Unfortunately I don’t have the money or the space to keep a museum of legacy consoles and games.
So for me, one of the happiest by-products of the proliferation of videogame culture is the burgeoning number of large format books with which us enthusiast historians can augment our collections.
Complementing recent purchases such as the wonderful Artcade and Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection (both from Bitmap books) comes Art of Atari, written, curated and compiled by “Creative Director, writer, speaker, Museum Exec Director, and strategist working at the intersection of design and pop culture”, Tim Lapetino, along with designer Jason Adam.
The presentation is lavish, with 352 pages bound in a smooth hardcover with stitched in red ribbon page marker. I am no expert on printing or publishing, however to this keen amateur bibliophile the book looks and feels attractive and substantial.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to pristine reproductions of striking, moustache-heavy Atari VCS box art, spanning the late 1970s all the way through to the series’ final days in the late 1980s. Accompanying these are profiles of and notes from the artists, production sketches and unused pieces.
There is a huge variety of styles on display from pseudo-‘realistic’ pencil and watercolour pieces to full-blown bonkers airbrushed fantasy.
There are a few clunkers, but those are interesting in themselves. What is remarkable is the flights of fancy which artists took for educational software or ‘dry’ analogue-to-digital game adaptations. After all, who wants to play noughts and crosses with pencil and paper when you can play it floating in space with a shiny silver robot?
Of particular interest to me are some of the interpretations of licensed Japanese IP from the likes of Taito (Space Invaders), Namco (Pole Position) and Nintendo (Mario, Donkey Kong).
To my eyes, even many of the “What were they thinking/smoking?” type covers are infinitely preferable to and evocative than the bland, generic art we see adorning the majority of physical game releases today.
There is a good deal of written content making Art of Atari more than a simple picture book (which would have been welcome enough).
There are fascinating sections on the use of typography, analysis of the period in history and the geography that inspired the art and lettering instantly recognisable packaging and the history of the iconic Atari ‘Fuji’ logo.
Further on we also see designs and images of many of Atari’s arcade cabinets, consoles, computers and peripherals (including the famous ‘wood-veneer’ 2600 and its one button joystick), including some which never saw release, spanning several decades.
Whether you’re into the history of videogaming on an academic or an aesthetic level – or simply seeking a pungent whiff of nostalgia – Art of Atari is another essential gaming tome for your library. Treat yourself to a copy for your coffee table or, better yet, your cocktail cabinet.