How did Atari die?

From this list it looks like some of the Activision games appear on the super deluxe Flashback X unit-- Chopper Command and Pitfall (no Pitfall 2. . . gosh darn it!)


I didn’t play the original games a whole lot but I played the Pitfall: A Mayan Adventure sequel in the 90’s that had updated graphics. The character was on a quest to rescue his dad, who finally made an appearance at the end of the game.


my wife ran across an atari 2600 along with 30 games all of which were in working order at an estate sale. the game cartridges all had the boxes and instructions. she got all of it for $35. she knew i’d be interested because i like video games, especially retro games. i also have a magnavox odyssey 2, a colecovision, a nintendo n64. a nintendo gamecube, and a nintendo wii all of which are in working order with games to play on all of them. i once owned an original gameboy but a friend of one of my college roommates “borrowed” it and never got it back to me.

edited to add where she bought it.


The other end of it is that so many of the major things you remember fondly from that Atari in the den. Were just limited versions of really fun arcade games. The stuff that does hold up, tends to not be the home version.

My comment originally mentioned Joust. Right after I hit post, I realized I’d never played the 2600 version and had no clue if it was any good. My relationship to that is fully rooted in old cabinets in beach side arcades, campgrounds, and the Cross Sound Ferry.

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My first computer was a Atari 400 with cassette tape backup. At 1.79MHz it was wonderful. Took me 3 days to enter a custom program in BASIC.

Which was followed by them reappearing directly in the middle of about a dozen asteroids to die a quick death.

Hyperspace is always a gamble.


Ah, so they managed to license some of the third party games for that one - I’ve seen a number of other “Atari” efforts (such as the most recent ones) that were just their own games, which is inexplicable.

I had the 5200, which was pretty close to the arcade versions at the time, which seems like it would be the better bet for modern games - except my recollection is most of the (few) identifiable Atari games didn’t make it to the 5200.

My first reaction was: “Did they have a 2600 version?!” But yeah, they did, and it looks… pretty darned basic, though I guess functional? (Also, do Atari own the rights to it? Williams Electronics developed it, and Atari only published it…)

And there is your problem.

I’m often surprised at how into early console games kids will get. If you’re talking NES, Genesis. And especially just a generation after that. There’s like a pop over point where mechanics are developed enough, things run fast enough and there is enough so the classics just work. And it seems to be right around the late 80’s.

That would include a lot of old school arcades games.

But Atari didn’t neccisarily own all that many of the big ones for that, and provided they did. Did they land in part of Atari’s desiccated husk? And if so which part of Atari’s desiccated husk?

I’m not so sure that the Atari we have today actually owns all that much from Atari that was that’s got too much value. Outside the brand name and the aesthetic.

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Yeah, even for old-school games, the Atari 2600 (and 5200) were on the wrong side of the dividing line in terms of complexity, for the most part. Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command… the list of games that they have rights to, that still remotely work, has about half-a-dozen names on it, at best.

It seems like, of the various child corporations that Atari spawned, one cleanly ended up with the rights to their console games (which was a fairly short list full of unfamiliar names, even for someone who spent a lot of time playing those games), and “Midway” ended up with the arcade game rights (which I think is just Time Warner at this point). Other “Atari” corporations own literally nothing but the name (and nostalgia), which they have to share. The corporation with game rights then got bought and merged by Infogrames, which added their games to the roster, but after they got bought up by Namco, Atari was shut down and carved up and a lot of game rights were individually sold off to various game publishers/studios. It was done recently - and cleanly - enough that there’s a clear paper trail and no confusion about who owns what (which is somewhat unusual - the “No One Lives Forever” rights debacle unfortunately isn’t so rare). What “Atari” got left with appears to be a sub-set of their original console games and a few Infogrames games thrown in.*

Recently the holding company that had the remaining game rights was acting as a “publisher” (at least, that’s what they called themselves) - developers could make a game (entirely on their own dime) using one of the game names “Atari” still owns, and then when the game was released, “Atari” would take a (hefty) percentage of the sales as a licensing fee. Hardly anyone took them up on the offer, and those that did so didn’t fare well (the games were so obscure, I didn’t realize they existed until I heard about what “Atari” was doing and started researching the deal). This was something rights-holders started doing at the time, as apparently a number of other former publishers got reduced to holding companies (or were just acting like they had). The empty shell of a company wearing the name “Interplay” like a skin-suit had a similar program to Atari’s, where developers could license an IP for a cut of profits, but they had sold/licensed out so much of their IP in a haphazard way that it’s a real tangle. (Which caused issues like a “Fallout” MMO being announced just about the time Fallout 3 was coming out - Bethesda brought the lawyers out, and “Interplay” gave up on the idea that they had retained any rights to the name that they could further license out to other parties.)

*Atari SA - Wikipedia

(Ok, so Joust isn’t in their roster.)

From my understanding Interplay, on “what is this company” side, is a bit simpler.

Today’s Interplay isn’t a company wearing their skin. But still basically the same holding company the founders put together as a parent when they formed the thing. It’s years of financial mismanagement, including an attempt to use an IPO to avoid bankruptcy, and a leveraged buyout that killed the buyer that basically gutted it.

IP confusion there is down to selling shit off along the way to prop up a dying company. And continued complete weird.

The Fallout MMO thing was not the results of rights confusion. They flat out sold the IP, entirely, to Bethesda. But in the deal got a license to use it for an MMO.

Interplay had announced that before selling. And even Bethesda never disputed that they did have a license.

Thing is they passed a deadline on actually starting or releasing, Bethesda’s initial complaint was that license had expired. Since it never entered full production. After Fallout 3 they were still claiming they were gonna do it.

They didn’t even sign a developer until after Bethesda moved to kill the license. Though they had, years before, used the project to sell a shit ton of stock.

I guess the suit settled out of court. And neither company really acquitted themselves too well on the whole claims and counter claims end. But I remember at the time coverage of what was actually in the contracts, made it fairly clear Bethesda’s starting point was valid.


Yeah, although one of the original people is still involved in Interplay (or was), I still think of it as having been hollowed out until it was nothing but a skin thrown over a holding company. Last I heard, they had like three employees for licensing out their IP (similar to the kind of deal Atari was doing), but that didn’t seem to be working out well enough to support even the skeletal staff required to support the venture, so it looks like they just limp along by selling games in their back catalog on GOG.

I didn’t mean to imply that rights confusion caused the Fallout 3/MMO debacle - just that it was a side effect of the tangled way in which they parceled out the rights. Interplay clearly knew what it was doing - I remember the promotional material they made at the time, it was obvious that there was no team and nothing was actually in development, but they wanted to make it look like there was (for reasons that were only revealed later). The rights to Atari games seem to be much more straightforward - cleanly divvied up, with most of the more recent, commercially viable game rights being purchased, leaving the Atari holding company with… not much.

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Yeah, I definitely haven’t heard anyone talk about new Mario, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, or Zelda games for years now. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


It’s not like they sold twice as many Switches as Microsoft sold Xbox Ones.

In half the time.

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