Mar 12, 2013

Book of the Moment - Atari Inc., Business Is Fun


Way back in late 2011, I found out about the Kickstarter for what sounded like an amazing book: Atari Inc. - Business is Fun. It tells the history of Atari from its beginnings, explosion into coin-op machines, home consoles and computers to its near self-destruction during the video game crash. What was going to set this apart from other Atari histories (of which I've read none) were interviews with the people that worked for Atari during those times.

Being born in 1970, I've been able to experience the evolution of video games. Before I got my 2600 I remember going to a friend's to play Pong. Yes kids, there was a time when Pong was a home console. That's all it did. It let you play Pong on your TV. This particular version didn't even have wired controllers so you had sit right next to your opponent.

Atari Pong home console video game

After getting my 2600, it made me an Atari kid for life. I spent hours playing Combat (which I think counts as the first home video game deathmatch) Adventure, Yar's Revenge and so many others. Yes, even the bad ones! I remember going to the corner store, the mall and even the YMCA where my middle school did PE classes and having to put my quarter on the screen for next game. Excuse me for getting a bit off track! My point is, I've loved video games since there have been video games, so this book was something I couldn't pass up!

As I said, I pledged in late 2011 and the book was scheduled for July 2012 release. The actual release was November 2012 on Amazon. I just got my Kickstarer copy last month, February 2013. The authors were good about sending progress updates but there were people that were curious why it took so long for supporters to get their books and why we paid $15 more than the Amazon price. The answer about the price is that we were helping fund the last bit of the project costs to help get it published and the book was a reward for pledging.

My experience with other projects has been getting the product for retail, if not less than, as a pledge incentive. In all honesty, if I'd realized I could have pre-ordered for retail I would have but after finishing the book, I'm glad I could help make it happen.

That's my first completed "physical item" Kickstarter experience and doesn't change how I feel about the book: I love it! This thing is a beast at 796 pages. They deliver on what they promised and more. Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel have spent over 8 years putting this together. And what a couple of guys. Goldberg has been writing about gaming for 13 years and Vendel is the founder of the Atari Museum.

This is the first in a planned trilogy of Atari histories and covers Atari's birth up to the industry crash in 1984. The book is packed with b&w photos of employees at work and play, product ads and images, and assorted documents. The chapters are setup so that the images come at the end as a sort of visual recap. I think it makes the narrative flow well in that respect so I'm not getting distracted while reading.

Atari Gotcha video game ad flyer
Image from Flickr user Duke of Crydee
I can't even begin to go on about how much is in this book, but here's a few cool things:

  • Nolan Bushnell went on to create Chuck E Cheese after leaving Atari.
  • Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak designed the original prototype for Breakout.
  • One of my favorite games, Yar's Revenge, was created in response to a proposed port of the arcade game Star Castle. I can't believe I never connected them.
  • Atari had a communications division called AtariTel that created a video phone.

One complaint I've seen is there is no index in the book, which is something essential for an almost 800 page book! The authors have addressed this on the Kickstarter page and in reply to an Amazon review. This was due to the publishing restrictions at Amazon so they're putting together a downloadable pdf with the help of some crowd sourcing.

Anyway, to stop this before I go on too long, I'd recommend this book for 3 types of people:

1 - The Atari Kid: Anyone that grew up in the 70s/80s playing Atari at home or in the arcade and wants to know more about the company that made their favorite games.

2 - The Video Game/Arcade Historian: If you want to see where the roots of gaming began to grow, this is a great place to start.

3 - Future Contestant on a Nerd Competition Show: So that you don't look silly after boasting to know all about video game history and then incorrectly give the creators of Pong as the guys from King of Kong, losing the challenge. And also so that you realize video games started way before PlayStation.

5 comments:

  1. That does sound like an awesome read. Do they go into the Adventure game much? That was my favorite.

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    Replies
    1. Sadly no, because I loved that game. They did reply to a question about it either on the Kickstarter forum or on Amazon that Adventure was covered in another Atari book. They didn't mention what it was though but I want to find out!

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  2. Unfortunately there just wasn't room to discuss every single game, and this book is more about the people and stories behind the products vs. just a product book. We certainly cover plenty of the famous titles in the book however.

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  3. The other book is "The Ultimate History Of Video Games" by Steven L. Kent. It should be a prerequisite to this book. It's video games 101 written by a journalist while Atari Inc. Business Is Fun is a 400 level book written by the class professor.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Steve! I'll be sure to check that out.

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