Atari was an important architect of the rise of videogame culture in America, creating the first home-console boom and bust years before the original NES even arrived on our shores. Unfortunately, Atari has also been inessential for nearly three decades now — a brand name handed from investor to investor, like a sad little baton in a retirement home relay race. So it’s not surprising that, in an interview with CNN, new CEO Jim Wilson talks a lot about getting Atari back to the good old days. “We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today,” says Wilson, which translates from the corporatese into: More mobile games!
And why not? Atari’s Greatest Hits has been downloaded 3.5 million times from iTunes since its release last Spring, indicating that middle-age-ish people with disposable income enjoy playing Centipede and Missile Command in elevators and subways just as much as they once enjoyed playing those games in their living room, in that sad window of history between when board games were cool and when videogames were actually good. Later in 2011, Atari released Breakout: Boost, which proved that videogames had finally advanced to a new artistic and technological pinnacle and could thus convincingly capture the strategic complexity of a ball bouncing off of bricks.
You could argue that the original Atari line-up achieved a kind of poetic simplicity. After all, one of the company’s first major releases was Pong, which is for videogames what Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat was for movies. Then again, forty years after Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat the cinema was in the midst of a Golden Age which did not involve anyone releasing exciting remakes of Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. But why be skeptical? After all, if this Atari re-Renaissance lasts, we might finally get the iPad version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was one of the worst videogames ever, but probably just because it didn’t have high-definition graphics.
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