Jump to content
Mark Wright

Yet another thread about the fate of the Atari 8-bit in the UK

Recommended Posts

I've spent the last few days (such is the free time I have at the moment) leafing through early issues of Your Computer, an influential multi-format magazine that began in 1981. You can retrace my steps for yourself at Archive.org's computer magazine section:

 

https://archive.org/details/your-computer-magazine

 

I'm up to April 1983 and as the months go by with each issue, regarding the story of the Atari 400/800 in the UK, it's been a heart-breaking journey. Reading what was once "Britain's best-selling computer magazine" exposes all the reasons why the pre-XL Atari 8-bits failed to capture mainstream UK imagination. I don't mean specifically - don't interpret that as there being explicit examples, you'll be disappointed if you do! It's more about what's missing - the almost enitre absence of anything Atari-related, in a magazine read by tens of thousands of prospective purchasers of these new-fangled computer thingies. I realise we've gone over this sort of ground before on here - hey, I don't even know if there are enough UK old-timers left to start an interesting discussion - but I feel compelled to share my findings anyway!

 

Before I making a boring list of my thoughts, having read as far as I have, I just want to reiterate: in early 80s Britain, at the very dawn of computer lteracy among "the general public", there were few outlets to turn to for informed advice about this new technology. In 1981, there were a handful of multi-format newsstand magazines: Personal Computer World, Computer & Video Games and Your Computer. Occasional TV news items would focus on "the silicone age" but often these would be negative, spreading fear about computers taking away jobs. I'd wager that word of mouth was probably the most prevalent catalyst for sparking an interest, with the chap next door, at work, or down the pub, waxing lyrical about his new ZX80 or Acorn Atom or whatever. Popular interest in "home computers" was eventually piqued in early 1982 with a much publicised TV series "The Computer Programme".

 

* Until the airing of that BBC series, complete with its own commissioned micro, the UK home computer userbase was comprised of academic, beardy-weirdy, geeky, inquisitive engineer types who'd built kit computers such as the MK-14, Nascom and ZX80. Such kits were designed by enthusiasts and sold, mail-order, to similar enthusiasts who, otherwise, would be fiddling with HAM radios or other electronics.

* When Issue 1 of Your Computer appeared, the Atari 400/800 and its various peripherals had only just been officially imported into the UK by Ingersoll and were already available (if lucky) through a select few outlets.

* Early issues of Your Computer are awash with crude adverts for obscure hardware formats, all jostling for position. All of them over-priced. All of them moribund. Dominating the editorial is Sinclair's ZX80, later ZX81, and the imminent arrival of Commodore's VIC-20. The Atari 400/800 was never reviewed by Your Computer. Presumably it was already old news, or review machines weren't supplied.

* In the 30 issues of Your Computer up to April 1983, there have been three Atari-related items in the magazine's "news" section and two letters from Atari owners.

* So far, no Atari hardware has featured on any cover of the magazine, and unlike other hardware clearly photographed "in situ" by the magazine for features, only PR shots have been used to illustrate the few Atari features

* Ads from retailers selling Atari hardware start to appear from late 1981 - the likes of Maplin, then Computers For All and Silica Shop, rising from a couple of pages up to five or six by 1983. Atari software ads from domestic houses like Llamasoft emerge in mid 1982, albeit crude monochrome half-pages. There are no adverts from Atari itself (or via Ingersoll) among the many for Commodore and Texas Instruments, etc.

* When the Atari is mentioned, it's in disparaging terms - a luke-warm review of its "expensive" games. It's left out of round-ups of disk-based systems, educational options, etc.

* In the absence of Atari coverage, the magazine favourably reviews each new micro release: Dragon 32, Oric 1, Camputers Lynx, Sord M5, Video Genie, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Jupiter Ace, BBC Micro, etc.

 

So why am I bothering to type all of this? (And thank you anyway for reading this far!) Well, it just makes me sad. Not in a "I won't sleep tonight" kinda way, but it's so obvious to me why readers of "Britain's best-selling computer magazine" were oblivious to Atari - just when it mattered most. We all know the hardware was mind-blowingly expensive, as were the carts that slowly trickled onto these shores (£1700 for an 800 in today's money and £75 for Star Raiders!) but those who could afford it and *really* wanted it clearly existed. If only more knew about it... If only there was a way to create awareness... what a PR disaster! What a rudimentary 101 fail from Atari.

 

* Your Computer CLEARLY had no Atari hardware in its office to test out anything they were sent. As stated, neither the machines nor its hard drives, program recorders, carts (etc.) appeared on any of the magazine's covers

* Magazines exist on income from ad revenue - if you don't place advertising, where's the impetus for the mag to review your products (let alone favourably) while your (much-covered) competitors are spending thousands?

* No Atari press releases means no Atari in the "news" section of the magazine - how much effort is involved in *bombarding* Britain's BEST-SELLING computer magazine with exciting PR puff each week?

* Whoever determined UK price policy was living on another planet. Even in 1981/82 foreign market research was straightforward (a few phone calls with partners and retailers) to inform strategy

 

Gagh. I'm wondering whether to click "post" on this as I know it's a massive ramble, but having written it now... what the hey! I just find it so depressing that the Atari 400/800 was all but invisible in the UK for so long, unless you were among the elite few who knew about it and could afford it. When my dream finally came true of owning an Atari, I joined that elite by purchasing an original RRP Warner 800XL. Shortly afterwards, Tramiel came along and emptied his UK reserve stocks of 800XLs via chain stores at rock-bottom bargain-basement prices. The good news: Atari's UK profile was boosted overnight, with masses of new owners all hungry for software. The bad news: Atari had created a new "junk" market for its once-prestige, now sub-£80 machine. It was bought by those whose budget couldn't stretch further. It was fuelled by diabolical software costing less than £2.

 

Take a look for yourself at a few of those early Your Computer magazines, where the Atari should have been centre stage. You'll see for yourself why I feel the way I do :-)

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In simple terms, you could say that when the Atari 400/800 were designed - they were looking at the Apple II, with the 800 pricing that reflected this. It was first designed with 8K in mind, but quickly changed to 16K by the time of it's actual release - and after a couple of years 48K was seen to be the new norm.

Times were achanging. Of course it was the appearance of the C-64 that made competition became truly fierce.

 

But anyone who did their own research - would have dismissed those computers they felt were substandard, the likes of the Vic-20, Dragon 32 and so on. I did come across 2 people who bought Atari 800s in 1982 in the UK who contributed to the early issues of Page 6 magazine, like I did.

When I returned to Dunedin, New Zealand 10 months later, I did meet up with a local lad who was keen on his Atari 400 and the various game cartridges he bought for his machine - who later took on games programming. I became involved in setting up a local Atari Users club, edited a small magazine that ran for 2 issues and then became involved in designing graphics for 2 Atari computer games - which I did not think could happen, but eventually did.

 

While I did eventually purchase a C-64 too, I never really encountered the same equivalent/quality of people within the C-64 community - as there were none? But I didn't stay with the C-64 for all that long to know them well. They were only end users as such - with none being programmers or such like.

 

While I did move onto the Atari ST, and eventually Amiga - and onto games consoles. It is people within the Atari community (8-bit and ST) that I connected with, and found worthwhile connections/etc. Next would be Amiga, I guess.

 

It is when hardware reaches the mass market - that things really start to happen.

 

Like, I could never be bothered about modems, etc until they were priced low enough, and until it was worthwhile getting on board with it - with being able to do useful things on it. That only happened when 56K modems became standard on the market, and when the WWW was up and running, which provided email, sites to get onto and visit - and a lot of stuff/sites was accessable free and when the advertising did not get in your way so much. Nowadays the advertising encroachment is so ridiculous, advertisers who get in your face literally - who would want to purchase/etc make use of their advertising?

 

Early adoptees have very little choice - either you recognise quality and paid for it, or you went the budget route, and you get what you paid for. When 400/800 prices started tumbling down, that was the time to get on board with a computer, if you were in the shopping around stage.

But as always with technology - the longer you wait, the better buys do come along with the advancement/upgrading of technology.

The trick is to recognise (if you can) to not end up with a dodo you'll regret? Like with a 3DO, Sega 32X, Sega 32X CD, Amiga CD, Vic-20 and so on.

 

Harvey

Edited by kiwilove

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks.

Humm... Now imagine someone (me) that when I get my first year job vacations in 1992 (lots of years later) went on an train Inter-Rail across Europe but was in U.K. (thnks to the U.K. magazines we had here, the same almost none A8 revues nor advertisings) and travel there for about one week (the trip was 1month, something like one day per city/country) trying to get anything (at the time I only had a tape-recorder).

I need to travel from city to city (at least I travel through your countryside...) to get some tapes here and others there, most of stores only a couple of budget tapes and only those remaining Atari had something more like Sunaro and Miles Better Software.

Nice it was at least to had been in that now lost forever Atari World/Red Rat Software in Manchester(sad to know here years later by tezz of the bomb, that now said me that Ocean Software wasn't far away, wish I knew that and I'm sure I'll went there and complaint about there no A8 releases and probably would saw and asked why there was an Atari 800Xl in the office if they don't bother with us, at least is what some people saying that they had). From a guy that don't know anything about game computers industry, at least on a small market machine, that Red Rat Software was just a door, some stairs direct to small cave with just three or four computers and stairs from what I remember. But I will never forget those large 'plaza' with yours british brick houses and the adress 11th Fennel street (Oops, was 11 or 14? :grin:).

I will also never forget to exit the train, make a phone call to see if there was anyone at the house (don't know why, I think I had sent a letter first from here and they answered to me first call them that even if there wasn't there anyone they were near and will open it for me) and had to catch a taxi to travel across the countryside near to get into Page6. Again the memory of a house and I think a wood or metalic outside of the house stairs to the 1st floor and on the right there was a table with some Page6 issues, they hadn't all but I remember that I bought around 10/12 issues probably all the ones they had. A shame is that I don't remeber wich one of the Ellingham's Italked to me...Then I remember i was walking in the central 'plaza' walkway of Staford reading the mag and seeing lots of games announced to be on A8 but that I never saw them on the stores I were, there wasn't Internet on those days and some of them I had to wait untill now/on the 21st Century...).

Budget tapes I bought around 30 or so most budget in some street stores like an Indian/Paquistan outside Manchester, again other memory, this time not Atari related but I remember to pass on a large factory of Cadbury :P and I loved and still love chocolate (mostly that time Atlantis, Mastertronic and Hi-Tec Software, yeah I had seen some advertisings here in Portugal on yours English magazines but they had always C64 screens and even knowing the usual bad ports and some A8 troubles with colours and sprites I was really pissed when I load them at home, indeed I think the Hi-Tec ones were the first I put onto the tape-recorder to saw that Grrr!...).

I ended up with about 20magazines and around 40/50 game tapes, indeed I think that I spent more in Atari stuff than in the month train ticket and the boat to cross the Channel together (there wasn't tunnel at that time, i think it was in construction ;)).

 

I could write more and try to remember and I sure will but the idea is in here.

Thank you that we had Internet to talk and share these things and that people can continue to do games for these old machines.

In my case knowing many people, some of oldies coders and all my love for this machine finally got into me doing some things and colaborate with coders for new games.

Thank you all.

:thumbsup:

Edited by José Pereira
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

P.s.- Kiwilove great thing is web and 21st Century, don't know how much copies but I was one that answered for that calling in Page6 of buyng Hawquest and the Red Rat Software two disks on that plastic package. Don't remember is from what store I bought it. How will I ever thought I will ever talk with many coders and guys from the past A8 like you on the gfxs and Paul Lay on the coding and some others.

It was after the travel, here and from mail that I bought a 1050 disc-drive and started buying some discs from Page6, Derek Fern, A.N.G.,... I also got at this time some carts from Page6 (I was already subscribing their magazine and was untill the last days/last number :() on those sells from them with good prices.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

P.s.- Kiwilove great thing is web and 21st Century, don't know how much copies but I was one that answered for that calling in Page6 of buyng Hawquest and the Red Rat Software two disks on that plastic package. Don't remember is from what store I bought it. How will I ever thought I will ever talk with many coders and guys from the past A8 like you on the gfxs and Paul Lay on the coding and some others.

It was after the travel, here and from mail that I bought a 1050 disc-drive and started buying some discs from Page6, Derek Fern, A.N.G.,... I also got at this time some carts from Page6 (I was already subscribing their magazine and was untill the last days/last number :() on those sells from them with good prices.

Yeah, I appreciated the purchase for sure. It does annoy me now, that I should have approached Atari UK with it. Red Rat was never my first choice for distribution - as I know they leaked out the demo copy of Laser Hawk - and didn't keep in touch with us, after the first royalty payment for that. Also back then, we didn't consider making it NTSC friendly - though we did a one off test with it not running on a NTSC Atari 800.

I'll PM on another matter.

 

Harvey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Forgot to say that I still remember that those Hawquest two discs package with the yellow paper and inlay instructions inside a plastic case wasn't nice but that was the same and always inside plastic that all the 90s stuff from Polish, A.N.G, Derek Fern's Micro-Discount came.

And the price for a game and disc only release on a package with two discs in an almost dead market computer priced at 14.9505 was a courage turn. Did you know, just for curiosity, how many copies Red Rat Software sold?

About you're refering to Atari I don't think they will release your game as they were already not doing A8 games anymore and their idea of Atari stores partners Atari World like the one that was inside the Rat's cave in Manchester didn't get into any good.

By the way and as far as I can remember now in Rat's cave I think that I didn't bought nothing, they had almost nothing to sell and discs at the time, like I said on the other post, I didn't had a disc-drive. This is the proof of the always bad marketeer Atari always had, with their policy it would never had been possible they could had won and beeing any great player on a so competitive and constantly growing market with so many competitors.

Edited by José Pereira

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When Hawkquest started (straight after Laser Hawk was finished) development - we had no idea of when it would be finished? Had we known in 1986 - exactly how long it would take, we'd probably have went for a much smaller project instead? I'm to be blamed for the overall game design. Andrew, had I think 2? years of night classes he had to attend for his apprenticeship - but I guess the mathematics may have come in handy for use in Hawkquest? So he couldn't program during the week, and had to wait until weekends to work on the game.

Atari UK did release a game around the time of Hawkquest - 1989, I think it was a clone of Flying Shark - I forget it's name.

 

Hawkquest did sell alright - we expected low sales because it was the zenith of the Atari 8-bit. I forget the number(s)- somewhere in the hundreds? I have a poor memory. I kept a receipt somewhere, but it'll be lost by now. It was either Red Rat - or no one. We had no other choice.

 

Back in 1983 when I attended a Star Trek convention in Birmingham - I dropped into the Atari store there, and was fortunate to bump into Paul Woakes and his Encounter game - and was blown away by it then.

 

Harvey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I never ventured in to the politics of Atari at the time, being a dealer (Maplin Electronics) it always felt like the UK was an after thought for Atari with it being left to the dealers to do the needed PR and attempt to make a profit as well. Magazines as said were basically unaware of the Atari with the big boy Personal Computer World barely seeing a type in for the machine and zero reviews. Eventually Maplins mag made it out with Page 6 and Atari User who I wrote for but these mags were playing catchup for the US software that had been out for a while and only now getting distributed here in the UK.

 

By now there was a trickle of UK based stuff, Gremlin took on some stuff, Jeff Minter came on board but in general the big firms just failed to take a risk on the Atari 8 bit other than doing budget brands of old big games.

 

For us shops it was also incredibly hard, these machines were NOT cheap and getting people to pass on their hard earned cash was not easy, I earned my wages and then some but the customers came back as we like other big centres were few and far between, there was us in Hammersmith, then Atari in Slough and Silica shop in Kent plus our other branches in Manchester Birmingham etc, later Silica opened in Central London. But there was always one big problem for all of the big centres, piracy. Tape piracy was fairly common but more playground, it was the arrival of the Happy Drive that started to eat at the centres profits, I can say with hand on heart that every centre that was big enough had at least a single pirate working the stores on the weekends, I could name names but I'll leave it be, but I know these guys were in the shops often with management allowance because the staff were getting free copies (yes I understand the irony of it but it happened, fact). I personally met Silica shop in Kent's resident backup supplier, the one from our shop and eventually pretty much all of them over the few years. After the Atari shuffled off the earth it was so bad that places like Software City off Tottenham Court Road in London had software copy parties on Saturdays in the shop for the C64 etc.

 

But back to basics, I like Mark hate the way the Atari was handled here, it COULD have been massive but Atari UK just dropped the ball here...Incredibly sad...

 

The big places like US and Silica really tried but US being left to promote it while Atari twiddled its thumbs was annoying, before Atari User was published they contacted us at Maplin (well me) for copies of the hardware manuals and Mapping the Atari, they drove from where they were based (Stockport iirc) and I got chatting with the guy and that's how I ended up writing for them, but at least it Atari minded folk behind it, I wish I had asked les how much Atari had helped them with the magazine in terms of promotions etc but I think I already know it was next to nothing.

 

The rest is history...A sad history of what could have been.

Edited by Mclaneinc
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"The Atari 400/800 was never reviewed by Your Computer."

 

David Bannister did a full review of the 400 and 800 in issue 1 - June/July 1981. It was a very positive review if I recall.

 

But the Atari 400 was 300 pounds without a BASIC cartridge, and required an additional cassette drive to make a functional computer system. Shorty after this, Acorn announced their BBC Model B for the same price (later upped to 400 pounds) so the Ataris were seen as expensive games machines. Plus Commodore and Sinclair pushed cheap cassette software that appealed to the limited disposal incomes of the early 80s, whereas the Atari usually needed expensive cartridge software.

 

Commodore by contrast pushed the VIC20. For 200 pounds the customer got color, sound and a dialect of BASIC. And the VIC20 looked like what the 80s consumer expected a computer to look like, whereas the Atari 400 looked like a bloated Speak and Spell.

 

Seems to me that Ingersoll screwed things up, and Atari UK did little to nothing to push the machines after they took the distribution back from Ingersoll. When you could buy ZX81s in WH Smith, a VIC20 at any Rumberlows, and a Dragon 32 at Comet, you had to really hunt to find an Atari.

 

Jack Schofield at Your Computer was another advocate for the Atari systems, but all anyone wanted to talk about was the ZX81, Spectrum and Commodore 64.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Gagh. I'm wondering whether to click "post" on this as I know it's a massive ramble, but having written it now... what the hey! I just find it so depressing that the Atari 400/800 was all but invisible in the UK for so long, unless you were among the elite few who knew about it and could afford it. When my dream finally came true of owning an Atari, I joined that elite by purchasing an original RRP Warner 800XL. Shortly afterwards, Tramiel came along and emptied his UK reserve stocks of 800XLs via chain stores at rock-bottom bargain-basement prices. The good news: Atari's UK profile was boosted overnight, with masses of new owners all hungry for software. The bad news: Atari had created a new "junk" market for its once-prestige, now sub-£80 machine. It was bought by those whose budget couldn't stretch further. It was fuelled by diabolical software costing less than £2.

 

The sudden, dramatic shift in 1984 certainly didn't make a smooth transition for a broader (low/mid/high-end) software market. I'm not positive, but I believe Atari hardware documentation had become more widely available by that time as well (not sure on it being official or leaked/reverse engineered but certainly more available than it was early on when Atari was more or less attempting a monopoly on software for their machine). I'm pretty sure that's also part of what tape drives and tape software weren't promoted very well for the system: easier control over software development and production when it came to carts and even floppy disks due to costs of the media (and drives). Atari Tape drives also needed a serial interface so it was down to buying their brand or building (or buying) an interface for a normal tape deck. (and without a strong supply of cassette based software, there wasn't much incentive for that either)

 

I'm more surprised there weren't popular Starpath Supercharger type RAM+casette interfaces for the 2600 in Europe, but that's a bit of different topic.

 

For whatever combination of reasons, Atari (or Warner or both) didn't seem particularly interested in catering to the European market or at least not learning the ins and outs of it (or establishing a European subsidiary more atuned to the region, or partnering with native distribution firms for various regions). But aside from understanding the market demands and price points, they ignored the potential on the engineering end regarding differing laws and restrictions on RF interference and the potential cost-cutting measures possible for a Euro-centric remodel of the 400/800. (particularly the 400)

 

If they'd been remotely in-tune with the UK and European markets and shifts in trends, it also should have been pretty obvious that there was a big gap to fill between the 400 and 800 that the 32k 400 failed to fill completely due mostly to the keyboard. Hell, even with the same cases used (and plastic struts or what have you replacing the integral aluminum castings), a cost-reduced single-board 16k 400 would have fit the cheap membrane keyboard a fair bit better while a similar system with 32k and a mechanical keyboard would have fit really well as a mainstream mid-range home computer before the C64 appeared. (honestly, they could probably have just nixed the 800 altogether and just implemented a 48k machine in the 400's case or a modification thereof -or an earlier iteration of a VIC/C64/XL console form factor unit -like 600 prototype but even earlier and without the XL memory mapping or ROM updates)

 

Beyond that, they missed a huge opportunity by canceling the 600 (16k companion to the 1200) that could potentially have fit into a gap between low-end machines like the VIC-20 and Spectrum 16k and the likes of the C64 and BBC Micro (and 800 and 1200XL). Plus, the A8's versatile graphics modes would make 16k a lot more useful than on framebuffer based machines and more useful than a 32k Micro or Electron for most purposes. (true character modes are really, really useful for making the most of memory, not to mention hardware sprites and hardware scrolling) For that matter, continuing to offer both 16k and 32k machines (rather than the shift to 64k only during the pre-600XL period when 400s were being liquidated) was just a really bad idea all around, but more so in Europe than the US. And hell, the 'cheap' Atari machine to one-up the VIC-20 and co could have simply been a 16k Atari 600 with the RF shielding omitted for a European release. (though they'd later have to add some further shielding, I believe Europe and the UK were tightening RF interference restrictions around the same time the FCC was refining/loosening them -I know the BBC micro was ALWAYS heavily shielded, but that was originally due to it being a BBC product with added internal design restrictions placed on that, including the unreliable linear power supply)

When Tramiel took over, I think the aggressive price cuts and liquidation of stock made sense but it went too far. They could have made do with more moderate cuts (less dramatically underselling the C64) while retaining the 600XL as the budget machine. (and that easily should have been the most useful 16k machine on the market at the time)

 

 

And a personal note on the 400's membrane keyboard: I actually like it decently well. It's not great but I prefer it to some of the more tightly packed or oddly spaced (or just undersized) chiclet keyboards or hard-capped rubber keyboards like various Spectrum models used. A domed membrane key set-up on the 400 would have been a nice improvement (added tactile feedback) but as it is the big sell is it being decently responsive and a good overall size. I have pretty long fingers and big hands, so some of the 'cute' mini-keyboards on the really small budget machines are frustrating (and honestly, the 400's keyboard is pretty close to the modern membrane keyboards being marketed for some tablets). I don't mind the mushiness of the ST or XE keyboards either, but the XE's keys are packed a bit too closely vertically speaking to be comfortable. (wide enough but not deep enough -they're wide-rectangular keys rather than square or tall/deep rectangle) Some of the 800XLs actually seem to have similarly mushy keyboards to the XEs anyway, but I know there's a range of different manufacturers used there.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think this thread is fairly negative about the UK Atari 8 bits. I still think a lot of us had a lot of fun (and still do!). There were quite a lot of users in the UK in the early 80s despite the cost. Considering the system dated from the late 70s the graphics were still probably better than the C64 which was launched 5 years later. The C64 probably did have a better sound chip but my main issue with it was that the hard drive was so slow.

 

I had a knockoff US Doubler put in my 1050 which was quite fast. By the later 80s the XL and later XE range were discounted and then the price was accessible but the amount of software was in decline (apart from the Eastern European stuff). I preferred the XL range due to the better keyboard. It seems the Atari 8 bits were never too successful in Europe but the Amiga (which I regard as the successor) was probably more successful in Europe than the US.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it simply came down to price, nothing else. The computer boom in the UK hit at a point when the UK itself was in a deep deep depression. It was the age of strikes (electricity strikes, rail strikes, TV strikes, British Leyland strikes), 3 million unemployed, the miners strike, and the Falklands war. Price was simply everything. The Atari machines were ten times the machine of the likes of the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, but it was frankly irrelevant. Price won. There was no way that a machine costing what the Atari's did was going to get a foothold on the market in 1981/82. Britain was broke. My parents bought me a Spectrum in 1983 from a Kays catalogue. They paid it off weekly. That was the only way they could do it.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was a point where I believe a large number of Atari 800XL's were sold in packs at the Dixons stores. The problem was the lack of software availability in the high street. There wasn't much "shelf space" for Atari 8-bit software

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was a point where I believe a large number of Atari 800XL's were sold in packs at the Dixons stores. The problem was the lack of software availability in the high street. There wasn't much "shelf space" for Atari 8-bit software

 

Absolutely. My parents got me one for Christmas 1984 (I think). I think it cost £79 from Dixons - an 800XL with the Atari data recorded. Loved it. Like you say, there was next to nothing available on the highstreet for it. In Shrewsbury, Shropshire, where I grew up, there was precisely *one* shop that stocked cassette software for the A8. It was called STD Communications on Wyle Cop in the town centre! It was mostly Mastertronic titles for £1.99 or £2.99. I bought Action Biker among other things from there!

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Atari 400/800 computers in their time - stood out from all the rest because of it's graphic capabilities - it's graphic chip support - which you did not see present in the BBC/Spectrum/etc.

The Amiga is it's natural successor because of the same.

 

Just like today - if you were to go out and buy a new laptop - you'll look for one with that kind of support - instead of not bothering to check whether it just had a shared graphics chip, which you want to avoid - also the pricing is a dead giveaway as to what you are buying. The price will eventually come down - but you have to be prepared to wait it out.

 

I still feel very much so - that the graphics of current projects being worked on - could be upped that little bit more - if you had the right kind of graphics support person involved. A few programmers are fully capable of doing their own graphics - but others really need someone to step in and help out - Mirax Force and Last Guardian stands out to me, in this area - in that it could have ended up looking that bit better still.

Programmers just need to have the animation going in the meantime - that the more animation going on - that does help lift the project overall. What would Sonic be, without it's graphics? But it needed to be programmed well to show it off, as well as having it's gameplay present.

 

I will take a wild guess - that something approaching Sonic could be done? Within an A8 bit context/limit.

 

Harvey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it simply came down to price, nothing else. The computer boom in the UK hit at a point when the UK itself was in a deep deep depression. It was the age of strikes (electricity strikes, rail strikes, TV strikes, British Leyland strikes), 3 million unemployed, the miners strike, and the Falklands war. Price was simply everything. The Atari machines were ten times the machine of the likes of the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, but it was frankly irrelevant. Price won. There was no way that a machine costing what the Atari's did was going to get a foothold on the market in 1981/82. Britain was broke. My parents bought me a Spectrum in 1983 from a Kays catalogue. They paid it off weekly. That was the only way they could do it.

That situation points to a cost-minimized 16k Atari all the more appealing for the 1981/82 timeframe, even going cheaper than the planned 600 (1200XL companion that was canceled) and stick a membrane or (preferably) chiclet keyboard in it, though the full keyboard would make it a better competitor to the VIC-20.

 

Expanding the cassette based software supply for the machine would be a bigger issue, though. (even with the right price, no affordable software would kill it) The proprietary SIO tape drive shouldn't have been too big of a hurdle either on the whole as long as Atari didn't try to push profit margins too high there.

 

 

Hell, even with the initial timeframe of their European market management failing to cater to the mainstream (ie budget) market and developing a cost-reduced A400 alternative sooner, the existing prototyped Atari 600 of 1982 would have hit timing pretty well if Atari could get their act together and at least half-decently cater to the hardware and software markets in Europe. (compromises on profit margins included -and taking added tax into account for retail pricing) 2 kB DRAMs were still cheaper bit for bit than 8k DRAMs the 1200XL and C64 were using at the time, so even better value there. (pushing 32 DRAM chips into the 1200XL wouldn't really be cost effective either, hence the use of the denser -but still more expensive- 8k DRAMs )

 

The 600, like the later 600XL also had the PBI expansion port, so the RAM could be upgraded. (another very attractive feature for the budget-minded, and something obviously common on the Sinclair machines)

 

 

Granted, the 600 would have been very useful in the US as well in 1982.

 

 

 

There was a point where I believe a large number of Atari 800XL's were sold in packs at the Dixons stores. The problem was the lack of software availability in the high street. There wasn't much "shelf space" for Atari 8-bit software

It seems like the lacking quantity/proportion of tape-based software in 1984 contributed to this too. You could slash the price of the 800XL so much, but even pushing liquidation there'd be some limit on how practical price-cutting carts would be, or floppy drives requires for disk software. Making Atari tape drives as attractive to purchase as possible would help, but it wouldn't have the 'existing software library' edge over the C64 that the rest of its software library could bring. (if nearly ALL the existing A8 games were available on tape in 1984, it probably would have made a huge difference when the machine pushed into the mainstream/budget market)

 

I get the impression disk drives weren't very common for 8-bit computer users in the UK, correct? (that would nix the ability to play on the A8's much faster DOS)

Edited by kool kitty89

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking back tape software had been published but wasn't always available, some of the big name games were poorly done in the UK - possibly due to a lack of Atari 8-bit expertise resulting in simple 4 colour ports from the Commodore 64 without the time or budget to add Atari enhancements.

 

 

Disk Drives were a rarity although certainly became more popular on the Commodore 64. Wide spread use of Disk's would have certainly extended the life of many platforms

 

I did pick up an Atari 1050 at computer fair sometime in the early 90s, it had a large number of "collections" on many Disks I wonder whether that was more of a symptom rather than a cause of the lack of easily available software?

 

 

That situation points to a cost-minimized 16k Atari all the more appealing for the 1981/82 timeframe, even going cheaper than the planned 600 (1200XL companion that was canceled) and stick a membrane or (preferably) chiclet keyboard in it, though the full keyboard would make it a better competitor to the VIC-20.

 

Expanding the cassette based software supply for the machine would be a bigger issue, though. (even with the right price, no affordable software would kill it) The proprietary SIO tape drive shouldn't have been too big of a hurdle either on the whole as long as Atari didn't try to push profit margins too high there.

 

 

Hell, even with the initial timeframe of their European market management failing to cater to the mainstream (ie budget) market and developing a cost-reduced A400 alternative sooner, the existing prototyped Atari 600 of 1982 would have hit timing pretty well if Atari could get their act together and at least half-decently cater to the hardware and software markets in Europe. (compromises on profit margins included -and taking added tax into account for retail pricing) 2 kB DRAMs were still cheaper bit for bit than 8k DRAMs the 1200XL and C64 were using at the time, so even better value there. (pushing 32 DRAM chips into the 1200XL wouldn't really be cost effective either, hence the use of the denser -but still more expensive- 8k DRAMs )

 

The 600, like the later 600XL also had the PBI expansion port, so the RAM could be upgraded. (another very attractive feature for the budget-minded, and something obviously common on the Sinclair machines)

 

 

Granted, the 600 would have been very useful in the US as well in 1982.

 

 

It seems like the lacking quantity/proportion of tape-based software in 1984 contributed to this too. You could slash the price of the 800XL so much, but even pushing liquidation there'd be some limit on how practical price-cutting carts would be, or floppy drives requires for disk software. Making Atari tape drives as attractive to purchase as possible would help, but it wouldn't have the 'existing software library' edge over the C64 that the rest of its software library could bring. (if nearly ALL the existing A8 games were available on tape in 1984, it probably would have made a huge difference when the machine pushed into the mainstream/budget market)

 

I get the impression disk drives weren't very common for 8-bit computer users in the UK, correct? (that would nix the ability to play on the A8's much faster DOS)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking back tape software had been published but wasn't always available, some of the big name games were poorly done in the UK - possibly due to a lack of Atari 8-bit expertise resulting in simple 4 colour ports from the Commodore 64 without the time or budget to add Atari enhancements.

 

 

A lot of Atari 8-bit ports (especially late generation low-budget ones) in Europe went for the odd choice of using a single-color 4 shade bitmap/framebuffer window for the game and using software sprites rather heavily rather than trying to recolor things for the system's character mode. (many also seemed to use 160x96 screens -or a bit smaller, but same pixel shape- rather than the full 160x192) This seems somewhat akin to lazy Spectrum games that used monochrome graphics rather than per-cell attribute optimizations.

 

They also could have gone the route of using char-sprites for fast-paced games where choppy movement was acceptable like some C64 and most C16/Plus/4 games did. (Spectrum games did this to speed things up and avoid attribute clash issues) You could get 4 colors per cell, 5 colors per line (plus hardware sprites) that way and if you used DLIs every 8 scanlines, you'd have up to another 5 (plus sprites) new colors for each row of characters. You can do finer increment DLIs than that, but sticking to the character grid would be the idea for a char-based pseudosprite game. (though I'm not sure if there's a limit or if there's plenty of CPU time to reload all the color registers AND load sprites in h-blank)

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

A lot of Atari 8-bit ports (especially late generation low-budget ones) in Europe went for the odd choice of using a single-color 4 shade bitmap/framebuffer window for the game and using software sprites rather heavily rather than trying to recolor things for the system's character mode. (many also seemed to use 160x96 screens -or a bit smaller, but same pixel shape- rather than the full 160x192) This seems somewhat akin to lazy Spectrum games that used monochrome graphics rather than per-cell attribute optimizations.

 

They also could have gone the route of using char-sprites for fast-paced games where choppy movement was acceptable like some C64 and most C16/Plus/4 games did. (Spectrum games did this to speed things up and avoid attribute clash issues) You could get 4 colors per cell, 5 colors per line (plus hardware sprites) that way and if you used DLIs every 8 scanlines, you'd have up to another 5 (plus sprites) new colors for each row of characters. You can do finer increment DLIs than that, but sticking to the character grid would be the idea for a char-based pseudosprite game. (though I'm not sure if there's a limit or if there's plenty of CPU time to reload all the color registers AND load sprites in h-blank)

 

If you look the output from http://www.atarimania.com/list_games_atari-400-800-xl-xe-english-software_publisher_1207_8_G.html for example compared to UK ports the contrast is quite striking. Take a commodore 64 game port over the multicolour attributes but ignore the independent 16 colours of the 64.

 

The Amstrad cpc sometimes suffered from spectrum ports in a similar way

 

But yes even the 4 shades of one colour could have been done better, decent choices of the 4 colours with a 5th colour in places and some player/missile colours in places would have helped

 

Sent from my D5803 using Tapatalk

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A bigger problem with UK games was how many used the Amstrad CPC's 4-color mid-res mode as standard and down-ported THAT to the Spectrum and C64 (Treasure Island Dizzy comes to mind) and how few games used the 16 color lowres mode on the CPC that really was the best for most games. (I believe it used chunky pixels, not bitplanes, so software blitting on 4-bit packed pixels is not too bad at all for a 4 MHz Z80, more so if you treat it as an 80x200 byte grid instead and don't do many nybble-wise operations)

 

Using those graphics also made A8 ports harder given you'd be stuck with the highres 2-color framebuffer or character modes.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think price was important, but also look at the culture.

 

The Britain I knew of the late seventies and eighties was stodgy and close-minded - at least the working class majority. Adults prided their ignorance and actively dissuaded their children from thinking larger than the mill or the mine. The most adventurous concept occurring to many families was a package holiday to Lloret del mar or Torremolinos - even then it was just to experience 'Blackpool in The Sun'. Television was still the focus of the time the family spent together. The audiences who would tune in to watch comedies alone are astronomical in proportion with today. I have heard figures of 20 million+ watching 'Morecome and Wise' for instance. Cinema was - in my area - almost dead and if you went out for entertainment it was to a football game. The modern archetype of the child who sits in his bedroom and plays console games did not exist; again in my experience of Yorkshire at least.

 

Along comes something that is already niche and hits this very unimaginative, stagnant society and... what? The miner who has been on strike for 12 months already is going to buy his kiddie one? The kiddie himself is going to have more interest in 'playing' the Atari than playing football? I genuinely think the American market was far more mentally flexible, more adventurous and looking for something new.

 

The game design itself was not winning either. For all their graphical flaws, compare 'Tau Ceti' for Spectrum and, of course 'Elite' to the majority of Atari offerings... There was no competition. I never had a Spectrum personally as a child, but was always intensely envious of the games in comparison to what ran on my Atari 400 - even something as throwaway as the 'Dan Dare' series. Its hard to define, but Spectrum games were just... better, more granular in concept, more to do and more variety. There were some Atari stand outs; for me 'Boulderdash' was the pre-eminent Atari game. Only in the CRPG arena could the Atari reliably punch its weight - titles like 'Ultima IV'/V along with 'Wizard's Crown' offered a similar depth and variety of gameplay to other systems. Even here it is probably significant many of the best games were ports.

 

At the end of the day I don't think it was until a user started looking at programming - ASM specifically - that he got much advantage from his Atari. And there again - the emphasis on programming in magazines and library books was always, always BASIC. You were actively dissuaded against even trying to learn machine language. It was 'too hard', 'too complex' - only for 'grownups'...

 

Ultimately I think Atari was ahead of its time. Had it struck ten years later, rounded the curve of the late-eighties/early-nighties and found the mindset which Nintendo and Comprehensive school A3000's had helped create it would have done much better. Which of course is exactly what happened with the 486/Pentium era PC coupled to a 14k fax modem - and the rest is history.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I certainly think disposable income played its part. The market for high end machines in the UK was far smaller imho. In addition I think there was another factor, I completely missed the growth of the PC compatible market for a long time and in the UK many small businesses didn't use PC Clones but 8-bit micros.

 

 

Is it too simple to say the UK was, at the time, a very price sensitive market?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...