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A History of Gaming Platforms: Atari 2600 Video Computer System/VCS
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A History of Gaming Platforms: Atari 2600 Video Computer System/VCS

February 28, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

With the VCS being the first breakout success in home videogames, there was little precedent for developers and publishers to learn from, which naturally led to lots of experimentation.

This experimentation particularly applied to the add-ons, such as the limited release Compumate from Spectravideo, which consisted of a flat membrane keyboard, additional memory, and the ability to load and save from cassette, turning the VCS into a simple computer system.

Some peripherals, such as GameLine -- which featured an oversized cartridge hooked into a phone line that allowed the user to download games for short-term use from a subscription service -- are more for show than actual use these days. Countless others such as the Starplex Game-Selex -- an external expansion box that allowed instant switchable access to multiple cartridges -- are still useful today.

What also helped in this area was that the joystick ports on the VCS were what many other companies used as standards on their systems -- for instance, Commodore with many of its popular 8- and 16-bit computer lines -- so manufacturers were able to develop to one specification.

In fact, although it usually wasn't practical to use single-button joysticks on later systems such as Sega's Master System (SMS) or Genesis, multi-button gamepads from those consoles often work fine on the VCS as well.

A wide range of interesting controllers were released for the VCS over the years with varying degrees of usefulness, including the Starplex Deluxe Video Game Controller, box back shown.

Besides the standard joysticks, paddles, and other controllers already mentioned, a few others are worth pointing out. Obscure releases such as the Foot Craz from Exus, which was a foot mat with five colored buttons that came packaged with Video Jogger (1983) and Video Reflex (1983), contrasted with the more pedestrian options such as the Booster Grip from CBS Electronics, which added extra fire buttons to a standard joystick (a stock ColecoVision controller is also a suitable alternative).

Atari released wireless controllers that looked similar to their standard joysticks, just with thick antennas and much larger bases. Atari also released different variations on their keypad controllers, which supported overlays and were originally for use with titles such as BASIC Programming (1978) and Codebreaker (1978), but were later restyled and repackaged for use as the Video Touch Pad for Star Raiders (1982) and as the Kid's Controller for educational games such as Big Bird's Egg Catch (1983), further demonstrating the system's amazing software range.

No matter what happens with the Atari name in the future, with new hardware, impressive new software releases, and a dedicated and growing community of developers and enthusiasts, the next 30 years for the VCS/2600 platform look to be just as interesting. There's no doubt that Atari fans will continue to proudly proclaim "Yes!" to the old marketing line, "Have you played Atari today?"

The Atari 2600 Jr.

Typical System Specifications

Release Year: 1977
192 x 160
On-Screen Colors: 16
Sound: 2 Channels, Mono
Media Format(s): Cartridge
Main Memory: 128 Bytes

Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

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