer should hold close to their heart.

Happy Birthday, Atari, I probably wouldn't be here without ya. ®