Profile Atarian: Brian Rittmeyer
Some day I wish I could meet Nolan Bushnell, if just to tell him, "I remember." I remember when the word "Atari" meant something, when people didn't play "video games," they played "Atari." I remember the empire that is no more.
The Early Days
I remember as a child getting a 2600 for Christmas. It was a magical, awe-inspiring machine. I remember our family - that's right, the whole family - playing Combat for hours. What always troubled me was that my cousins always seemed to have more than we did - they always had the latest, greatest games. In time, when we realized games like 2600 Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were not faithful to the arcade originals, we abandoned our 2600 for the "superior" ColecoVision. In time we got one of the original Nintendos, but I never really liked it as much as my younger brother and I fell out of video gaming for many years.
My first computer was an Atari 600 XL. I didn't get the 800 XL because I was too impatient to wait another week for an extra $20 in my allowance, and figured 16K of memory would be more than enough. I also had a 1010 recorder to go with it, but never a printer, disk drive, modem or any useful software. All I ever really used it for was playing cartridge games and typing in BASIC programs I saved on cassette. I also found I was often unable to partake in swapping games at school because my computer didn't have enough memory. I used to literally dream that my computer had 64K, or that it was an 800 XL. I heard of the expansion memory unit, but could never find it. At one time I was offered a Commodore 64 for free, but turned it down - such was my devotion to Atari.
It wasn't until my college years in the early '90s I picked up a Sega Game Gear to keep me amused in the dorm. In my junior year I remember people flocking to a guy's room on the floor above to marvel at his original Game Boy and his Super Nintendo. Atari was a forgotten memory. I never heard of the Lynx or the Jaguar in their day, although I remember my senior year there was a freshman down the hall everyone called "Satan" with a 2600, which I found amusing but otherwise did not make note of.
Collecting the Past
After graduating in '93 I got a Sega Genesis and the hottest, most controversial game at the time, Mortal Kombat. I would go to the stores, desperately wanting to buy something, but leaving empty handed because nothing interested me. I began to long for the days of my Atari - for games that were fun, and didn't require a book to understand how to play. In '95 or '96, my then girlfriend's aunt and uncle told me they thought they had "an Atari" in their shed, but weren't sure. About six months later they finally went and looked and pulled out a six-toggle 2600 and 27 game carts. The machine was full of dirt, dead bugs and cob webs, but it worked. Thus I began, hunting yard sales, flea markets and second hand stores to build a 2600 collection.
Initially I was only collecting Atari 2600 items, rejecting anything else. I had a storage crate made to hold 50 games, thinking I'd never fill it. It filled, and I then had a 25-unit crate made, figuring that would be enough. It wasn't. Today I have 233 unique titles in my 2600 collection - everything I ever had, everything I ever wanted, everything I ever heard of and a lot I had never heard of (credit my parents for why I never knew there were "adult" 2600 games.)
More Than Just The 2600
At some point I decided to expand beyond the 2600. My next acquisition, if I remember correctly, was a 7800, for which I now have 39 titles. It was followed by a Jaguar and Jaguar CD, for which I have 40 cartridges (including BattleSphere) and 12 CDs. I went looking for a 5200, but found an XE Game System instead, which I had never heard of before, complete with keyboard and lightgun. I have 13 of the computer game carts, and later picked up a 1010 recorder to go with it. I then gave up my Sega Nomad to buy a Lynx II, for which I have 14 game cards.
Then I found the Holy Grail - my 5200, at a flea market, at the bottom of a stack of boxes under a record player. I now have 38 titles in my 5200 inventory, and a rebuilt controller and a Wico controller to make it all playable. Most recently I came upon that long-ago desired 800 XL - $5 at a Goodwill computer shop - for which I purchased a 1050 disk drive to go with it.
Earlier this year I gave into my desires to have a "current" game system and picked up a Sega Dreamcast, which turned out to be prophetic as it was discontinued by Sega just a couple months after I bought it. It now fits in with its Atari neighbors.
The pace of my collecting has slowed as my collection has grown it has become increasingly difficult to find things I don't already have without going to great extremes or spending great sums of money. But every now and then I come across something at a flea market, a second hand store or on the Internet. I take satisfaction in saving these items from oblivion.
Currently, my Jaguar, Jaguar CD, 7800, 5200 and Dreamcast are all hooked up to my television, while my 800 XL is also set up with its own monitor. My 2600, a new four-toggle, just like the one I had as a child, is always out for display purposes, and my Lynx is always handy. All of my games for all of my systems are readily at hand and I play them all regularly. And I remember.
Oh, where's the Genesis? In the closet, in its box, where it's been for years.