Armchair Arcade Issue #7 - July 2005

Welcome to Armchair Arcade's Seventh Issue!

Thanks for checking out the latest issue of Armchair Arcade . After our last anniversary issue, we've gone through several staff changes, Website updates and project implementations. With all that has happened, we are proud to say that Armchair Arcade is now stronger than ever and ready to rise to new heights. This issue - our seventh in our roughly year and a half existence - provides further clarification of where we've always wanted to take the editorial direction of the publication.

There is a perception that Armchair Arcade is just about games. This is not true. We have always been about both computers and videogames. It is important to note though that many of us maintain older computers for three reasons: games, experimentation and programming. Programming what? Usually games. Few of us that collect have that Tandy Model I or Commodore Amiga in the corner for word processing or spreadsheet work, do we? Frankly, modern computers do that better and of course work better with modern printers. So, while everything seems to mostly revolve around games at Armchair Arcade , that's more a reflection of reality than any specific limitation we place on our subject matter or content. If you see an article in this issue on CP/M on the Apple II or on Linux from our last issue, don't be alarmed. Remember, it's all about computers and videogames and all related in some fundamental manner. In any case, we hope it always makes for fun and educational reading.

Besides the great new cover art by Richard Horsman - where you need to be sure to display the image both full-size and less than half-size to see the unique effect of his rendering technique - and our usual in-depth written content, we have another new video feature and two comics. With the "Antic Aardvark" comic, we are introducing our unofficial mascot, who appears in his first of many upcoming strips. Let us know what you think of the concept and direction as the Antic character and his world evolves.

Since our last issue, Armchair Arcade has been honored by industry stalwart, PC Magazine , as one of the Top 100 Websites of 2005. We have added selectable Website themes like "ColecoVision", "Amiga", "Atari XL", "Big Text" and the default "Armchair Arcade Classic". After finding a supplier to finally meet our high requirements, there is now an Armchair Arcade merchandise
shop, where a variety of high quality product is available for purchase, with both North American and International shipping zones. Our store will expand significantly in the coming months and your feedback will help guide it. While there, don't forget to check out its sister
store, where you can customize your own products. We also have a special discount offer for our readers for the wireless RGT: G1 Light Gun that works on any television ($5 off, Coupon Code: ACA800).

As mentioned above, our popular "System Ranking Matrix" has also been updated and is better than ever. This unique and valuable comparative videogame and computer system resource now features 86 different US systems and an all new look, with more on the way.

On a final note, between issues, the sudden passing of RetroGaming Radio's producer, Bryan "Kidhype" Smith, hit very close to home. As many of you know, without RetroGaming Radio and the original forums, the three original founders of Armchair Arcade never would have met and eventually created what we did. It is important to remember that our industry and success is nothing without the relationships we cultivate. It is therefore with heavy hearts that we send our sincerest best wishes to all of Bryan's family and friends. There is nothing more one can ask for in passing than making enough of an impact in life to be thought of and missed by others, and Bryan certainly succeeded in that.

Please enjoy the new issue and above all, have fun! Remember to let us know what you think - good or bad - by providing comments with the articles and features, participating in our great forum community, or sending e-mails. We'd love to hear from you!

P.S. Don't forget, if you want your product reviewed or would like to donate hardware or software, contact your nearest Armchair Arcade editor in the "
About Us" section.

Issue 7's articles:

Richard Horsman's Cover Image

The editor's speak in this issue's Hot Topic editorial: Backwards Compatibility: Good or Bad?

Atari: The Lost Years of the Coin-Op, 1971 – 1975
by Steve Fulton
In this complete four part article, Steve takes a closer look at Atari's earliest arcade years that led to their entry into the home market

A Chat with Chris Crawford
by Mat Tschirgi
Master game designer Chris Crawford shares more of his wisdom with our own Mat Tschirgi

Retrogaming and Beyond on Mac OS X
by Mark Vergeer
Mark looks at the current state of retrogaming on different hardware configurations under OS X Tiger

A Reader’s Guide to the System Ranking Matrix (2005 Update) - Technical Statistics and Ratings for U.S. Game Capable Systems
by Bill Loguidice
Application Development by Don Ferren
This overview of the System Ranking Matrix leads into the latest updates for the reference and comparison guide itself, which now features 88 different videogame and computer systems

The Best of Life in Eberron
by Gary Simon
GJS himself brings us an irreverent look inside the very serious world of RPG's with this selection of comics

Antic Aardvark in "Old School"
by Mike Vox, Bill Loguidice & Rene Jack
Armchair Arcade's unofficial mascot makes his first appearance in his self-titled comic strip

Video Review: Donkey Kong (GB, 1994)
by Mat Tschirgi
Mat brings us a video review of Donkey Kong for the GameBoy, which was one of the first games to support color through the Super NES cartridge, Super GameBoy

Character Selection: From Princess to Dwarf
by Christina Loguidice
Do you want to play a game as a princess or dwarf? Christina discusses why the choice is not always an easy one

Video Review: Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced (GBA, 2002)
by Mark Vergeer
Mark brings us our first bonus article for Issue 7 in this video review of a Konami compilation of truly classic arcade games for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance

Bonus Level: One of the articles above contains a hard-to-find link to some hidden content, otherwise known as an "Easter Egg" in videogame speak. Can you be the first to find it?

A Chat with Chris Crawford

Author and Screenshots: Mathew Tschirgi
Editing: Cecil Casey
Game Packaging Scans: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Mathew Tschirgi and David Torre

Chris Crawford may very well be one of the best game designers you've never heard of. He started working in the game design industry for Atari in 1979 and continued until 1984 when he switched over to computer game design. Many of the games he designed were ahead of their time. Balance of the Planet (1990, DOS) was the first environmental simulation game, managing to both illuminate and entertain players at the same time. Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot (1987, DOS) managed to convey a sense of paranoia and empathy through dialogues that primarily consisted of just icons.

Trust and Betrayal Front Cover - A pair of cat-like eyes sit over a outer space background
Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot Packaging (Front)
Trust and Betrayal Back Cover - Two small screenshots over a descri<i />ption of the game and its features
Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot Packaging (Back)


Impressed by the dialogue system in Trust and Betrayal, I was amazed at how similar it was conveyed to the dialogue system in Will Wright's The Sims (2000, Windows). Both games featured dialogue that was only represented via icons. I asked Crawford if he thought games in the future would reach a point where they focus more on character relationships with Non-Playable Characters over graphical interfaces.

Trust and Betrayal - Dialogue system, featuring several icons and a face outline showing emotional expres<i />sion
Trust and Betrayal - Dialogue system

"I'm sure of it; my own work has demonstrated the feasibility of this. It's no longer a question of hardware or software; it's just a matter of putting the money together and building products. The stuff is complicated and completely different in style from regular games. For example, if you want to do personal relationships, you have to stop thinking in terms of spatial relationships. You don't need maps in a game about relationships; you need data structures that measure and compute emotional relationships, not physical ones," Crawford said.

Crawford certainly has a point. The Sims, for instance, is about relationships in a sense because you have to make your avatar maintain as many relationships as possible with other "Sims" (computer controlled avatars) in order to get hired at better jobs. However, you never quite empathize with the relationships your avatar gets into; they simply speak gibberish to each other while nonsensical graphics pop up in comic-book style word bubbles.

The Sims - A dialogue between two characters
The Sims

Your avatar might hit on the Sim next door, but the Sim never chats about how unromantic her husband was when they went on a date last night. The abstraction of conversation in The Sims allows players to imagine whatever their avatar is talking about, but it also prevents players from truly connecting with their avatar.

Taking care of your Sim is like having a goldfish for a pet-you feed it every once in a while, but don't get any emotional response from it. Conversations are so abstracted that a true connection with other Sims is next to impossible, essentially making the game a spruced-up Tamagotchi.

Crawford's own Trust and Betrayal offers a more intriguing series of character interaction. Set on the moon of Kira, your avatar is an acolyte who is trying to gain a perfect set of auras to become the next Shepherd. To win the game, your avatar must defeat various computer controlled acolytes in mental combat. The majority of gameplay is spent chatting with fellow acolytes, trying to figure out which ones are friends and which ones are foes.

Trust and Betrayal - An encounter with an acolyte
Trust and Betrayal

After a certain number of moves, the mental combat portion comes into play.
The gameplay creates such a sense of paranoia in the player because they don't know which acolytes to trust. Every once in a while there is a random event which fleshes out the personalities of an avatar while offering the player a choice of how their avatar should react to a situation. While the game play takes a bit of getting used to, its unique method of allowing players to have their avatar interact with other acolytes on such a close level allows for a kind of emotional attachment to Non-Player Characters that is unusual for a computer game.

When asked for an example of a game that has come close to being a commercial interactive story project, Crawford points me to Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern's Facade, which has just been released online as a free download via a 800MB torrent. Crawford described an early version of it as, "It's a working interactive storytelling system, which is better than anybody else has achieved."

Facade has received raves from a variety of sources, including MSNBC and Gamespot.

With Crawford having been a veteran of the gaming industry, I decided to ask him for his thoughts on the whole "EAspouse controversy," in which the wife of an Electronic Arts employee posted a lengthy blog entry describing the work conditions her husband faced; this blog entry has influenced the International Game Developers Association to form a Quality of Life committee.

I was a bit surprised to learn that long hours weren't always mandated at gaming companies--or at least at Atari, where Crawford used to work.

"I worked hard on my projects, but only because I wanted to. Nobody ever pressured me to rush the job. Indeed, all through the 80s, the idea of crunch mode was seen with some distaste.

In the first place, crunch mode generates tons of mistakes; when you overwork people, they start to make mistakes. There's a reason why airline pilots are required to meet strict standards for sleep before a flight.

In the second place, crunch mode always demonstrates poor management. A manager should be able to schedule the project so as to bring everything in on deadline and under budget. Any manager who can't bring his projects in on schedule and under budget should be fired. In the games biz, however, crunch time is used as a means of exploiting the youngsters who agree to work at the company.

The system is rather like that used by armies. You maintain a corps of officers who run things, and add a thick layer of enlisted cannon fodder. The whole army is basically a plumbing system that funnels cannon fodder to the front, expends it, and replaces it with more. In the same way, the games biz maintains a cadre of old pros who manage the eager young fools willing to endure this nonsense for a few years. They come in, you work them like slaves until they drop out, then you open the outside door and crack and say, 'We'll take another employee now' and the luck guy who manages to push his way through the crowd elbows in and congratulates himself on his great good fortune," Crawford said.

Probably one of the main reasons for so many companies insisting on longer and longer periods of crunch time is the need to release a game as quickly as possible. This especially applies to sequels and licensed movie spin-offs, where a game title has to come out at the same time (or slightly before) the release of the film itself.

Let's say a gaming company works on a game for a few years called "Deadly Explosions". Much to their surprise, it's a breakout hit, forcing them to come out with a sequel, "Deadly Explosions 2: The More the Merrier!", under a tighter deadline. The longer it takes for a sequel to be released, the greater the potential is for the consumer to forget about the franchise in the first place. Ironically, the quicker a game is developed, the buggier it usually ends up being.

While it's ultimately better to see more original games in the first place, rather than seeing the usual cookie-cutter sequels, it's a hard fact that most of the more successful game companies are based on franchises. If the schedule for developing a game was increased by even six months, perhaps the final quality of the game itself would greatly improved due to extra development time. But these companies feel that this extra development cost would adversly impact their bottom line.

I decided to round out the interview with asking Crawford what he thought of the various level editors that came with recent games as a way for people to learn game design.

"I suppose that a rank beginner would learn something by playing with a level editor, but this just scratches the surface. The real heart of game design lies in designing systems of algorithms.

Those algorithms have to be expressed through a programming language, but the important part is the algorithms. There's no reason why a beginner shouldn't work in Java--it's clearly the language of the future. The performance hit that Java imposes is no longer a deal-killer, and there's nothing better for publicity than putting your work up on the web," Crawford said.

By creating games that try to innovate instead of emulate, Chris Crawford has proven himself as a designer who has been and remains ahead of his time. While this interview has just supplied a peek into his thoughts on current issues in the gaming industry, those who wish to find out more should check out Chris's official web site, Erasmatazz, which features plenty of archived articles covering a variety of topics.

A Reader’s Guide to the System Ranking Matrix -Technical Statistics and Ratings for U.S. Game Capable Systems - 2005 Update

Author and Article Layout: Bill Loguidice
Application Development: Don Ferren

View the matrix via the link on the main menu (System Matrix) or by clicking here

The System Ranking Matrix is designed to be an at-a-glance guide to the various capabilities and demonstrated marketability of the major videogame and games-capable computer systems released in the United States.

System Information lists the standard technical specifications of each system. However, rather than list what each system was theoretically capable of, I have listed the standards set by the majority of its game library. For instance, if a system supported up to 128 on-screen colors, but the majority of games utilized only 32, then 32 will be the number given. I have also rounded certain values for consistency.

The matrix not only provides objective technical details for each system, but also thoughtful Armchair Arcade Ratings, which are subjective and generally in relative comparison to each other, as well as specifically to other systems of their generation. While one system may have better technical specifications on paper than another, in real world observations that consider multiple factors such as game availability and quality, the technically weaker system may outscore it. Scores higher than 10 are allowed only where necessary, like Visuals and Audio, as are scores lower than 1. Only whole (such as 3.0) or half points (such as in 7.5) are allowed.

An asterisk (*) indicates a dominant game system in popularity for its era and class.

NOTE: We have tried our best to provide accurate information and careful evaluations of each system. However, you are encouraged to use the “Add your comment” section to provide corrections, feedback and anecdotes.
It's How Much You Get
As this classic Commodore advertisement demonstrates, "IT'S HOW MUCH YOU GET." The matrix is all about what you really get with each system. [Scan by Bill Loguidice from the back cover of Family Computing magazine, May 1985, Volume 3, Number 5]


Why a matrix? There is no easy way, without lots of research and hands-on experience, for the average user to visualize where a particular system fits in the context of history and technical capabilities, among other areas. We can spew strictly technical specifications, but the reality is most want to know what a system’s demonstrated or real-world abilities were.

There are so many factors to consider other than simple technical specifications. For instance, the Atari Jaguar may have been a 64-bit system, but did it ever show its full potential? Because the Jaguar was 64-bit, did that automatically make it better than Sega’s later 32-bit Saturn? How do the legendary Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS) or Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) stack-up to Sony’s PlayStation 2 (PS2) or Microsoft’s Xbox in key categories? These are questions that can only be answered through direct observation. That’s the purpose behind this matrix—to sift through the hype as objectively as possible so we’ll have our answers.

Why only focus on the U.S.? One reason is to keep the number of systems to a more manageable number. Another reason is that this is where the author’s expertise lies. It is open to see if other authors will take up the cause for other territories that they’re intimately familiar with, such as Japan or Europe. In any case, if you feel there is a system we omitted or would like to comment on other territories, please write in our discussion forums or use the “Add your comment” section provided for each system within the matrix itself.

The Armchair Arcade Ratings has eight categories leading up to a ninth, which is the overall score.

Let’s face it. For many, the Atari 2600 and NES are the penultimate game machines of their eras or even all-time, but the reality is technology has moved on, and, while the games are certainly no less fun than they used to be, areas like control have arguably improved, and audio-visual technology has definitely leapt forward. Therefore, while the Atari 2600 and NES can potentially achieve perfect 10’s in several categories, it will be impossible to give them scores anywhere near 10 in some of the more technically-skewed categories. This gives relatively new systems like the Nintendo GameCube – which has a high ranking in visual and audio categories, but a lower ranking in software depth – a fairer basis of comparison. Alternately, the older the system, the more potentially mature the offerings, such as in software diversity, which should help to offset many of the newer system’s technical advantages.

Category Explanation
Let’s examine each of the nine categories, in order.

This category takes into account such features as a system’s resolution, colors and animation—basically everything that ends up on a screen. Some systems such as Tiger’s and Nintendo’s original GameBoy can display relatively high resolution black and white graphics, but blur on moving objects detracts from the overall experience. In fact, difficulty in actually seeing the action on the screen of the original GameBoy further hurts its score in this category since a good light source is required. Other systems like Sony’s PlayStation 1 have high resolution modes that were rarely used, so that factors little as a benefit in its final scoring. In fact, most systems have theoretical polygon or sprite output values that are quite high on paper, but in real world applications like games, they were rarely, if ever, realistic targets. Our final example to show how visuals were judged – the original Commodore Amiga – had a 4,096 color mode which was a bit odd and difficult to properly utilize, so most games only used 32 colors, so this is what that system was rated on.

This category judges a system’s inherent sound abilities, except where otherwise specified. For example, if a significant number of games utilized an add-on and the add-on was and still is quite common – like with the Magnavox Odyssey2’s and Mattel Intellivision’s voice modules – then those may be counted in the rating. For a system like the Apple IIgs – which in theory had incredible inherent stereo sound capabilities for its era – it was nonetheless crippled by the fact that without a relatively obscure add-on, it was only able to output a mono signal. In more modern examples, the Nintendo GameCube is “only” able to output Dolby Pro Logic II sound (analog cables), while the Sony PlayStation 2 and the Microsoft Xbox can output the superior Dolby Digital (digital cables), but only the Xbox utilizes the ability in the majority of its games. Nuances like these affect each system’s ratings.

Controller Options and Quality
In order to achieve a high ranking in this category, portable and handheld systems must offer an especially well-built control panel, and other types of systems must feature a wide-range of easy-to-find and well supported options. Criteria includes whether the system offers digital or analog control (or both, as applicable), gamepads, joysticks, light guns, dance or foot pads (or other specialty options), steering wheels, keyboards, vibration/force feedback, proper accommodations for more than one player, and so on. The more one system has and supports, the better the scoring.

Add-Ons, Peripherals, Expandability, Features
Items like disk drives, memory cards, display options, headphone support, touch screen capabilities, RAM add-ons, printer support and other types of upgrades and modules are the criteria used to evaluate this category. At the top is a system like the modern PC, which is the ultimate type of generalist system, with a seemingly endless array of useful and useless add-ons (sometimes at the expense of ease-of-use), while near the bottom is a system like the Emerson Arcadia 2001 where the system you got is the exact system you were always stuck with, hard-wired controllers and all. Having a lower score in this category does not necessarily indicate a poor system, but it’s almost always preferable to have more options and flexibility to tweak your entertainment experience rather than less.

Software Lineup Diversity and Complexity
First, this category determines whether a system has a good range of game genres with sufficient diversity. Second, this category determines if any of the games for the system in question have depth, or whether they are predominantly shallow diversions (a mix is best, but all depth over all shallow would rate a bit higher). For instance, the Atari 2600’s software library includes arcade, puzzle, racing, role-playing, adventure, fighting, card and text games, and offers options for those seeking quick or longer-term play, so it scores high. The Mattel Aquarius, on the other hand, misses many key genres, so its rating is quite low.

Software Density and Raw Number of Mainstream Titles
This category puts a great deal of emphasis on the total number of titles in a system’s library. Some systems, like the Nintendo Virtual Boy have a handful, while others, like the Sega Dreamcast have hundreds, while others still, like the modern PC, have countless thousands, so each system is scored accordingly. The primary focus of this category is on commercial titles, but certain systems either due to age or popular use of public domain software, blur the commercial designation, hence the use of “mainstream” as a qualifier. So any well distributed, readily available game of acceptable quality counts towards the system’s library and thus rating.

Ease to Set Up Optimal Game Playing System
DOS-based PC systems could be very powerful and quite flexible – thus rating highly in other categories – but were often quite unpleasant to try and set up to actually get a game running (can you free enough memory?), then working optimally (is there enough memory to have sound?), so these will score lower than a typical console, like the Atari Jaguar, which is basically plug-and-play. Some systems score lower in this category because of uncomfortable ergonomics or needlessly complex setups, physical or otherwise.

Initial Popularity
This category examines a system’s popularity with the general buying public, with a heavy bias towards when first released. Some systems achieved greater fame after they were pulled from the market, such as GCE’s Vectrex, and some systems are still popular with certain communities today, like Atari’s 2600, but those types of scenarios are not heavily factored into the score because of all the variables involved (for instance, newly published software is available for the Atari 5200, but some of the original software is difficult to find).

Overall Score
The grand culmination where we arrive at our system’s final ranking. What is your favorite system’s total score?

Category Breakdown Example
Finally, in order to illustrate the thinking that went into each rating, read the following breakdown of the Initial Popularity category.

Ranking of 0.5: APF M-1000, MP1000 and Imagination Machine; Entex Adventurevision; Fairchild Channel F; Memorex Video Information System (VIS); RCA Studio II; Spectravideo SV-series; Timex Sinclair 2068; Tomy Tutor; and Watara Supervision
The systems that achieved a 0.5 as a ranking essentially were released into the marketplace and available for purchase for at least a limited time, but few made purchases and even today the most hardcore gamers have a hard time identifying the systems.

Ranking of 1: Coleco Telstar Arcade, Commodore 16 and Plus/4, CP/M Compatible Systems (Kaypro, Osborne, etc.), Emerson Arcadia 2001, Mattel Aquarius with Mini Expander and 16K Memory Cartridge, Milton Bradley Microvision, NUON DVD Platform, Tapwave Zodiac, Tiger Telematics Gizmondo, Timex Sinclair 1000/1500 with 16K Memory Expansion, Toy Quest GoGo TV, and XaviX XaviXPORT Game Console
The systems that achieved a 1 as a ranking may have been released to some fanfare or expectations, but never took off in the marketplace, particularly in reference to gaming. The two Commodore systems suffered from a lack of software compatibility with the best selling Commodore 64 and were too underpowered at the time of release to establish their own niche. Other systems like the Tiger Telematics Gizmondo and Toy Quest GoGo TV are too new to understand their final impact on the market.

Ranking of 1.5: Commodore Amiga CD32, Commodore PET Series, IBM PCjr with Second Generation Keyboard, Nintendo Virtual Boy, Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 3 (CoCo3) - 128K Unit, and Tiger
The systems that achieved a 1.5 as a ranking were popular or long lasting enough to have a devoted or somewhat mainstream following, but never in significant enough numbers to be competitive with other contemporary systems. The Commodore PET series of computers for example, did not have the audio-visual horsepower of other systems of the day to bring their gaming abilities to the next level, likely limiting their ultimate potential for market growth.

Ranking of 2: Bally Astrocade (and brand variations); Magnavox Odyssey2 with Voice Module; Nokia N-Gage/QD; Sega 32X; SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color; and Tandy TRS-80 Model I, III, IV
The systems that achieved a 2 as a ranking made enough impact on the marketplace to have reasonable sales and a memorable existence for most gamers. The Bally Astrocade actually had several re-releases, which helped its score, while SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color was always facing a losing battle going against Nintendo’s GameBoy juggernaut, but was around long enough and at the right time (a larger pool of gamers to draw from, for instance) to garner a loyal following.

Ranking of 2.5: Cell Phone Platform (BREW or J2ME-enabled late model phones), and Commodore VIC 20 (Vic-20)
The Commodore Vic-20 was a best-selling computer, but ultimately had a shortened lifespan once its more powerful sibling, the 64, was released. BREW or J2ME cell phones are in a lot of consumer’s hands with lots of gaming options available, but it’s still a growing category in the US.

Ranking of 3: 3DO Multiplayer, Apple IIgs, Atari 5200 SuperSystem, Atari 7800 ProSystem, Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD, Coleco Adam, GCE Vectrex, IBM and Compatible PC’s up to 286's with CGA graphics and PC speaker sound (DOS), NEC Turbo-Grafx 16 CD/Super CD, Philips CD-I with Digital Video (DV) add-on, Pocket PC Platform (late model), Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 1/2 (CoCo1 or CoCo2) - Up to 64K, Sega CD, and SNK Neo Geo and Neo Geo CD
The systems that achieved a 3 as a ranking had acceptable lifespans and a good amount of support. However, all of these systems lacked something to take their popularity to the next level, most typically never being able to overcome more popular contemporary competition. The Atari 5200 SuperSystem had poor controllers and was released too close to the videogame crash of 1984 to have more of an impact. The Pocket PC platform, while currently still active, has always taken a back seat to the Palm platform in terms of raw numbers. Systems like the Radio Shack TRS-80 CoCo2 was always a fourth or fifth choice in the U.S. to systems like the Apple II series, Atari 8-bit computers and Commodore 64, among others. Apple’s IIgs was limited by Apple themselves since it was in direct competition against their own Macintosh line, which Apple deemed the future of the company.

Ranking of 4: Coleco ColecoVision
Coleco’s system was only hampered by being somewhat in the shadow of Atari’s wildly popular 2600 and the videogame crash of 1984. The console had a brief life in mail order outlets after the crash.

Ranking of 4.5: Atari ST Series, Commodore Amiga Series - AGA Chipset, and Texas Instruments TI-994/A with Voice Module
The Atari ST series of computers never caught on like their contemporary PC, Macintosh, and Commodore Amiga (ECS) competitors, but still had a market impact. Commodore’s AGA chipset systems like the Amiga 1200, never reached the same popularity levels of their own prior ECS-based models and were soon overrun by the popularity of Windows PC’s. The Texas Instruments TI-994/A was popular, particularly after drastic price cuts, but never cracked into the top three systems of the day, which were the Apple II series, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 8-bit computer line.

Ranking of 5: Apple Macintosh pre-iMac PowerPC-based - Full Color, Apple Macintosh up to 16 color 680x0-based, Apple Macintosh up to G4 or better with Current Generation 3D graphics, Atari Lynx, Mattel Intellivision with Voice Module, and PalmOS Platform (late model)
The systems that achieved a 5 as a ranking represent the median of popularity. In the case of Apple’s Macintosh, it was always a popular system, but never approached the top in any of its iterations. Today, the Macintosh line has been marginalized by the popularity of Windows PC’s, but counts among its many millions of owners a rabidly devoted core of fans. Mattel’s Intellivision is one of the more interesting stories. While never reaching the top of the videogame world, Mattel’s system saw several revisions of compatible hardware and can count among its contemporary competitors both the Atari 2600 and NES, having a long and eventful lifespan.

Ranking of 6.5: NEC Turbo-Grafx 16 - Turbo Express, and Sega Saturn
Both of these systems were usually in third place in their respective generations, but still had devoted followings with good support and a continuously loyal fan base. The biggest problem with each of these systems was that they were up against systems that would become legendarily popular, which in the Saturn’s case was Sony’s PlayStation and in NEC’s case, the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles.

Ranking of 7: Sega Game Gear, Sega Master System (SMS) and Sony PlayStation Portable* (PSP)
Both of the systems from Sega were distant seconds to Nintendo machines, but were popular choices for those that wanted an alternative to the choice of the masses. Relatively speaking, both of these systems did extremely well. Sony's PSP is too new to pass final judgement, but so far seems fairly promising.

Ranking of 7.5: Tandy 1000 Series
This series of systems from Tandy were among the most popular of the mostly PC compatible systems of its era, with some unique features such as improved graphics and sound that received great developer support.

Ranking of 8: Commodore Amiga Series - ECS Chipset, Amiga CDTV; Microsoft Xbox*; Nintendo 64; Nintendo DS*; Nintendo GameCube*; and Sega Dreamcast
None of these systems ever reached the top spot in their respective generations, but still moved a tremendous number of units and received a wealth of support. Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube are still going strong, creating an unprecedented long term three console race with Sony’s unstoppable PlayStation 2 (PS2).

Ranking of 9: Atari 8-bit Computers/XEGS* - 48K - 64K, and IBM and Compatible PC’s up to 386's with EGA graphics and Ad Lib sound (DOS)
Atari’s 8-bit computer line was active in the mainstream from approximately the late 1970’s to the very early 1990’s. While Atari was never able to overcome Apple’s II series or Commodore with the all-time best selling computer, the C-64, the devoted following and vast amount of support made these systems a good choice for the savvy or “accidental” consumer. The IBM EGA and Ad Lib standard began the PC’s dominance of computer gaming, finally reaching a point where the PC specification was becoming technologically competitive with other formats.

Ranking of 10: Apple II Series* - 48K - 128K, Atari 2600 VCS - Standard Unit*, Commodore 64/128* - 64K Software, IBM and Compatible PC’s up to Pentium II's with First Generation 3D (Monster 3D equivalent) graphics and Soundblaster Pro sound (DOS/Windows)*, IBM and Compatible PC’s up to Pentium IV's with Current Generation 3D graphics and Soundblaster Audigy-level sound (Windows)*, IBM and Compatible PC’s up to Pentium's with VGA/SVGA graphics and Soundblaster sound (DOS)*, Nintendo Enterntainment System (NES)*, Nintendo GameBoy Advance/SP*, Nintendo GameBoy Color*, Nintendo GameBoy*, Nintendo Super Nintendo*, Sega Genesis*, Sony PlayStation 1 (PSX/PS1/PSOne)*, and Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2)*
These systems were without question the best selling and most popular computers, consoles, and handhelds of their day, garnering huge followings and tremendous support, often to the detriment of other contemporary systems. For whatever reason, these were or are the systems that resonated with the buying public and set the mark that all other competitors strive to reach.

Let us know what you think of the rankings. If you feel a system should be higher or lower in a category, let us know. While you may feel passionately about a system, facts are always appreciated to backup your opinions. Remember, this matrix was not created to show favoritism to any one system or systems, but to provide as objective a ranking as possible in several key categories. Since this is a “living” document, it is safe to assume that there will be future revisions based on feedback and new system releases. Finally, while great care was taken to make sure the System Information data was researched as carefully as possible, common conclusions may be wrong (for instance, about the system’s most popular resolution) or other data may be incorrect. Since accuracy is our highest goal, please provide your corrections as you uncover possible errors. Keep in mind, the “Add your comment” section will be everyone’s best friend in order to make the matrix as indispensable a reference and discussion tool as possible, so make use of it!

Antic Aardvark in "Old School"

Click for Antic Aardvark in Old School

Atari: The Lost Years of the Coin-Op, 1971 – 1975 (Parts I - IV)

Author: Steve Fulton

Editing and Online Layout: Bill Loguidice and Cecil Casey

Special Thanks: Dan Hower, who graciously allowed us to use many of the images from his collection for this story. You can visit Dan’s Websites at and You can view Dan’s arcade flyers and many others at the fascinating

Additional Special Thanks: Curt Vendel, for his assistance to the author with this article. You can see his impressive collection of Atari information at

The classic games of the Atari coin-op world have previously been well established. Books like The First Quarter explain the history of games like Pong, Breakout! and Asteroids in lurid detail, but leave out many of the games Atari produced in-between. Of the many recent “Atari Classics” game collections released by Hasbro and Infogrames (now using the Atari name), very little of this early history is covered. Most of these early arcade coin-ops were designed as discreet logic machines built out of individual integrated circuits with no microprocessor. This makes them very hard to emulate with applications like MAME because each game is essentially its own virtual machine that must be programmed and tailored for a single title. Added to that is the belief that many of these lost games are simple evolutions of Pong, so you can see why the games are almost universally dismissed. Why take the time to create a system to emulate a single, uninteresting Pong variant, when you could just as easily emulate a microprocessor that can play hundreds of games? However, a closer look at these very early games reveals some salient points of interest. Each game that Atari released was an evolutionary step towards a revolution: game play was more complex, controls more precise, graphics a bit sharper, the hardware more elegant, the cabinets more functional, the marketing more targeted. Further, while many think the first successful arcade conversion for the Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS) was Taito’s Space Invaders, this is simply not the truth. A good percentage of the original 2600 cartridge library was based on classic Atari coin-ops created from these “lost” years. We will explore these arcade coin-op games year-by-year.

Note: Look for the graphic above within the timeline, as this denotes the known or possible roots of famous Atari 2600 games.


1971: Spring: Bushnell Creates Computer Space

Nolan Bushnell created the first coin-op videogame in his daughter’s bedroom in 1971 while working for Ampex. Inspired by Steve Russell’s Space War, a game he played on the DEC PDP-1 at the University of Utah in the 1960’s, Bushnell worked on his own way to bring the computer game experience to the masses. The largest technical hurdle he faced was inventing a way to fit a game designed to run on a mini-computer that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars into a marketable product that was as affordable as a pinball machine. His brilliant breakthrough was deciding to use discreet logic chips to design the game instead of a microprocessor. This process of creating a game in discreet logic involved assembling individual logic chips on printed circuit boards. The game was programmed completely in hardware. In essence, a discreet logic game was a computer designed for one purpose and one purpose only. While this idea might have seemed like a step backwards to computer engineers, a genius like Bushnell knew it was exactly the solution he was seeking.

1971: Autumn: Selling Computer Space

Bushnell sold his idea to Nutting and Associates, and in late 1971 they attempted to sell and market the game as Computer Space. Nutting had been very successful with a Quiz Show coin-operated game earlier that year, and hoped Computer Space would help them become the leaders in a new market. However, that was not to be. Computer Space landed with a resounding thud. Amusement operators at the 1971 AMOA (Amusement & Music Operators Association) show in Chicago were confused by Computer Space. They were used to buying jukeboxes and pinball machines and had no idea what to do with a videogame. The controls were too complicated and the game too confusing for the average bar room (read: drunk) player. However, the initial failure of Bushnell’s invention did not predict the meteoric rise to success that would soon follow. He had devised a way to make videogames available to the common person and was about to create an entire industry in the process.


1972: May 17: Bushnell Visits Magnavox while working for Nutting

While still working for Nutting, Bushnell visited Magnavox to take a look at the TV videogame system that Ralph Baer had developed for the company. Magnavox had invited interested parties in the electronics industry to try to drum-up enthusiasm for their newest technological breakthrough. The Magnavox Odyssey could play several simple games on a TV, but required real world pieces like dice and playing cards. The game system was designed around an analog computer, which was a computer used for applications that required a continuous change of one or more variables, usually based on the then new idea of an IC amplifier circuit (although tube-based systems had been in use for years). Bushnell left unimpressed as the games did not inspire him and the visuals looked fuzzy. However, the inclusion of a ping-pong style game in the demo would come back to haunt him years later.

1972: June 27: Atari Incorporated

Bushnell, desiring more profits from his games, quit Nutting Associates and formed his own company with Ted Dabney. Bushnell founded Atari's forerunner, Syzygy Corp., with $250 from his savings account, some of it earned from Computer Space at Nutting and Associates. Ted Dabney also contributed $250. When the duo found out the name Syzygy was already taken, they chose the name Atari instead (Atari roughly translates to “you are about to be engulfed”, which comes from the traditional game of GO).

The first use of Atari’s signature logo or mark; the Fuji Symbol (), was registered on June 1, 1973. According to Atari’s trademark registration, it was a design “consisting of a stylized representation of Mount Fujiyama” (Mount Fujiyama, which overlooks Tokyo, Japan, is actually the incorrect way to say its name as the word “Yama” in Japanese means “mountain” already, so native Japanese usually call it “"Fuji-san").

It is interesting to note, the name Syzygy was not jettisoned as early as one would believe. Early flyers for Pong described the game as “From Atari Corporation, Syzygy Engineered.”.

Nutting and Associates did not stop making videogames after Bushnell left to start Atari. Billing themselves as the place “Where videogame technology began”, they went on to create the pong variants Computer Space Ball, Table Tennis, Table Tennis 2, Ric-o-chet and Paddle Derby, as well as one of the first shoot-em-up videogames, Missile Radar. Their most interesting contribution to videogame history was Watergate Caper, a safecracker/code breaker game released in 1973.

In case anyone is mistaken in thinking Grand Theft Auto was the first videogame to have players willingly commit a felony, Watergate Caper tempted gamers to “Break Into Watergate Yourself” 30 years prior. Nutting’s own literature bragged that the game “simulates the larceny in all of us to break in and not get caught”. The company’s last entry in the videogame arena was Wimbledon, a full-color version of pong, released in 1974. Dave Nutting went on to work as a contractor for Midway starting in 1975, where he helped produce the first microprocessor-based videogame (Intel 8080), Gun Fight (Strange Fact: This game started at Taito Corp., as a discrete logic game, and was bought and converted to the Intel 8080 by Nutting -ed.). He then went on to design and program two of the best coin-ops from the golden age, Gorf and Wizard of Wor.

1972: Summer: Pong Engineered

While Bushnell kept Atari in the black by servicing and leasing pinball machines, he hired Al Alcorn, a fellow engineer from Ampex, to develop another videogame. Nolan Bushnell lied to Al Alcorn about having a contract with GE for home Pong to lure him into working for Atari. At first, Bushnell wanted to create a driving game as he had a contract with Bally to do just that, but decided to have Alcorn work on something simple first. The primitive ping-pong game he had seen at Magnavox seemed like a good candidate, but had to be improved. Neither Alcorn nor Bushnell were impressed with Odyssey and its analog components. In any event, Pong was only practice and Bushnell was not planning to take it seriously.

Just like Computer Space, Pong was a discreet logic machine. It had no microprocessor, but instead used individual integrated circuits to create the logic for the game. The key to saving money was designing the game so well that it used the fewest number of chips. Alcorn added small details like “English” and simulated physics that went beyond Bushnell’s original concept, but still kept the circuit board design elegant and cheap.

1972: September: Pong Tested at Andy Capp’s Tavern

The first Pong game is placed in Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California. People started lining up before the bar opened just to play the game. In some cases, patrons wouldn’t order any drinks at all, but just went in to play Pong.

Bushnell’s goal was for Pong to be designed to be as easy as possible to play. Instead of the pages of instructions for Computer Space, Pong instructions were the model of simplicity: "Avoid missing ball for high score." Two weeks after installing the game, Al Alcorn received a late-night phone call from the manager of the bar. T he game had broken down and he wondered if Alcorn could come fix it. When Alcorn arrived to check the machine, he found a most unusual problem—there were so many quarters jammed into the coin drop that the game had stopped working. Under the coin drop was a plastic milk jug with the top cut off, and it was so filled with quarters that the “credit” mechanism could no longer work!

1972: November: Bushnell Tries to Sell Pong, Decides to Manufacture it Himself

The Pong game was offered to Bally first in lieu of a driving game, but they declined to purchase it as they wanted something that didn’t require two players. Amusement manufacturers didn’t “get it” either. In 1972, pinball and other amusement game manufacturers made machines with many electromechanical and moving parts. Pong had only two moving parts and this baffled them. Few manufacturers could understand or envision the industry changing.

Instead of pursuing established manufacturers, Bushnell decided to manufacture Pong himself. It was his boldest move yet and would ultimately prove successful. He leased an old roller rink in Santa Clara and converted it into a production line. The first Pong game shipped from this facility in November 1972. Bushnell filed a patent for the Pong on-screen control mechanism on November 24, 1972 (US Patent 3,793,483), but not for the game itself.

1972: November 29: Pong Officially Released

“The Newest 2 Player Video Skill Game…”

Bushnell distributed Pong along the pre-existing arcade routes he and Ted Dabney had worked to keep Atari afloat while their first game was being created. Each machine took in around $200 a week, which was nearly four times what other (pinball) games and jukeboxes took in on the same routes.

Carl Sagan wrote of Pong, "As a result of Pong, a player can gain a deep intuitive understanding of the simplest Newtonian physics." The day Pong was released is marked by the coin-op industry as the first nail in the coffin of pinball.


 Atari: The Lost Years of the Coin-Op, 1971 – 1975



1974: First Quarter: Atari Develops Growing Pains

The year 1974 proved to be a difficult one for Atari. The “Jackals”, as Bushnell had described them, continued to make copies of his games for distribution. The major Pong-style games that flooded the market in 1974 were:

Competition was just one of Atari’s worries; manufacturing issues had also become a problem. Assembly line quality was terrible and $800 a day in equipment was lost to theft. The line workers were not happy and complained of low wages even though their $1.75 an hour was actually above the minimum wage. Bushnell hired outside managers to help solve these problems, but this only led to further unrest between labor and management. Bushnell was an engineer at heart and the details of being company president were bogging him down.


Bushnell’s concentration on engineering meant that while labor might have been problematic, R&D and engineering were still in good standing. Designers and engineers were having a blast designing and testing new games. They had “rip-roaring” brainstorming bashes at places like hotels and a condo complex where 40 people would get together and discuss ideas for games. Bushnell saw engineering as the core value of his business and made moves to bolster Atari’s engineering capacity even further. He contracted with ex-Ampex employees, Steve Mayer and Larry Edmonds, who were running a high-tech facility in Grass Valley. Atari started an exclusive relationship with this pair of engineers and the facility became known as the “Grass Valley Think Tank”.


1974: January 30: Atari Starts Using the Trademark “Innovative leisure”



January 30, 1974: Atari started using the term “Innovative leisure” to describe their business. They would file to trademark this term in April 1976, and be granted that mark in February 1977.


1974: January 30: Atari Introduces Superpong

“An Improvement On a Proven Money Maker From The Originators Of Pong…”

Superpong was a one or two player contest. This game was an evolution over Pong that used variable ball speeds, angles and three paddles (vertically aligned) for each player. To further spice-up the game, the ball was served from random positions on the screen. Atari described Superpong as “not easily mastered”, but since it is a relatively unknown game, it was probably too hard at a time where ball and paddle games were losing their appeal. Pong competition was too fierce at this point in the coin-op world for Superpong to make any sort of impact. The hardware featured a discreet logic design and was advertised as Durastress™, as well as marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.

1974: February: Atari Introduces Rebound (Kee copies with Spike!)


“It’s A Whole New Ball Game…”



Rebound was Atari’s fourth coin-op game and was a simple version of volleyball that required two-players. Steve Jobs signed off on the wiring diagram for the cabinet. A schematic dated 11/31/73 describes this game as “Volleyball”. The game was like a vertical version of pong in which hitting the ball would send it on a parabolic path over four short lines that represented a net. The hardware featured a discreet logic design and was advertised as Durastress™, as well as marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.

Rebound was also featured in an unreleased variation on Puppy Pong named Puppy Pong Volleyball. The game used the same cabinet as Puppy Pong, but used the Rebound game.


“The Spike-Man Cometh…from Kee …”


Spike was a copy of Atari’s Rebound. Like most Kee games, features were added to slightly differentiate them from their Atari cousins. In this case, the “Spike” button was added.

1974: March 4: Atari Introduces Quadrapong (Kee copies with Elimination)


“Another Video Action Favorite! Quadrapong is the newest addition to Atari’s Line of unique video skill games. …”



Quadrapong was a two- to four-player table-top, look-down cabinet. Each player was given four points and tasked with defending one side of a diamond-shaped screen. Players lost a point each time one of the others score in his goal and was eliminated if this happened four times. At that point, the goal was sealed and became a solid wall. Hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.


“The look of the future is yours’ today with Elimination! …”



Elimination, from Kee Games, was a copy of Atari’s Quadrapong from Kee Games. Like most Kee games, features were added to slightly differentiate them from their Atari cousins. In this case, “extra life pots” are randomly placed on the playfield and the player who hits the ball into one gets a point added back to their score.


1974: March 18: Atari Introduces Gran Trak 10 (Test Marketed)


“From the ‘Pong People’, New videogame concept, big racing action, fantastic sound effects, worldwide market in millions! …”




Gran Trak 10 was the first driving coin-op videogame with a steering wheel, gear shift, and gas and brake pedal controls. It was also the machine that could have ended Atari before they ever really got started. The game was a race against the clock on a single track and there were no other cars except for the player’s. Oil slicks made the player’s car spin-out and the side of the track had to be avoided at all costs. This was a very simple version of many racing games to come. ROM memory was used (in the form of diodes) to store the sprites for the car, track and oil slick.


Atari’s new Grass Valley (Most appropriately named at that time. -ed) think tank was used to design the game, but Atari proper was disappointed by engineering flaws in the original design. Al Alcorn had to step in and fix the game before it went into production.


This fix created costly rework and delays for the game. Worse, an accounting error had Gran Trak 10 selling for $995, when it cost $1095 to manufacture. Because of these problems, Atari lost $500,000 on Gran Trak 10, which was as much as the company had made the previous year. The European version of the game was called: Race Circuit Automaten. The game was advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.

1974: July 24th: Atari Announces Trak 10


Later in 1974, Gran Trak 10 was repackaged into a smaller cabinet and renamed Trak 10. The game cabinet was designed to fit into the smaller spaces that small bar, grocery store and laundromats could set-aside for games.


1974: April 1: Time Magazine Report on “Space Age Pinball” (and Atari)

Some interesting notes from the report:


1974: May: Atari’s Second Fiscal Year Ends with a Loss

Atari loses $500,000 in 1973 - 1974 (mostly from the Gran-Trak 10 problems) and cuts half of its staff. Pong games had stopped selling and Bushnell started to look like a one-trick pony. He needed to turn-the-company around with a hit game and some engineering innovations if Atari was going to survive.


1974: Summer: Atari in Dire Financial Straits

In the summer of 1974, Atari was close to bankruptcy and very under capitalized. The company tried to grow too quickly. Atari Japan, set up in 1973, was a complete failure. Bushnell had no idea how to conduct business in Japan. He sold Atari Japan to one of the founders of Namco. The relationship between the two companies would continue for almost two decades.


1974: June: Kee Introduces Formula K (Copy of Gran Trak 10)



Formula K was a one player racing game from Kee games that was a copy of Gran Trak 10. The game featured a different cabinet than Gran Trak 10 and added a new “Lap Timer” feature. Hardware was discreet logic, with ROM used for car and oil slick graphics. No notes are available on how profitable Kee was at this time.


1974: June: Atari Introduces Coupe De Monde


This was a one player only soccer-themed Pong-style game released by Atari Europe. This game was sold in both upright and table-top models. Hardware was discreet logic.

1974: August 21: Atari Introduces Gran Trak 20


“Double your pleasure… double your earnings! …”



Gran Trak 20 was a one or two player version of Gran Trak 10 designed at Grass Valley and fixed by Al Alcorn. This game featured two complete sets of controls (steering wheel, brake pedal, gas pedal, four speed gear shift) and used a black and white screen. The game can be played one or two player, but the two player feature required one quarter per participant. If a player obtained a score of 40 or more, they were awarded a free game (both players if two were playing). However, reaching 40 points on your free game would not extend play another time.


The final date signed-off on engineering documents is August 26, 1974, but the game’s release to the public was later in the year. The hardware was discreet logic, with diode-based ROM used for the car and oil slick graphics. The game was marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.



“The forerunner to this game, Formula K, Sold Out! An Industry first! …”


Twin Racer was a one or two player Kee Games copy of Gran Trak 20. This game added the new feature of the “ram effect”, which allowed you to knock your opponent off the track. Free play was awarded at 20 points instead of Gran Trak’s 40. Another Kee Games “innovation” with this game was the “Automatic Drive Button”, which was advertised as “for ladies and kids – must for arcades”. The hardware was discreet logic with diode ROM used for car and oil slick graphics.


1974: October 31: Atari Introduces Pin Pong Coin-op


“Atari’s New Unique Concept …”



Pin Pong was a one or two player black and white video pinball game, with a rather crude table. The Pin Pong flyer describes the game as: “In Pin-Pong a gravity algorithm accelerates the ball downward to give realistic pinball action on the screen”. The ball movement within the game was governed by a patented ball movement circuit. The hardware was discreet logic.


1974: November 5: Kee Games Introduces Tank!



The importance of the game Tank! in the history of Atari cannot be understated. It was the game that saved Atari from bankruptcy in 1974. The arcade version of Tank! is a two player tank combat game played on a black and white screen. It was very similar to one of the most popular modes of the Atari 2600 Combat cartridge: two player tank combat. Players each used twin joysticks to control their tank (Think of the Battlezone arcade control setup, but side-by-side for two players. –ed.). The game became so popular that the exclusivity agreements demanded by distributors were thrown out the window, allowing Atari and Kee to re-form as one company. The game was designed by Steve Bristow and Lyle Rains at Kee Games, with Lyle doing much of the programming. "I was working on it when I hired Lyle," Steve Bristow recalled, "Then I gave it to him and he finished it. A lot of the implementation was his, but the original idea was mine." The Game cabinet was designed by Peter L. Takaichi and patented October 20, 1975 (US Patent # D243,624).


Tank! is one of the first arcade games to use IC ROM read-only-memory as well as discreet logic chips. The ROM enabled the game to have distinct looking sprites to represent the tanks in the game. Gran-Trak 10 from the same year also used a ROM, but in a very primitive form that used diodes to store the ones and zeros.


1974: November 5: Atari Introduces Qwak!


“Qwak – It’s a Hit! …”



Qwak! was a one player light-gun controlled duck hunting videogame with a black and white monitor. The gun was shaped like a rifle with a security mechanism that would sound an alarm if it was stolen. This was not likely as it used a metal flex cord similar to a pay telephone handset cord to attach the gun to the cabinet.


One duck would fly across the black and white monitor at a time, giving the player three shots to hit it. A "hunting dog" would run out and collect the fallen prize if the player was successful with their aim. The game could be set by the operator to have time limits, extended time and free games. Hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan, with the added tagline: “The sky’s the limit when it comes to our inventiveness”.

1974: November 13: Atari Introduces Touch Me Coin-op Game



Touch Me was a one player, discreet logic coin-operated game that was played without a video screen. Colored lights, aligned in a row, lit-up in succession. The player was tasked with memorizing the pattern, so they could repeat it. The game was very much like the handheld game Simon that would appear years later. Interestingly, Atari tried to combat Simon with a handheld version of Touch Me, but it was an unsuccessful venture.


1974: December/Year End: Atari and Kee Merge

Tank! was such a huge hit for Kee Games that by the end of the year distributors no longer demand exclusive rights. Bushnell was having cash flow problems at Atari (many of which stemmed from problems with Gran Trak 10 and an unprofitable venture into Japan.). Joe Keenan on the other hand was running Kee Games brilliantly. He was much more than a figurehead at Kee Games, and in fact, impressed Bushnell with his business savvy. Atari and Kee merged at the end of 1974. Joe Keenan became president of Atari, Steve Bristow became head of engineering and Al Alcorn became head of R&D. This allowed Bushnell to concentrate on engineering and not on the details of running the day-to-day operations of a company. (Joe Keenan is a bit of an enigma, as there are no detailed articles or interviews to be found by or about him on the Internet. If someone knows more about this fellow, speak up. –ed.)

 Atari: The Lost Years of the Coin-Op, 1971 – 1975




1975: Atari Releases Compugraph Foto Machine

Atari introduces the COMPUGRAPH FOTO, a coin-operated machine that printed life-sized pictures on computer paper for customers. The machine weighed-in at an astronomical 950 pounds! It contained a combination of impact line printer, computer and closed-circuit TV. It was advertised as Durastressâ„¢, with apparently several patents applied for, but little else is known.


1975: January 31: Atari/Kee Games Introduces Pursuit Coin-op


“It’s Plane Fun! …”



Pursuit was a one player World War I flying game where you shoot-down enemies in your crosshairs. Controls were an analog joystick with a single button for firing at enemies. The game had operator settings for several options, including extended play. Pursuit was advertised by Kee Games, but Atari handled all the distribution. At this point, Kee and Atari were no longer hiding the fact that they were the same company.

Pursuit was still a discreet logic design, with the game was advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. Production release of the game was December 17, 1974, but it shipped in January of 1975 according to the January 31, 1975, US Trademark First Use In Commerce date.


1975: March 11: Atari’s Hi Way Coin-op Goes into Production Release

“Hi Way – All It Needs Is Wheels …”

Hi Way was Atari’s horizontal scrolling driving game that came in a unique sit down cockpit-like cabinet. The player’s goal was to dodge cars and negotiate turns down twisting road. The hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. The unusual sit-down cabinet was patented October 20, 1975 (U.S. Patent # D243,626). In Europe, the game was named Highway from Atari France, but was only released in a standard cabinet. Production release was on March 11, 1975 (according to the service manual).

1975: April 14: Atari/Kee Introduces Indy 800


“New 8 Player version of the greatest money-maker ever! …”



Indy 800 was an eight player racing game with a full-color screen. The game resembled Gran Trak 10, but allowed for eight players at a time. An Optional control module would allow an official starter to facilitate tournaments. The cabinet included a mirrored canopy to allow spectators to view the racing action. Besides a steering wheel, shift and pedals, each driver had their own horn to honk at will. The game hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.

The major innovation with this game was its color monitor and eight player multi-player cabinet. The cabinet was so large in fact, that it required at least 16 square feet of space! The game cabinet was patented October 20, 1975 (U.S. Patent #D243,625). Production release for the game was March of 1975.


1975: May: Atari/Kee Introduces Tank 2, Tank Cocktail and Tank III



Tank was such a hit that the newly reformed Atari/Kee released several more versions of the game throughout 1975, including Tank 2, Tank III and a cocktail table version of the original Tank. Tank 2 added land mines represented by x’s. All the games still featured discreet logic hardware with ROM to represent the tanks and other objects. The advertising for all of these games said that each game was released by Kee Games, but now added “A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Atari”. All games were advertised as Durastress™ and utilized the Innovative leisure™ slogan.

1975: May: 1974 - 1975 Fiscal Year

Atari's sales reach almost $40 million.


1975: June 6: Atari Introduces Anti-Aircraft Coin-op


“Put Anti-Aircraft In Your Battle Plans! …”



Anti-Aircraft was a one or two player game that would one day form the basis of the Atari 2600 cartridge Air-Sea Battle. Players used a gun that could rotate to three positions and attempt to shoot down aircraft that flew overhead. An undocumented switch could turn the planes into UFO’s. The hardware used was discreet logic printed circuit boards with ROM for the planes and guns. Atari continued to tout its solid state manufacturing with Durastress™ with the release of this unit and was marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. The final engineering sign-off for the game was June of 1975. The game is also known as Anti-Aircraft II, but apparently is the exact same game.


1975: July: Atari Introduces Goal 4 Coin-op

“Start playing with the future …”


Goal 4 was a one to four player Pong-style game built into a cocktail table (one of the first for Atari) that allowed up to two people per team to sit down, rest their drinks on the game table and battle it out with Foosball-style play. On September 17, 1975, Atari filed a U.S. Patent for the Goal 4/Breakout Sit-Down Game cabinet ornamental design. Goal 4 was marketed as utilizing Durastress™ with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. The game utilized discreet logic printed circuit boards.

1975: September 25: Atari Introduces Shark Jaws (through Horror Games)


“Shark Jaws is closing in fast…on big profits…so don’t fall behind …”


Shark Jaws was a one player game designed to capitalize on the movie Jaws. Legend has it that Atari tried to secure the rights to the movie, but failed. Instead of potentially jeopardizing Atari, Bushnell created “Horror Games” specifically for this release and marketed it anyway. The game was very simple, consisting of a swimmer, fish and shark. The swimmer had to catch the fish, without being eaten by the shark. The monitor was black and white, but used a color overlay on the screen. The game was solid-state, utilizing discreet logic, with ROM chips to create the shark, fish and swimmer graphics. The promotional materials touted both Durastress™ and the Innovative leisure™ slogan.


1975: October 2: Atari Introduces Steeplechase


“Be a Sprint Winner, Order Steeplechase now! …”


Steeplechase was a horse racing game for one to six players. The player controlled the jumping of the horse as it moved steadily along the race track. Colored overlays were used for each lane (Atari’s recently designed color monitor was not incorporated). The game hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. The game was designed and programmed by Lyle Rains (Steeplechase was a Sears exclusive for the Atari 2600 and supported up to four players. No “official” Atari home version exists. –ed.).

1975: October 15: Atari Introduces Crash ’n Score


“Demolition Derby …”



Crash ’n Score was a one or two player game in which the goal was to run over as many randomly placed, numbered pylons as possible in the time allotted. Players could choose to play with or without barriers. The Atari service manual described the game like this: “Atari’s Crash ’n Score is a video action game in which one or two players drive race cars on a rectangular playfield and earn score points by driving through lighted score flags. During play a player has to maneuver his car around certain obstacles and has to avoid the opponent car.” A modified version of the game was released in Europe under the name Stock Car. Hardware was a discreet logic design, advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan.

1975: October 15: Atari Introduces Jet Fighter


“Start Playing With The Future …”



Jet Fighter was a two player game that inspired one of the popular modes of the Atari 2600 Combat cartridge. Jet Fighter’s service manual for the game described play like this: “Atari’s Jet Fighter is a video action game in which players pilot two airplanes across the sky in a fast-moving duel”. The hardware was a discreet logic design that was advertised as Durastress™ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative leisure™ slogan. On October 20, 1975, Atari filed a U.S. Patent for the Jet Fighter game cabinet ornamental design. The second production release was September 30, 1975. The game was designed and programmed by Lyle Rains.


1975: Second Half: Atari Buys Grass Valley Think Tank, Starts Pinball Division

Atari started its own pinball division with the idea to make solid-state pinball games with pure electronic components. Gone would be the mechanical scoring and electro-mechanical parts that were part of the so elegant, yet so expensive to maintain classic pinball machines. However, this type of innovation would require more solid engineering personnel than Atari possessed. Atari decided to expand its in-house engineering team by buying the “Grass Valley” think tank that they had been contracting with since 1973 and incorporated it into their own R&D operation. They started their pinball division with five people in 1975, but would not see any pinball game releases until November 1976 with the Atarians table.

1975: December: Home Pong Debuts



As 1975 came to a close, so did Atari’s sole reliance on its coin operated games division. Christmas 1975 thrust Atari into the consumer product arena with the C-100 Pong console. The seeds of this console were sewn as far back as 1973. That was when two Atari engineers, Harold Lee and Bob Brown, discussed the idea of creating a stand-alone version of Pong on a single microchip. The idea was radical for Atari, which was then creating its coin-op videogames with discreet logic chips on printed circuits boards. The two sold Al Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell on the idea and set out to create the console.

By the fall of 1974, Al Alcorn had joined Harold Lee and Bob Brown in working on the home version of Pong, now code named “Darlene”. The cost of microchips had come down to a level that would make the project economically viable. Bushnell decided it was time to make the jump to the home market, even though most of his advisors told him to stay focused on coin-ops.

Atari attempted to sell home Pong, but almost all traditional retailers refused. The only interested party was Tom Quinn, the sporting goods buyer for Sears. He ordered 50,000 units and then increased the order to 150,000 by Christmas. The problem was Atari was still in financial jeopardy. Bushnell enlisted the aid of Donald Valentine to help secure venture capital. Valentine came through with $600,000 in the summer of 1975, and another $300,000 in December, which was enough to help get home Pong manufactured.

Home Pong became a surprise hit for Atari. The Sears deal infused them with some much needed cash and generated $40 million in gross sales and $3 million in profit. This success made Atari the first company to manufacture games for both the arcades and home consumers. This would have huge repercussions on the future of Atari and their games as they moved into 1976.


While Atari’s output from 1971 - 1975 might seem inconsequential at first glance, a closer look shows quite a different story. The games might not have been memorable enough to change history and keep the masses in the arcades, but the hardware innovations proved to be immensely important.

From the pure discreet logic chip designs of the very first Pong games, to the addition of ROM’s for more complex graphics, and from simple control knobs on a two-player cabinet to eight-player driving games with realistic controls and a color monitor, Atari pushed the hardware of the coin-op videogame in every direction.

While some of the games ranged from the mundane (Superpong, Pong Doubles) to the exceedingly odd (Shark Jaws, Qwak!), many titles (Tank, Jetfighter, Anti-Aircraft, Indy 800) laid the groundwork for many later products. The creative coin-op game designs and technical innovations from these early days became the forbearer of Atari’s future success, especially with home Pong.

In the coming years, Atari would go on to create some of the most memorable coin-ops the world had ever seen and eventually change the home videogame industry forever with the Atari 2600.







Public Records

U.S. Trademark Database

Other Sources

Character Selection: From Princess to Dwarf

Author: Christina Loguidice
Editing and Images: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout and Image Formatting: David Torre

Super Mario Bros 2: The 'Please Select Player' screen, with four selectable characters
The Nintendo family on the Super Nintendo, including Princess Toadstool, Toad, Mario and Luigi
Super Mario Bros 2: Princess Toadstool standing in front of a red door in the side of a green hill.
Playing as the princess in Super Mario Bros. 2 from Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)

The first videogame system I was introduced to was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) when it appeared under our Christmas tree in 1986. It actually wasn’t even something on our wish list, but it is something my parents thought would be fun. Sure enough, it was a hit. My sister and I spent countless hours playing many games on the NES, but our favorites were the Super Mario Bros. games. Of course we always fought over the characters and who would be what. While Super Mario Bros. only offered two choices, Mario or Luigi, both of us always wanted to be Mario simply because he was the first player and we were both eager to go first. Then, when Super Mario Bros. 2 came out, we were excited to have the option of playing a female character and fought over who would be Princess Toadstool. After all, doesn’t every little girl want to be a princess? We also loved how when she jumped, she would gracefully glide across the sky, which gave her an advantage over some of the other characters.

Excerpt from Top Spin manual explaining character design
Microsoft's Top Spin features a robust character creation system that has become a staple in many of today's sports games

Videogames have come a long way in terms of character options and development from my Mario days. I was impressed when I was introduced to Top Spin on the Microsoft Xbox, where I could build a character from scratch, choosing everything from weight and facial features to hairstyle and accessories. That aspect alone was a game in itself to me and I thought it would be neat if one of the action role-playing games (RPG’s) had such a feature. All of the RPG’s I have played are limited to rather stereotypical character choices where the women are usually thieves or elven characters. Unlike when I was a child, however, I no longer care whether or not I’m playing a female character. In fact, I seem to prefer playing men, and as far as the Dungeons & Dragons RPG’s go, it’s always the dwarf. So where has my desire to be a princess gone?

When you observe children at a videogame kiosk in any store, you will in most cases notice that little girls tend to prefer female characters and boys tend to prefer strong male characters. Children tend to pick characters they can most readily identify with and sex is the biggest defining characteristic. From babies on we are all defined by sex, hence boys generally are not encouraged to play with dolls and it is rare to find a little girl choose a toy car or action figure above a stuffed animal. There is certainly no mistaking the boy and girl aisles in any toy store, as a young child’s world tends to be gender-centric. Once children mature, which generally occurs with puberty, things change considerably. Adolescents often develop an interest in something that is important to the opposite sex in order to impress the individual they are interested in. So as children mature, a videogame character’s sex is no longer the only criterion as far as the selection process goes. Complex and interesting characters become key to fun and meaningful gameplay.

In an article titled “Genderplay: Successes and Failures in Character Designs for Videogames”, the author briefly discusses the tension between alienation and identification. She writes:

When designing characters, it's important to keep in mind the tension between identification and alienation, because the player is both actor and spectator. This is a good tension, it drives a lot of gameplay and innovation. Without identification, you create a game which has little emotional impact, little drama. That's okay in a characterless game like Tetris, but in games with characters, the characters should probably function as vehicles for something greater. Similarly, you need to allow some players some room for a certain amount of alienation. You want to preserve player identity. How many boys would have played Tomb Raider if they really felt that they were somehow taking on a feminine role? Or what if a kid identified too strongly with the protagonist in GTA3? Maintaining distance is a way of being able to play characters who are not you, and being able to inhabit that genderspace comfortably, without the risk of a split personality.

Manual excerpt from Fallout, describing characters in the game
Fallout's comely Nadia is in sharp contrast to Cain. Nadia is certainly no mutant!

As the author correctly points out, a balance between alienation and identification is key to building a successful character. I was drawn to the dwarf or dwarf-like characters because they had attributes that I liked, such as being strong (ability to carry a lot of weight and deliver more devastating blows from the start) and the ability to heal (Dungeons & Dragons Heroes, Xbox). Although I did not feel less feminine playing a rugged, manly character, I did feel more confident in this role than I did playing Nadia in Fallout Brotherhood of Steel (Xbox). Granted, that was a slightly different RPG.

Box Cover for Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes
The epic artwork of Atari's Dungeons & Dragons Heroes, featuring the seemingly requisite scantily clad females and male dwarf

As a non-gamer, I do not have many points of comparison, but based on the RPGs I have played it seems that the female characters, especially the wizards or those who rely on magic, tend to be more advanced and therefore more difficult to control. Just as I was impatient as a child by wanting to be the first player, I do not now have the patience to become proficient at playing a more complicated character, even if it is one that is princess-like. In contrast to my preference for the dwarf, my husband Bill enjoys playing female characters. He generally plays the wizard in the Dungeons & Dragons RPGs. Since he is a gamer, he can successfully play this character, and she’s eye candy to boot.

The videogame industry is clearly male-centric, which is why there probably aren’t any female dwarfs or more realistic female characters. Nevertheless, videogames offer players something that is crucial to making gameplay fun, namely a level playing field where the only real limitations or advantages are those programmed into each character. Granted, an experienced gamer will do better than an amateur or a non-gamer, but even a non-gamer can become proficient at a game relatively quickly. At the same time, there are characters that are more non-gamer friendly. For the hack-and-slash RPG’s I’ve played, it was the dwarf, which is mainly why I’ve been drawn to this character. The female characters tend to be more complicated to play, but since the audience is generally male gamers in their 20’s and 30’s, this is not a hindrance.

Although character options have come a long way, it is clear that the industry is still pretty much developing characters that will appeal to its main audience of young and middle-aged men. One can’t blame the industry for that as this core audience is their bread and butter; however, once the community of female gamers grows and more women get involved in the videogame industry, the face of gaming will change again. For now, as far as the Dungeons & Dragons RPG’s go, it would be nice to find one that allows you to build a character from scratch where I could become a princess, dwarf, or both, depending on my mood.

Hot Topic - Backwards Compatibility: Good or Bad?

Each Issue's Hot Topic features brief, free-form commentary from the Armchair Arcade editors on an issue currently in the news...

Backwards Compatibility: Good or Bad?

Photographs: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout and Image Formatting: David Torre

In this month’s Hot Topic, we take a look at the ins and outs of backwards compatibility, which has once again become a talking point thanks to all the discussions around the coming next generation of systems from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo…

Bill Loguidice, Armchair Arcade Editor; New Jersey, USA: Unless it means absolutely no technical compromises in the new hardware and little added cost, I’m against it.

The basic idea behind backwards compatibility in new hardware is to allow a company a better chance of migrating as many of their old customers to their new hardware as possible. If a new system is released without backwards compatibility that system starts at absolute zero and can only stand on the value inherent in whatever new software is made for it. Considering the titles many new systems launch with, this can be a very bad situation. If the games are more compelling on your competitor's new platform, there's just as much incentive for a consumer considering purchase of a new system to look at all of the available competitive options more closely.

The first time this really became an issue was when Atari released the Atari 5200 in late 1982, which was not compatible with the then dominant Atari 2600, much to the confusion of many consumers. With little in the way of launch games to generate interest, sales of the rival ColecoVision, which, like Mattel's Intellivision, did offer a module to allow play of Atari 2600 games, exceeded that of Atari's new system. It wasn't until around the videogame crash of 1984 and the release of their own compatibility module did sales of Atari’s 5200 begin to outpace Coleco's system.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System
The SNES didn't necessarily suffer in sales from a lack of backwards compatiblity with the popular NES, but consideration for the previous generation may have hindered the performance of the final system

After the crash and initial recover - which began as an industry reset with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) - backwards compatibility seemed to matter less and less, culminating with a relatively minor uproar by the time the Super Nintendo (SNES) was released sans backwards compatibility. Interestingly, what's considered the SNES' one true flaw - the processor - was rumored to be the way it was due to backwards compatibility plans, which were eventually scrapped. This, however, brings me to my next point, which is the major issue with backwards compatibility in new systems—compromise.

Throughout our industry's history, we've seen the ugliness that backwards compatibility can cause in what should have been more advanced designs. To give just one example, Atari's 7800 system, the replacement for the 5200, was designed to be backwards compatible with the 2600 from the start, with an eventual add-on to play 5200 games. Since the 7800 shared a lot of the same hardware features as the 2600, there were a few key limitations in the architecture, most notably with the sound capabilities, which were exactly the same. Therefore, a mid-80's system had to contend with the limitations of mid-70's audio hardware. The idea around this limitation was to use an add-in chip inside each of the 7800's cartridges, but cost concerns kept the chip out of all but two games. Of course this aspect of backwards compatibility and limitations has come up many times since, with everything from the PC (still using legacy technologies from the early 80's) to the PlayStation 2.

The Atari 7800 Console
By the time Atari's 7800 was released two years after originally intended, the advantage of its backwards compatibility was probably negated by the compromises in hardware

Another issue is one of software support. If a company's new hardware can play most of a prior, successful system's titles, what incentive is there for developers to create software for that new system when there are more potential customers using the old hardware, while those with the new hardware can utilize them as well? The answer is there is none, especially if that old hardware is still selling in droves. This was the fate that befell the Commodore 128, which was able to use almost all of the existing software and hardware for the most successful computer of all time, the Commodore 64, and, oh, by the way, could also run the thousands of titles available from the CP/M world. Unless a type of forced migration or the enticement of new technology outweighs the benefits of what a consumer already has - like Sony with the PlayStation 2 versus PlayStation and Nintendo with the GameBoy Color versus GameBoy - this can be a very tricky situation for companies to navigate.

One final issue with backwards compatibility is one of perception. How can a company show off the flashiness of their latest technological masterpiece when everyone is running outdated software on it? I remember seeing kids walking around with GameBoy Advance systems and GameBoy Color or regular GameBoy games sticking awkwardly out the top. It makes me wonder how many parents really knew the difference, or upgraded, versus those that just bought the cheapest software on the shelf—which brings us back to our backwards compatibility poster boy, the Atari 7800. Many 2600 games were labeled for both systems, further adding to the perception that the 7800's capabilities were not that great. It's like when people see the HDTV symbol on a TV program and don't have an HDTV or subscribe to HDTV service. It's not HDTV, but some think that it is and don't get what all the fuss is about. Backwards compatibility brings nothing if not the need for consumer education.

A selection of various Gameboy cartridges spanning multiple hardware generations - 4 in 1 Fun Pack for Gameboy, Harry Potter for Gameboy Color, and Final Fantasy 1 and 2 for Gameboy Advance
Nintendo did a nice job maintaining compatibility across three generations of hardware with their GameBoy, GameBoy Color and GameBoy Advance lines, but have oddly moved away from that with their newest handhelds. Does Nintendo believe in some of the ideas expressed within this Hot Topic?

So what's good about backwards compatibility besides the corporate benefits described in my opening paragraph? It does provide much needed access to "historical" software, no matter how shallow the depth. Our industry certainly needs to keep software available longer rather than casting it aside a month after release for the next hot item. It also keeps the number of systems the average consumer has to maintain down to a more reasonable number. As a collector, I can afford to have dozens of systems in my house, but most really don’t want that “luxury”.

Finally, what are my thoughts in regards to the coming generation of systems? I like Nintendo's intended approach with the Revolution, even though excepting the GameCube’s discs, it doesn’t use the original software mediums, meaning it’s not true backwards compatibility (Even though we have to pay for them yet again, having access to these old intellectual properties is a great start to bringing gaming in line with other industries, like music and movies, where access to older product is a given). I'm skeptical of the final quality of Microsoft's Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, but respect the idea of no new hardware compromise software emulation. For Sony, I think the PS3 will be a bigger test for the commercial value (cost) in backwards compatibility than the PS2 ever was, so it will be interesting in the final evaluation both how and how well it’s achieved. Lastly, there’s Apple, whose greatest strength with the Macintosh is its rabid fan base, so they need to offer good compatibility with older software once they finalize the shift to Intel architecture. Between what Apple does and Microsoft’s success or lack thereof with the 360’s compatibility, we could finally see more radical shifts in PC architecture than previously possible.

Mark Vergeer, Armchair Arcade Editor; Netherlands, Europe: I am all for backwards compatibility, or compatibility in general for that matter. If you look at videogames as a serious art-form / a serious form of entertainment that has a longer life span than just a mere couple of months or a few years at best, you're better of with (backwards-) compatibility then with closed proprietary standards that will be forgotten by the company that invented them as soon as there's no more money to be made. Support for devices capable of playing back the proprietary format game-media dies out as soon as the firm that owns its copyrights decides no more money is to be made. So older games end up becoming unplayable, fast. Just look at the older MS-DOS games, quite a few (if not the majority) of them will flat out refuse to function on modern Windows XP machines. Soon 3Dfx-only games will only live on in our memories. Same goes for the games of many game systems that are out there. Although I must admit Sony and Nintendo (the handheld department that is) do have a very good track record when it comes to maintaining backward compatibility.

I say that if we do take this video-game culture serious and we want to preserve this culture for future generations then we'd better open up those closed off systems that have lost their economic appeal so that future devices are able to run the media or run the game code. I think emulation (software emulation) might be a good if not only way to preserve the game experience/culture since most of the companies don't care about preserving their treasures.

Of course keeping a device backwards-compatible does create some technical difficulties, maybe even stand in the way of true progress, but it needn't be that way. Keeping devices backwards-compatible and making sure all the weird old copy protection schemes of the former older hardware incarnations still works with the new at the same time is what makes things so darn complicated and expensive in my opinion.

And then again, I am a retrogame fan so I like playing the games on the original consoles too. I love all the typical nick knacks of all those old systems, not only consoles but computer systems.

But in regard to backwards compatibility I say: "yea", either that or 'open up' closed systems after they are not commercially viable anymore...

David Torre, Armchair Arcade Editor; California, USA: Backwards compatibility is often used as a bullet point when selling a new console. Being a collector of video game consoles, I don't find backward compatibility to be particularly necessary. I'm a purist. With few exceptions, I want to play a game on the original system it was made for -- even if the system that succeeds it has pixel-perfect compatibility with the previous generation.

Spy Hunter for PS2 - A car that is also a boat driving on the water and running under a huge explosion
Spy Hunter on PS2 looked like a PS1 game running in a higher resolution. Instead of using the PS2's advanced hardware to create realistic-looking explosions and scenery, the explosions and scenery in Spy Hunter were obviously layered sprites - a graphical effect made popular on the PS1.1

Oftentimes, you have limitations that are introduced when trying to keep something backwards-compatible. I think a good example is the PS2. Perhaps Sony could have experimented with a significantly different controller design if the system wasn't backwards compatible (sorry, I've always hated PSOne controllers). If the PS2 wasn't backwards compatible, perhaps the first run of games for the PS2 might have had noticeably better graphics than PSOne games (Spy Hunter, anyone?).

I think the best way to do backwards compatibility is through an add-on module, such as the Atari 2600 adapter for the Atari 5200. If you package the adapter separately, game companies are less likely to make games that look like the previous generation, and the company that makes the system has more freedom to make the new console different from the previous console. Why compromise? Make it so people have to plug in the old controllers and old accessories if they want to play older games!

Mathew Tschirgi, Armchair Arcade Editor; Georgia, USA: Backwards compatibility is great for consoles, although troublesome to implement at times. Those who are just jumping into a console for the first time can pick up a lot of classic games for cheaply that will work.

At a certain point, backwards compatibility can get ridiculous. Expecting the next-generation Nintendo console to be backwards compatible with the GameCube, Nintendo 64, SNES and the NES would be a bit silly, but that is where compilation re-releases come into play to reintroduce old games for a new generation, as well as remind older gamers what made the older games good in the first place.

Emulation on a newer console can never be as perfect as it was on the original console, but it's better than having nothing at all to play older games on.

Donald Ferren, Armchair Arcade Editor; Arkansas, USA: Backwards compatibility can be a very good thing. There are a lot of gamers out there like me that have very limited funds. Having this as an option on a console system really opens up the library of games available for that system. Even if I could afford multiple systems, it also saves shelf space--I can have one console next to the TV instead of two (or more).

There is also the added benefits of possible enhancements of the old games on the new system. The PlayStation 2 has options for increasing the graphics and disc access speed. This allows for better looking and faster PS1 games.

I do recognize that there are a few drawbacks, such as a very few incompatible games on the new system. This is greatly outweighed by the fact that you don't have to come out with a "new" version of the game on the new system--you can play the old game as it was meant to be played. Too many times we've seen compilation packs of old games come out for a new system, only to be disappointed when the emulation is poor to passable at best.

Overall, backwards compatibility in new systems is a very good thing.

Cecil Casey, Armchair Arcade Editor; California, USA:

As it stands I consider backwards compatibility useless in the older generations of game consoles. There was such a leap foreword in processing and (here is the bad word) graphics, that there was little reason to emulate a TI-994/A with your Sega system. But in the rough and tumble early days of videogames we wanted something new and different. Now we can't get something different to save us.

Fast forward to today. Is Madden ’04 that much different from Madden ’05 on another system? The answer is no. Why is that?

Well it could be that they all use the same graphical engine to cross develop for each of the machines. I know you remember EA bought Renderware. The software graphic rendering and physics engine that works for many systems like the PS2, and Xbox?

You know, it has been the holy grail of programmers, 'write once, use forever'. If you use the same game base and add a few graphic layers to it is it really a new game?

Could you play the same game on older hardware? Or even current hardware?

The real question is why would a hardware developer put in backwards compatibility in a current generation of hardware? It seems to be against their interests. Most if not all of the profits back to them are on game sales, not hardware sales. In fact you have seen Microsoft selling the Xbox as a loss leader to get software sales.

Adding retro abilities to a system can only do one thing. Add fan loyalty. Do you think Sony or Microsoft care about that?

That was my initial reaction to this, but now as the newer generation of consoles are thinking of going to market some time within a year or so, I am thinking about what I want to play and what they will offer off the shelf. On one hand I have a large collection of PS2 and GameCube games, and both Sony and Nintendo have committed to maintaining support for this library. On the other hand I have not invested in the Xbox and as far as I can see Microsoft is sticking with their mandatory upgrade policy.

My friends that do have Xbox do love it and I would love to play the A-list titles more, especially Halo 2 on Live. I am hearing that Live is the central point of the 360. Now that you have friends you play with online, will you have to upgrade to still play with them? Or even worse, if you upgrade will you lose all of your friends? Nothing like a new console with no big launch titles that you can not play your favorite games with.

Microsoft, if you can hear this, that sound is my money staying in my pocket. Once you pull your head out, I will pull my money out.

Image Credit:
1Spy Hunter PS2 screenshot -

Retrogaming and Beyond on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger

Author and Screenshots: Mark J.P. Vergeer
Editing: Cecil Casey, Mathew Tschirgi and Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Cecil Casey and David Torre

I've always used an Apple Macintosh (Mac) next to my IBM compatible PC. Often I preferred to use the Mac for my schoolwork, essays and research because of its stability, relative safety from computer viruses, and its ease of use. I've never really thought of the Mac as a gaming platform until recently.

Installing OS X 10.4 Tiger on my professional work computer...

My latest Mac is a G4 Digital Audio system with a 1.2 GHz CPU update from Sonnet, an ATI Rage 128Pro AGP and 512Mb of system RAM, three 30 GB hard drives, and a CD-RW drive. I had been running both Mac OS 9.22 and OS X 10.2, and I was considering an upgrade to the newer OS X 10.3. However, when I went to the Mac store I was told that a new release of Mac OS X 10.4 was imminent and I was advised to wait for that release because it would even benefit my old system.

The question was whether or not it was worth it to upgrade to the latest system or get myself a good deal on an older version of OS X. The upgrade to Tiger costs about 129 euros and I would expect significant improvements for that kind of money.

Apple Mac OsX package art.
From left to right, the cover boxes of the various Mac OS X releases,
ending with the new OS X Tiger

The design of the boxes hasn't changed all that much. A big X is featured on the box of all releases, hardly a selling point. I decided to wait. That wait lasted until April 29, 2005, as on that day the now current incarnation of Mac OS X was released worldwide. With a nickname of "Tiger", it is supposed to have many new features under the hood that will make the Microsoft Longhorn team from Redmond "break out in hives", according to Steve Jobs. Ars Technica1 has a pretty comprehensive review of the Apple operating system you might want to check out.

Anyway, I went ahead and made the decision to upgrade. I was told that my old G4 would be able to benefit from the newest Tiger release, according to the people from the Apple Store, but I was skeptical. In my experience running a newer operating system on older hardware is never a good idea, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

I wasn't surprised when I opened the package and discovered that OS X resides on a DVD. While there is a possibility to return the DVD media and get a CD-based release instead through the "media exchange program"2, one would have to pay extra money for it. I had an old PC DVD drive lying around and tried to fit that into my G4, but the OS X installer failed to install properly and it wouldn't successfully boot from the disc. Therefore, what I did was create a drive image from the Tiger DVD with that PC DVD drive (hey, at least that worked!) and "restored" that to an empty partition on one of my three hard drives.

I reinstalled my working CD-RW drive and then used the boot disk selector program to boot from the Tiger Installation DVD partition on my hard drive. Lo and behold it booted into the installation menu and I was able to upgrade my OS X 10.2 to the latest OS X 10.4 Tiger! This is a tip that might work for others as well.

Apple has put a lot of energy into the development of officially supported and documented API's (Application Program Interface's) that will finally make it possible for third party developers to keep their software compatible with newer versions of OS X as long as they properly adhere to the API's standards. In the past, Apple was known to introduce undocumented changes in the API's that could cause older programs to stop working, though this was a rare occurrence.

Now, Apple has created "kernel programming interfaces"3, which are a well documented layer around the OS X kernel. Apple guarantees the changes in the kernel itself will not affect programs that comply with their kernel programming interfaces, so this might mean better backwards compatibility for future versions of Mac OS X (We'll see what the future change to Intel processors might mean for this -ed).

Tiger uses a new metadata-concept that makes it possible to retrieve all sorts of information from your system. The new Spotlight search tool in the right hand top corner of the screen gets busy cataloging your system the first time you boot the computer. After that, it works like a dream. My medical research sits on one of my hard drives and Spotlight - which uses metadata - can even search through the Adobe Portable document Format (PDF) files containing copies of medical articles!

One thing I like about OS X is its new look. Quartz is the new graphics engine that powers Tiger. In the first versions of Mac OS X, most graphical calculations were performed by the CPU. From OS X 10.2 and upward that shifted towards the GPU of the graphics cards, which means that every window is accelerated by OpenGL. My old Rage128 Pro is not able to benefit from the new Quartz engine properly, but people with newer NVIDIA or ATI graphics cards will enjoy many gorgeous special graphical effects. Still, the new Quartz 2D extreme pushes my system's graphical capabilities to an unexpected level of performance! The idea of a dashboard is a cool addition, which uses small applications without a menu bar as accessories on your desktop. These small applications are called "widgets", which float on top of the desktop.

It's been true that every new version of OS X is faster than its predecessor and Tiger is no exception. It runs faster on my system than OS X 10.2. Most applications are compatible with the new Tiger and my system works like a charm. I would have to agree with other reviewers on the Web4 that Tiger is the best OS X version yet!

OS X 10.4 and gameplay...

On the professional level, OS X Tiger works great, but how about running games? More importantly, how does it run retro games? On the PC, I have been using various emulators with some of the masses of games available, but I hadn't checked those out on the OS X side.

I found that OS X ports exist of some old favorites of mine: Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1 and 2, as well as Hexen 2. All these id software games work very well. Hexen 1 has no OS X port to my knowledge and one has to boot to OS 9.22 in order to be able to play the older games, because the classic environment doesn't allow you to play software that directly accesses the hardware. I figured my G4's graphics card is no match for some of the more recent Mac OS X compatible games, so I haven't bothered with those. However, someone considering getting one of the new Mac mini's should be able to run most newer games without a problem.

So how about some retro gaming?

Power 64 emulator.
Power64 floppy disk selection screen
where I am about to load Ms. Pac-Man

I needed a nice game pad first, because emulators need good controllers. My PC's Logitech cordless Rumble Pad 2 was recognized by Apple's operating system the moment I connected it, so I promptly proceeded to search out some emulators for OS X.

Well I must say that Roland Lieger's5 Power64 was the only emulator that I used before on OS 7.6/8.1 and 9.22, and the OS X version works just as well, with zero frame skip and full sound. Cycle exact emulation of the C-64 is possible with a lot of features. Loading programs from virtual disk and tape is very easy because one can double-click the desired file to run it. Some of the games I tried were Way of the Exploding Fist, Big Ben 1984, Boulderdash, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Commando and Uridium. They all ran at full speed and seemed to play perfectly. Roland has also created the excellent Power20, an emulator for Commodore's VIC 20.

Richard Bannister6 has ported a considerable number of PC-based emulators to the Mac OS X, as you can see by the list on his emulation page above. He also wrote a shareware tool that allows more screen resolutions to be selected and also allows user definable game pad controls. This enhancement also provides all of Richard's emulators with a uniform interface.

The emulators that I tried out successfully were:

Genesis Plus v1.2.5

Apple Mac OsX package art.
Aleste running on Genesis Plus

This is a great Sega Genesis emulator that runs 100% on my 1.2 GHz system. It also runs 100% on a 466 MHz G4 systems with zero frame skips, full sound, full screen and game pad support! Games I tried were Greylancer, Volfied, Sonic, Raiden and Aleste Gaiden. One game I tried that refused to work was the Bitmap brother's Chaos Engine.

Generator v0.3.9

This is another nice Sega Genesis emulator, which runs slower and does frame skip when run on a machine at 466 MHz, but on a 1.2 GHz system runs about full speed with most games. Compatibility is similar to the Genesis Plus emulator, but I believe another 68k CPU core was used.

Modeler v0.9.4

Apple Mac OsX package art.
Modeler running the one arcade ROM I have for it

Modeler is a Sega System32/Model 1 arcade emulator with great sprite scaling. All effects run at full speed, with zero frames skipped and sound on my system. This works great with Richard's emulator enhancer tool.

fMSX v2.8

fMSX (for the MSX standard) was originally by Marat Fayzullin and ported by Richard Bannister. The emulator is very compatible and runs at full speed with zero frame skip and full sound. This emulator is shareware and requires you to register. I also tried an emulator called Zodiac, but couldn't get any of my ROMs to work with it. Games you should try out are Legend of Usas, Aleste Gaiden, Spmanbow, Nemesis, Nemesis 2, Parodius, Eggerland, Galaga, Pac-Man, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 - Solid Snake.

vMac screenshot
vMac displaying the OS 6 desktop at a resolution
that was not possible for the standard MacPlus

vMac 0.9.1, OS X Version

If you want to run old Mac Games, this emulator runs full speed (and optionally much higher) on my system, at even greater resolutions than the old Mac Plus was capable of.

DosBox running Triad
Tyriad is capable of running full speed on my G4

DOSBox 0.6.3 by Shawn Holwegner7

DOSBox doesn't run full speed on my system with the standard settings, but it is possible to change the CPU cycles and frame skip by pressing some of the keyboard's function keys, getting nice performance out of the emulator, especially with older games. This is a must-have for people who have some old DOS games lying around and want to try them out. Games I tried that worked were Tyriad, Bruce Lee, Commander Keen, Day of the Tentacle, Test Drive, Zool and Chaos Engine.

MacMAME 0.87b folder

MacMAME 0.87b, OS X Version

Like its Windows counterpart, MacMAME is a stand-out among great emulators. Most classic games run very well at 466 MHz, but at 1.2 GHz most games that can be run, run great with zero frame skip and full sound. The downside is that I couldn't get my Logitech game pad to work, so for me it's keyboard only. I also tried the 0.66 classic Mac OS version to see if the two vary in speed. There turns out to be no noticeable difference between the two.

MacMESS 0.95

MacMESS emulates quite a few consoles and computers. Configuration is very similar to MacMAME. The stand-alone emulators mentioned above are much easier to use and have better performance, but this emulator is one to watch for in the future. It's an excellent resource for old computer fanatics and will in time become more and more compatible. MacMESS even allows you to experiment with the rare Commodore C65 machine, provided you have access to its BIOS. For now, however, many of the drivers are still buggy and slow.

Mupen64 screenshot
"Black Licorice" Mario on Mupen64

Mupen64 0.3

Mupen64, emulating the Nintendo 64, runs full speed, but has no sound. There's an option to activate sound, but it doesn't seem to work. Not all textures work correctly, either, as you can see from the "black licorice" Mario in the screenshot. Games that I tried were Super Mario 64, F-Zero 64 and both Zelda games.
SixtyForce screenshot
Here's a SixtyForce screenshot
from Super Mario 64

SixtyForce 0.8.0

This emulator runs slower than Mupen64, so it has frame skips, but does feature sound and better texture compatibility. My Logitech controller works like a charm with this emulator (Sound and control are always a plus in emulation -ed).

Nintendo Famicom/NES Emulation

Emulation for these popular systems is not so successful on OS X, as most had some type of speed issue or graphical glitches. However, all have good general compatibility.

Gunnac screenshot
A very nice shooter called Gunnac
running with full speed and sound on RockNES

MacFC is a Japanese Famicom emulator. The link contains a Babelfish translated link to the Japanese Website. There's also Nestopia (a Richard Bannister port) and iNes (Marat Fayzullin, shareware, classic OS only).
Sadly, based on these, Mac OS X is not my platform of choice for NES emulation. Thank goodness then there's RockNES v4.0, which is another Richard Bannister port. This emulator does go to full speed and sound on my G4, but is a very CPU-intensive program, and it sure helps to use an earlier version of the emulator on slower machines. Games I tried on this system were Recca, Gunnac, Gradius 1 and 2, Gyruss, Ms. Pac-Man, Boulderdash, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Donkey Kong.

Super Aleste running on Snes9

Snes9x 1.4.3

This emulator is very compatible and my Logitech game pad works like a champ. The emulation of the sound is very nice. It's almost like you are playing the games on the real machine!

My spaceship just exploded in the first level of Gradius on TGEmu

TGEmu 0.2.6

TGEmu (NEC TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine) runs at full speed, with good game pad support, no frame skips, with full sound. While it is not as compatible as the Magic Engine Emulator and other emulators for PC, it does get the job done.

Boycott Advance
Boycott Advance running Super Mario World Super Mario Advance 2

Boycott Advance v0.3.5

It's fun playing Nintendo GameBoy Advance (GBA) games on a 19" LCD screen! You get a great frame rate and full sound as well.

There is another GBA emulator out there, a big one on the PC called VisualBoyAdvance, but on OS X it is slow and is not really suitable for gameplay on my system. This emulator is supposed to be a bit more compatible than Boycott Advance.


O2Em v1.0.6


O2EM is a very faithful reproduction of the Videopac/Odyssey2 game system that works great with the Logitech controller and features 100% speed

and sound, as well as support for enhancements. I have two screenshots of O2EM, the left one is taken from Terrahawks and the other is from KC Munchkin!


One could say that a decent Mac running at 466 MHz or 1.2 GHz and up, running OS X 10.4 Tiger, is quite a nice retrogaming capable system. The number of emulators8 for it might not be as numerous as for the PC, but my retrogaming needs are met more than adequately by what is available. If you're interested in getting into the Macintosh computing scene, the new Mac mini's are more powerful than my G4, so you have to figure that that low cost little box will work even better and is a great starting point.

1. Ars Technica - A PC enthusiast Website featuring tons of articles and reviews.

2. Apple's Media Exchange Program - Tiger only ships on a DVD, but if your Mac doesn't have a built-in DVD-ROM drive, you'll need CD media or have to use my little trick with a PC DVD drive. When you buy Mac OS X Tiger on DVD, you qualify to purchase Tiger CD's with the help of this order form.


4. Other OS X Tiger Reviews:

5. Roland Lieger's Website -
Power64 - Commodore 64 emulator for OS X and classic Mac OS
Power20 - Commodore VIC 20 emulator for OS X and classic Mac OS

6. Richard Bannister's Website-

7. Shwan Holwegner's Website -
DOSBox 0.6.3 - PC emulator for OS X

8. A great Website resource for emulators on the Macintosh -

The Best of Life in Eberron

Click for The Best of Life in Eberron

Video Review: Donkey Kong (GB, 1994)

Author, Layout and Production Credit: Mat Tschirgi
Special Thanks: Shigeru Miyamoto-san for developing the original Donkey Kong game, which this title is a remake of. Without him, the platform side-scroller genre would not be what it is today.

Do a “Save Target As…” or similar to download the .WMV video file to your local system

Do a “Save Target As…” or similar to download the .WMV video file above to your local system
File size: 2.10MB
Running Time: 1:24 minutes

Text Review

Remakes of retro games are nothing new, but it is fairly rare when a remake truly brings something new to the table. Nintendo's remake of Donkey Kong for the GameBoy doesn't just rehash the 4 levels of the original arcade game-- it adds 96 new ones, as well as introduces a wealth of deeper gameplay options. The new levels are brief enough to not wear out their welcome, but long enough to keep your attention.

Taking its share of gameplay mechanics from Super Mario Bros. 2 while tightening up the rather loose controls from the arcade original, it still keeps the basic focus of the original: the player controls Mario as their avatar, who has to save Daisy. Every four levels there is a boss fight that is a more action-oriented puzzle than most other segments in the game. Though the game can get frustrating at times, there are so many ample opportunities to get extra lives that getting stuck in the game really isn't a big issue.

After letting players get through the first four levels, which are nearly identical to the original arcade game (despite the improved graphics and controls), the scope of the game expands to different Worlds, all of which have 4-16 different levels. The visual look of the different levels is enough to be pleasing to the eye, but often has little effect on gameplay itself. Cute little cut-scenes play after boss fights to introduce gameplay tips to the player, which is a pretty clever way to introduce more complicated concepts.

The weakest part of the game by far is the last world, Donkey Kong's Tower. All the rather sedate puzzle action of the game goes out the window as fast-paced arcade sequences take over. This does make the end of the game more tense than the rest of the game, but also loses some points for design inconsistency. Mario's final standoff against Donkey Kong is indeed challenging, if not a bit too long. The ending itself is rather weak, but considering this is a remake of a legendary arcade game, plot complexity isn't really what they were going for here.

It's definitely a game worth checking out, especially if you enjoyed the original.

Video Review: Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced (GBA, 2002)

Author and Media Credit: Mark Vergeer
Transcript editing and Online Layout: Bill Loguidice

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File size: 3.51MB
Running Time: 3:44 minutes

: a video showing off hidden features (right click & save as)

Transcript from the Video File:
Hi, this is an Armchair Arcade videogame review, this time by Mark Vergeer, featuring Konami's Arcade Advanced for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance (GBA), yet another attempt by the industry to breathe new life into some old games.

It features no more than six original arcade games, and this time Konami tried their best to create almost arcade perfect conversions of the old games, and I must say I like the result. It's nothing more than that though, no fancy graphics, no enhanced graphics, just something that looks very close to the original sprites and sounds very much like the original arcade. Not only the looks and sounds are similar, but also the gameplay itself actually feels like the arcade originals. It's much unlike other classic rehashes I've played where the games might look and sound similar but the gameplay doesn't really feel the same.

So what games are we talking about?

- Frogger
- Gyruss
- Time Pilot
- Scramble
- Yie Ar Kung-Fu
- Rush'n Attack

You select the games from a fancy game selection screen...

As you can see the sounds and even the weird color scheme of the original arcade is preserved. The graphics are almost full size and the screen has to scroll vertically to be able to accommodate the entire playing field on the tiny GameBoy Advance screen. All-in-all a very fine Frogger conversion...

The first time I played this game was on the GCE Vectrex game system, then I was exposed to it in the arcades. I must say I prefer the Vectrex version over the arcade. But here you again have a perfectly playable conversion of the arcade original. It plays exactly the same, but to me does feel a lot faster than the original arcade. A game that has multiple levels featuring the same high standards that we saw in the Frogger game...

Time Pilot
I bought this game for my C-64 (Commodore 64) and it was virtually identical to the arcade. I have played this game a lot and I was amazed to see how good the conversion to the GameBoy Advance has succeeded. Everything is there from the parallax scrolling clouds in the sky to the various fighter planes of the different eras that you need to shoot and the parachutists that you can save. Despite the tiny controls of the GameBoy Advance, a very playable experience...

Now there is a game that I truly have played a lot. I bought this for my C-64 when it came out and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could play the arcade machine quite well with the skills that I learned on the C-64 version. This is my favourite game on this cartridge and it features all the goodies found in the arcade. Gameplay truly feels identical to the arcade game!

Yie Ar Kung-Fu
One of the first fighter games out there. Not one of my favourites, but this title also features graphics and gameplay that feel the same as the arcade. A very good conversion.

Rush'n Attack
Rush'n Attack is also known as Green Beret and is another fun game that was released on this. I have played this game at the video arcade, the C-64 and on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). The C-64 version is a tough game and so is this arcade conversion.

All games feature a multiplayer-mode where it is possible to link up two GameBoy Advance systems and play together. I wasn't able to test out this feature, but I also believe it is possible to connect to systems when only one person uses the cartridge.

I was pleasantly surprised by this arcade collection, perhaps because the games are kept so very close to their original versions.

Graphics 8/10
Sound 8/10
Gameplay 9/10