As my 35th birthday approaches, an old friend is celebrating 30 years… the Atari 2600! Retro Thing is doing an “Atari Week” feature, with several pieces about the first device that defined “video game” for the majority of us thirty-somethings.
The Atari 2600’s impact upon the gaming world was immense. No less than eight variations were produced over its stunning 14 year lifespan, along with three Sears-branded models and over a dozen clones. The system sold in excess of 40 million units, and AtariAge lists well over 1300 different game titles. This is all the more incredible because the system was envisioned to have only a two or three year lifespan before being replaced by something more sophisticated. That day never came. Even though Atari made repeated attempts to surpass their initial design, the 2600 remained the pinnacle of the company’s console gaming success.
Many fuzzy memories:
- Begging my parents to drop me off at John Arnett’s house to play his 2600 before my piano lessons.
- The hilarity of Basketball’s square ball.
- Being awed by the ability to play Space Invaders without having to drop a quarter at the arcade. (and the syncopated rhythm when there’s only four attackers left)
- Finally getting an Atari of my own for Christmas. Thanks Mom and Dad! Uh, I mean, Santa!
- Staying up all night at John Merritt’s house to beat Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Playing, enjoying, and beating E.T., years before the internet told me I was supposed to hate it.
- Checking out my friends’ latest acquisitions each Saturday at the Cub Scout meeting. Including Journey Escape – Now THAT game was a stinker.
- …and finally giving it up for the Commodore 64 [links to an archive of my C64 site from several years ago]
The Atari 2600 seems so quaint in comparison to what we have today, but it was capable of some truly amazing things given it’s limitations. It had a meager 128 bytes of memory – to put that in perspective, this blog post alone is 20 times that. Your average home computer today with a gigabyte of memory can hold over 8 million times that amount. The ability to create anything with those limitations, let alone some of the classics that were produced for the 2600, is nothing short of incredible.