Episode 139: Smollop: Atari

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Dave: I can’t believe we are finally doing a Dollop about me!
Gareth: Are you taking a selfie right now?


Atari is still alive and kicking, just in a different incarnation: online!


“Sanctum of Slime”, y’all. That’s just…beautiful.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionPitfall!_Coverart * Walter Isaacson

The Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800: A Comprehensive Look at the History and Technology of Atari?s 8-bit Systems * Steven D. Holder

Atari Inc.: Business is Fun * Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg

The Ultimate History of Video Games: from Pong to Pokemon and beyond…the story behind the craze that touched our lives and changed the world * Steven L. Kent

first upright game: Computer Space (1971)


The peeps:

Nolan Bushnell: Atari and then Chuck E. Cheese, which, when I was a kid, was cool, clean, pedo-free, and skee-ball heaven. Eat, skee-ball some tickets, and walk out with earned friendship bracelets. What is skee-ball? Bowling, except with holes instead of pins. Sorta. The company that furnishes Chuck E. Cheese is actually skeeball.com (of course), and their classic alleys look just like I remember, if you are curious.

Ray Kasser: more Six Degrees: he worked for Burlington Textiles for 30 years. Yep, Burlington Coat Factory to Atari in one degree.

Jack Tramiel: Atari Consumer Electronics Division   Tramiel Technology Ltd.    Atari Corporation

more Six Degrees: He founded the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D. C. Never saw that coming.

Ronald Wayne: the fifth Beatle of Apple Computer, God bless ’em.

Ted Dabney: largely a private guy, cool interview and picture thanks to computerspacefan.com

EtvideogamecoverHoward Wareham: designer of Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall, and the doomed ET

Allan Acorn: Pong (first coin-operated game) designer

And the E. T. Atari grave: USA Today article. The upcoming documentary is being  funded by Microsoft, and is listed as still in development. And it’s full circle for those diggers, because a popular Atari game was Dig Dug, where the object is to dig in the desert and find stuff.

Dig Dug
Not actual crime scene.

Okay, here we go. Memory lane time. Keep both hands inside the ride. It’s going to get personal up in here. And nerdy.

Deep breath.

Missile Command on the Atari 5200, Feel The POWER
Missile Command on the Atari 5200, Feel The POWER

Okay, I was born in 1972 (the year Ziggy Stardust was born, moment of silence, please, for the master of being Whomever He Wanted to Be), and the year Atari was formed, so you know I was an Atari kid. I remember Pong displays in Sears stores, and I remember my friends’ getting Atari 2600s. The games in heaviest rotation in my neighborhood were Pitfall (actually third-party Activision), Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man (I always dug the gratuitous beauty mark), Space Invaders, Frogger, Q-Bert, and Breakout. I remember that a well-broken-in 2600 joystick would make little rubbery noises as it was used, like the gearshift in an old car.

Dad, being an engineer, know there were more sophisticated offerings around the bend, and bided his time…and then pounced on the Atari 5200, which, for the time, had omyGodwhatthehell render a kid speechless graphics. On rotation at my house with my friends (and my Dad): Superbreakout, Defender, Donkey Kong, Centipede, and (later) Millipede. I admit I was known to combat insomnia, or waste time waiting for my turn in the bathtub, with a hearty game of Backgammon. Soothing.

It is a wonder I ever got laid, ain’t it?

ataribasicThen Dad-the-engineer went one step further, and in one step, got me a computer and moved the 5200 from my room to the family room (claiming it for himself, I know what he was up to, Daddy didn’t raise no fool), buying an Atari 400, and quickly modding it, via chip and keyboard upgrades, into an Atari 800. That’s right, Dad and I hacked an Atari. Nerd house represent. It had a BASIC programming cartridge. Once I learned the repeating tricks of BASIC, I loved to leave something obnoxious on scroll, because Mom and Dad couldn’t always remember how to abort a BASIC program.

20 GOTO 10

Atari BASIC reference manual online at archive.org

And yes, I named it. Before I knew naming computers was a thing, I named my 8-bit computer Morgan. No, I don’t remember where that came from. Morgan Le Fay? I have no idea. Dad snagged gold letter stickers from the hardware, the type that go on your mailbox, and spelled out MORGAN on the cartridge drawer.

Yo, my Dad is boss.

Photographic Atari proof. Warning: early’80’s grooviness ahead:

I spent many hours cross-legged on the floor in front of that fake-wood console and that groovy little TV, programming goofy shit, or playing video games while listening to Madonna, Cyndi Lauper (see her on the wall?), Prince (he’s there too, say hi), and David Bowie on that ginormous record player.

Makes my ass go numb just thinking about it.

Consoles referenced above, in a list, because this entry needs to get nerdier with MOAR LISTS:

See? That wasn’t too nerdy, was it?

Where did you go?


Band names from this episode:

  • E.T.’s Leaky Pitbasket
  • Suits in Charge
  • E.T. in Prison
  • Squint Eastwood
  • Pong the Bong
  • Money Hole
  • Quarter Crimes
  • Quarter Hatchet
  • BarCon

Wikipedia Portal: Video Games

Cultural references:

Now that I have led you down the rabbit hole, as I always do, go play a game.

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