Category Archives: Floppies

Inspiration: Atari Game Packaging, 1977-1982

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari_SpaceInvadersWhen I was a kid, the Atari 2600 home video game ruled our household. Back then, we just called it “Atari” and all our peers knew what it meant. The primitive graphics may look laughable now, but the very concept of playing video games on your television set kept us enthralled for hours on end. While games like Adventure and Pitfall made excellent use of the small-sized memory and rudimentary 8-bit graphics the unit offered, for me Atari’s attraction went beyond the games and into the cartridge packaging. Yes, I’m talking about those rainbow-colored boxes that got tossed soon after the games were purchased. Unexpectedly, these candy-hued pieces of folded paperboard had a profound influence on me wanting to become a designer. Only recently, I’ve found out that I wasn’t alone!

The marketing folks at Atari were canny. Knowing that they couldn’t rely solely on boxy pixels to sell these games, they decided to entice buyers with boxes sporting a consistent framework design that showcased some of the most evocative illustration of that period. I loved the colors, the funky, curvy font, the tantalizing number that indicated how many games were on the cartridge (112 Space Invaders games – drool!). Mostly what captured my imagination was that artwork, done in styles ranging from cartoony to impressionist. Even when looking at those über-’70s illustrations from today’s perspective, one can tell it was a rare marriage of an open-minded company seeking wild, beautiful images and artists rising to the challenge to meet it. In pieces like Steve Hendricks’ rendering of the game “Defender” from the p.o.v. of people fleeing a city under attack by alien aircraft, you can see they went with an “out of the box” approach and ran with it. The format made even the dullest of games (Pac Man, anyone?) look alluring.

When the home video gaming boom went bust in 1982-83, the golden age of Atari’s box designs followed the same route. The need to compete for home gamers’ ever-dwindling dollars prompted Atari to change its packaging to an impersonal red-and-silver motif which made the games look like bland “home office” software. A bad move, although the writing was on the wall at that point. From then on, old-style Atari became the stuff of geek-nostalgia and in-jokes like the Venture Bros. DVD package shown below.

In researching this post, I’ve actually found out that a coffee table book of this imagery is currently in the works. While The Art of Atari: From Pixels to Paintbrush was slated for publication in 2014, hopefully its delay is due to creator Tim Lapetino ensuring that the final volume is as perfect as the subject demands.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Dodge 'Em box detail, 1980.

Dodge ‘Em box detail, 1980.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Swordquest: Fireworld Atari box with redesigned format, 1982.

Swordquest: FireWorld Atari box with redesigned format, 1983.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.

Weblogs of Note 2

When it comes down to it, I don’t leave much time for reading weblogs anymore. Blame Facebook and Twitter (where I follow my fave bloggers anyhow), but a weblog has to be something truly special nowadays to catch my eye. The experience of running a weblog and finding topics to write about makes me appreciate even more when someone else does it well. Like, f’rinstance, these three:

  • Dear Old Hollywood is the handiwork of Los Angeles resident and classic movie fan Robby Cress. This is a very nostalgic weblog to this reader, not just for the films and stars he writes about (obviously) but for our love of L.A. and the luster it holds even today. A former studio page, Cress covers a variety of Old Hollywood topics with enthusiasm and a friendly vibe (hallmarks of many a great blog). Most impressive are his posts examining various filming locations of flicks both legendary and obscure around the L.A. area. Astonishing legwork in action!
  • The Obscurity Factor is a relatively new enterprise from Ben Sander, the New York-based performer better known as domestic doyenne Brini Maxwell. The weblog chronicles Ben’s celluloid discoveries, rated on an “Obscurity Factor” scale of 1 (easy to find but unsung amongst the general public) to 10 (a filmic hen’s tooth). Many of the films covered are studio-backed dramas and comedies of the ’60s-’80s lost in the shuffle of passing time, territory very similar to what I’m doing on my weekly Flick Clique posts. I’ve found a lot of stuff to watch on Netflix and such via Ben’s posts, and urge others to check it out as well.
  • The Second Disc is a fantastic music reissues weblog curated by two diehard fans, Mike Duquette and Joe Marchese. For those of us whose consumption of Classic Pop albums also encompass finding as many b-sides, remixes and outtakes related to said album, this place is a goldmine (it’s also somewhat disillusioning, since in a roundabout way it reveals how routinely the major labels neglect their own back catalogs). My favorite parts are the Reissue Theory posts delving into what could be included on deluxe reissues of various beloved albums. Earlier this week, stuck in the waiting process of jury duty, I spent hours delving into those Reissue Theory archived posts — they’re delightful.

P.S. I wasn’t picked for jury duty.

Forest for the Trees

This drawing was made while looking out the window at my parents’ cabin in Northern Arizona, using Autodesk SketchbookPro for the iPad. It’s a fun program to use; they just need to make it easier to save files while you’re working on them. I’ve had a couple of times (including on this drawing) where the drawing was almost finished, then somehow I got out of SketchbookPro and all the latest work was never saved. I also have an annoying habit of getting into the section where you can rotate or move the drawing, then it ends up getting saved that way. Cool program, needs some fine tuning.


Ten Years a Scrubbling Fool


A milestone: this week marks the tenth anniversary that I’ve been doing this weblog. It’s hard to believe a whole decade has passed since setting up a Blogger account so I could have a more dynamic element on my little site — complete with impenetrable web address containing a tilde (the domain name would come a few months later). Although as of summer 2000 I had already been doing a monthly music review site (coded by hand!), this new venture opened up a completely new world. Before, the web felt one dimensional; after, it was a veritable lovefest of sharing, discussing, giving and receiving. All these years later, it still astonishes me that anyone would be interested in my ramblings on whatever crappy movie/book/album comes my way.

So, here’s to ten years of the bl*g! To celebrate, here are some links to other bloggers’ tenth birthday posts:

Related: Eight Years of (highlights reel); Seven Years of Unpigeonholable Tomfoolery (a look at the Scrubbles logos from 2000-07).

Living with the iPad


About a month ago, Christopher came to me with a surprise announcement: he was ordering a new Apple iPad. He was thinking about getting something similar to replace our old Dell laptop computer as a simple internet connection for us while going on long trips. As the Apple person in the family, I was delighted with this development — it certainly was going to get more use from me than that crappy Dell.

Now, I’m no early adopter when it comes to new technology, but the iPad really epitomizes what I’d want from a techno-gadget. When the iPhone first came out, I thought “this would be nice without the phone.” Then Apple released the iPod Touch, and I thought “this would be great if it was bigger, so you could read e-books and browse the internet.” Voilà, the iPad! The first generation iPad isn’t perfect; it’s still a bit bulky and the screen could use a few more square inches. However, even after a few weeks I can tell it will be a useful part of our household. We’ve already had a few times while watching a movie when C. will whip out the thing to check on an actor in the Internet Movie Database, a move that would have been not worth the extra work using the laptop.

The first thing I noticed on the iPad is how intuitive the interface is. You move around with the brush of a finger, like on the iPhone but more natural. Typing is accomplished with a small pop-up keyboard. Sure, typing with one hand takes getting used to, but I was able to adapt to it startlingly fast.

The first thing we did was to synched it up to my Mac’s iTunes. I downloaded several free apps, including some news feeds from NPR, the BBC and USA Today. While one could access all three via Safari, I kind of enjoy having them in their own uncluttered state. Browsing on Safari is nice, but the type is a bit too small and I had more than one instance of accidentally tapping the wrong link. As for the controversial lack of Flash, I’ve barely noticed it. Strangely enough, the best app I’ve seen has been MultiPong, a beautifully rendered simple pong game. Speaking of simplicity, there’s also a virtual koi pond app that Christopher immediately gravitated to. I bought SketchBook Pro, which packs an impressive array of features into a measly $7.99 app. At this point I’m just fooling around with it, somewhat frustrated at how I keep accidentally using my fingers to resize my sketches (hmm).

I’ve also explored e-books a little bit with Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle app. First off, I think it’s totally cool that Amazon even has a Kindle iPad app. With it, you can see books in color and set the type at a comfortable size, even having pages displayed in brown on sepia (my favorite). I downloaded a cheap copy of Treasure Island with nice color illustrations by N.C. Wyeth; hopefully it’s a sign of things to come that more illustrated ebooks will come along. Although I haven’t explored Apple’s reader, I can already tell that the Kindle has an edge for being able to bookmark pages (if iBooks have bookmarks, I haven’t seen it (note: iBooks does have a bookmark, I now see)). One enormous downside of both is that the type is completely forced justified and not ragged right like in most paper books (remember those?). The font choices aren’t too thrilling, either. Hopefully future updates will remedy that.

Perhaps the most ringing endorsement I have for the iPad is that writing about it here makes me want to fire the thing up and explore more — off I go!

My First Modem

I recently came across a true artifact of its time while cleaning out the garage. This Hayes Accura 1140 modem was purchased after I moved into my first apartment in 1994. Armed with it, a Macintosh IIci, and a new America Online membership, I was ready to blaze the Information Superhighway — at 56K per second! Listen, I even had my place equipped with a separate phone line to enable websurfing and talking on the phone simultaneously (considering my pathetic social life at the time, not really necessary). I’m also not afraid to admit that the AOL membership was mostly used to find dates and look at porn. This was back when it took 15-20 minutes to download one photo, mind you. Thank our lucky stars that the internet has grown up since then, and so have I.


Dig this early AOL commercial from 1995. “A friend of mine told me ‘Try America Online.’ I said ‘Why? I’ve got a computer.'” That line always seemed so bizarre to me, even back then. What, were they selling to complete idiots?