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Atari 2600

A video game console released in October 1977.

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2600: From Phreakers to Phoenix

  • May 29, 2010
2600 hertz is the frequency of a Captain Crunch cereal prize whistle that motivated nerdy kids of the 1960's to hack telecommunications systems.  What a perfect call sign for the machine that defined a generation of video gaming by defying its own limits and inspiring some of the most creative programming efforts ever.  Though subtle, the numerology of the console's name is significant:  leaning on the hacking edicts of "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" hacking activity.  How about making millions of people smile, motivate them to spend time at home together, increase their skills of perception / hand eye coordination and standards of entertainment?  That is the "White Hat" of Atari, thankfully flagshipped by the 2600.  

Of course, they didn't give the beast a name until they upgraded it.  Early "6 switch" models were just called the Atari VCS (Video Computer System).  When the company attempted to trump their own engineering with the 5200 model (1983), they added the number, foolishly thinking that the earlier version would fade into obscurity.  While the 5200 boasted a more powerful platform and upgraded games, there was one thing that would always pull the 2600 through, even into the late 1980s:  Market Saturation.  Nearly 500 individual titles were available for the VCS, and believe it or not people are still creating cartridge games for the platform today. 

A diversity of hardware options kept the spectrum of entertainment interesting.  In my humble collection are joysticks, paddles, driving controllers, keypads, touch pads and accessories.  The marriage of hardware and software became an important element in Atari success.  Second generation developments by industry legends like Activision, Imagic and M*Networks kept the pulse beating.  There is always something else to buy.

Wikipedia lists the top ten Atari games as Pac Man, Missle Command, Pitfall, Demon Attack, E.T., Atlantis, Adventure, River Raid, Kaboom and Space Invaders.  However, many less popular games bore a huge impact on the burgeoning gaming environment of the time.  Warlords may be one of the greatest 4-player home adaptations ever, though Atari could never compete with Colecovision for arcade emulation.  Other significant titles for the consideration of posterity:  Bachelor Party (an early 'adult' game), Video Olympics (the perfect evolution of pong!), Pole Position (the beginning of complicated control usage), Pele's Soccer (reflecting the strains of sports on the physical strain of joystick usage...the carpal tunnel inducing early Wii fitness idea I suppose...) and so many others.  

In summary, there would be no modern video game platform without the innovations and opportunities of the 2600.  Long live Atari!   
2600: From Phreakers to Phoenix 2600: From Phreakers to Phoenix

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January 12, 2012
Fascinating !
June 07, 2011
This may well be the single best summary history of the 2600 that I'll ever read. Like HvKarajan and Depeche Mode recordings, Star Wars, feature film novelizations, Roald Dahl's fiction and action figures, the 2600 was an venerable icon of my first decade. Perhaps nothing consumed so much of my time prior to my teenage years as Yars' Revenge.

Well done.
June 12, 2011
Wow, thank you sir! My dad could play Yar's Revenge for hours on end without ever losing a life. Did you ever experience the glitch / programmer's screen in that cart? I'm more of an Adventure player, but I love them all. Thanks for reading! :)
June 13, 2011
Your mention of a programmer's screen is the first I've read of it. If this bug was induced by succession to high levels, I wouldn't be surprised; for all my hours of gameplay, I was never an especially adept Revenge player.

A few months ago, I finally beat Adventure whilst playing it on my Flashback 2. As its sequel is much more challenging, I don't expect to best it with like facility.
August 27, 2011
OK...Adventure had the best programmer's screen of any Atari game as well, but not sure if the flashback replicated it. My friends and I played what we called "real man's Adventure," ruling that you have to get every object in the game into the yellow castle, including the dragons (via the bat) and the bat and the legendary "black dot" before you can beat the game. If you get eaten by a dragon, you pass the joystick to another player, fun way to make it multiplayer and very challenging. Don't know that I ever played the sequel though. Thanks again for reading, have fun.
August 28, 2011
That group play reads like so much fun! Rest assured, Robinett's seminal easter egg was retained in the Flashback 2. As the sequel is exclusive to that console, you've not played it if you're unfamiliar with the F2.
July 30, 2010
Fascinating review. I wasn't aware of the Cap'n Crunch whistle catastrophe. I may need to look that up. Hilarious. I still love the Atari, though mine desperately needs some work done on it.
August 03, 2010
Hey, Sean, if your Atari needs work my soldering iron and I could take a look at it. Seriously, I have a garage full of vintage crap and Atari is always a worthy distraction. Thanks for reading!
August 03, 2010
LOL! I've got four Ataris, all of which are in need of some repairs, so I may have to learn how to fix them myself at some point. Thanks though.
July 27, 2010
Great review. Our family had the 5200. It was my brothers back in the early 80's for the low low sum of $200 and $34 a game. That system's problems were the controllers. They were made out of rubber and garbage and broke. The 2600 is timeless though. It and the Nintendo are what people think of when they hear "video game"
August 03, 2010
Thanks, John. I liked the design of the 5200 joysticks (and they are 9 pin so you can use them with the 2600 if desired) but yes, they were manufactured as crap. Atari should have stayed in Sunnydale, CA. LOL. Thanks for reading. =)
June 07, 2011
In my admittedly limited experience, third-party controllers manufactured for the 2600 were almost invariably more responsive and sturdy than Atari's own!
May 29, 2010
Thanks so much for sharing this review, Christopher, it really takes me back!  I didn't know all that history about the Atari, but now I've got some geek trivia to share at brunch today :D  I bet Marble Madness is somewhere in there on the list of top games (or at least I hope it is!), and I've never heard of Bachelor Party before, but it's probably better that I didn't!  By the way, if you're into some serious gaming, you should check out The Gaming Hub community ;)
May 30, 2010
Thanks, Devora! Hope your brunch was sufficiently geeky. Marble Madness! Good call, have to go dig that one out.
More Atari 2600 reviews
Quick Tip by . September 25, 2010
posted in Awesomeness
The first major console for gaming and a landmark for the industry.
Quick Tip by . March 18, 2010
Oh, how I miss the days of the Atari & wasting time trying to bat a pixel from one side of the screen to the other!
About the reviewer
Christopher Eck ()
Ranked #238
I've spent most of my life getting paid to teach, mostly young children. Obsessed with the ancient world, I studied Classics with a focus on Roman poetry, contributing to my degree in English from … more
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The Atari 2600 is a video game console released in October 1977. It is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and cartridges containing game code, instead of having non-microprocessor dedicated hardware with all games built in. The first game console to use this format was the Fairchild Channel F; however, the Atari 2600 is credited with popularizing the plug-in concept among the game-playing public.

The console was originally sold as the Atari VCS, for Video Computer System. Following the release of the Atari 5200, in 1982, the VCS was renamed "Atari 2600", after the unit's Atari part number, CX2600. The 2600 was typically bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a cartridge game—initially Combat and later Pac-Man.

The Atari 2600 was wildly successful. During the 1980s, "Atari" was a synonym for this model in mainstream media and, by extension, for video games in general
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