The Atari 2600 in its Glory

Howard Scott Warshaw

Howard Scott Warshaw

I watched a cool documentary on the rise and fall of Atari and how programmer Howard Scott Warshaw is wrongfully given the blame for creating “the worst video game ever” and this lead to the demise of Atari.  The game was ET and the story behind Atari is one of volatility which make the best stories.

Pong

Pong

Atari starts with Pong which is a game of hitting a ball back and forth between two paddles.  This set the stage for programmers to code more intricate games.  The allure was that people could play these games in their homes, instead of feeding quarters at arcades.  This breakthrough resulted in Atari to be the fastest-growing company in the history of the United States at the time (1983).

EtvideogamecoverThe fascinating part of this story was the video game ET.  Howard Scott Warshaw was given 5 weeks to produce it so that it could be released during the holiday season after ET, the movie, was released.  Normal production of a game was 6 months to a year.  Howard had a reputation of producing games with million unit releases and worked his ass off to finish the game in time.  Ultimately the game was a huge flop because it was too hard, ET kept falling in holes, and it felt distant to the movie. People ended up returning it which lead to a huge overproduction of the game.  The story goes that Atari had to bury millions of units in a landfill in New Mexico.  Story has it that ET started the crashing fall of Atari which lost huge sums in subsequent years and then folded.

ET in a pit.

ET in a pit.

This isn’t really true but when many people say something, it starts to form.  Atari was killed off because it mass produced too many units and over saturated the market.  This caused them to hemorrhage money and eventually had to cut it’s workforce and one step led to the next until the company went away.  There was also increasing competition at the time.  However, ET is sometimes credited with, unfairly, being the worst game of all time and causing this fall.  I wasn’t young enough to play Atari or ET but I’ve played bad video games.

 

What makes a bad game?

Anytime you don’t want to play a game anymore, that’s what makes it bad.  Reasons could be it’s too hard, enemies are unfair, or the concept is just plain stupid.  Games are good when you don’t lose because of the game, but because you aren’t skilled enough.  When I think back to Battletoads, I didn’t hate the game because it sucked, but because I could never advance past the driving/wall stage.  This doesn’t make it a bad game, just a game that will piss people off.  People couldn’t advance past ET and that’s why they claim it was bad.

Bayou Billy pissed me off.  Sure I was about 10 but I watch this walk through and just shake my head.