The 40th birthday of Atari, Inc. happened last week on the 27th—the video game publisher that helped shape the modern home video game console as we know it with the Atari 2600. Although it was quickly overshadowed by superior consoles such as ColecoVision and the Nintendo Entertainment System, that doesn’t take away the fact that Atari’s vast library of “game programs” has had a major influence on modern video games (both positively and negatively). That’s why we’re celebrating a belated birthday by compiling the 5 most influential Atari games and the current games and genres they inspired. Happy 40th birthday, Atari, Inc.!
1) Haunted House
The beauty of most Atari games was that the title said it all, and Haunted House is about, well, a haunted house. The game centered around the main character—a pair of eyes stumbling around in the dark—searching the derelict mansion for an urn while avoiding the ghost of the estate's spectral owner, Mr. Graves (get it?), and other nasty critters. Not only did Haunted House pioneer the survival horror genre, but it was also the first to create that vicarious sense of paranoia and isolation—such as having a limited number of supplies and harder difficulty levels that made the entire house pitch black!
Games It Inspired: Resident Evil series and Silent Hill series
2) Swordquest Series
Adventure may be hailed as the first true fantasy adventure game, but it was the Swordquest series that made the genre known for its epic scale and exotic landscapes. The Swordquest series of games were actually a part of a contest that required gamers to play all the installments (and read the included comic books from DC Comics) in order to gather clues and enter to compete in an epic gaming competition with prizes to match. The games could have been enjoyed on their own merits, but playing them all together made for a larger world to explore and and a more engaging experience. In a sense, it was the earliest form of the grand scope seen in the MMORPGs of today.
Games It Inspired: Elder Scrolls series, World of Warcraft and EverQuest
3) Video Olympics
One of the nine original launch titles that made their debut alongside the Atari 2600 in 1977, Video Olympics was a compilation of sports games (mostly ports of their original arcade counterparts) that offered everything from the extremely popular Pong to new games like Ice Hockey. It’s safe to say that this is the forebear of modern sports video games. Even though these were the days before video game publishers and developers worked closely with major sports leagues like the NBA and NFL when developing sports titles, Video Olympics proved that there was a profitable market for those that wanted to experience the thrill of playing sports from the comfort of their armchair.
Games It Inspired: NBA Live series, NHL series
Pitfall, like Pac-Man and Duck Hunt, is one of those old school games you’ve had to have played at least once in your lifetime, whether it was on the Atari 2600 or a port of the original. By today’s standards it’s extremely simplistic, but Pitfall is a milestone in video game history for two reasons: 1) It revolutionized the platform game genre with its solid gameplay and—for the time—varied and detailed character sprites, and 2) it was published by Activision, the video game industry’s very first independent game publisher/developer. So not only did Pitfall set the standard for an entire genre, but it also inspired others to establish video game development studios of their own.
Games It Inspired: Mega Man series, Donkey Kong Country series, Super Mario series
5) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
All the games on this list up until now have left their mark on the video game industry for the better, but E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial became a humiliating reminder of what happens when one doesn’t put the appropriate amount of time and effort into game development. Rushing to meet the demand of the holiday season and cash in on the box office success of E.T., game designer Howard Scott Warshaw was given a measly 5 weeks to design the game when such an endeavor typically took months. Upon release, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was universally panned by critics and—along with poor sales and a gross overproduction of copies—led to the video game crash of 1983.
Games It Inspired: Nothing short of every poorly executed game based on a licensed property you can think of...
What are your favorite classic Atari 2600 games?