Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino

Rating: WORTHY!

I was really pleased with this book, for which advance review copy, I thank the publisher!

I don't see this as being widely or wildly popular, but it will definitely appeal to anyone who's ever had an interest in Atari. I never owned one of their gaming boxes, but I am familiar with their computers, particularly the 520 ST which was quite the sensation in some computer circles, although the sensation quickly died.

I found it odd that this computer was not featured in the book, but the book focused nearly exclusively on games and on Artari's heyday, and in particular on the artwork accompanying the games, featured either on the box or in the manual. The artwork on the computer screen was abysmal by today's standards, but it was successful in its time because no-one knew any better, and it was the best that computers could do until Commodore came along with its wildly successful 64.

The artwork on the boxes and manuals though, was another world. It served the purpose of course, of firing up the imagination of kids (young and old) who evidently didn't care about the huge discrepancy between the resolution of the art on the box and the blocky 8-bit game that came inside! That discrepancy isn't mentioned in the book, but the art is given the adulation it deserves. There are interviews with the people who did the work, along with a potted history of Atari and the company's spectacular growth and subsequent fall into financial difficulties and obscurity even as the distinctive logo lived on.

The artist profiles include such names as Marc Erikson, Rick Guidice, Steve Hendricks, Terry Hoff, James Kelly, and Cliff Spohn. Usually in something like this it seems to be all white guys, but that wasn't the case here, interestingly enough. There were guys of Asian ancestry such as Hiro Kimura, and Warren Chang, and also several girls involved in these various enterprises, including one who was an engineer. Go engineering girls! Names such as Sharon Ashton, Susan Jaekel and Evelyn Seto are deservedly celebrated along with the unnamed woman who banned a highly questionable illustration for Atari's Haunted House Game!

As for the artwork itself, it's remarkable in how consistently strong it is, as well as consistently varied! I loved it and envied it. I think this book works as a trip down memory lane, as a coffee table art book, and as a history of a corporation that really brought a change to people's lives in the field of leisure activity as well as in corporate culture. It may surprise you to learn that Steve Jobs once worked at Atari. No kidding!

And what of the games? There are too many to list, but all the old favorites are here: Air-Sea battle, Breakout, Centipede, Donkey Kong, E.T., Food Fight, Galaga, Home Run, Indy 500, Joust, Krull, Mario Brothers, Night Driver, Oscar's Trash Race, Pac-Man, Qix, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Space invaders, Tetris, Ultra PONG,Video Pinball, Wizards, and Yars' Revenge, along with mentions of some unreleased games such as Dukes of Hazzard. One thing which particularly interested me was the story of the Atari burial at Alamogordo. I'd seen a documentary about this ( Atari: Game Over.), and it was fun to read the article.

I really liked this book, and I recommend it. It comes with a foreword, an afterword, end notes, and an extensive index. There's an article here (or at least there was when I first blogged this!) which will give you a feel for the work. Game on!