Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Bad Contollers: The Atari 7800

Posted by nfinit on October 3, 2009

Back when I kept meaning to update this blog regularly (but invariably putting that off to such important concerns as Disgaea PSP, general moping about and self-abuse to Japanese lesbian group sex) I was inspired by an article in a recent Game Informer listing what the editors believed, in typical diseased, ill-informed Game Informer fashion, were the 10 worst controllers of all time.  Now, this was all well and good, the sort of meaningless fluff that can only be expected from a magazine that primarily serves as a Gamestop store catalog- They listed the Genesis 3 button pad as a bad controller– more to the point, one of the ten worst controllers of all time.

Which, okay yeah, I can understand wanting to create controversy or maybe the editor in question was a Nintendo fanboy or whatever– But the Genesis pad was unequvocably one of the best controllers of all time, without a doubt the best all-round gaming pad until the SNES came out and made the old 3 button pad obsolete.  How do you fuck up this badly?  Did this guy somehow miss the entire Genesis era and just assumed anything past 1991 that used less than six buttons couldn’t be a good game?  Did he fuck himself up on Kylon paint shortly before writing the article?  Was he a clueless hack that had no ethical qualms about receiving a paycheck for writing about subjects he clearly had no qualification for?

(Seriously though, he’s huffing Krylon, right?  Probably the glittery kind with the metal flakes that helps cut up your lungs.)

At any rate, it got me thinking– You don’t really see a lot of discussion regarding the merits of our gaming controllers, despite these blobs of ABS plastic representing the most intimate and immediate contact we have with our games.  Also a series of updates regarding the mertis to controllers would allow me to pad out a lot of updates, with the bare minimum of effort needed!  It’s a perfect combination of obsession and apathy– and rather than just list the worst controllers or the best, I’ll talk about all of them– or at least the controllers I have personal knowledge and use of, and those that don’t, I can fake it.  Wait, why am I still typing?

First off, this fucking thing:

Its never a good sign to see more games coming soon as a bullet point

It's never a good sign to see "more games coming soon" as a bullet point

This is the Atari 7800, and I actually owned one of the cursed devices– two, actually, the second one purchased due to the proprietary power cord fraying and forcing me to spend a precious birthday gift slot re-acquiring a system I knew full well was damned to obsolescence due to the stupidly large library of putrid games I’d acquired.  What’s worse, I specifically asked for the 7800 over a NES the Christmas of ’86, due to an errant bit of Reagan- inspired juvenile patriotism making me blind to the fact that there was simply no way Atari was ever going to make a Castlevania game.  It was a lesson I took to heart– Thanks to Atari, I realized America sucked and I promptly switched Democrat, much to my parent’s relief.  In short, Jack Tramiel made me hate America.

Oh yeah, this asshole:

His head is so large because it contains millions of awful ideas

His head is so large because it contains millions of awful ideas

Jack Tramiel .  This guy bought Atari in 1984 and immediately proceeded to piss away any relevance America had in the game console industry, managing only to gain some small success in the PC industry before being soundly destroyed by the advent of Wintel boxes.  He had the chance to buy the rights to the NES from Nintendo at one point and thank god he didn’t, we’d probably all have spent our childhood playing football and doing well in school instead of playing videogames.  I have a pet theory that he orchestrated the entire Crash of ’84, but that’d take longer to explain than I can be bothered with at the moment, but for now let’s just say that that asshole was more or less responsible for making sure The Atari Corporation sucked wind until it was eventually taken behind the chemical sheds in 1996.

Funny thing was, the 7800 was as it was envisioned wasn’t that bad of a system.  The graphics were superior to the Commodore 64 and Colecovision, it could play very accurate versions of Ms Pac-Man, Joust and Dig Dug, and was even fully compatible with the 2600 library.  All of which would have been excellent selling points in 1984, when the console was finished, produced, and ready to be sold.  Then Jack bought the company and shelved the entire production line– allowing several tens of millions of dollars of research and development to languish in a Southern California warehouse along with an entire library of finished games for two years– two years in which Nintendo released the NES and proceeded to dominate the market, changing it irrevocably.  By the time Tramiel decided that maybe there was still money in the console gaming market the fight was over– Even if the 7800 wasn’t sporting mid 80’s tech and outdated early 80’s arcade games, there was just no way Atari was going to get back on the map, especially given the $300k advertising budget Tramiel allocated the effort.

Not visible in picture:  death of American console industry; tendonitis

Not visible in picture: death of American console industry; tendonitis

The 7800 Controller though, is a godawful disaster, indicative of it’s pre-Crash roots.  The narrow wedge design was obviously meant to encourage players to hold it flat in the palm of their hand, but actually using the stick forced you to hold the controller sideways and thus in an orientation that made no sense at all to what you were doing on-screen.  The big chunky red buttons certainly look inviting in a very 80’s arcade sort of way, but they were mushy and imprecise, and worse yet there was no way to firmly hold the base and still access the buttons.  Or worse, your grip would force you to hit the buttons accidentally as you were constantly seeking to re-adjust your grip due to the immense, crippling strain your wrists were under just trying to play a freaking game of Galaga.  The 7800 controller does, however, sport one redeeming feature:

Pew pew!

Pew pew!

Held upside down it’s a pretty rad space gun.  Which is an important feature when you’re 12 years old and realize you’ve ruined your own Christmas.


5 Responses to “Bad Contollers: The Atari 7800”

  1. hugh betcha said

    Just so you know, my wife has been laughing more or less nonstop for the last 10 minutes, saying “The photo captions! The photo captions!”

    I’ve been laughing for the last 15 minutes, but this is because I’m a slower reader.

  2. Skye Ivory said

    Hey I remember watching Blade Runner and in the background there was this huge neon Atari logo, because you know, in the dark future there will still be Atari and all….and so yeah. There was that.

    (dying laughing over all the photo captions, thanks for making me spill my ice cream!)

  3. hugh betcha said

    Skye has seen things you people wouldn’t believe…

  4. Viator said

    Game Informer article, imma let you finish, but the Genesis pad was unequvocably one of the best controllers of all time

  5. nfinit said

    This is the best response.

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