The games may look laughable by todays standards, but when the Atari 2600 launched in 1977 it was state of the art. Before then, games consoles had often been monochrome with a limited number of games, normally all of which were just slight variations on Pong. The Atari 2600 blew those machines out of the water with its colour graphics and, most importantly, wide range of varied games. It also reinvented the method of control by coming with a 8 directional, single buttoned joystick. Prior to this most machines used a twisty dial thing to control the game, which is why Pong was so prevalent – it was about the only game you could do on such a system.
The looks of the console fit well with the television sets of the era, with a wooden panel along the front, a series of switches to control difficulty levels and so on, and a big slot that accepted a plastic cartridge containing the games themselves. There was a wide range of games available, some good, some bad and some truly terrible (even taking into account the limited power of the machine). Some of the better examples were Space Invaders, Yars Revenge and Breakout. There was a fairly mediocre version of Pacman too, but some awful ones such as Haunted House and ET.
The ET game has become a thing of legend. It is alledged that Atari expected the game to sell like hot cakes, and made several million cartridges, which then failed to sell because the game itself was terrible. Finding themselves with so much unwanted inventory, it is reported that the cartridges were taken out into the desert and buried. Whether this is true or not Atari have never confirmed, but I’d like to believe it’s true.
Most interestingly of all, I came across the following advert dating back to 1982 for the Atari 2600 which I must admit to having absolutely no memory of. It features none other than the classic comedy duo Morecambe and Wise – not exactly the sort of people I would have expected to advertise a gaming system.