Comparing the exciting cover art of Atari 2600 games with screenshots of the games

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What I remember about Atari 2600 games was that after we’d been playing the different ones for a few years it became clear that the visuals of the game mattered less than the actual gameplay. Example: there were Activision games that looked pretty good on-screen, but were mostly boring to play, whereas Atari’s simplistic Adventure game got played over and over.


Combat had some fun glitches.
If your opponent was in the right place you could knock them off the edge of the “arena” and they would reappear on the other side!
That never got old with me.


The Art of Atari ebook is on sale at Comixology right now, if you want more of this stuff:


It wasn’t really misrepresenting the games because at the time it was obvious the game was not going to look like that. It was supplementing the game - providing fodder for your imagination since the game graphics sort of required imagination to be immersive.


To emphasize the unstated here, Activision also made games that were fun.


You got it, Mark :wink:

Here’s more on the less artful side…


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I often think about those old cart box covers - and how things have totally flipped. Now game box cover art are often illustrations that abstract and simplify highly complex and photo-realistic game graphics. It’s quite ironic, really.

It’s true, but at the same time those box covers were promising things the games couldn’t live up to, on some level. They were certainly supplementing the game. Not just graphically (where graphics were sometimes so crude, you’d not have any idea what the blocks on the screen were supposed to be representing if you hadn’t seen the cover art.) Gameplay was also similarly impacted - the mechanics of the game so crude that any depiction of action on the box would be beyond what the game could deliver, so any gameplay that was relevant to the box cover existed purely in the player’s head.

Despite knowing that the box cover had no relation to the games themselves, I often found the games disappointing compared to what the boxes conjured up in my head before I had a chance to play them.

I liked the duck in that. I assume it was a duck, anyways - I never saw the box art, so I had to interpret based only what I saw on screen…


The Dragon? Forgive me if this was tongue in cheek sarcasm, but did you really think it was a duck? (tho it did really look like a bipedal pot bellied duck…).

Also, who could do that “invisible maze” section with their eyes closed if I handed you a joystick today? :slight_smile:


You can play pretty much any of these games at in your web browser. You can often find the box art there, too.

There are a ton of games for other vintage consoles as well. Figuring out the keyboard controls is often harder than the actual game, though. Still, it’s awesome that this exists!


Yeah, I shoulda said “some Activision games…” We probably played Pitfall II as much as Adventure. The Activision head-to-head games I liked a lot.

Ha! I think we might have called it that too.


Back when you had to use your imagination during game play.


Some people might have called it a dragon, but it’s clearly a duck.

I joke, but thinking back, when told it was a dragon, I just remember thinking, “the fuck it is!” I never played that much of it - the stupid duck kind of ruined it for me.


Maybe also of interest:

I remember being enthralled by some of the covers, which I remember clearly to this day. Star Raiders. Missile Command. SCRAM.

The Atari cover art style seems distinct and odd today. It’s a sort of collage, full of invocation but depicting almost nothing clearly. A lot of 1970s movie posters were like that.

Atari pursued this style in strange places. Calculator became an epic Ayn Rand-ian adventure. 6502 assembly coding (no multiplication for you!) was a barrel of chuckles.


Okay, yeah, but…

Edit: Hah, I was assuming that screenshot was for “Hockey” because of the image, but I love that “Video Olympics” are:

  • Soccer
  • Hockey
  • Handball
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Pong
  • Superpong
  • Foozpong
  • Quadrapong

I think maybe we’re looking at “Foozpong”?


But the duck uhrm “Dragon” was so easy to kill once you had the arrow… I mean “sword”…


The last time this topic was discussed here (and it’s always a good 'un!), the thread partially moved into a celebration of some of these works of parodic genius:


Use the same emulator and map the controls how you want, and you won’t have this problem.

Do not follow this link.
The page it lead to popped up a fake Chrome update page which tried to trick me into installing something.

Back when blobs were blobs and blocks were blocks!