• Once upon a time (almost 17 years, actually), a small company was created by several renegades from Atari. They went on to captivate the imagination of Atari VCS owners who were being fed a steady diet of Pong variations with blocky graphics and uninspired game design. Until Activision broke the software stranglehold once enjoyed by Atari, gamers were at the mercy of Atari, a company who, up to that point, released games on its own terms. Then, a few brilliant tales of Keystone Kapers, River Raid, Stampede, Laser Blast, Kaboom! and Pitfall! forever raised the bar of VCS programming excellence and instantly made the upstart Activision a company to respect. Their games were flashy, original and imaginative. But then the onslaught of me-too third party publishers who were in it for a quick buck threatened to undermine Activision's efforts to provide Atari gamers with high quality titles. With the flood of games -- most of them poor -- saturating the software market, there was inevitably a backlash from the gaming public who because disenchanted with the quality of home console gaming. Before the home videogame industry completely collapsed, however, Activision produced some memorable titles, among them being Euduro, Dreadnaught Factor (Intellivision & 5200), H.E.R.O., Decathlon and Pitfall II, the spectacular sequel to David Crane's megahit.

  • Activision's transition to computers gaming was rough at first, what with their vast experience in action-oriented games not nearly as impressive to the strategy-oriented computer player. Titles such as Toy Bizarre, Zone Ranger, Zenji and Ghostbusters failed to live up to the high standards that Activision had established in their early console days, and innovators such as Electronic Arts, Broderbund, Microprose and Epyx soon shoved the first ever third party software publisher out of the limelight.

  • Even as the console market became revitalized by Nintendo, Activision failed to offer competitive software products and quickly became an also ran in the face of mounting competition from such notables as Capcom, Konami and Acclaim. Sword Master and Galaxy 5000 are not the stuff that legends are made of. Later, Activision even supported such also-rans as the Atari 7800 and Sega Master System in an attempt to grab what piece of the pie was available to them. Unfortunately, the pie was almost nonexistent as Nintendo dominated the console market during the late 80s and early 1990s.

  • Activision had it so bad at one point, in fact, that they were bought out by Mediagenic and became a subsidiary of the company. Activision's name value had deteriorated to the point that Mediagenic used its own name to publish software titles for the educational and edutainment market.

  • Sometime in the early-to-mid 1990s, however, Activision rose from bankruptcy and began its long journey back to prominence. They began their road to recovery by releasing for the PC the "Atari 2600 Action Pak", a compilation of their greatest games for the VCS. They followed up with two more volumes and even released a Commodore 64 compilation. They next set their sights on updating some of their most recognizable properties (at least to old-timers) by bringing out a modern version of Pitfall for the Super NES, Genesis, Sega CD, PC and Atari Jaguar, dubbed Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. They also announced updates of Kaboom! and River Raid for the Super NES, but these two titles never made it past the planning stages.

  • As the multimedia age arrived, Activision capitalized on yet another famous name -- Zork. Although originally the property of Infocom, Activision had earlier purchased the masters of the text adventure. Return to Zork, at it would eventually be called, was a multimedia extravaganza that was lavished with digitized video clips, voice samples and, most importantly, hype from the media. Although the game was shallow in nature, players who couldn't get enough of Seventh Guest and nostalgists of the old Infocom titles quickly embraced the game that helped to financially stabilize the still-languishing publishing house.

  • Activision grew and still is growing, to a self-sufficient company with most power than it's had since the days of the VCS... but at what price? Most of their recent offering have increasingly become mainstream and uninspired. With the exception of Mechwarrior, their games have been nothing but clones or poorly designed efforts. Titles such as Time Commando would have been unqualified disasters but for their Acclaim-esque marketing methods (i.e.- generating excessive hype).

  • Today, Activision has taken a different approach to publishing. Instead of creating original games in-house, they have resorted to purchasing games created by independent software developers. While obtaining the distribution rights to Quake 2 may be considered a coup to some, it fails to establish any sort of identity or emotional attachment to the company by gamers who are aware that Activision does nothing but market and publish the game.

  • My point is, their legendary namesake combined with (now) deep pockets should call for an internal commitment by the first-ever third party publisher to develop talent and games from within. Try and create inspired and innovative new games much like David Crane, Larry Kaplan and Steve Kitchen did while with the company in its early days! Without actual ownership of game franchises, (they merely publish Quake 2 and do not own the rights to the name. Future sequels with no doubt be bid upon by other publishers for the right to publish them) Activision has nothing to build upon. A reputation for excellence is not established by buying up publishing rights to games that others have developed. They should further diversify their software repertoire by tapping their vast resources of classic titles and updating them for the 90s (similar to what Atari did with Tempest 2000). Unless Activision can change its ways NOW, they'll be stuck in an endless spiral of having to acquire the publishing rights of games created by others. Acclaim learned the hard way that in-house development is just as crucial as clever marketing to stay alive in the cutthroat software industry. Let's hope Activision will not have to languish again, this time not because of an industry-wide crash, but as a result of poor vision and lack of direction on their part.

    Welcome back Activision... Now go and get some soul!

    - Please send comments or questions to Keita Iida

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