first_imgStay on target Atari is one of the most important companies in the history of video games. In the late 1970s, the Atari 2600 brought games out of the arcade and into the home as arguably the first massively successful mainstream video game console. Flash forward to the early 1980s, and awful Atari games like famous landfill fodder E.T. have virtually destroyed the video game industry. History tells us that Nintendo then saved the day with the NES in 1983.However, that narrative ignores the innovative work Atari was also doing in the 8-bit space with the Atari 400 and 800 home computers. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined A Generation is a new book that sheds light on these groundbreaking devices. They didn’t just deliver great graphics and sound at the time. They also fostered a community of home computer enthusiasts that still tinker with the machines today. The book’s author just happens to be Jamie Lendino, Editor-in-Chief of’s sister site ExtremeTech. I can’t think of tech more extreme than old Atari computers.The gallery below showcases just a sample of the most notable Atari 400 and 800 games along with excerpts from Breakout. If you want the whole story, including more games, history, and repair tips, go grab a copy of Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined A Generation.A.E. (Brøderbund, 1982)This Brøderbund game is a distant cousin of Galaxian and Galaga. You play by fighting off successive waves of space aliens, which swirl around in changing formations. You could see the Apple II roots in the basic color palette, rendered on the Atari 8-bit thanks to artifacting. Even so, the beautiful space backgrounds for the game were truly otherworldly if you were coming from a VCS or even some early arcade machines. The Atari version has much better audio, with polyphonic music and more robust sound effects during gameplay.Archon: The Light and the Dark (Electronic Arts, 1983)Archon is a game of violent chess—and I mean that as a compliment. Each side has a leader: the Wizard on the Light side, and the Sorceress on the Dark side. The game takes place on a nine-by-nine-square grid with alternating colors. It otherwise looks like a chessboard, albeit with so-called power points at the top, bottom, left, right, and center. And, as in chess, each piece has different abilities. Your goal is to either capture the five power points on the board or defeat all of the opponent’s pieces in real-time combat.Asteroids (Atari, 1981)For the three people still on the planet who haven’t played this phenomenal classic arcade game, you control a tiny ship in an asteroid field. You must clear each screen of asteroids without crashing into any of them, and destroy the small and large UFOs that appear at regular intervals to attack you. You can jump into hyperspace as a last resort to prevent a collision, but there’s no guarantee you won’t reappear in the path of a different asteroid and die anyway. The physics of your ship’s thruster and bullets felt as real when the game was released as anything you’ll play today.Attack of the Mutant Camels (Llamasoft, 1983)This horizontally scrolling shooter is essentially a clone of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes back for the VCS, except with giant camels. Talk about a weird pedigree: It’s the work of Jeff Minter, the famed game developer who designed Tempest 2000 and Defender 2000 for Atari’s Jaguar console in the early 1990s, and later, a Tempest clone called Space Giraffe for the Xbox 360.Boulder Dash (First Star Software, 1984)In Boulder Dash, you control Rockford as he digs through caves to collect gems and diamonds. When you dig under rocks, they fall to open up new pathways. You must avoid getting crushed or straying too close to a resulting explosion. The game features 16 caves, each of which consists of several screens to you walk or dig through. Each cave is successively tougher to solve than the last and introduces more challenges, such as butterflies you have to crush with rocks to get jewels, or fireflies you must avoid.M.U.L.E. (Ozark Softscape/Electronic Arts, 1983)Dani Bunten’s M.U.L.E. (which stood for Multiple-Use Labor Element) is a multiplayer strategic battle of planetary mining, supply and demand economics, and resource development I’ve yet to see equaled. It supports all four of the 800’s joystick inputs, and if other human players aren’t available, the game supplies smart AI-infused computer opponents instead.Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Activision, 1984)The original Pitfall! is one of the best games on the VCS; the Atari 8-bit version is almost identical, aside from a bit more graphics detail. Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns, also developed by David Crane, far surpasses the original in complexity, with many underground screens, water you swim through, and multilevel platform-based challengers, all while remaining just as fun.Star Raiders (Atari, 1979)Star Raiders has the distinction of being the first 3D space combat simulator ever made. Obviously derived from the original Star Trek, it puts you in command of a ship clearing out enemy space fighters from the sectors surrounding your bases. Harder difficulty levels make it tougher to warp between sectors accurately and introduce shield damage and other variables to make the game more realistic.Tune in to PCMag’s Facebook page this afternoon for a live interview with Lendino.Purchase Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined A Generation Trade In Your Nintendo Switch For a Better Battery (With a Catch)Get Used to ‘Fortnite’s’ Powerful Mech Suits last_img