Atari are on a proper charge. After a good few years of kicking around in the background, it’s in recent years that they’ve come to the fore again, taking some of their oldest, most loved games and hitting them with the Recharged stick. But whilst it’s great to play Breakout again and we’ll never tire of Asteroids, there’s much more to Atari than some revamped classics. In fact, there’s a half century of games behind them and it’s those 50 years which they are celebrating in the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC and Atari VCS.
We had the chance to sit down and find out more, throwing some questions at Chris Kohler of Digital Eclipse – they behind the development of Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration – hoping to understand more as to what was needed in order to make this Atari anniversary such a celebration.
Hi, please could you introduce yourself. What has been your involvement in the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration compilation?
Hi! I’m Chris Kohler, and I’m Editorial Director at Digital Eclipse. That means I head up the team that does the historical research and writing that goes into our classic game compilations, as well as the design of how those elements are presented in-game.
So, sell it to us – What is the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration and why should gamers be excited for it?
It’s a party celebrating 50 years of Atari—and you’re invited!
…Ok, maybe you want more than that. One way we’ve described Atari 50 is an “interactive documentary.” It’s so much more than a collection. It’s games, it’s original artwork, it’s design documents, it’s historical trivia and context, and it’s over an hour of all-new interview footage with Atari legends—and all these elements are presented together, in a series of interactive timelines. Journey through Atari history, viewing art, watching videos, playing games, all presented chronologically and in context. Start with the founding of the company in 1972, watch some archival footage of Nolan Bushnell, play some Pong, hear from its designer, keep going…
On a personal level, what are your memories of Atari growing up?
My first game system was an Atari 800XL computer. By the time I knew what a computer was, my dad had amassed an entire massive desk drawer full of pirat… uh, legally obtained software. That thing was a treasure trove for my brother and me, and we’d just pull out random disks and try whatever games were on there. I loved buying video games at yard sales and flea markets as a kid, so we always had the various Atari consoles around the house. It was inescapable!
And how do you even begin to condense 50 years of video games into the one collection?
We are taking a very big bite at the proverbial cookie, yes. This is where the interactive timeline presentation comes in. If we were to take this massive list of over 100 games spanning 50 years of development, and just lump them all into a single menu labeled GAMES, I feel like that would be doing a disservice to the player. Hence, everything is accessed via the interactive timelines—in chronological order, yes, but most importantly all in its proper context, so you can chart the evolution of Atari games over the last 50 years. (And, of course, if you just want to jump straight to a single game that you know you want to play, you’ll be able to easily do that as well.)
How have you gone about getting these games from their original status into a modern setting that is worthy of finding space on a modern console?
We believe all of these games are worthy of being accessible through a modern console! Classic games should be treated with the same respect as classic films or classic literature. That said, of course we’ve sunk a great deal of effort into the presentation. The bezels on the arcade games are some of the best I’ve ever seen; I’m blown away by the efforts of our engineers and artists on these. The “glow” setting for the vector-based games is also very cool. Not to mention the fact that for the vast majority of the games, we were able to do all-new high-resolution scans of the original boxes and manuals (some of which are very rare today).
Have there been any games you wish you could have included, but had to leave out?
Of course. So many of the best-remembered classics of this era are tied up in licensing deals that are very difficult, if not impossible, to work out. There’s a massive wish list at Digital Eclipse of impossible dream projects we’d love to bring back. Maybe someday! Never say never.
Similarly, which are your own favourites of the ones that are included?
Tempest 2000! Jeff Minter’s masterpiece, which blended his love of trippy light synthesizers and arcade shoot-em-up action. I’m so excited we have that in Atari 50, as well as many other games from the Atari Jaguar.
The Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration promises much, but what bonus features can we expect to find alongside the games?
Like any good Atari game, it’s full of Easter eggs. Happy hunting!
How was it to put your own spin on some of the Atari classics, in particular the likes of AirWorld and Neo Breakout?
Being able to finally finish the Swordquest quadrilogy is a major life moment for us at Digital Eclipse. Engineer/designer Dave Rees, ably assisted by the editorial team’s puzzle master Dan Amrich, has put together something that I think is quite worthy of the Swordquest legacy. And Jason Cirillo, who is a huge Breakout fan, has created something that I think embraces the core appeal of this long-lasting game while advancing the ball forward with some cool new ideas. Really proud of the whole team and what they’ve done with these Reimagined games!
And finally, will there be any multiplayer options included in the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, such as local or online leaderboards?
Many of the games in Atari 50 include local multiplayer modes—you can check in the Games Library and easily see which ones offer play for two or four players. (Some, like the original Pong, are multiplayer only, so definitely bring a friend for those!)
Huge thanks go out to Chris for giving us some of his time in the leadup to Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration ahead of release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC and Atari VCS on November 11th 2022. You can pre-order it on the Xbox Store right now.
Keep an eye out for our full review soon.