The Atari VCS 2600
This October marks the 30th anniversary of the Atari 2600 Video Game System, and we're celebrating with a 3-page retrospective on this gaming phenomenom. Read on for a brief history, a few selected Atari websites, our personal Top 10 list, and an Atari 2600 Retro Challenge!
A (very) brief history of the Atari VCS 2600
Released in 1977, the Atari 2600 can be safely credited with bringing video gaming to the masses. Rather than most previous game systems that were pre-programmed with a limited number of games (usually Pong varieties), the Atari VCS allowed players to purchase new game cartridges to play a variety of games. Initial games were very simple, but once programmers got a hang of the system, the quality and quantity of games available began to take off. Smash hits such as "Adventure" and "Space Invaders" generated millions of sales for the Atari system, and no competitor (including Coleco and Mattel) was able to dethrone the king of video games.
But all was not well at Atari. Much money was spent on R&D projects that didn't go anywhere. Its disrespect for its own programmers (who were paid rather poorly compared to the millions of dollars their games generated for the company) lead to employees starting their own third-party development houses. The first of these was Activision, producer of many of most memorable Atari 2600 games ever created. Other companies (including Telesys, Imagic, Parker Bros., and others) followed, and soon video game players had a library of hundreds of titles from every genre to choose from.
Eventually, however, a glut of sub-standard games from a myriad of "me too" companies, as well as several high profile failures from Atari itself (Pac Man, E.T., and SwordQuest come to mind), lead to the market being flooded with cheap (and bad) games. Consumers lost interest and many game companies went bankrupt, resulting in the great video game crash of 1983/1984.
While the money seemed to be out of video gaming (until the rise of Nintendo), the Atari 2600 officially survived until 1992, when production of the machine was finally halted. Atari itself produced several other game consoles (such as the 5200, 7800, Lynx, and Jaguar) and computer systems (such as the 400/800, XL and ST/TT systems) but could not survive the fierce competition of the 1990s. The "Atari" name has since been bought by Hasbro (and later Infogrames).
Today, the Atari 2600 game system remains a fan-favourite. It has a also become somewhat of a collectors item, and new games are still (!) being produced by an active home-brew community.
Some Atari Links
* AtariAge: The definitive Atari website. Contains information on every Atari game released, including screenshots, manuals, reviews, collectors rarity guides, and more. AtariAge also hosts a thriving discussion forum and is home to an active homebrew scene that still creates and releases brand new Atari 2600 games.
* Atari2600.com: A great shopping site for anyone looking to buy vintage Atari games and equipment. While games, especially rarities, are not cheap, they have been tested and are guaranteed to work.
* Stella Emulator: Emulation is a great way to re-live Atari games on your PC. Stella (named after the original Atari VCS product codename) gets our recommendation. It's easy to use and works great. To download ROMs (the actual game data - you'll need to download the ROM for any game you wish to play) visit AtariAge, Rom World, and other sites.
* One of Atari's most notorious games is "E.T.". It is often listed as one of the worst games ever made (such as on this list), and it is often quoted as the main reason for the crash of 1983. We actually think it's not that bad a game and does not deserve its reputation, but E.T. has kept people talking (it even has some fans out there). Legend has it that Atari had so many returned E.T. cartridges that it crushed and buried them in the New Mexico desert (True? "Yes", at least according to Snopes). The band Wintergreen even made this story the basis of their (fictional) music video "When I wake Up".