Posted on May 14, 2007
Atari History Timeline: 1974
1974 January 30 : Atari starts using the trademark Innovative Leisure
1974 January 30: Atari Inc. Introduces Superpong!
An Improvement On a Proven Money Maker From The Originators Of Pong
Superpong! was a one or two player contest, this game was an evolution over Pong that used variable ball speeds, angles, and three paddles (vertically aligned) for each player. To further spice-up the game, the ball was served from random positions on the screen. Atari described Superpong as ‘not easily mastered’ but since it is a relatively unknown game, it was probably too hard at a time where ball and paddle games were losing their appeal. Pong competition was too fierce at this point in the coin-op world for Superpong to make any sort of impact. Hardware was a discreet logic design. Advertised as Durastress ‘ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan.
1974 February: Atari Inc. Introduces Rebound (Kee copies with Spike!)
‘It’s A Whole New Ball Game’
Rebound was Atari’s 4th coin-op game, a simple version of volleyball that required two-players. Steve Jobs signed off on wiring diagram for cabinet Schematic dated 11/31/73 describes this game as ‘Vollyball’. The game was like a vertical version of pong in-which hitting the ball would send it on a parabolic path over 4 short lines that represented a net. . Hardware was a discreet logic design. Advertised as Durastress ‘ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan.
Rebound was also featured in an unreleased variation on Puppy Pong named Puppy Pong Volleyball The game used the same cabinet as Puppy Pong but used the Rebound game.
1974 March 4: Atari Inc. Introduces Quadrapong! (Kee Copies with Elimination)
Another VideoAction Favorite! Quadrapong is the newest addition to Atari’s Line of unique video skill games.
Quadrapong was a 2-4-player table-top, look-down cabinet. Each player was given four points, and tasked with defending one-side of a diamond-shaped screen. Players lose a point each time one of the others score in his goal, and is eliminated if this happens 4 times. At that point, their goal is sealed, and it becomes a solid wall. Hardware was a discreet logic design. Advertised as Durastress ‘ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan
The look of the future is your today with Elimination!
Elimination was a copy of Atari’s Quadrapong from Kee Games. Like most Kee games, features were added to slightly differentiate them from their Atari cousins. In this case, ‘extra life pots’ are randomly placed on the playfield, and the player who hits the ball into one get a point added back to their score.
1974 March 18: Atari Inc. Introduces Gran Trak 10 (Test Marketed)
‘From the ‘Pong People’, New video game concept, big racing action, fantastic sound effects, worldwide market in millions!’
Gran Trak 10 was a one player game designed at Atari’s Grass Valley think tank by Al Alcorn, this was the first real video-game driving game with steering wheel, gear shift, gas and brake pedals controls. It was also the one that could have ended Atari before they ever really got started. The game was a race against the clock on a single track. There are no other cars on the track except the player. Oil slicks make the player’s car spin-out. The side-of the track must be avoided. ROM memory was used (in the form of diodes) to store the sprites for the car and track, oil-slick, etc. Atari’s new Grass Valley think tank was used to design the game, but the engineering was flawed, so Al Alcorn had to step-in to fix it. This created costly rework and delays for the game. Worse, an accounting error had Gran Trak 10 selling for $995, when it cost $1095 to manufacture Because of these problems Atari lost $500,000, as much as the company had made the previous year. The European version of the game was called: Race Circuit Automaten, but machine says ‘Trak-10’ on it. The track in the game was modified from the one used in Gran-Trak 10. Advertised as Durastress ‘ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan
1974 July 24th Atari Announces Trak 10
Later in 1974, Gran Trak 10 was repackaged into a smaller cabinet and renamed Trak 10. The game cabinet was designed to fit into the smaller spaces that small bars, grocery stores, laundromat’s, etc. could set-aside for games.
1974 April 1: Time Magazine Report On ‘Space Age Pinball’ (and Atari)
Some interesting notes from the report:
- Says Atari sold 8500 Pong machines last year, and their estimates fiscal 1974 revenue is $14 Million
- Video games have caught on college campus, number 2 activity behind streaking
- Appeal to businesses that would never have permitted ‘pinball’ games (high class restaurants, hotels)
- Pong machines make about $200-$300 a week and cost about $1,100 each
- Pong machines take quarters ($.25) while pinball most take-in dimes ($.10) which makes them much more profitable than.
- ‘Screen Games’ (as Time calls them) are estimated to take-in $900 Million a year
- Industry is about $60 Million all together with 18 US companies and 23 European (no mention of Japanese)
1974 May: Atari’s Second Fiscal Year End With a Loss
Atari loses $500,000 in 1973-1974 (mostly from the Gran-Trak 10 problems) and cuts ‘ of it’s staff. Pong games have stopped selling, and Bushnell is starting to look like a one-trick pony. He needs to turn-the-company around. Kee Games is one idea, and a Home Version of Pong is the other.
1974 Summer: Atari In Dire Financial Straits
Formula K was a one player racing game from Kee games that was a copy of Gran Trak 10. The game featured a different cabinet than Grank Trak 10, and added a new ‘Lap Timer’ feature. Hardware was Discreet Logic, ROM used for car, oil slick graphics
1974 June: Atari Inc Introduces Coupe De Monde
1974 August 21: Atari Introduces Gran Trak 20
Double your pleasure’ double your earnings!
Gran Trak 20 was a one or two player version of Gran Trak 10 designed at Grass Valley, and fixed by Al Alcorn. Two complete sets of controls (steering wheel, brake pedal, gas pedal, 4 speed gear shift). Black And White. Cost 2 quarters for two players. Obtaining a score of 40 or more awarded by a free game (for both players of two are playing). No free game if you 40 points on your free game though. Released late in 1974. Final date signed-off on engineering documents in August 26, 1974. Hardware was Discreet Logic, ROM used for car, oil slick graphics. Marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan.
The forerunner to this game, Formula K, Sold Out! An Industry first!
Twin Racer was a one or two player Kee Games copy of Gran Trak 20. This game added the new feature: The Ram Effect!! (knock your opponent off the track). Also, Free play at 20 points instead of Gran Trak’s 40. Key Games ‘innovation’ with this game was the ‘Automatic Drive Button’. Key advertised it as ‘for ladies and kids ‘ must for arcades’ Hardware was Discreet Logic, ROM used for car, oil slick graphics.
1974 October 31: Atari Introduces Pin Pong coin-op
Atari’s New Unique Concept
Pin Pong was a one or two player black and white video pinball game, with a rather crude table. The ‘Pin Pong’ flyer describes Pin Pong as: ‘In Pin-Pong a gravity algorithm accelerates the ball downward to give realistic pinball action on the screen’. Ball movement governed by patented ball movement circuit. Hardware was discreet logic, with a patented ball movement circuit.
1974 November 5: Kee Games Introduces Tank!
The importance of Tank! I nthe history of Atari cannot be understated. It was the game that saved Atari from bankruptcy in 1974. A black and white two-player tank combat game, much like the game featured in one of the most popular modes of the Atari 2600 Combat! cartridge. Players each used two joysticks to control their tank. The game became so popular that the exclusivity agreements demanded distributors were thrown out the window, allowing Atyari and Kee to reform as one company. The game was designed by Steve Bristow and Lyle Rains at Kee Games. Lyle Rains finished the game. “I was working on it when I hired Lyle,” Steve Bristow recalled, “Then I gave it to him and he finished it. A lot of the implementation was his, but the original idea was mine.” The Game cabinet was designed by Peter L. Takaichi, and patented Oct. 20, 1975 (US Patent # D243,624 )
Tank is one of the first arcade game to use ROM read-only-memory as well as Discreet Logic Chips. The ROM enabled the game to have distinct looking sprites to represent the tanks in the game. Gran-Trak 10 from the same year also used ROM, but in a different form.
November 5: Atari Introduces Qwak! coin-op
Qwak! was a one player light-gun controlled, duck hunting video game with a b&w monitor. Gun shaped like a rifle with a security mechanism that would sound an alarm if it is stolen. One duck would fly across the black and white monitor at a time, giving the player a chance to shoot 3 times to hit it. A “hunting dog” would run-out to collect fallen-ducks if the player was successful with their aim. The game could be modified by the operator to have time limits, extended time, and free games.
Hardware was a discreet logic design. Advertised as Durastress ‘ and marketed with Atari’s Innovative Leisure ‘ slogan with the added: ‘The sky’s the limit when it comes to our inventiveness’.
1974 November 13: Atari Introduces Touch Me coin-op game
Touch Me was a one player, discreet logic coin-operated game without a video screen. Colored lights, aligned In a row, light-up in succession, and the player must memorize the pattern, and then repeat it. Much like the game hand-held game Simon that would appear years later. Atari tried to combat Simon with hand-held version of Touch Me, but it was unsuccessful.
1974 December Year End: Atari And Kee Merge As One Unit
Tank was such a huge hit for Kee Games that by the end of the year distributors no longer demand exclusive rights. Bushnell was having cash flow problems at Atari (many of which stemmed from problems with Gran Trak 10, and an unprofitable venture into Japan.) Joe Keenan on the other hand is running Kee Games brilliantly. Atari and Kee merged at the end of 1974, and Joe Keenan becames president of Atari, Steve Bristow became head of Engineering and Al Alcorn became head of R&D.