Atari 2600 Video Computer System

Atari 2600sChances are, if you were like most people and had a home video game in the late 70s or early 80s, it was an Atari 2600 (also repackaged by Sears as the “Sears Tele-Games” console). The Odyssey 2 was just a bit too esoteric for most people, and Mattel’s Intellivision suffered from that general perception as well. Colecovision was a very high-priced luxury game, and the Atari 5200 would’ve meant an expensive upgrade to a machine that couldn’t play the Atari 2600 games (Coleco got an Atari adapter on the market long before Atari itself furnished one for the 5200 – ironically, 2600 compatibility was a pivot point for sales of the next generation of consoles).

Atari Game BrainThe Atari 2600, known early on as the Atari VCS (Video Computer System), was Atari’s second shot at a cartridge-based system. The company’s R&D department had been working on a machine called Game Brain which would have been the exact opposite of the original Magnavox Odyssey: Game Brain cartridges would have contained all of the computing power for their four built-in games per cartridge; the main unit itself had very little inside it, simply passing the video and audio generated by the cartridges on to the TV screen. Ultimately, it was little better than Atari’s dedicated Pong and Stunt Cycle consoles, and it was set aside in favor of a truly programmable system.

Atari 2600 'Vader' modelIronically, while some people later blamed Atari – and specifically CEO Ray Kassar – for keeping the 2600 on the market too long (its last new mass-production game was released in 1990), the machine almost died an early death under Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell. He wanted to move on and start developing the next generation of game hardware, but Kassar, representing Atari’s new corporate parent company Warner Communications, had other ideas. A deal was sealed to license Space Invaders, the first-ever arcade title licensed by another company for home translation, sales skyrocketed, and the 2600 was here to stay.

Atari 2600 VCS

with Supercharger

Atari CX-40 Joystick Atari Paddles Wico 'Red Ball' Command Control Joystick
Suncom Slik StikRogues’ gallery of controllers. Seen here are just a few of the many joysticks and other specialized controllers manufactured for the Atari 2600 by Atari itself and several other companies. The standard Atari CX40 joystick is nearly an icon unto itself, while arcade control maker Wico got in on the act with its Command Control series including an arcade-style joystick and trakball. For young hands too small to handle Wico’s massive joystick (which, at the time, meant mine), Suncom made the very cool and responsive Slik Stik. Other controllers were specific to just one game or a handful of them – and you’ll find them elsewhere in this archive as well.