There was a time that saying “I played Atari” meant “I played video games.” The name Atari had such recognition that it became a household term for saying video games. How did Atari garner such recognition? Well, it all started with a woodgrain console released in 1977 under the name Atari Video Computer System (VCS). This system, one of the first systems to offer cartridge-based games, was developed with the intention of having a short lifespan and for the development of relatively simple games that would be variants of Pong.
Then a certain game called Space Invaders invaded the arcades, making video games cool with many seeking to bring the arcade experience home. The year was 1978 but not until 1980 did Atari get the rights for the game for adaptation to the Atari VCS. Space Invaders became the system’s “killer app” making the sales of the console soar to unexpected levels and initiating what would become a video game industry juggernaut. With the success of the VCS, Atari gained name recognition and there was an explosion of games developed for the system. In 1982 the console was renamed the Atari 2600 (using its part number, CX2600, as the basis for the name) to make it different from its cousin released that same year, the Atari 5200. The Atari 2600 survived through the North American video game crash and saw commercial game development up until 1993. Through its commercial lifetime, the system’s games advanced by leaps and bounds, though not every title was a success. In fact, because of the lack of quality control, there were many crappy games in the early 1980’s. This is partly to blame for the aforementioned North American crash. Overall, the Atari 2600 boasted over 500 commercial titles and, to this day, it is one of the consoles with the greatest support by homebrew developers.
That brings us to the Atari 2600 Encyclopedia, written by Derek Slaton, and the first in four planned volumes that aim at looking at all the games released in the United States for the Atari 2600. When you start reading the book you are welcomed by an introduction from the author that I think will feel familiar to anyone who owned an Atari 2600. Derek not only explains his own experience with the 2600 but also what inspired him to make this book. Turn the page and you’ll find a Table of Contents that lists 100 games for the system starting in alphabetical order going to A to D(o). Then the fun starts…
Each of the games has a multi-page spread that includes information about the game publisher, date of release, programmer, and details about the game (including any alternate names, controller needed, and game type). There are also images of the box artwork, patches (in the instance of Activision games), the game’s catalogue feature, screenshots, and any additional materials or items associated with any given game. The text included with each game is written in a relaxed style that is easy to read. There are even personal notes on each game that are funny sometimes and informative in others. Something else included are details for Easter Eggs that are found in some of the games with the way to get to them. This is always cool to see, particularly for those unaware of these Easter Eggs.
I have to say that this book is just very well done and beautiful to read and look through. There are tons of images that adorn the sections with text but that shine when you get to the screenshots and extras. It is just really cool to see game box artwork, instruction manuals, and various images of the games in action. Even if you’ve never played any of these games, you will get a good sense of what they were like to play and of their look. Presenting the games in alphabetical order, I think, makes good sense as the games are just organized by their name and not because one game is preferred over another. Clearly, there are other ways in which the games could have been organized (by genre, publisher, etc.) but alphabetical never is wrong. Tried, true, and simple.
As wonderful as this book is, it does have what may be seen as a fault by some as it limits the games contained to US-only releases. This may be a disappointment to those outside of the United States; however, this should not stop anyone from getting the Atari 2600 Encyclopedia. Something else that would have been good to include after the introduction may have been a bit of history of the console itself. Perhaps it was assumed that the reader would already be familiar with the console and adding such information was not needed. Nonetheless, it would have been something nice to include, even if briefly. After all, the goal is to preserve the history of the Atari 2600 and its games. Regardless, the book is an excellent read and I certainly can’t wait to see the other volumes whenever they become available!
The Atari 2600 Encyclopedia is available in hardcover and two electronic formats. The hardcover volume is the most expensive of the available formats but it should be well worth the money. It includes 400 pages in full colour to feast your eyes. The pages within the printed book are done on matte paper, which makes it easy to read and enjoy the content as there is no glare to worry about. The text itself is large and easy to read as well. The two electronic formats available are PDF and Apple iBook. The former can be read on any device capable of reading PDF files (e.g., tablets, phones, computers). The latter can only be read on Apple devices. This version not only has the content from the book/PDF formats but it also adds video content of the games included. I should note, however, that the iBook does not follow the layout of the PDF or print versions exactly due to the complexities of creating it. Regardless of format, however, the book is a superb addition to your retro games book library. Heck, even if you get the hardcover version, the electronic versions are priced low enough that having one of them is worthwhile as well.
For ordering details for the Atari 2600 Encyclopedia, visit The Video Game Archeologist at (http://www.thevgatv.com/Game_Books/). There you will find information and links on where you can purchase all versions of the book.
Retro Video Gamer Forum would like to take this opportunity to thank both Derek Slaton providing us with a copy of his book and also to Eugenio for taking the time to review the book on our behalf.