Atari 2600

My memories and thoughts on the system that changed home gaming
March 16, 2011

Thinking back to my younger days, and video games, and the focus seems to fall on the Atari 2600. I do remember the old pong game, but the Atari 2600 was where video games became a significant part of my entertainment as a kid.

Although it was released in 1977, the system did not grow legs in the world till the game Space Invaders was released for the system. From that point on, the system was selling like hotcakes. After Space Invaders, the Atari 2600 was embellished with a larger number of “Killer Apps” like Pitfall, Asteroids, Defender, Missile Command and Frogger.

As of now, I own two gaming systems, Nintendo DS, PSP, and a couple of Apple devices, as well as a pretty decent gaming computer. These systems have state of the art graphics, HD quality, analog controls, processor power that make my laptop computer look like a pong machine. But what was hot back when the Atari 2600 came out. Well the specs on the console as follows:

Processor: 6507 (8-bit) with a 1.19MHz speed
Screen RAM: 128 bytes
Screen Resolution: 192 x 160
Color Palette: 16 colors, 4 max on-screen
Sound: 2 sound channels
It's amazing to think that gamers use to play on a system that only ran at 1.19MHz or even had a screen resolution of 192x160. My computer, is running at 1680 x 1050. And it cost the same amount that the Nintendo 3DS is going to cost at launch, $249.00.

It blows my mind to think of this now. But this brings up an interesting question. What ever happened to the gaming were graphics were second, and story was the main focus? Back when the best graphics a game could have was 8 bit, and 4 colors on a screen, the developers were forced to focus on the game play and the fun factor rather then the eye candy. Now granted, a lot of the games that came out on the Atari 2600 were ports of arcade games, but there are some treasures in the mix like Adventure, Combat, and Yar's Revenge. Though, along with the treasures there was some bad games. One of those, which stood out for everyone was ET: The Extra Terrestrial. I know there are people out there that go into seizures just hearing about the ET game.

Now days you can buy Atari 2600 like game bundles that are built into a makeshift Atari 2600 joystick. You plug these unites into your TV and play the dozens of games preinstalled on the unit. If you wish to get really nostalgic, you can frequent the local pawn shops, or video game, movie, music re-sell shops, and you may come across a working original Atari 2600, complete with a stack of plastic bricks, which the games came on. For those of us into the history, and the nostalgic value of our childhood, finding a working Atari 2600 in the wild is a cool find. You can also grace Ebay and find several systems for sale, but there is just something about finding it in the wild, that makes some memories come back.

Without saying, all of that childhood fun with the Atari 2600 abruptly ended when Nintendo hit the scene with it's Roby the Robot. And although the Atari 2600 had a Mario game, it was Nintendo that made the little plumber a house hold name. The torch had been passed, and after that, Atari 2600's started to collect dust in garages across the country in hopes to be used again 34 years later by adults who grew up playing them.
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