As many of you on the site know, I'm an avid collector of Atari 2600 and NES titles. While I'm going for a complete, licensed collection of the later, I am very realistic about my collecting goals for the 2600. For those of you who love and collect for this system like I do, you know that this goal is impossible for the Average Joe. During the days of the 2600, licensing laws were quite more lackadaisical and it seems like anyone and everyone with programming skills tried their hand at developing games for the 2600. Many of these games saw small production numbers, and this has resulted in astronomical prices in today's market due to the high demand of serious Atari collectors. And let's face it, I'm not one of those guys who can justify paying ridiculous amounts just to have a game in my possession. On the other hand, I'm not the kind of guy who wants to play an emulated version of a game on his PC. So what's a guy like me to do?
Continue reading Dr. BrazilLove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Clone
Easily the most popular early cartridge based system, the Atari Video Computer System (a.k.a. Atari 2600) would forever change entertainment in the home. This entry takes a quick look at what gamers encountered when picking up the system almost 33 years ago.
The VCS launch itself was a delayed event, held up due to some legal issues between Atari and Magnavox. Magnavox (makers of the Odyssey 1 and 2) owned the rights to publish Atari games through June of 1977, and so even though a working version of the VCS was ready in 1976, Atari waited until that contract was over so they could publish their games for their own system. In June of 1977 the contract expired and Atari brought the VCS to the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago (which, incidentally, was the same show that introduced VHS to North America).
A few months later, on October 14, 1977, the console was released for $199 (or $249, depending on which source you read) in the United States. This initial VCS unit (later nicknamed the Heavy Sixer for its weight and number of switches) launched with nine titles. Surprisingly, the system had trouble maintaining sales, failing to sell all units shipped in 1977 or 1978 (it wasnt until a home port of Space Invaders hit in 1980 that the system really started moving off shelves).
The nine games released for the VCS at launch were Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Black Jack, Combat (as a pack-in game), Indy 500 (with driver controllers packed in to a big box), Star Ship, Street Racer, Surround, and Video Olympics. Customers browsing store shelves on launch day that October had these titles to choose from:
Launch games were sold in gatefold boxes (they open up like a book, similar to Odyseey2 boxes), a packaging style which was discontinued after the first year of (relatively poor) sales for the system.
I had some difficulty tracking down prices for new games, but based on what I found $20-$30 seems like a reasonable guess. Adjusted for inflation, that is $70-$105 a pop today! Purchasers could console themselves with the fact that they got multiple games, or modes, per purchase. With the exception of Blackjack, each game offered between 8 and 50 different games in each package, with the number displayed prominently on the box.
I plan to look more closely at some of these games in future installments of the blog, but there are really only a few titles that seemed to have much staying power through the life of the console or today. Combat is the obvious gem, but Indy 500 and Video Olympics both made this informal poll of AtariAge readers Top 100 2600 games of all time . Past those three however, the rest of the launch games are a mixed bag. Air-Sea Battle and Star Ship both offer some fun shooting, and the latter actually shows off some interesting graphics for a launch game. Surround is more or less a Tron cycle style game, and Blackjack is, well, blackjack (a very tough version played with a paddle controller). Woe to the poor kid whose parents brought home Basic Math or Street Racer, both of which were low points in fun for the launch lineup.
If you wanted to pick up four titles with your new system, you would be looking to spend about $300-$350 in 1977, or about $1000-$1200 today. By comparison, a 60GB PS3 at launch with four games and an extra controller would have cost about $900.
A few things stand out about the system launch.
For one, the titles of most of the games were very basic and descriptive, a strategy also used by Nintendo when they launched their NES in the U.S. some seven years later (with titles like Tennis, Kung Fu, Baseball, Golf, Pinball, Duck Hunt, etc.). This simple naming practice, paired with what continues to be some of the most imaginative box art ever produced , allowed for shoppers to easily identify what kind of game they were buying.
Also notable is the lack of any well known arcade games, games based on movies, or any other connections to popular culture of the mid-late 1970s (the first arcade port would be the aforementioned Space Invaders a few years later). Atari basically had to launch a system featuring games with no known properties, something that has not been done since.
The inclusion of a pack-in game, a practice that has fallen out of favor with many of the more recent system launches, is significant. Not only did it give purchasers the illusion of extra value at the register, but unlike pack in games for some other systems (Super Mario Bros., Altered Beast, etc.) Combat doesn't have a single player mode. This sent the message to consumers that the VCS was meant to be played with others and that multiplayer gaming was the foundation for the console. This message was reinforced by the inclusion of two joysticks, another practice that has unfortunately dropped out of most system launches.
Indy 500, which was released with the driver controllers in a bog box, is also an important title for its inclusion of accessories. While pricing information is scarce and unreliable, Indy 500 most certainly would have cost more than a standard game because of its inclusion of these controllers. Like modern console manufacturers, it seems Atari recognized that money could be made selling additional hardware, controllers, cables, and other add-ons for their system (the 2600 would see many accessories over the years). Starting customers out on launch day with some extra hardware made good fiscal sense.
As a whole, it seems that the launch of one of the most successful game consoles in history did some things right (pack-ins) and some things wrong (no known IPs). Fortunately for Atari, they did enough right to sustain the VCS for a few years until it really became popular with the addition of licensed titles. Tracking down the original launch games and the Heavy Sixer itself in the original boxes would be quite a daunting task today (the Heavy Sixer alone fetches a hefty premium over the other models on eBay), but I'd love to hear from anyone who has done so or who remembers the launch itself.
Back in the 1970s, in a time when video games began to increase in popularity after the success of games such as Pong, companies, such as Atari and Magnavox released home versions of the game. Then, Atari's engineers designed a way to play video games at home via cartridges, making it possible for home gamers to own one system, but play many different games. Finally, in October 1977, Atari released the Atari Video Computer System, or Atari 2600. The system didnt become an instant success until around 1978, when Atari gained the rights to the game Space Invaders, and ported it to the 2600, becoming the world's first ever ported arcade game.
Now, like many of you on the site, along with me, consider the Atari 2600 to be one of your favorite video game systems. Many of you may remember the hours you spent in front of your tv playing favorites such as Missile Command, Asteroids, Pitfall!, Berzerk, Combat, Centipede, and Ms. Pac-Man.
Looking at the system, you see that the system is very simple, despite the number of switches on it. Originally, the first run of Video Computer Systems came from the Sunnyvale, California plant with black plastic, a woodgrain front, and six switches. The weight of the system and the number of switches on the front, the early run of the systems became known as the "Heavy Sixer." As time went on, Atari continued to downsize the system. Some revisions were a 6 switch with less weight (Light Sixer), woodgrain front with 4 switches (4 switch woody), and an all-black 4 switch model (the Darth Vader model).
Another good point of the system was the controller. It remains today as one of the simplest controllers for a video game system. The controller is simply a joystick and one button. The other controllers made for the system are the paddle controllers and the driving controller. The paddle controller is a simple spinning knob made for pong and breakout style games. The driving controller was the same as the paddle controller, but the paddle is a continuous 360 degree spin. On top of this, literally hundreds of third party controllers were designed and released for the system.
As the 80s came around, more arcade games made more possibilities of ports for the 2600. Unfortunately, these were also the years when the 2 worst 2600 games were released. First off was the 2600 port of Pac-Man. The biggest problem with the game was the fact that it looked nothing like the original arcade game. This was because of the fact that when Todd Frye, programmer in charge of the game, presented the prototype, Atari released the prototype. Millions bought the game and were extremely disappointed. The other game is the infamous E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The game was so bad that the 5 million unsold copies were buried in the New Mexico desert.
In the mid 1980s, fierce competition came from companies such as Nintendo, causing people to begin to abandon the 2600. At this time, Atari redesigned the 2600 as the new Atari 2600 (called the Atari 2600 Jr.), with a new "The Fun Is Back" campaign. This boosted sales of the 2600 for a few years. Finally, Atari discontinued the Atari 2600 in around 1992
As you can see from this review, the Atari 2600 has had a very long and exciting history. As of late, popularity of the 2600 has exploded, and fandom of the system is alive and well. Recently, homebrewers have began creating and releasing brand new Atari 2600 games, via Atariage. http://www.atariage.com/store/ (link to the atariage store)
Even though I wasn't even born when the system was out, it has become one of my highest rated video game systems. This one deserves a perfect 10/10.
Here we have it. That game of the century! Well, not quite, but we do have a fairly pleasant little game here to feature.
This game, Dolphin, is a fun concept that uses one of the smartest animals on the planet as it's hero. Well, he would be a hero if the game actually had a story line. In Dolphin you are trying to get away from the evil giant squid that is chasing you. There's even a way to make the chaser become the pursued! Give the game a shot and then post your high score in our Atari 2600 scoring thread!
Our featured image is for Gopher by US Games. I've never played this game, but look at the cute little guy eating a carrot. Precious. If anything, maybe it'll give you a good laugh thinking about Caddyshack or something.
The featured hardware is the Wico Command Control[Ball] for the Atari 2600. Ever use this controller? It was surprisingly easy to use and the metal design of the stick made it very easy to move around. It almost felt like 360 degree motion.
Lastly, our featured collection is of GagaMan. Although he doesn't have Atari 2600 things listed, he at least has a great Sega collection kicking. Check it out!
Well, that's another week of features from us at RFGeneration. Is there something you'd like to see featured? Please send me a message, and maybe you'll get to see it up on the front page! Thanks again for taking a look and remember to keep it tuned in to Channel 3 here at RFG.