Retro Computers - Atari 2600 - Retro Computers

Atari 2600Atari 2600
The Atari 2600 is not a computer as such - but with it being such a classic games system we've got to include it!

So, the Atari 2600 has the honour of being the first games console to appear on our site!

The Atari 2600 is a video game console that was released in October of 1977. It must go down as the console that kick-started the use of microprocessor based hardware and switchable cartridges containing game code, instead of having non-microprocessor dedicated hardware with all games 'built in' to the system.

The Fairchild Channel F was probably the first cart based system (the previous year in 1976) - however the Atari 2600 is credited with making the plug-in and play concept popular among the home gamers.

Originally known as the Atari VCS (which stood for Video Computer System) the machine's name was changed to Atari 2600 (taken from the unit's Atari part number CX2600) in 1982 following the release of the more advanced Atari 5200.

The Atari 2600 was typically bundled with two joysticks (those classic Atari sticks), a conjoined pair of paddle controllers and a cartridge game. The bundled game was initially Combat 4, then later became the classic Pac Man.

The Atari 2600 was massive. During the 1980s, 'Atari' was a synonym for this model in mainstream media and became the name that represented video games in general. In later years 'Nintendo' and 'PlayStation' had the same effect.

Classic Atari Joystick
The initial price of the console was US$199 including the two joysticks and Combat cartridge. It was up against the aforementioned Channel F (which was known as the VCS)

However, both systems ended up in the midst of a vicious round of price-cutting.

Pong clones made obsolete by these newer and more powerful machines sold off their boxes at budget prices. Many of the clone companies ended up out of business (a shame), and both Fairchild and Atari were selling consoles to a public that was completely fed up with 'Pong' type games.

When Fairchild stopped manufacturing consoles (a poor decision - they had reckoned that video games were a 'passing fad') it left Atari with a clear road to produce hardware and software.

Programmers soon began to push the Atari hardware and more impressive titles were created for the machine. This had a snowball effect and the Atari 2600 became more and more popular.

By 1979, the Atari 2600 was the best-selling Christmas gift (and console), mainly because of its exclusive content. Roughly 1 million units were sold that year!

Atari struck a good deal and licensed the smash arcade game Space Invaders, which increased the unit's popularity - 2 million units were sold the following year! (Space Invaders was mega-popular for a good couple of years)

The cartridge system was behind the success of the Atari 2600. Now the mere fact that you could play hundreds of different games on one console was way advanced to what had been on offer in the recent past.

In 1980 the Atari 2600 was given a minor revision in which the left and right difficulty switches were moved to the back of the console. In 1982 another version of the four-switch console was released without woodgrain (people tend to prefer the original woodgrain version nicknamed 'Woody').

The newer units were nicknamed 'Darth Vader' consoles due to their all-black appearance. These were also the first consoles to be officially called Atari 2600, as the Atari 5200 was released the same year.

As programmers became more proficient with the hardware, more and more games were released. It's vast (for the release time) array of colours (128 in NTSC mode) allowed full colour graphics in games - a far cry from the monochrome days of bat'n ball efforts.

Not only that - the system was capable of producing decent sound effects and musical jingles.

Programmers learned how to maximise the use of the Atari's bitmapped sprites and could even make game characters change colour 'on the fly' - again a superb feature in a video game.

Over the years Atari themselves developed many classic games such as Yars Revenge, Adventure and the seminal Breakout. Other well known developers such as Activison created titles such as Pitfall which sold over 4 million copies. Incredible.

The Atari 2600 cannot be underestimated - it really did usher in the modern era of home console gaming.

We recommend trying to pick up one of these machines.
Look at computers for sale online or even locally.

If you don't want to get hold of the real hardware then try and download an emulator and download those classic games. Alternatively you could try and play them online.

The classic Atari logo
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