l’atari 2600

c’est sexy...


Atari Videogame consoles (as opposed to Atari's earlier standalone single function consoles) got their start in 1977 with the introduction of Atari's VCS (Video Computer System). The VCS was originally ready to ship in 1976, however due to a legal clause in an earlier settlement between Atari and Magnavox over the release of PONG in 1972, Magnavox would own the rights to anything Atari produced for 1 year, so Atari delayed the VCS release so that Magnavox would not own the rights to it.

The Atari VCS was originally conceived in Grass Valley, California. The second iteration was done in Sunnyvale, CA. The Atari Video Computer System was initially going to be a new multipurpose console chassis with a single multi-programmable motherboard which would have its games installed internally into a ROM slot.

This design was quickly dropped in favour of selling the same concept except making the ROM slot external and selling the various games in cartridge form that consumers would buy and plug into the console. Originally only 10 games were to be designed for the console since it was designed to play games such as Pong, Tank, Outlaw and various other simple challenge games. However designers had unknowingly created a console who's hidden potential was quickly discovered by programmers who created games far outperforming what the console was original conceived to do. Then came Space Invaders for the Atari VCS, the first licensed arcade title. The VCS took off and no one could stop is popularity and success.

In 1978 several of the same engineers who had designed the Atari VCS were already laying out plans for a new set of chips with so much power and abilities for graphics and sounds that Atari's next game console would far overshadow its first creation, the VCS. However Atari was now headed by Raymond Kassar who was brought in by Warner Communications, Atari's parent company when it was sold to WCI in 1976 by Nolan Bushnell for $28 Million. Ray Kassar wanted Atari to compete against Apple in the home computer market.

The new Super Game console chip set was now turned over to Atari's brand new Home Computer Division and became the Atari 8 bit chip set. It would not be until 1982 that Atari's vision of a Super Game console would become a reality. Basically, Atari took the 8 bit chip set and built an all new Super Game System around it. Originally code named PAM, Atari's new Super Game System would almost be called P.A.M. for Personal Arcade Machine, however Atari settled on its model number: 5200. So it was born, the Atari 5200: Super System.

Atari's release of the new Super System was ill timed and poorly supported by research from marketing which was ignored. The vein of most people's complaints were its amazingly innovative controllers. While introducing some impressive features, the controllers were difficult to handle for long periods of time and broke easily and were costly to repair. The Super System was also faced with serious competition from Coleco with its impressive ColecoVision console and Coleco's barrage of expansion modules and peripherals. Everything from Super controllers to Steering Wheels to even an Atari 2600 VCS compatible interface for playing all of the games made for the Atari VCS 2600 console. Before Atari even had such a module available for its own Atari 5200 Super System! Atari fired back with a peripheral that even today stands out as an impressive and well engineered product, the Atari 5200 Trackball. However that wasn't enough, adding to this was the fact that Atari packaged with its console Super Breakout, while Coleco packaged the hottest Coin-Op game at the time: Donkey Kong. Then something happened that no one could fight against... The Great Video Game Crash. Like Black Friday on Wall Street, the crash hit, people saw video games as a fad that had reached its peak and had passed. Company Exec's panicked, packed up and ran faster then Pac Man with all four ghosts hot on his trail.

After the dust had settled, Atari picked up its pieces and its badly bruised ego and went to work on making right all that was wrong with its past consoles. Working with and more importantly LISTENING to test groups. Atari and GCC (General Computer Corporation) got to work on an all new game console. First fix, it would be compatible with Atari 2600 games automatically, no modules. The unit would have encryption so Atari could control what software was released in its high performance "7800 Mode" so there wouldn't be a repeat of the huge flood of lousy software titles which caused the Great Video Game Crash to happen.

The console would have lots of expandability and several peripherals would be made available at launch. Peripherals included a dual joystick holder for games like Robotron 2084, Battlezone and so forth. A high Score Cartridge that could keep high scores for up to 65 different games. A computer CPU add-on module and a computer keyboard to turn the system into a beginners computer system that would be able to use existing Atari Home Computer Systems peripherals like disk drives and printers (software would not be compatible with the home computers.) For its bruised and battered Atari 5200 owners, Atari planned an expansion module called SLAM-PAM which was an Atari 7800/2600 compatibility module so Atari 5200 owners could use all of the existing 2600 software, plus all of the new Atari 7800 software.

The console was ready, the first 5,000 units were on their way from the EL Paso, TX manufacturing plant. Pre-release reviews were ecstatic, the console would certainly be a success... Then it happened, on July 2, 1984 Atari was sold and the Atari 7800 and its unannounced low cost brother the Atari 2600jr. were shelved until 1986 when they were finally sold to a gaming public that had nearly forgotten about Atari and was more interested in the new systems from Nintendo andSega.

Although nothing more then an Atari computer with built in Missile Command and a detached keyboard, Atari released in 1987 the Atari XE Game System which met with luke-warm acceptance, Atari repackaged and re-released several older tried and true Atari Home Computer System software titles into cartridge form. In 1989 Atari would come back into the gaming market with a surprise entry which would turn out to be a amazingly powerful and portable game system. It was called the Atari Lynx Color Portable. Slightly bigger then a VCR tape, the Lynx was a color handheld game system acquired by Epyx a gaming software company which decided to get into the console market but had run out of money to market their product. Originally called "Handy" Atari acquired the Lynx technology and several software titles. The Lynx was overshadowed by the Nintendo Gameboy, a primitive black and white LCD game and the Sega Nomad which were marketed far heavier.

The Atari Lynx, far superior to all the other portable game systems with its slew of add-ons like portable battery pack, carrying cases, sun visors, Lynx cables for multi-user game play and its fairly healthy line of games just couldn't fare as well as the other game consoles, but continued strong for quite sometime. In fact today Songbird Productions has been releasing brand new software titles for the Lynx.

In 1993 Atari made one last push at getting back into the very market which it had helped to pioneer. Working on the Atari Jaguar, a 64-bit gaming console which was acquired from Flare II Atari dropped work on its own in-house console called Panther and the big push was on. The Atari Jaguar 64 would be built by IBM, sporting a DSP Digital Signal Processor, and several custom microprocessors on a 64-Bit wide bus that had expansion to support various types of video, external modems, networking of consoles for multi-user games, attachment of a CD-ROM player for enhanced gameplay and even a VR Virtual Reality headset system for fully immersed gaming experiences. The Jaguar although an admiral console just didn't have the quality of game worthy of its 64-Bit title.

With a few shining stars such as Tempest 2000 and Alien vs. Predator the oncoming threat of the Nintendo 64 and the Sony Playstation quickly put an end to the Jaguar and to Atari's consumer electronics division as Atari folded into a reverse merger in 1996 with JTS a now defunct hard disk maker. The Jaguar console was heavily modified and installed into Atari Games Corporation Area 51 arcade video coin-ops and called the Co-Jag. Atari Games Corporation was a separate Atari company that split off from the Atari consumer division/computer division in 1984.

The Atari Jaguar and the Atari Co-Jag were the last of Atari's video gaming consoles. Today Atari Corp is owned by Hasbro and is called Atari Interactive. They design and sell Atari classic gaming titles for PC's and other gaming platforms. Atari Games Corporation is owned by Midway/Williams and has now been absorbed into Midway and lost its own identity and exists no more.

Fuente: The Atari Historical Society