Atari gaming system sparks interest in developer’s office

November 5, 2010 | Features, UToday
By Samantha Pixler

The video game industry is a multi-billion dollar business that continues to become more technologically advanced each day. With advances in gaming consoles such as the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii, consumers are eager to try out the next new thing in video games.

Don Curtis shows off the classic Atari in his office.

Don Curtis shows off the classic Atari in his office.

But it is the classic consoles that paved the way for the new generation of gaming and the true fans haven’t forgotten that.

Don Curtis, an application developer for The University of Toledo, keeps an old Atari 2600 in his office as a conversation piece for the people who walk in.

“You would be amazed at how many people walk by my office and ask if that is a real Atari,” said Curtis, who has worked for UT since 1997.

The Atari 2600, originally called the Atari Video Computer System, is one of the first gaming systems that really sparked the love of video games for all ages and genders. This classic console was in many living rooms in the late ’70s.

It was 1979 when Curtis play the first Atari, and he has been collecting the classic consoles ever since. A lover of programming and graphics since he was a child, Curtis also re-programs existing Atari games using his own artwork.

“Look at the modern gaming systems and try not to be so wowed by their bells and whistles. It’s the actual game play that makes a game fun,” Curtis said. “My friends and I recently played Warlords on the Atari for almost three hours and its graphics are only primitive, at best.”

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from UT in 1994 and 1997, respectively. At the University, he has held the positions of adjunct instructor in the English Department, divisional webmaster, senior web developer, and now web programmer and database analyst.

Curtis recently was featured in the Toledo Free Press for his interest in Atari, and he has received much feedback from the community. Somebody even gave him a 1972 first-run Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console ever produced.

He also enjoys constructing and restoring vintage arcade cabinets. He builds the cabinet and then interfaces its push buttons and joysticks with a computer tower hidden inside to run classic games that include Pac-Man, Frogger and Space Invaders. One of Curtis’ arcade cabinets in his basement is actually an old Rocket Hall kiosk that was thrown away.

“Don and I share the same passion for Atari. He even helped me to purchase one of the older models and several of my favorite games,” said Dawn Bellner, UT direct service provider for Rocket Solution Center. “It amazes me how he is able to customize such gaming units. I am so glad there are Atari ‘nerds’ out there like me.”

Curtis said it’s fun to make old video game software and hardware new again.

“Do not feel limited by the technology. Never say that it can’t be done,” he said. “The games being made for the Atari over the last 30 years have been getting increasingly better because programmers refuse to be held back by the old hardware. I think of this often as I program at UT. I know it’s more my imagination than technology that sets the limits of what I can do.”

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