Feature: 'Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games'

Atari Games, in its heyday, produced some of the most brilliant game designs the world has ever seen - from Marble Madness to Tempest and beyond - and in this
May 30, 2008
Atari Games, in its heyday, produced some of the most brilliant game designs the world has ever seen - from Marble Madness to Tempest and beyond - and in this in-depth feature, Gamasutra compiles the 20 essentials throughout the company's long arcade career. Despite its once glory producing some of the most memorable arcade designs the industry has seen, Atari seems to have relatively few extremely dedicated to its name. Though many praise Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii's creative titles and approach, at Atari's best, the studio created games that no one else could or even wanted to: "Some people rave about Nintendo; how its designers come up with new ideas so often, about its fearlessness in taking risks with unconventional designs, and how it reinvents its franchises endlessly. But even Nintendo has never been as original, as brilliant, as determined to design what developers think best regardless of what management, critics, and eventually, even players might have to say, as was Atari Games in its heyday. A trip through Atari's classic arcade game catalog is like a course in game design all by itself." One Atari game whose design elements are still influential today, especially with 3D titles, despite having been developed in 1979, is Asteroids: "Asteroids is notable for being what amounts to a rudimentary physics game. That is, a game that ultimately derives its play from simulating Newtonian motion. The player's ship, the rocks, even shots all have mass and inertia. When shooting, the ship's velocity is added to that of the shots coming out of the ship. Many things that are considered physics games now have to do with masses interrelating, colliding or connected with springs, but this is 1979 we're talking about. One of the core ideas of Asteroids, which is now ubiquitous but was rather daring at the time, is the idea that the ship's movement is relative to its orientation and not the player's. Pressing the "turn left" button doesn't cause it to face the left side of the screen, but to rotate to its left. The thrust button doesn't cause the ship to move up the screen but in the direction it's facing. While the player's not inside the vehicle being controlled, just like controlling an R.C. car, movement isn't direct but indirect. It is not overstating things to note that this idea has since saturated gaming. Many 2D games could do without it, but when 3D came along it became indispensable. Tomb Raider, for example, makes heavy use of it. Many say Resident Evil was crippled by it." You can now read the full feature on essential design lessons from 20 Atari games (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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