The Atari Video Computer System, model number CX2600, hits retail stores in the United States, primarily through a deal with Sears (which has a contractual right to repackage it as the Sears Video Arcade). Packaged with two joysticks, a pair of paddles, and the two-player-only tank game Combat, the VCS isn’t quite a runaway success, with only a quarter million units selling by Christmas 1977.
Atari releases Surround as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. Surround is “inspired” by the many 1970s arcade games which later, in turn, inspired the “light cycles” sequences in Tron.
Atari releases the baseball cartridge Home Run for the Atari 2600, beefing up the new console’s sports game library but not exactly wowing baseball fans with realistic graphics or game play.
Atari releases the Basketball cartridge for the Atari VCS, one of the earliest home video games to show a vaguely 3-D perspective, and probably the best-known early sports game in the console’s library.
Atari releases the Breakout cartridge for the Atari VCS, one of the console’s first-ever ports of an existing arcade game and – thanks to two years of advancements in technology – a more sophisticated game than the coin-op that inspired it, which could only display black & white graphics.
Atari releases the Slot Machine cartridge for the Atari VCS, designed and programmed by future Pitfall! programmer David Crane.
Atari releases Superman as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. This is the first major synergy between Atari and fellow Warner Communications unit DC Comics, riding on the renewed interest in the character generated by the 1978 movie.
Fed up with Atari’s refusal to grant them bylines on the best-selling games they’ve been designing and programming for the Atari VCS, Atari employees Alan Miller, David Crane, Larry Kaplan and Bob Whitehead quit their jobs and form the first third-party video game software house, Activision, with former music executive Jim Levy aboard as the new company’s CEO. Infuriated, Atari files a raft of lawsuits alleging theft of trade secrets, but is ultimately unable to get an injunction preventing Activision from releasing games for the VCS.
Atari releases the home version of Space Invaders as a cartridge for the Atari 2600, the first time that a video game company has licensed another company’s game for home play. (All of Atari’s arcade ports up to this point have been home versions of Atari arcade games.) It turns out to be an astute move: Space Invaders is the “killer app” of the VCS, becoming so popular that the cartridge boosts sales of the system needed to run it.
Atari releases the home version of Night Driver as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. This game is one of the few to use the console’s “paddle” controllers.
Atari releases the Adventure cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Designed and programmed by Warren Robinett, Adventure is the first of its kind – a VCS game with a playing field larger than the TV screen, mapped out in the program’s memory – but later becomes better remembered for one “room” in the game’s maze which contains the programmer’s name, one of the earliest video game “Easter eggs.”
Atari releases Video Pinball as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. Though sharing the same name as an earlier Atari arcade game, the home edition is a somewhat more elaborate simultaion of pinball.
Atari releases the home version of Missile Command as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. The manual included with the game explains the missile attack as the product of an alien invasion, not Reagan-era Cold War tensions. Though the cartridge is an instant best-seller, its programmer receives a reward that convinces him to look for work somewhere other than Atari.
Activision releases a trio of cartridges for the Atari VCS home video game system: Kaboom!, Tennis and Laser Blast. Kaboom!, inspired by the ’70s arcade game Avalanche, proves to be the fast favorite of the three games.
Atari releases the home version of the arcade hit Berzerk as a cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Almost a dead ringer for the graphically simple arcade game, the console port is only missing the distinctive Cylon-esque voice synthesis of the coin-op. The second issue of the Atari Force comic from fellow Warner Communications subsidiary DC Comics is packed-in with Berzerk.
Atari releases the home version of the arcade hit Defender as a cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Though the game undergoes major alterations to fit within the VCS’ memory, Defender sells well. It includes the first issue of a tie-in comic book, Atari Force, created by DC Comics (a subsidiary of Warner Communications, just like Atari).
Atari releases the original title Yars’ Revenge for the Atari VCS home video game console. Despite not being a port of a popular arcade game (though it started out as an attempt to port Star Castle to the VCS), Yars’ Revenge sells well thanks for favorable reviews and good word-of-mouth. A pack-in comic from DC Comics, “Yars’ Revenge: The Qotile Ultimatum”, is included.
Imagic, recently formed from a group of ex-Atari programmers, releases its first wave of cartridges for the Atari VCS home video game system. The first group of games includes Demon Attack, the pool game Trick Shot and the first-person space flight sim Star Voyager. With silver foil boxes and game artwork utilizing miniature models, the Imagic games have a distinctive look on the store shelves, and the games themselves quickly acquire the company a good reputation..
Released a couple of years after the movie that inspired it, Parker Brothers’ The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari VCS is the very first Star Wars video game to hit the market. Though games inspired by the movies have been appearing since the first film was still in theaters, this is the first game officially licensed by Lucasfilm. It pits players against an endless onslaught of Imperial Walkers (and unlike the movie’s rebels, the player has no chance of surviving indefinitely).
Atari releases the home version of the popular arcade game Phoenix for the Atari 2600 home video game console.
After an extremely short development period and industry insider warnings that the finished product wasn’t ready for prime time, Atari’s home version of Pac-Man for the Atari VCS arrives in stores, selling record numbers… and, within weeks, becomes the subject of bad word-of-mouth and critical slams on its weak game play and graphics. At the urging of Atari CEO Ray Kassar, Pac-Man‘s print run exceeds the number of VCS consoles sold to date, since it’s anticipated that the Pac-crazed public will buy the console simply because Pac-Man is available for it.
Activision releases the Chopper Command cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Inspired by the arcade game Defender, complete with a “radar view” of areas of the playfield extending beyond the edges of the screen, Chopper Command proves to be graphically superior to Atari’s own home version of that game.
Imagic, recently formed from another wave of ex-Atari employees, releases its second wave of game cartridges for the Atari VCS, including Atlantis, Cosmic Ark, Fire Fighter and the adventure game Riddle Of The Sphinx.
Atari releases its “edutainment” cartridge Math Gran Prix for the Atari VCS, a title designed to stave off critics of video games’ negative effects on kids’ schoolwork. Perhaps predictably, Math Gran Prix fails to cross the retail finish line – the same parents complaining that the Atari is keeping homework from getting done aren’t buying educational games for it.
Activision releases the Pitfall! cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Subtitled “The Adventure of Pitfall Harry” (implying that further adventures are yet to come), this becomes one of the Atari VCS’ “killer app” games, and is ported to other systems and updated for more modern platforms for decades to come.