Weird and rare – Birthday Mania – Atari 2600
Dec13

Weird and rare – Birthday Mania – Atari 2600

I’ve decided to resurrect the ‘Weird and rare’ series after a long hiatus. And what better game to choose, than something that has only a handful of copies – approximately 10 officially released and a few given out to helpers according to the author? And one that is considered the holy grail of all the released Atari 2600 games. It was also the last remaining released game for which there was no dump, meaning the original ROM was not available. What follows is information on the subject, kindly supplied to me by William Cortez III (Trevgauntlet): Back in 1984, a programmer named Anthony Tokar, developed a game Birthday Mania. He is now in his 70s and is experiencing health issues. He decided to make the game because he loved Atari and wanted to make one of his own as a token of appreciation for the console. So he found a book on how to program the 6502 chip, he doesn’t remember what he used and it took him several months to make it. The only form of advertisement he used was the Newark Star-Ledger, or the Sunday Star Ledger, he doesn’t remember the days but it was sometime after the game was registered after August 13, 1984. This was his only game and sold between 10-15 copies. The manual was a tri-folded piece of paper. Source: http://atariage.com/forums/topic/204909-birthday-mania-unwrapped/page-1 The saga of this recently rediscovered rarity is ongoing with the rights to the game being kindly given to a member of the Atari Age forums by Mr. Tokar – as long as any proceeds made from sales go to charity. Hopefully soon there will be reproduction cartridges available –  watch this space. In the meantime check out Trevgauntlet’s Birthday Mania game play footage below and for more information on the topic, click the Atari Age link...

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Atari: Game Over documentary – a short overview
Nov23

Atari: Game Over documentary – a short overview

Most gamers have heard the stories of Atari’s burial of it’s stock of ET The Extra-Terrestrial cartridges in the desert landfill of Alamogordo. What no-one knew is exactly what they would find there. This 66 minute documentary, produced by Xbox Entertainment Studios and directed by Zak Penn, charts the excavation of the site and what they unearthed. With narratives by Howard Scott Warshaw and Nolan Bushnell, ET game creator and Atari founder respectively, along with representatives from the town of Alamogordo and senior figures from Warner Communications and Atari, the documentary takes you on a whirlwind (or should that be sandstorm?) ride of emotions as they follow the unearthing of whatever was buried back in September 1983. The worst video game of all time? Or just scapegoat? One of ETs infamous ‘pits’ Howard Scott Warshaw – creator of ET The Extra-Terrestrial Nolan Bushnel – Founder, Atari Inc. Steven Spielberg and Howard Scott Warshaw in 1983. Spielberg played and gave his blessing to the game prior to its release Manny Gerard – Warner Communications 1974-1984 Alamogordo, New Mexico. The site of the infamous burial The excavation under way Screenshots from Atari: Game Over I won’t give too much away here, but let’s just say that the dig does somewhat debunk the myth that Atari buried a million ET carts just to save face. Figures were not only exaggerated but the reasons for doing so were also much more complicated than the ‘myths’ had implied. The documentary also pours scorn on those who repeat, like so many sheep, that ET was the worst game of all time. So to all those who have never played ET, I say this; watch this doumentary. Ignore what the media have used as a scapegoat all these years and actually try playing the game. It’s brutally unforgiving yes, but for a game that had to be written in 5 weeks from scratch it is an amazing feat. And far from the worst game on the 2600, let alone of all time. I really enjoyed this documentary, not only because it sets the record straight but also because it is entertaining from the off. Any gamer who has any interest in the history of his or her pastime needs to watch this right now. Available now on Xbox...

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The Starpath (Arcadia) Supercharger for Atari 2600 – a retrospective
Sep24

The Starpath (Arcadia) Supercharger for Atari 2600 – a retrospective

Atari 2600 Limitations Every console manufacturer at every generation has had a decision to make on how much memory (RAM) could be put in the console with an eye on production costs. The VCS designers back in the 1970s were severely constrained RAM-wise and could afford to add just 128 bytes of RAM to the design. Read-only memory used in game cartridges for the VCS was also expensive and it was only expected that games would use a maximum of 4K (4096 bytes) of ROM in the plug-in cartridges to contain all of the game code. In fact many early games used just 2K of ROM. Now, 4K is not a lot for game program code and 128 bytes of RAM is a real pain. This all meant that probably the biggest concern for a developer was to keep the ROM size down and minimise the number of variables that the game needs to record during gameplay and this would of course lead to compromises in the amount of change that could be fed into the screen graphics. In vintage consoles and computers, larger amounts of RAM mean that less compact code can be produced that can execute faster and so do more in the limited time available to manipulate the screen, potentially even using tricks such as re-writing portions of the code as it executes (self-modifying code) which is impossible in ROM. Enter The Supercharger The Starpath (formerly Arcadia Corporation) Supercharger unit plugs into the 2600 cartridge slot and boasted the claim that it would bring ‘action and detail not possible in conventional cartridge systems’. This was a little misleading perhaps as there were no graphics hardware changes in the cartridge which was in fact a 6K (6144 bytes) RAM expansion. The cartridge was designed to reduce the memory restrictions on the game developers, freeing them to produce larger code focused more on performance with more variables recorded and greater graphical changes made possible through techniques not possible when space is the overriding concern. It may seem a small amount but this extra memory was nothing to be sniffed at in those days and some of the Supercharger games really show the effect of having more space to breathe. However, the Supercharger also includes a cassette interface so that programs can be loaded directly into the extra RAM from cheap-to-produce (and so to buy) tapes rather than more expensive ROM cartridges with their expensive memory chips. With code loaded into the RAM from tape the Supercharger runs game code just like any ROM cartridge, in fact some enterprising hackers dumped released cartridge contents to tape so that the...

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How to tell an Atari CX2600 Heavy Sixer from a Light Sixer
Sep04

How to tell an Atari CX2600 Heavy Sixer from a Light Sixer

Since I have had a complete Atari CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ in my collection, I have been getting asked regularly how you tell a ‘Heavy’ from a ‘Light’ Sixer. At first glance they look pretty similar; six switches, woodgrain, same general shape. But look a little closer and the differences in Atari’s original VCS start to become apparent. Well, they do if you are lucky enough to have both to compare with each other, so here is a short guide to telling if you have a sought after Heavy or a more common (but equally fantastic!) Light Sixer. Shape Sunnyvale Heavy Sixer showing the woodgrain fascia stopping short of its curvy trim. Sunnvale Light Sixer showing its more angular front trim and the woodgrain fascia going behind it. The difference in trim width is obvious. Light Sixer (top) and Heavy Sixer (bottom). The differing shapes of the front trim. Angular Light Sixer (left) and curvy Heavy Sixer (right). The easiest way to tell if you have a Heavy or Light sixer is by looking at the thickness and shape of the trim around the sides and front of the unit. 1. Heavy Sixer’s have a much thicker trim around the front under the wood effect panel, along the sides and around the back of the console. 2. The wood effect panel stops short of the lower front trim on a Heavy Sixer and runs behind it on a Light model. 3. The final indicator is the rounder shape of the front trim on a H6er compared to the much more angular trim of the L6er. Label The majority of Light Sixers were made in the far east. The label from a PAL Heavy Sixer. Note the ‘U’ suffix. The label from a Sunnyvale Light Sixer. Again, suffixed with a ‘U’ denoting the PAL region. Position of the label on the underside of a Heavy Sixer. Position of the label on the underside of a Light Sixer. Heavy Sixers were manufactured in Sunnyvale, California, USA, although there are reports of some Heavy Sixers being manufactured elsewhere. And as some Light Sixers were also manufactured in Sunnyvale, you can’t tell by label alone if your model is a Heavy or a Light model. However if your label says Atari Wong, Hong Kong or anything else, it’s a certainty that your VCS is a Light Sixer. If your CX2600 was produced for PAL regions the label is likely to be without the FCC regulations needed for sale in the US and usually features the letter U after the part number, a good way of spotting a PAL model Heavy or Light Sixer. Bezel...

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Flappy Bird for the Atari 2600?
Feb17

Flappy Bird for the Atari 2600?

It’s true folks. If you missed out on the original smartphone/tablet version of Flappy Bird because the author pulled it from sale, well don’t despair. TACS Games have released a version called Flappo Bird for yours and our favourite wood covered console. Just download the Atari 2600 ROM here and load it up in your favourite VCS emulator or flash cart. OK, so it’s a bit lacking in the graphics department but what do you expect from 37 year old hardware?...

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Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600
Jul22

Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600

Have you played Atari Today? The Atari 2600, arguably the most iconic and enduring of all games consoles is also possibly the most confusing to collect. Not surprising really, when you realise it comes in eight official Atari branded versions (including the Japanese 2800) along with a whole host of clones spanning nearly a decade and a half of production. From the original 1977 CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ through to the all-black 1986 2600 ‘Junior’ the differences were such that almost everything about the console changed (except the chips). This makes the 2600 almost unique as a console in that you can spend a long time searching out and collecting all the variants. The 2600 has stood the test of time well, better indeed than most consoles of the early 80s period and remains popular with collectors, gaming enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. This popularity is fed with a booming home-brew scene and the recent(ish) production of ‘TV games’ by companies such a Jakks Pacific. For the purposes of this article I will keep things simple and will only be listing the official Atari models, not the Sears versions, Japanese version nor the many clone models available. Oh, and ignore the dates on some of the YouTube videos, I’m pretty sure they have them wrong. CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ (1977) Also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’, this was the original Atari VCS (Video Computer System), not yet known publicly by its 2600 designation. In fact the first 2600 to be officially called the 2600 wouldn’t be for another 5 years with the release of the black 4 switch ‘Vader’ model in 1982. Usually the most sought after by collectors, the first CX2600 differed from later models by having a thicker plastic lower casing and contrary to what you may read elsewhere the extra weight is solely down to this, there is no extra RF shielding inside and all Heavy and Light Sixers have the same RF shielding. The casing is also visibly different in that the plastic molding that runs around the back and sides is wider than on the 1978 ‘Light Sixer’ and has softer curves as opposed to the more angular second model. There are also other minor differences to the bezel etc. if you know what you are looking for. Manufacture of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ was done mainly in Sunnyvale, California – and, although I have never seen one myself – were also reportedly produced elsewhere. Sears released their own version of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ under licence called the Sears Video Arcade (Rev. A). CX2600 ‘Light Sixer’ (1978) This model also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’...

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