This year marks the 40th anniversary of Atari releasing its first arcade game. The name of that game was Pong, and although the gameplay consisted of nothing more than two paddles moved up and down to deflect a ball to the other side of the screen, it heralded the beginnings of a huge mainstream industry. What better way to celebrate that anniversary and the birth of the modern video game industry than by playing some Pong - and Missile Command, Centipede, and others - directly in your web browser thanks to Atari. With a little help from Microsoft.
The Atari Arcade has been relaunched as a free-to-play website containing a host of classic Atari arcade games. By switching the platform to HTML5, the need for any plug-ins such as Flash or Java has been removed. The games on offer can all now be played in any Web browser which supports HTML5, which includes Internet Explorer 9 (and the forthcoming IE10), and the latest versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.
There are currently eight games available to play, namely Asteroids, Centipede, Combat, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout, and Yars' Revenge. Many more are promised to be on the way from the 100+ arcade games Atari has in its library. Additionally a free dev kit for the Atari Arcade platform has been released (along with a set of tutorials), meaning budding developers can try their hand at building their own games to be added to the line-up.
It goes without saying that Microsoft hasn't got involved with this project out of the kindness of its heart. Playing the Atari Arcade using Internet Explorer removes the advertising which unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) exists on Chrome and Firefox, and there's a constant visual reminder to download IE9 (and soon IE10) repeated across the site. It's not necessary to switch to the Microsoft product to play the Atari Arcade games though, as they work perfectly well in the other major browsers.
The games have also been optimized for touchscreen devices, which Microsoft obviously has a rather keen interest in with Windows 8 due out before the end of the year.
The quality of the games varies somewhat, with Pong, Asteroids, and Lunar Lander having been brought back to life in a satisfying manner while others prove to be a little disappointing. That could have something to do with certain titles showing their age more than others, and the obvious nostalgia which comes with playing these games from yesteryear, rather than any fault on the part of the development team charged with bringing these classic titles to a new generation of gamers, which I for one am glad has happened.
The video below is a trailer for the Atari Arcade relaunch, and it shows the the past and present being forged together seamlessly.