Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Untold Story Of Atari’s Missile Command


Here is my review of the Advance Reader’s Edition (pre-release) of the forthcoming book 8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story Of Atari’s Missile Command by Alex Rubens.

The book can be broken down into about three sections. The first eighty pages or so include background information on the state of economy in the early 1980s, the Cold War (the author’s view of it anyway), the political environment, and a brief history of Atari including the Nolan Bushnell years and the Ray Kassar years. Other books cover the history of Atari better, and in more detail. It is not really the main point of this book. The included background information gives you context leading up to the stewing cauldron in 1980 in which Missile Command was born. 


The next eighty pages or so cover the development of the Missile Command arcade video game, from where the initial idea came from, to David Theurer, Rich Adams and team designing and developing it. This is really the meat of this book. It covers the direction the development took, why certain decisions were made, and how the development affected Theurer, his health and his personal life. Rob Fulop’s Atari 2600 version of Missile Command and some of Theurer’s other work, such as Tempest, are also covered.

The last third of the book covers other tangential Missile Command related subjects, such as its effect on popular culture (opening credits of FX’s The Americans anyone), conspiracy theories, competitive gaming and a “Where Are They Now” Epilogue.
       
I would have liked to have seen some more technical information on the arcade video game development itself: development tools, hardware, snippets of source code, etc., but as Rubens’ states at the beginning of Chapter 5, “This isn’t a technical manual for Missile Command. I’m not going to pretend to know how the circuit boards work or how Dave Theurer and Rich Adam accomplished any of the programming feats…” It does, however, discuss the original prototype cabinet with its amazing (and distracting) electronic display imagery.


The Advanced Reader’s Edition has numerous typos which I expect the author and publisher will fix before the final release. I’ve certainly reported the issues that I found. These typos in no way took away from the narrative since I understood that it was a pre-release version of the book. I’ll likely pick up the hardcover edition when it is published so that I can have a cleaned up version which will also include twenty full color images. George Opperman amazing artwork for Missile Command was so classic Atari, that it made the front cover of Tim Lapetino’s book Art Of Atari. I’m looking forward to seeing which images Rubens' decided to include in his book.


While I enjoyed this book, there are a few instances where the author makes “factual” statements that I don’t necessarily agree with. I will not mention which, as they might be revised by the time the book is officially published. There are also times where the author repeats the same point over and over. Yes, employees used drugs at Atari, and yes, software developers have deadlines, got it. Overall, not a bad effort by first time author Alex Rubens. If you are a Missile Command fan, a David Theurer fan or an Atari fan in general, I think you will enjoy the book as well.

The 256 page hardcover edition of 8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story Of Atari’s Missile Command will be published on October 16, 2018 and has a list price of $26.95.

For more information, see the book's website.  You can also follow author Alex Rubens on Twitter.

THE END

Thursday, March 1, 2018

ATARI Home Computer Merchandising Aids



This form is a 1982 ATARI Home Computers Merchandising Aids Dealer Administrative Order Form which lists various in-store merchandising aids available from Atari.

On September 17, 2017, the weekend after hosting ATARI PARTY EAST 2017, I was out picking with my wife, as you do, when I came across a huge collection of ATARI 8-bit related items at a local flea market. There was some hardware, a bunch of software and a large box full of ATARI dealer related items. I purchased some of the items that I had not seen before, such as the 5 1/4 floppy diskette-based ATARI 800 In-Store Demonstration Program, which I have already written about, and the ATARI 400 In-Store Demonstration Video VHS Tape, which has now been transfer to digital format and made available to the community. I've scanned much of the other paper materials and made it available in my library on archive.org.


ATARI made a ton of marketing material, including the In-Store Demonstration Programs, the In-Store Demonstration Video Tapes, the Computers For People book, television commercials, printed ads and much, much more. All of these items were available for purchase by dealers or they could use their CO-OP Merchandising allowance in lieu of payment.

The purpose of the ATARI Cooperative Advertising Program was to increase retailers' sales of ATARI Home Computers. It was designed to fit each retailer's specific advertising needs for ATARI Home Computer products. Reimbursement for ATARI Home Computer advertising required adhering to the following rules:

  • 5% accrual based on net cost of purchases to retailers for purchases directly from ATARI.
  • 4% accrual based on net cost of purchases to retailers for purchases through distributors.
  • 100% of actual net cost of advertising up to accrual limit.
  • Available to all retailers (even through distributors).  

The ATARI Home Computers Merchandising Aids Dealer Administrative Order Form that I have, which you can see at the top of this post, lists in part:

  • CX302 ATARI 400 Demonstration Video Tape --- VHS
  • CX303 ATARI 400 Demonstration Video Tape --- Beta

As you can see in the photograph below, my tape is labeled ATARI 400 - THE BASIC COMPUTER In-Store Demonstration Tape Model No. CX303, but it is, clearly, a VHS tape. So there is some misinformation in either the order form or the tape label. The VHS version should be labeled CX302 as per the order form.

ATARI 400 - The BASIC Computer
In-Store Demonstration VHS Tape
Model No. CX303

Also according to the order form, in 1982, either of the ATARI Demonstration Video Tapes cost $23.00 or about $60.00 in today's (2017) money. 

Much like Anorak's Invitation, the video itself begins with the sound of trumpets and is just about five minutes long. The same video repeats over and over again on the VHS tape ... put it in, press PLAY, let it play over and over for a few hours, rewind, repeat. The video covers the ATARI 400 Home Computer, the ATARI Educator kit, the ATARI Communicator kit, the Programmer kit and the Entertainer kit.

Screen Capture From
ATARI 400 In-Store Demonstration VHS Tape

The ATARI 400 Demonstration Video Tapes were meant to be played in the ATARI Home Computers Point Of Purchase M Series Merchandising Displayers. The POP-M Series Displayer had a base which could hold a video tape player.

ATARI HOME COMPUTERS
Point Of Purchase
Merchandising Displayer
POP-M Series

The point of purchase merchandising displayer was 25 inches wide, 56 inches high and approximately 26 inches deep. It had a wood base, silver, charcoal and black in color, with key-lock front access door, and an acrylic brochure dispenser. The displayer was designed so that the top portion could be removed and placed directly on a counter top doing away with the base. According to the marketing material, a key-lock acrylic cover was also available for an additional cost. 

"ATARI, we took a big idea and made it simple. ATARI, computers for people."

A big thank you to “Amiga” Bill Winters (https://twitter.com/TheGuruMeditate) for transferring the VHS tape to digital format for me ... and for the Atari 8-bit community!

Enjoy.

Bill (https://twitter.com/BillLange1968)