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Feature: 'A History of Gaming Platforms - Atari 2600 Video Computer System/VCS'
Gamasutra's A History of Gaming Platforms series - following the <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3527/a_history_of_gaming_platforms_the_.php">Apple II</a>, <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1991/a_history_of_gaming_platforms_th
February 28, 2008
2 Min Read
Author: by Staff
[Gamasutra's A History of Gaming Platforms series continues with a look at the seminal Atari VCS, also known as the Atari 2600, the undisputed star of the early console rush - at least until the Great Crash of 1984. Need to catch up? Check out the first three articles in the series, covering the Apple II, C64 and Vectrex.] It wasn't the first video game console, and historians Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice call it "astonishingly primitive" by modern standards. Yet today, it remains a 1980s cultural icon and one of the most beloved systems ever designed. However, the 2600 spawned a wave of growth that ultimately resulted in The Great Videogame Crash of 1984, and the historians chart the 2600's hardware, its spirit and its rise and fall -- beginning at the beginning: "The first systems, known today as "heavy sixers," featured dense internal RF shielding (giving the system its weight) and six chrome selector switches for power on/off, color/black and white, player A difficulty, player B difficulty, select, and reset. The design featured sharp angles with black plastic and the famous wood-grain styling. In 1978, Atari released a revised model with lighter RF shielding and a slightly streamlined case. The last VCS revision, released in 1980, moved two of the six switches to the top of the unit. In 1982, Atari released the Atari 5200 SuperSystem. To standardize the product line, the VCS officially became the Atari 2600 Video Computer System, or simply Atari 2600. This design was streamlined like the previous revision, but with an entirely black exterior." Barton and Loguidice also recall the system's first killer app: "At first, success was elusive. Even though several of Atari's first game releases were translations of their own arcade titles, none were popular enough to send consumers rushing out to buy the console. Atari's prayers were answered in 1980, when Taito/Bally Midway's arcade blockbuster Space Invaders was converted to the VCS. That killer app was followed the next year with Asteroids, Atari's first home-grown, smash-hit arcade game translation. Asteroids also introduced bank-switching, a technique that allowed access to cartridge memory beyond the prior 4KB limit. Although the earliest VCS cartridges were generally 2KB - 4KB in size, greater memory sizes -- including modern homebrews at 32KB and beyond -- allowed for increased depth and complexity, contributing to the system's impressive longevity." You can now read the full Gamasutra-exclusive feature, which contains complete detail on the significant history of the Atari (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).
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