While we normally associate multimedia cash-ins as a recent phenomenon, the practice of spinning games off into other mediums dates back decades. One of the earliest examples of this is the Atari Force line of comic books.
While most adaptations of games are expected to be based on the events or characters in the actual game, Atari Force went in a whole different direction, using Atari titles as loose inspiration to create an all-new sci-fi yarn.
In the early 1980's, Warner Communications owned both Atari and comics powerhouse DC Comics. With both mediums a hit with the kids, it was decided that some cross-promotion was in order, and along with Atari games based on DC properties like Superman, it was decided to create a line of comics based on Atari titles.
Only, Atari games weren't the greatest inspiration for a comic book. Pong isn't exactly the stuff of epic mythology! So writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas came up with something a little different: Atari Force, a team of science heroes loosely inspired by the names, terminology and art style of Atari games.
At least the art was great...
The story of Atari Force begins in the year 2005. With the world devastated by a "Five Day War", a group of scientists assumes control over what's left of the planet. These scientists had previously worked for...Atari, meaning the video game company was now effectively in control of the planet. Hey, it was their own comic, why not aim high!
With the Earth dying a slow and painful death from the effects of the war, a new home for humanity is needed. So the Atari scientists decide to send a team of heroes aboard the trans-dimensional starship Scanner One (whose computer is called Atari 8000) to scour the galaxy, looking for a fresh start before earth dies and takes humanity with it.
The comics were...a bit rubbish. They had practically nothing to do with the Atari games they were so loosely based on, featured inconsistent storylines and clichéd writing. Yet they were interesting as a marketing exercise, both because they were included free with select Atari games (Galaxian, Defender, Berzerk, Star Raiders and Phoenix) and because they were actually very well-presented, boasting slick glossy paper which was far superior to the crap comics were usually printed on those days. This made the art - by Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Dick Giordano, and Mike DeCarlo - look surprisingly attractive.
The first run of Atari Force comics, packaged with the games, was followed by an actual line of DC Comics, which ran for twenty issues. It was followed by a second series of Atari Force, which boasted all-new characters, along with more direct adaptations of Atari franchises like Swordquest (which ran for three issues) and...Centipede.
If you'd like to read full issues of Atari Force, they're available for perusal over on fan site Atari Force.