Atari Video Computer System

Atari VCS Console

In 1972 the Atari Corporation marketed their first stand-alone video arcade game called "Pong". A number of others followed after that. Then in 1975, Atari introduced their television console game system for the home market called "The Atari Video Computer System".

The photograph on the left is the control unit, just one component of the system. The wire on the upper right is used to attach the unit to a component that attached the system to a television set This unit and 25 other components were donated to the Museum in 1987.

Other manufacturers of electronic games that attached to a home television set labeled their products "consoles". Atari on the other hand announced to the consumer that they were buying a "computer". This was at least five years before IBM and others began marketing microcomputers!

Atari Game Controlers

The photograph on the right illustrates a number of the other components that attach to the control unit. The devices on the left of the photograph are the game controllers furnished with the system. A knob for moving the "cursor" on the screen, and a bottom for game specific functions are provided. Additional game controllers such as "Joy Sticks" were included with the initial system, however, more elaborate ones made by third party manufacturers could be purchased.

The devices on the right of the photograph is used to attach the console to a television set and attach the unit to an electrical outlet.

A "slot" in the control unit (under the words in the upper photograph) accepts a game "cartridge". These cartridges include computer circuits with permanent software instructions for one or more games. Many of the cartridges are scaled down versions of Atari's successful stand-alone video arcade games. Donated with the system were about 20 game cartridges.

With the original system, Atari only provided one cartridge which included a game called "Combat" that contains several variations of the arcade game "Tank". Some of the additional game cartridges were manufactured by Atari and sold as separate products.

Othello Atari Cartridge

The photograph at the right is a typical example of an Atari game cartridge. Each cartridge came in a distinctive box which specified how many games were included in the cartridge. On the lower right of the photograph is the cartridge itself - a unique type of enclosed plastic box. The package also contained a book with playing instructions for each of the games made available by use of the cartridge. With the donation to the Museum, the following game cartridges were donated:

Cartridge Storage Case

In addition to the game cartridges, Atari marketed a series of special storage boxes in which players could store their collection of cartridges. The photograph to the left is of one of these storage cases donated to the Museum. Along with the storage cases, a range of small platform cabinets that would hold the system console on a shelf and the hand controls inside of the cabinet were also available.

A few years into the success of the system some of the software game programmers left Atari and formed their own company which they named Activision. This company then produced game cartridges that would work in the Atari Video computer system. Two of these donated to the Museum are the Activision "Kaboom Video Game", and the Activision "Pitfall Game". Soon after, other manufacturers began to market cartridges that would work with the Atari system, and these new cartridges where considerably less expensive than the ones produced by Atari. Often these included many more games in a single cartridge. Two of these donated to the Museum include, a cartridge for "Television Games", and another one titled "27 Television Games".

The advent of home micro computers in the early 1980s on which games could be played, and the production of newer specialized game machines such as Nintendo, the market for the Atari cartridge system began to fade. Atari produced a number of upgraded versions of its system, but stopped production in 1991. However, the popularity of some of these games and the number of television sets currently in homes prompted the "porting" of the old cartridges into a self contained new system that begun to be marketed in 2005. The following advertisement from a 2005 catalogue details this "new-old" game system. The advertisement indicates that the entire system includes 40 games (no cartridges required), and includes the cables that can be "hooked-up" to "...any modern TV with audio and video input jacks."

2005 Atari System

Last update March 17, 2010