The popularity of the Atari 2600 VCS is what really began the video game movement. Developed by Atari
and led by Nolan Bushnell, the Atari 2600 was released in 1977 after Atari
merged with Warner Communications.
But the story really begins in
1975 when Atari sold about 150,000 Pong units through the Sears
sporting goods department. This deal generated millions in profits for Atari.
Money they would put to use developing the next big thing: The Atari
Video Computer System, later renamed the Atari 2600. (Now you can
imagine why Sears marketed their own version of the 2600 and games!)
Even after the 2600 was launched in 1977, it wasn't a huge success. It
took the conversion of a phenomenal arcade game,
Space Invaders, to really
convince kids that they needed one.
Due to the popularity of its heyday, 3rd party developers sprung up to
write games for the 2600. Activision is widely regarded as the world's first
3rd party developer for a programmable video game system, with Imagic
following closely behind. Activision is responsible for such stellar (and
well-known) titles as Pitfall!,
H.E.R.O, and Space Shuttle. Imagic, of course, is best known
for the games Demon Attack,
Cosmic Ark, and Dragonfire.
Not all was sunshine and roses for the 2600. To this very day, dreadful
games such as Pac-Man, E.T., and
Raiders of the Lost Ark are brought
up as examples of the worst video games ever. (And no, the landfill where
these games are rumored to have been dumped has never been found.) By the
time the steam had run out of the
video game market in 1984, the 2600 had made Atari the second most
recognized name in the world (behind Coca-Cola.)
Other than the aforementioned, other great 2600 games include:
Adventure (voted the
best Atari game ever),
Defender 2 (aka
Ms. Pac-Man, Tapper,
Super Breakout, Yars' Revenge,
The Empire Strikes Back,
BMX Airmaster, and
dozens of others.
Interestingly enough, the Atari 2600 was sold in retail outlets until around 1991. Which
makes it the only video game system marketed in three decades (70's, 80's,
and 90's.) No other system can lay claim to that feat.
The Atari 2600 6-switch
Atari 2600 Specs:
Processor: 6507 (8-bit @ 1.19 MHz)
Sound: 2 channel
Resolution: 160 x 192
Colors: 16 colors onscreen + 8 levels of brightness (California
Games displays 128 colors onscreen)
Memory: 128 Bytes
Original 1977 Price: $199
Special Features: First video game system with a CPU, Faux woodgrain finish on early
models, 1-button joystick, 16K games using bankswitching
techniques, enduring legacy
The Atari 2600 Jr.