A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: Skiing (Atari 2600, 1980).
"Sacre bleu! And [sic] voilà! It's Skiing by Activision!" These were the words bumbling out of Claude LaFeet's mouth in 1980; his French accent as clumsy as a drunk putting their skis on for the last run down after après ski.
In those days we'd call it naff, thanks to Ronnie Barker (and later, Princess Anne), yet the game wasn't. In fact it was one of the earliest examples of the top-down skiing game style which would be emulated by other developers for the entire next decade. This was Skiing by Activision. "Pop ze cartridge into your Atari Video Computer System..."
The Atari 2600 is the definiton of a classic console. It looked so futuristic in 1977 with its wood veneer finish. It took gaming to the next level after Pong and the Magnavox Odyssey, featuring unforgettable games like Pitfall and Breakout. In fact, it was that Breakout which was famously worked on by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (with Jobs keeping from Woz the bonus payout from Atari!).
Activision's Skiing would come a few years later in 1980. Activision are a huge household name now, with series like Tony Hawk and Call of Duty under their belt. Back in those days though, there were no third party developers. Atari made games for the Atari console, not anybody else. Activision became the first to do it in 1980 and Skiing was one of the very first games they ever released.
Looking back now, it looks all so familiar. Yet it was fairly groundbreaking at the time. The left/right turning worked great on the Atari joystick and allowed last second adjustments just before you hit that tree. The formula would be used in many other games afterwards, including Horrace Goes Skiing (1982) and SkiFree (1991). Chris Pirih, developer of SkiFree would later admit: "[It] was itself inspired by an Activision game for the Atari 2600 console, which I enjoyed playing in my youth. I remember very little of the Activision game, but I think it looked pretty much like SkiFree".
In the same year Phillips would release the less well-remembered (but equally inspiringly named) Skiing on the Videopac (Odyssey 2 in the US). It played very similarly to Activision's Skiing, but lacked the same polish and variety, so as such never claimed itself as the orginal king of the ski games. As Claude would say: "So real you must have it!".