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Atari 2600

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Year Released: 1978
Original Price: £169
Buy it now for: £30+
Associated Magazines: TV Gamer
Why the Atari 2600 was great… Even today the Atari 2600 is a thing of beauty. Built to last and featuring that famous wooden veneer, few things in life could give us as much pleasure as a day spent in front of the TV playing Space Invaders or Combat. It may have all ended in tears for Atari, but the 2600 remains one of the defining aspects of its legacy.

Atari 2600Chances are that you owned the Atari 2600 – the behemoth of the gaming industry from the genius that is Nolan Bushnell and a legend in its own right. The 2600 was to become an overnight sensation, forged millions of minds to the wondrous beauty of videogames as detailed in this special retrospective…

To this day, the Atari 2600 VCS (video computer system) is a gaming phenomenon, which in the late-1970s, was a multi-million dollar industry with over thirty million consoles sold worldwide and hundreds of millions of cartridges produced over three decades. Quite literally, if it wasn’t for the Atari 2600 that made home videogaming for the masses on an affordable budget possible, then today’s videogaming industry – which is more profitable than the movie and music industry combined – might have been a different story. Whereas the 2600 was revolutionary to the videogaming world in terms of its world dominance and game catalogue, it was also built to last – a gaming equivalent of a Swedish log cabin; early models resembled a mini-Panzerkampwagen with wood panelling in the style of a Station Wagon powerhouse. One website, that shall remain anonymous, also provides tips on how to convert the indestructible joystick into a vibrating sex toy to appease the girlfriend; the quality of build is something that German engineers would have been envious of – “vor sprung durch technique Atari.”

Atari 2600In 1972, Bushnell, Ted Dabney and Warner Communications set up shop with Atari Computers and the rest is, as they say, history. Three years later, Atari released Home Pong and it was a huge success, thanks to Sear’s marketing campaign and Bushnell’s genius who was to become the Ray Winstone of the gaming world. Influenced by the Channel F console – the world’s first electronic system to use a microchip – Atari followed suit in 1977 with the 2600 VCS that was complimented by nine cartridge games, including Outlaw, Space War and Breakout. The 2600 was to be gaming gold and legend has it, that demand was so great over the Christmas festivities, that Atari executives helped man the production lines so that the public’s hunger for the video sensation were satisfied.

Overnight, the Atari 2600 was raking in millions of dollars and mainstream corporate companies paid close attention to the new form of home entertainment. In 1978, Warner Communications bought Atari and Bushnell left the company in search of other challenges by buying Pizza Time Theatre. A year later, and with more financial backing to boost development of software and marketing, the 2600 was graced with a further twelve games; but stiff competition in the shape of the Magnavox Odyssey 2 and the Mattel Intellivision – the latter being the world’s first 16-bit console – threatened Atari’s monopoly.

Atari-gamesThe Intellivision was the strongest contender to the Atari by boasting more graphics power, a highly inventive gaming pad (which, some say, has only just been surpassed by Nintendo’s Revolution) and innovative peripherals such as a keyboard and voice synthesis module. The Intellivision may have stomped in the clay footprint set by Atari, but in a short period of time, Mattel’s machine had shifted over four million units: something had to be done before the 2600 would be superseded by the opposition.

Atari 2600The answer came in 1980 with a gaming smash hit from Japan: Space Invaders. The arcade conversion to the 2600 proved to be a monstrous success with scores of people buying the console just so they could play the game and more were converted to the Atari cause when Adventure was released shortly afterwards. And in gaming history, Asteroids and Lunar Lander were the first two videogames to be registered in the US copyright office. The face of videogaming was changing rapidly – everyone wanted a piece of the action and things were going to get real ugly.


Atari 2600Adventure

Atari 2600Space Invaders Arcade

Atari 2600Pitfall

Atari 2600Grand Prix

Read the full feature in Retro Gamer issue 21, on sale digitally from GreatDigitalMags.com

Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from ImagineShop

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