To many of our readers, Atari was the first experience they had with videogames. Your first controller may have been the 2600's iconic joystick. Your first game, Combat. Your first time throwing a controller against the wall in frustration? My money is on Haunted House. Those darn ghosts gave me fits.
But it is the ghosts of gaming's past which continue to haunt us in the form of an interminable cycle of sequels, remakes, and do-overs. That's why the news of Atari Inc.'s bankruptcy, the U.S. division of the French company formerly known as Infogrames, is a good thing.
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What's that? Isn't Atari an American company, with roots in California where Nolan Bushnell first placed his PONG machine in Andy Capp's Tavern over four decades ago? Not since 2008, when Infogrames completed its acquisition of the famed company, five years after it licensed the use of its name. In fact, Namco Bandai bought the rights to Atari's business assets in the U.K in 2009. The former titan, in some part the very reason the home console industry exists today, has been tossed around like a wet rag doll for some time now.
The company had returned to profitability in the last two years on the back of a successful venture to sell a compilation of timeless classics on smartphones and online. But past debts have proven too deep; a stock price of eleven Euros in 2008 had recently fallen to as low as one Euro. Hold onto your eulogies: The filing for Chapter Eleven would merely allow Atari Inc. to esape from the burdens of their French parent company, and start afresh with new suitors willing to buy and distribute their properties.
But maybe it's time to move on from Pong and Asteroids. David Cage, head of Quantic Dream, the team behind Heavy Rain and upcoming Beyond: Two Souls, thinks the evolution of game design has stagnated. Speaking to Official Playstation Magazine U.K., he said,
"If you're interested in innovation and believe that games could be more than shooters, then you realise that sequels kill creativity and innovation.”
The same could be said of relying too much on legacy brands. Instead of developing a fresh new IP, last year Atari released Centipede: Origins on Android, a re-skinned version of the original. The year before, twin-stick shooter Centipede: Infestation came out for Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
No offense to fans of either, but sifting through such familiar muck is one reason new gems can't find an audience. We hope Atari Inc. finds a good home for their employees. We also kind of hope they move forward and stop over-mining the past.