The name Atari is as synonymous with video games as Nintendo, stretching back to 1972. Yes, gaming was around then, though it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. But it had to start somewhere, and what a start it was.
Back then, Nolan Bushnell, with the help of a small technical team, released an arcade game titled "Pong" — a virtual take on the game of tennis, with knobs to control two blocky paddles and a blocky ball. While that doesn’t sound like much, it was a huge push forward for video games at the time. [ Indie Video Games Become Blockbusters ]
The team brought the first arcade unit to a California bar to test it, but difficulties were reported soon after installation. They examined the machine and discovered an enviable problem: It was overstuffed with quarters.
Atari went on to thrive with multiple arcade releases in the following years, including the popular "Asteroids," the trackball-enabled "Missile Command" and "Centipede," and one of the most visceral shooting games ever made, the wily "Tempest."
Atari moved to the home market in 1977 with the release of the Atari Video Computer System, culminating in the early '80s with the release of the third model, the Atari 2600. While the video quality was nowhere near today’s standards, fans thrilled to original games like "Haunted House" and "Adventure," as well as lower-quality versions of arcade titles "Pac-Man" and "Asteroids."
It wouldn’t last long, though. In 1983 came a “video game crash,” fueled by too many systems and not enough quality software. (Coleco and Mattel were heavy competitors at the time.) Atari didn’t help when it released a game based on Steven Spielberg’s film "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" — it is considered one of the worst video games ever created. Though never confirmed, it was rumored that Atari buried thousands of copies in the New Mexico desert.
Nintendo brought back the market in 1985 with its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and Atari tried its luck with hardware once more, first in 1989 with the hand-held, full-color Atari Lynx system, and four years later with the first 64-bit game system, the Atari Jaguar. Despite the technical innovations, neither system sold very well, and Atari all but disappeared from the market.
But the company returned in 2001, partnering with Infogrames to publish such racing titles as "MX Rider" and "Splashdown," as well as a game based on the "Transformers" franchise. Soon after, it would take advantage of its past, releasing "Atari Anthology" for Xbox and PlayStation 2. The game celebrated not only its home-game legacy but also its vast arcade lineup, including "Tempest" and "Asteroids." [ Midway Arcade: Classic Gaming for Your iPhone or iPad ]
Nowadays the company is still going strong, with the release of retail games like "Ghostbusters" and next week’s forthcoming "Test Drive: Ferrari Legends," as well as App Store revivals of classic favorites, including "Circus Atari" and "Centipede Origins."
Atari has left quite a footprint in the industry: kicking it off, surviving its downfall and returning to what it does best.