The Needles

The Needles
History Lessons

Andy Chalk | 8 Sep 2009 21:00
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"Captain Chang gazed out at the dazzlingly beautiful layers of color: Green, purple, blue and red," the book reads. "What could it mean that nothing appeared on the radar? Was it possible to travel through the field or would he crash and be destroyed? And what about the layers? If he made it through one, could he make it through the next? It was time for a decision."

Yet Warner's focus didn't stop there. While the specifics of why the Yars wanted revenge may be lost to all but the most dedicated of fans, many Atari properties, not to mention the famous Atari logo itself, gained widespread public visibility through aggressive merchandising efforts that went beyond the games themselves and continue to echo in the "collector's edition" releases that are so popular today.

"Warner, being a media company, pioneered a lot of the merchandising and brand recognition marketing techniques that are today associated with Nintendo and Mario. You had Atari character-related books, magazines, clothing, Halloween costumes, bed sheets, party favors, etc.," Goldberg said.

"Warner was a master at leveraging its multiple subsidiaries," he continued. "Atari got a lot of prime product and logo placement in movies of the time (much like Apple does today), such as the giant Atari billboard in Blade Runner, placement in E.T., and of course the overall Atari-themed Cloak and Dagger. This,of course, worked in reverse as well with the game licenses (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Cloak and Dagger, etc.)"

"A lot of people (who think the industry begins and ends with Nintendo) usually incorrectly point to The Wizard as the first major product/film cross-promotion; it was a major promotion for Super Mario Brothers 3," he said. "However, Cloak and Dagger was actually the first - the entire movie was based around this arcade title and the premise of stolen plans hidden in an Atari 5200 version of it that needed to be unlocked."

And what of Asteroids? The game is based on the exploits of Captain Jim Stanton of the "Cosmic Space Patrol," who finds himself confronted by a giant asteroid while on a routine patrol. The Cosmic Space Patrol Ship, Intrepid, battles desperately to destroy the asteroid and save the people of the Gamma Hydra farm settlement in Quad 42, but after engaging the emergency hyperspace drive the ship and its crew are somehow transported 607 years in the past - to the year 1983!

It ain't Shakespeare, no, but let's be honest: We've all plunked down cash to watch movies built on even less. And it's not as if films based on meatier games have given us much to cheer about, as anyone who's seen Wing Commander or Max Payne will attest. Still, the established Asteroids "canon" is pretty thin and legit or not, I have a hard time seeing it as relevant, especially given that almost nobody seems to know this stuff even exists.

But exist it does, and while it may not have any bearing on the planned movie, it's an interesting insight into the lengths Atari went to in attempting to imprint its brands on the public consciousness. Captain Stanton and his trusty computer assistant Chip Brain may be gone, but for some people at least, they're not forgotten.

Andy Chalk continues to harbor deep resentment over his parents' refusal to buy him an Atari system.

(Image courtesy of AtariAge.com)

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