Atari (1971 – 2001)


Nolan Bushnell in 1970

In November 1971 Nolan Bushnell and with the help of Ted Dabney invented the first video game, and named it computer space. Bushnell described it as a cosmic dogfight between a spaceship and a flying saucer, but eventually it did not sell well.

Bushnell stated that it was a failure due to the game was too complex for 1971’s players. Undaunted, Bushnell and Dabney, as well as al Alcorn, formed a company called Syzygy, and designed a little game called Pong. Since the company name Syzygy was already taken, they had to rename the company as Atari. Bushnell originally planned to make Atari’s first game a driving game, but since Alcorn had little experience with video games, instead he designed a simple ping-pong game for him to work. They decided the name pong because the definition of “Pong” is the sound that the ball made when it hits something, and they couldn’t name the game ping-pong because it was already copyrighted. Atari had planned to build 50,000 Pong Consoles, however Atari was approached by Sears, and in Christmas of 1975, they ended up with a production of 150,000. People queued up for more than two hours, just to sign up a waiting list for an Atari Pong Console.

The original Atari Pong Released by SEARS

Atari continued it’s success with Arcade games (which we are not going to include since our site is based more on Home Computers and Home Video Games), and in Home Electronics with different versions of Pong along with other successful titles, a few examples of these arcade games are Video Pinball, Stunt Cycle, and even a hand held version of “Touch Me”. Atari released a Music console, which created Image patterns on the screen synchronized with an owners home stereo system. Other products were created with exclusive rights for Sears such as Atari Tank and sold as Sear Tank. The joysticks of Tanks eventually became the standard joysticks for the Atari 2600 VCS and where created by John Hyashi and Kevin McKinnsey.

Atari 2600 with its peripherals attached

In 1977, Atari Released the Atari 2600 VCS. The System was initially going to be a new multipurpose console with a single multi programmable motherboard, and would have its games installed internally into a Rom slot. Later, they decided that the Rom Slot would be an external one and selling the various games in cartridge form, so that consumers would buy and plug into the console. However, designers had created a console that it’s potential was soon discovered by programmers that created games far more complex than the console was originally conceived to do, making the Console a success for Atari.

Early Version of the Atari 800

After the success of Atari 2600 VCS, in 1978, the designers of this console started to work on a new set of chips for a brand new system. In the meantime, Nolan Bushnell sold Atari for $28 Million to Warner Communications and Raymond Kassar was the new director of Atari. Ray Kassar wanted to compete against Apple computers so he decided to open up a new Home Computer Division, and the new Chip set will be used in producing Home Computers. The quarters of HCD were office trailers, which set-up behind Atari’s offices. The engineer’s designed the first two home computers the Atari 400/Atari 800, that used custom chips to handle graphics, sound, and communications. These two computers had a large assortment of intelligent peripherals which communications was done to a custom bus called SIO (Serial I/O).

After 2 years Atari stopped  the 400/800 production in 1982, so that they can release their new Computer the Atari 1200XL. The computer had an incompatible OS with the previous two machines and no external expansion bus. Due to this, costumers rushed to buy the Atari 800 increasing the sales of this computer. The 1200XL had its good points as well like voice synthesizers, built-in modems and built in disk, but the system was never sold officially. After four years Atari decided to use the same chip set for their new console, and named it’s project PAM for Personal Arcade Machine, later settled on its model number 5200, which eventually called the console Atari 5200  Super System. When the system was released although showed up impressive features it was a failure due to its controllers that broke easily and marketing research was ignored for this new system. In addition, there was Coleco with its impressive Colecovision Console, which eventually had a very vast range of extras from steering wheels to an adapter to play Atari VCS Games. Atari to fight back designed the track ball that even today stands out as Coleco had already added up into its package the hot Donkey Kong Game. In 1983, since customers started to discover computers and after a craze for video games, something happened, the consumer saw video games as systems that had reached their peak.

Atari knew what was the case of all this, so they decided to work on a new console. The first fix in their new console was the compatibility between systems. Next units would have encryption, so Atari could control what software was released, and there wouldn’t be a repeat of the huge flood of lousy software titles, which caused the great video game crash to happen. Finally but not less important a new set of peripherals that would attract consumers to buy the console, like a keyboard to turn the system into a home computer and disk drives. For the Atari 5200 owners Atari planned an expansion module called SLAM-PAM, which was an Atari 7800/2600 compatible. This module was designed for owners that wish to run both 7800 and 2600 software. In the same year, Atari tried different computers like the 1600XL, which used 6502 processor or 80186 for IBM compatibility. Another computer is the Sierra with a high-end audio/video chipset based on a Motorola MC 68000 processor and another system called GAZA, which used the same chipset of Sierra. These systems would never show up due that on July 2, 1984 Atari was sold to Jack Tramiel, and renamed the company to Atari Corporation. The Most successful Machines in the XL range where the 800 and 600 XL due to the compatibility between the 400/800 series. The redesign of the system made it cheap to produce and easily accessible to the public.

The Atari 130XE was not that popular as the 65XE due to its price tag

The Atari XL projects were cancelled due for a new range of computers the Atari 65XE and 130XE which were also compatible with the older brother the 800XL. The Atari 7800 and its successor low cost brother the Atari 2600jr were shelved until 1986 when they were finally sold to a gaming public. Atari also released the Atari ST series. These computers had a Motorola 68000 processor, 512K of Memory, 3.5? disk drives, RGB Monitors, and a graphics user environment based on CP/M 68K. Originally the processor had to be a National 32032, however its availability was in doubt, so they used the MC68000 processor. For the next 8 years, Atari improved the ST line of computers and made into production several other ST systems like the Mega ST, Ste, Mega Ste, laptop based computers named Stacy and STBook, TT030, and Falcon030 line of computers. The same year that Atari released the XE Computers Atari introduced the XE Game system, and re-released several older games and true Atari Home Computers System software titles into a cartridge form. 1987 was the year when Atari ventured into the world of IBM compatible computers with its new system called PC-1. The system had build in disk drive, serial, parallel ports, keyboard, mouse, and video ports.

An internal bus port allowed an expansion card to use the Atari Mega ST “Megafile” hard disk to be installed. Other IBM compatible computers that Atari produced where a 386sx laptop and an IBM XT palmtop computer. In 1989, Atari released another console, which was the Atari Lynx portable Game system. The Atari Lynx had a colour display and there was a feature for left handed persons. The console was acquired by Epyx a gaming company. However, it wasn’t so popular as Nintendo game boy and Sega Game Gear. In the meantime, Atari produced its last computer system the Falcon030, but IBM compatible computers had far spread out and all company resources were directed towards the creation of a new console named Jaguar64. The system was built by IBM, which included features like a DSP Processor, microprocessors on a 64-bit wide bus, external modems, CD-Rom players, and even a Virtual Reality headset. Jaguar 64 was sold in 1993, but was put to an end by Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation. Atari Games Corporation then took the responsibility to produce another console named Co-Jag, which was a separate Atari company that split off from the Atari consumer division in 1984 after Tramiel Corporation bought Atari.

Today Atari Corp is owned by Hasbro and was renamed Atari Interactive. They produce and sell Atari Classic games for PC users. Atari Games Corporation is owned by Midway/Williams and on January 14, 2000 Midway/Williams announced that will no longer manufacture arcade games under Atari Games Corp anymore. San Francisco Rush 2049 is the last Atari Games Corp arcade game.