The Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Atari VCS. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Activision, 1980, for Atari 2600)
Memories: Programmed at roughly the same time as Atari’s consumer division was working on Video Checkers, Checkers was one of the first four games released by third-party software upstart Activision – the first company to focus solely on making software for other companies’ hardware.
An unheard-of model in the video game sphere in 1980, it was a long struggle for Activision, which was co-founded by four former Atari programmers who had left Atari over dissatisfaction with royalties and credit for the games they had designed. Newly-installed Atari CEO Ray Kassar downplayed their skills, but when they left to form their own software house, Atari tried to pursue several avenues of legal action, claiming that trade secrets had been stolen. Most of 1979 was spent defending against these charges.
Hardly the groundbreaking audiovisual feast that some later Activision titles would turn out to be, Checkers at least offers significant replay value. But it’s also pretty tough – even on its default skill setting, Checkers is a formidable challenge, offering the difficulty of an experienced player. Winning against the machine isn’t altogether likely, and most victories are painful death marches that come down to one remaining piece of each color left on the board.
When Video Checkers hit the market, its relatively unsophisticated top-down view instantly made it look less advanced than Activision’s rendition of the same game. With its vaguely-three-dimensional representation of the game pieces, Checkers simply looked better. Activision and Atari had gone head-to-head trying to make the same game for the VCS, and in this case, Activision walked away with a clear win.