Monday, September 4, 2023

Obscusion B-Side: It's All About the Ataris, Baby... The Companies, Not the Punk Rock Band

There are only so many words in any language, so it's only natural that people only have so many words to name a company that they start up with, & it's not surprising to come across two different companies with effectively the same name from the same industry, so much so that calling them by a shorthand can lead to confusion. When it comes to video games there are plenty of examples of that. For example, we have Access Games (Deadly Premonition) vs. Access Software (Tex Murphy), Sonic Team (Sonic the Hedgehog) vs. Sonic! Software Planning (Shining Force), Climax Entertainment (Runabout) vs. Climax Studios (Rocket Knight [2010]), Gremlin Graphics/Interactive (Top Gear) vs. Gremlin Industries (Head On), MileStone Inc. (Chaos Field) vs. Milestone s.r.l. (MotoGP), Monolith Productions (Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor/War) vs. Monolith Soft (Xeno Series), & Piranha Bytes (ELEX) vs. Piranha Games (MechWarrior 5), among many others; hell, this can even apply to a single letter, as seen with Q Entertainment (Lumines) vs. Q-Games (PixelJunk Series)!

In other instances, though, two different companies can have the same name because the trademark itself was sold off. For example, T&E Soft changed its name to D Wonderland Inc. in 2002, only to then sell the "T&E Soft" trademark to another company in 2005, which eventually resulted in a completely different studio called T&E Soft that existed between 2008 & 2013, followed by D4 Enterprise acquiring the rights to both the T&E Soft name & all of its games and IP in 2019, all while D Wonderland Inc. (the "original" T&E Soft, now Daikokuya Global Holding Co., Ltd.) continued to operate & is still around to this very day. However, when it comes to the "same name game" in the video game industry, there's only one undisputed king of confusion: Atari.

The Japanese word "当たり/atari" can be translated into many words, but for our context comes from Go, a Chinese board game dating back to at least sometime in the mid 6th century BCE & wouldn't actually be brought over to Japan until sometime in the 7th century CE. In terms of Go, "atari" is the point where at least one of a player's stones is in risk of being captured by their opponent's next move, similar to a "check" in Chess; however, unlike a check, verbally calling an atari is considered inappropriate for anyone beyond beginners. Still, the word "atari" itself has a nice ring to it and when Nolan Bushnell realized that he couldn't incorporate the word "syzygy" for his company in California while getting the arcade game Pong ready for release, as it was already being used by another company, he went with a term from his favorite board game Go as the name of his company on June 27, 1972. Unbeknownst to Bushnell, though, would be the future that the name "Atari" would have, one in which eight different companies related to gaming or technology in general (nine, if you take Japan's phonetic history with "r" & "l" into consideration) would have the name "Atari" in some way over the course of the next 50+ years, most of which trying to keep the name & legacy of his company alive to some fashion. So let's make sure everything's in "check" as we go over the wild & sometimes confusing history of "Atari".

Naturally, we start with the original: Atari, Inc. Technically founded back in 1970 as Syzygy Engineering for the development & release of Computer Space, Nolan Bushnell & the late Ted Dabney's company may not have been the first company to really delve into video games, as the Magnavox Odyssey, designed by "The Father of Video Games" Ralph Bear, came out a few months prior to Pong, the latter of which was directly inspired by Baer's console. However, Atari, Inc. was the first company to be all about video games from the very beginning, running with the massive success of Pong & creating a variety of hit arcade games, as well as hiring graphic designer George Opperman to design a logo, which resulted in the iconic "Fuji". Still, competition & all manner of financial problems, including an attempt at launching a Japanese division, nearly bankrupted Atari, Inc. in 1974, but the company managed to survive the storm & started entering the home market with a home version of Pong in 1975; meanwhile, Atari Japan was sold to Namco for $500,000, which will be important later on. While the home Pong console was a success, & led to even more competition, Bushnell wanted to release a home console that allowed people to swap out the game they were playing with something else, as that would be more lucrative. However, Atari, Inc. only had so much money, so Bushnell decided to take the risk & sell the company to a larger one.

In the end, the buyer would be Warner Communications, which purchased Atari, Inc. for $28 million in a deal that was finalized in November of 1976... right as Fairchild Semiconductor released the Fairchild Channel F, the very first home console that used swappable ROM cartridges, beating Atari to market. However, it would be Atari, Inc. that'd win the war, as the Atari VCS (later Atari 2600) would see release in September of 1977 & even in those first few years handily outsold the Channel F. To help market the 2600 better, Warner Communications hired Ray Kassar to head up Atari's consumer division, and Bushnell's worries about Kassar's marketing push in place of R&D for better hardware wound up creating a rift between the two, eventually resulting in Bushnell leaving the company he co-founded in early 1979, about a year before the 2600's port of Space Invaders in 1980 would truly make the console the undisputed smash hit of the second console generation, with the port itself being the 2600's second-best-selling game of all time, with over 6.25 million sales. Kassar, in turn, was made CEO of Atari, Inc., but a variety of decisions made by Kassar would result in things like the founding of Activision (the first ever third-party video game developer), which in turn led to the creation of an uncontrollable deluge of third-party software, & the unsuccessful launch of the Atari 5200 in late 1982 also didn't help things. There were also decisions beyond Kassar's control, like the whole idea of paying $20-25 million dollars to license E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for a 2600 game, one that was literally made in just six weeks so as to release for the Holiday 1982 season. Eventually, the video game market crashed in 1983, resulting in Ray Kassar resigning as CEO of Atari, Inc. that same year, and on July 3, 1984 Warner Communications surprised the world by announcing that it had sold off the consumer products division of Atari, Inc. to ex-Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel, while the arcade division stayed with Warner.

This split marked the end of Atari, Inc., the original company that started it all... and in the process resulted in two different video game companies operating under the "Atari" name.

Sometimes, just changing the orientation of the logo is enough... right?

To most people, "Atari" is synonymous with home consoles, so let's go over Atari Corporation first. While technically founded on May 17, 1984 as Tramiel Technology, Ltd., that was simply for the sake of having a company that could legally purchase Atari's consumer division, and it quickly changed its name once the sale was finalized. Anyway, Jack Tramiel was someone who had previously seen success over at Commodore with the VIC-20 & Commodore 64, the latter of which remains the best-selling computer of all time with sales somewhere between 12.5 & 17 million units. Therefore, it wasn't surprising that Atari Corp's initial focus was on PCs, as Atari, Inc. had entered that business back in 1979 with the Atari 400 & 800 8-bit computer lines, while Atari Corp would then introduce the updated Atari XE & full-on successor the Atari ST in 1985. However, a specter of Atari, Inc.'s past would come about in 1986, as Nintendo of America started releasing the NES, the American version of the Nintendo Famicom, in certain test markets starting in late 1985, before doing a nationwide launch on September 27, 1986. Prior to this, Nintendo had been in talks with Atari, Inc. to release the Famicom as the "Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System" in 1983, but a mixture of competitor Coleco releasing a version of Donkey Kong for its Adam computer (when Atari technically had the PC rights) & Ray Kassar's departure from Atari, Inc. killed that deal. To combat the NES' impending nationwide launch, Atari Corporation decided to revive something that the original 1984 purchase from Warner Communications had put a hold on: The Atari 7800.

Originally announced in mid-1984 & planned for release that same year, the 7800 was put on ice after Atari Corp came into being, as Jack Tramiel had no initial interest in home consoles, though he eventually had to pay console (& launch titles) developer General Computer Corporation what they were owed in 1985. Eventually, Atari Corp found someone to lead a newly established video game division in late 1985, and in May of 1986 the 7800 finally saw release, where it was both underpowered when compared to the NES & Sega's Master System, & it barely saw any real support from Atari Corp, both in terms of new releases (only 59 games saw official release before the console was discontinued in 1992, or just 9.8 games/year) & also from a marketing perspective. Simply put, the 7800 was Atari Corporation putting in as little money into it as possible, in an effort to potentially maximize any profit that could be made on it... a plan that did, surprisingly, work. While not a major success, the 7800 still sold over a million consoles by mid-1988 & made enough back to warrant Atari sticking with video games, releasing the full-color portable Atari Lynx on September 1, 1989 to combat Nintendo's monochrome Game Boy; re-introducing the 2600 as a $50 "Jr." console, complete with new games, in 1986 also helped, too. However, Atari Corp didn't really put much major effort into promoting the Lynx either, releasing only 71 games before discontinuing it in 1995, or 11.8 games/year. Finally, Atari Corp's last stand was with the Jaguar in late 1993, a console that I've been slowly covering it's 50-game catalog of in batches, which couldn't even sell through its ~250,000 consoles that were ever produced.

As for PCs, Atari Corporation eventually became an also ran in that market by the early 90s, leaving video games as its only chance at life, but in early 1996 the company agreed to a reverse takeover with JT Storage, a company that made hard drives (of dubious quality, apparently), with the merger becoming finalized on July 30, 1996; Jack Tramiel would join JTS' board before retiring later that year. Unfortunately, JT Storage was just not a well run business & in 1998 sold off the Atari name & assets to another company (before itself going bankrupt in early 1999), but before we get to that we have "the other Atari" from the 1984 sale to go over first.

Come 1984 the only thing "Atari" that was actually making money was the arcade division, hence why Warner Communications held onto that when it sold the rest to Jack Tramiel, renaming it Atari Games. An agreement was made between Warner & Tramiel which allowed Warner to keep using the "Atari" name as long as the word "Games" appeared after it, but was barred from using the "Atari" name at all in the consumer market (i.e. consoles & PCs). However, Warner really had no familiarity with the arcade business, so in 1985 it worked with Namco to form a new corporate entity, AT Games, Inc., with Namco being chosen due to the company becoming the arcade powerhouse it was due in part to the purchase of Atari Japan a decade prior, which allowed Namco to release Atari's arcade games in that region. AT Games (later being renamed Atari Games Corporation, while the original Atari Games became Atari Holdings) was initially majority owned by Namco in a 60/40 split with Warner, but eventually Namco sold 33% of its shares to a group of employees led by Hideyuki Nakajima, President of Atari Games, and now with a 40/40/20 split between Namco, Warner, & the employees themselves Atari Games essentially became independent. With this newfound freedom (more or less), Atari Games continued making arcade games while also expanding into the home console market, naming that division Tengen, after the central point of a Go board, to honor the agreement with Atari Corporation. In fact, despite being completely separate & independent entities, the two Ataris during this time had a very professional & cordial relationship, with Atari Games often licensing out its works to Atari Corp for release on its hardware; that naturally didn't help alleviate any confusion the general public would have between the two, though.

Tengen would go on to make waves by becoming the first company to really fight back against Nintendo's restrictive regulations on third-party releases, using the the claim of a potential lawsuit to get the NES' lock-out program from the US copyright office in order to make a chip to counteract the 10NES lock-out chip. This, in turn, led to an actual lawsuit from Nintendo, one that wouldn't be resolved until 1994 & resulted in Tengen having to pay Nintendo back for damages; then there was the whole thing regarding the Tetris license, which is well beyond the scope of this piece. Anyway, Warner Communications would merge with Time, Inc. in 1989, forming Time Warner, and in 1993 Time Warner would reacquire majority ownership over Atari Games, becoming a subsidiary of Time Warner Interactive, which was what Tengen was turned into. This would eventually result in the "Atari Games" name being killed off for a few years, but in April of 1996 (after Nolan Bushnell himself failed to purchase it) WMS Industries would buy Atari Games, bringing the name back into use; then-president Dan Van Elderen later admitted that Time Warner told Atari Games to find its own buyer. Two years later, WMS would spin-off its arcade division into Midway Games, and in 1999 Atari Games itself was renamed Midway Games West Inc., with the final game to ever see the "Atari" name & logo (that had any "direct" connection to the original Atari, Inc., at least) being mid-1999's San Francisco Rush 2049.

Amusingly enough, when Midway Games went bankrupt in mid-2009, the majority of Midway's catalog, including all of the Atari Games titles, was bought up by... Warner Brother Interactive Entertainment, now known as Warner Bros. Games. Yes, that means that Atari Games was technically owned by Warner on three different occasions! This also means that there are two different sets of Atari arcade games that are owned by different entities today, The 1972-1983 "Atari, Inc." Era (Pong, Breakout, Crystal Castles, etc.) & The 1984-1999 "Atari Games" Era (Marble Madness, Gauntlet, Primal Rage, etc.), and while the former era is arguably more "iconic" I think most people would feel that the latter era is the stronger overall catalog, especially when combined with the Williams/Midway catalog it's now currently associated with by Warner. In fact, there is still the occasional questioning over why titles like Gauntlet, Paperboy, or even the Rush Series never get included in compilations from "the modern Atari", even as recently at Atari 50 last year, with those people simply remembering that "Atari" made those games, not realizing that there were two different Ataris during that time.

Why exactly did Midway Games decide to rename Atari Games, in the first place, anyway? While I don't believe an exact answer has ever been given, I imagine part of it was simply to avoid brand confusion. However, the reason for this in 1999 was because while Atari Corporation was no longer a thing by this point, the "Atari" name was still in active use in the home market by way of our next entity, Atari Interactive, Inc. This company originally got its start in late 1995 as Hasbro Interactive, since it was the new video game division of the board game company Hasbro, but in early 1998 Hasbro wound up purchasing the rights to the Atari name & assets from JT Storage. Just as Jack Tramiel did in 1984, Hasbro made a new company, HIAC XI, Corp., to technically buy the Atari rights & then simply renamed that company after the purchase. Atari Interactive wouldn't take long to make use of these new rights, releasing a 3D remake of Centipede in late 1998, and on May 14, 1999 Hasbro released all rights to the Atari Jaguar hardware into the public domain, allowing anyone to develop and release games for it, which was a nice gesture. It is also worth noting that this was technically the second entity to call itself "Atari Interactive", as Atari Corporation did establish a label with that same name for PC releases, but this was in early 1996, literally a month prior to the merger with JT Storage being announced, and nothing ever came out from this endeavor, so Hasbro's video game division is the first one using this name to actually do something of note.

However, this is also where any "direct" connection to Atari, Inc. is nowhere to be found, as while Hasbro would continue to use the "Atari" name with the generally associated properties, Atari Interactive was technically just a publishing label for Hasbro Interactive, so titles like the PS1 versions of The Next Tetris & Glover, a 3D remake of Q*bert, & even Nerf Arena Blast for Windows PC were all released with the iconic Atari "Fuji" logo emblazoned on their covers. However, only eight games would ever see release by Hasbro's Atari Interactive, as in 2000 Hasbro Interactive was sold off to French company Infogrames, and this included the entire Atari brand. This resulted in the Atari brand as a whole going 100% dormant for the first time ever since Atari, Inc.'s founding in 1972, but in 2003 Infogrames decided to re-brand all of its subsidiaries under the "Atari" name, which resulted in Infogrames Interactive, Inc., i.e. the former Hasbro Interactive, being renamed to Atari Interactive, Inc. This marks the first company named "Atari" in this overview that's still an active entity today, though Atari Interactive is really now more of a rights holding company that maintains ownership of the "Atari" name & (almost) all of the IP that Infogrames bought from Hasbro back in 2000. Yes, the main company that now currently operates under the "Atari" name (we'll get to that soon enough) is technically licensing the use of its own name from one of its subsidiaries... Businesses are weird.

Had to use the Wayback Machine
to find this logo!

Before we continue on with the multi-headed hydra that is "the modern Atari" that we all know of today, let's move over to Japan, because it's not just American or European companies that use that Japanese word for their name! As I've mentioned before, the "Atari" brand did exist in Japan ever since the 70s via Atari Japan, but once the "original" Atari was good & done with in any of its forms it actually didn't take long for someone over in Japan to take claim of that word for themselves. Founded in October of 1987 in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Natsume Co., Ltd. has a bit of a "same name game" of its own, as in 1988 the Japanese game developer/publisher formed Natsume Inc., an American division that simply published the parent company's games in English until 1995, when Natsume Inc. split off & became an independent publisher that only occasionally published something developed by its ex-parent company; from this point on we'll only be referring to the original Japanese company. Natsume would quickly become a reputable developer, often finding itself in charge of making games that would go on to become cult classics, like Power Blade, Shadow of the Ninja, Wild Guns, Shatterhand, Pocky & Rocky 1 & 2, Gundam Wing: Endless Duel, & Omega Five. So at this point you must be wondering "What the hell does any of this have to do 'Atari'?", and the answer to that is simple: Natsume eventually made its own company named Atari!

In particular, in October of 2002 Natsume's founder Ryuji Matsumoto established "Kabushiki gaisha Atari", a "game machine development company", a.k.a. it made pachinko machines. Now the funny thing is that the term "kabushiki gaisha" tends to be translated in one of two ways in English, "Incorporated" or "Company Limited", so when written in English Natsume's pachinko off-shoot company is either Atari, Inc. or Atari Co., Ltd. Not just that, but Matsumoto made sure that the "Atari" in the company name was written in katakana (アタリ), just like how the Atari brand itself is written over in Japan! Now, to be fair, in Japan it'd be very hard to really confuse Nolan Bushnell's Atari from Ryuji Matsumoto's Atari, as Bushnell's Atari is considered a "kigyo" over there, while Matsumoto's Atari is considered a "gaisha". What's the difference, you may ask? Not really much in English, as both terms can be translated as "company" or "corporation", though "kigyo" also has meaning as "enterprise" or "business", but in the end it's really more semantics than anything major, at least to a layperson; I'm sure there are minute but extremely important differences when it comes to business, though. As for "the Japanese Atari" as a company, there really isn't much else to say about it, aside from the fact that it produced pachinko machines from 2002 to 2013, when it merged with Natsume to form a single entity, which we'll get to later. However, it is still important to acknowledge this Atari, if only to establish that there is an "Atari" out there that has absolutely no relation to the original Atari from the get-go. Who knows, maybe Ryuji Matsumoto was a fan of Atari's arcade games back in the 70s & when he saw that "Atari" wasn't around during that short period between 2000 & 2003 he jumped at the chance to found a company called "Atari".

So up next we have a second or third company named "Atari, Inc."... *stares into the infinite void*

It has the name of the OG Atari, but the logo orientation of Atari Corporation...

OK, now we truly are getting into "How can anyone be expected to possibly keep track of all this?!" territory, as next in our chronology we have Atari, Inc., and unlike "the Japanese Atari", which at least has an alternate English translation that we can use to differentiate itself, there's no such thing here... There are literally two companies called "Atari, Inc." that are based around the exact same brand & iconography, with the only difference between their logos being that one is vertically oriented & in black, while the other is horizontally oriented & in red. A-ny-way, this company actually dates back to 1993 as GT Interactive Software, which was the gaming division of GoodTimes Home Video, and quickly made a name for itself by distributing the original shareware release of id Software's Doom, followed by releasing Doom II the next year & then The Ultimate Doom in 1995, which resulted in 880% growth after its first year & even becoming publicly traded in December of 1995. GT Interactive would continue to see great success throughout the 90s, acquiring Humongous Entertainment in July of 1996, releasing Epic Games' Unreal for PC in May of 1998, & Reflections' Driver for the PS1 in June of 1999. Unfortunately, Driver was the only real good news for GT in 1999, as sales would otherwise be at an all time low, so much so that the company had to get bought out just so that it would't go out of business.

Unsurprisingly for this piece, Infogrames would wind up purchasing GT Interactive, finalizing the deal right at the end of 1999, and in May of 2000 the company would be renamed to Infogrames, Inc. On May 8, 2003 Infogrames, Inc. would then be renamed to Atari, Inc., though the Atari branding itself was already getting seen as early as the start of that same year, starting with (interestingly enough) the Japanese release of Treasure's Ikaruga on the GameCube in January. While Atari, Inc. had remained a publicly traded company throughout all of this, Infogrames eventually bought out all of the remaining public shares in early 2008, with the subsidiary become privately owned by the end of the year. The main reason for this was because Infogrames was planning on re-branding itself to match its subsidiaries (which we'll get to in a bit), but even since then Atari, Inc. has continued to operate as the division of "the modern Atari" that actually is responsible for releasing games to market. As for the GT Interactive brand & trademark, it would actually get sold to Tommo, Inc. in 2013, which later sold it to Billionsoft.

So next we have a company that I didn't even know of until I started researching for this piece, and while looking up things over at Wikipedia Japan I wound up coming across this company, and though it's name isn't technically "Atari", the katakana for its name is exactly the same, and then we have the whole fact that the Japanese language doesn't really have a difference between "R" & "L", something that this company certainly took advantage of. I say that because the full Japanese name for Atali, Inc. is "Kabushiki gaisha Atari", which is exactly the same as "the Japanese Atari", though at least in this case Atali does fully acknowledge that "Inc." is the official translation. With this company being founded in May of 2004 that means that Japan actually had two companies for nine whole years whose names in Japanese were written as "株式会社アタリ", with the literal only difference between them being that one romanized its name at "Atari", while the other romanized its name at "Atali". The two Japanese companies also have a shockingly similar emblem in their respective logos, but that's simply because both are plays on the kanji "当" that "atari" is associated with in Japan; still, they are maybe a little too stylistically similar.

So, does Atali, Inc. have anything to do with video games? The answer is essentially a "Maybe? Sort of?", and that's simply because Atali technically isn't a video game developer. Instead, Atali is a company that works in the general tech industry, specifically in regards to Augmented Reality/AR, Virtual Reality/VR, Mixed Reality/MR, & the Metaverse, as well as virtual avatar tech & digital promotion. Therefore, the kind of stuff that Atali deals with & researches might eventually see use in gaming at points, specifically those that involve AR, VR, MR, & the like, but Atali itself doesn't develop video games. However, in 2016 the company did hire Masaki Higuchi, who worked on the likes of the original Clock Tower, the original Steel Battalion, Infinite Space, & NightCry as "Main Programmer" i.e. he programmed the games that Hifumi Kouno directed, and he now works at Atali as Director/Chief Technology Officer. Overall, the only thing Atali, Inc. really has in common with "the Japanese Atari" is the name, for all intents & purposes, as the two were in completely different industries, which may explain how Atali, Inc. was able to get away with having the exact same kanji/katakana name as Atari Co., Ltd., as it'd take a big misunderstanding to mistake a pachinko maker with an "xR" studio. Still, at least Atali, Inc. is still around to this day, and you never know... maybe one day Atali's research might get the company credited in some way in a game developed by "the modern Atari".

Speaking of which!

Not the current logo anymore, but I just like how this one looked.
I mean, it's at least somewhat different.

It's certainly taken a while, but we've finally reached what can be considered "the modern Atari", Atari SA (short for "Société Anonyme", the French equivalent to "Co., Ltd.). Just like its currently existing subsidiaries, "the modern Atari" got its start as a completely different company, in this case Infogrames Entertainment SA. Founded back in 1983 in Lyon, France, the company whose name was a portmanteau of "informatique/information technology" & "programme/program" first made its name in Europe with its various computer games, before finding international acclaim when it developed & published Frédérick Raynal's Alone in the Dark in 1992, which today is considered the first 3D survival horror game & was a major influence on the creation of Resident Evil. However, Infogrames would become most synonymous with one thing, starting in 1996: Acquiring as many gaming companies as possible. Starting with Ocean Software in 1996, Infogrames would go on to acquire the likes of Gremlin Interactive, Accolade, Beam Software, Paradigm Entertainment, Shiny Entertainment, Eden Studios, & was interested in acquiring Eidos Interactive in mid-2000. Infogrames even purchased DMA Design in 1999 (via the Gremlin purchase), only to sell it to Take-Two Interactive shortly after; had things gone differently, it'd be Atari that owns the rights to Grand Theft Auto! Over time some of these acquired studios would either get sold off to other companies or would get shut down, but the two purchases that would make the biggest long-term impact would be GT Interactive & Hasbro Interactive, as we've already gone over, with the latter purchase being how Infogrames got a hold of the Atari brand & assets.

Also as mentioned earlier, Infogrames would revive the Atari name in 2003, so let's just jump ahead to 2009. That was the year that "Infogrames" was completely killed off & the company changed its name to Atari SA, by licensing the name from its own subsidiary. For the most part things operated just as before, but unfortunately for Atari SA that wasn't really enough, resulting in the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013 in an attempt to reorganize & return without going out of business. However, part of these proceedings necessitated the selling off of IP, and while the Atari brand & assets themselves managed to mostly stay with Atari SA in the end, there was one notable exception: Battlezone. Originally appearing in arcades in 1980, the tank battle series was arguably one of the bigger IPs in Atari's history, so to see Rebellion Developments wind up with the rights to all of it is a bit embarrassing. Meanwhile, other IP that were bought via the bankruptcy proceedings included Deer Hunter, Backyard Sports, Accolade & GT Interactive, & Star Control. Atari SA would later continue to sell off other IP after surviving bankruptcy, which included Test Drive, V-Rally, & even Alone in the Dark, but the biggest story is just the weird life Atari SA has had ever since the bankruptcy proceedings. There was the attempt to enter the social casino gaming industry in 2014, the terrible Alone in the Dark & RollerCoaster Tycoon games in 2015 & 2016, getting sued by Frontier Developments over unpaid royalties for RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 in 2017, the announcement of the "Ataribox" (later the Atari VCS) standalone gaming console/PC thing, which took years to come out but eventually saw release in mid-2021 (where it received a response of "it's an OK mid-level gaming PC... I guess"), the attempt at crypto-currency with Atari Coin in 2020, and then planning to develop Atari-branded hotels & the announcement of Atari Blockchain in 2021. Simply put, for a good number of years, "the modern Atari" was essentially as far away from anything "Atari" that came before it, whether that'd be the original company Nolan Bushnell co-founded, the two companies that came from the 1984 sale, the revival of the brand as a publishing label during the late 90s & 00s, or even the completely unrelated pachinko & xR companies that were operating in Japan.

Thankfully, current chairman & CEO Wade Rosen eventually knew when to course correct. In March of 2022 Atari ended all ties to the prior regime that really pushed all of this nonsense, including the ending of the plans for the hotels & blockchain venture. Instead, Atari SA now focuses on honoring the past of not just Atari but other vintage gaming IPs, which includes buying the rights to the likes of Stern Electronics' catalog & even the M Network games, re-acquiring the Accolade, MicroProse, & GT Interactive brands (including, yes, Bubsy), investing in retro-focused endeavors like Antstream & Polymega, acquiring Nightdive Studios & encouraging their focus on remastering classics for modern hardware, & re-introducing the Atari of old to the current market. The last can be seen with the likes of the critically beloved interactive documentary Atari 50, the very well received Recharged series that re-imagines old classics, & most recently the announcement of the Atari 2600+ console, complete with new 2600 games being produced, whether they be brand new games (Mr. Run & Jump) or newly improved versions of classics (Berzerk - Enhanced Edition). It's still early to see just how well this new direction pans out, but it looks like the Atari brand has managed to find its footing once again.

But wait... there's more! Yes, we have one more "Atari" to go over, and it's the only one in which the word "Atari" is actually just part of the company's full name. That's because "Dream Creator" Natsume Atari Inc. is the name given to the merger of video game developer Natsume Co., Ltd. & its pachinko maker off-shoot Atari Co., Ltd., which happened in October of 2013. It's not like anything really changed all that much from the merger, though, as Natsume Atari continues to develop video games, only now there's also a pachinko/pachislot division that produces machines, instead of having it be done via a separate entity. Natsume Atari also has a third division, Samurai Studio, that focuses on online gambling via programs based on slots, roulette, & poker. However, video games are our focus & in that regard Natsume Atari has been more than active for the past decade, being the developer for titles like Sakigake!! Otoko Juku for PS3, Godzilla for PS3/PS4, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, & Kamen Rider: Memory of Heroez.

However, what has arguably brought the most attention to Natsume Atari in the past number of years is a sub-division within the company's video game division: Tengo Project. Comprised of three Natsume staff who have been with the company since the Super Famicom, Tengo Project's mission has been to remaster some of Natsume's most beloved games of old, resulting in brand new, definitive versions of these titles that even include brand new content to attract long-time fans. So far this has resulted in 2016's Wild Guns Reloaded, 2019's The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, & 2022's Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, all of which updated their respective SNES originals. Currently in the works, as of this piece, is Shadow of the Ninja - Reborn, which is easily Tengo Project's most ambitious project, as it's a full-on enhanced remake of the NES original that features brand new visuals & audio, rather than originally working off of the source game, like the prior three games did. Whether it's continuing to be a reliable for-hire developer, reaching back into its past with Tengo Project, or even simply acting as a Japanese publisher for certain Western-developed games (like The Medium, Layers of Fear 2, etc.), Natsume Atari has continued to be the same cult-favorite studio it always has been... only now it also officially produces "game machines".

You know, maybe Atari SA should hire Natsume Atari to develop a title for them one day. Atari Corporation & Atari Games had a working relationship during the 80s & 90s, after all, so maybe the two Ataris that currently exist in video games should follow through, in suit.
As we can see, the "Atari" brand has had a long, wild, & admittedly confusing history over the course of the past 51 years, to put it lightly. It's been split into two, sold off multiple times over, been both the undisputed king of gaming & straight up dead at points, and even has its own completely unrelated history over in Japan. I will admit that I have a strong nostalgia for Atari, as even though I was born in 1986 (after the brand's true heyday) my very first video game console was the Atari 2600 from the late 80s to the point where my family got the Sega Genesis in late 1991. To me, "Atari" is a brand that has as much meaning to video games as "Sega", "Nintendo", & the like, so I'm glad to see that Atari SA has seemingly managed to remember what it really should be & that it has a long-reaching legacy to uphold... and a long, often confusing history to continue.


  1. Don't forget about Access Ltd too.

  2. Funny that the guy in charge of Atari has the last name Rosen like the guy that partly started sega

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