Video game systems have been around forever, and the Atari 2600 was my first jump into that arena.
This was the must have system for all kids growing up in the late 70s/early 80s. (In fact, I think almost everyone I knew owned this system!)
Looking at it now it looks like a joke. A very simplistic design with the black, orange, and fake wood on the system, but it was so much more than that.
Having something you can hook up to your TV to play games was mind blowing. The arcades were still a relatively new thing and being able to take that home was AMAZING!
Pulling this system out of the box it came with everything – the console, two controllers, a game and the connector to hook it up to the TV.
Let’s start with the connector. There was a small silver box that you screwed into the back of the TV. (Yes, back in the day there weren’t ‘cable ready’ televisions. There were little screws that an antenna would connect to. This is what connected your converter box to the TV. There were also screws on the box to connect the antenna to get your stations. On the other side of the box there is a spot to plug the Atari into.
The above image is similar to what we got, minus the cable ready connector. That was a bit before ‘our time’. On the box you would switch it from “TV” to “COMPUTER” and change the channel to either 2 or 3 so you could play.
Next, are the controllers. First of all, you get two so two people can actually play at the same time! This is totally unheard of today when buy a gaming system. The controllers were very simple – they consisted of a stick and a button. That’s it. Nothing else. No buttons on the side or multi-colored buttons or pads on the controller. The games were limited to what you could do with a stick and button. Of course, back then, it didn’t matter.
Lastly, was the game. YOU GOT A GAME WHEN YOU BOUGHT THE ATARI!!! Ready to play right out of the box. The game was also a cartridge. The best thing about the cartridges was that there was no loading time. The worst thing was if the system couldn’t read it you would have to pull it out and blow on the connections to remove any dust. You put the cartridge in the system and turned it on and, BAM!, the same started. No load times. Having an Atari everyone remembers “Combat”.
This was the game that came with the system. I would play for hours trying to kill the computer controlled enemy. Also, there were different versions of the game on the cartridge. I remember that there was the basic game of shooting the enemy and a version where the bullets would bounce off of the walls. There was 27 different versions of the game that included either tanks, biplanes, or jets. They were basically the same games with just different looks.
Most of the games that you could play were blocks shaped as different things and the color palette was very limited, but your imagination helped fill in those gaps.
The system also had switches on them to make the difficulty easy or hard. I never touched these always left them on the “easy” level. Honestly, I don’t know if they did anything, but kept them at that setting anyway.
There was one downside to the system – it wasn’t the same as the arcade. There were many games that were released that you could play in the arcade, but there was a lot lost in translation.
The best example of this was Pac-Man. Anyone who remembers the brightly colored adventures of the yellow circle in the arcade were sorely disappointed by the Atari version. Looking at the video you could see why we cringed when we got this game at home.
Anyway, the Atari was the catalyst for the modern gaming systems we have now. I honestly believe that if it wasn’t as successful as it was then we wouldn’t have the types of games we could enjoy at home.