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Blast from the Past: Signs you’re an Atari 2600 geek

Atari 2600
An Atari 2600 four-switch “wood veneer” version, dating from 1980-1982. Shown with standard joystick. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1. You still have your very first, original Atari 2600.
  2. And play it often.
  3. You know how to make games for the Atari 2600.
  4. And do so.
  5. Without getting paid for it.
  6. You actually own a copy of Air Raid.
  7. You actually know what Air Raid is.
  8. You’ve paid more than $20 for an Atari cartridge on eBay.
  9. You’ve bought more than 10 Atari cartridges on eBay.
  10. You’ve sold more than 10 Atari cartridges on eBay.
  11. Without looking it up, you know the differences between an Atari 2600, an Atari 5200 and an Atari 7800.
  12. And you own all those systems.
  13. You remember when the Atari vs. Intellivision debate was as common as today’s Mac vs. PC debate.
  14. And you always came down on the side of the Atari.
  15. Even when the Intellivision had better graphics.
  16. You once bought a third-pary controller for an Atari 2600.
  17. But kept on using the original controllers because they worked so well.
  18. You own a copy of Custer’s Revenge. Not for titillating purposes, but because you must have a complete collection.
  19. You understand why Custer’s Revenge is titillating.
  20. You refuse to play Atari 2600 games on a computer.
  21. You refuse to play Atari 2600 games on a modern video gaming system.
  22. You refuse to play Atari 2600 games on anything but an Atari 2600.
  23. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 still ticks you off.
  24. But you’d play it anyway.
  25. The Atari 400 was released in 1979
    The Atari 400 was released in 1979. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 still ticks you off.

  26. You hate the NES because it ended Atari’s supremacy.
  27. Without taking into account the video game crash of 1983.
  28. Which was soooooo unfair.
  29. You learned BASIC from the BASIC Atari cartridge.
  30. You know what BASIC is.
  31. You almost bought an Atari 400 or Atari 800 because of your 2600.
  32. You did buy an Atari 400 or 800 because of your 2600.
  33. You know what an Atari 400 and 800 are.
  34. And you still have one or both of them.
  35. And you still use one or both of them.
  36. To connect with the Internet.
  37. You blog about retro video games.
  38. Cotton swabs, alcohol and Q-Tips are on standby.
  39. When you hear the words “Darth Vader,” the first thing to pop into your head isn’t Star Wars.
  40. Just the fact you understood that reference should tell you something.
  41. Back in the day, you were a member of the Atari Club.
  42. And bragged about it.
  43. You still have copies of the Atari Age magazine sitting around your house.
  44. You have remote control joysticks for an Atari 2600.
  45. You completed Earthworld.
  46. And Fireworld.
  47. And you have a copy of Waterworld.
  48. You know whether or not the Crown of Life actually exists, and its location.
  49. You know what HSW stands for.
  50. But you hate seeing it because it ends your game.
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Blast from the Past: Adventure video game for Atari 2600

Adventure
“Adventure” for the Atari 2600. It looks simple, and was, but it still provided plenty of fun.
Adventure
The original box for the “Adventure” video game. The Atari 2600 cartridge came inside.

There was a time when video games were pretty much just sports games, shooting games or some variant of sports or shooting games. Action games weren’t around yet and most RPGs were years away.
When was such a barbaric time? The late 1970s.

But into that age came a little game known as Adventure. It came out in 1979 and was made for the Atari 2600 home video game system.

By today’s standards, Adventure would be a pretty dull game. Simplistic, blocky graphics. Next to no sound. Gameplay so easy it could be considered laughable.

But that’s today. In 1979, Adventure was … in a word … awesome!

Atari 2600
The cartridge for playing “Adventure.”

How do you play? You control a little blip on the screen that goes around castles and through mazes to find various objects that are needed in a quest to garner a golden chalice and return it to the main castle. Such objects included a sword to fight off three dragons, keys to enter castles, a magic bridge and a magnet. The basic version of the game could be played in just a few minutes, a long, long way from today’s video RPGs that sometimes take weeks upon weeks to finish.

Adventure also goes down in history. For one thing, it is the very first video game to include an easter egg. What is this easter egg? In a secret room there are the words “Created by Warren Robinett,” who was the maker of Adventure for Atari. How do you get to this secret room? I’m not going to tell! What fun would that be?

Another innovation with Adventure is that it is the very first action-adventure video game!

Being a simple game, once you’ve played Adventure a handful of times, you’ve done just about everything the game has to offer. But it’s still plenty of fun. Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking. Either way, it was a blast to plug in the old Atari 2600 and warm up Adventure one more time.

Atari 2600
Yes, that’s a dragon in the middle of this screen shot from “Adventure.”
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Blast from the Past: Atari 2600 video game system

Atari 2600 video game christmas Atari 2600 video game christmas
Atari 2600 with joystick. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realize much of the focus of the Nerdarchy website is tabletop role playing games, but it is not all the site is about, and with Christmas fast approaching my thoughts always turn to the Atari 2600, originally known as the Atari VCS.

Atari 2600 video game christmas Atari 2600 video game christmas
Space Invaders was one of the earliest popular arcade games to make it to the Atari 2600, where it continued to win over fans.

In case you are not familiar with the Atari 2600, let me fill you in a little. From approximately 1977 to 1983, the Atari 2600 was the most popular home video game console in the world, and the first multi-game console to become a huge hit with consumers. Even today it is possibly the most collectible of vintage gaming systems, perhaps only rivaled in popularity by 1985’s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Christmas always reminds me of the Atari 2600, bringing out in me a longing for a simpler time, a time of blocky graphics, beeps and boops, and game controllers than only have one joystick and a single button.

See, I received my first Atari 2600 as a Christmas gift. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was probably 1982. I would have been 12. That year I also got four game cartridges: Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Yar’s Revenge. All of those were great games for the 2600, and the 2600 itself was a fantastic, though simple gaming system.

In years to come I would also discover the joys of owning an Odyssey 2 video game console and an Intellivision II, and eventually a Super Nintendo and later a Playstation 2, but none of those take me back to Christmas and my youth like the Atari 2600 (in fairness, the Intellivision comes close, but not quite).

The success of the Atari 2600 really shouldn’t be any surprise. It had a lot going for it at the time, the most important of which might have been its simplicity of use. One joystick, one button. That’s all it took to play the games. There was an On-and-Off switch, a reset switch, and a few other switches on the console itself, but all in all this was a simple device. A number of competing consoles at the time tried to get fancy with more buttons and keypads and the like, but this was still the dawn of video games, especially home gaming, and the public probably wasn’t quite ready for more complex game play.

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This cartridge is for Yar’s Revenge, perhaps the most popular of the original titles for the Atari 2600.

The 2600 also came with some extra controllers, a pair of paddles which weren’t used for a huge number of games, but were quite helpful when playing the likes of Super Breakout or Activision’s Kaboom! As with the joysticks, these controllers were easy to use and only included a single button to push.

Cartridges were needed to play a game on the 2600, but one came with the boxed 2600 when you bought it, and there was little trouble finding other game cartridges for sale.

Also helping the Atari 2600 was the fact it was the first at-home system to offer Space Invaders and Pac-Man, video games that had been huge hits in the arcades of the times. Space Invaders turned out well, but the port of Pac-Man was nearly a disaster, though Atari pulled through for another few years with other popular versions of arcade games as well as some original games that were quite excellent.

Such popular Atari games as Adventure, Asteroids, and Battlezone were enough to keep customers lining up for the 2600 systems for years, but other companies quickly got into the act, making their own second-party games for the 2600. This was how we got such popular games as Atlantis, Demon Attack, and Dragonfire from companies like Imagic, as well as Activision games such as Freeway, River Raid, and the unforgettable Pitfall!

Atari 2600 video game christmas Atari 2600 video game christmas
Pitfall!, by Activision, proved to be a huge game for the Atari 2600.

Unfortunately the heyday of the Atari 2600 would eventually come to an end, usually recognized as beginning with what is known as the great video game crash of 1983. Christmas shoppers turned away from Atari that holiday season, and soon after the Atari company found itself in dire straits. The Atari 2600 continued to sell in various versions, and would continue to do so until 1992, but the company that had created this grand device found itself sold off and eventually discarded.

But that doesn’t quite mean the end of fun.

The Atari 2600 and its many, many games live on today on gaming discs for modern systems, such as the Atari Anthology disc for the Playstation 2, and for computers. There is also a series of simple consoles called Atari Flashback which offer not quite the same experience as the original Atari 2600, but it’s close, and the Flashbacks come with plenty of games just waiting for action on your television or computer screen.

So, the Atari 2600 still lives, which is great for us older nerds who grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s.

But whatever your favorite gaming console, remember to Stay Nerdy!

Atari 2600 video game christmas Atari 2600 video game christmas
The Atari Flashback 4, one of several modern consoles that recreates the glory days of the Atari 2600.  You can get the Atari flashback of your choice here.
Blast from the Past: Atari 2600 video game system