Friday 16 July 2021

Atari 2600/7800: A Visual Compendium Review

For those of you that read our recent review of the SNES Pixel Book you’ll know we are becoming very big fans of Bitmap Books. The visual compendium series now stretches across a whole range of computers and consoles and we thought the best place to start would be with one of the earliest games machines of them all.

As its name suggests the Atari 2600/7800 compendium covers an absolutely massive range of games from the two systems. There are screen shots galore, interviews and short features from a host of industry legends and developers and it has all been curated as thoughtfully as ever. If you are a fan of gaming history then this book alone will give you a well-rounded understanding of the games, systems and general state of the industry at the time from an Atari point of view.

The cover and slip case are of the standard we have now come to expect from the company. A simple design featuring a host of characters from iconic games is used which allows for clear visual identification of which system the book is aimed at. The slip case also has a hologram element to it so you can see the characters move to different poses depending on what angle you are looking at it from. It’s a nice touch that mimics the animation style of the games in a fun way.

The book starts with an excellent and extensive historical piece before leading into the beautifully captured shots of the blocky pixels that the 2600 produced. Most games are presented as a single shot spread over a double page with decent chunk of text from industry veterans included to tell you about any interesting trivia or historical context surrounding it. Despite the basic level of graphics the 2600 was capable of producing the pictures used are incredibly crisp and show the minimalist design off to its absolute best. It’s a wonderful achievement to make some of these games look so good.

Aside from the games there are also detailed interviews with important figures from the time such as Carol Shaw, Joe Decuir and Dennis Koble and profiles of important publishing houses such as Activision and Imagic. These pieces really help to give greater insight into the time period and the process of developing and publishing for the systems and further moves the book closer to being a sort of one stop shop for all the information you might need.

As you work through to the end of the 2600 games you’ll find that an interesting section dedicated to unreleased prototypes. Here, designers and programmers give information on the aim of the titles and offer insights into where they may have fitted into the market any why they never made. It’s a brief section but again shows the level of detail that has been included when compiling the book.

There’s also a great section focusing on the box art of the games which highlights some of the awesome designers and art work that has been produced for the system. It’s guaranteed to get anyone who remembers buying games purely based on the picture on the front drowning in a sea of nostalgia.

The 7800 section of the book is just as detailed with the superior graphical power showcased in just as careful and considered a way as its predecessor. It also helps to show there was much more to the 7800 than just Ninja Golf (which everyone seems to have discovered via the Evercade).  

Overall, this is another release from Bitmap Books that is absolutely packed with content. There is so much in here that it’ll take you a good while to be able to take everything in. It’s not just the information or screenshots that set the book apart though. Everything here is considered and thought about from placement of graphics to curation to overall page design and visual signification. If only all books would take this sort of care and attention when it came to their subject matter.

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