Atari 2600

Image Caption: An Atari 2600 four-switch “wood veneer” version, dating from 1980-1982. Shown with standard joystick. Credit: Evan-Amos/Wikipedia

The Atari 2600, originally named VCS, was released in October 1977 by Atari Inc. It is a video game console using cartridges for game play instead of having the software built into the system. In 1978 only 550,000 units were sold out 0f 800,000 that were manufactured.

Once the public realized pong was not the only video game to play, enthusiasm grew and by Christmas 1979, 1 million more units were sold. In 1980, Atari licensed Space Invaders from Taito and 2 million more units were sold. By 1982, 10 million units were sold and the system was renamed the Atari 2600.

Pac-Man, Atari’s best selling game, sold 7 million copies. In 1983 during the video game crash Atari began to lose money and in 1984 Atari’s Consumer Division was sold to Commodore Business Machines founder Jack Trammel. He froze all development of the 2600 console games.

The original 2600 had six switches, and in 1980 was redesigned with four. In 1982 the Atari 5200 and the Atari 2700 wireless was developed, but was never released.

The Atari 2800 was the Japanese version of the 2600.

In 1985 the Atari 2600 Jr. was released as a redesigned 2600. When this new 2600 Jr. was released, a resurgence in the video game market followed, and software from Atari as well as third-party developers were manufactured. On January 1, 1992, production of the Atari 2600 was officially discontinued. Over the life of the product, an estimated 30 million units were sold and over 900 game titles were available. Third-party developers today still make game cartridges that are compatible with the Atari 2600.

In 2005 the Atari Flashback 2 was released and contained 40 games. It can be modified with a cartridge port to play Atari 2600 titles and is compatible with the 2600’s controllers.

In 2007 the Atari 2600 was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

The console came with two joystick controllers a pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge. The original game was Combat, but later Pac-Man was the bundled game. It used ROM cartridges, had a 1.19 Mhz CPU, 128 bytes RAM, and 4 KB ROM.

Different controllers that were available: joysticks, paddles, a driving controller, track ball, and a keypad. It had access to GameLine, a cartridge that could download games through a phone line. Atari joysticks could be used with Sega Master System and Mega Drive Genesis but with limited functions. However, the Sega and Genesis controllers worked fine on the 2600.