Atari 2600, also known as Atari VCS, has been synonym of video game for all the early '80s and it made Atari's fortune until the great video game crash of 1983. Some of its most notable titles include "Adventure", "Pitfall!" and "Breakout".
* CPU: MOS 6507 1.19 MHz
* ROM: 4k max
* RAM: 128 bytes, in VLSI
* Graphic Modes: 160 x 260 (horz.) at 60.00 Hz
* Sprites: 32
* Colors: 256 (static)
* Sound Processor: Two Channel Square or Noise (TIA)
* I/O Ports: Two controller connectors, Power in, RF TV output
* Controllers: 2 joysticks with one fire button each
* Media: Cartridges
Currently, MESS supports the following Atari 2600 versions:
* a2600 [Atari 2600 (NTSC)]
* a2600p [Atari 2600 (PAL)]
both of them require a ''cartridge'' (''cart'') to run, either in .a26 or .bin format. You can start the emulation with
mess a2600 -cart "C:\pathtogame\gamename.a26"
Some games may require an additional tape to work, this can be added using the ''cassette'' (''cass'') device which expects a tape in either .wav or .a26 format. Controls
Original Atari 2600 has six switches on its top: Power (On / Off), TV signal (B/W or Color), Difficulty for each player (called A and B), Select, and Reset. Except for the power switch, games sometimes assign other functions to these switches. On later models the difficulty switches were miniaturized and moved to the back of the unit.
Atari 2600 games can be controlled through either joysticks or paddles, the latter ones being much more precise. Both kinds of controller have a single button on its left.
Some cartridge requires the 12-keys keyboard controller (or the Kid's controller) which has the following layout:
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
* 0 #
Among these games, "A Game of Concentration (Hunt & Score, Memory Match)", "Alpha Beam with Ernie", "BASIC Programming", "Big Bird's Egg Catch", "Brain Games", "Codebreaker", "Cookie Monster Munch", "Grover's Music Maker (prototype)", "MagiCard", "Oscar's Trash Race", "Star Raiders".
"Sentinel" and "Shooting Arcade (prototype)" use a lightgun, while "Indy 500" and "Stell-A-Sketch" use a driving controller.
MESS supports many different Atari 2600 controllers. You can choose among them in the ''Categories'' menu that you can access by pressing Tab
. Available controllers are:
KidVid Voice Module
You can use the "KidVid Voice Module" by selecting it in the right controller port, while using a standard joystick in the left controller port.
* Good compatibility (few games are even more accurate than in Stella, e.g. "Solaris" and its space warp)
* Support for Starpath Supercharger and Kid Vid Voice Module
* Missing support for lightguns and a few other controllers
History and Trivia
The Atari Video Computer System (VCS) was released in 1977. The system was designed by Joe Decuir, Steve Mayer and Ron Milner, and developed under the project codename "Stella". Although the Atari VCS is not the first video game console ever, it became a star starting from in November of 1977. Millions of young players will hold it as mankind’s best invention ever.
Initially the console was set to come with an integrated ROM game, but at the last minute, Atari preferred a cartridge version. This game was "Combat". Most importantly, this first cartridge will allow console owners to wait a few months for the release of new games. A first series of 8 will be followed later by many, among them, the famous "Space Invaders", a title giving Atari global success and will cash in more than $100 millions.
In two years, Atari sold more than 25 million consoles and earned $5 billion in sales, mostly from cartridges and optional accessories. Many third companies will also encounter success, such as Activision and its "Pitfall!".
In 1982, the VCS became "2600", followed by new systems "5200" and "7800". The new name Atari 2600 came from its model number CX2600. It is rumored that the number 2600 was chosen because 2600 cycles was a prominent long distance access tone, and that one of the developers had created devices that would trick pay phones into granting long distance access as a hobby. Not sure if there is any truth in this.
In 1984 Atari was sold, but the 2600 continued to be produced and new games will appear until Jan 1st, 1992, when Atari Corporation officially retired it.
The Atari 2600 success was so huge that still today, after more than 30 years from its appearance, many hobbyists produce and sell new games for the console! Versions of Atari 2600
Many versions of Atari 2600 were released:
* **Atari VCS CX2600**: Original model. Woodgrain and black plastic enclosure. Light and heavy weighted plastic. Six silver switches across the upper front panel. Bundled accessories included two CX40 joysticks, one CX30 paddle controller, AC adapter, TV switch and a CX2601 Combat game cart.
* **Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade I**: Same as above except external cosmetic differences (the "difficulty" switches are labeled "skill level", the switch panel is silver instead of black, and the woodgrain pattern is different.)
* **Atari VCS 2600A**: Revised model. Externally it is nearly identical to the original, except there are four silver switches across the upper front panel instead of six. The difficulty switches were moved to the rear of the unit. Internally, the motherboard is a simplified one-piece design.
* **Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade I(A)**: Same as above except for external cosmetic differences.
* **Atari VCS 2600A (black)**: Second revised model. Externally it is nearly identical to the 2600A, except the enclosure has a more modern looking "black out" treatment. The areas of woodgrain on the original models are now simply black plastic. Internally, the motherboard is a slight revision of the 2600A.
* **Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade II**: Entirely new model of the 2600 designed exclusively for Sears. Black wedge-shaped enclosure, with push button switches and LEDs on top panel. Essentially an Atari 7800 shell. Four joystick connectors on lower front panel with rocker switch. Internally very different from other 2600 models, but still uses the same basic chipset. Bundled accessories include two combination joystick/paddle controllers, AC adapter, TV switch and a Space Invaders game cart.
* **Atari 2800**: same as Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade II but with Atari label. Released only in Japan. Very rare.
* **Atari 2600 "Jr."**: Third revised model. It is slightly larger than a VHS video tape case. Some versions have "Jr" stamped onto the bottom sticker. Large black buttons. Power and b/w switches slide, while Reset and Game Select are push buttons. Jet black with large metallic silver strip running lengthwise across the front with "Atari 2600" on it. Marketed as the "Under 50 bucks, the fun is back!" machine. Bundled accessories include one joystick, AC adapter, TV switch box, and RCA connecting cable. Box is designed as a carrying case with handle and a white section which reads: "This Atari 2600 belongs to:". No bundled cart. The unit came in either a maroon or silver box.
* **Atari 2600 "Jr."**: same as above except silver plate has a larger rainbow strip without an embossed border. Miscellaneous notes
All 6 switch Atari 2600s had a large shield casing. There were at least two 6-switch versions:
* (6-1) The original. The entire bottom half of the console was made of quarter inch thick plastic (~6mm)! Combined with the thick aluminum RF casing, this is the heaviest 2600 ever made. Also, this 2600 has no 2/3 channel select switch. There is a channel select hole in the case and it's marked Channel A/B, but there's no switch inside on the PCB. These consoles came with "01 Combat" cart. (1977 models only)
* (6-2) The lighter 2600. No armor plating. Bottom half of console is made of thin plastic, like the 4 switch models. Channel switch now present. Thick RF shield still present. Plain old "Combat" included.
The were also minor variations on 4 front switch, woodgrain panel models. On some, the difficulty switches are marked "Expert/Novice" (or was it "Advanced/Beginner"?) and others are marked only as "A/B".
Many Atari 2600 clones exists. Probably the most famous is the Gemini, an inexpensive clone 2600 made by Coleco. It sports an all black, box-shaped enclosure with six small slide switches (say that fast) on top of front panel. On the back panel, there is an RF modulator port and a power adapter port. Two joystick ports and difficult switches live on the front panel. Bundled bits include two dual-joystick/paddle controllers, a 9volt/500ma DC adapter, an RF cable, a TV switch and Donkey Kong and Mouse Trap carts. Peripherals
* **Starpath Supercharger**: Large cartridge that plugged into the 2600 slot. It has a cable with standard 1/8" jack for plugging into tape recorders. Games were distributed on cassette tape. The unit itself contains 6K RAM and 2K ROM. ROM is in top 2K and RAM is banked in lower 2K.
* **Kid Vid Control**: Coleco cassette recorder and cartridge interface. Additional wire connects recorder to joystick port. Voices and songs tell player what to do on screen. Tape shuts off automatically to wait for player input. 3 tapes per game, only games were "Berenstain Bears" and "Smurfs Save the Day".
* **Compumate**: 42 key touchpad computer add-on from Spectravideo. Adds 16K ROM, 2K RAM, and has BASIC. Looks like a small keyboard attached to a cartridge, which is in turn connected to the joystick ports.
* **CVC GameLine**: Gameline was a service offered by Control Video Corporation that admitted the downloading of games to the the 2600 over regular phone lines. The Gameline used a variable 800-2000 baud modem, according to Kevin Horton's no-longer-there Gameline Page. The Gameline Master Module originally sold for $49.95 and there was a one-time membership fee of $15. Charges were about $.10 a game or $1 for up to an hour of play. Contest games were $1 and there was a $.50 charge to enter a score. On your birthday, not only were you given free play for a day, but you also received a Happy Birthday screen, complete with cake, candles and music. The service did not last very long.
* **Personal Game Programmer**: By Answer, similar to Game Genie.
* **Game Selex**: from Starplex, allows 9 cartridges to be plugged in at once; turn a dial to choose the game.
* **ROM Scanner**: from Marjac, allows 10 cartridges to be plugged in, press a button to choose game.
* **Video Game Brain**: from RGA International Limited. A multiple cartridge adapter that holds six games to play, and contains 2 dummy slots for additional cart storage. You select the game you want to play by pushing a button in front of that cartridge.
* **Videoplexer**: by Compro was an 8 cart bankswitcher. It had a smoke brown plexiglass hood and 8 sensor touch buttons on the front panel. The manual claimed to Reduce the wear on your expensive system and cartridges.
* **Copy Cart**: from Vidco, allowed transfer of a game onto a blank cartridge. Battery powered, not all games can be copied because of memory limitations.
* **Unimex SP280**: by Unimex. A game duplicator which copied games to a EPROM cart. Available EPROM carts were 2K and 4K; 8K (and perhaps 16K) EPROMs were announced, but none have been seen. The manual stated that the carts could be erased by opening them and placing the EPROM under a tanning lamp (Unimex also offered erasing services for a nominal fee). Controllers
* **Atari Joystick**: This joystick was packed in with most officially released Atari consoles. It features a Joystick and 1 action button. The directional controls of the very first models (1977-1979) were spring activated, the revised version that you normally find uses pressure contacts.
* **Atari Paddle Controllers**: These are the standard paddle controllers for use with games such as "Breakout" and "Warlords". You can connect a pair of controller per connector (this allows for 4-players in "Warlords"). While they may look similar to the Driving Controller, they do not allow 360 degree movements, so it is not possible to play "Indy 500" with the Paddle controllers.
* **Atari Driving Controller**: This looks similar to the Paddle Controllers, but it allows 360 degree movements. It was packaged with "Indy 500", the only game that uses 360 degree turning. Also, there is only one controller per cable, as opposed to the Paddle Controllers which allowed two controllers per cable.
* **Atari Space Age Joystick**: Marketed as an advanced controller, the Space Age joystick features a pistol grip and trigger button. The control stick is on the top of the unit, and an additional button sits atop that. Aside from the unusual shape and choice of buttons, this joystick doesn't add any new functionality, and is compatible with all other joystick games.
* **Atari Remote Control Joysticks**: These wireless controllers look like standard joysticks, but have a deeper base for batteries and extra wiring. The receiver plugs into the two joystick ports on the 2600 console.
* **Atari Track-Ball**: There exists two different Atari models, with different case and different shape of the fire buttons (triangular in later models).
* **Atari Kid's Controller**: Marketed for the "Children's Television Workshop" series of games. Functionally it's the same as a Video Touch Pad or Keyboard Controller, but it's larger so that children may more easily use it. Separate Overlays for the controller were sold with the four CTW games.
* **Atari Keyboard Controllers**: Sold in pairs, functionally identical to the Kid's Controller and the Video Touch Pad. The Keyboard Controllers came packaged with Basic Programming, and Included overlays with commands.
* **Atari Video Touch Pad**: Also known as the "Star Raiders" controller, functionally identical to the Kid's Controller and Keyboard Controller. Game included an overlay with commands, for use with "Star Raiders".
* **Atari Track & Field Controller**: This controller features a design similar to the arcade version. Sold with "Track & Field", but also available separately for use on other systems. Will work with any game, but it only offers left/right/fire functions. It works surprisingly well, and certainly adds a new dimension to Track and Field.
* **Atari XE Light Gun**: Actually sold under the XE line, but compatible with the two Atari 2600 games that utilize a light gun, "Sentinel" and Atari's "Shooting Gallery (prototype)". It's also compatible with the Atari 7800 and other Atari home systems. Atari never made a gun specifically for the 2600.
* **Amiga Joyboard**: Sold with the skiing game "Mogul Maniac", the joyboard is a platform that you control by standing on it and leaning in different directions. It is also used by the prototype games "Off Your Rocker" and "Surf's Up". It's an interesting controller, but not terribly effective. You'll probably have better luck with a joystick.
* **CBS Booster Grip**: The Booster Grip is a controller add-in that plugs directly into the joystick port and provides a pass-through for the joystick. In doing so, it provides the two independent buttons necessary for "Omega Race".
* **Exus Foot Craz Activity Pad**: The Foot Craz was sold with "Video Jogger" and "Video Reflex", and is sort of a precursor to Nintendo's Power Pad. It was intended to get lazy video game players off their rear's and engaged in physical activity.
* **Milton Bradley Cosmic Commander**: An elaborate joystick sold with the game "Survival Run", meant to appear like a futuristic space age controller. It functions like a regular controller, and was not sold separately from the game. It really doesn't work that well, and you can probably play "Survival Run" much better with a standard joystick.
* **Milton Bradley Flight Commander**: Packaged with "Spitfire Attack", an elaborate joystick meant to look like a fighter plane gun mount. It has a similar button/handle configuration to the Cosmic Commander, and still functions like a regular controller. It was not sold separately from the game. It really doesn't work that well, and you can probably play "Spitfire Attack" much better with a standard joystick.
* **MNetwork Tron Joystick**: Molded in translucent blue plastic, this controller mimics its arcade counterpart. It also features a retractable cord like the Champ joysticks. It was sold in a large box that included MNetwork's "Tron: Deadly Discs" and "Adventures of Tron". It's actually a pretty nice controller.
You can find pictures of each controller at AtariAge -- http://www.atariage.com/2600/archives/controllers_atari.html. Never released hardware
Finally, quite a bit of 2600 hardware was announced but never released. Some examples:
* 2600 keyboard by Atari, called the Graduate or My First Computer. It was designed by Peripheral Visions Inc.
* 2600 voice command system
* a headband controller, Mindlink
* Atari 2500 (http://www.atari-history.com/videogames/2500.html)
* Atari 2700 - Remote control joystick/paddles, touch sensitive console buttons.
* Amiga Power Module for 2600. Similar to the Supercharger, it had dial-up capability (to play against others). Also, some 3D games were planned for it as well.
(info from old-computers.com, AtariAge "2600 FAQ", Zube's "Atari 2600/7800 FAQ", and other sources)
* Atari Age -- http://www.atariage.com/2600/history.html
* Atari Historical Society -- http://www.atari-history.com/a2600.html
* Atari Museum -- http://www.atarimuseum.com/videogames/consoles/2600menu/2600menu.htm
* Atari2600.com -- http://www.atari2600.com/
* Dan B's Atari 2600 Tech Page -- http://www.atarihq.com/danb/a2600.shtml
* Atari 2600 at old-computers.com -- http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=878
* Wikipedia page -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari 2600
* Stella -- http://stella.sourceforge.net/
* z26 -- http://www.whimsey.com/z26/
* PCAE -- http://www.classicgaming.com/pcae/ (PC Atari Emulator)
* StellaX -- http://www.emuunlim.com/stellax/
* no$2k6 -- http://nocash.emubase.de/2k6.htm