Phantom of the Arcade, Part 1

Jul 08, 07:54 PM

In the 1970's computer graphics (CG) were on the fast-track and video games were no small part of things! We’re not just talking Pong, but I won’t kid you, it's part of the story!

Special Note: 07/09/21 This episode is steeped video game history (art/games/Atari). A industry insider is reviewing the episode and I'll re-upload this episode with any updates. 
I'll be getting episode 2 ready with more behind the scenes stories about art revisions at Atari, and the story of Polybius, the Phantom of the arcade.
We’re tracking early era video game art from the mid-1900’s to the time of legend. Which time of legend? Stay tuned and together we’ll follow the path of jingling quarters into the video game arcades in search of the Polybius coin-op arcade game—and the happy homes with Atari 2600’s and handfuls of game cartridges--all from decades past, and guess what? There’s more art involved than you or I might have guessed! 

As Pacman races through his mazes, being chased by colorful ghosts, we’re winding our way through the intricate maze of video game art as it all was being developed in the primordial soup of digital ideas and creativity. We’re not just talking Pong, but I won’t kid you, it’s part of the video game art story. 

We'll mainly focus on  the Atari coin-op and home console Video Computer System (VCS) also known as the Atari 2600 and the related box cover-art and video game art. Atari was the leader in the video game industry, but companies like Namco, Nintendo, Activision, Intellivision, Cinematronics Arcade, Imagic, Kee’s Game Arcade, and Commodore were busy working in the industry as well. One thing that stands out about Atari was that they didn’t give their engineers, artists and programmers any credit for working on the games, but we’ll be talking about them, with a little help from the book, Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino.

“Everybody believes in innovation until they see it. Then they think, 'Oh, no; that'll never work. It's too different.'” -- Nolan Bushnell
The mystery begins well before we start our search for the phantom of the Polybius arcade game. The 70’s was a time of kids on pedal bikes with banana seats, Bonnie bell lip smackers, moon boots and feathered hair. Commercial artists were coming to the end of the “cut and paste” and overhead projector era but technology was not entirely there yet for them to begin working on computers.

Stay tuned for the next episode, we haven't talked about Polybius yet!

Research sources: (details to come) books, online, documentaries, interviews, game sound clips, Stella (A multi-platform Atari 2600 VCS emulator, an Atari Video Computer System (VCS), intro music by