Learning from Atari
Last week my brother pointed me to this wonderful original commercial for Atari’s Pole Position. After gazing in amazement at the giant hand and the kid smiling as his mom blows up, it made me realize how few commercials are quite this eye-catching anymore. I don’t know if it was the custom song, or the belligerent and screaming announcer, but damned if I didn’t want to play Pole Position again.
Thinking back on my childhood, I remember Atari always being great marketers because of one gigantic realization: suspension of disbelief. Despite their less detailed graphics, they saw the value in commercials and box art. Before you even turned a game on, they put you in the mindset for what you were about to experience. When you played something like Yar’s Revenge, you didn’t see a bunch of inflated pixels, you saw giant mutant house flies. Atari set up the pieces, and let your imagination fill in the blanks. This is something I have always carried with me as an designer, the power of suggestion in art to frame a viewer’s experience.
I have an old Atari Video Computer System™ Catalog of 45 Game Program™ Cartridges that has sat on my bookshelf for most of my life. Among other things, like comic books, video games and their artwork has always inspired me. The catalog is full of beautiful box art and game illustrations that I’ve always admired. Many of them are soft montages that bring to mind older styles of film posters, and perhaps that was just another technique involved in selling the games; setting up a cinematic experience.
Since it’s just too sweet to keep to myself, I scanned in all the pages from the catalog and posted them on Flickr: Atari Game Catalog, 1981. Look at how enigmatic the artwork for titles like Haunted House or Super Breakout was. Stunning.