Howdy y’all! Hannah here with an exhibit review that’s sure to tickle your nostalgia bone. Last Saturday JoshuaEvo and I visited the Sunnyvale Public Library to take part in their awesome (and apparently annual) Atari Party!
The library was hopping even without the attendees of the exhibit, and with the nerd herd, it was packed. There were dozens of computers lining the walls of the Library Program Room, and original cabinet games like Centipede and Tempest in the Teen Area. After checking out the setup, we headed over to the Program Room to hear Dan Kramer speak to an already standing-room only audience.
“No sex, no drugs, no fun at all, only rock and roll…”
Dan Kramer was an Atari engineer who created the Trak-ball controller technology for the Atari 2600 we still use and love today in various twitch games. He worked for Atari for years, through the good times and the bad – he actually described his years at Atari in the quote above, if that gives you any indication of the state of things. Dan Kramer was light-hearted and witty in his presentation, showcasing and giving information on the different controllers he helped create and those he thought were the worst (skateboarding, anyone?). Dan joined a startup young team of engineers in 2002 who gave him an invitation to help them create a new first-person controller with Trak-ball technology called Revolve, but the venture was ultimately called off due to lack of funds. The project tried for a reboot through Kickstarter as a wireless cross-platform controller, but unfortunately didn’t reach funding, despite a fair amount of good buzz on gaming forums about the enhanced playability of FPSs and other similarly-styled games. When asked what his favorite modern game is, Dan scoffed a little and proclaimed his loyalty to old-school pinball machines forever.
“It’s like the ‘50s when people didn’t care about television because it was just entertainment. But what is entertainment? There’s another name for it – culture.”
Between the official event speakers, we made our way to the booth for the Digital Game Museum, the official host of the event. Judith Haemmerle, the director of the museum, was kind enough to give JoshuaEvo an interview. The museum is run by a board of directors and volunteers who use their own time and money to keep the museum alive and open every Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Judith and her group of ragtag gaming enthusiasts are very passionate about preserving the history of gaming through its hardware as well as its rich and eccentric culture. For more details and anecdotes from Judith, tune into this week’s episode of Incoductic, which drops Wednesday, June 16th at noon.
Al Alcorn started off his speech by asking anyone who couldn’t hear him to raise their hand… Yep, Al was as funny as he was clammy. Clearly a man who enjoys an audience more than the California heat, Al spilled all the juicy details about his time before, during, and after Atari. Being the first employee, he was there for the formation of the company, beginning as the design engineer under founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney at Sygyzy before the incorporation of Atari. Alcorn revealed that Pong was actually the result of Bushnell giving him an exercise in basic arcade game creation to see how far they needed to go to achieve Bushnell’s actual vision for Atari. Convinced that Pong was going to fail at every turn, their Little Game That Could overcame every obstacle thrown at it: coin collection glitches, circuitry problems, component over-expense, digital-analog interference, lack of vendor interest, and management-engineer discord. After the public’s overwhelmingly positive response to Pong, Atari moved from engineering design to manufacturing (where the money was) and eventually from coin-op to home video consoles under Nolan’s design scheduling, after which internal and external company relations began to get rocky. It was a disagreement with the management over credits and royalties given to Atari’s engineering team for home gaming cartridges that spawned popular shirts saying “Just another high-strung prima donna from Atari”, a quote from a manager directed toward those engineers. The discontentment of the engineering team led to a split from the company to form Activision, and the eventual fall of Atari (and others) from grace came soon after due to competitors’ oversaturation of the market with bland knockoff games. Overall, Atari’s innovations were a sign of a huge leap forward in the digital gaming industry, since the all-analog games created previously were simply designed to sell televisions rather than stand-alone gaming consoles as we know them today.
Although the speakers were wonderful, the content was enriching, and the games were nostalgic, the real highlight of Atari Party was seeing all the parents at the event introducing Atari to their children and instilling in the newest generation a love for vintage gaming– if you’d like to call it that. I’d rather call it history.
– HSLAMMA WILL RESPAWN IN THREE…TWO…ONE…