Blocky but Good: Atari and their RealSports Brand

Curator's Note

While the current incarnations of NBA 2KMadden, and FIFA are technically advanced representatives of design for sports video games, what about the technological boundary pushing of an early console era?  With the second generation of home consoles (1976-83), Atari attempted to take some of its early games, such as Baseball and Basketball, and rework them under the RealSports imprint to make them more realistic.  This revisitation of released games was spurred by market challenges from Mattel and their rival Intellivision console, which had used some hardware updates to produce games that were more faithful to their analog counterparts.  As Atari could not revise the hardware of their Video Computer System (VCS or 2600), the important issue became more adroit coding of the software to produce sports games that were closer, if not hopefully superior, to those on the Intellivision.  Atari also produced two more consoles - the 5200 and 7800 - that allowed for more computational power in processing, particularly graphics, as well as more sophisticated AI; however, challenges from other competitors - specifically Coleco's Colecovision for the 5200 and Nintendo's Entertainment System (NES) for the 7800 - overshadowed Atari's endeavors.  Looking back on this early era of sports video games, the drive to give home video game players something more reflective of existing sports games, while perhaps looking graphically crude to contemporary users, nevertheless demonstrated the importance of producing quality sports video games and the importance of the genre along with action, adventure, shooter, strategy, and educational titles.


The desire for realism in sports video games is fascinating and it is interesting to see how much that has changed over the years, especially in comparison to other genres where realism is not a priority - or at least takes a different shape.

This fascinates me as well, particularly in complex sports where realism is in direct competition with intuitive playability. I remember playing some of these older baseball games, and being wowed at the then-stunning graphics of, say, "One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird," which was remarkable for its time. Would it fair to say that sports games were an early driver of video game realism? I can't think of another genre that was so interested so quickly in getting it "correct."

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.