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Useful Notes: Atari 2600
The real O.G.

Did you play with a friend on a rainy day?
Did you play with your dad? Did you show him the way?
Did you play with your sis?
Did your mom always miss?
Did... you... play a game from Atari?
Have you played Atari today?

The Atari Video Computer System, later known as the Atari 2600, but best known as just the "Atari" during its heyday, was the first really successful home video game console system, and only the second to feature interchangeable ROM cartridges that allowed new games to be published and installed without modifying the basic system itself. It also featured plug-in controllers that could be swapped out, allowing new kinds of controllers to be later introduced. Originally, just ten games were planned for it. The idea was to make a better system down the line to replace it eventually but the success of the system changed everything.

The Atari was wildly successful, and was one of the forces that drove The Golden Age of Video Games in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Inversely, the sudden failure of the market for Atari cartridges in the wake of the disastrous ET The Extra Terrestrial and Pac-Man games for the system was the trigger for The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. With only a few exceptions, most of the classic games of the era had home versions available for the Atari, some (Space Invaders, and Atari's own Missile Command and Asteroids) more successful than others (Pac-Man, whose failure to match the immensely popular arcade version disappointed many consumers). It also began the dubious tradition of licensed games, with titles such as Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and (worst of all) ET The Extra Terrestrial.

In 1985, the same year as the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System, Atari redesigned the 2600, repositioning it as a budget console, giving it a boost in sales that the 1983 crash diminished, but it still remained behind that of its prime, particularly as Atari would soon release the 7800 in 1986. Many of the few original games for the 2600 from this period, however, were usually of low quality.

The simple joystick controller for the Atari 2600, with a stick capable of rendering input in any of eight directions (from four buttons) plus a single fire button, has become an iconic symbol of video gaming in general, and of classic video games in particular. Many '80s home computers, such as the Atari 8-Bit Computers, the Commodore 64, the Atari ST, and the Amiga also accepted the Atari's joystick controllers, as did the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis.

The Atari 2600 was actively supported for 14 years, from October 14, 1977, to January 1, 1992, making it the second-longest supported video game system in U.S. history, the longest running being the Neo Geo (January 1990-August 2004). The Sony PlayStation 2, which launched in 2000, came close to both, ceasing production worldwide on January 4, 2013.

Since 1995, a homebrew scene dedicated to making new games for the system appeared.

In 2005, Atari released the Atari Flashback 2 (the original, a re-creation of an Atari 7800, was released in 2004), which is a pretty faithful re-creation of the actual thing and contains numerous games built into it, including the Activision games Pitfall and River Raid. The Atari Flashback 2+, released in 2010, contains all of the games on the Atari Flashback 2 with the exception of five (including both Activision games, which are replaced with a couple of sports games). An Atari Flashback Portable, which contains a bunch of pretty awesome features, has been in Development Hell since 2006. The current version of the Flashback, Atari Flashback 4, was released in November 2012, with either 75 or 76 games (some have one more than others do).

AtariAge is the biggest Atari fan Web site online and features an almost complete archive of legally downloadable 2600 ROMs (as well as ones for Atari's other systems). Only a few games are unavailable, such as Activision's 2600 library (for legal reasons, but they're available elsewhere online) and a handful of woefully obscure titles.

Specifications:

Processors
  • CPU: MOS 6507, a chopped-down 6502, 1.19 MHz
  • GPU: Atari TIA (also used for sound)

Memory
  • 128 bytes, used for game variables.
  • No video memory. The 2600 built the screen scanline by scanline, by manipulating TIA's registers.
  • Cartridges up to 4K of ROM, or more with bank switching.

Display
  • 160192 resolution.
  • NTSC and PAL: 128 colors. SECAM: Eight colors.
  • Five sprites.

Sound
  • Two tone generators.

Accessories:

Games available for the system included:

Exclusive titles and Multi-Platform games that started here:

Ports
PongCreator/AtariAtari 5200
PongVideo Game SystemsAtari 5200
Apple MacintoshVideo Game Long RunnersCommodore 64

alternative title(s): Atari 2600
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