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Past Pixels - The Atari Times

Past Pixels

Will tomorrow's children reject our pixellated past?
by Jess LaFleur

January 14, 2008
As far as history suggests, succeeding the sprite was not the three dimensional "voxel" sprite, but the now dominant polygon. While it had been fairly obvious even in the late 1980s that the polygon would eventually arrive for the home user, Atari, Sega, and perhaps even Sony didn't seem to be so sure judging on the broadly advertised specifications in regards to their sprite generation capabilities of the well forgotten Atari Jaguar and Sega Saturn. First generation Playstation graphics in the 3D department were nothing to write home about either. Take a look at the original Metal Gear Solid to see how far we've come.

While shaky ground was the landing point for the polygon revolution, we've seen it find its footing to root out the majestic colourful sprite and claim itself king. The last remnants of the sprite seem to remain in current online and portable console gaming. Although they are by no means relying upon such sprite based titles for their success. Like it or not, well over 90% of the big budget games today are polygon blockbusters on every platform from Nintendo DS to Windows PC.

But if online console marketplaces have shown us anything, inexpensive pixel hits of yesterday can still pack a punch, lining the pockets of companies that have already made back the initial investment almost and even beyond two decades prior. Even a title like the Atari classic Centipede have found success via Microsoft's XBox Live service. Despite the marketability of these 2D sprite titles, the reality of today remains that they are limited to budget pricing schemes or packed with at least a dozen other titles to be able to sell.

However, for fans of the Nintendo Entertainment System, "The fun is back" (To quote an old Atari 2600jr commercial) thanks to the Wii's online store, Nintendo 64 titles are also available proving more popular than most of the 8 and 16 bit offerings mixed in. If history repeats itself, these classics will find themselves off the sales charts once again as yet another generation of gamers picks up the joysticks. It seems likely that these new generations of gamers who already see the now 10+ year old Playstation and Nintendo 64 as "classic" will find little interest in great titles like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Battlezone, Missile Command, Pac-Man, or Galaxian beyond something to entertain them upon the screen while the next track of Ridge Racer loads.

Like some rejected the automobile and today some reject anything beyond the Super Nintendo (and some earlier than that), it will likewise be the same for the newer generation that rejected the horse, and will one day later generations shall reject the sprite outside of "unique" artistic titles or games they'll play on their High Definition future cell phone, if a "60 inch" display isn't already injected into our eyes, an age when even pixels are a thing of the past. (Take a look at the .svg image format!)

The sprite may be enjoying a modern age golden revival, it is limited. One day your great-grandchildren will look at you, struggling to find a way to get your "ancient" HDTV set from Christmas-Bonus 2015 working with that "extra ancient" Atari 2600 from Christmas-Present 1981. They will look at you and they will be puzzled at why you are even bothering playing with something that doesn't even have background music let alone polygons!

But, like there are modern day horse riders (If I may reintroduce my earlier comparison), so too will there be the young, dedicated few who will see the joy in the true video game classics, and will be begging you to let them touch those mint condition joysticks with the perfect orange paint and still brilliantly red button. Maybe it will be of some consolation that one day they too will wake up to find gawking children looking at them as they play around with that "ancient" Nintendo Wii. I mean come on, it doesn't even do "High Definition" let alone interact with your nervous system! Rest assured you won't have to suffer those feelings of technological inadequacy by then.

So a word to those still mashing away at those Atari gems of yesteryear... Do not be frustrated that business executives born after you left highschool can't seem to understand you and your memories. As long as you can embrace the games of tomorrow, you should feel rather fortunate that you are able to enjoy a much richer historical palate of video games, much more than those "punks" who won't touch anything without at least texture mapping and specular lighting.

Besides, do you really want their grubby hands messing with your game of Defender? You've almost rolled over the score!

Reader Comments for Past Pixels

Uh... by randomchannel134 on 2008-01-22 18:44:36
I'm a kid, about 13, and I love Atari games. I even own an original 2600.
good 'ol atari by Paul Westphal on 2008-03-13 14:49:53
Even though they look and sound dated, some games had amazing depth and replayability. Ballblazer..Rescue at fractalus(sweet!)...Pengo..even good 'ol asteroids and pacman. I still play them today...
atari is awsome by trogdore on 2008-11-01 17:25:16
im almost 15 and i will play my atari for hours, especally space invaders!
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