The Atari 2600 was launched in October 1977 as the Atari VCS (Video Computing System). The 2600 microprocessor-based games console used read-only memory (ROM) cartridges. Before its demise at the end of 1991,40 million 2600s were sold worldwide and 900 games titles were created for it.
The console was supplied with an AC adaptor that plugged into the mains socket, and an aerial cable that connected the machine to the aerial socket of a domestic television set. It was controlled using the supplied joystick with a firing button on its side, and by switches on the console that could alter the difficulty level for each player and select games on the cartridge.
At the core of the machine are three computer chips, the 6532 RAM-1/0 Timer (RIOT), MOS Technology 6507 central processing unit (CPU) and Atari’s 6505 television interface adapter (TIA). All together, the system had 128 bytes of random access memory (RAM) and the games had a maximum memory of four kilobytes.
Although not as powerful as other machines of the period, its onscreen graphics were able to feature animated characters or objects that you could control in colourful settings and situations. This allowed greater flexibility for games programmers and more involvement and fun for all 2600 players.
The Atari 2600 was originally bundled with Combat and then with Pac-Man in 1982, and as its popularity grew many independent software companies cropped up to develop games for it.
However, sales of the 2600 were disappointing until they adapted the Space Invaders arcade game in 1980. It was ideal for the system, as it involved fast action, colourful invaders who continually rained shots down onto you. Using the joystick, you dodged and shot at the invaders to get the highest score possible. People bought the 2600 just to play this game alone.
Atari was overly optimistic about sales of Pac-Man, and the film inspired ET: The Extra-Terrestrial adventure game. They sold well (7 million and 1.5 million respectively) but over-production and returns prompted a crash in the games industry in 19 83 and with it came the end of the golden age of videogame production.