Friday 18 December 2020

We Love Atari Volumes 1 and 2 - Book Review

More retro videogames and computing shenanigans now with a review of the two volume set "We Love Atari", written by Karl Morris and published by Zafinn Books. These two volumes cover the products, prototypes and the story of Atari from its founding in 1972 to its demise as a hardware vendor in 1996. 

What a lovely pair... of books

Now I'll make an admission here. I have only ever owned one piece of genuine Atari hardware, a Jaguar that I picked up from Game back in 2002/3 when they sold a load of remainder stock of Jag's and Lynx handhelds over the Christmas period. That's not to say I didn't want Atari consoles or computers back in the day, especially the Jaguar when it was first released, and some of the higher end ST's (the TT and Falcon especially). As it was, I was an Amiga kid back then though I did have a couple of friends who had ST's and I thought the Atari's were pretty cool. 

This set of tomes caught my attention after a perusal through the book reviews section of and, after following the publisher on Twitter, thought these were definitely worth a read. As they are self-published and in a niche market, they aren't particularly cheap - the two book set coming in at €105 (about £97.51 at the time of purchase) including postage. There is the option to buy them separately at €60 a piece but let's be honest here, it's a two volume set for a reason. 

A rather nice selection of stickers

Upon receipt, opening the very well prepared packaging revealed a hefty pair of 21.5cm by 21.5cm softback books, a nice collection of Atari themed stickers and a lovely handwritten card from the author. It's a nice touch.

Unexpected and rather nice.

Volume One then, and this starts in 1972 and ends in 1984 when Warner Communications sold Atari's consumer electronics and home computing divisions to Jack Tramiel. This is very much a visually led volume and whilst there is plenty to read, the focus here tends to drift towards the look of the arcade machines, the advertising and early visual history of the games that made Atari the powerhouse it was. Through the 285 pages, you'll see classic titles, concepts that were never released and get a real feel as to how the company saw itself in it's youthful years. You'll also get a hint as to what was to bring the company to its knees in the 1980's.

Another Atari idea that didn't work out

Volume Two picks up after the crash of '83 and the struggles Atari had to remain in business. There is more text in the 291 pages of this volume and those who like the picture heavy first tome may be disappointed but, for me, this is where the core of the Atari story lies. You get the fight to release a 16-bit computer onto the market, the success that followed, the even more outlandish ideas that did not come to pass and the decline into obscurity as Atari lost its way into becoming a one horse show (which they then shot out back). This is an engaging tale and for those who lived through the 16-bit computer era, is an essential one to read. It's not overly in-depth though, but the bibliography at the back of each volume has some highly recommended reading. 

Over both books, the author's easily readable prose does the job it needs to, with personal interjections and thoughts where it is felt necessary. There is also an impish sense of humour on some of the picture captions that raised a smile and a chuckle.

A great little 8-bit computer

When I think of the Atari from my formative years, I remember the 5200 and 7800 consoles being pushed as Nintendo and Sega grew their market share in the UK. I remember the almost endless variations of the 520ST, STM, STFM, STE etc, but in reality, there weren't that many. I remember the Mega ST and TT, two desktop computers that defined what a powerful computer of the period should look like, at least to me. To this day, the TT remains the second best looking desktop I have ever seen (the Amiga 3000 is third and the Acorn RiscPC is first. You are welcome to disagree, but you'll be wrong... :-)) This is despite the "off-centre" design both looking funky and making the OCD side of my brain freak out at the same time. I also remember looking at the Lynx and wishing I could afford one. Same with the Jaguar, even though compared to its rivals, the Jag was much, much cheaper. Then we have the Falcon, the home computer that was unrivaled (even the Amiga 1200 was a poor second) though that price tag did it no favours. Nor did the lack of advertising or support from Atari themselves. This is all before I mention the portable ST's and the prototypes. For those, well, you'll just have to read the books. 

This is how computers should look!

Overall, these are two wonderful volumes on a period of video game and computing history that does not get much love in the more mainstream market. I enjoyed the telling and greatly expanded my knowledge of Atari in its various forms up until 1996, even with the inevitable sadness that comes with knowing that those in control of Atari (and, in the same sense, Commodore) had great products and knew how to run a business to a degree, but they had zero understanding of who their users were and what made their products great.

As you can tell, I really liked these books and I hope that there will be more reprints in the future (my copies were from the 4th reprint) as these books deserve to be on any video game/computing aficionados bookshelf. The author wanted to fill a gap in his own bookshelf with publications about Atari that begged to be picked up and perused at leisure. He has achieved that and more with two indispensable volumes that are well worth the investment. You can find out more about Zafinn books here, as well as on Twitter, where you can see some news about their latest publication, "50 ST games you have to play". That's definitely on the "to buy" list!

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