ARTICLe 2—Activision Home Computer Software Catalog (1985)

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Distributed in 1985 at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, this foldout catalog presents a snapshot of a video-game industry in transition.

On one hand, you’ve got the latest games from Activision co-founder David “Pitfall!” Crane and Steve “Megamania” Cartwright, plus new titles from other notable Atari 2600 coders (Garry Kitchen, Steve Kitchen, John Van Ryzin, Mark Turmell). But these aren’t new 2600 games, because 1985 is the year in which Activision abandoned the “crashed” console market and put all of its resources into developing games for home computers.

Another signpost pointing to the future: Not all of Activision’s 1985 releases have been designed and programmed by a single person. Some are still credited to one man, but even rock-star designers like Crane are starting to collaborate. The catalog also lists several properties being produced by external development teams, like Action Graphics (founded by Bob Ogdon, creator of many of the best Astrocade games), Creative Sparks (formerly Thorn EMI) and Interplay Productions, which would become a publisher itself by 1988.

Speaking of rock-star game designers: There are some interesting similarities between Activision’s 1985 line-up and contemporary releases from Electronic Arts, then barely three years old but already clearly defined as a competitor. EA had Racing Destruction Set; Activision had Fast Tracks: The Slot Car Construction Kit. EA had Mind Mirror; Activision had Mindshadow. EA had Music Construction Set, Activision had The Music Studio. Both companies published games in flat, square packages that resembled 10-inch record sleeves. It’s funny to think that these two pioneering game publishers are still competing with each other today!

Some other points of interest in this catalog:

• Most of Activision’s early designers would never again enjoy the sales figures they achieved with their Atari VCS hits of the early ’80s, but Mark Turmell was an exception. The creator of Fast Tracks (seen on page 3) and the previous year’s Toy Bizarre would eventually go on to much greater fame and fortune as the co-creator of Midway arcade hits like Smash T.V., NBA JAM and NFL Blitz.

• David Crane’s innovative Little Computer People appears here under its working title, “There’s Someone Living Inside My Computer” (with quotation marks). The catalog also identifies the game with a slightly different name, “There’s Someone Living In My Computer,” in two different places.

• Look for a pull quote from pioneering video-game critic Rawson “The Vid Kid” Stovall in the catalog description of Web Dimension. Stovall was only 12 or 13 years old when he wrote about Web Dimension in his syndicated newspaper column; ten years later, he
would become a full-time employee of the “new” Activision, which had relocated to southern California.

• The back page features an illustration of a man in a hat and raincoat along with the following teaser text: “And…Coming Soon From The People Who Brought You Mindshadow!” This is probably a reference to Borrowed Time, a 1986 text adventure from Activision and Interplay that featured a script by former Electronic Games magazine editors Arnie Katz, Bill Kunkel and Joyce Worley. The recent trend of video-game journalists being hired by game publishers is nothing new!
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