Atari VCS/2600 Overview

Atari Video Computer System

Active from 1977-1990

8-bit Processor:
MOS 6507 @ 1.19 MHz

128 bytes RAM, 4 kB ROM

The Atari Video Computer System, later known as the Atari 2600, was not the first home videogame system, yet it was the first to become mass market. Released in 1977, the VCS didn't really start to sell until a home version of Space Invaders was released, probably the first 'killer app' in videogame history.

The VCS continued its success for several years with more arcade and original games, even against more advanced systems like the Intellivision and even Atari’s own successor, the Atari 5200 SuperSystem. Arguably, the Colecovision was its greatest rival.

Two key Atari games, Pac-man and E.T., were both rushed in development to meet their release dates in 1982, and while neither is nearly the worst game ever, both were under par and both caused a dent in Atari’s reputation.

Atari also did not offer credit to the programmers of their games. At the time, games were often created by a single person, and this discord led to the first secret 'easter egg' in a game (Adventure) as well as the first third-party game publisher established by disgruntled former Atari employees (Activision). Another third-party publisher, Imagic, opened up shop in short order, and subsequently, many of the best games were from these two software houses. This competition seemed to spur Atari to improve its own titles, and for a time all was well. Yet this inadvertently caused an eventual flood of games from other third-party publishers hoping to cash in on the videogame craze, who churned out titles of varying quality eventually saturating the whole market.

By 1984 the videogame fad seemed to be over, as consumers moved to Personal Computers.

Yet in 1985, a little known company (in the US at any rate), stealthily launched the Nintendo Entertainment System, with a 'Trojan horse' in the form of a physical robot toy. It was a success, videogames were back, and Atari quickly rereleased the 2600 as a budget system. Several games that had been canceled in 1984 got a second chance, and new games were also developed. While nearly none of these later Atari games could compete with what was offered on the NES, many were fine additions to the 2600 when judged on their own merits.

- Ben Langberg

Atari VCS/2600 Features

Atari VCS/2600 Reviews

Atari VCS/2600 Useful Links