For Atari, preservation isn’t just about saving old games | Digital Trends

    Even although I used to be a baby of the ’90s who grew up with a Sega Genesis, my favourite console was my mom’s hand-me-down Atari 2600. It was the one console I saved hooked as much as the TV in my bed room, whereas my PlayStation was in the lounge. Playing a sport like Pitfall! was a particular expertise. It was nearly a ritual, as I’d sit on the ground immediately in entrance of my CRT TV, slot in an enormous cartridge, and maintain the joystick controller like I used to be giving an acceptance speech for an Oscar.
    That expertise isn’t simply replicated many years later. I can head to any emulation website and play Pitfall!, however it isn’t the identical. It lacks the physicality of holding an previous joystick or the mystique of rigorously finding out the important thing artwork of the cartridge earlier than I slot it in. It’s simple to port a sport; it’s a lot tougher to protect what it felt wish to play it when it first got here out.
    For Atari, that problem is paramount. The iconic sport maker is within the midst of a change led by CEO Wade Rosen. With that pivot, Atari is returning to its roots by placing an emphasis on its historical past. Classics like Asteroids and Breakout are receiving trendy makeovers, misplaced video games are making a comeback, and Atari is even producing new cartridges that truly work on a 2600 console.
    The technique isn’t a Hail Mary nostalgia play. In talking with present Atari management, the corporate is making an attempt to sort out an advanced preservation query that few sport corporations appear to be involved about: How do you protect the legacy of video video games?
    Physical historical past
    When gamers speak about sport preservation, the dialog query largely revolves round porting video games to different methods. It’s been a scorching subject in recent times for a wide range of causes, from Nintendo shuttering its previous eShops to Sony struggling to deliver native ports of PS3 video games to PS5. Making previous video games playable is essential, however it’s solely half the battle.

    Rosen took the CEO helm at Atari in April 2021. A millennial, Rosen grew up with consoles just like the Super Nintendo greater than the Atari 2600, however remembers enjoying the console’s video games in a PC bundle. While he was nonetheless capable of get pleasure from video games like Tempest in that format, he believes that preservation is extra sophisticated than merely churning out ports of previous titles.
    “If you want to play an old PC game, there’s a good chance you can access it and have it,” Rosen tells Digital Trends. “If you want to play older console releases, there’s really no equivalent. There’s no central place that is going to not just let you see the game, but look at the box art and look at the all manuals that came with it. In the same way that we have outlets and platforms that are great for PC gaming, I think there needs to be something that’s the equivalent for retro console gaming. I don’t think that means just porting it to modern consoles.”
    “When we bring some of these titles back, we want to bring them back how you remember them.”

    The physicality of older video games creates challenges that aren’t simply resolved. Anyone who’s performed a Nintendo 64 sport through Switch Online is aware of how awkward a sport like Winback can really feel with out the trident controller it was designed round. Similarly, pixel artwork seems completely completely different on a contemporary TV than it did on an previous CRT. While my Atari 2600 ritual might sound purely symbolic, enjoying Pitfall! on a 4K flat display with an Xbox Wireless Controller is a basically completely different expertise.
    “Does it feel the same playing Radiant Silver Gun on Sega Saturn and on the Xbox 360?” Rosen asks. “There’s pros and cons of both, but there’s something kind of beautiful about sitting down with that little black box, playing with that specific Saturn controller, and seeing it run on a CRT television.”

    Atari has tried to unravel that by protecting bodily objects in its product line alongside digital releases. The Atari XP initiative, for example, brings uncommon and unreleased Atari video games like Yars’ Revenge to gamers the best way they had been meant to be performed initially: As absolutely purposeful 2600 cartridges that include instruction manuals. Is that sensible? Probably not for many gamers, which is probably going why the bundles embrace a digital obtain of the video games too. But that dedication to saving the expertise goes past what corporations like Nintendo are doing to deliver classics to trendy audiences.
    Old is new, new is previous
    While bodily merchandise play a big position in Atari’s technique, its method to video games themselves is simply as essential. In a chat throughout this yr’s Game Developers Conference, David Lowey, Atari senior director of selling and gross sales, defined that the corporate’s model was beforehand “out of balance.” The popular culture image of Atari remained sturdy, however its relevance as a sport writer had fallen off. Rosen has been instrumental in restoring the corporate’s focus, pivoting from free-to-play cell experiences again to premium console and PC video games.
    That technique begins with Atari’s Recharged line, which acts as a bridge between previous and new. The collection takes iconic Atari video games and offers them mild trendy touches. In one thing like Breakout: Recharged, gamers get the basic blockbusting sport with new options like leaderboards and power-ups. They’re new, however nonetheless really feel extremely acquainted — and that’s an intentional design determination.
    “When we bring some of these titles back, we want to bring them back how you remember them,” Lowey tells Digital Trends. “Which means that we’re probably going to sweeten the controls and make it really playable without messing with the core gameplay.”

    It’s a tough needle to string in terms of video video games. On one hand, I need Pitfall! to be dropped at trendy machines purely untouched, trapped in amber. But that model of the sport wouldn’t have the identical affect in 2022 because it did when it launched. If I attempted to point out it to a pal and clarify how thrilling it felt on the time, they’d in all probability giggle at me. Atari is conscious of that elementary problem to its legacy and has tweaked its video games accordingly to protect the spirit of previous video games, moderately than each little nuance.
    “Adventure, for me, was the first thing I played that had a secret room,” Lowey stated. “The sense of exploration … to me, it was an amazing game despite how simple it was. So if we’re going to work with somebody on Adventure, it has to bring that feeling back up. And we’re going to release Adventure on a 2600 cartridge. It’s going to be an original game, but we’re looking for the right partner to work on that IP in a way that it’s going to be a totally new game, but it’s going to bring back that feeling.”
    Accessing the previous
    There’s a complete different layer to the preservation debate that tends to go underneath the radar. Much of the dialog facilities round video games themselves, however Atari is simply as centered as salvaging details about how these video games had been truly made.
    “There’s a preservation issue when it comes to our brand,” Lowey says. “The company’s gone through a couple iterations. A lot of the historical knowledge of the company and what it did isn’t inside the brand. So when we bring titles back, there’s an opportunity for us to have that conversation. Reach out to the community, bring their stories out.”
    “Right now, it’s tough to even know where to go when you want to work with these things.”

    Rosen is not any stranger to searching down data on previous video games. He beforehand labored at Ziggurat, an organization constructed round preserving the legacy of video games. In that position, Rosen noticed simply how arduous it may be to even determine who holds the rights to video games, as issues like credit are sometimes misplaced to time. He notes that he beforehand tried to get his fingers on the basic Backyard Sports collection, however saved hitting lifeless ends when making an attempt to trace down the IP holder.
    That frustration is a part of the explanation that Atari just lately acquired MobyGames, a website identified for exhaustively cataloging particulars on video games and the groups that made them.
    “People who want to work with retro titles often don’t know where to go,” Rosen says. “I experienced this with Ziggurat. There were games we wanted to work with or companies we wanted to reach out to and we had no idea where to look. It started and stopped with MobyGames. As a central repository for where people could go to not just find out about old games, but potentially reach out to the IP holders … Right now, it’s tough to even know where to go when you want to work with these things.”

    If the gaming business’s lack of historic data sounds infuriating, there’s a considerably affordable clarification for it. Video video games have advanced shortly over the previous few many years, with builders continuously pushing the boundaries of know-how. In the second, that speedy change is a part of what makes video video games thrilling. It’s simple to get distracted by the shiny new factor and neglect about final yr’s mannequin because it sinks into obscurity. Rosen is extra understanding than some concerning the present state of preservation, however sees alternative for Atari because of it.
    “With the industry at large, preservation hasn’t really been important. Now, we’re reaching a level of sentimentality around it that makes it important,” Rosen says. “I wouldn’t say that the industry is failing, but the industry was constantly about looking forward. When the Super Nintendo came out, people weren’t like ‘We need to preserve the 2600 and NES.’ They were these natural iterations. But what we’re seeing today is reflective of what people want in their lives. We want simplicity, we want less noise. Where we are today as a society is recognizing that there was a lot of beauty in what existed before.”
    Atari isn’t simply dabbling in its previous for nostalgia’s sake. It’s a purposeful, multipronged method that seeks to maintain gaming’s most elementary constructing block from disappearing. Lowey says that the corporate is pondering of its subsequent 50 years simply as a lot as its first 50. While the corporate is invested in preserving its historical past, it needs to take action as a method of pushing the business ahead.
    “When I talk about the past, it’s usually because I want to make a point about the future,” says Lowey.

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