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Atari Turns 40 Today 162

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
harrymcc writes "On June 27, 1972, a startup called Atari filed its papers of incorporation. A few months later, it released its first game, Pong. The rest is video game history. I celebrated the anniversary over at TIME.com by chatting with the company's indomitable founder, Nolan Bushnell. From the article: 'Like everyone else who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, I played them all: Pong, Breakout, Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Battlezone, Pole Position, Crystal Castles and my eternal favorite, Tempest. The first computer I bought with my own money was an Atari 400. So when I chatted with Bushnell this week to mark Atari’s 40th anniversary, I felt like I was talking with a man who helped invent my childhood.'" I spent my fair share of time playing Warlords with friends on my 2600.
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Atari Turns 40 Today

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  • by postbigbang (761081) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:18PM (#40473909)

    Atari 400 and 800 were just plain fun. Yeah, plastic cases, and ROM cartridges, but what fun those arcade games were. The Apple II guys would say: PR#6. We'd say: PR pound sand.

    • by C_amiga_fan (1960858) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:55PM (#40474163)

      I upgraded to an Atari 7800 "prosystem" which also had a Commodore Semiconductor 6502.

      Ordered it online! (Yes kids Atari had an online store in the 80s.) That was a really nice system with great near-arcade perfect games..... 128 sprites (no damn flicker)..... 256 colors at 320x240..... too bad it barely sold.

      • The 7800 was an improved 5200, a succesful game system. The 7800 had nothing extra special to entice buyers, and marked the beginning of the end for Atari. I had the 5200, came with the dual-potentiemeter + keypad joysticks, and 4 fast response fire buttons (that broke down soon after several hours of use). A large-ish library of quality games like "Star Raiders", "Galaxian", "Robotron 2084", and the best "Joust" port ever! Many non-Atari companies also made some quality titles for the 5200, helping to
        • by mlong (160620)

          The Lynx was too expensive for the time, and I belive it was the last Atari game system made.

          Forgetting the Jaguar, aren't we?

        • I was always jealous of my friends that got the 5200 when I had the 2600. I mean c'mon it's coolest feature was that you could PAUSE the game!!
        • "The 7800 was an improved 5200, a succesful game system."

          Not really. (1) The 7800 used the 2600 as its base, for backwards compatibility, and then added a better graphics chip with faster CPU. (2) As for games, the 7800 ports outshine the 5200 ports in every way. Not only do they look better (virtually identical to the arcade), but they have digital controls rather than the analog controls that made 5200 games a pain-in-the-ass to play.

      • by Gizzmonic (412910)

        Tramiel killed the 7800. When originally launched in 1984, its library was full of the best arcade conversions ever seen. Robotron, Ms Pac Man, Galaga, etc. However, it was also in the middle of the video game crash, and Tramiel fell into the "video games are a fad" camp. He yanked the 7800 from the market before it got any traction.

        After Nintendo and Super Mario showed that video games were still a hot commodity, Tramiel decided to re-enter the video game market. But instead of spending money to desig

      • by bedouin (248624)

        I had a 7800 and an x86 PC concurrently (before that a c64). At the time I sort of loathed not having different console, but now I look back wanting to recreate my whole library. There's been many discussions on AtariAge about whether or not the 7800 could have handled a Super Mario Bros. platformer, and the consensus was generally yes.

        Here's the cool thing about the 7800. NES games were about $30-40 back then. 2600 games could be had for $3-5 at that point, and 7800 titles eventually dropped to like $1

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      Yow, I know I'm getting older; put enough quarters into Pong, etc. (Only program I sold was written on an 800 for a corporation in MIchigan, '82.) More stuff's been inspired from the Atari than you can shake a stick at. Happy Birthday Atari, and thanks, Nolan and Jay!

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      The Atari 400 was the first computer I owned, purchased with money saved from my job delivering magazines (a glorified paperboy). The TRS-80 didn't do color, the Apple ][ was too expensive, the C=64 didn't exist yet, and IBM's new Personal Computer - no sound, no graphics, no effing way - was ridiculously overpriced. But the Atari 400 could play Asteroids and Star Raiders, and opened the door to printers and modems and bears, oh my! It was oh so much more than the Atari 2600 game machine that every upper

      • I was a systems guy, but the 400 and 800 were more like fun. Hook it to a color TV, get the joysticks, and have a blast. It kept me sane while compiling crap in 64K of memory on "larger" systems. It gave birth to ideas that made the C64, the Playstation, and even things like the Xbox. What fun!

  • by multiben (1916126) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:21PM (#40473921)
    I still remember the sense of pride I got when I figured out the Space Invaders strategy of shooting through my own shield to create a one bullet wide gap which could be used to pick off the invaders while staying relatively protected.
    • by Teresita (982888)
      I still remember the sense of pride I got when I figured out the Space Invaders strategy of shooting through my own shield to create a one bullet wide gap which could be used to pick off the invaders while staying relatively protected.

      Sure, just like I "figured out" when you're playing Minesweeper and you enter xyzzy and hold down shift while you mouse over the minefield, one pixel in the top left corner of the screen lights up on a safe square.
    • I used to allow the invaders to wipe-out my shields (they disappear when the invaders move to row 3), because the shields just got in the way of my firing. If you want a REAL challenge, try the version with invisible invaders. Getting that last invisible guy is nigh impossible (I never got past wave 2). 128 games in one cartridge! ;-)

      One flaw with Atari games is that they were often too easy. I could play Invaders and Missile Command for hours & hours and not die. I was annoyed when they started e

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Yeah, We used to play space invaders with the TV turned off to see how many levels we could get through without looking. One person would play, and the other one would turn the TV on about every 2-3 minutes just long enough to see if the game was over.
        • by Brad1138 (590148)

          Yeah, We used to play space invaders with the TV turned off to see how many levels we could get through without looking. One person would play, and the other one would turn the TV on about every 2-3 minutes just long enough to see if the game was over.

          Wouldn't it have been easier and more fun (for the people not playing) to leave the TV on and have the player turn around?

    • I still remember it to this day (I had the 6 switch VCS, family got it in December '79):

      Atari 2600/VCS + Space Invaders cart - turn the power off and on rapidly until you get a screen with out the invaders and only the mothership travelling across the screen at the top. Once you see that, start the game and you will fire two shots at a time instead of only.

      My dad would get pissed if we did it 'cause he swore we were going to destroy the console.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:21PM (#40473925)
    if you took all the ram used in every 2600 that was ever made you'd have less than 4GB of space. (128 bytes per system and about 30 million systems were made. Pretty much 4gb is standard on a laptop these days.)
    • by C_amiga_fan (1960858) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @09:04PM (#40474223)

      Never thought of it that way. You think we'll see a Linux distribution that fits on 128 bytes? ;-)

      Of course the Atari didn't actually run on just 128 bytes. It was hard-programmed with 4K of internal ROM commands, plus the 2 or 4K in the cartridge that the programmer had full control over. The biggest cartridge ever made was 32K (Jr.PacMan; a great game). ----- The 128 byte RAM limitation meant the background was only 40 pixels wide! That same resolution was later used in their 1979 computers: 40x240, 80x240, and so on.

    • by toejam13 (958243) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @09:14PM (#40474275)

      Agreed. The Atari 2600 was an incredibly memory restricted device. It was perhaps its greatest fault. I've done some programming for the 2600 and it is a very difficult system to develop software for because of it.

      I can only imagine what the platform would have been like if they had included 512 bytes of memory (zero page plus stack) instead of the stock 128 bytes included in the MOS Technologies RIOT chip. Having all 13 address lines of the CPU going to the cartridge slot would have also made a huge difference. Bank switching around the ROM when it is larger than 4KB really sucks.

      Heck, I wonder what things would have been like if MOS Technologies would have released a 28-pin package 650x variant that multiplexed the address and data bus to expose all 16 address lines. With the latch pin, you'd only need to dump one signal line (or the phase2 clock line) from the 6502. Heck, it could have replaced ever other 28-pin variant in the 650x series.

    • by trout007 (975317)

      I suggest reading this. http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11696 [mit.edu]

      Not only was the memory limited but they didn't even have enough memory for a frame buffer so they used a line buffer. You had to make the program fast enough to write the data into the register before it was scanned to the screen. What is crazy is that even though there were only two bit mapped sprites, two 2 pixel missiles, and a one pixel ball you could really do a lot more by changing the colors and locations

    • by Alien Being (18488) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:21AM (#40475559)

      So 4GB is enough for EVERYONE?

    • by Shivetya (243324)

      I remember hunting down a copy of Rogue from DOS days and the realization that the PDF version of the manual was larger than the game executable and even the simple webpage was many times as large as the game it hosted.

      Ran across a similar situation when perusing sites dedicated to Turbo Pascal. Documentation and web pages have a larger foot print than most of the machines many of us grew up with. I still remember my favorite PC game; Star Flight; fit on two 360k diskettes.

  • Turns 40? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Georules (655379) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:25PM (#40473951)
    Don't get me wrong, I love my 7800 ProSystem, but Atari turning 40 implies that it's still alive.
  • Atari Greatest Hits (Score:5, Informative)

    by philj (13777) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:27PM (#40473969)
    All 100 Atari Greatest Hits games are free on iOS today. Link Here [apple.com]
    • Crap. If only I had an iPhone so I could download..... wait I already did that twelve years ago. (Thank you Stella emulator.) I prefer playing the console versions since you only need one joystick & one button vs. the 10 confusing buttons needed to play Missile Command Arcade or Defender Arcade.

      • There's a shareware game called "Gauntlet" (no relation to the dungeon arcade game) I like to play from time to time on my emulated Atari. I used to play it for hours, back in the olden days. Absolutely superb game. I wish I'd had the money to buy the full version, but I was always spending it on tabletop wargame/RPG stuff.

        Heh, it even has a Wiki page [wikipedia.org] now.

    • Thank you! Downloading now!
    • All 100 Atari Greatest Hits games are free on iOS today. Link Here [apple.com]

      Awesome, i can't wait to relive the joystick era on a touchscreen. (seriously, how does one play oldschool arcade style games on an iOS device?)

      • by dissy (172727)

        seriously, how does one play oldschool arcade style games on an iOS device?

        A Joystick-It [thinkgeek.com], of course!

        Or you can go all out hardcore with an iCade [thinkgeek.com]

    • by dissy (172727)

      All 100 Atari Greatest Hits games are free on iOS today.

      Actually, it is 1 Atari game for free (Missile Command)

      Quote:
      Buy additional games in 2 unique ways:
      1. 25 separate packs available for download at $0.99
      2. Buy all 100 games for a discounted price of $9.99 (basically the price of a movie ticket)

      Not a bad price at all though, and in fact I bought the full 100 set too. I just wanted to point out they aren't free however.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        All 100 Atari Greatest Hits games are free on iOS today.

        Actually, it is 1 Atari game for free (Missile Command)

        Quote:
        Buy additional games in 2 unique ways:
        1. 25 separate packs available for download at $0.99
        2. Buy all 100 games for a discounted price of $9.99 (basically the price of a movie ticket)

        Not a bad price at all though, and in fact I bought the full 100 set too. I just wanted to point out they aren't free however.

        Actually, while that's normally true, TODAY, if you download the game and run it (very

        • by bedouin (248624)

          I paid for all 100 last year or so. What sucks is that every time there's a minor update to the app you have to download all 100 games again, and it happens somewhat frequently.

      • >Actually, it is 1 Atari game for free (Missile Command)
        Nope. Download the game and all further downloads are free for 24 hours. The web page hasn't been updated.
  • by certsoft (442059) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:37PM (#40474043) Homepage
    I remember going over to Atari in 1979 or 1980 so we could see how they made membrane switch panels. At that time they were made pf 3 pieces of mylar sandwiched together. The center had holes and the two outer layers had silver plated pads for the switch contacts.
  • At last (Score:5, Interesting)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:40PM (#40474069)

    Real News for Nerds!

  • by C_amiga_fan (1960858) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @08:41PM (#40474079)

    Atari is barely remembered by today's 20-somethings, but back in the 70s and early 80s they were # 1. They had the number one console (Atari VCS/2600) from 1977 to 84, and the number one computer (Atari 800) in 1981 and 82.

    I still love those old Atari 2600 games better than many modern games. Point, shoot, rack-up a million points. Brag to your friends.

  • Pole position was Namco's.
    Just like Xevious which had some Atari built cabinets floating around.

    Now, get off my lawn or i'll xevious-bomb your balls - with just one shot in the middle, of course :)

    • Pole Position is one of many games that Atari had the exclusive rights to sell in North America. They even went so far as to add an "atari banner" flying over the racetrack.

      ATARI FORCE - In the year 2005 Earth is facing ecological devastation and Atari is the savior of the world, and so too are their "Atari Force" superheroes! Try not to laugh too much. I literally bought the game just so I could read the comic (the game was not bad either). I was also a loyal reader of Atari Age which was just a

  • I spent my fair share of time playing Warlords with friends on my 2600.

    The best part of Warlords was when one someone "died" - they were still there as a mostly invisible ghost and could affect the trajectory of the fireball if it hit them. So if you died, you could really mess with the remaining players anytime the fireball came near your corner of the screen.

    • by jj00 (599158)
      Warlords is probably the best 4-person game ever. No graphics to get in the way, just pure competition. I'm not sure a modern system could give it as much credence without one of those paddle controllers.
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx.b c . ca> on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @09:01PM (#40474203) Journal

    Would you mind terribly if I ask what your problem is?

    I mean, what difference does it make to you if somebody likes something that you don't?

    Do y'all really have nothing better to do than criticize somebody's passion just because it isn't all shiny and new?

    • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @09:23PM (#40474333)

      Would you mind terribly if I ask what your problem is?

      I mean, what difference does it make to you if somebody likes something that you don't?

      Do y'all really have nothing better to do than criticize somebody's passion just because it isn't all shiny and new?

      Not to worry, we were 20, and immortal too, once. I know if I say how much great fun/memories then friends and I had playing Zaxxon, they won't relate. Not yet, anyway. Zaxxon took over a half hour to load into the Atari 800 (when it loaded correctly), state of the art video gaming in the 80's, good times. In 30 years from now, it'll be these young-uns time to tell of how memories of Call of Duty gets that faraway look in their eyes. And the beat goes on...

  • I remember star trek on the atari 800. It took over 20 minutes to load from the cassette drive. You got to shoot at Klingons. It seemed so cool back then.

  • Ahhhh ... Tempest (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thomp (56629) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @09:31PM (#40474365)

    Tempest is by far my favorite video game of all time. No video game since has come close to holding my attention like Tempest. The simplicity of the game, the rhythm of the game, the invisible levels, the chip glitch that enabled you to do weird things to the game depending on the last two digits of your score. I still dream about the game, and I haven't played it in 20 years.

    • Re:Ahhhh ... Tempest (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 @11:03PM (#40474919)

      Tempest is by far my favorite video game of all time. No video game since has come close to holding my attention like Tempest. The simplicity of the game, the rhythm of the game, the invisible levels, the chip glitch that enabled you to do weird things to the game depending on the last two digits of your score. I still dream about the game, and I haven't played it in 20 years.

      That's a slump you've gotta break. If you can make it to the Bay Area on the weekend of July 28/29, come to California Extreme [caextreme.org] for a weekend of all the coin-op retrogaming you can handle, no quarters required.

      There are usually at least two or three Tempest machines on the show floor, so not only do you not have to worry about quarters, you also won't have to worry about a line-up to play it. It's a rare year that doesn't include virtually the entire line-up of vector games from Atari, Cinematronics, and Sega. Also the only place you'll ever get to play the old laserdisc games like Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, and Cliffhanger anymore.

      • by Brad1138 (590148)
        Actually, Tempest works great with emulator. Your mouse is a very good replacement for the dial of the original. I haven't tried it in at least a decade, but I think I might now. Can you run emulators on a 64 bit OS?
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Logitech wingman... extreme? I think that's the one. Serial/gameport stick. Has a rotary controller on it. Available at flea markets with busted joysticks. You're welcome.

    • If you're a big Tempest fan, you must own Tempest 2000 (originally released to the Atari Jaguar). There aren't a lot of good reasons to own a Jaguar but this is one of them.
  • Meeting the #1 influence on your childhood aspirations is indeed an amazing experience. Been there, done that, in my case with Jack Tramiel.
  • Atari would have been 40 today... IF it still was something more than just a trademark. Infogrames in France is not Atari. It's a trademark holder. Remember "Is it live or is it Memorex"? Those mediocre DVD-Rs you bought last month aren't coming from the same company as those cassette tapes you used to record KROQ tunes.

    • What do you mean, would have been 40? Atari is over 4000 years old, older than the Han Dynasty. People have been playing atari for unknown ages. Even some pros occasionally play self-atari...
  • Friend of mine had an atari and a set of wireless controllers. We could play that game for hours, we made a very good team.

  • Computer games rule, Spacewar motherfuckers! YEAH. PDP11 in-da-lab!

    Or just love the Ur-Quan

  • for my computer collection ... its a pretty interesting computer ... though more of a games machine than serious stuffyness computer (we were an Apple II family) Though probally one of the XL series if it dropped in my lap that way. Definitely any of the 16 bit machines ..

    My cousins had a 2600, I at one point had a 5200 with one working joystick, pac mand and pole position (still one of my favorites), though I never really cared for the consoles as much, I just about bought a 2600 till the old lady went fro

  • Just fired up my 2600 only to find out it no longer works.. at least I still have Stella (2600 emulator). My Atari 130XE with 1050 disk drive still works and the floppies from 1980s are still booting... amazing.

  • I remember getting an Atari 400 for Christmas in 79 or 80. It had two rom cartridges, BASIC and a games called something like Starcommander. I remember turning it on with the BASIC cartridge, a blue screen with the word READY in the top right. That was a bit of a letdown. It took me about an hour and a half to copy a 20 line program into it. I eventually learned to program my own simple games on that computer. I loved the way you could draw graphics in atari basic, it was so easy and intuitive. Next

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