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Atari Delenda Est

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By Nelson Schneider - 04/22/12 at 04:08 PM CT

Astute readers of this blog will have noticed that whenever I mention Atari, I follow it shortly with the Latin phrase delenda est. I do this in emulation of the great Roman statesman, Cato the Elder, who, during the Punic Wars, said the same thing about Rome’s enemy, the North African city-state of Carthage. Cato would tack-on this statement to all of his speeches, regardless of whether or not Carthage was even the topic at hand. Cato’s indignity was just, as Carthage was a tenacious enemy that plagued Rome with, not one, not two, but THREE wars, the latter two of which could have been averted had the Romans done the job right the first time.

Atari is much the same way. While the original Atari is, thankfully, dead and buried, the name continues to live-on, painting its stain across modern videogames. While it could be argued that the Atari moniker has endured due to its high name-recognition, naming a game publisher after the company that almost single-handedly destroyed the industry in 1983 seems about as intuitive as a German family naming their firstborn son Adolph. Yes, the name is recognizable, but it has a lot of negative baggage attached to it and brings up a lot of bad memories. Of course, people, most notably Americans, can be remarkably short-sighted and stupid: Name recognition is, after all, how we got a second George Bush in the White House after his father proved to be a one-term screw-up a mere 8 years prior.

So, why must Atari be destroyed? Here are a few of its sins:

1. Terrible Games:
The industry was in its infancy. I get that. Licensing, quality assurance, and all the other infrastructure enjoyed by modern tech companies either didn’t exist or was fast and loose: Like Cave Johnson’s “Throwing Science at the wall to see what sticks.” I get that too. But at the same time, customer knowledge and access to information was limited to the proverbial horse’s mouth. And when the horse is trying to sell crappy games to people who don’t know any better, things get ugly in a hurry. While licensed games are almost entirely crap to this very day, nothing will ever surpass “E.T.” And when the non-“E.T.” extent of a console’s library consists of poor-quality versions of “Pong,” “Pac-Man,” and “Space Invaders,” it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Atari delenda est.

2. Terrible Consoles:
I’m a big fan of emulators of old consoles. I have a whole slew of them on both my PC and Wii. Yet there is a conspicuous absence of Atari emulators in my collection… because they aren’t worth the bother. Consoles so lame that they aren’t even worth emulating – for free – are a problem, especially when the Atari 2600 launched at a $200 price point in 1977… the equivalent of $750 in 2012 currency. Weird controllers, limited libraries, AND expensive? How did this company even last long enough to cause problems later? Preying on the ignorant masses to create an unstable sales plateau based on a fad is irresponsible and unethical (the modern focus on casual games and gimmicks is, therefore, worrying). People didn’t need videogame consoles in 1977, and if a console did exist, it should have been marketed solely to technophiles who would love it for its circuitry, not its capabilities. The bleeding edge and the mainstream just don’t mix.

Atari delenda est.

3. The Videogame Crash of 1983:
So you have this great new idea in the 1970s: Interactive media! It’s like a board game you can play by yourself! On your TV! But instead of playing to your strengths and creating a bunch of interactive board games, you sell-out and allow everyone, including dog food companies, to create interactive media for your new system. You market the Hell out of it, build up an economy around it, then, thanks to your Terrible Games and Terrible Consoles, cause everything to come crashing down around your ears. Awesome plan!

Atari delenda est.

4. The Squandering of the D&D License:
The old Atari is dead! Long live… Atari? The company that used to make Terrible Consoles and Terrible Games has been reincarnated as a publisher, and they have somehow gotten their hands on the exclusive license to publish videogames containing Dungeons & Dragons intellectual property. Great news, right? Atari finally has some IP in their hands that can be used to make something good! Just look at how well SSI, Black Isle, and BioWare did with those licenses. Let’s look at all the new D&D games Atari has published… oh. A Hack ‘n Slash and a Facebook game… Damn.

Atari delenda est.

5. The Same Old Tricks:
After creating a number of Terrible Consoles, publishing a number of Terrible Games, crashing the entire videogame industry, and doing nothing with the greatest accumulated pool of RPG intellectual property anyone could hope to use, what has Atari been up to for the past 10 years? Publishing crappy licensed games.

Atari delenda est.

Atari is a terrible company that has long since outlived its usefulness. Even disregarding my hatred of the company detailed above, the fact that it has been hemorrhaging money for years and has been bought and sold by numerous other publishers, like a common Carthaginian slave, makes it evident that the company should finally be put to rest forever. Atari needs to be metaphorically razed to the ground, its trademarks sown with salt, and its licenses/copyrights sold into bondage to companies or individuals that will put them to better use.

Atari delenda est.

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Wrote on04/26/12 at 08:11 PM CT

Ah, nothing will ever match the horror that was E.T. (not even Duke Nukem Forever). I actually remember "playing" that game, if you could call it that. One of my original babysitters had an Atari - PacMan, Q-bert, Asteroids, Moon Patrol, Defender - I can't say I have fond memories (I have "vague" memories at best), but it was the first video game console I played, so no matter how terrible it will always hold a special place in my heart. Still, you have a point that in its current state, it should probably roll over and quietly leave once and for all.

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