The Video Computer System

Atari VCSThe 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.

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Activision founded

BoxingFed 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.

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Space Invaders invade homes

Space InvadersAtari 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.

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Atari 2600Atari 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.”

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Atari 2600Atari 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.

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Yars’ Revenge

Atari 2600Atari 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.

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Demon Attack and other Imagic firsts

AvalancheImagic, 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..

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The Empire Strikes Home

The Empire Strikes BackReleased 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).

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Pac-Man comes home

Pac-ManAfter 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.

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Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixAtari 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.

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Swordquest: Earthworld

TankNow that video game “easter eggs” – secret messages hidden in the games by their designers – are public knowledge, Atari releases its first game in which finding these messages is an integral part of the game. Swordquest: Earthworld kicks off a four-game cycle whose hidden secrets, when found, will allow the first player sharp enough to find and decipher the clues to claim a prize. A downturn in Atari’s financial fortunes will keep the contest from being completed, and the fourth game is never actually released.

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Atari sues Coleco over Atari compatibility

AtariWith sales of the Atari 5200 console already seriously impacted by the rival Colecovision video game system, and perhaps hoping to distract from a potentially alarming earnings statement issued the same day, Atari files suit against Coleco over the first add-on produced for Colecovision: Expansion Module #1, which allows Colecovision owners to play Atari 2600 games (and entices 2600 owners to trade up to Colecovision, since their existing game libraries won’t automatically become useless). Atari sues for patent infringement, while Coleco immediately countersues, claiming that Atari is violating antitrust and monopoly laws.

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Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Orbit

Atari 2600Activision releases the Space Shuttle cartridge for the Atari 2600 home video game system, an attempt to do a realistic flight simulator on limited hardware. Many of the console’s option switches – normally used to toggle difficulty levels, color or black & white graphics, and so on – are used for in-game functions instead.

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