14th May2015

Play Blackpool Review: ‘World 1-1 – The Pioneers’

by Phil Wheat

The Play “Expo” events in Blackpool and Manchester are, in some ways, an attempt to recapture and relive the community spirit of video gaming in an age where keyboard warriors and faceless online gaming rule the roost. It’s also a celebration of the history of gaming, from the early years of arcade games like Space Invaders and Pac Man, through the early gaming years of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, all the way to the last-gen of consoles…

And Play are not the only ones interested in the history of video gaming. There have been a number of film makers have eleased documentaries  in recent years that look at gaming in a nostalgic light, many from a US perspective, including World 1-1: The Pioneers – which had its European debut at this years Play Blackpool; and From Bedrooms to Billions, (a big seller for Play sponsors Funstock.co.uk at this years event) which takes at look at the explosion of video gaming from a very British perspective.

With both films being available at last weekend’s Play Blackpool event we thought we’d take a look at what each documentary had to offer. This time out we take a look at the latest American take on video game history, World 1-1.

world-1-1-poster

Written and Directed by Jeanette Garcia, Daryl Rodriguez

World 1-1 is the first in a documentary series on the history of video games. This chapter is about Atari and how they created a new industry. It focuses on the business deals, the personalities of the pioneers, and the creations of the engineers. This documentary will be a combination of interviews, archival footage, and reflection that retells the story to a new generation that may not know the roots of their favorite hobby. World 1-1 will follow the early games before the arcade machine even existed. It will tell the story of how Atari created the games industry years before it should have happened and follow the lucky deals and unfortunate mistakes that almost destroyed the entire industry just as quickly as it was born. Atari was the fastest growing company in the United States at the time. It kickstarted Steve Jobs’ career, as well as others. The world’s first successful arcade machine was built there, along with the first popular home console. Atari and its engineers formed the games industry we know today.

It’s such a shame that we watched the European screening of World 1-1: The Pioneers AFTER watching From Bedroom to Billions on DVD that night before, for the two documentaries – whilst dealing with similar aubjects – are worlds apart in terms of presentation, tone and enjoyment. Maybe it’s the attitude of the folks at Atari? Or maybe it’s the lack of different takes on the story at hand? But where From Bedrooms to Billions was an enthralling 2 and a half hours of old-school gaming talk, often revealing unknown facts about the early days of the UK gaming industry, World 1-1 is a dull, monotonous, two and a half hours of mind-numbing “weren’t we great” discussion mixed with talking heads proclaiming Nolan Bushnell as a god and Atari (the corporation) as an evil entity.

We get it. When Warner Bros. took over and deadlines were crunched, ideas quashed and creativity all but resigned to a few rebels willing to put themselves on the line – I’m thinking Warren Robinett and his game Adventure in particular. That “story” doesn’t take over two hours to tell. And that story was, for all intents and purposes, told better and more succinctly in the E.T. cartridge documentary Atari: Game Over. Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting aspects to World 1-1 and Atari’s story, especially the very early days of the Pong arcade machines, but there is also a LOT missing…

The focus, for the most part is on the Atari VCS (later renamed the 2600), with scant mention of Atari’s other consoles, the Atari 5200 and the 7800 – fair enough, both of those consoles were not as successful as the VCS/2600 but to gloss over them with only a brief mention in passing towards the end of the documentary seems, at least to me, like something of a mistake. Maybe, given the fact this documentary is billed as “the first in a documentary series”, we can expect more stories on Atari, at least post-the E.T. crash. Something which – given the amount of documentaries, TV shows and webisodes which discuss the early years of Atari – would actually make for a more interesting, and undoubtedly revealing, film. Personally I’d love to know the stories surrounding the Atari Jaguar, and in particular the Atari Lynx which, at least for this UK gamer, was THE handheld to have as a kid (I had more friends and schoolmates with a Lynx than a Gameboy and Game Gear surprisingly). Maybe we’ll see those in future, one can only hope…

As a documentary World 1-1: The Pioneers does hold some interest, but if you’ve seen Atari: Game Over then this is essentially the same story but more in-depth, more “dry” and more back-slappingly congratulatory. But hey, then isn’t that the American way?

World 1-1: The Pioneers is available to buy and/or rent now on VHX.TV

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