The videogame-console war that currently pits Nintendo’s GameCube against Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2 just got a little more fierce. Joining the fray are some battle-tested old-timers, including Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision — and just about every bit-mappy, low-res game-box from the ’70s and ’80s. The Net now hosts a vast grassroots revival in vintage systems, with their block graphics and gloriously cheesy 2-D games. What’s the big deal? Well, for one, 21st-century consoles may render movielike graphics, but they also recycle proven formulas ad infinitum — Tony Hawk or Star Wars, anyone? ”The graphics get better, but gameplay hasn’t changed in years,” says Martin Goldberg, editor of the news site Classic Gaming ( ”I see more people going back to simpler games or more creative games where the graphics don’t matter.” Steering clear of the few pitfalls, we explored the Web of retro gaming:

ATARI AGE ( This site dishes daily on decades-dead Atari consoles, from the once-omnipresent 2600 to the more recent Jaguar. Beyond collecting and playing cartridges, fans write and post ”hacks” to update them (one, called Kabul!, turns the mad bomber from the ’80s cartridge Kaboom! into Osama bin Laden). And just last year, this site uncovered what may be The Story of 2001 (well, for Atari freaks): a playable version of a never-released, long-rumored 1983 cartridge based on The Lord of the Rings. A

CLASSIC GAMING A packed, slick hub for what’s most important in old games: playing the things. Name a defunct console — Vectrex, Intellivision, Odyssey 2 — and you can boot up the original games on your home computer using one of the ”emulators” collected here. Most out-of-circulation games — including arcade machines like Crazy Climber — now run on one of these emulators, but Goldberg says something is lost blasting Asteroids at your desk. ”You’re not getting the experience of playing the things in the arcade, with your friends,” he says, ”and for a lot of people, that’s where the memory is.” A-

PONG-STORY ( Drama! Intrigue! Patent infringement! Giant machines that play tennis! The strange history of Pong, considered by many to be the world’s first videogame, is told on this overly comprehensive site, complete with stacks of technical data and photos. From its beginnings as a ’60s government-lab contract to its ’70s home-system sensation, the story even includes some big-dollar maneuvering between electronics giants Magnavox and Atari. While this site can’t definitively tell you who invented the first videogame, there’s enough detail, including a how-to page on building your own Pong-box, to tear you away from your PS2 for, oh, five or six whole minutes. B