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Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation

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Atari 8-bit computers are the first machines that truly bridged the divide between video game players and home computer enthusiasts. The Atari 400 and 800 signaled the start of a new era in computing. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation is the first book to cover what made Atari's groundbreaking computer line great: its excellent graphics and sound, fl Atari 8-bit computers are the first machines that truly bridged the divide between video game players and home computer enthusiasts. The Atari 400 and 800 signaled the start of a new era in computing. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation is the first book to cover what made Atari's groundbreaking computer line great: its excellent graphics and sound, flexible programming environment, and wide support from the burgeoning home computer community. For those of us coming of "gaming age" in the 80s, Atari games were simply amazing—and you'll find out what made over 100 titles so much fun to play. Breakout also explores the Atari 8-bit platform as it stands today, with a robust enthusiast and modding community, the increasing value of Atari computers and peripherals, and how to get started with one now or get your old one working again. Jamie Lendino is the Editor-in-Chief of ExtremeTech.com. Previously, he managed the consumer electronics reviews team for PCMag.com, and has written for the print and digital versions of PC Magazine for over 10 years. He's also had articles published in Popular Science, Electronic Musician, Sound and Vision, and on CNET.com, and ConsumerReports.com.


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Atari 8-bit computers are the first machines that truly bridged the divide between video game players and home computer enthusiasts. The Atari 400 and 800 signaled the start of a new era in computing. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation is the first book to cover what made Atari's groundbreaking computer line great: its excellent graphics and sound, fl Atari 8-bit computers are the first machines that truly bridged the divide between video game players and home computer enthusiasts. The Atari 400 and 800 signaled the start of a new era in computing. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation is the first book to cover what made Atari's groundbreaking computer line great: its excellent graphics and sound, flexible programming environment, and wide support from the burgeoning home computer community. For those of us coming of "gaming age" in the 80s, Atari games were simply amazing—and you'll find out what made over 100 titles so much fun to play. Breakout also explores the Atari 8-bit platform as it stands today, with a robust enthusiast and modding community, the increasing value of Atari computers and peripherals, and how to get started with one now or get your old one working again. Jamie Lendino is the Editor-in-Chief of ExtremeTech.com. Previously, he managed the consumer electronics reviews team for PCMag.com, and has written for the print and digital versions of PC Magazine for over 10 years. He's also had articles published in Popular Science, Electronic Musician, Sound and Vision, and on CNET.com, and ConsumerReports.com.

30 review for Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Themistocles

    Here we go again... Unfortunately the retro fan base will lap up any and every book that comes out, no matter how bad, and fawn over it. It's the same with other niches as well, really, and not strange - you will love anything about something you love if it's rare enough (not many books about Atari), and people will read a book about a machine who don't really read any books and judge what a book must be, so that you can publish a polished turd and get at least four-star reviews. This is doubly b Here we go again... Unfortunately the retro fan base will lap up any and every book that comes out, no matter how bad, and fawn over it. It's the same with other niches as well, really, and not strange - you will love anything about something you love if it's rare enough (not many books about Atari), and people will read a book about a machine who don't really read any books and judge what a book must be, so that you can publish a polished turd and get at least four-star reviews. This is doubly bad for those books that are the result of serious effort and research. Right, about this book then. Another in a long line of disappointments. To begin with the title: Breakout? But Breakout is not really associated with the Atari computers, but rather with Atari as a company and its arcade legacy. It did strike me as strange when I first saw it but didn't think much about it; in retrospect, it's evidence of how poorly thought-out the book is. Then: "How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation". Good luck finding this 'how' because the author will not tell you much, if anything, about it. I was trying to decide what this book is: it's not a history of the Atari 8-bitters because there's simply too little history - unless you count as history the listing of all the drives or printers that came out, thrown together with their respective specs (which would be nice as an appendix with tables, but definitely not as part of the text). It's also full of references in the first person (I bought this, I liked that, I had the other) but it's not a personal recount of experiences either. What is it, then? The first third (a whole third!) of the book deals with the "history" of the subject in a rather haphazard way. We first learn about the first machines in the series and the rest of this first part is lamenting about how Atari screwed up afterwards. Nowhere is it evident how they "defined a generation" - instead you're left with a feeling of missed opportunities and impending doom. This part is also littered with photos either taken from Wikipedia (truly a mark of laziness) or completely amateurish photos taken by the author in his house ("here's an eBay haul", a couple of machines with a modern router sitting next to them (!) on a table etc). If reading about peripheral after peripheral is your definition of history then by all means, read it. But even in that case be warned, it's very short. The next part (roughly from 34-75%) is about games. Small (half- to one-page) reviews, sometimes (but more often not) accompanied by thumbnail screenshots of a selection of games without any regard to how these "defined a generation". And, yeah, sorry, I didn't buy a book to read game reviews... Last, there's a part that has factually nothing to do with history, a is deals with collecting Atari machines today, emulation etc. So I was thinking, this could have been a nice Atari website; I would visit that and read it. But as a book? Just random stuff thrown together without much thought, a nice (?) title splattered on it and let's call it a day. The author also uses very few 'real' sources, most of them magazines (which "you can find for free online"), but most of the references are for web sites - good luck revisiting them in a few years' time. It's a very unfortunate trend that anyone thinks they can write a book and sell it to the retro-loving masses. As an amateurish effort it would not be too bad -throwing stuff together and maybe selling it for a couple of bucks or giving it away for free. But, $16 for an ebook? That's an insult.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Natiuk

    I enjoyed the author's clear enthusiasm for the Atari 8-bit platform. However, the title of the book should've been, "Awesome: Remembering and experiencing the best of the Atari 8-bit Generation". THEN it would've been accurate. In otherwords, it had little to do with defining a generation and much more about the best games that came out, the various systems and their peripherals, and also a lot of information about tracking down, owning and collecting systems today. The bulk of the book is a ter I enjoyed the author's clear enthusiasm for the Atari 8-bit platform. However, the title of the book should've been, "Awesome: Remembering and experiencing the best of the Atari 8-bit Generation". THEN it would've been accurate. In otherwords, it had little to do with defining a generation and much more about the best games that came out, the various systems and their peripherals, and also a lot of information about tracking down, owning and collecting systems today. The bulk of the book is a terrific list of the best games (in alphabetical order) to grace the Atari 8-bit world. Good descriptions, the reason for the shout-out and often a screenshot and bio of each game. For that reason alone, it's a good book to have if you're interested in playing the most beloved games first. The author however makes a clear case for why he definitely thought Atari SHOULD have been more popular. From the 4-voice sound chip to advanced graphic abilities... clearly the Atari computers were advanced in their day. But if you're looking or a deep comparison of how Atari influenced and shaped the home computer markets of 1979-1984... well, that doesn't happen. Partly because Atari started strong in 1980, and then dwindled in importance... they never did capture the home computer market like they did that 2nd generation of consoles (ie. Atari 2600). And partly because things changed so rapidly, and the cheap Commodore 64 became THE home computer system for games. Good reference, however, and I learned a lot of new info on all the different Atari 8-bit models (and yes, there were a LOT). Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to randomly pick one of the great games mentioned and be happy I'm not missing out anymore.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    Fun book overall, and good to see that 8-bit Atari is getting some attention. The overly-informal style is compensated for by Lendino’s nostalgic passion. In anything this detailed, fan boys will nitpick, and I’ll restrict myself to a few: Lendino is quite proud of the Atari 8-bit sound capabilities, and he’ll specifically point out when particular Atari games made good use of 4-channel sound. However, on a few of his specifically cited examples, the games actually restricted themselves to 3 or e Fun book overall, and good to see that 8-bit Atari is getting some attention. The overly-informal style is compensated for by Lendino’s nostalgic passion. In anything this detailed, fan boys will nitpick, and I’ll restrict myself to a few: Lendino is quite proud of the Atari 8-bit sound capabilities, and he’ll specifically point out when particular Atari games made good use of 4-channel sound. However, on a few of his specifically cited examples, the games actually restricted themselves to 3 or even 2-voice polyphony (as a quick trip to YouTube will show). There were some dubious copyright claims as well: - P230 “Ultima IV is public domain, so you can download it from gog.com for free!” Yup, it’s free, but not copyright free, as “public domain” would imply. - P208-209 “Anyone who played Shamus probably still remembers the music, which is the theme song from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Video games had yet to garner the attention of the music and movie industries in 1983, so copyright was ignored with abandon.)” Actually, the song is The Funeral March of a Marionette (Gounod), written in the 1800s and free from copyright.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    I bought an Atari 800 in either 79 or 80 with my own money as I wrapped up my high school career and was heading to college for computer programming. I ran a BBS, used it as a war dialer looking for other numbers that would answer, wrote programs and of course played games. It was enjoyable reading this extremely thorough history regarding Atari's 8-bit platform. Like the author, I too have great memories of that time and how the Atari 800 was a significant part of my interest in computers which I bought an Atari 800 in either 79 or 80 with my own money as I wrapped up my high school career and was heading to college for computer programming. I ran a BBS, used it as a war dialer looking for other numbers that would answer, wrote programs and of course played games. It was enjoyable reading this extremely thorough history regarding Atari's 8-bit platform. Like the author, I too have great memories of that time and how the Atari 800 was a significant part of my interest in computers which became my profession. The book is well written, easy to read and extremely detailed covering the 800 & 8-bit computers then and now. Excuse me as it is time to install Atari800MacX and dust off the real Atari 800 in the basement, fire it up, and remember what it was like to use a computer in 1980.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roy

    Confirms my suspicion: The Atari was really only a game machine.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael E.

    A good overview of what was special about the Atari 8-bits and an introduction to the online Atari community today.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Hart

    A good read with tons of information on the best Atari 8-bit games, Atari history and modern day mods.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  9. 4 out of 5

    David C Pettit

  10. 4 out of 5

    N F RYMAN-TUBB

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Buck

  12. 4 out of 5

    James Fee

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greg Rybak

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.p.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott Butler

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cameron

  17. 5 out of 5

    Curt Jeffreys

  18. 5 out of 5

    Frank Crombeen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marc Zody

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bill Lange

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Moulton

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ironrange67

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brad Arnold

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Tennberg

  27. 4 out of 5

    Max

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris Dewane

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rodrigo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey L. Wilson

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