Why I love(d) the Atari ST


In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Joe fondly recalls his first companion in the absence of siblings. 

Warning: The following article contains nostalgia. It is also filled with links to nostalgia-evoking YouTube clips. You have been warned.   

I am an only child. And when I tell people I'm an only child, they often respond in the same way—firstly by telling me I must have been spoiled by my parents growing up, and secondly by assuming I must've been lonely as a kid. 

Both statements are true to an extent, however while recent studies suggest children who grow up without siblings are likely to have different brain structures than those who do, I can really only attest to one thing with any degree of certainty: being an only child is what first turned me over to videogames. 

In the absence of brothers or sisters to play/bicker with or share my toys/parents' affection with I turned to my dad's Atari ST for company—our first so-called 'family' computer that ostensibly stood in for similarly-aged blood relatives during my formative years. My mother and father had me later in their lives, which meant at five years old my youngest cousin above me was 21 and thus had little interest in playing Lemmings, Pushover or Bomb Jack with me in the face of going out clubbing and socialising.

His loss, I reckon, and anyway companionship then may have prevented me from meeting Sly Spy—Data East’s 2D run-gunning platformer and shameless Bond rip-off that quickly became my hero as a child. I might never have taken to Microplay and Maelstrom's post-apocalyptic action role-player Midwinter; and there's a good chance I wouldn't have had the free time to pretend to know what I was doing in games like Populous, and Sid Meier's first ever Civilization instalment in 1991. 

If I'd missed the likes of Ghouls 'N Ghosts and Turrican, perhaps I wouldn't truly appreciate what modern platformers owe to the classics—or how even these games owe just as much to Metroid's ever-enduring influence. And if I'd sidestepped Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom I'd probably be convinced a different game is the best movie-to-videogame translation of all time, which of course would be blatantly untrue. 

While I continued to enjoy PC gaming as I got older, I can't guarantee I'd ever have discovered it had it not been for the ST. The popularity of consoles during the mid-late '90s and early 2000s was hard to ignore, and much of my school friends at the time revelled in the SNES and/or the Mega Drive/Genesis, before graduating to PlayStation and its successor further down the line.

Yet games like Joust, Speedball 2, Xenon, Ikari Warriors, Stunt Car Racer, Shufflepuck Cafe, International Karate+, Elite, Kick Off and Kick Off 2, Space Harrier, Mercenary 2 and Mercenary 3, Golden Axe, Hunter, Dungeon Master, Carrier Command, Missile Command, and all of those mentioned above and more played such an integral part in my early understanding of videogames—and I experienced them all for the first time on my faithful ST. 

Granted playing on my lonesome has meant I'm far less enthused by the mention of local co-op in modern games, however the thought of out-playing my dad at Marble Madness—which was incidentally designed by an 18-year old Mark Cerny—and gleefully watching him fumble with the joystick controls still makes me laugh.   

Without the Atari ST, perhaps these experiences would all have come later. Perhaps if I'd had siblings I'd have similar co-op driven memories of Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands or Pang. Or maybe I'd have started with Sonic or Mario and discovered PC gaming further down the line. But would this mean missing all of the great games mentioned above? I can't say, and I often wonder if folk born in this century ever venture back into the '90s to play the original Red Alert, Broken Sword, Diablo, and/or Fallout or the likes.  

That's almost certainly down to the individual and, in any event, my own journey started with the Atari ST and I'm grateful for it. Even if the mere sight of this still has the power to unearth old nightmares: