There is no shortage of made-up holidays out there, which is something that keeps calendar people busy I suppose. So when it comes to the iconic video arcade machine, why not pick a day to highlight their cultural significance, and attach it to a historical milestone?
The event that I feel best encapsulates the arrival of the video arcade would be the official founding of Atari Inc. on June 27th, 1972. The release of PONG was not the first video game ever created, but it radically changed the amusement and gaming business, fostering what it is today. This follows the 59th anniversary of Sega, who was involved in vending and EM arcade machines prior to Atari disrupting everything with their video game.
So in terms of made-up holidays, Happy Video Arcade Day! I hearby proclaim it so, and thus it is done(that’s how made-up holidays work, right?). Enjoy it by visiting a local establishment with a friend or two and playing some coin-operated (or card swipe) amusements. Especially if they have some Atari games to offer.
While Sega is still a large and vibrant company that was able to celebrate their anniversary in style, what’s left of Atari now is shattered and somewhat sad. The company responsible for a number of revolutionary games has long since ceased to exist, splitting into two separate companies in 1984. The arcade division, then known as Atari Games, did their best to keep the flame alive, although
they ended up exchanging owners a few times until they ended up as a division of Midway in the 90’s. Midway shuttered all arcade operations around 2002/2003, then succumbed to bankruptcy in 2009, with their IP and assets purchased by Warner Bros. To date, Warner hasn’t done much with the IP for either Atari Games or Midway; on the Atari side, the only game they resurrected a few years ago was Gauntlet (which I might add, was a lot of fun – not completely arcade-like, but I enjoyed it).
Even though it’s a mess on the history side, thanks to the glory of licensing, the Atari logo is presently found on a few different machines spread across developers. This is handled by Atari SA, a company that used to be known as Infogrames, but purchased the home division in the early 00’s and changed their name shortly afterwards. The first arcade return of the brand was Breakout, by Coastal Amusements a few years back; then Calinfer & UNIS created the Atari PONG Table, that electromechanical twist to bring the concept full circle (and it’s doing really well by all accounts – every distributor at trade shows seem to have one on their booth); and most recently Centipede Chaos by Play Mechanix & ICE.
For me, a lot of fascination also comes from the games they never did release. I suppose that’s odd, but it is quite interesting to see concepts that were often ahead of their time. Why they didn’t see the light of day occurred due to a number of reasons, and Atari had quite the motherlode of such games.
Check out this video of "Dance Machine," a concept created by Atari in 1984 that was found during the @museumofplay U-Matic digitization project made possible by the @RRLC1966! Just imagine the technology that would be required to make it, especially in the 1980's. pic.twitter.com/PQSOYeermg
— Andrew Borman (@Borman18) February 27, 2019
So what’s your favorite arcade game to have come from the world of Atari?