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The History of Atari: 1971-1977

November 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 17 of 20 Next

1977 The Home Division

Besides continuing work on Stella, Atari’s Home Division released several products in 1977. The most interesting was named Atari Video Music. Video music was designed by designed by Bob Brown, and reportedly, conceived during one the Bushnell’s infamous offsite “retreats”.

“Bob Brown had designed Video Music, our weirdest product ever. Hook it up to your stereo and TV at the same time, and the sound triggered some pretty psychedelic visuals. The Sears guys took one look and asked what we'd been smoking when we did that. Naturally, one of our techs lit up a joint and showed them." cv - Al Alcorn

The unit was designed to be stacked with other stereo components. RCA audio-in jacks would take a music feed, and then output a graphical pattern to a TV screen. There were multiple patterns, and they animated according to the audio spectrum of the particular song being played.

“We feel that Video Music will add excitement to the audio market.” cvi - Kerry Crosson, Atari’s manager of new consumer products

The unit made its debut at the January 1977 CES show, but never struck a chord with the public. It was sold for about year and then discontinued.

Even though the Stella project was in full swing, several dedicated home game units were released in 1977, including Super Pong Pro-Am (C-200), Super Pong Pro-Am Ten (C-202), Ultra Pong (C-402(S)), and Ultra Pong Doubles (C-402(D)). They also created some unique consoles that played home games other than Pong, including Video Pinball (C-380) and Stunt Cycle (C-450). Sears released many of these units under their own naming scheme.cvii

1977 was pretty much the end of these types of units for Atari. Rumors have it that some time in 1978, Atari had so many dedicated game units left unsold, that they were just going to throw them away. Instead, they took them outside their warehouse on Borregas Street, ran them over with a semi cab, and threw them into dumpsters so no one could reuse them.cviii

1977 Video Computer System

Atari VCSThe most important project at Atari in 1977 was the interchangeable games console, Stella. The final version of “Stella”, now renamed by marketing as the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) contained the following:

  • 6507 processor (6502 derivative) running at 1.2 MHZ
  • 128 bytes of RAM, 4K bytes of ROM addressable on cartridges
  • TIA custom video and audio chip
  • 6532 timer
  • Two controller ports that could support 8-way joysticks with a fire button, potentiometer-based paddles, driving controllers, or keypads

The target was to support Pong and Tank!-style games. For this they included 2 8-bit “player” objects, and 3 1-bit “ball” objects plus a low-resolution playfield supported in hardware.

With the millions of dollars Warner poured into the company, Atari was able to attract some of the best engineering talent around to make games for the system. Atari put an ad out to hire programmers for the their new machine. Larry Kaplan was one of the first to get hired, along with Alan Miller, Larry Wagner and Ed Riddle.

"I saw their ad in the Mercury News and applied for the job. I was among 100 applicants and Bob Brown later told me they hired me because I had purchased an Altair 8800 (the first home computer kit."cix - Larry Kaplan

Article Start Previous Page 17 of 20 Next

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