I just finished reading Jamie Lendino's excellent new book, Breakout - How Atari 8-bit Computers Defined A Generation. Right off, I can say that this book is written with a lot of love, respect and passion for the Atari 8-bit line of home computers. At just under 300 pages, it is an easy read that can be finished in a day or so. It is well researched and extensively footnoted. Whomever edited this book also did an amazing job.
The book is basically broken down into three sections, with one or more chapters in each section:
- Section One: The Past 1979-1992 (more or less)
- Section Two: The Games (from the author's perspective)
- Section Three: The Now (Emulation, Collecting, Mods, Community)
Section OneThis section covers the pre-1992 years. There isn't much new content here. As you are reading this particular blog, you are likely to know many of the details in this section: the timeline, the players, the products, the problems, etc. What this book does brilliantly, is it walks through Michael Current's Atari 8-bit FAQ and pulls in additional details from various sources, including books, magazines, interview and online such as atarimania, atariage and archive.org, among others. The author also adds in some personal anecdotes and a bit of humor and creates a very readable history. Works by Chris Crawford are heavily referenced and footnoted.
One factoid on page 61, "...The Home Manager: Included the Personal Financial Management System (PFMS) and The Home Filing Manager... may need to be double checked. From my recent research, it seems that while the early marketing for the Home Manager Kit stated that the PFMS would be included, it actually shipped with Family Finances after PFMS was cancelled.
Section TwoThis section covers a selection of games that Lendino found notable. This section is probably longer than it needed to be. If you are the type of person who might read this book, you probably don't need much detail on the game play of any of the Atari 8-bit ports that are in the list of the top 100 video games from the Golden Age of Arcades.
Lendino also give some short, insightful, personal anecdotes as he discusses his various game choices. I particularly liked his Activision/David Crane/Pitfall story on pages 193 and 194. He also injects some additional humor such as on page 131, his "... in what is clearly a nod to political correctness ..." comment to a statement that clearly is not.
It was nice to see Tom Hudson of A.N.A.L.O.G. Computing fame get a shout-out for Livewire, a magazine type-in game, that was included along with the other commercially released software titles.
The author also laments about some of the iconic games that have never been available on the Atari 8-bit platform, such as Wizardry, The Bard's Tale and Ultima V. Man after my own heart, as these are some of my personal favorites, which I ended up playing on the Apple II.
Section ThreeIn this section, the author covers the current state of Ataridom including emulation, collecting, mods, the Atari 8-bit community, resources and more. This is the section that might have been longer, but he does cover a lot of the hardware and mods that are available today.
Lendino discusses one particular piece of discontinued hardware, Joe Grand's Stelladapter from Atariage/Pixels Past, which allows you to plug an Atari controller into a USB port to be used with emulation. There is a similar, but unmentioned product available called the 2600-daptor.
In this section, Lendino almost seems to be passing the torch from the first generation of Atarians, such as Joe Decuir, Chris Crawford, Glenn The 5200 Man, etc., to a new generation of Atarians, those collectors, historians and archivists that keep the history alive, such as Michael Currant, Kevin Savetz, Curt Vendel, Allan Bushman and others. He also gives credit to the Eastern European designers, programmers and hackers that continue to breathe new life into forty year old technology.
Final ThoughtsAny book that mentions Atari 8-bit computers, the Ultima series of computer role playing games and BBSing before even getting to the first chapter is going to keep me reading. This book has something for everyone in the Atari 8-bit community: history, games (all the games you know and love and maybe a few you never heard of), emulation, mods and more. I may have learned a few things (Atari/IBM, page 23), or to be more precise, relearned some things that I forgot I knew.
While this book is not an autobiography or memoir like Kevin Savetz's Terrible Nerd or Rob O'Hara's slightly more nefarious Commodork: Sordid Tales From A BBS Junkie, Lendino does include some of his childhood experiences. This book is about the Atari 8-bit technology and the games that run on it. And for those of us who have never really left our Atari 8-bit days behind, it helps reaffirm our admiration for a platform that was both underappreciated and ahead of its time.
At $17.99 on Amazon, this well written, well edited, enjoyable book is well worth the asking price.
Update: At Vintage Computer Festival East 2017, Jamie Lendino was gracious enough to sign my copy of his new book.