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Activision and Imagic


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No Atari 2600 sub-forum is complete without a discussion on Activision and Imagic. Well known as the first and second third party developers in the history of console gaming, both companies were founded by ex-Atarians, had a reputation for generally high quality output, used easily recognizable (and cool) packaging for their games, and credited programmers for their work. More importantly, both were responsible for some of the most memorable gaming experiences on the 2600. Indeed, games like Pitfall!, Chopper Command, Kaboom, Keystone Kapers, Megamania, Hero, Demon Attack, Cosmic Ark, Atlantis, Fathom, Dragonfire and Moonsweeper stood proudly against the very best that Atari had to offer.

 

So, what are your favorite titles from these 2600 heavyweights? Do you have a strong preference for one developer over the other? Do you have a favorite programmer from either company? Any particular Activision/Imagic memories? Share here. :)

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Fond memories of both of course, for Activision of course I have the warm and fuzzies for the Pitfall! games, River Raid, Keystone Capers but even the lesser known titles many were great, you could tell that Activision just put that extra bit of effort into their work. Liked the labels but came to be annoyed on how many of them today are stained with the glue used having seeped through over the year. Now IMAGIC, they were like the weird version of Activision but not in a bad way at all. Now there were some cool labels and boxes, silver tinted and shiny with images that were very representative of the times, custom made used to represent aliens and demons etc, looked very cool in a b-grade SciFi way. Great titles like Demon Attack, Cosmic Ark, Dragonfire . Two great companies that helped supply a stream of quality titles. 

I am Rob aka MaximumRD aka OldSchoolRetroGamer and THIS is my world http://about.me/maximumrd

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I'm gonna go with Activision. Maybe that's a ho-hum answer but Activision was really mixing it up in those days. Imagic was cool but didn't bring much new to the table and their cartridge design was kinda dumb. I loved Demon Attack and Atlantis, but most Imagic games seemed to fall into the field of Space Shooters which was dreadfully common by that point. Atari owned that space. I couldn't tell you the difference between Demon Attack and Phoenix if George Plimpton wheeled two television sets into my room and did an in-person side-by-side comparison of the two. 

 

On the other hand Activision was making games that were probably close to early Nintendo NES-style games. Pitfall was kind of like a side-scrolling adventure game, Kaboom could have fit right in with Ice Climber and Balloon Fight, Enduro was a definitive racing game. The Activision experience was different because it was something other than outer space. They went where everybody else was not, which at the time was really creative and fun.

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I'm going with Imagic.  I truly think they get downplayed by most, and have more to offer than they seem to get credit for.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for rooting for the underdog but I think there is more to it than that.

 

As Doctor Octagon stated Demon Attack and Phoenix are spot on similar gameplay wise, but let's be honest the label/box art Imagic used for Demon Attack absolutely rules. Two words: Space Dinosaurs.  Instant victory and my personal favorite box artwork to date.

MaximumRD said it best, the shiny boxes and b-grade Sci-Fi look of the artwork make Imagic's presentation special.  And yes, I like the cartridge design.

 

I don't agree with the Space Shooters comment.  One of Imagic's first releases was Trick Shot, a billiards game that is still really dang impressive on a technical level (and it's fun!).  From what I know this is the only billiards title on the 2600 so from an originality aspect of what was being made at the time, Trick Shot qualifies in that department.  Other titles such as Fire Fighter, Dragonfire, Fathom, Quickstep, and No Escape prove that Imagic did more than just Space Shooters.

 

Maybe Imagic gets thought of for just Space Shooters because they made some great ones.  Atlantis was obviously a hit, but my personal favorites are Cosmic Ark and Moonsweeper.  Both of those games blew away what Atari had to offer in that department up until Solaris was released (holy crap Solaris is good).

 

Imagic had plenty of originality and their later releases for the Intellivision really impress me.  Instead of just making ports of all their games across multiple platforms (Activision was huge into this) they chose to instead focus on providing original games that took advantage of the increased specs.  Intellivision releases such as Beauty and the Beast, Ice Trek, Microsurgeon and Dracula have my interest and I may pick them up in the future.

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They both were awesome, and really pushed the envelope of good games.  And they were born of Atari's arrogance. 

On the Demon Attack vs. Phoenix argument:  I'm pretty sure Demon Attack came out much earlier than the 2600 version of Phoenix.  It was a phenomenon.  The great graphics, the changing adversaries, the finally the birds that split into two little ones, and then one that dives towards you!  WOAH!  I remember all the kids at the time just being nuts about that game. 

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Activision - my fav's are Ice Hockey (and no I'm not from the north..LOL), Freeway, River Raid, Chopper Command.....and worst are Fishing Derby and Space Shuttle - this is out of the actual Activision titles I've own since the 80's.

 

Imagic - Trick Shot (being the only Imagic (2600) title I have since the 80's) - along with DragonFire & Demon Attack by Imagic for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2 ........don't have any to list as worst.

Brian Matherne - owner/curator of "The MOST comprehensive list of Atari VCS/2600 homebrews ever compiled." http://tiny.cc/Atari2600Homebrew

author of "The Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion" book series available on Amazon! www.amazon.com/author/brianmatherne

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Activision - my fav's are Ice Hockey (and no I'm not from the north..LOL), Freeway, River Raid, Chopper Command.....and worst are Fishing Derby and Space Shuttle - this is out of the actual Activision titles I've own since the 80's.

 

Imagic - Trick Shot (being the only Imagic (2600) title I have since the 80's) - along with DragonFire & Demon Attack by Imagic for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2 ........don't have any to list as worst.

Ice Hockey is probably the best 2600 sports game.  Love that game.  And you're right about Space Shuttle:  Peee Yoooo!  Another stinker in my opinion is Freeway.  You can only move up and down, not sideways!  It's no Frogger, that's for sure. 

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I bought that Space Shuttle game brand new (I think that was the very last title I purchased brand new from back in the day) and I still have the manual to it and have never been able to figure out how to fly the shuttle! Probably because the manual is so thick its intimidating!!  

Brian Matherne - owner/curator of "The MOST comprehensive list of Atari VCS/2600 homebrews ever compiled." http://tiny.cc/Atari2600Homebrew

author of "The Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion" book series available on Amazon! www.amazon.com/author/brianmatherne

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One thing I dislike about Imagic - when they created versions of their games for the Atari computers, they were identical to the 2600 versions.  No improvements at all.  Intellivision Demon Attack had the boss ship....8-bit got nothing.  That was a lazy and stupid design decision. 

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For Activision, its tough to beat Pitfall.  It really pushed the Atari places it had never been before.

 

Imagic is tougher for me to pick. For the Intellivision, Imagic's Swords & Serpents is one of my favorites of all time.   On Atari2600, its a toss up between Cosmic Ark and Riddle of the Sphinx.  

 

20th Century Fox had some great titles too, like Crypts of Chaos (a favorite of mine) and Megaforce.

"For you - Rowsdower from the 70 - have been appointed Omnivisioner of the Game Grid."  ~ Atari Adventure Square

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I loved both companies as they fed the Atari fire with great titles that upped design challenges in a system that was becoming increasingly obsolete, even with few other consoles around.

 

For me, the Atari 2600 was a game system I championed even when the NES had taken over and the war (and crash) was over.

So, those bright-colored Activision boxes rekindled the nostalgia for the original Atari packaging (never cared for the blah standard silver 'design') and their games were fun and brought VCS enjoyment to the max.

 

Of course, Pitfall was one I played over and over, though I can understand today's player not getting much out of it.

You had to be there (as with all 2600 titles, really) to understand the rabid excitement one gets when simply hearing these titles mentioned.

Space Shuttle was ambitious (overly) and rented it a bit, but just set it aside as an awesome tribute to the complexities possible with this little-console-that-could.

 

Starmaster is an Activision title that deserves heaps of praise for bringing that cool Star Trek vibe to players of the era.

 

As for Imagic, Dragonfire and Moonsweeper are loads of fun. But my favorite 'remains-to-be-conquered' title is Riddle of the Sphinx.

It's the perfect companion to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

When I got into my Intellivision rental phase, Imagic titles were number one for me.

I won't go into em here, but most were standouts.

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Back in the day, I only had a handful of games and they were all first-party carts, so I'm just kinda coming into all these third-party gems. I have a handful from each developer, so now you guys have me wanting to see which I DO prefer. Looks like next months vacation time is filling up fast...

Atlas was permitted the opinion that he was at liberty, if he wished, to drop the Earth and creep away; but this opinion was all that he was permitted.

 

Franz Kafka

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Slightly off topic -

 

I'm catching up on the Atari 2600 Game-By-Game Podcast and Ferg's 100th episode features a lengthy interview with Activision's David Crane. I've heard Mr. Crane speak before on a panel at PRGE and wished then that he had more time. Here he very graciously shares his memories and experiences at Atari and Activision. Its really fascinating stuff for any Atari gamer!

 

Check it out here: http://2600gamebygamepodcast.blogspot.com/2015/05/ax-018-pitfall.html

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I'm quite a fan of Activision, and the fact that they are still in business and doing quite well today is simply amazing. Really, Activision is one of the earliest and longest lasting video game publishers around, and here's a hope they stick around for another 30 years.

"I'd buy that for a dollar!" -Smash T.V.

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Also, who else agrees with me that if Activision would just go ahead and acquire the remaining Atari assets, that it would be simply awesome? It seems like a no brainer, to be honest. Atari and Activision have always been closely linked, and I believe the Atari legacy would be handled much more adeptly by Activision than it has been otherwise lately.

"I'd buy that for a dollar!" -Smash T.V.

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Also, who else agrees with me that if Activision would just go ahead and acquire the remaining Atari assets, that it would be simply awesome? It seems like a no brainer, to be honest. Atari and Activision have always been closely linked, and I believe the Atari legacy would be handled much more adeptly by Activision than it has been otherwise lately.

I agree.....would be ironic that the former Atari designers that left to create Activision would own Atari in the future...LOL

Brian Matherne - owner/curator of "The MOST comprehensive list of Atari VCS/2600 homebrews ever compiled." http://tiny.cc/Atari2600Homebrew

author of "The Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion" book series available on Amazon! www.amazon.com/author/brianmatherne

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I love them both.

 

I was a member of the Numb Thumb Club just so I could get the sweet Fire Fighter poster. I wish I still had that thing. I enjoyed the game. Dragon Fire was another Imagic fave.

As for Activision, I had a bunch of them and really enjoyed Pitfall, Seaquest, River Raid, Ice Hockey & Keystone Kapers. I thought Space Shuttle was a mind-blowing achievement, even if all I ever did was liftoff.

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