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On June 27, 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney incorporated Atari into Sunnyvale, California. And it’s safe to say that if that didn’t happen, he would be a different person.

I spent my childhood living and breathing Atari: playing 2600 games, piling up Atari coins piled up in pizzerias and wineries, and running an Atari 800 bulletin board (BBS) system in the mid-1980s. These early experiences inform everything I write about technology now.

As an adult, I have written Adventure (Opens in new window), Breakout (Opens in new window) and Faster Than Light (Opens in new window), three books on Atari’s 2600, 800 and ST, in addition of Attract mode (Opens in new window), a book about arcade coins that includes Atari to a large extent. Many other tech enthusiasts of a certain vintage feel Atari as strong as I do. So, in honor of the brand’s 50th anniversary, it seems appropriate to celebrate and look back on the historical history of one of technology’s most iconic names.


When I was growing up, two common troops were that the first video game was Pong and that Nolan Bushnell invented it. While Bushnell and Pong deserve a lot of credit, the real story is more nuanced. Read also : More than 130 titles are coming to Prime Video this week. It evolved throughout the 20th century, as amusement parks gave rise to penny bows, Skee-Ball, pinball, and other electromechanical attractions that increasingly depended on skill and chance. Evidence of video games appeared as early as the late 1940s with the first computers based on vacuum tubes and the size of a room, while researchers experimented with chess, puzzles, and showed moving points of light on screens.

One of the first major and most influential video games was Spacewar !, developed in 1962 at MIT primarily by Steve Russell. Space war! it was a two-player spaceship battle against the gravitational pull of the Sun. It was the first real title where two people could play, control, compete, and finally win a game that unfolded completely on one screen.

Space war! in a PDP-1 DEC

(Image: Kenneth Lu / Creative Commons)

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Computer Space

It was this game with which he met Nolan Bushnell, a young electronics enthusiast. When he entered college at the University of Utah, he had already been an amateur radio operator, running his father’s cement business, and running an amusement park. On the same subject : Ryan Fitzpatrick joins Amazon Prime Video as a studio analyst. Bushnell played Spacewar! and dreamed of building his own amusement park-style video game at a reasonable cost, certainly much less than DEC wanted for his PDP-8 minicomputer, which cost $ 120,000 in the mid-1960s. .

After Bushnell earned his electrical engineering degree and went to work for the videotape company Ampex, he began designing his own spacewar-like electronic coin game! with his co-worker Ted Dabney. They mocked a prototype and, along with their fellow Ampex partner, Larry Bryan, started an association called Syzygy Engineering. They soon joined forces with Dave Nutting, a local amusement park coin maker, and began building, selling, and distributing their new creation, Computer Space.

“People would look at you like you had three heads,” Bushnell said of describing the game to others, in Van Burnham’s excellent Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984. “You mean you’ll put the TV in a box with a coin slot and play with it?” Two Stanford students also had the same idea in 1971 and developed Galaxy Game, another Spacewar! clone. But in the absence of Bushnell’s business knowledge, they were unable to figure out how to scale it and make money.

Computer space at the Museum of Computer History in Mountain View, California

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Computer Space had an amazing fiberglass cabinet design that came in a variety of colors. He was clearly ahead of his time, and even appeared in Charlton Heston’s film Soylent Green (1973). It sold about 1,300 reasonable units. But Computer Space turned out to be too complex for drunken customers to get caught in a noisy bar. Bushnell needed a new, quick idea.

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Birth of Atari, and Arcades

The Magnavox Odyssey was the world’s first home video game console. The late Ralph Baer conceived the Odyssey in 1966 and built several prototypes. In 1971, Magnavox agreed to manufacture and sell the Baer system. Bushnell saw an early version of it at a demonstration by a Magnavox dealer later in 1971. He played the integrated table tennis game and decided he had to make a coin version.

Bushnell’s most important initial recruitment was Al Alcorn, which was the brain behind Atari’s first purse. Bushnell ordered Alcorn to get to work developing a set of coins with two shovels, a ball, and a way to keep the score, which he considered important. The result was much more sophisticated; Alcorn added not only score, but sound, an acceleration mode once you’ve been playing for a while and more precise control that changed the angle of the ball depending on where it came in contact with the paddle. They called him Pong, for the sound he made when you hit the ball.

Once the game was over, Bushnell and Alcorn installed a prototype (Open in a new window) of Pong in a local tavern to see how he did it, only to receive a call a couple of weeks after it had broken. It turned out that so many people were playing there that the coin box was already overflowing and stuck. The new Atari, Inc. he started manufacturing and distributing Pong cabinets later that year and soon came to the big time.

An Atari Pong cabinet

Have You Played Atari Today?

(Image: Rob Boudon / ubcule / Creative Commons 2.0)

Pong’s rampant success in bars immediately attracted dozens of competitors by building their own Pong-like games. So Atari repeated as it grew, launching different types of games such as Space Race, Big Trak 10, Tank and more. He had another hit in his hands with Breakout 1976, the game Steve Jobs asked his friend Steve Wozniak to design for Atari, only to trick him with most of his well-deserved bonus once Wozniak finished.

Video galleries grew in popularity during the 1970s, but Taito space invaders opened their doors. He noted the arrival of a golden age of arcade games, the period between 1978 and 1983 in which coin video games took off. No Atari coin-op was as big as Space Invaders, or Namco’s Pac-Man (1980), Ms. Pac-Man (1981) or Nintendo’s Donkey Kong (1981): the first successful pet games, a concept that Atari lost. activated. But he still created some of the most important hits of the era, such as Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, and Tempest, an amazing coin game with color vector graphics.

Atari also entered the home console market as Magnavox, but not until 1975 with Home Pong, a dedicated unit that played selectable variations of its first successful arcade game. Other imitators also followed this effort, and in 1976 marked a brief surge in popularity for these devices. Soon came the microprocessor-based Fairchild Channel F, a cartridge-based system that allowed new games to continue to be added. It soon became clear that cartridges would be the future. Luckily, Atari engineers were already working on one.

A 1977 Atari 2600 “Heavy Sixer” with the Adventure cartridge

(Image: Jamie Lendino)

In September 1977, Atari launched the Video Computer System, known today as the 2600 (a name it did not officially receive until a 1982 renovation). Invention of Alcorn, Jay Miner, Joe Decuir and a few others, in 2600 launched the other half of the video game industry, that of the home. The 2600 was a compact and attractive console that came with two joysticks, two blades and an adapter that allowed you to control channel 3 or 4 of your TV (whichever has more film in your area) to use to display games.

Computers for People

The original line of nine Atari cartridges was not particularly surprising. The Combat pack-in reproduced variants of Atari’s 1974 coin tank. Video Olympics offered many variations of sporting events that were essentially 50 ways to play Pong. Air-Sea Battle offered targeting practices with aircraft and ships. The Indy 500 lets you drive dirty race cars in a top-down view like the Atari Sprint 2. But the difference was that you could play these games at home, on the TV in your living room while sitting on your trendy cormorant carpet (just watch out for static electricity).

The system cartridge slot made a call, of course, and Atari programmers followed the initial release with many new games over the next few years. And soon, programmers figured out how to avoid the complicated limitations of the system and create more advanced and engaging games, such as Superman (1978) and Adventure (1979), or shoot them with many more sprites on the screen. , with Space Invaders (1980).

Competitor Mattel Intellivision, launched in late 1979, eventually sold three million consoles, but never challenged the 2600 enough, despite its superior sporting and strategic titles. Other systems like the RCA Studio II, the Bally Astrocade and the next Magnavox Odyssey2 barely hurt the market.

The Atari 400 computer, launched in 1979

(Image: Evan Amos / Creative Commons)

Atari Becomes a Household Name

In 1976, Warner Communications had bought Atari for $ 28 million, giving it the cash infusion needed to properly launch the VCS. This movement was also problematic; in 1978, Warner installed Ray Kassar, a textile executive, as Atari’s CEO. The terrain changed immediately, when Kassar and Bushnell fought for the direction of the company, especially if it would have to launch a monitoring game console in the VCS or a home computer to fight the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Tandy’s Radio Shack TRS. -80.

The computer won, Bushnell left, and in late 1979, the company launched its first home computers, the 400 and 800. They were revolutionary designs, with dedicated chips for graphics and sound processing. In this sense, they were the first two real gaming computers, as they had separate coprocessors designed specifically for this purpose. Doug Neubauer’s Star Raiders became the killer app for these early computers, a sophisticated and epic space battle game with amazing animation that was crammed into just 8K of memory.

Star Raiders for the Atari 400/800

Atari then took advantage of its early advantage in computers by not revealing the secrets of how its systems worked to third-party programmers, preferring to keep all the benefits of the software to itself. As a result, all of these programmers came together to develop software for Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore VIC-20. Atari lost two crucial years as the market for these systems skyrocketed.

Eventually, Atari’s leadership gave way. Soon, many renowned developers and editors began or became famous for 8-bit Atari systems, such as Electronic Arts (Archon, M.U.L.E.), Sid Meier and MicroProse (Solo Flight, Silent Service, F-15 Strike Eagle) and Lucasfilm. . Games (Rescue on Fractalus !, Ballblazer).

The (Video Game) Music Stops

If you were a kid in the early ’80s, you had to have an Atari console, or at least meet a close friend with one, especially after the Atari conversion of Space Invaders arrived. The following year came excellent conversions of Atari’s own Asteroids and Missile Command. After a heavily publicized break with management, third-party studios such as Activision, Imagic and board game giant Parker Brothers released 2,600 of their own games, including Pitfall !, Demon Attack and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back to the Atari 2600

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Things warmed up especially later in 1982, as more and more games arrived and the appetite for them only increased. It was also the time for new hardware. Coleco introduced the ColecoVision console, with its arcade-like images and Donkey Kong-licensed package cartridge. GCE launched the Vectrex, an ingenious, standalone gaming system with an integrated 9-inch monochrome monitor and crisp vector graphics.

Atari fought these unconditional contenders with the 5200 SuperSystem, a repackaging of the 1979 Atari 400 on a large console. It was overcome. The 5200 came with Super Breakout, a four-year variation of a six-year-old coin, and had unfocused joysticks that confused gamers who wanted to duplicate the arcade experience at home. I had one anyway, along with an Atari 2600 and Atari 800 computer. The 5200 lets you play Robotron: 2084 with two joysticks and Centipede or Missile Command with a tracking ball, just like the respective coins.

Atari Corporation: Power Without the Price

An Atari 5200 console

(Image: Evan Amos / Creative Commons)

The three new consoles were launched in 1982, but faded in a year. So did everything else related to video games. An oversaturation of lower-quality arcades, consoles, cartridges, and cartridges caused a massive video game crash in 1983. Atari was especially affected, thanks in part to the colossal error of its home launch Pac-Man for the 2600 console at first. 1982, and perhaps to a lesser extent, his E.T .: The Extra-Terrestrial cartridge, which cost $ 20 million for a Steven Spielberg license. Copies of E.T. famous ended up buried in the desert with thousands of other unsold Atari cartridges. Atari accumulated $ 538 million in losses in 1983 and laid off nearly all of its 10,000 employees in mid-1984.

Sputtering and Last Gasps

The main reason for the accident, however, was the rise of cheap home computers. Why pay a few hundred dollars for a game console when you can buy a computer that does so much more? Jack Tramiel of Commodore launched a price war with his VIC-20 and especially with his excellent Commodore 64 computer, cutting prices in half shortly after launch and then further down. The rivalry between fans of these different computers was palpable: if you weren’t there, think of Commodore versus Atari as the Mac versus PC of the day. Guess what team he was on?

Ultimately, Tramiel not only wanted to win, but also destroy his competitors at Atari, Apple, Radio Shack, and Texas Instruments. He wanted to make sure Commodore didn’t lose as it lost the calculator market in the 1970s. Then, for rabid Atari fans, the unthinkable happened.

The 16-bit Atari 1040ST with an SC1224 color monitor and a mouse

(Image: Bill Bertram / CC BY-SA 2.5)

In January 1984, Tramiel and his sons had a fight with other Commodore executives. They left the company, started negotiations with Warner, and then reached an agreement to separate and buy Atari Computer from Atari Coin. The currency division became Atari Games. Tramiel bought everything else and named the new company Atari Corporation.

Tramiel immediately set to work building a new team, largely with former Commodore employees, and launching a new computer system. The 16-bit Atari 520ST, designed by Shiraz Shivji and unveiled at CES 1985, represented a new era for Atari computers. The 520ST was the first desktop system to offer a color GUI with mouse control for less than $ 1,000. Jack Tramiel led the battle not only to his former company that became a Commodore competitor, but also to IBM and especially to Apple with his new Macintosh. The first glances at the ST led some experts to label the machine as “Jackintosh”. The following year, the 1040ST with its integrated floppy drive became the first machine under $ 1,000 with 1 MB of memory.

Atari Lives On

The ST line developed a cult following in America and became more appealing in Europe, thanks to several well-announced “Packs” that included lots of quality software and games with each new machine. The ST also found its basis in recording studios around the world, thanks to its integrated MIDI ports and sense of closed time that attracted many musicians and composers of the time. While the ST didn’t have dedicated gaming coprocessors, like the ones Jay Miner designed for the competing Atari 2600, 400, and 16-bit Commodore Amiga, it was still a solid gaming machine, as evidenced. the innovative genre division games from Psygnosis and Michtron. , successful graphic adventures of Lucasfilm Games and Sierra On-Line, and especially FTL’s Dungeon Master (pictured above).

By 1990, it was clear that Atari was not doing well, especially in the U.S., where sales had almost stopped. The updated Atari 1040STE model was launched in late 1989 with support for 4,096 colors, digital sound, and hardware scrolling, which positioned it better against the Commodore Amiga 500, but it was two years later.

An Atari Lynx portable console

(Image: Evan Amos / Creative Commons)

Otherwise, the operating word for Atari Corporation was “flailing.” The 7800 gaming console, which Tramiel retained after buying Atari, only to resurrect it in 1986 after Nintendo revitalized the video game industry with the stellar Nintendo Entertainment System, failed to find the purchase. So did Atari’s XE gaming system, another overhaul of the 400 computer, which is now eight years old, and its Lynx handheld, which was in color and more powerful than Nintendo’s Game Boy. but that it had poor battery life and a poor line of cartridges.

An unfortunate merger with the Federated Group retail chain in the late 1980s hampered Atari and wiped out crucial resources. And they also bombarded a number of more advanced Atari computers, including the 32-bit TT, STacy and ST Book laptops, a number of MS-DOS-compatible computers, the Portfolio laptop, and the Falcon, a 16 / hybrid. 32 bits. system in 1992 with the appearance of the 520ST but much more advanced hardware underneath. They all fought the MS-DOS giant and soon vanished from the scene.

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The Jaguar Atari

(Image: Evan Amos / Creative Commons)

What is the rarest console?

As the various releases of new Atari products faded one after the other, in the early 1990s the company sharpened its portfolio, reduced its (copious) losses and put all its chips in place. behind the Jaguar, the first so-called 64-bit gaming console that could jump on Nintendo and Sega. The Jaguar also landed with a noise, thanks to its mediocre package game, difficult-to-program architecture, and line of irregular cartridges, aside from Jeff Minter’s stellar Tempest 2000. In 1996, JTS Corporation bought the remaining assets and rights of all Atari IPs, and finally sold them to Hasbro in 1998. The Atari brand disappeared into a sea of ​​excess stock at discounted prices available by mail. .

In 2000, French video game publisher Infogrames bought Atari’s assets from Hasbro and began an even longer and more complicated series of reorganizations and mergers. I remember being especially perplexed when I bought the excellent CRPG Neverwinter Nights in the early 2000s and saw the Atari logo on the box. This “Atari” had nothing to do with the consoles and computers I grew up with. Today’s iteration is marketing a crowdfunding VCS-branded microconsole, along with Bluetooth speaker hats and other garments, a steady drip of repackaged IP from decades ago and an inexplicable push in hotels and the cryptocurrency (Opens in new window).

What is the greatest console of all time?

My Atari 800 and Atari 1040STE setup at home(Image: Jamie Lendino)But the real Atari can still be found alive in Internet forums and user groups, where thousands of enthusiasts continue to talk about old-school computers, consoles and software. You’ll find websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, subreddits, Twitch feeds, and Facebook groups. Choose Atari Inc., Atari Games or Atari Corporation – there is room for fans of all this.
Even more impressive, hundreds of fans are coding new “homebrew (Works in a new window)” games on various Atari platforms, while hackers are developing modifications that give new potential to old machines. My latest favorite mod is FujiNet (Opens in new window), an open source network adapter from Thomas Cherryhomes that allows wireless internet connectivity, flash storage, virtual printing to PDF and more to Atari XL and XE computers. 8 bits.With all the twists and turns in Atari’s history over the years, and so many unforced errors, it’s amazing that the brand continues to exist. But there’s no other possibility for such a resonant name, enshrined as it was on a billboard in the dystopian 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, and still stuck in the aging consumer electronics that fill basements and attic of millions of homes around the world. After 50 years, the last chapter of Atari is yet to be written.So what are you waiting for? Dust off all that old equipment and start playing with it.
Sign up for News now to receive our top stories in your inbox every morning.This newsletter may contain advertising, offers, or affiliate links. Subscribing to a newsletter indicates your consent to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from the newsletters at any time.The dodgy Minish Cap Game Boy Advance SP Gold is one of the rarest consoles ever made.
What are the rarest PS4s? 20th Anniversary PS4 Special Edition Probably the rarest limited edition PS4 console on this list (although the 500 million is a close second), the 20th anniversary special edition arrives as an arrow of nostalgia in the heart , being very much a love letter for the original PlayStation.ClassificationConsole
Manufacturer1PlayStation 2 (PS2)

What is the coolest console in the world?

  • Sony
  • 2
  • Nintendo DS (DS)
  • Nintendo
  • 3
  • Game Boy (GB)
  • Nintendo
  • 4

What is the number 1 gaming console?

PlayStation 4 (PS4)

What is the oldest video game company?


Playstation 5. The best gaming console. …

What was the first video game company?

Xbox Series X. The best gaming console from Microsoft.

Which is the oldest gaming company *?

Nintendo Switch. The best portable gaming console. …

What is the oldest game company still in business?

Nintendo Switch OLED. The best premium handheld console. …

Why did Sega consoles fail?

PlayStation 4 Pro. The best economical game console.Nintendo Switch Lite. …
SNES Classic Edition. …Sega Genesis Mini.

The Xbox Series X is the latest and certainly the best Xbox console. The new Xbox is super fast, surprisingly quiet, and delivers the kind of performance we’ve only seen on high-end gaming computers before, ensuring that games, both old and new, look and run better than ever. before.

What caused the downfall of Sega?

Nintendo has the distinction of being historically the oldest intact company in the video game console market and one of the largest and best known console manufacturers, as well as being the most dominant entity in the handheld console market.

What was the first ever gaming console?

What is the oldest video game in history? In October 1958, physicist William Higinbotham created what is believed to be the first video game. It was a very simple tennis game, similar to the classic 70’s Pong video game, and was a hit at an open house at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Credit for making and selling the first video game console system goes to electronics company Magnavox. Shortly after its launch in 1917, Magnavox became a major consumer and defense electronics company.

Which came first Sega or Nintendo?

Consider the situation facing Nintendo, the world’s oldest video game company. The company had positioned its line of good game development for all ages and was strongly opposed to violence and pornography.

Who came first Xbox or PlayStation?

1. Nintendo. This company is credited with the conception of portable video games in 1979. Nintendo was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi in September 1889.

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