A Fabulous Collection of Atari Concept Art

ICHEG has acquired a collection of more than 250 drawings that document how designers at Atari created some of the most important games of the arcade era. Sketches show the development of games such as Gran Trak 10, the first cabinet to use a steering wheel, shifter, and gas and brake pedals; Touch Me, which inspired Ralph Baer’s Simon; the pioneering 3D dogfight simulator Red Baron; and the legendary dungeon crawler Gauntlet.

The artists who designed these cabinets made magic by paying keen attention to seemingly small details. They adjusted the tilt of the monitor, streamlined the shape of the cabinets, and dissected the perfect physical positioning of players. Their decisions often determined the success or failure of a game at a time, during the 1970s and 1980s, when the arcade dominated the video game industry. The Gauntlet sketches from 1985, for example, show how designer Ken Hata accommodated multiple players at a period when Atari needed the game’s multiplayer mode to reverse declining arcade revenues.

Preserving these rare artifacts provides a boon for researchers interested in the history of the arcade industry. We also plan to showcase many of the pieces next summer in our Boardwalk Arcade exhibit here at the National Museum of Play at The Strong. Audiences will have a new chance to appreciate the painstaking design work that it took to make arcade games so much fun.

Design Document for Gauntlet by Ken Hata, Atari Acquistion, Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, NY