When it comes to many of the video game books that celebrate 8-bit systems, like the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum or those from the 16-bit era like the Commodore Amiga, there seems to be little coverage of a machine that pre-dates the Amiga by over a year. Breakin the Borders – The Atari ST and the Creative People Volume 1 aims to fix that. This Atari ST was developed by a company that more or less defined video gaming and created an incredible range of home computers in the late 1970’s through to the 1990’s. The brand was everywhere including ﬁlm and TV shows they were huge. Apart from a handful of websites and forums that keep the Atari brand alive today, it seems the brand is now forgotten. They revolutionised the gaming market by bringing a computer to the masses and not the classes, as quoted by new CEO Jack Tramiel, with cut throat business tactics they challenged the dominant forces of Apple and IBM to be a contender.
The Atari ST had MIDI compatibility for musicians, IBM PC floppy controller emulation and the ability to create some amazing art with its graphical prowess, all that and a killer price to decimate the opposition, you could say it created a big stir during that time period. So why hasn’t the Atari ST received the praise it so rightly deserves? I personally set out a few years ago to remedy the lack of coverage in my own way and created three digital Atari ST magazines, then out of the blue a new Kickstarter was announced, Breakin’ the Borders – The Atari ST and the Creative People Volume 1, sadly the first campaign failed but after it was rebooted it was successfully funded.
Being a huge fan of the Atari ST I had to back this book, now I’m delighted to ﬁnally be able to review the book since its May 2017 release. German author Marco A. Breddin, an Atari ST Musician and demoscener, was like the majority of us, tired of seeing the Atari ST going unrecognised. So Marco, and his publishing company (MicroZeit), decided to put this right and give a machine with such a huge rich culture and history, its own series of books. Enter “Breakin’ the Borders” and for the ﬁrst time, showing people what they have been missing about this truly fantastic machine. Breakin’ the Borders is a tale of the Atari ST Demoscene, with its electronic artistry and coding acumen that lead many to full-time careers within the video gaming industry purely based on making this machine do something it wasn’t designed to do in the ﬁrst place. This was the true magic of the Atari ST, which many of us still enjoy today. The book starts with an introductory interview and foreword with Prof Dr. Gundoff S. Freyermuth of Cologne Game Lab, you’re given somewhat of a history lesson that is both informative and interesting and not without information that even many Atari ST experts may have not read before.
Following on from this we learn about Atari’s great beginnings into the world of home computers, very briefly covering the Atari 8-bit era up until 1984 when Commodore’s ex-boss, Jack Tramiel, who acquired Atari with all of its ﬁnancial woes in an attempt to turn the company around, Tramiel wasted no time and, in barely 5 months of engineering and development by engineer Shiraz Shivji, Atari created their 16-bit wonder, the Atari ST. This machine quickly helped Atari regain its lost market share, it’s all covered here in great detail and so much more, something I especially enjoyed was articles on iconic programs used by the creative people who did things most of us could only dream of.
One section in the book, amusingly dubbed Mouse of God covers the pixel artistry of the Atari ST, it’s a fascinating read and soon enough your being introduced to your ﬁrst glimpse of what an Atari ST demonstration could look like, an early demo created by “The Exceptions a.k.a. TEX” who were one of the first demo scener’s. The graphics and music of this demo demonstrated what happens when a business computer is pushed to the limits to produce something spectacular. I was privileged to see this demo back in 1985, and I have to say reading about how it was created is wonderful and it’s certainly an intro for those of you who think this area of the gaming scene is of no interest. I can say you’d be wrong to think so, Breakin’ the Borders is a fantastic book the oozes love for the underdog machine and shows the reader the true capabilities of how the Atari ST demo scene deﬁed the norm and truly broke the borders in a professional published volume.
The book’s dimensions are a clever concept as they are actually the size of the glass screen of an Atari SC1224 colour monitor! I love this small homage to the Atari ST, as with everything, it isn’t perfect. Breakin’ the Borders suffers with some grammar issues due to the German to English translation that simply doesn’t work in some places, breaking the flow during the reading. This is minor and it does not really ruin the experience but I hope it’s rectified in the next volume of the series now known as Beyond the Borders. Minus the grammatical issues, I can’t recommend this book enough, whether you’re an Amiga fanboy or not. This book is brilliant and you owe it to yourself to learn all about what the Atari ST had to offer.
Creator of forth coming Coin-Op:Arcade Guide and creator of the Atari Gamer Magazine and the Atari ST Gamer Magazines. Retro gaming expert & fact finder.