With only a 1.19MHz CPU to play with, a lot of Atari 2600 design had to be created outside the games themselves by artists who brought fantasies boldly to life.In a new book, enthusiast Tim Lapetino looks at the history of Atari game covers, such as Video Chess, Defender and Warlords (above), starting from the console’s debut in 1977. “The visual styles are a combination of the artists’ creativity and the inherent limitations of the console itself,” he says. “Those beautiful illustrations served as a gateway connecting the imaginations of gamers to the simple game graphics. I believe Orson Welles said ‘The absence of limitations is the enemy of art,’ and I think that’s true for these artists’ works.”Atari commissioned 136 pieces in total, and tracking each of them down has been quite a task for Lapetino. “At times I’ve felt like a private eye,” he says, “paging through old magazines, internal Atari newsletters, viewing negatives through printers’ loupes. At that time in the video game industry, it was not standard practice to credit artists and creators, so we’ve relied on scarce documentation, art collectors, fan websites, former Atari employees, and the memories of the illustrators themselves. It has been a hunt to even identify some of the artists, much less reach them. We’ve unearthed a lot about the culture of the artists and Atari, and we’re excited to preserve these stories.“We are hoping to provide as complete a picture of the art of Atari in that era as possible,” Lapetino continues. “Its history, and the stories behind these unsung artists, are worth preserving, because the games themselves are part of a rich, pop cultural heritage. But this is a challenging task, as much of the original work has been lost to time or neglect, and Atari’s archives are non-existent as the company changed hands many times. Our book will be a showcase of as much as we’ve been able to unearth, and our search continues. Some of our hope in promoting the book early is to use the publicity to unearth even more artwork, stories, and materials, to better flesh out the whole picture.”