I was born in 1982, and thus grew up in the 80s at a time when culture and computers started to intersect each other in an impressive and interesting way. The 80s were not only a time of the burgeoning personal computing market, but it was also a time when innovation was still a big deal in the console gaming market (mostly of Nintendo holding the crown). Although I was never much of a console gaming kind of kid, I did have an Atari console, (the exact model escapes me) but then moved to PC gaming in the late 80s and early 90s.
There are probably few people that know about, or even remember, that Atari had a brief stint with computers in the mid 80s and early 90s. The Atari STF was one of them, and I remember my father buying one in 1988 (I would have been 6 years old). Unfortunately at the time, I was never exposed to Macintosh because my father was primarily a PC guy. I ended up asking him why he made the decision to go with the Atari ST, and if he even considered the Macintosh; his answer was more obvious than I anticipated. He was doing some research on what computer to buy, and apparently it came down to a matter of price. My parents were in their 20s with two kids, and the Atari STF was going for $1600, a princely sum for them at the time. The Macintosh Plus was well over $2000, so it wasn’t even a contender.
The 1040STF was a pretty great system for the time. It was meant to be a Macintosh and Amiga competitor, and it actually sold quite favourably because of its lower price point, and higher clocked CPU. The 1040STF had a colour pallet of 4096 colours, a graphics co-processor, 8 MHz Motorola CPU, 512kb of RAM and PCM audio. You could even plug-in two joysticks via its enhanced joystick ports, and it was the first personal computer with full MIDI support built-in. This would prove popular among some musicians, including Atari Teenage Riot.
There’s no doubt gaming was popular on this machine, for many reasons including the overall low cast of the machine and all around good performance. One ingenious game called MIDI Maze used MIDI ports used the MIDI ports to connect up to 16 machines for interactive networked play.
The Wikipedia article on the ST states the following interesting tidbit about MIDI Maze:
This is sometimes said to have inspired modern LAN games which became popular in the early 90s.
I don’t know if there is a shred of truth to this, but it sounds plausible.
I recall one of my favourite games was Test Drive, published by the late Accolade software. which became incredibly addictive. The main premise, for those that don’t know about it, is that you drove super cars on a two-lane cliffside road, whilst trying to outrun police and avoid oncoming traffic. I remember it being incredibly challenging at the time. I haven’t revisited that game, but I think I may see if I can find a suitable Atari ST emulator. With some Googleing I found this emulator, although I can’t vouch for it as I have yet to try it. I’ll give this a go soon and will report back on how successful I was in a future issue of this newsletter.
After reminiscing about the late 80s with my father, he recalled my mother not being too happy about him coming home with a $1600 computer, which he had not consulted her about; arguments ensued on whether or not they should keep it. Well, I’m glad they did, because that became the moment I developed a penchant for technology.
So do you have a story you’d like to share about gaming in the 80s? If so, I’d love to hear from you.