Posted on May 22, 2007
Atari History Through Commercials (Part 8)
1988 Atari Games Tengen RBI Baseball Commercial For The NES
In very early 1988, Atari Games (the coin-op arm of the original Atari no part of Namco) created a company named Tengen to focus on making 3rd party games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. going even further than when Atari Inc. started a “home” division in 1975, Atari Games created Tengen as separate entity, and then licensed them their own games. The first games they created were versions of Namco’s Pac-Man and Atari Games coin-op “RBI Baseball”.
Tengen created many games for the NES including (what turned out to be) an unlicensed version of Tetris that embroiled the company in a series of lawsuits that did not end it Tengen’s favor. In 1993, Namco sold the the controlling interest in Atari Games back to Time Warner, and changed the name of Tengen to Time Warner Interactive. Atari Games (the coin-op division) continued as an entity under Time Warner until they were sold to Midway in 1996, at which-time they became known as Midway Games West. They ceased making coin-ops in 2001, ending the efforts of the original Atari Inc coin-op division after nearly 30 years.
1989 November: Federated Group Closeout Sale Commercial
To help create a market for it’s own products in the USA, Atari corp purchased the chain of “Federated Group” stores in August of 1987. The idea was to have it’s own retail outlet that Atari could use as the epicenter for it’s drive to take-back the video game and computer market. Problem was, Federated Group was more messed-up than Atari Corp. itself and fixing the problem was beyond the abilities of Atari’s management. Visiting a Federated Group at the time when Atari supposedly “owned” them was a sad joke. Atari hardware was never in supply, and the software for it’s own machines was limited or nonexistent.
Personal Anecdote: My brother and I bought a 1040 ST from Federated Group in 1988, and the mouse for the computer promptly crapped-out. We took it back to the store, and asked for a replacement. They could not offer one immediately, but they had useturn it into their “Service Department”. We visited the store and called them many times over the next 12 months, but could never get a straight answer about when our Mouse would be fixed. Basically, they had no idea what had happened, and did not want to help us at all. Finally, we wrote a letter to the Bureau Of Consumer Affairs, and in about 1 week Federated Group was falling all over themselves to help us out. When we finally went in to pick up our ST Mouse, the manager of the store yelled at us for making his “life hard” because we had contacted the Bureau Of Consumer Affairs. Suffice it to say, that was the last we ever purchased anything from the store. Not surprising,in the fall of 1989, Atari liquidated their remaining Federated Group Stores and wrote off the experiment as a huge mistake.
1989: Atari Lynx Commercial
This commercial highlights some of the amazing features of the “Handy” Epyx Lynx designed by Dave Needle and R.J. Mical. . The Lynx had very little to do with Atari. The Lynx was created at Epyx, and all the best games were created by Epyx. Epyx could not get the money to market it themselves, so they made a deal with Atari. Rumor has it that Atari Corp. pulled one of it’s “business is war” deals with Epyx, and withheld payments long enough for the company to go out of business, leaving them sole owners of the Lynx. I’m not sure how true this rumor actually is, but it sure sounds like something Atari Corp. might have done. Without the support of the Epyx programmers, most of the Lynx software (after the initial crop of games) was pretty dreadful .By the time programmers got good enough to make some decent games, it was too late.
1990 Atari “Lynx In The Can” Commercial
Today this commercial looks like one of those “retro jokes” where a guy takes out a “Mobile Phone” in a car and it’s the size of a brick. The same can be said for this kid who somehow hides an enormous Lynx system in his pants, only to take it out in a stall and play it. There are so many things wrong with this one it’s difficult to even start.
Personal Anecdote: Against our better judgment, Jeff and I purchased an Atari Lynx about this time. The machines were only available at Software Etc. at the time, and the cartridge selection was very limited. It was such a cool looking device, and played games so well, we were sure that Atari had finally created the hit system they had needed for almost a decade. The first games we bought did not disappoint either. Zolar Mercenary, Gates Of Zendacon, Warbirds, and Todd’s Adventures In Slime World were all excellent games. Too bad we were the only people around who ever played them.
1992 June 20th: Atari Lynx “Batman Returns” Commercial
By the end of 1991, Atari had sold 1,000,000 Lynx games and was set to take on the world in 1992. They expected Lynx sales to double in 1992. 80 games were announced for release. “Batman Returns” was supposed to be the “Big Hit” for the Lynx. It was one of the few licensed/movie tie-in games that a machine with the “Atari” name had secured since the days of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” for the 2600. Too bad it was a run-of-the-mill beat-em-up that did not offer enough value for anyone to take seriously. In less than 1 year, Atari stopped almost all support for the Lynx. The game was released on August 20th, so I assume the commercial was shown soon after. By the way, this commercial contains a half-truth that could be easily seen through by any kid who played video games at the time. the Lynx could display “4000” different colors, but only 16 of them at once.
By December 1992, Atari’s plans for the Lynx were shattered. Sales for the year were far lower than expected. The Sega Game Gear color portable system had arrived, and Atari now did not have the only color hand-held on the block. The Lynx had some better features than the Game Gear (stereo siund, Comlynx support) but it was also almost twice the size of the Game Gear, and ate batteries at more than twice the pace. For Christmas, the price of the Lynx was reduced to $79.99.
Personal Anecdote: By the of 1993, the Lynx was a dead product in the USA. The only stores that sold it, Software Etc./Babbages were blowing out games at fraction of their original prices. 10 years to the date of the first Video Game crash of 1983, I was again, like a giddy school boy, running around trying to buy as many games as possible at almost unheard of prices, be damned the effects of the fallout. By Christmas I had found 14 Lynx games at various stores and paid no more than $7.99 each for them. I gave them all to my brother for Christmas. It was the last time I was ever able to buy a Lynx game at a regular brick and mortor store.