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Atari History

Dedicated Consoles

Atari Pong had full color graphics, score counter and excellent sound effects

Pong

Atari's first consumer product, which was Pong.  One of Atari's original team of engineers, Bob Brown began discussing his interest in doing a consumer product with a fellow friend and Atari engineer Harold Lee who at the time was working in Atari's coin-op group.  The idea was to take all of the components of the coin-op Pong board designed by Al Alcorn and put them onto a chip. Harold said it could be done.

Consumer sales and marketing was an entirely new direction for Atari who had up till that time only dealt in the coin-op area.  Distribution would be the key, and Atari didn't have any on the retail level.  Atari needed help and found it in the form of Sears Roebuck & Co. Well.... just barely.  It was gentleman from of all places, Sporting Goods within Sears who was the one who made the decision. His name was Tom Quinn and it was he who gambled on the new product to add to Sears catalog, a home version of Pong which had become so popular in the bar scene.  During a demonstration of the Home version of Pong at Sears headquarters Al Alcorn ran into several problems with the unit, but quick thinking and some skilled tinkering quickly solved a channel setting issue in the rats nest of wires inside the base of the demo home Pong and Sears was sold.   Atari went into production with the idea of selling 50,000 units. Atari ended up doing nearly 150,000 in total for the Christmas '75 season. People were waiting two hours in line to sign-up on a list just to get an Atari home version of Pong.

The combination of the Sears retail channel, Atari's name and well known "PONG" label all came together to form a sales explosion of Home Pong units that would overshadow the Magnavox "Odyssey" console line. The "Odyssey" was the first home video game console, yet poor marketing and sales pitches by un-knowledgeable sales persons hindered its sales figures. Also Atari Pong had full color graphics, score counter and excellent sound effects, giving it a better advantage over the string of Magnavox "Odyssey" series of consoles that followed.

Super Pong 10

The Atari Pong 10 would be the last of Atari's "Pedestal" consoles. Super Pong 10 added 6 new variations of games, plus the ability for up to 4 players to participate in the games.   Atari would introduce something entirely new for their home console line. The addition of hand held external Paddle controllers.   Video game players were no longer bound to sit up close to the console, bumping elbows with their fellow gamers. Now two additional players could sit with some comfortable space between them and play the various Pong games.      The Paddle controllers would introduce a shape and a trend that would follow into many other generations of controllers throughout Atari's designs. Their wedged shape design would influence Atari controller design for consoles such as the unreleased Atari 2700 remote control joysticks, the Atari 5200 joysticks and the Atari 7800 ProSystem joysticks. All of the controllers having the same basic wedged shaped design.

Pong inspired the design for the Atari "Fuji" logo, two paddles on either side and the player in the middle.

Super Pong Pro-Am

Atari would release a new console look, while still ensuring that its consoles looked unique, professional in quality and style and eye catching to the consumer. The Atari Super Pong PRO-AM dedicated home console would also introduce a new feature to Atari Dedicated Home Consoles.... Difficulty. Players would quickly become so adept at playing PONG, that Atari would add a new twist to its game consoles. Now players could select from Professional or Amateur skill sets so beginners could have an easier and more enjoyable time playing, while more skilled players could select the harder skill level for a more challenging round of game play.     Something else added to the consoles ability. The player could play against the console, so now video gamers didn't have to drag a friend out of their bed at 2am in the morning when they felt the urge for a few hours of addictive Pong gaming.

Super Pong Pro-Am 10

Atari's last version of the Super Pong line. Super Pong Pro-Am (Professional - Amateur) Ten.   Up to 4 players and up to 10 different games. With Pro or Am Difficulty Selector for beginners or more advanced game play, On-screen digital scoring, vivid color on color TV's and the original PONG sound you could play either Pro or Amuetur version of Pong, Super Pong, Catch, Basketball and Handball.   Atari's PONG home dedicated consoles just kept getting better and better, even if the "PONG" theme was getting very long in the tooth. 

Ultra-Pong Doubles

Enter Ultra-Pong Doubles...   Pong moved from Super to now Ultra with this last series of the "PONG" games.   Pong Doubles included game play for up to 2-4 players.   A large selection of various games to play, vivid and eye catching playfield colors and of course, the signature "Pong" sounds.

Video Pinball

This must have been one of Atari's favorite original games.    It has been reincarnated several times.   Originally as arcade coin-op, then here as a standalone system, then as a cartridge for the Atari Brain Game System, then as a cartridge for the Atari VCS 2600 video game console.    Many third party companies also enjoyed the idea of taking the classic mechanical pinball game and turning it into an add video rendition.   Games such as David's Midnight Magic and Ruiner's Pinball as just 2 examples of other pinball games designed for the Atari video game systems and computers.

Stunt Cycle

All the thrills and chills of real stunt motorcycle riding right in your home living room, so much fun Evil Knevil must have had one! (Well... maybe).  Stunt Cycle originally was an Atari arcade coin-op, then made into a standalone console shown above. Stunt Cycle gave the player a first person feel of riding a motorcycle, even though the image on the screen wasn't first person.  You could jump cars and buses, if you played with the controls just right you could jump right off the screen, lots of fun!

The Video Music could custom create an effect on your TV that would dance, bounce and gyrate to the beat of the music you were playing.

Video Music

Since when did Atari make stereo equipment? Your probably asking yourself looking at the picture to the left. Well this rather unique and odd piece of equipment was thought about by Bob Brown of Atari. The idea was an interesting one; you would hookup your hi-fi stereo system to the RCA inputs on the back of the Video Music, then hook it up to your Television set.

Now came the fun part, you'd put on your favorite 70's music and power up your Video Music and by playing around with any of the 12 buttons and 5 knobs you could custom create an effect on your TV that would dance, bounce and gyrate to the beat of the music you were playing. Now you say to yourself "Gee, that sounds familiar". Well perhaps you may have heard of the VLM (Video Light Machine) built into all of the JagCD's for the Atari Jaguar 64 game console, its the exact same concept, but of course with much better resolution and of course Jeff Minter's trademark "Meltovision" effects which is more or less a 1990's tribute to the original Video Music from 1976.

Video Music was an awesome way to actually see your 70's music on your TV

Game Brain

The Atari Game Brain (Model C-700) was Atari's first cartridge based  video game console. The Game Brain actually was nothing more then an empty box with no major circuitry at all.   Basically at had internal wiring run for input from built-in Paddles, built-in button controls (pre-joystick design), fire buttons, game selection button, reset button and power button. 

 

These connections all ran to a cartridge connector underneath the center cover of the console.

There are also several jacks are on the rear of the unit that allowed the connection of the older Atari paddle controllers previously used on the Atari Pong line of dedicated consoles.

The "REAL" Brains of the Game Brain were the actual cartridges. Atari had yet to finish a design for a multipurpose programmable console system, that wouldn't happen until the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) model 2600 was to be released.

All of the circuitry to allow a game to run were in the cartridges. The cartridges were all based on already existing stand-alone game consoles such as Super Pong, Video Pinball, Stunt Cycle, and Video Music. The top of the Game Brain opened by pushing the Open/On/Off switch to the far left to the Open position and gently pushing the back of the middle cover.

You would then take the cartridge and set its Position Switch to "Disconnect", then place the cartidge face-up into the slot in the center of the open console. Once in place you would slide the Position Switch towards you to the "Connect" position. What this in effect did was slide the actual PCB forward into the cartridge connector. You would then close the door and turn the system on. Another nice feature was the instruction holder on the top of the console. It held small plastic insert cards which told you basic information on which controllers performed which functions.

Space Invaders and Breakout Handhelds

Atari started and quickly stopped its new division:  Atari Electronics Games. Among the products were the Atari Touch Me handheld which was released in 1978 and coming in 1980 there would be two new handhelds based on the Atari licensed Space Invaders and Atari's own Breakout. These new games would be managed through Atari's new offices in the Toy Building at 200 Fifth Ave in New York City.    However sluggish sales in the handheld market did not look favorable to Atari's management and the plug was pulled on Atari's new Electronics Games Division and with it the new handhelds.

The Cosmos was Atari's experiment in holographic video gaming technology.

Cosmos Holoptic Tabletop Game

The Cosmos was Atari's experiment in holographic video gaming technology. Atari purchased all the rights possible for anything to do with holography and began work on a new tabletop based game which would have allowed 8 different games to work with 8 different holographic "backdrops".  The games were not actually 3-D holographic games, but moving LED's behind a transparent holographic image to add more of an environment to the game then just simply a bunch of flashing LED's on a screen such as handhelds from Mattel Electronics and Coleco Electronics. The Atari Cosmos used the the same CPU chip that was later used in the Entex Adventurevision tabletop game. The chip was called the COPS411.  Each of the 8 Atari Cosmos game cartridge were "keyed" so that they would press a combination of the 5 contact buttons located on the LED board with a pattern of plastic keys on the back of each Atari Cosmos game cartridge. Since the game cartridges only consisted of a plastic shell, a set of contact keys and a transparent hologram the price for each game was expected to cost as low as $10-$12 each.

The Atari Cosmos, the brainchild of Atari engineers Allan Alcorn, Harry Jenkins and Roger Hector was shown at the New York Toy Fair in 1981. Many observers commented that it wasn't really a 3-D holographic game and the holographic slides were just a gimmick. Atari commented that this was the first of its kind tabletop holographic video game and that the use of the holograms in this fashion was a first attempt and that the reviewers should not be so critical of the use of the holograms in this way. However, interest in the new tabletop game was quite high, in fact pre-orders taken at the show amounted to over 8,000 units from just the single showing.

From production line notes and engineering logs the Atari EG500 as the notes refer to as had a pilot run of up to 250 units.   Whether that many units were ever made or not is known. Steve Provence who worked for the holographic company that was subcontracted by Atari to produce the holograms stated "While working at the Atari Holoptics lab, there was a wall stacked with Cosmos cases and hardware, perhaps as many as 1,000. When the money dried up and the lab was closing, some people from Atari came in and hauled all of the hardware away and then the lab closed." Product Boxes were made, sales flyers were made and sent out to Atari's distributors in sales paks, everything appears to look as if the Atari Cosmos was ready to go. However the plug was pulled on the project and it was never mentioned again. The only other use Atari made of its hologram technologies (Atari referred to the technology as HOLOPTICS) was in the use of hologram stickers on its cartridges and hardware to cutback on counterfeit products being sold. Allan Alcorn who headed the Cosmos projected noted "Ray Kassar was too scared to take a chance on the handheld/tabletop market, the Atari 2600 VCS was the only thing he had faith in." It was the pulling of the plug on such innovative projects such as this that forced many of Atari's most creative and innovative people to leave the company, Al Alcorn left in 1981.

To date, only 3 Atari Cosmos were known to exist and all of them have been empty shell Mock-up (Most likely they were used at the NY Toy Fair).   an Atari Cosmos mock-up was shown at the World of Atari Show 98 in Las Vegas last August 21-23, 1998. To date, there are currently only 2 fully assembled and working units known to exist.   The Atari Historical Society currently has the one with all 8 Holoptic Games.   A second unit is still in the hands of another former Atari employee who worked in Atari's Advanced Projects Group.

Atari's first handheld game Touch Me was a 'repeat after me game' and has inspired quite a few other games.

Touch Me Handheld

In 1978, Atari entered the handheld market with a home handheld version of its arcade game called Touch Me. The object of the game was fun, simple and challenging. The perfect formula for a game to appeal to everyone. The game would produce a sound and flash a color in a series of patterns, all the player had to do was repeat them exactly and their score would increase. As you completed each pattern, a newer, harder and faster pattern would follow until the pattern became a blur of color and sound. Many companies copied the Atari game....  ever heard of Simon?