Atari’s Home Run, or maybe just a foul ball called fair

I grew up in a baseball household.  My dad played it, still plays softball, and has been an MLB fan for many years. My mom was always a cheerful supporter.  I fondly remember watching professional teams play on TV and going to my dad’s games.  When my brother and sister came along and were old enough, we had our own backyard team.  I know that my dad hoped all of us would become involved in the sport, and well…two outta three ain’t bad.  But together we watched many a World Series and rooted for our local (or close enough) Phillies.  My favorite players were Mike Schmidt and Tug McGraw, and Veterans Stadium (RIP) was the place to be. The Phils were pretty good back then, and I never forgave them for the debacle of 1993 (go Blue Jays!) and the awful Dykstra/Kruk/Wild Thing years that followed.  I moved on to root for New York teams, and kept up with the sport fairly regularly until the early 2000s when it seemed dope, greed, and carelessness ruled the field.

Boy, the nostalgia ship really sailed on that one (sorry)…

Since we were pretty much baseball regulars and video game players, one might think that our house was flooded with baseball video games.  Not so.  My dad was a firm believer that it was a sport to be played outside and could never be properly replicated in a game.  However, we did have one baseball game, yes one, and I imagine it firmly cemented this notion in his mind.  That game was Home Run for the Atari 2600.

Home Run cover © Atari (source), and my god, I love that this one still has the price sticker!

And it was…it was…well, looking back, it was not great. At the time though, Home Run was…okay, I suppose. I mean, it was an early Atari game, released in 1978. We didn’t get it until at least the mid 1980s, so it was already ancient by that point, and it didn’t have much charm.  Still, it wasn’t the worst game we had.

Prettier than Pong, at least. Maybe? (source)

Home Run was very simple, very 8-bit, and the screenshot above pretty much explains it all.  You had a green “field,” minimal sprites for players, and score trackers.  The offensive team was blue and the defense was red (or orange? Or some color that was not blue).  Bases were little white blips, as was the ball, and that was pretty much that.  The screen above shows a pitcher and two “outfielders,” but I think you could select to have one, two, or three on defense…maybe? The sounds in the game were extra minimal with your standard blips and bloops.  If the game when on for a really long I time, the pitter-patter running blips got to be about the most annoying sound ever.

If any fun was to be had in the game, it was as the defense.  As the hitter, all you could do was hit (and miss, and miss, and miss again, dammit!, because of stupid button lag) – your “team” was automatically programmed to run if you got a hit.  But the pitcher could manipulate the ball (i.e. make it wiggle) as it was thrown AND got to tag out the hitting team players…well, if you caught the ball. As the title states, home runs could certainly be achieved. Sometimes legitimately, sometimes magically, and sometimes completely unbeknownst to the player(s)! Yay old school glitchiness!

It was a good thing we still had outdoor baseball, otherwise who knows what terrible fate would have befallen us! Okay, okay…maybe I’m being a bit silly.  After listening to the review video below, I have to agree that Home Run – when it worked, and I swear our copy didn’t sometimes – set out to do all it could do. It was an early and simply baseball game with simple mechanics – hit the ball, catch the ball, tag players, score runs.  It didn’t have much flash or pizazz, no fancy footwork or heavy hitters, no millionaire players or asshole owners or jerky let-down teams that knew, just knew they could do better and simply didn’t.  Given how baseball games have evolved since Home Run (and I have tried a few here and there), I guess there’s something to be said for simplicity.

Video from YouTube user Classic Game Room.

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