Friday, August 26, 2011

Atari, moving forward


There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary recently from industry experts concerning Atari, its future direction and its problems. Atari, in its current incarnation, has gone through so many changes and employees that you might find it hard to remember them all. "Revolving door", the "Grand Central station" of employment - both are phrases used recently by industry experts.

Nicholas Lovell has written an interesting piece on Activision (see gamasutra), which bears some similarities with the situation Atari currently finds itself in. Atari seems to be moving away from AAA titles to smaller projects including social and mobile gaming releases where development costs are lower and where the risk is reduced. Now Nicholas warns that Activision is running down its old IP , and in many ways Atari are doing the same although the vast majority of their IP is much older. In order to succeed surely there has to be a combined strategy of new key AAA titles whilst using the social and gaming markets for titles that wouldn't necessarily make it in conventional retail. Of course there is plenty of scope also for using these rapidly expanding markets as a crossover point for the big AAA titles. EA are doing it, you can play Dragon Age on your Xbox 360 then play a Dragon Age branded game on Facebook. Of course it doesn't compare to the real thing but it serves to generate additional revenue and , perhaps more importantly, bring the Dragon Age franchise to a huge market at relatively low cost and hopefully inspire people to go out and buy the full priced game for the console or PC - plus buy all that value added DLC.

Breathing new life to a classic Atari title is always going to be risky. Many people have very fond memories of their time growing up with their Atari 2600 or Atari 8-bit. The Atari consoles and computers had a huge catalog of killer titles and many would rather stick with their memories rather than see a game they were (and still are) very fond of be resurrected for the Xbox 360 or PS3 - only to see the whole thing be handled very badly.

Star Raiders is a classic example of a massive franchise opportunity handled very badly. When Atari broke the news that it was to be re-released the vast majority of Atari enthusiasts were excited and couldn't wait. Sadly, the end result was a game that didn't look too bad but when it came to playing it most found themselves turning off their Xbox 360 and digging out the old Atari 800 from the attic.

The recent Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale was another opportunity to use a decent franchise and drive revenue. Leaving the whole fiasco with Hasbro to one side (both sides seem to have kissed and made up), many gamers have complained that the game is buggy, customer support has been lacking and at least one reviewer has branded the title an "unmitigated disaster". The developer responsible (Bedlam Games) appear to have effectively closed with most staff on the street under "temporary layoffs" and without severance pay. Most of those affected appear to have already moved on.

Whilst Atari has a vast and aging IP which they can tap into, it should be a case of quality not quantity when considering titles for a revamp. For fans of the brand there would probably be nothing better than to see new, AAA quality titles appearing for the current generation consoles under the Atari brand.

When I say "probably be nothing better", I refer to the fact that many brand loyalists would also like to see a new Atari branded next generation console - but we have to be realistic here folks, Atari is in no position to do that.

Some recent decisions have been made out of economic necessity - that is understandable, but Atari shouldn't lose sight of those new AAA titles. Star Raiders is just one example of a franchise that has been wasted, let's hope Atari get things right moving forward.

The Atari Portfolio

The Atari Portfolio was a British designed 16-bit handheld PC, that was announced in 1989 and which had begun to ship by January 1990. The Portfolio was a success for Atari, and came with built-in applications and an amazing (for 1989) battery life.

The Portfolio uses battery powered memory cards for storage - these were the forerunners to the PCMCIA standard and the machine was well supported by Atari with a range of add-on peripherals to link your Portfolio to a PC and expand its usefulness. Today, in the smartphone era, the Portfolio still has its uses and we took a detailed look at the handheld beast in Issue 10 of Atari User Magazine.

Hang on there Steve Jobs

It has been saddening to see pictures released of Steve Jobs following his resignation as CEO of Apple.  Jobs was one of Atari's first employees back in the early seventies and the rest, as they say, is history. Apple fan or not, you can't deny what Jobs has done for Apple, computing, and technology.

Jobs always wanted to blaze the trail, not follow in someone elses' wake. Here at Atari User we all wish him well.

Inside Atari UK

In Issue 11 of Atari User Magazine we take a look at Atari UK, the role they played in rolling out Atari dealer and service networks across Europe and the games they released for the Atari 8-bit. We'll be looking at the titles Atari UK produced for the Atari ST in a later issue.

Some great titles were released by Atari, albeit a little too late to really help the 8-bit format, and if you want the low down then Issue 11 will be right up your street.

We'll also be bringing you some background history on other 8-bit games, that didn't make it to release. You'll be surprised at what was planned and what could have been for the Atari XL/XE.

Has Atari said "sorry" to Starsoft Berlin?

It would appear that Atari have apologised to 8-bit enthusiast site Starsoft Berlin but no direct word from the site itself as yet.

It also looks like Atari sent the apology directly to an angry fan who'd emailed to complain and not the site operator himself - which might explain why PPS haven't yet confirmed if they have indeed had an apology.

As of yet there has been no official word from Atari regarding atari2600.org although Atari User has asked Atari for a statement.

Atari have become increasingly active in the C&D department, with the Droid800 emulator one of the latest casualties - the app is no longer available to download. Emulation is a bit of a grey area to say the least and Atari do have a right to protect their copyright and/or active patents if they are being breached.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Boulder Dash for the Atari 2600 - how the retro community can work

Andrew Davie (the guy Atari are currently wanting to nab atari2600.org from) has been working for several years with fellow Atari Enthusiast Thomas Jentzsch on an Atari 2600 port of First Star Software's popular eighties classic - Boulder Dash.

The game was originally programmed by Peter Liepa and Chris Gray back in 1984 and released first for the Atari 8-bit. One of the most classic and original games of its generation, Boulder Dash went on to be released across various platforms including the NES and Commodore Amiga.

So far a working 2-cave demo has been released and it looks fantastic. Now what makes this unique is that Davie has been working closely with First Star Software who he describes as being very supportive and generous in allowing the demo to be released freely to the Atari Community.

Whilst the game is certainly a work in progress it looks amazing so far and there is hope that the finished product could get a full commercial release, endorsed by First Star Software, which will be a significant historical event in itself.

Sadly, since Atari waded in to move on Davie's atari2600.org domain name,  Boulder Dash might be the last Atari 2600 related project Davie works on.

First Star Software have shown that in 2011 they remain the same great company they were back in the eighties. This is a perfect example of how a rights holder can work constructively with the retro community - if only Atari could learn from them.






atari2600.org atari enthusiast posts brief statement

Some believed the story wasn't true, but now the atari2600.org website has been updated with a brief statement from the domain holder and long time Atari enthusiast Andrew Davie.


Following a 'request' from Atari Legal's lawyer to hand them this domain, and to show my good faith and intentions with regard to their trademark and claims thereof... I have removed all content of this site. I'm a bit of a retro-gaming nut. Over the 11 years I've 'owned' this domain, the site was used as a personal/hobbyist site for my interest in '2600 homebrew programming. It's variously been used to promote my '2600 game Qb (2001-2003), my extensive tutorials on '2600 programming, as a domain for the '2600 programmers' [stella] mailing list (2004-2010) and more recently linking to some of my videos and demos for the platform. The '2600 platform has been near and dear to my heart for a long time.
:(

Reports also of Atari behind a take down notice issued against the Droid800 emulator project

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Going Football Crazy on the Atari ST


Last issue we looked at some of the best and worst football (soccer) games released for the Atari 8-bit. In issue 12 we'll be doing the same but this time focusing on the Atari ST, a platform for which there are more football games than you can shake a stick at.

In the meantime we'll be playing Sensible Soccer and seeing how many goals we can get past San Marino!

Atari Museum - the greatness that was

If you've ever wondered how great Atari was or what they accomplished, then you could do no better than visit the Atari Museum , an online site dedicated to preserving Atari history and the Atari legacy.

Operated by Curt Vendel, dedicated Atari enthusiast and historian, the Atari Museum has a wealth of information and images from Atari's glory days. Within a few minutes you can't fail to realize how innovative and years ahead of the competition Atari were.

Curt, and the rest of his team, have spent years working to preserve rare Atari hardware. From dumpster diving to painstaking research and tracking down former Atari employees, the Atari Museum is a website that any Atari enthusiast should be adding to their bookmarks.

Vendel is currently finalizing work on the XM Expansion Module for the Atari 7800, an impressive piece of hardware that opens up the classic 7800 to new frontiers. Several highly talented homebrew developers have already confirmed their commitment to writing new XM compatible games for the 7800.


Editorial

Let's set a couple of things straight:

There are some that would like to suggest that there is some sort of an anti-Atari agenda, and a minority that believe that we should say nothing when Atari go after sites such as atari2600.org.

Hello?, Atari User is a magazine run by Atari enthusiasts for enthusiasts. We love Atari and we are the first to acknowledge that seeing the Atari brand alive today is much better than the brand just fading into history. Keeping the Atari brand alive and relevant for a whole new generation is a positive thing.

Saying nothing, well that is the easy option and does it achieve anything? The answer is probably no it doesn't. Atari are perfectly entitled to protect their intellectual properties, entitled to make a profit and protect their interests. Atari should be able to use their brand and back-catalog of titles to move forward into new emerging markets such as social and mobile gaming. That makes commercial sense, that is their right and nobody here is disputing that.

When Atari gets it wrong, and in this case we believe they have, why shouldn't we speak out to try and protect the retro fanbase - which is after all made up of people who are the most passionate about Atari, its history and its brand - people that literally wear the Fuji symbol with pride.The very people that are most likely to support the company as it releases new titles and moves in new directions.

As fans, we may not always agree with the direction Atari is following or the content it is pumping out, but Atari is a modern company with employees, bills to pay and all the other costs associated with running a business. They may or may not get their commercial decisions right but we want them to succeed and make no bones about that.

It would be great if Atari would hold their hands up and say that, on this occasion, they got it wrong. It would be great if Atari could issue guidance to and engage with the retro community about what they believe is acceptable and what they think isn't. The retro community should be able to produce homebrew titles, demos and programs for Atari's consoles and home computer platforms. The retro community should be allowed to wear the Fuji symbol with pride.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Atari continues efforts to alienate and persecute retro fanbase


Further to earlier reports of Atari targeting parts of the retro Atari community, Atari have now turned their attention to atari2600.org, a website that has been registered by Andrew Davie, since 2000.

The site has been used by Davie over the years to showcase his non-commercial programming efforts for the ancient Atari 2600 console. The receipt of a letter from Atari's SVP & General Counsel, Kristen Keller, came as a surprise for the Atari enthusiast, who told Atari User he is "disappointed" at Atari's approach and is considering his position.

Atari are demanding Davie begin arrangements to handover atari2600.org to them as the domain name contains the Atari brand ("Atari"), in its entirety, in the domain name.

Atari have also recently gone after Starsoft Berlin, a hobbyist site dedicated to producing various demos for the Atari 8-bit computer platform - again a completely non commercial fan site.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Atari 1200XL

The Atari 1200XL first appeared at the Winter CES in January 1983. Representing a major leap forward from Atari's original 400 and 800 computer lines, the 1200XL was 64K and featured the new stylish XL series design that would be carried across Atari's XL range of computers and peripherals.

The 1200XL came with a revised OS (operating system) and several enhancements, however its closed box design (as opposed to the Atari 800) proved unpopular with existing Atari 8-bit owners however the machine did sell quite well considering the very short period it was on sale for.

With Atari hemorrhaging money, then CEO James Morgan was on a mission to drive down costs. After being on sale for just a few months, the 1200XL was quietly dropped in favour of the new 16K Atari 600XL and the new 64K Atari 800XL.

Today the Atari 1200XL is considered one of the most collectable machines from the Atari 8-bit line, it was the last model to be produced before Atari began looking at cutting costs at every corner. In issue 9 of Atari User Magazine we took a detailed look at this stylish beauty - a fantastic machine that never got the chance to shine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Atari offloads Cryptic Studios


Atari has completed its sale of Cryptic Studios to Chinese MMO developer Perfect World Entertainment, bringing in a reported €35 million. Atari had effectively put the California studio on hold after announcing it was looking to dispose of it last March.

Since then, Cryptic (developers of  Champions Online and Star-Trek Online) has been in a state of limbo with Atari continuing to provide minimal support to keep its popular online game environments online.

Atari will use the proceeds of the sale to write down debt and help fund its move further into mobile and social gaming markets and increase its drive to ramp up licensing revenue and protection of its historical brands and trademarks.

Players of the two affected online games will see their Atari tokens converted to Cryptic points as well as changes to terms and conditions.

Space War!


In issue 11 of Atari User we look at Space War!,  one of the earliest known digital computer games and how it influenced many games that followed including Computer Space and the various versions of the game that were released for the different Atari platforms including the Atari 2600 and the Atari Jaguar.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chris Hutt's Space Harrier Interview


Check out Chris Hutt's exclusive interview with Atari User in Issue 11. Chris sheds light on the Space Harrier project and the difficulties he faced in bringing the game to the Atari 8-bit. If you missed out on our review of Space Harrier then check out issue 10 for a look at what we believe to be one of the greatest Atari XL/XE games of all time.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Atari Flashback 3 cometh!

 
The Atari Flashback 3 is coming and the reason for it vanishing from online retailers' virtual shelves has become clear. Forget buying it for £19.95, the console has a UK RRP of £59.95 and an official release date scheduled for September 30th. The RRP is in line with the expected US retail price.

Retailers have already begun to list the Flashback 3 , with most saying it is currently out of stock. Zavvi continue to list the product but the price has now shot up to £34.95 and Argos expect to sell the console for around £40.

The Flashback 3 is coming with 60 games built-in, but without SD card support and will cost you a bit more this time around. At least this time it won't be vaporware.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Atari User Issue 11 Out Now!


The latest issue of Atari User is here!


In Issue 11 we have an exclusive interview with Chris Hutt, a.k.a Sheddy who brought Space Harrier to the Atari 8-bit, plus we take a look inside Atari UK and the games they made. We take a look at the Atari emulators available for the Wii & PC, plus our popular Game Over series looks at more unreleased gems for the Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800.

Kieren looks at Space War! and the games publishers that supported every Atari format plus we look at the best and worst football games for the Atari 8-bit. Steve reviews Ace Of Aces for the XL/XE and the 7800, plus our new series on BASIC programming for the Atari begins.

Lots of reviews this issue for the 2600, Lynx, Atari Jaguar, ST and Falcon, plus we look at yet more SEGA conversions for the Atari ST.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

1UP shows no love for Atari consoles

1UP.COM's recent "Top Ten Worst Consoles" puts three Atari offerings in its list of the worst ten consoles of all time. The Atari Jaguar, Atari Lynx and Atari 5200 are all singled out for some hate alongside some more, very obscure, models.

The article makes for some confusing reading. The Lynx heads the list but the article's author states the Lynx "was arguably superior to its competitors" and ends with "There really wasn't much wrong with the Lynx, but it ended up as a footnote anyway.". Interesting stuff, eh?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Atari Turn On 8-Bit Community

You've been happily programming and producing demos for your beloved Atari 8-bit computer for years and then, out of the blue, comes a nasty email from the legal department of Atari Inc, alleging copyright infringement and saying you should not be mentioning terms such as "Atari 130XE".

This has just happened to Starsoft Berlin , a fan site dedicated to hosting classic Starsoft disk magazines from the nineties and putting together a "New Year's" demo for the 8-bit.

Today's Atari Inc has nothing to do with either the Atari Corp or Atari Inc of old. It has its roots in a French software label that was well known for bringing out some quite dodgy titles for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.

Is this a case of a naive legal representative at Atari Inc in New York, or is it a sign of what is to come? - a company that doesn't care about Atari enthusiasts and the Atari of old,  and just sees the Fuji symbol as a way to cash in on past brand awareness? Only time will tell.

It isn't looking good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

UK Riots

Just a quick message to all our UK readers to stay safe, keep on top of local news broadcasts and avoid city centres in the evenings. Hopefully things will start to quiet down soon but in the meantime don't take any chances as copycat violence can flare up anywhere.