Forty five years ago this month – on June 27, 1972 – two men named Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded Atari, Inc. The small firm represented a new breed of entertainment company – one dedicated solely to electronic games – that launched a $90 billion industry and drastically influenced corporate culture in Silicon Valley forever. Throughout its early lifespan, Atari introduced many innovations in the coin-op game space, but interestingly, few of those are remembered today.
There's a reason why. Within a year of its launch, Atari hit breakout success with its first game, Pong, which spawned dozens of arcade clones and then quickly launched a Home Pong video game craze as well. These events tend to overshadow other early video games in the history books.
In the coin-op market of the early 1970s, Pong rip-offs kept Atari on its toes. Bushnell decided early on to weather the fierce competition not by standing still and soaking in the success, but by continually innovating. What the world saw over the next three years, until the firm was acquired by Warner Communications in 1976, was a continuous stream of groundbreaking arcade video games. None of them quite matched the success of Pong, but each was a unique capsule of engineering genius.
Of the 40-odd game products Atari shipped this period (including cabinet and minor game variations), it's worth noting that none of them used software or computers to achieve their gameplay. Instead, Atari designed each game from the ground-up using discrete logic circuitry – in effect, each game was "programmed" in electronic hardware. After the launch of CPU-based games in 1975, the complexity of arcade titles began to increase dramatically.
In celebration of Atari's 40th anniversary, let's examine 10 of its early coin-op titles that tend to get overlooked. It's not an exhaustive list, but chances are you'll learn something new about Atari along the way.