Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Atari History Book Released

The Cinematronics history will resume tomorrow, but I wanted to take a quick break to tell you about an exciting new release that should be of interest to anyone interested in video game history.

Most of you reading this probably already know this, but Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel have finally released the first part of their Atari magnum opus.

I got mine yesterday and just finished reading it. My copy is pictured above (the bear is just there to give you an idea of the book's size).

For those who don't know, Marty and Curt are two of the two premier Atari historians on the planet. They've spent years gathering info, interviewing ex-Atarians, and clearing up misconceptions (slaying a few sacred cows along the way). While I've always felt that existing video game histories concentrate way too much on Atari for my tastes, I've also felt that much of the story of Atari had never been told.

Now, thanks to Marty and Curt, the full story is finally beginning to coming out.
Atari Inc. Business is Fun is part 1 of a planned three-part series on the history of Atari. It covers the Atari, Inc. years (beginnings to the 1984 sale to Tramiel). Other volumes will cover the Atari Corp and Atari Games years.

Anyway, on to my first impressions after reading the book:

The Good:

796 pages!!!

You read that right, folks - almost 800 pages and 3.4 pounds of Atari history. To me that's a (very) good thing.
This book has plenty of detail and is comprehensive in scope.
I was going to say "these guys have done their homework" but (aside from being a cliche) that wouldn't really do them justice. They've done all of our homework and then some. .
For readers who've been starving for information on Atari the book is a feast.

Lots of New Information

As you can guess given its size, there are plenty of new stories and previously-unknown facts.
A thunderbolt or two has been stolen from the authors by the information that has come out in the last year or two with the reemergance of Ted Dabney and the many interviews he's done (plus some lesser known projects like the Computer History Museum's oral hsitory projects) but believe me, there's still plenty of new stuff in here even for those who've kept abreast of the new revelations.
Those who haven't - and those who (perish the thought) only know Ted Dabney from the scant mentions he'd been given in past histories - will find even more to like.
A few of my favoites: the story of Cyan Engineering/Grass Valley (Atari's skunk works), the Syzygy years, and Delta Queen (you'll have to read the book to find out).

Lots of Myths Busted and Lots of Mysteries Demystified

There have been numerous legends over the years about Atari. Some are actually true. Others - not so much. There are other stories whose authenticity has been hashed and rehashed (then rehashed some more)..
This book sets the record straight on many of them.
So if you want to know the real story of the infamous graveyard of E.T. cartridges, the Atari "Apple buster" computer , and numerous others, you'll definitely want to pick up a copy.

Lots of GREAT photos

Photos normally aren't a huge selling point with me but this book has pleny of them (probably 200-250 pages worth) and many of them have never been seen before . Company picnics, prototypes, internal company documents, secret agreements - you name it.

Printing Quality

I thought the binding and cover were fine. They had to go with a thinner cover due to CreateSpace restrictions but it works for me. I like the cover graphics and the 10x7 size makes for easy carrying. 


 The Price

$39.99. I'm fine with it and didn't hesitate for a second to pay it (plus extra for overnight shipping) but others may not be. The book was published through CreateSpace, which I believe requires you to charge a minimum based on book size if you want to make a profit. A Kindle version will be available very shortly (with iBooks and others to follow) and will likely be more affordable but I don't know what the price will be.
So is it worth it? For me, abosoluetly but then again given the subject of this blog, that's to be expected.

Black and White

The samples on the book's website have color photos but the ones in this edition are strictly black and white. A color version is slated to appear soon (early 2013???). Again, it's no big deal to me but some might prefer to wait for the color version.

No Index

I can guess why they didn't include an index. They were likely pushing the CreateSpace size restrictions already and likely would have had to cut something to include one.
Plus, compiling a decent index takes a long time (even with auto indexing).
I'll take extra content over an index any day.
For those planning on getting an electronic edition, it doesn't matter, but for the print edition, an index would have been nice.


The authors chose to switch to present tense at key moments in order to create a "you are there" feeling.
For me, it didn't really work,  though that may just be personal preference.
In addition, they sometimes switch tense from paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, or even within the same sentence. In some cases I can see why they did so but I found it more distrating than not.
Overall it's a minor quibble


This one could go under either category.
Were there typos? Yes, but for a first edition of a self-published book, I thought there were surprisingly few (then again, I have pretty low expectations for a self-published book). I'd imagine that my book (if I ever publish it) will have a lot more (and I know my posts do - probably including this very one).

Factual Errors? Again, I saw a few very, very minor things (generally in the non-Atari area) that
looked wrong to me but as I said they were minor and I may be the one who has it wrong (I'm sure I've got plenty of errors of my own on this blog).
And even if the ones I found are legit, they probably clear up 20 existing factual errors for each of them.

The biggest issue for me was the overall style, which wasn't always to my liking (I thought there were a number of awkward sentences).

Compared to previous video game histories, the fact-checking and accuracy here seems excellent (though they don't list their sources in the book itself).

Compared to previous Atari histories it's positively amazing. Admittedly, this may be no great compliment given the competition (Scott Cohen's Zap! anyone? - actually, I shouldn't admit this here, but as poor a reputation as it has , I still have a warm spot in my heart for Zap! - back when I first read it and didn't know better, it was pure mana from heaven - especially given the dearth of video game history books back in the day).

My overall assessment?
Two thumbs way up.

Seriously, if you find the subject matter of this blog remotely interesting, pick up a copy!
(or wait for the Kindle edition).

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