Sunday, July 31, 2011
my Atari 2600 tribute, and my experiences with this classic console.
Recently I sat down and wrote a blog focusing on my history and experiences with the Super NES and how I felt the machine fit into the history of video game consoles and it’s legacy, today I am doing the same but this time we are taking the time machine back to the late 70’s and early 80’s to focus on the Atari VCS (2600).
For me, the Atari 2600 was the first video game system I had ever owned, it introduced me to video games and my experiences with the ol’ 2600 are some of the most fond memories I have with video games throughout my entire life. There was truly nothing like it. Despite it’s limitations in graphical power, it’s standard one or two sounds at a time audio capabilities, and it’s one button controller, the Atari 2600 has managed to build quite an army for it during it’s run on store shelves and the retro gaming community still love and praise Atari’s machine some 30+ years after it’s release. And why not? The games are still some of the best that’s ever been produced and just because it’s not modern does not mean it’s not good. I was too young to remember when I first received my Atari but I do remember having it as early as age 3, so I’m guessing I got it around 1983 or so, right around the time that the video game market actually crashed in the United States. I had a decent collection of games by the time 1985 rolled around as well as a sweet little carrying case to keep all the carts in, I also remember having a small computer that played 2600 games as well that was aside from my standard wood grain console but I can’t seem to remember what that machine was, though I think it was a computer of some sorts. Anyhow, some of the games I remember playing as a young kid were Pac-Man, E.T, Defender, Dragonfire, Megamania, Atlantis, Space Invaders, Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle, and a boxing game that I’ve never seen since. And no, it wasn’t the classic black/white overhead view boxing game that everyone knows and loves, it may have been Real Sports Boxing but I’ll have to research that. Funny enough, despite media critics and many gamers thoughts and opinions of Pac-Man and E.T for the Atari 2600 I grew up loving those games and they still rank among some of my favorite games of all-time, I have so many memories of playing those games with friends and neighbors as a child and the fun I had with them will no doubt stay with me forever. I know the histories of those games and I know that Pac-Man isn’t anything like the arcade version and that E.T was rushed to store shelves to meet a Christmas deadline, but I don’t care because those games have supplied me with so much joy that I’ll never be able to look at them in the same view as everybody else. Sorry, I like what I like.
I remember having my Atari up until around 1987 or so because (I don’t remember why) I brought the console outside to show a friend one evening and forgot to bring it back indoors, that night it rained cats and dogs and when I brought the system back indoors to play some games it didn’t turn on. Because of that I spent the next year or so without a video game system of my own and had to rely on playing the 2600 and the NES at other peoples houses. During the time I had my original Atari I would say that Pac-Man, E.T, Megamania, and Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle had the biggest effect on me, those 4 games were just plain awesome and remind me of my very early childhood, those are the games that make me think about this specific video game system the most even though later in life I would bond myself to a whole new group of games for the 2600 that would rival these 4 games for some of my favorites. Well, it wasn’t long until I had an NES and my parents felt that there was no need in owning an Atari machine anymore. Especially since Atari had already upgraded the 2600 with the 5200 and 7800, plus Nintendo had the most popular system on the market at the time with the nicest looking games, so the ol’ VCS was out and the flashy Nintendo Entertainment System was in.
It took about 7 years but I eventually got the bug to own an Atari 2600 again, this time in 1994, and I wanted it so bad that I didn’t want to wait to buy one at the local flea market on the weekend (it was mid-week) so I called some local places in the phone book looking for collector shops that may have had one on hand. One guy had some in his store and gave me directions on how to get there, this store was a couple of towns away and it shared space with a used furniture store and I remember thinking about how weird that was when I entered. But the real surprise was that the guy who owned the shop was a guy who worked at the same flea market I didn’t want to wait to go to, he had a small stand there where he peddled vintage toys, games, non-sports cards, and other collectibles. Well, I picked up the 2600 from him along with 5 titles, those games were Cosmic Arc, Ice Hockey, Atlantis, Video Pinball, and E.T. Cosmic Arc and Ice Hockey would become some of my favorite games for the system, I remember my buddy “Stelfo” would come over and we would always 1up each other on our Cosmic Arc scores and he also grew to love Ice Hockey as well. I’ll tell you this, despite Ice Hockey being an Atari game and having limited graphics and sound with not even enough juice to have more than 4 players on the screen at once, I’d say it was and still is my favorite hockey game of all-time. These games were just so damn fun to play, Ice Hockey was a 2on2 game that had no time limit and you had to hit a certain score to beat the other team (I think it was 7), Cosmic Arc on the other hand was a game that revolved around shooting flying asteroids and picking up aliens. Both games are absolutely stellar and have found their way into my heart as games that I think about when I reminisce about the VCS, the other games I received on that day are games I have owned previously and my memories with them grew as well.
For whatever reason, I sold my Atari and all of it’s games to the flea market less than 6 months later, I don’t remember why I did it but I did nonetheless and I wouldn’t own a 2600 again until around December of 1996 when me and my friend Billy were adding games and systems to our game room, which became an obsession of ours in 1996 as we spent every red cent we had on systems and games to add the the massive collection we had assembled. At that time I didn’t focus much time on the 2600 even though we had about 40+ games for it, Billy and I were so wrapped up in other consoles we had as well as certain games that took up a deep amount of concentration that we just didn’t have a lot of time for Atari’s console. When the game room finally split up in the summer of 1997 the Atari and it’s games were sold and I have not owned a VCS since, except in ROM/emulator format on my computer/tablet/phone, of course.
Aside from the memories I have of playing the Atari 2600, I have a ton of memories of the machine and it’s games that go beyond the hands on experience. I remember classic commercials as a kid that centered around the VCS, such as the E.T Christmas commercial that aired in 1983 as well as seeing games and systems in stores like Sears when I was a kid. For what it’s worth, that E.T Christmas commercial still ranks as one of my favorite commercials of all time and remains one of my first true memories of television as a whole, I was really young when that commercial hit the airwaves and didn’t retain a lot of information back then so the fact that it sticks out is really special to me. I don’t know why but little things like that make sentimental memories for me, like the time I visited a toy store when I was 4 years old and I remember a guy buying 2 or 3 Atari games at one time, I remember his kid being all excited about it and I really wanted to get one but my mother said “no”. I also used to get random catalogs in the mail when I was a kid that featured random 2600 games and accessories, I have no idea what the company was that was putting out these catalogs but I don’t think it was through Atari themselves. Either way, I used to love getting these and I remember being so young that I couldn’t even read the catalogs so I would look at the game box covers and the random screen shots that were in the catalog and pick and choose which titles I wanted to ask for when it was time to get a new game. Those memories are so classic to me and I’ll always remember them for as long as I live.
Well, that’s about it from me when it comes to Atari’s VCS, I just wanted to pop in here and discuss some of my favorite memories about Atari’s classic gaming console as well as talk about some of it’s amazing successes during it’s time on store shelves. How successful was it, you ask? Well, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the VCS was the dominant gaming console on store shelves and sold millions upon millions in the U.S and around the world, and at one point Atari was actually listed as the company with the fasted rising growth in the history of the United States, but that was soon demolished by several technology companies that exploded onto the scene in the 80’s. Games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids, and other classics have sold in excess of 5-7 million carts and set the stage for major blockbuster video games that would come later, thats 2X-3X more than some of the "smash hits" of today aside from a certain few titls. The 2600 proved to be so popular that Atari even re-released the machine in the late 80’s as the “Atari 2600 Jr.” at a cheap price to try to take advantage of Nintendo’s success in bringing video games back to the mainstream, the 2600 Jr. wasn’t a smashing success but enough units were sold that Atari profited from it’s re-release. No matter what today’s gamers may think about Atari’s VCS or what jaded retro gamers may believe about Atari’s hand in crashing the gaming market in 1983/1984, Atari put video gaming on the map with the 2600 and if it wasn’t for that little wood grain box with metal knobs we may have never been introduced to the flashy games everybody knows and loves today.
Reach for the stars and enjoy the ride.
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