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History of video games/Platforms/Atari 2600

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History[edit | edit source]

Development[edit | edit source]

Development of hardware which would become the Atari 2600 had begun by December of 1975.[1] The prototype of the Atari 2600 was based off of a Jolt card, which used a 6502 processor.[2] Software for the console was developed on a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer[2], which despite the classification name was a computer about the size of a refrigerator.[3] (And thus much smaller then room sized mainframes)

Atari at CES 1982.

Launch[edit | edit source]

Logo for the Atari 2600.

The Atari 2600 was launched in 1977.[4] At launch the Atari 2600 cost $199.[5] Atari was able to leverage their strong arcade game brands to create home ports the same games - achieving massive market success.[6]

Early Atari 2600 units featured six switches and heavy RF shielding, which were later reduced to four switches and lighter shielding.[4]

In 1981 VCS cartridges cost as little as $20 and as much as $35.[6]

The launch of the Atari 5200 in 1982 may have harmed Atari 2600 sales, though a lack of coordination within Atari led to the Atari 2600 overshadowing it anyway.[7]

The 2700, a version of the 2600 with support for wireless controllers, was planned for a 1981 release but was scrapped with only a few prototype units being produced.[8]

The Video Game Crash[edit | edit source]

The combined success of Atari products in the home and in the arcade made the company a captain of industry, and the name Atari itself had become a cultural icon synonymous with video games and high technology. By 1982 Atari products had become so popular that it triggered an early panic among parents regarding possible negative effects of video games.[9][10] By 1983 some politicians involved in promoting new high tech industries in the United States were labeled as "Atari Democrats", a moniker which shows just how much pull Atari had on the public mindshare.[11] However this influence was not to last long, and Atari as well as the rest of the North American video game industry would soon find itself under an existential threat.

A major Christmas 1982 title, ET, was rushed into development and given only five and a half weeks of development time.[12] A contributing factor to the glut of systems and games on the market came from Atari requiring retailers to overstock their systems.[4] The game performed poorly on the market and caused massive financial harm to Atari.[12]

Landfill[edit | edit source]

Atari cartridge unearthed at the Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill dig in 2013.

In September of 1983 Atari disposed of surplus cartridges in a Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill.[12] This fact became an urban legend as time went on, until it was confirmed in a landfill dig.[12] Cartridges were found following 30 feet of digging.[13] The recovery project caused many to look at archeology in a new light, due to the recovery of something relatively recent.[13]

Later life and discontinuation[edit | edit source]

Following Nintendo's revival of the American video game market, Atari relaunched the system as the Atari 2600 Jr. in 1986.[4] The system was discontinued in 1992,[4][14] making the 2600 among the longest lasting consoles on the market.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The Atari 2600 remained an iconic gaming system long after it was discontinued.

Myths[edit | edit source]

Due to its cultural prominence, a number of historically inaccurate myths have emerged regarding the system. One such false myth is that the blind musician Stevie Wonder was a spokesman for the system, though he was not.[15][16]

Technology[edit | edit source]

Compute[edit | edit source]

The NTSC 2600 palette.

The Atari 2600 used a MPU (CPU), the 8 bit MOS 6507 (Low cost version of the MOS 6502) clocked at 1.19MHz.[17] This processor was bottlenecked somewhat by poor IO performace.[14] A special chip is used to assist with graphics and sounds called the Television Interface Adapter (TIA)[14] which contains about 10,000 transistors and handles two (first version) or three (Later revision) sprites.[18] The Atari 2600 had 128 bytes of RAM, and up to a 4KB ROM.[19]

Some games, such as Pitfall II, used expansion chips to enhance the graphical and audio capabilities of the Atari 2600.[4]

Controller[edit | edit source]

A third party motion sensing controller that used mercury switches, the Le Stick, was released for the system.[20] This is a notable example of an early motion controller for a home console.

Notable games[edit | edit source]

Over 500 games were released for the Atari 2600.[21]

1977[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the Atari 2600 game Combat. Actual graphics were bitmap, and thus the rotated tanks would look blockier on real hardware.
  • Combat - Launch title and common pack-in cartridge, based on the arcade hit games Tank (1974) and Jet Fighter (1975).
Video Olympics screenshot.

1978[edit | edit source]

1979[edit | edit source]

1980[edit | edit source]

Adventure[edit | edit source]

Adventure was an early game in the Action adventure genre.[4] This game contained the first example of an Easter Egg in a game, the name of it's programmer Warren Robinett, as a way to protest Atari's decision not to credit programmers.[4]

1981[edit | edit source]

1982[edit | edit source]

River Raid[edit | edit source]

River Raid was an early console game to use procedural generation to save limited console resources.[22]

Notably, this game became the first to be banned in West Germany in 1984 as it portrayed paramilitary content.[22][23]

Read more about River Raid on Wikipedia.

1983[edit | edit source]

Pepsi Invaders[edit | edit source]

Pepsi Invaders is among the rarest games for the system with only 125 copies produced by Coca Cola working with Atari.[24][25]

Read more about Pepsi Invaders on Wikipedia.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Console variants[edit | edit source]

Wood veneer[edit | edit source]

Wood veneer light sixer[edit | edit source]

All Black[edit | edit source]

Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade[edit | edit source]

Controllers[edit | edit source]

Accessories[edit | edit source]

Development[edit | edit source]

External Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Gamasutra - The History of Atari: 1971-1977". www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130414/the_history_of_atari_19711977.php?print=1. 
  2. a b "Atari 2600 prototype - CHM Revolution". https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/computer-games/16/185/758. Retrieved 27 October 2020. 
  3. "An Entire PDP-11 On Your Bench". Hackaday. 24 August 2019. https://hackaday.com/2019/08/24/an-entire-pdp-11-on-your-bench/. 
  4. a b c d e f g h "Gamasutra - A History of Gaming Platforms: Atari 2600 Video Computer System/VCS". www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131956/a_history_of_gaming_platforms_.php?print=1. Retrieved 22 October 2020. 
  5. "Atari 2600 Teardown" (in en). 1 September 2010. https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Atari+2600+Teardown/3541. Retrieved 29 October 2020. 
  6. a b Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (21 November 1981). "THE VIDEOGAMES: HOW THEY RATE (Published 1981)". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/21/style/the-videogames-how-they-rate.html. 
  7. Trautman, Ted. "Excavating the Video-Game Industry’s Past" (in en-us). The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/excavating-the-video-game-industrys-past. 
  8. "Super Rare Atari 2700 Found At California Thrift Store" (in en-us). Kotaku. https://kotaku.com/super-rare-atari-2700-found-at-california-thrift-store-1797394693. 
  9. "Children of the ‘80s Never Fear: Video Games Did Not Ruin Your Life" (in en). Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/children-80s-never-fear-video-games-did-not-ruin-your-life-180963452/. 
  10. "Opinion VIDEO GAMES FOR THE 'BASEST INSTINCTS OF MAN' (Published 1982)". The New York Times. 28 January 1982. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/01/28/opinion/l-video-games-for-the-basest-instincts-of-man-151899.html. 
  11. "InfoWorld" (in en). InfoWorld Media Group, Inc.. 28 November 1983. https://books.google.com/books?id=sy8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA151#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  12. a b c d Robarge, Drew (15 December 2014). "From landfill to Smithsonian collections: "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" Atari 2600 game" (in en). National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/landfill-smithsonian-collections-et-extra-terrestrial-atari-2600-game. Retrieved 22 October 2020. 
  13. a b "Archaeologists Dig for Video Games - Blog - The Henry Ford - Blog - The Henry Ford" (in en). https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/blog/archaeology's-underground/. 
  14. a b c "The Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame: Atari 2600" (in en). https://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/the-consumer-electronics-hall-of-fame-atari-2600. 
  15. "Did Stevie Wonder Endorse Atari Video Games?". https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/stevie-wonder-atari-ad/. 
  16. "Sorry, That Crazy Stevie Wonder + Atari Poster Is Fake" (in en-AU). Kotaku Australia. 1 May 2014. https://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/05/sorry-that-crazy-stevie-wonder-atari-poster-is-fake/. 
  17. "Atari Compendium". http://www.ataricompendium.com/faq/faq.html. Retrieved 22 October 2020. 
  18. "Atari Compendium". http://www.ataricompendium.com/faq/vcs_tia/vcs_tia.html. Retrieved 22 October 2020. 
  19. "OLD-COMPUTERS.COM : The Museum". https://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=2&c=878. Retrieved 22 October 2020. 
  20. "Datasoft Le Stick Joystick - Peripheral - Computing History". http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/32397/Datasoft-Le-Stick-Joystick/. Retrieved 29 October 2020. 
  21. "Atari game cartridges collage - CHM Revolution". https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/computer-games/16/185/770. Retrieved 27 October 2020. 
  22. a b "The Women Who Raided Rivers and Crushed Centipedes". 8 March 2019. https://highscoreesports.com/2019/03/08/the-women-who-raided-rivers-and-crushed-centipedes/. 
  23. "River Raid causes "erratic thinking"". https://atariage.com/forums/topic/182303-river-raid-causes-erratic-thinking/. 
  24. "Pepsi Invaders Retro Gamer". https://www.retrogamer.net/retro_games80/pepsi-invaders/. 
  25. "Atari 2600 VCS Pepsi Invaders : scans, dump, download, screenshots, ads, videos, catalog, instructions, roms". http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-2600-vcs-pepsi-invaders_11875.html. 
  26. a b "Atari VCS (Darth Vader) - Game Console - Computing History". https://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/9401/Atari-VCS-(Darth-Vader)/. Retrieved 31 October 2020.