Atari wants to make premium games again, but the company is still doing a lot of weird stuff in the background. Including paying someone to write the most elaborate backstory about the company’s … cyberpunk gaming hotels?
One of Atari’s weirder flexes to stay relevant over the last year was the announcement of gaming themed hotels. While the pandemic has pretty much scuppered a lot of plans revolving travel, especially the kind of business-related travel that places like Las Vegas rely on, the first Atari hotel is still hoping to open in 2022.
It doesn’t look half bad. That neon styling would actually be an amazing addition to the Las Vegas backdrop. The whole speakeasy and arcade walkway would at least have the benefit of being radically different, if it ever comes to fruition.
In the interim, however, something that has come to life is fan fiction. In what I’m assuming is some attempt at guerrilla marketing — or maybe two people just letting loose on Instagram — the official account for Atari Hotels has posted dozens of chapters about a fictional universe called Syzygy that’s “inspired by the spirit of Atari Hotels”.
It sounds like a bit of a fever dream, but what’s staggering is just how much Atari has actually committed to the bit. This year alone, there’s almost 40 chapters of this Ready Player One-like storyworld, each 200 to 400 words long, with their own illustrations and concept art. The art itself isn’t half bad. And whoever is writing the little stories seems genuinely invested in the project.
Just to set the stage, here’s the beginning of the story, set in a world where (of course) Tesla is so massive that its built its own arenas specifically for street racing.
There’s vibes of Speed Racer here, but sure, whatever. But from that point — maybe because the writer and illustrator got the heads up that, no, Atari is really funding this thing — the story just goes places.
Here’s one chapter establishing all sorts of weird racing rivalries, including a throwback to the Atari 2600 console:
I saw Sway walking our way, decked out in his neon jumpsuit like always. He was a rabbit, always going after a big lead, making you burn fuel just to keep pace.
Ryland Costa was right behind him. His bike was overly mechanical and heavy. If he was hit by a truck, I’m not even sure his bike would flip over.
2600 was getting ready too. He was one of those robots that got cast out after they were replaced by a newer model. Now he races for his own parts.
Wait is that…? It couldn’t be– Angie. She’s a legend, as tough as she is pretty. I’ve seen her bury plenty of guys who were too busy checking her out to notice she’d blown right by them on the track.
So many top racers. Each one a killer.
It’s one of the early chapters, so hey, who cares if we never see any of these characters again. But then — after the main character obviously Wins The Race — there’s natural conflict:
I scrambled into Yaz’s room. Her window was shattered, and she was nowhere to be found. Glass shards were scattered around a row of large bootprints. Tears ran into the back of my throat, and instinct took over.
I heard footprints coming from above– they were on the rooftop! I hopped down the pneumatic tube, took to the street, and got on my bike. I looked up, and Yaz was tied down to a hoverbike that was jumping from rooftop to rooftop. The shadowy figure driving the bike was being silhouetted by the multicoloured billboards. I bombed down the empty streets, following my sister.
I broke my line of sight to look down at the joystick– “BE CAREFUL” throwing my bike into full throttle. I forgot my helmet. The wind was blinding. At this speed, even a fly would hit my skull like a bullet. But I had to keep my eyes open. I couldn’t lose Yaz.
Then there’s the black market for video games where people vanish:
Growing up, everyone knew never to go to the Ventilation Centre. When I was in middle school, a kid in my class went there to buy some illegal video games, but he never came back. Coolant runs throughout the entire city to make sure none of the tech overheats, and the Ventilation Centre is where it all vents out, leaving the entire area covered in a thick haze.
The bright colours of the city slowly desaturated into a white cloud the further I ventured into the centre. It was hard to hear anything under the loud rumblings of the fans, but the occasional sharp noise would send me into shock.
By this point you have to seriously appreciate the amount of effort going into all of these chapters and posts.
Later on, it’s established that some kind of cyberpunk gang called the Jin is responsible. For whatever reason, this futuristic band of human traffickers and black market gamers are residing within the Atari Hotel. Seems like a bit of a weird association to establish on the official Atari Hotels account, but live your best life, I guess:
When I reached the Jin’s base, I was a little confused. Did Matthews give me the wrong address? It just looked like a regular office building to me. No guards, no dogs, not even a forcefield – nothing…
I stepped onto the expansive marble floor and walked across the barren lobby to a small desk where I was greeted by a smiley robot concierge, “What can I do for you, Miss?”
I’m looking for the Jin?
Someone even went to the trouble of building this small animation for the kidnapping plot, only to backtrack to outline a second arc with a massive heist on the Atari Hotel.
It’s just wild to me that someone at Atari is actually funding this elaborate narrative universe weaving street racing, a Tesla arena, gangs, corrupt police and an Atari Hotel into a story just for an Instagram account. And while the first story appeared on February 9, the cyberpunk-esque concept art started popping up on the official account a couple of months prior. So this is an idea that someone’s been hugely excited by for months, although it hasn’t really taken off: the Atari Hotels account has just over 3,000 followers on Instagram. The posts have appeared on a Facebook account as well, but that’s even smaller with just over 1,500 followers.
Apart from the whole Speed Racer vibe to it, I love that the artist and writer behind this are obviously having a blast. It’s weird to see it attached to Atari, a company recently known for launching crypto casinos in Africa, and it’s even stranger that this whole thing is a tie-in for video game hotels.
But hey, why let that get in the way of a good heist/kidnapping/Pod Racer knock-off? Atari certainly hasn’t.