Armagideon Time

It’s October 1982. The leaves have begun falling from the trees and the big marketing push for the coming holiday season has started to rev into high gear.

Home videogame systems are this year’s Big Thing. Atari is still the overvalued champion in that realm, but the field has been getting dangerously crowded. Not only does the company have to contend with rival consoles whose tech outperforms the 2600’s aging hardware, but from third-party firms — including the folks making said rival consoles — cranking out 2600 cartridges at a feverish pace with no coin kicked back to Atari.

The environment is one of complacency tinged with (unspoken) anxiety, a pretty decent indicator that a speculative bubble has entered its terminal phase.

Cue the industry-side ad blitz!

I’m sure it sounded like a foolproof strategy in corporate reports and meetings, but the truth is that the writing was already on the wall for Atari and the industry in general. The novelty of the videogame fad was fading while the technology was either behind the curve or desperately trying to keep up with the arcade offerings that drove consumer demand. The foundation wasn’t strong enough to support the generational model adopted by later console manufacturers, especially when affordable home computers offered greater utility for the money spent.

Even if E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark were exceptional games, they wouldn’t have managed to do much more than forestall the inevitable. As it stood, both games sold pretty well, but couldn’t match projections that had become entirely unstuck from reality.

(And, honestly, my friends and I played the hell out of them and the much-maligned 2600 Pac-Man port. Because we were kids and kids have a high tolerance for crap. This is why I tend to raise an eyebrow when some videogame journo or scholar tries to convince me that they hated — hated, I tell you — those games when they were a tyke in the early Eighties.)

From Atari's mouth to the clearance aisle in three short weeks.

The bit about these games being part of a new line of movie-themed 2600 offerings is intriguing. I wonder if they were going to stick with the Spielberg relationship. If so, it’s a shame we missed out on games based on Poltergeist (where the object was to make Tobe Hooper explode with frustration) and The Color Purple (where the goal was to rack up as many Oscar nominations as possible without actually winning an award).

5 Responses to “The Long Game: Coming soon to a landfill near you”

  1. Mikester

    I loved the 2600 E.T. and Raiders, and never really got the hate for them.

  2. Chris Wuchte

    I think Raiders was easily in my top 5 most played Atari games. Didn’t it have some sort of Easter Egg like gimmick, similar to Adventure, that kept people playing? I seem to recall at a certain point playing not to win, but to do something weird on one of the levels. Or maybe it just had a glitch that made it fun to play.

  3. Matthew Johnson

    Raiders game, you had me at “digging with shovels.”

  4. Jason

    This would have been about 3rd or 4th grade for me. We rented Pac-Man from a video store and later bought it because we loved it so much. Sure it wasn’t the same as arcade Pac-Man, but it was the only Pac-Man you could play at home and it was close enough.
    We also had Indiana Jones and played it a lot, but I remember it was pretty hard and sometimes frustrating.
    Never played E.T.

  5. Bill D.

    Raiders was confusing at hell at first because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. We let the older kid next door borrow it for a week or two and he and his friends figured it out, then brought it back over to the house to demonstrate how to play the thing from start to finish. His younger sister and I then played the hell out of it for quite a while, mastering the two-person technique (one controls Indy, the other controls the inventory) that to this day I maintain is actually kind of necessary to play the game with any kind of consistent success.

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