ATARI VCS/2600 FAQ

Last updated 3-10-2014

This FAQ is an evolving document. If you have any additions, suggestions, or corrections, please e-mail us.

 

 

GENERAL

What Usenet groups actively discuss the VCS/2600?

What website forums actively discuss the VCS/2600?

Where can I find cart lists?

What magazines covered the VCS/2600 in the 80s?

What magazines currently cover the VCS/2600?

What newsletters covered the VCS/2600?

What books cover the VCS/2600?

Any there any documentaries that cover the VCS/2600?

Where can I view Atari TV commercials?

Where can I view Atari print advertisements?

What is irc, #rgvc and how do I get on them?

What happened to Atari?

What scores were needed to earn an Activision patch?

What does the Atari symbol represent?

What does the word "atari" mean?

Where can I find Atari-like fonts?

What shows, events or gatherings cover the VCS/2600?

What's the story about Atari being sued for not having a chess game?

What are those black lines I see along the left side of the screen in some games?

Why do some of the early games automatically end after a certain amount of time?

Why do some some games exhibit color-cycling if left on too long, and others don't?

What was the SwordQuest contest? What happened with the prizes?

Are there still contests being held?

 

SOFTWARE

How many different games were made for the VCS/2600?

Where can I find games for my VCS/2600 or the consoles themselves?

Where can I download game instructions?

What are the best and/or most popular games for the VCS/2600?

What are the most common and most rare games for the VCS/2600?

What VCS/2600 software was announced but never released?

What was GameLine and what games were available for it? Were there any other services like it?

Which VCS/2600 games use the Paddle controllers?

Which VCS/2600 games use the Driving controllers?

Which VCS/2600 games use a light gun?

Which VCS/2600 games use the Keyboard controllers? The Video Touch Pad? The Kid's controllers?

Which VCS/2600 games use more than 1 controller?

Which VCS/2600 games use the system switches during a game?

Which VCS/2600 games have digitized voice samples?

Which VCS/2600 carts do not work on the 7800?

What is the Starpath CD and can I still get one?

Have any new games been released lately?

Where can I find a list of tricks and Easter eggs?

What programming resources are available?

Is there a list of VCS/2600 game programmers?

Where can I get solutions to the SwordQuest series?

What's the story with Sears Tele-Games, and why do some games have different titles?

Are any release dates known for the games?

 

HARDWARE

How many VCS/2600 systems were sold?

What are the different VCS/2600 models?

Where were Atari's systems and games made?

What VCS/2600 clones exist?

What VCS/2600 adapters exist for other systems?

What VCS/2600 hardware was announced but never released?

How do I hook up my Atari to a TV? / I've hooked up my system, but the picture is fuzzy.

The colors seem wrong. How do I adjust them?

Where do I get my VCS/2600 fixed, or how can I fix it?

How many different controllers were made for use with the VCS/2600?

How do I fix my joysticks and paddles?

Do Bally Astrocade, MSX, or Texas Instruments joysticks work on the VCS/2600?

How do I use an Atari joystick on a PC/Mac?

What hardware peripherals exist for the VCS/2600?

What are NTSC/PAL/SECAM and why should I care?

What is a TV boy and where can I get one?

Why do some 6-switch systems have vent holes in the top of the case?

Some motherboards have a space for another chip? What was this for?

What are the specs for the VCS/2600?

How large (memory-wise) do VCS/2600 games get?

What is the VCS/2600 pinout information?

What are the AC Adapter power supply specs?

 

TECHNICAL

Are there any published VCS/2600 technical articles available?

Are there any emulators for the VCS/2600?

How do I archive or dump cartridges?

How do I transfer ROMs or binary files to a VCS/2600?

How do I make my own cartridge?

How do I add a pause switch?

How do I convert an Atari joystick for use with a PC?

How do I convert a mouse into a paddle controller?

How do I convert an NES controller to an Atari pinout?

How do I convert a Sega Master System light gun to an Atari pinout?

How do I make a glove controller, similar to Mattel's Power Glove for the Nintendo NES?

What audio mods are available?

What video mods are available?

How do I build my own rapid-fire module?

How do I program my own VCS/2600 games?

 

 

GENERAL


Q: What Usenet groups actively discuss the VCS/2600?

A: There are several groups, although there is very little activity on them these days:

Most ISPs no longer support access to them, but Google Groups is one web-based option.


Q: What website forums actively discuss the VCS/2600?

A:


Q: Where can I find cartridge lists?

A: Atariage, AtariGuide, Atarimania, and Digital Press all have searchable lists online.  Of them, Atarimania's is the most up-to-date. Charles E. Dysert maintains a comprehensive list with photos as well.


Q: What magazines covered the VCS/2600 in the 80s?

A:

  • Atari Age
  • Atarian
  • Big K
  • Blip
  • Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games
  • Electronic Fun w/ Computers and Games / Computer Fun
  • Electronic Games / Computer Entertainment
  • Electronics For Kids
  • Joystik
  • K Power
  • L'Atarien
  • Leisure Time Electronics
  • Microkids
  • Playboy Guide Electronic Entertainment
  • Software Merchandising
  • spectrum
  • Tilt
  • Toy & Hobby World
  • TV Gamer (UK) (not to be confused with the non-classic, currently publishing Japanese magazine)
  • Video
  • Video Games
  • Video Games Player / Computer Games
  • Videogaming Illustrated / Videogaming and Computer Gaming Illustrated / Video and Computer Gaming Illustrated
  • Vidiot

Scott Stilphen made complete scans of most these and more, which can be found here in the library section.


Q: What magazines currently cover the VCS/2600 now?

A:

2600 Connection also host copies of Chris Cavanaugh's Classic Gamer magazine.


Q: What newsletters covered the VCS/2600?

A:

  • 2600 Connection
  • Activision Fun Club News
  • Atari Inside
  • Atari News
  • Atari Owners Club Bulletin / VCS Owners Club Bulletin
  • CGL (Activision) Fun Club News / Activision Software Club
  • Classic Systems & Games Monthly
  • Digital Press
  • Electronic Games Hotline
  • I Love Atari News
  • Imagic Numb Thumb News
  • Leisure Time Electronics Reports
  • The Logical Gamer
  • The Parker Video Games Club

Scott Stilphen made scans of some of these, which can be found here in the library section.


Q: What books cover the VCS/2600?

A: The most comprehensive list is maintained at the 2600 Connection website.  Some of the best ones are:

  • ABC to the VCS: A Directory of Software to the Atari 2600
  • Be A Home Videogame Superstar:  Secrets To The Best Games For Your Atari VCS
  • Book of Atari Software, The
  • Classic 80s Home Video Games
  • Complete Guide to Electronic Entertainment, The
  • How to Master Home Video Games
  • How to Win at Home Video Games
  • Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games
  • Player's Strategy Guide to Atari VCS Home Video Games, The
  • Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System


Q: Are there any documentaries that cover the VCS/2600?

A: Once Upon Atari is a four part series exploring the early days of Atari. Produced by Howard Scott Warshaw, the series is a first hand look at Atari from the people who worked there.

Stella at 20: An Atari 2600 Retrospective is a series of documentaries from Glenn Saunders. Both "Volume 1, Tales of Stella" and Atari" and "Volume 2, The Game Designers or One Person, One Game" are around 90 minutes in length and originally sold for $25 each or $40 for both (+ shipping). Hozer Video Games eventually bought out the CyberPuNKs remaining inventory of these.  The videos were never released on DVD.

Two videos, one documenting the 1998 World of Atari show and one documenting the 1999 Classic Gaming Expo are available from Mark Santora (santora@earthlink.net) for $25 + $4 shipping each or $50 (shipping included) for both tapes. Contact him directly to order or to inquire about international orders or PAL format tapes.

A 4-DVD box set, CGE 2K7, documenting the 2007 Classic Gaming Expo show, is available from Scott Stilphen for $25 each.


Q: Where can I view Atari TV commercials?

A:


Q: Where can I view Atari print advertisements?

A:


Q: What is IRC and #RGVC and how do I get on them?

A: IRC is Internet Relay Chat, a global real-time chat network.  #RGVC is the rec.games.video.classic newsgroup channel. You can download an IRC client from www.mirc.com, and you will also find some general information and instructions there.


Q: What happened to Atari?

A: The Atari that everyone knew and loved (1972-1984) is long gone. In its absence, there have been a string of "imposters".  The infamous market "crash" of 1983/84 decimated the video game marketplace.  It impacted every company, including Atari, and by early 1984 only a few companies remained in business.  In the Summer of 1984 (July 2nd), Warner Communications sold off the home (console) and consumer electronics (computer) divisions to Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore. These divisions became Atari Corp. The coin-op division remained with Warner and became Atari Games.  In December 1984, Warner sold off the AtariTel division to Luma Telecom, a division of Mitsubishi Electric (Michael Current has a website detailing the history of The AtariTel division).

THE ARCADE DIVISION:

When Warner merged with Time in 1989, a Time-Warner Interactive label appeared on their arcade games. In 1996, Time-Warner sold Atari Games to WMS Industries (the merger of Williams and Bally/Midway, when Williams purchased them in 1988), who turned around and spun off part of its Midway Manufacturing division as Midway Games.  Atari Games became a subsidiary of Midway Games as a result.  In January 2000, Midway changed the name of Atari Games to Midway Games West, to avoid confusion with Hasbro Interactive's Atari company.  The Atari logo for home conversions of Atari's arcade games during this time appeared under the Midway Home Entertainment label.  In spite of all this corporate shuffling, a few of the Atari veterans, such as Ed Logg and John Skruch, remained.  Ed Logg, whose credits include the arcade versions of Asteroids and Centipede, as well as VCS/2600 Othello, was still there by the summer of 1999.

THE HOME DIVISIONS:

After taking over Atari, Tramiel immediately ceased all video game development, cancelled several projects (including the 7800 and 600XL), and fired 700 employees; his focus was on developing and releasing a new line of home computers (BusinessWeek article, July 23rd, 1984, pg. 90-91; Electronic Games article, October 1984, pg. 14), starting with the Atari STs.  1 year after the takeover, the media confirmed there were no plans to release the 7800 (Computer Entertainment news blurb, August 1985, pg. 71).  2 years after the takeover, Tramiel, seeing Nintendo's success with their NES console, decided to get back into the video game market by resurrecting and re-releasing systems (VCS/2600, 7800, 400/800/XL) that were originally developed by Atari Inc., with either a new case, a new name, or both.  The VCS/2600 became the 2600 JR, and the XL computers became the XEGS console and the XE computers.  Both new and unreleased games were released for all of them, but the main reason for their release was to sell off the mountains of games Atari still had in their warehouses.  Once that was done, Atari decided to make a serious attempt to recapture some of the now-hot market again, buoyed by the huge success of both Nintendo and Sega.  In 1989, Atari purchased the Handy handheld gaming system being developed by Epyx and released it as the Lynx, to moderate success (5 million were sold).  On January 1st, 1992, the VCS/2600 was officially discontinued.  In November 1993, Atari released the Jaguar game system, which proved to be the company's undoing. Hampered by poor business ethics and lack of major advertising, as well as a lack of any major 3rd-party support (a little over 100 games were made for it, over 5 years), the Lynx was eventually discontinued in 1994.   The Jaguar would follow suit 2 years later. Again, a combination of poor treatment of 3rd-party developers and suppliers, as well as a lack of any serious advertising, resulted in only 125,000 Jaguar systems being sold by December 1995, with another 100,00 left in warehouses; the Jaguar was discontinued by early 1996.  On July 30th, 1996, Atari Corp. merged with disk drive maker JTS with more of a whimper than a bang. Former Atari alumni Don Thomas wrote a short, insightful bit about the merger and the history leading up to it that asks more questions than it answers.

On February 23rd, 1998, JTS sold substantially all of the assets of the company's Atari Division, consisting primarily of Atari home computer games and the intellectual property rights and license agreements associated with such games (the "Atari Assets"), to HIACXI, Corp. ("HIAC"), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hasbro Interactive, Inc., for $5,000,000 in cash. Read the entire 8-K form that was submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding this transaction. The update of Centipede came (in small part) from the ashes of Atari Corp. Interestingly, Hasbro resurrected the Atari name and logo; many of their classic releases during that time (Atari Arcade Hits 2, for example) appeared under the Atari name.

On December 6th, 2000, Hasbro entered into a "long-term licensing agreement" with Infogrames, wherein the French company acquired 100% of Hasbro Interactive (which included the Atari bits they owned). You can read all about it in the Press Release. In October 2008, Infogrames completed its $11 million stock purchase of Atari, making it a wholly-owned subsidiary of the French publisher. In May 2009 Infogrames announced it would be changing their name to Atari, SA. In April 2010, Atari board member and former CEO David Gardner resigned, and Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell joined the board!

In January 2013, Atari US filed for bankruptcy and planned to sell all of its assets - including the famous "Fuji" logo - in an effort to distance itself from its parent company, Atari SA (Forbes article).  After approaching some 180 potential buyers (Wall Street Journal article), Atari was unable to find one willing to purchase everything, and auctioned off everything instead (Gamasutra article).


Q: What scores were needed to earn an Activision patch?

A: 2600 Connection has a section that show pictures of the patches as well as the scores needed to earn them.


Q: What does the Atari symbol represent?

A: The Atari symbol was designed by George Opperman in 1972. Pong was very popular then, and the symbol was a stylized version of a capital 'A', with the two opposing video game players representing the sides, and the center of the Pong court in the middle.


Q: What does the word "atari" mean?

A: The word atari comes from the game of Go, perhaps the world oldest board game. Nolan Bushnell described it as a polite way of saying you're about to be engulfed.  Several early 80's magazine references define atari as, "You are about to be engulfed".  Some sets of rules (such as the Japanese and World Amateur Go Championship) define it as, "A group of stones is in atari if it has only one liberty left."  For more information about the game, check out the American Go Association.


Q: Where can I find Atari-like fonts?

A: The most common Atari VCS/2600 font type is Bimini.  True Type Fonts (TTF) for it can easily be found online for free.


Q: What shows, events, or gatherings cover the VCS/2600?

A:

U.S.
Europe
  • Britmeet is an annual event held in England. The web page has all the details, as well as info and pictures from previous conventions.
  • Gamescon which is held in Cologne, Germany.
  • Eurocon is an annual event held in Europe. See the web page for the latest location and other info.


Q: What's the story about Atari being sued for not having a chess game?

A: There were 2 different boxes for the original VCS model in 1977.  6 artwork photos were changed between them:

The reason for why the artwork was changed is related to a story about someone in Florida who sued Atari for having a picture of a chess piece on the box when Atari didn't offer a chess cartridge.  The story has its roots in an article that appeared in the March 1983 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine that featured a quote from then-VP of the VCS Development group Larry Kaplan:

"When the VCS was first manufactured," Mr. Kaplan recalled, "the box had a chess piece on it. 'Those marketing guys! Come on,' we said. 'It'll never do chess.' Well, some guy in Florida sued because there was a chess piece on the cover and we didn't have a chess game."

A year later Atari's designers began developing Chess. "The guys were playing around," Allan Alcorn, then head of engineering at Atari, recalled, "and one guy said, 'I could write an algorithm, but I couldn't get a playfield on the screen.' Another guy said, 'That's easy.' "Larry Wagner wrote the algorithm; it took him two years with the help of national chess champion Julio Kaplan. Mr. Whitehead did the display in two days, developing the trick now known as Venetian blinds.

The lead designer of Atari Video Chess, Larry Wagner, once mentioned the cartridge was developed as a result of this lawsuit, but later recounted his statement and said its development started as an interesting R&D project. Bob Whitehead, the person responsible for developing the display, states he never heard of the lawsuit in question and said:

One of the corporate reasons for doing chess I heard repeated to me several times was that we needed to do 'a chess game' because it was in some of the original VCS/2600 artwork, I think even the box itself. So, 'Atari’s committed to doing it.'

The fact that artwork for games that Atari didn't have at the time (chess, tic-tac-toe, casino games) were quickly removed from the box, which gives credence to the lawsuit story.  Atari probably felt the less people that knew about the lawsuit the better, and simply didn't tell the programmers the complete story as to why they needed a chess cartridge.  By the time the IEEE Spectrum article came out in 1983, it hardly mattered.


Q: What are those black lines I see along the left side of the screen in some games?

A: The black lines are the result of using a programming trick developed by Larry Kaplan that uses what's called an HMOVE command. If an HMOVE is initiated immediately after HBlank starts (which is the case when HMOVE is used as documented), the [HMOVE] signal is latched and used to delay the end of the HBlank by exactly 8 CLK, or two counts of the HSync Counter. This is achieved in the TIA by resetting the HB (HBlank) latch on the [LRHB] (Late Reset H-Blank) counter decode rather than the normal [RHB] (Reset H-Blank) decode. The extra HBlank time shifts everything except the Playfield right by 8 pixels, because the position counters will now resume counting 8 CLK later than they would have without the HMOVE. This is also the source of the HMOVE 'comb' effect; the extended HBlank hides the normal playfield output for the first 8 pixels of the line:

 

Here's an excerpt from an article that appeared in the March 1983 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine, explaining what led to its development:

One critical MOS-dependent feature was the use of a special counter - called a polynomial counter, or pseudorandom shift register - instead of a true binary counter to determine object positions on the screen. A polynomial counter occupies one-fourth the silicon area of an equivalent binary counter, but, unlike a binary counter, it does not count in any simple order. Thus, a programmer cannot calculate a screen position for an object and load it into the position counter.

The original Stella prototype had only one signal to the position counter: a reset that would trigger the immediate display of an object. Mr. Decuir and Jay Miner, who designed the production version of the Stella chip, used this same concept in their design. As a result, displaying an object in a given position on the screen requires that the programmer count the number of clock cycles taken by a given set of instruction, figure out how far across the screen the electron beam would be after the instructions had been executed, and act accordingly. Once the position counter for an object is reset at the proper point, it continues to display the object at that spot on succeeding lines.

To move objects, the prototype blocked out four clock pulses from the position counters during the vertical blanking interval; a programmer could then add pulses to move an object left or right - four pulses had to be added to keep the object in the same place. Mr. Miner added a set of motion registers, which add or subtract pulses automatically when a signal - called H-move - is sent by the microprocessor. The H-move can be sent during the vertical blanking interval, or during the horizontal blanking interval at the beginning of each line.

"This seemed innocuous enough," said Larry Kaplan, the first software designer hired to develop games for the Stella project. "But I discovered early that it was possible to reposition player objects during a screen [a frame of the TV picture], though that was not a consideration of the design."

So Mr. Kaplan designed Air-Sea Battle, which has horizontal bands of player objects, a technique used in countless VCS games, including Space Invaders, Freeway, Asteroids, and Football. "Without that single strobe, H-move, the VCS would have died a quick death five years ago," said Mr. Kaplan, now vice president of product development at Atari.

Activision got around this by using the trick on every scanline, which effectively blacked out the screen area where the lines appear. Eric Del Sesto of M-Network also used the same method that he called "hidden V-clocks".  From Sesto:

The Atari 2600 had no video memory. Instead, the CPU had to write each line of sprite data out to a set of hardware registers, in close synchronization with the video display's horizontal retrace timing. One unfortunate side-effect of this was that the hardware would display what looked like a random set of short black horizontal lines near the left edge of the display. The M Network group had an accepted workaround for this, which would cause those lines to appear on every scanline, thereby forming a solid black border at the left edge of the display. My Monkey Business prototype demonstrated a method to eliminate those lines completely. The trick was to write to certain registers in exact synchronization with the horizontal retrace timing.


Q: Why do some of the early games automatically end after a certain amount of time?

A: After checking manuals for most of the early VCS titles, 4 were found to have a 2:16 minute time limit:

  • Air-Sea Battle
  • Combat
  • Star Ship
  • Street Racer

These games end using different time limits or rely on scoring limits:

  • Basketball (2 4-min halfs)
  • Canyon Bomber - game ends when either player uses all 6 bombs or reaches 1,000 points.
  • Indy 500 - 60 seconds in some variations, other end when one player makes 25 laps, or scores 50 points or 99 points.
  • Basic Math/Fun with Numbers - 12 or 24 second time limits
  • Night Driver (90 seconds)
  • Outlaw - 1-player game 99 seconds to score 10 points.
  • Space War - games last 10 minutes or until a player scores 10 points
  • Surround - first player to score 10 points.
  • Video Olympics - first player or team to score 21 points.

Scott Stilphen asked 3 of Atari's early VCS/2600 game designers on how 2:16 came to be used. Here's their replies.

Joe Decuir:

This is a question whose answer dates from 1976 or 1977.

There would be two parts:
- why have one?
- why this number?

Having a time limit at all applies to some games but not others. E.g. Video Olympics will end on score. Some games end when the player uses up too many resources, or achieves some goal. Some games (like Combat) could go on indefinitely, or until a certain amount of damage was taken.

I suspect that this was common in some Arcade games.

2:16 = 136 seconds = 8160 display frames ~ 8192 display frames. That is 2^13. Some arcade game probably used a binary 13 bit counter, and the practice followed.

Larry Kaplan:

Here's the comments from Combat's source code that describes it:

; GameTimer is incremented and SelDbnce reset when
; CLOCK & $3F = 0. This occurs 1 frame out of 64 or
; about once/second. Thus the game is 128*64 frames
; or about 2 minutes long.
;

128*64 = 8192 frames / 60 fps = 136.5 seconds = 2 min 16 seconds

Yes, we always minimized code and cut corners so it was easier to do 64 frames than 60. 4 min 32 seemed too long, so we started timer at 128 and inc'ed until 0.

Bob Whitehead:

8196 frames or (8196/60) 2 to the power of 13 divided by 60 is equal to approximately 136.5 seconds. It was an easy equivalent to 2 minutes using a simple base 2 digital counter. It means if the programmer needs 2 minutes, it's cheaper in code to just use a 13 bit counter. You will see this approximation to minutes throughout all the games (i.e., 68 seconds instead of 60). Programmers were disparate for program bytes and saving a dozen program bytes was critical sometimes.

Two things to note:

1.) Atari 2600 frames are not exactly 1/60 of a second (it has to do with not using interlacing half lines and the system's digital clock speed).

2.) More importantly, 2 minutes are kind of a standard player attention span per level that was understood from the coin op days and propagated by the 2600's "casual" short attention span style games. "2 minutes" has its roots in the coin op arena.


Q:
Why do some some games exhibit color-cycling if left on too long, and others don't?

A: The color-cycling is an early example of what's now called a screensaver.  Systems prior to the VCS/2600 had a nasty habit of burning-in people's TVs with game graphics such as scores and boundary lines.  The VCS/2600 offered protection from burn-in damage by slowly cycling through all the 128 possible colors.  Contrary to popular belief (due to how Atari marketed this feature), the color-cycling is not built into the hardware; it's a code routine that was written by Joe Decuir.  All the system manuals up to 1984 (except the 1982 manuals for some reason) include the following statement:

"Your Atari 2600 Video Computer System game is engineered not to show a phosphor memory of the playfield or score digits."

The Sears Tele-Games manuals have a slight variation to this:

"Your Sears Cartridge Tele-Games System Video Arcade is engineered to help eliminate phosphor memory of the playfield and score digits."


Q: What was the SwordQuest contest? What happened with the prizes?

A: The SwordQuest Challenge was conceived by Howard Scott Warshaw and Steve Wright, and originally was called the Adventure Series.  It encompasses 4 separate games: EarthWorld, FireWorld, WaterWorld, and AirWorld, which each game having its own contest.  The prizes were valued at $25,000 (although the first 2 were worth a bit less at the time they were awarded). 

The series was to culminate in 1984 with the winner from each of the 4 contests facing off for the grand prize: the $50,000 SwordQuest Sword.  From Howard Scott Warshaw:

We were driving back from a brainstorming session in Monterey. Warner had just bought D.C. Comics and we were going back-and-forth talking about getting a comic book series tie-in with D.C. Tod Frye did all the designs, with the four elements and how to tie everything together, which added up to about $200k worth of code! It was a cool concept, but early on though I felt that it wouldn’t come together the way we imagined.

Each game represented one of the 4 Symbols of Astrology:

Earth (directed will - energy radiating out from the center; action)
Fire
(physical - force that holds the atoms together; practical applications; consolidation)
Water
(intellect; the energy that shapes the pattern of things to come; communication)
Air
(soul, emotions; power of the unconscious mind; connecting to the source; reception).

The games and contest were promoted heavily by Atari's own Atari Age magazine.  The first 2 games, EarthWorld and FireWorld, were released, and the contest were held and the prizes awarded.  The 3rd game, WaterWorld, ultimately fell victim to the infamous industry "crash"; it only saw a limited release, as it was initially only available through the Atari Age magazine (copies eventually reached store shelves at the height of the crash, and priced at only a few dollars).  The programming for the 4th game, AirWorld, was started but never completed.

As for the remaining 3 prizes, it has long been rumored that the SwordQuest Sword (and possibly the prizes for WaterWorld and AirWorld) ended up in the hands of Jack Tramiel.  The person who first posted this story personally saw the sword hanging over the mantle of Tramiel's fireplace, and noted it had an Atari “fuji” symbol on it, although the only artwork to depict that was the EarthWorld pamphlet. All the other artwork is identical to the only known photograph of the sword (from the FireWorld contest).  It's possible the Atari symbol is only on one side of the handle. There are also those who (recently) claim to have spoken with either Jack Tramiel or his son, Leonard, with both claiming Jack did not have it.  While Jack may not have had it by that point, neither Jack or Leonard confirmed or denied that he ever had it, and any claims that Warner kept the prizes during the transfer of ownership of Atari to Tramiel are completely unsubstantiated rumors.  The current belief is the sword still remains with the Tramiel family.  Hopefully one day the truth will come out, and with it, full disclosure of what happened to the remaining 3 prizes.

Scott Stilphen wrote an in-depth article about the contest, called SwordQuest Revisited.


Q:
Are there still VCS/2600-related contests being held?

A: Yes. The following sites maintain active contests and high score challenges:

 

SOFTWARE


Q: How many different games were made for the VCS/2600?

A: At last count, there are 478 unique, original games that were officially released, not counting prototypes (137), homebrews (205), or titles that were renamed or slightly altered. If you include all the pirate clones and unauthorized versions (7,243), the grand total swells to over 8,000!  And then there's the 1,000+ hacks that have been created over the years...


Q: Where can I find games for my VCS/2600 or the console itself?

A:  Besides Ebay, there are still several sources for new game cartridges, such as:

Other sources for both new games, used games and consoles include:

  • flea markets
  • independent video game stores
  • message boards
  • newsgroups such as rec.games.video.classic (RGVC) and rec.games.video.marketplace (RGVM)
  • newspaper classified ads
  • thrift stores
  • web pages of many collectors


Q: Where can I download game instructions?

A: Several sites offer manuals online, in text, html, and PDF formats:


Q: What are the best and/or most popular games for the VCS/2600?

A: This can be a subjective matter, of course, but here are some of the most popular:

  • Adventure
  • Air-Sea Battle
  • Asteroids
  • Atlantis
  • Breakout
  • Chopper Command
  • Circus Atari
  • Combat
  • Decathlon, The Activision
  • Defender
  • Demon Attack
  • Donkey Kong
  • Enduro
  • Frogger
  • Galaxian
  • H.E.R.O.
  • Haunted House
  • Kaboom
  • Keystone Kapers
  • Megamania
  • Missile Command
  • Moon Patrol
  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pac-Man
  • Phoenix
  • Pitfall!
  • River Raid
  • Seaquest
  • Solaris
  • Space Invaders
  • Tennis
  • Vanguard
  • Video Pinball
  • Warlords
  • Yars' Revenge


Q: What are the most common and most rare games for the VCS/2600?

A: The simple law of supply and demand is the biggest determining factor; the more popular a game was or the more copies that were produced back in the day, the less valuable (monetarily) a game is worth.  Some of the best and most popular games are only worth a few dollars at most.  It's the games from small companies with production runs limited to a few hundred or even a few dozen that are worth more to collectors, since they're the hardest to find.  Other factors are the condition of the cart and the packaging, what label variation it is, and whether the cart is loose or includes the box and manual (CIB or Complete In Box), and if so, whether or not the box is sealed. Several sites offer online price and/or rarity guides, as do several books.  Generally, you'll find higher prices on Ebay than you would through online message boards.

As for which game is the rarest, that game is Air Raid by Men-A-Vision.  This was the one and only release from this company, which has a unique, blue, T-bar handle-shaped cartridge casing.  Less than a dozen copies have been found since the mid-'90s. A boxed copy went up for sale on eBay in 2010, and sold for a staggering $31k - nearly 10x the value of a loose cart.  And like most rare carts, it's a horrible game (to play).  What's worse, the game is actually a hacked/pirated version of U.S. Games' Space Jockey (a game that's currently worth about $3 boxed)!


Q: What VCS/2600 software was announced but never released?

A: 2600 Connection has a list for most with photos and related info here.


Q: What was GameLine and what games were available for it?  Were there any other services like it?

A: GameLine was a service offered by Control Video Corporation that allowed you to download games to the VCS/2600 over regular phone lines via the use of their GameLine Master Module.  The Module included a variable 800-2000 baud modem (more tech info can be found on the Stella Archive). It originally sold for $49.95 and there was a one-time membership fee of $15. Charges were about $.10 a game or $1 for up to an hour of play. Contest games were $1 and there was a $.50 charge to enter a score. On your birthday, not only were you given free play for a day, but you also received a Happy Birthday screen, complete with cake, candles and music.  One of the game catalogs that was archived lists 76 games (a copy of which is on Atarimania), which included Save The Whales - a game long thought to be vaporware,  until it was found!  While the service did not last very long, the charred ashes of the service begat what is now AOL.

2 other similar services were close to going into service at the time.  One was a joint venture between Atari and Activision in 1983 called Electronic Publishing Systems (EPS).  They developed the "Electronic Pipeline", a game service for the Atari VCS/2600 that was to sell wireless game cartridges with which users could select and play up to 40 different games each month for a low monthly subscription fee. A TV commercial was created for it, and the service was in alpha testing and a mere 4 days from installing the transmission equipment in the first test market when it was indefinitely postponed due to Warner's sale of Atari in 1984.

The other was "Project Zelda", a top-secret plan to distribute games online (via cable).  From to Steve Kranish (who designed the head end hardware):

The basic idea was that Parker would provide a TV channel signal to cable operators that contained the multiplexed (interleaved) data for their game cartridges. Parker would sell – or the cable operators would subsidize – a special cartridge for the Atari 2600 that would plug into the 2600, and had a cable that would connect to your cable box. In the 1982-83 timeframe, the only distribution channel for games was physical hardware, and cartridges dominated the market. Someone decided there must be another way to distribute games. The chosen solution was the rapidly expanding field of cable TV. This was during the time when Beverly, MA was first wired for coax, so we had cable access available locally." The cartridge menu software worked similar to the GameLine, in that since the menu contents would change frequently, they had to first be downloaded before they could be displayed. At some point, Parker got cold feet and abruptly cancelled the project. The official reason given was Atari - being owned by Warner Brothers, with Warner being a partner in Warner-Amex Cable (a major cable TV company at that time) - must be planning to do the same thing. With their access to cable operators, and deeper pockets, there was no way that Parker would be able to compete with them.

Steve Kranish states there might have been another possible reason:

Zelda would have put Parker directly into the distribution business, competing with its major customers such as Toys-R-Us. As a direct distributor of (video game) content, Parker would have even been in a position to handle material from other video game producers, if it wanted to. This could have given it a very dominant position in the business. The channel was to have been used to milk a little more money from older games, and provide ‘teaser’ access to new games that would be available for a few days, and then taken off the channel for a few months, to encourage cartridge sales. But putting Parker in direct competition with its biggest customers would have been very bad for the traditional (paper) side of the business, which needed Toys-R-Us and the like as a distribution channel. So it is possible that this conflict of interests played a major role in the demise of Zelda.


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use the Paddle controllers?

A:

  • Astroblast (also can use a joystick)
  • Bachelor Party / Bachelorette Party / Gigolo / Burning Desire
  • Backgammon
  • Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em / Lady in Wading
  • Blackjack
  • Breakout / Breakaway IV
  • Bugs
  • Bumper Bash
  • Canyon Bomber
  • Casino / Poker Plus
  • Circus Atari / Circus
  • Demons to Diamonds
  • Eggomania
  • Encounter at L-5
  • Fireball
  • G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike / Action Force
  • Guardian
  • Kaboom!
  • Marble Craze
  • Mondo Pong
  • Music Machine
  • Night Driver
  • Party Mix
  • Picnic
  • Piece O Cake
  • SCSIcide
  • Secret Agent
  • Solar Storm
  • Star Wars: Jedi Arena
  • Steeplechase
  • Street Racer / Speedway II
  • Super Breakout
  • Swoops!
  • Tac-Scan
  • Turbo
  • unknown "Bear" game (prototype)
  • Video Olympics / Pong Sports
  • Warlords
  • Warplock


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use the Driving controllers?

A:

  • Indy 500
  • Stell-A-Sketch (homebrew program)
  • Thrust Plus: Driving Controller version (homebrew program)


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use a light gun?

A:

  • Sentinel
  • Shooting Arcade (prototype only)

Atari released the G1 light gun for use with the VCS/2600 and 7800.  It's the same as the XG-1 model that came with the XEGS, except that it's orange instead of grey.  Best Electronics sells their own version, called Best Atari Light Gun, which supposedly works better than Atari's own. Also, see the entry for rewiring a Sega light gun down in the "projects" section of this FAQ.


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use the Keyboard controllers? The Video Touch Pad? The Kid's controllers?

A: All 3 controllers work the same way, and are compatible with the following games, although the overlays will only fit one type (listed after title):

  • A Game of Concentration (Hunt & Score, Memory Match) - Keyboard controllers
  • Alpha Beam with Ernie - Kid's controllers
  • BASIC Programming - Keyboard controllers
  • Big Bird's Egg Catch - Kid's controllers
  • Brain Games - Keyboard controllers
  • Codebreaker - Keyboard controllers
  • Cookie Monster Munch - Kid's controllers
  • Grover's Music Maker (prototype) - Kid's controllers
  • Holey Moley (prototype) - Kid's controllers
  • MagiCard - Keyboard controllers
  • Monstercise (prototype) - Kid's controllers
  • Peek-A-Boo (prototype) - Kid's controllers
  • Oscar's Trash Race - Kid's controllers
  • Star Raiders - Video Touch Pad


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use more than 1 controller?

A:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark - The left joystick controls the inventory strip; the right joystick controls your character.
  • Spy Hunter - utilized the fire buttons from both joysticks, and a plastic joystick holder was included, which allowed you to snap two standard Atari sticks in and operate them as if they were one controller.
  • Star Raiders - Both a joystick (in the left port) and a Video Touch Pad (in the right port) are used.


Q: Which VCS/2600 games use the system switches during a game?

A:

  • Dark Chambers - has an undocumented pause feature, by use of the TV Type switch
  • Off The Wall - has an undocumented pause feature, by use of the TV Type switch
  • Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space -  used an overlay that fitted over the top of a standard 2600 console
  • Xenophobe - has an undocumented pause feature, by use of the TV Type switch


Q: Which VCS/2600 games have digitized voice samples?

A:

  • Quadrun
  • Open Sesame (PAL game)
  • Berzerk: Voice Enhanced (hacked version of Berzerk)


Q: What VCS/2600 carts do not work on the 7800?

A: There are known incompatibilities with some NTSC versions of the 7800 (PAL 7800s seem to be unaffected). Games that may not work include:

  • BurgerTime
  • Dark Chambers
  • Decathlon, The Activision
  • Robot Tank
  • Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space
  • Supercharger
  • Time Pilot

Overall, 7800s manufactured between 1984 and 1986 are more compatible than systems made after 1986.  Below is a compatibility chart by James Randall that shows the testing results from 17 different systems made between 1984 and 1988.  Of those, only 3 (highlighted in yellow) proved to be fully compatible:

From James Randall:

In regards to compatibility there is nothing consistent. I did end up with 3 units that could play anything I threw at them, but having a similar unit to these is no guarantee of 100% compatibility. I used the 7800 Diagnostic cart to calibrate the color and to check for errors. I used Double Dragon to test the consoles 2-button functionality for each player. Food Fight, Dark Chambers, and Santa Simon were checked to see if they would load and play fine. All units worked fine with Food Fight and Dark Chambers. Santa Simon did not work on 2 units and was almost playable on another.

For 2600 testing I used both cartridges "(C )" and the Harmony cart "(H)". It was interesting that using the Harmony cart gave me near 100% compatibility for all units. Another great reason to get one! For the two instances where BurgerTime did not work via Harmony, the real cart worked fine.

None of the units had problems with the real cart versions of BurgerTime, Kool-Aid Man, or Stargate.
Time Pilot was easily the most difficult cart for the 7800 units to handle, followed by Decathlon.

The Color Bar Generator and TestCart were not for compatibility but I did use them for console functionality and color calibration (2600 mode).

For the early units (EP, AT84&85), the motherboards and serial numbers did not follow any sequence. An early serial number is not a guarantee that the motherboard is an early model as well. Even my "test market" EP motherboard was made in the 24th week of 1984 whereas another unit had a motherboard made in the 21st week. I guess Atari made a bunch of motherboards in 1984 and when they were assembled into the casings then it was whatever the person on the assembly line grabbed.

Also, I did have three units with the different rainbow pattern on the front of the 7800, including my "early" EP unit. These are marked with an (*). Normally, most rainbows on the 7800 start in yellow and end in green, but few start in red and end in purple. This is cool as it corresponds to the actual visual spectrum of light (a real rainbow).

Also, my lowest serial number AT84 unit only has a hole for the expansion port but no pins. It is also made in the 27th week of 1984. This is weird as other models made in 1986 or 1987 still had the full port with pins. Maybe this was simply an error?

In addition, we've found a 7800 system (Atari Corp. serial A1 72R4BR 5154270, Rev A 3187 pcb) that doesn't run BurgerTime or He-Man using a Harmony cartridge.  All the chips on the pcb were soldered.  There was no Expansion slot nor any markings on the case for it.  Another one we found (Atari Corp. serial A1 72RBR 5774010, Rev A 0287) ran both BurgerTime and He-Man using a Harmony cartridge.  3 of the large chips were socketed and there was an Expansion slot.  Some homebrews such as Boulder Dash also have incompatibility issues with some 7800 systems.

The conventional wisdom saying that a deck with the expansion port will work with anything is false. Presence or absence of the port is not a reliable indicator of compatibility with all VCS/2600 carts.

  • Likewise, the deck's geographical origin is not a reliable indicator. The one manufactured in China (#5) has fewer compatibility problems than the others, but it still has some.
  • The oldest deck (#1) performed flawlessly in all tests. This is probably from the earliest production run, and was either sold in one of the limited test-markets or was warehoused until Atari Corp realized the home video game market was still viable.

The manufacturing standards of systems made in 1984 are better than those made later. All the major chips inside are all socketed instead of being soldered directly to the board. Some of the other decks also have had some minor factory patchwork performed. They occasionally have resistors bridging points where they were clearly not originally intended to be, i.e. soldered directly to a chip pin or placed on the underside of the board.


Q: What is the Starpath CD and can I still get one?

A: The Starpath Supercharger Game Collection on CD, or Stella Gets a New Brain was a non-profit, long-awaited labor of love from the CyberPuNKs (Russ Perry Jr., Glenn Saunders, Jim Nitchals and Dan Skelton). This CD not only contains NTSC and PAL versions of most of the Supercharger games (PAL Survival Island is missing), but also development tools, a collection of Supercharger and Vectrex material, and several surprises (including SoundX and the UR Polo from Carol Shaw). There were 2 different versions of the Starpath CD made. Some things on the first version were not included (e.g. the Vectrex stuff, Polo) while other things were added.

Hozer Video Games eventually bought out the CyberPuNKs remaining inventory of these, and the CDs have long since been sold out.  Copies occasionally surface on Ebay.


Q: Have any new games been released lately?

A: Over the past couple of years, many new games have been developed for the Atari VCS/2600. Many of these can either be purchased or downloaded at 2600 Connection, Atariage, Atarimania, or Digital Press. Here is a partial list of new games released in the last 5 years:

  • Alien Greed 4 - adventure game
  • Avalanche - A port of the Atari coin-op game that supports both joysticks and paddles.
  • Bell Hopper - A port of the 2006 flash game Winterbells that supports both joysticks and paddles.
  • Boulder Dash - An impressive port of the Atari 8-bit classic.
  • Dungeon - A turn-based RPG, similar to Temple of Apshai and Telengard, with some optional side quests.
  • Elevators Amiss! - A knock-off of Fred Caprilli's Atari 8-bit game Elevator Repairman.
  • Halo 2600 - A port of the popular war game by none other than Ed Fries!
  • Juno First - Excellent port of the arcade game.
  • Kite! - A kite-flying simulation.
  • Lady Bug - Amazing port of the Universal arcade game.
  • Lead - A 4-stage,16K vertical shooter.
  • Mean Santa - A holiday-themed game similar to the Atari 8-bit game, Special Delivery.
  • Medieval Mayhem - A fantastic version of Atari's classic Warlords game.
  • Melbourne Tatty - An action/puzzle game with 20 different levels.
  • Squish 'Em - Another great port of an Atari 8-bit classic.
  • Stacker - A port of the popular arcade redemption game.


Q: Where can I find a list of tricks and Easter Eggs?

A: 2600 Connection maintains the most complete and up-to-date list of Atari VCS/2600 Easter Eggs


Q: What programming resources are available?

A:


Q: Is there a list of VCS/2600 game programmers?

A:


Q: Where can I get solutions to the SwordQuest series?

A: 2600 Connection now hosts Walton C. Gibson and Keita Iida's SwordQuest Archive of Adventure, which offers the solutions.


Q:  What's the story with Sears Tele-Games, and why do some games
have different titles?

A: Atari's relationship with Sears Roebuck and Co. started with their home Pong system.  Under their arrangement, Sears helped Atari in contacting a venture capitalist to obtain the additional funds needed to help with producing the Pong system.  In return, Sears would be the exclusive distributor of Pong through the 1975 holiday season on the condition they were rebadged as Sears products.  These were given the Tele-Games Electronic Games moniker.  This rebadging continued with several other dedicated systems, up to and including the VCS/2600. 

It's unknown why exactly this was done.  Although collectors like them (Tele-Games carts - especially those complete with box and manual - are harder to find), they often end up being a source of confusion and frustration for owners, especially when they find out what they initially thought was a new game ends up being something else (and sometimes one they already own).

A total of 26 different titles were renamed under the Sears Tele-Games label.  Here's the complete list:

ATARI SEARS TELE-GAMES
Air-Sea Battle Target Fun
Basic Math Math
Breakout Breakaway IV
Casino               Poker Plus
Circus Atari  Circus
Combat  Tank Plus
Dodge 'Em Dodger Cars
Flag Capture Capture
Hangman Spelling
Home Run Baseball
Human Cannonball Cannon Man
Hunt & Score Memory Match
Indy 500 Race
Maze Craze  Maze Mania
Miniature Golf Arcade Golf
Outlaw Gunslinger
Sky Diver Dare Diver
Slot Machine Slots
Slot Racers Maze
Space War Space Combat
Star Ship Outer Space
Street Racer Speedway II
Surround Chase
Video Checkers Checkers
Video Olympics Pong Sports
Video Pinball Arcade Pinball

 

A total of 58 different titles were released under the Sear Tele-Games label.  Here's the complete list:

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe
Adventure
Arcade Golf
Arcade Pinball
Asteroids
Backgammon
Baseball
Basketball
Berzerk
Black Jack
Bowling
Brain Games
Breakaway IV
Cannon Man
Canyon Bomber
Capture
Chase
Checkers
Circus
Codebreaker
Dare Diver
Defender
Demons to Diamonds
Dodger Cars
Football
Golf
Gunslinger
Haunted House
Math
Math Gran Prix
Maze
Maze Mania
Memory Match
Missile Command
Night Driver
Othello
Outer Space
Pac-Man
Poker Plus
Pong Sports
Race
Slots
Soccer
Space Combat
Space Invaders
Speedway II
Spelling
Star Raiders
Steeplechase *
Stellar Track *
Submarine Commander *

Super Breakout **
Superman
Tank-Plus
Target Fun
Video Chess
Warlords
Yars' Revenge

Star Raiders was the last Atari game to be published in both Atari and Sears-style packaging.

* These were Sears exclusives and were never released under the Atari label.

** The Sears version was initially released first as an "exclusive" in 1981, which means Atari probably didn't have much faith in it being popular. The Atari version was released in January the following year.


Q:  Are any release dates known for the games?

A: Here's the most complete list we have.  Specific release dates listed with some are those listed with the U.S. Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov/).  The site's online database only goes as far back to 1978 (so the dates listed for any 1977 titles are not correct):

1977

Air-Sea Battle (1-2-1978)
Basic Math (1-2-1978)
Blackjack
Combat  (1-2-1978)
Indy 500 (1-2-1978)
Star Ship (1-2-1978)
Street Racer (2-8-1978)
Surround (1-2-1978)
Video Olympics
 

1978

Basketball
Brain Games (1-2-1978)
Breakout
Codebreaker (1-2-1978)
Flag Capture (1-2-1978)
Hangman – 1st 4K cart!
Home Run (1-2-1978)
Hunt & Score (1-2-1978)
Outlaw (2-8-1978)
Slot Racers (7-12-1978)
Space War
 

1979

Backgammon (Special Edition cart)
BASIC Programming (Special Edition cart)
Bowling (1-26-1979)
Canyon Bomber (1-2-1979)
Casino (Special Edition cart - FIRST)
Football
Human Cannonball (1-2-1979)
Miniature Golf
Sky Diver
Slot Machine
Superman (late '79) (Special Edition cart) (6-1-1979)
Video Chess (Special Edition cart)

 

1980

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe
Adventure (6-29-1980)
Championship Soccer (Special Edition cart)
Circus Atari  (1-10-1980)
Concentration, A Game of (Hunt & Score)
Dodge 'Em
Fun with Numbers (Basic Math)
Golf
Maze Craze
Night Driver (6-22-1980)
Space Invaders (3-10-1980)
Steeplechase (Sears exclusive)
Video Checkers


1981

Asteroids (originally planned for July release, but wasn't released until September. Also was the 1st 8K released)
Missile Command (June)
Othello (Feb - last text label release)
Stellar Track (Sears exclusive)
Super Breakout - Sears version (summer)
Video Pinball (3-25-1981 - first picture release)
Warlords (4-1-1981)


1982

Berzerk (Aug) w/ Vol 2 of Atari Force – mentioned in July/August 1982 issue of Atari Age
Defender (June) w/ Vol 1 of Atari Force – mentioned in May/June 1982 issue of Atari Age
Combat Two (Dec) – not released (8K) - mentioned in Sept/Oct 1982 and Nov 1983/Dec 1984 issues of Atari Age
Demons To Diamonds (July) – mentioned in July/August 1982 issue of Atari Age
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Dec) (8K) – mentioned in November/December 1982 issue of Atari Age
Frog Pond (Nov) – not released (8K)
Haunted House (Feb)
Math Gran Prix (July) – mentioned in July/August 1982 issue of Atari Age
Pac-Man (Mar)- April 3rd, 1982 was the official release date, dubbed “National Pac-Man Day” by Atari.
Raiders of the Lost Ark* (Nov) (orig. Sept) (8K) – mentioned in November/December 1982 issue of Atari Age
Realsports Baseball (Oct) (orig. Sept) (8K) – mentioned in September/October 1982 issue of Atari Age
Realsports Football (Dec) (orig. Sept) (8K) – 1st mentioned in September/October 1982 issue of Atari Age, and later in November/December 1982 issue
Realsports Volleyball (Oct) (orig. Sept) – mentioned in September/October 1982 issue of Atari Age
Star Raiders (Sept) w/ Vol 3 of Atari Force $39.95 (8K) – mentioned in September/October 1982 issue of Atari Age
Submarine Commander (Sears exclusive)
Super Breakout – Atari version (1-8-1982)
Swordquest Earthworld (Oct) (8K) – mentioned in September/October 1982 issue of Atari Age
Yars' Revenge (4-27-1982) – mentioned in May/June 1982 issue of Atari Age

Action Pak (April)

* Atari announced it as November release, but it was the first silver label sold through Sears which would put it on the shelves in late September/early October before Earthworld was released. The retail sheet I once owned showed ROTLA as a September release. A label variant of Raiders of the Lost Ark exists with a normal silver label on top, and an orange Sears-style end label. No silver-labeled Atari carts have any Sears-labeled counterparts, so this is exactly where the Sears label variants era ended.

A Sears manual for SwordQuest EarthWorld also exists, which is owned by former Atari technical writer John-Michael Battaglia. This may have been a one-off, as no Sears EW carts have ever been found.


1983

Alpha Beam With Ernie (Sept) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Atari Video Cube – GCC (box copyright dated 1983, screen & cart dated 1982 – released no later than April) – mentioned in May/June 1983 issue of Atari Age
Battlezone – GCC (10-15-1983) – mentioned in July/August 1983 issue of Atari Age
Big Bird's Egg Catch – mentioned in November 1983/February 1984 issue of Atari Age
Centipede – GCC (2-1-1983) – mentioned in March/April 1983 issue of Atari Age
Cookie Monster Munch (Sept) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Crazy Climber (Mar) – mentioned in January/February 1983 issue of Atari Age
Dig Dug – GCC (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Dukes of Hazzard, The (Mar/Apr) – not released (8K) mentioned in Nov/Dec 1982 issue of Atari Age)
Galaxian – GCC w/ Vol 5 of Atari Force (Apr) – mentioned in March/April 1983 issue of Atari Age
Gravitar (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Joust – GCC (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Jungle Hunt – GCC – mentioned in May/June 1983 issue of Atari Age
Kangaroo – GCC – mentioned in May/June 1983 issue of Atari Age
Krull (Sept) – mentioned in July/August 1983 issue of Atari Age
Mario Bros. – mentioned in November 1983/February 1984 issue of Atari Age
Moon Patrol – GCC (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Ms. Pac-Man - GCC (Feb) – mentioned in January/February 1983 issue of Atari Age
Phoenix - GCC w/ Vol 4 of Atari Force (Jan) – mentioned in January/February 1983 issue of Atari Age
Pigs In Space – mentioned in November 1983/February 1984 issue of Atari Age
Pole Position – GCC – mentioned in July/August 1983 issue of Atari Age
Quadrun – release was delayed – mentioned in November 1983/February 1984 issue of Atari Age
RealSports Soccer (Apr) – mentioned in March/April 1983 issue of Atari Age
RealSports Tennis (Apr) – mentioned in March/April 1983 issue of Atari Age
Snoopy And The Red Baron – mentioned in November 1983/February 1984 issue of Atari Age
Sorcerer's Apprentice (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
SwordQuest FireWorld (Feb) (orig. Nov 82) – mentioned in January/February 1983 issue of Atari Age
SwordQuest WaterWorld (Oct) – mentioned in September/October 1983 issue of Atari Age
Vanguard - GCC (Jan) – mentioned in January/February 1983 issue of Atari Age


1984

Crystal Castles (Apr) – mentioned in March/April 1984 issue of Atari Age
Millipede (Mar) – mentioned in March/April 1984 issue of Atari Age
Oscar's Trash Race (Mar) (screen copyright 1983) – mentioned in March/April 1984 issue of Atari Age
Rubik’s Cube – GCC (screen copyright 1982)
Stargate (Jun) – mentioned in March/April 1984 issue of Atari Age
Taz (Apr) (screen copyright 1983) – mentioned in March/April 1984 issue of Atari Age
Track & Field – GCC

 

1985

--none--

 

1986

Jr. Pac-Man
Midnight Magic
Solaris


1987

Crossbow
Defender II
Desert Falcon
Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Junior
Mouse Trap
Q*Bert
RealSports Boxing
Venture


1988

32 in 1
Dark Chambers
Double Dunk
Sprint Master
Super Baseball
Super Football


1989

Ikari Warriors
Off The Wall
Radar Lock
Road Runner
Secret Quest


1990

BMX Airmaster
Fatal Run
Klax
Motorodeo
Sentinel
Xenophobe
 

Copyright dates - either onscreen or on the packaging - are not always accurate and cannot be relied on.

 

HARDWARE


Q: How many VCS/2600 systems were sold?

A: Here's a rough timeline based on the available info (below).

10-12 January/February 1983
12 March 1983
14 February 1984
25 1988
30 total (worldwide?)

Atari's own "Consumer Electronics Division (Jan/Feb) 1983" press kit has a letter about the 2600 (My First) Computer, mentioning "an installed base of more than 10 million VCS owners..."

A January 1983 press release from Starpath notes there being "12 million Atari VCS owners".    Not sure why or how Starpath was using a higher figure at this point.

The March 1983 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine states "...over 12 million sold at about $140 apiece".

Both the April and May 1983 issues of Antic magazine mention there being a user base of 10 million VCS systems, but they would have been using whatever figures Atari was publishing.

The May/June 1983 issue of Atari Inside notes "...an installed base of more than 12 million VCS owners."

A May 1983 press release from Unitronics regarding its Interface Module I refers to "an installed base of more than 12 million VCS owners".

The "Atari 2nd Half 1983" press kit has a flyer about the Graduate that states there are over 12 million VCS owners.

From Jed Margolin's archive of Atari VAX messages is this February 1st, 1984 email from Chris Downend:

The Quality of 2600 carts is the pits - no doubt about it. The system was introduced in 1977 so it is SEVEN years old. I think Breakout and Space Invaders are decent renditions of the coin-op originals and those are 1976 and 1979 games respectively. But with 14 million 2600's out there, financial issues outweigh aesthetic issues.

2 internal Atari memos from 1988 (one regarding Axlon games, and the other regarding Atari hardware) state 25 million systems were sold by then.

The book, "Encyclopedia of Game Machines", lists 30 million VCS systems sold (total - worldwide).

The accuracy of these last 2 figures is questionable, unless the figures Atari stated in 1983 were based on domestic (U.S.) sales only.  But if true, what reason would they have to do that?

Sales numbers have been reported anywhere from 9-12 million units sold in the U.S. by the time the 2600 JR was released in 1986. Given Atari's own statements in 1983, and the fact that the system was actively pushed by Atari until mid-1984, I'd say the 12 million would be the low-end estimate. Perhaps 12-15 would be more accurate. But to see basically the same figures between 1984-1991 that were seen between 1977-1984 would be impossible, especially considering Atari's own cartridge sales figures from 1986-1990 paled in comparison.


Q: What are the different VCS/2600 models?

A:

ATARI VIDEO COMPUTER SYSTEM (VCS) - model CX2600

Originally released in October of 1977. There are 6 switches on top of this model (Power, Color/ B&W, Left and Right Difficulty (A and B), Game Select, and Game Reset).  All the text on the switch panel is in lower-case. The power and controller jacks are on the back. The pack-in game was Combat, which seems an odd choice to make considering that of the 9 games originally released, that's the only one without any 1-player variations.  The system also included 2 joysticks and paddles. The in-house nickname for the system, "Stella", was not derived from a female employee like most Atari hardware projects were, but rather designer Joe Decuir's bicycle. The wood grain case was designed by Douglas Hardy and Fredrick Thompson. The original 1977 models were made in Sunnyvale and are called "heavy sixers" (1st photo) by the gaming community because the plastic casing is thicker and heavier, and the base is slightly more rounded than the standard 6-switch (2nd photo), which were produced between 1978-79 and made in Hong Kong; by early 1983 the bulk of all production of home video games and computers was shifted to Hong Kong and Taiwan (article). The photos below show the major differences between the "heavy" and "light" 6-switch models:

 

The original "heavy sixers" released did not have a channel selector switch (it was preset for channel 3); there's no switch on the board, and typically no hole in the case for it (if there is, it might be marked CHANNEL SELECT A/B):

 

The last "heavy sixers" released included the channel selector switch and modified case.  Also, all 6-switch models have the motherboard board within a heavy-duty aluminum casing. You can see this around the cartridge port.

ATARI VIDEO COMPUTER SYSTEM (VCS) - model CX2600A

The VCS was redesigned in 1980.  This model, 2600A, has 4 switches on top (Power, Color/ B&W, Game Select, and Game Reset). All the text on the switch panel is in upper-case. The 2 internal circuit boards were integrated into one, and the heavy aluminum shielding was replaced with a thin, metal casing.  The difficulty switches are on the upper-backside of the console, along with the power connector, controller jacks, and channel switch; the top edge of the case has raised lettering for each. These 2 photos show the differences with the back of the case between the 2600 model and the 2600A model:

The channel selector switch was also relocated to the back of the case, next to the right controller jack, and is now marked CHANNEL 2-3.

The box shows a few different game-related pictures, but the system shown on the box is a "heavy-four" (which was never produced)! Some cases (esp. those made by Dimerco Electronics in Taiwan) don't have a hole in the bottom for color pot adjustments.

Some of the early 2600A models have "light" 6-switch bottom cases, probably done to use up the remaining inventory.  These have a thick, black piece of tape covering the opening for what would have been used for the power and controller jacks:

ATARI VIDEO COMPUTER SYSTEM (2600) - model CX2600

In 1982 the system became known as the "2600", and besides having a black front panel (instead of wood grain) and unpainted trim around the switch panel, the system box was silver. Collectors sometimes refer to this version as the 2600 "Vader" because of the all-black style. The trim around the joysticks was also unpainted. The difficulty switches are marked the same as the later 2600A variant.  The manual lists the model number as "2600" (no 'A'). A few systems have the model number "CX-2600 CR".  Starting in 1983, both Pac-Man and Combat were included, but paddles were not. A company flyer from that year notes it was priced to sell at under $100. PAL systems have the model number "2600 AP". Some cases (esp. those made by Dimerco Electronics in Taiwan) don't have a hole in the bottom for color pot adjustments.

A slight variation was made with this raised lettering - the original 2600A version labels the difficulty switches as:

DIFFICULTY
A                 B

A later variation labels them as:

   DIFFICULTY
      A             B

EXPERT  NOVICE

ATARI 2600 (JR) - model CX2100

This is a VCS/2600 in a very compact and sleek case (commonly referred to as a 2600 "Junior"), which was originally designed for other uses (the 2200 and Voice Controller). Mark Biassotti designed the case, based on a concept by Regan Cheng. The system was originally designed to incorporate a new 3-in-1 chip called "JAN" which combined the MPU, TIA, and RIOT chipset. A prototype came with 1 joystick and Combat, in a 'lunchbox'-style box; the released version had a similar box but no pack-in game. Development was completed in 1983 and it started shipping the following year. Labeled as the "Atari Video Computer System, Model #2600", it included the Pro-Line CX24 joysticks (same that were released with the 7800). Production stopped in 1984 and when it started up again in 1986, it was renamed the "2600 JR" (some have "JR" on the bottom sticker). At least 3 different versions of this model were produced. The 1st has a short "rainbow" graphic on the top metal panel:

The 2nd has a long rainbow graphic that spans the width of the system:

The 3rd doesn't have a metal panel (and may only have been sold in Ireland):

The motherboards are all copyrighted 1983 and most revisions have the name "ACTION" them (same with 7800 pcbs). This may have been another codename. Several different boxes exist as well and different joysticks were included (CX40, CX24, or CX78). A white JR surfaced recently, which may or may not have been a fake.

A unique 1-chip NTSC variant exists which may use the original JAN chip. The pcb is marked "Rev 4" and there's no date or "ACTION" name on it. This variant is sometimes called a "unicorn". There's other differences, such as no color adjustment pot, input buffer (4050) chip, or stereo output (mono only, as with all PAL 2600 JR systems). There's also a spot for a 24-pin chip, which suggests the pcb was designed to incorporate a built-in game (much like how the original VCS was). The case is exactly the same as the long rainbow version, but with a serial number that starts with "A1" instead of "AT". There's only shielding around the RF module and the pcb ground foil is solid metal instead of the typical crosshatch metal - both of which can be seen through the bottom case vents:

 

A white prototype version also exists:

SEARS TELE-GAMES VIDEO ARCADE - model 637.99743

Sears Tele-Games models (called the Video Arcade) of both the 4 and 6-switch Atari VCS versions were also produced. The difficulty switches are relabeled as skill switches, and instead of A and B, they're marked Expert and Novice. The pack-in game was Target Fun (AKA Air-Sea Battle). The full name as listed on the original system box (which shows a "heavy" 6-switch system) was "Sears Cartridge Tele-Games System Video Arcade" on the top, and "Sears Tele-Games Electronic Games Video Arcade" on the side. A later version of the box (which shows a standard 6-switch system) simply had "Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade", which is the name shown on the system itself. The boxes for the games and accessories were black (except for Superman, which was blue) and had the name "Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade". Green cartridge connectors were originally used but were soon phased out or replaced due to high failure rates:

SEARS TELE-GAMES VIDEO ARCADE II - model 637.75000

This system, model 637.75000, uses a special combination joystick/paddle controller (similar to the CX2700s). There are 4 controller jacks below the front edge, along with a power switch.  On top are 8 buttons, each with its own LED.  On the bottom are the channel (A/B) and TV Type switches. The pack-in game was Space Invaders.  It also uses a power supply with a different connector, so standard VCS/2600 power supplies aren't compatible.  The same case style, designed by Barney Huang, was later used for the 7800.

ATARI 2800 - model CX2800J

The Japanese counterpart to the Atari 2600. Same as the Sears Tele-Games Arcade II. The pack-in game was Space Invaders.

ATARI 7800 ProSystem - model CX7800

Initially released in 1984 and then mothballed for 2 years before being re-released in 1986, this system uses the same-size cartridges as the VCS/2600 and has built-in software support for all but a handful of cartridges (See "Which VCS/2600 carts do not work on the 7800?" in the Software section of this FAQ for the latest compatibility listing).  The motherboard actually contains all the VCS/2600 circuitry and automatically switches between VCS/2600 and 7800 carts.

UNIQUE VARIANTS

ATARI VIDEO COMPUTER SYSTEM (VCS) "Promotional model" - model CX2600

This was special promotional version that was produced (in Sunnyvale) in limited numbers, in both 6-switch and 4-switch versions - the only differences are the switches are chrome (instead of brushed aluminum), the orange outline around the switches is yellow, and the box has "PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY NOT FOR RESALE" marked on it.

 

Some systems (only 4-switch model?) have "NOT FOR RESALE FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY" burned into the bottom of the case:

 

KEE GAMES PROGRAMMABLE GAME SYSTEM (PGS) - model CX2600

The photo below shows the only Kee Games VCS system known to exist (at least one fake was produced years later).  Kee Games was a way for Atari to circumvent arcade game distributors who demanded exclusivity deals with their competitors.  The games Kee Games released were mostly original, but a few were clones of Atari games.  The ruse started in 1973, but by the following year most people were aware of Atari's strategy. Starting in 1975, Atari openly admitted the connection in their literature, and by 1978 the 2 companies "merged".  The same problem with distributors didn't exist with the home market, and Atari already had a clone with the Sears Tele-Games model, so the reason for why Atari would have produced a Kee Games VCS model is still unknown. 


Q: Where were Atari's systems made?

A: The first year (1977), all production was done at Sunnyvale, CA. The following 2 years (1978-79) saw production shifted to Atari's Hong Kong facility, Atari-Wong Ltd.  When the 2600A model was introduced (in 1980), the bulk of production was being done in Taiwan through at least 5 different companies:

Dimerco Electronics
Kingtek Electronics Co., Ltd.
Taiwan Manufacturing Corp.
Taiwan William Computer Manufacturing Corp.
TRW Electronic Components Company

By early 1983, the bulk of all production of home video games and computers was shifted to Hong Kong and Taiwan (article).


Q: What VCS/2600 clones exist?

A: The following are those currently known:


Q: What VCS/2600 adapters exist for other systems?

A:

  • Atari 5200
  • Cardco VIC-20 Cardapter
  • Coleco ColecoVision Expansion Module #1
  • Mattel Intellivision System Changer
  • Protecto VIC-20 Game Loader
  • Retrode PC USB adapter

Atari 5200 VCS Cartridge Adaptor - CX55

This handy device allows you to play your VCS/2600 games on the 5200 using any standard compatible 9-pin D-sub connector.  The elimination of the TV Type switch makes it incompatible with several VCS games that use it as part of the game, which is ironic since Coleco and Mattel included it with theirs.  An interesting side-note: The VCS Adaptor is actually an entire Atari VCS/2600 system, much like adaptors for other systems.  The cartridge port of the Atari 5200 has the necessary outputs and inputs to power the adaptor, and pass the audio/video signals on to the TV.  The original 4-port 5200 consoles have to be modified in order for this to work on it.

Cardco VIC-20 Cardapter

The September 1983 issue of Electronic Games (pg. 41) shows an advertisement for Cardapter, a VCS/2600 cart adapter for the VIC-20.  The October 1983 issue of Electronic Fun (pg. 26) lists a price ($89.95) and the distributor's address - 313 Mathewson, Wichita, KS 67214.  The distributor was Cardco, Inc. in the US, LSI Distributors Ltd in West Canada, Hobby Craft Canada in East Canada, and Audiogenic in Europe. Emulation quality and reliability are unknown.

Coleco ColecoVision Expansion Module #1

Made by Coleco, copyright 1982.  It includes all the console switches an Atari system has.  Black, 5" x 10", 1 3/4" high in front, sloping to 2 3/4" in back.  Chips inside are: "COLECO 73192 E4002" (TIA clone?), SY6507, SY6532.  Curiously, there is an empty space for a 14 pin chip and assorted resistors and capacitors on the right side of the circuit board.  The space for a "Y1" indicates that this was probably intended to be a clock generator  - could this board also be intended for standalone use, such as in the VCS/2600?  There is also an adjustment hole on the bottom that turns a potentiometer [probably color control].  The Reset button on the main ColecoVision console acts as a hard reset for the expansion module.  Sample wording:

         ColecoVision
         Model No. 2405
         Coleco Industries, Inc., Amsterdam, NY 12010
         Serial # A0065820         For service help call:
         F.C.C. ID# BNV8432405     1+800+842-1225
         Coleco Industries, Inc.   (Nationwide)
         Made in U.S.A.            Printed in U.S.A. 74859A

Mattel Intellivision System Changer

Made by Mattel, copyright 1983.  It includes all the console switches an Atari system has.  White, roughly about 5-6" square and 2" high, with a piece sticking out of the left side that fits into the Intellivision cartridge slot.  Front face had two standard joystick ports.  Known to work with virtually all VCS/2600 carts except those that don't work with other adapters.  Does not work with the "original" (2609) Intellivision Master Component without factory modification. Sample wording:

(one white label and one orange label) "Model No. 4610  FCC ID: BSU9RD4610
Serial No. 003255

Protecto VIC-20 Game Loader

Rumored to exist. Was advertised by Protecto in mail order ads in during the 1983 time frame. Plugged into VIC expansion connector and provided VCS/2600 software emulation. The October 1983 issue of Electronic Fun (pg. 26) mentions the price and address.  Emulation quality and reliability are unknown.


Q: What VCS/2600 hardware was announced, but never released?

A: The short answer is quite a bit . Here are some examples:

  • VCS/2600 keyboard by Atari, called The Graduate (My First Computer; 2600 Computer).
  • VCS/2600 voice command system
  • a headband controller, MindLink
  • Atari 2500
  • Atari 2700 - Remote control joystick/paddles, touch sensitive console buttons.
  • Atari 3600 - 10-bit system, made it to prototype stage.
  • Amiga Power Module for VCS/2600. Similar to the Supercharger, it had dialup capability (to play against others). Also, some 3D games were planned for it as well.
  • U.S. Games Joystick, similar to Coleco Super Action Controller (Electronic Fun May 83, p. 91)
  • much, much more. 2600 Connection has a list of most with photos and related info here.

The Graduate was designed by Peripheral Visions Inc.  The company was founded in late 1982 and was comprised of 5 former Commodore VIC-20/C-64 engineers: Charles Winterble, Al Charpentier, Bob Yannes, David Ziembicki, and Bruce Crockett.  Their idea was for a low-cost computer, called "My First Computer".  Designed with a $29.95 price, it was to feature a membrane computer and have BASIC built-in.  Winterble presented the idea of a VCS computer to Ray Kassar, who agreed to purchase it for 1 million dollars.  This was to be Atari's entry into the emerging 2600 keyboard market, and Atari was to develop the software for it.  The unit plugged into the VCS cart port and was self-contained, much like how the 5200 VCS Cartridge Adaptor works (using the base system for power and display only).  The designers invented a 3-cycle "Bus Stuff" mode, to achieve a faster TIA register update rate.  This works by loading Y with $FF at the beginning of the kernel, and then having the 6507 execute 3-cycle STY $REG instructions.  At the critical moment when the $FF is being written, The Graduate hardware steps in and overdrives the the desired value on the bus.  The product was given the model number CX-3000, and was known by several names during its development ("My First Computer", "2600 Computer", "The Graduate"), undergoing several changes (case designs, features, price points, etc) before ultimately being cancelled by James Morgan when he took over as the new CEO of Atari in 1983.  An ongoing lawsuit against PVI by Commodore was likely the main motivating reason for its cancellation. Soon after PVI was formed, Jack Tramiel heard PVI approached Atari and filed an "exploratory" (and ultimately frivolous) lawsuit against them, claiming they stole trade secrets.  PVI were forced to disclose details of their VCS project, which proved it wasn't something worked on at Commodore (some of their own management made depositions stating that).  Yet, Tramiel insisted that was his product, and pursued the case, even claiming infringement at one point because The Graduate used a 6502!  PVI eventually won, but it cost them several years and approximately $300,000. (From "On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise And Fall Of Commodore", pg. 274-279)


Q: How do I hook up my Atari to a TV?

A: The system originally used a manual RF switch box with 2 screws for the antenna (or cable) and a short, flat cable with 2 "fork" terminal leads coming off it for the TV:

The short, flat cable typically went to the (300 ohm) VHF screw terminals on the back of a TV.  Since manufacturers stopped including the screw terminals with the rise of cable service providers and replaced them with a (75 ohm) coax connector, you'll need a small adapter (as shown in above photo).  Likewise, the antenna screw terminals on the switch box will need an adapter called an impedance matching transformer (as shown in above photo) for attaching your current TV cable.  Some switchbox variations have connections for both antenna and cable:

A picture that's snowy or lacking color usually indicates a connection problem.  The system's RF cable may need to be replaced, or the problem could be with the switch box.  Old switch boxes may have worn or dirty contacts insides.  You can still buy new switch boxes from any store specializing in electronic parts,  such as Radio Shack.  Make sure you get a manual type; most (all?) systems starting with the NES use automatic RF switches. This type will not work for the VCS/2600 (or 7800), as the signal is not strong enough to trigger the switch completely. A manual RF switch, available at any Radio Shack or equivalent is needed.

A better alternative (picture quality-wise) to using a switch box is to eliminate it and connect the system directly by using a male coax- to- female RCA phono connector:

This will allow you to connect the system to any cable-ready TV.

Remember that having your TV set to the proper channel is necessary, no matter what method you use to connect the system.  All but the original VCS/2600 "heavy sixer" models have a TV channel switch either on the back or bottom of the system.  The switch sets the output signal to match either channel 2 or 3 on your TV.


Q:
The colors seem wrong. How do I adjust them?

A: To properly adjust your system to the original specifications, you'll need an Atari Diagnostic cartridge.  One of the tests on it brings up a color bar screen:

Note the gray reference bar. The purpose of this is to help in adjusting the color potentiometer that's on the motherboard.  Most VCS/2600 cases (excluding all 6-switch models) have a small hole on the bottom, which lines up with the pot:

   

(4-switch model on left; "JR" model in the center; Sears Video Arcade II on the right)

By inserting a small, flathead screwdriver here, you can adjust the colors on the screen until the color bar directly above and below this reference bar are the same. Some of the heavy 6-switch models have an adjustment hole, but the "light" 6-switch models don't, so you have to open the case up. The aluminum casing has a hole on both the top and bottom of it that can be used to adjust the color. 4-switch models made by Dimerco Electronics in Taiwan don't have an adjustment hole either, and neither do 7800 systems.


Q: Where do I get my VCS/2600 fixed, or how can I fix it?

A: In general, it is usually more cost effective to buy another console.  Ask online or at your local video game store; they may not offer to repair them, but they may put you in contact with someone who does.  For those in Canada, a company called OSG Service may be able to help you.

If  you're knowledgeable with repairing electronics, you'll want to see this 10-part how-to repair video for VCS/2600 systems.  AtariGuide also hosts a copy of Atari's VCS/2600 Domestic Field Service manual. The May 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine also has this article by Henry Cohen on fixing systems that exhibit loss of color or snowy video.  Best Electronics sells replacement parts for all the different Atari models.


Q:
How many different controllers were made for use with the VCS/2600?

A: There were well over 100 different types of controllers, ranging from joysticks, paddles, keypads, and trackballs.  There's also several 'specialized' controllers, such as light guns, foot controllers, and all-button controllers.  2600 Connection has a comprehensive list of nearly every one.


Q: How do I fix my joysticks and paddles?

A: Best Electronics sells replacement parts for Atari-made controllers. Some parts, such as replacement controller cables, may work with 3rd-party controllers. 

Replacement springs for the standard Atari joystick fire button can be made by using a spring from a ballpoint pen and cutting it approximately in half.

Dirty paddles are a cause of great frustration. To clean them, buy a can of Electronics Cleaner/Degreaser (available at Radio Shack, catalog #: 64-4345) or any type of TV tuner or metal contact cleaner, open up the paddles and spray directly into the pot area. Close them up, give them a few twists and they should be good as new. Do NOT use any type of oil or silicon spray (such as WD40) as this will gum up the contacts.  If you find using cleaner only provides a temporary solution, the pot may be too dirty and the canister will have to be opened and the contacts wiped down.


Q: Do Bally Astrocade, MSX, or Texas Instruments joysticks work on the VCS/2600?

A: No to all of them.  With the Bally Astrocade and MSX, even though they use the standard 9-pin connector, the pinouts are different.  However, using the pinouts found in these Bally Astrocade and MSX FAQs, they can be rewired to work on the VCS/2600.  Texas Instruments joysticks can be rewired as well, but it would require either replacing the controller wire (TI joysticks are wired in pairs, like Atari's paddles), or making an adapter.  A schematic for making an adapter to use Atari controllers with TI computers can be found here.  This could be altered to make an adapter for TI controllers.  According to a news blurb in the November 1983 issue of Electronic Fun magazine (pg. 17), Suncom made such an adapter, called TIA, which retailed for $12.95.


Q: How do I use an Atari joystick on a PC/Mac?

A: Here are links to some adapters for the PC:

See the Features section of this site for an article on how to make your own USB controllers.


Q: What hardware peripherals exist for the VCS/2600?

A: Here's some that were released:

Comp-K7

Made by Splice.  A Brazilian Supercharger knock-off.

CompuGame

Made by Sosecal.  Brazilian version of Spectravideo's CompuMate keyboard.

CompuMate

Made by Spectravideo.  This is a 42-key touch pad-style computer add-on that adds 16K ROM, 2K RAM, a 2-channel + 2 octave music composer, BASIC, and Magic Easel. The unit looks like a small keyboard connected to a cartridge, which has 2 cables that connect to the controller ports. It has 3 function/display modes: Text (which runs BASIC), Graphic (which runs Magic Easel) and Music. Magic Easel allows you to create photos (with up to 10 different colors) and animations (up to 9 frames) using the joystick). Originally sold for $79.99. This was once quite rare to find until a large quantity surfaced in Venezuela in 2010.  There's also a German version made by Universum.

Digigame K7

Made by Digitel.  A Brazilian version of Spectravideo's CompuMate keyboard.

 

Game Changer

Made by VGS.  A Brazilian Supercharger knock-off.

GameLine Master Module

Made by CVC.  See the GameLine entry in the Software section for more info.

Kid Vid Voice Module

Made by Coleco.  This was a cassette recorder and cartridge interface. Additional wire connects recorder to joystick port. Voices and songs tell player what to do on screen. Tape shuts off automatically to wait for player input. 3 tapes per game, only games were Berenstain Bears and Smurfs Save the Day.

Personal Game Programmer

Made by Answer.  Similar to the Game Genie. Available directly through Answer Software for a short time (for $200), this peripheral allows you to change the code on existing games to your own liking. It doesn't actually store the changes on the cartridge - all effects are temporary. Brown and gold with white keys, the unit sits on top of the Atari 2600. Two cables: one to the cartridge port and one to the power receptacle, connect it. We only know of a few in existence (Al Backiel got his direct from Answer, who later sold it to John Hardie. The other known owner is Marco Kerstens, who got his from William Sommerwerck).

Supercharger

Made by Starpath. This is an add-on device that improves the Atari VCS memory, graphics, and sound capability. The unit itself contains 6K RAM and 2K ROM. ROM is in top 2K and RAM is banked in lower 2K.  Games were distributed on cassette tape. By plugging the Supercharger into the VCS and connecting its cable (with a standard 1/8" jack on the end) to a standard cassette tape player, games could be "loaded in" to memory. The Supercharger unit contains 2K of ROM, but more importantly it adds an additional 6K of screen RAM to the VCS (a huge improvement over the hardware's 128 bytes). Phaser Patrol was also included. The unit initially retailed for $70, but in January 1983 the price was reduced to $45.

Telegame

Made by Embracom Electronica. Basically a Brazilian knock-off of the Supercharger.

  • There were several multicart switchers:

Game Selex

Made by Starplex Electronics, Inc. A 9-cartridge multicart switcher. By turning a dial you can switch between them. The VCS power supply plugs into the back of it, and a wire from the Game Selex plugs into the power jack on a VCS. A note came with it stating if you see excess static with the device attached, Starplex would provide anti-static filters at no cost.

ROMScanner

Made by Marjac. A 10-cartridge multicart switcher. At the press of a button, you can switch between them. This was even advertised in the Atari Age magazine, V2N4 (pg. 22), priced at $49.95!

Video Game Brain

Made by RGA International. A 6-cartridge multicart switcher. Made in Hong Kong. Warning - this device can damage your games, your system, or both, due to how it's internally wired. Voltage is constantly running through the address and data lines while the power line is floating, when a cartridge is NOT selected! It's possible to modify the device to operate properly and safely, otherwise don't use one until it's been fixed.

Videoplexer

Made by Compro Electronics, Inc.  An 8-cartridge multicart switcher, with a smoke brown plexiglass hood and 8 sensor touch buttons on the front panel. The manual claimed to "Reduce the wear on your expensive system and cartridges".

  • There were several rapid-fire modules.  These connect between the joystick and the console and allows you to repeatedly fire by holding the fire button down.  They only work with games that were programmed to allow rapid firing.  A few controllers actually had this feature built-in to them.  See this FAQ for a listing.


Q: What are NTSC/PAL/SECAM and why should I care?

A: NTSC (National Television Standards Committee), PAL (Phase Alternating Lines) and SECAM (SEquentiel Couleur Avec Memoire) are different worldwide, generally incompatible television standards. Some short, not completely accurate information follows.

 
what              where                              freq/frames/scan lines
-----                -------                             ----------------------
NTSC             US/Japan                        60hz/30/525
PAL                Europe                             50hz/25/625
SECAM           France & many others   50hz/25/625
 

For detailed and accurate (but muddled) information, see the Worldwide TV standards page. Why is this information important? Different carts will exhibit different characteristics based on what kind of TV and console are used. For example, a PAL cart on an NTSC console and TV will roll the screen and exhibit a strange color scheme. An adjustable vertical hold is a must in these situations.  2600 Connection maintains a list in their FAQ section. Another issue is NTSC versions will be ~10% faster and PAL ~7% slower.  This is especially important with contests that involve players from different contries.  Most companies developed games in NTSC and later converted them to PAL.  Since programmers were mainly concerned with having a stable image and acceptable colors, no time was spent on adjusting gameplay so that it ran identical to the NTSC version.  As a general rule, PAL players have an advantage over NTSC players, making any fair competitions between the two impossible.


Q: What is a TV Boy and where can I get one?

A: The TV Boy is a handheld-sized Atari VCS/2600 (made by SystemA) with 127 built-in games that connects to your TV (it does not have its own screen). While it features a built-in GameBoy-like joypad and external 9-pin ports so one can connect one's favorite controller, it does not, alas, have a cartridge slot. Inside the TV Boy is a jumper marked "NTSC/PAL," so it appears that it will work on either type of TV.


Q: Why do some 6-switch systems have vent holes in the top of the case?

A: The VCS was originally designed to produce sound effects internally via 2 internal speakers (much like Atari's earlier dedicated systems), instead of through a TV (via the RF box). The system’s casing has slits on the top-half and brackets on the bottom-half - these were for the speakers. Arcade games from the mid-70s often used 2 speakers, with each being driven by a separate tone generator - one for each player. Atari's Tank coin-ops used this design. This "dual mono" tradition carried over to the VCS, as the system has 2 independent sound generators. Jim Heller, who was a former Atari engineer, stated a last-minute production change was made to drop the internal speakers, since it was felt the audio would be better through the TV set. Due to this change, the 2 sound output pins (pin 12 is the left channel audio and pin 13 is the right channel audio) on the TIA were simply tied together, resulting in mono sound. This also explains why Combat, Air-Sea Battle, Indy 500, and Street Racer (being 4 of the 9 launch titles) are the only 4 games Atari made that were programmed for stereo sound.


The "stereo" mod (described in the Projects section of this FAQ) sends the outputs of one generator to the left channel and the other to the right. As far as "using" stereo is concerned, the games can be divided into 4 categories, though there is some overlap. The 2 channels can be used in the following ways:

1) Some games only use one generator. All the sound will come from one channel, and nothing from the other.

2) Some games use each channel for a particular purpose. This division may or may not make sense spatially or aesthetically. Combat, for example, will use one channel for the left player's vehicle noises, shots, and explosions, and the other channel for the right player's. These assignments will remain constant regardless of where the vehicles move around on screen, so they may not make much spatial sense in relation to where the players are sitting in relation to the screen. Other games may use one channel for background noise and the other channel for shots and explosions. In that case, a left/right division might not be meaningful, but having one speaker closer than the other might be good.  With the homebrew game, Medieval Mayhem, any sounds for left side castles come out the left, and sounds for right side castles come out the right. It's also quite noticeable when the dragon flies across the screen.

3) Some games, such as Toyshop Trouble, allocate sounds to the two channels essentially randomly. This allows sounds to 'overlap' (e.g. if you paint two toys in quick succession, the sound for the second can start while the sound from the first is still playing) but would make things sound weird if the channels weren't mixed together.

4) Very few games output sounds to both channels but vary the amplitudes to create a "stereo" effect. Frogger and Turmoil are 2 games that use both channels to create true, 2-channel music.  The homebrew games A-VCS-tec Challenge, Skeleton+, and Synthcart also take advantage of the system's stereo capability.  The spear level in A-VCS-tec Challenge is programmed so you can hear if the spear is coming from the left or right side. When reaching the middle of the screen, it switches to the other side. Additionally, the spear sound is getting louder when coming closer to the player. So in stereo you hear the spear fading in and out and flying from left to right or vice-versa.  Skeleton+ uses the stereo to help players locate skeletons in the maze.


Q:
 Some motherboards have a space for another chip? What was this for?

A: The original version of the VCS was designed to have a game built-in (Combat for the Atari version and Air-Sea Battle for the Tele-Games version). All 6-switch motherboards have this. There's a space on the motherboard for the ROM chip:

A 2K or 4K ROM chip could be installed here, however, there’s no circuit to switch between the ROM socket and a cart if a 4K ROM is used.

The "unicorn" 2600 "JR" variant also was designed to have a game built-in as well, and can handle a 2K or 4K ROM automatically if installed:

What game was to be included is unknown.


Q: What are the specs for the VCS/2600?

A: The system has 3 main chips at its heart - the MPU, the TIA, and the RIOT.  The MPU is a 6507 (by MOS), which is a low-cost variant of the popular 6502.  The TIA is the Television Interface Adapter and is an Atari proprietary chip.  It was made by over a half-dozen manufacturers, resulting in dozens of variations (see Scott Stilphen's TIA chip article).  The RIOT is a 6532 RAM, I/O, Timer chip (by Rockwell).  Early models contain a 4th chip - a 4050 CMOS hex buffer - that was later removed due to being unnecessary.

MPU (or CPU) 6507
RAM 128 Bytes, in VLSI
ROM 4K maximum
MPU clock 1.19 MHz
graphics clock 1.19 MHz
slot configuration ROM access only
MPU available less than 50%
total colors available 128
total audio available 2 channels
ports available 1 cartridge slot, 2 controller ports
total colors available 128

Notes: ROM specs are based on non-bank select scheme, and the graphics clock is the master clock used to drive the TIA video chip.

For more information about Atari's TIA chip and how it works, check out Andrew Towers' TIA Hardware Notes article.


Q: How large (memory-wise) do VCS/2600 games get?

A: The range is 2K, 4K, 8K, 16K, 32K (Fatal Run), and 64K (32-in-1 and Mega Boy).  Games using 8K or more require a programming technique called bank-switching.  Bank switching increases the amount of a system's usable memory beyond the amount directly addressable by the processor.   In the case of the VCS/2600, the system's inherent limit is 4K.  Most companies that developed games being 8K or larger devised their own method of bank-switching. 

A few companies (Activision, Atari, CBS Electronics, Mattel, and NAP) developed special RAM chips or "SuperChips" for certain games. 

Activision also released one game with a special chip called the Display Processor Chip, or DPC. It was  named after the person who developed it  - David Patrick Crane (patent 4,644,495).   According to Crane,

The DPC chip added more graphic capability as well as 3 channel music (plus drum), and made Pitfall II: Lost Caverns possible. Unfortunately, the 2600 business died before any other games could take advantage of that technology.

Atari called theirs SARA and used them in the following games:

  • Stargate / Defender II (8K)
  • Crack'ed (16K)
  • Crystal Castles (16K)
  • Dark Chambers (16K)
  • Desert Falcon (16K)
  • Dig Dug (16K)
  • Jr. Pac-Man (16K)
  • KLAX (16K)
  • Millipede (16K)
  • Off The Wall (16K)
  • Radar Lock (16K)
  • Save Mary (16K)
  • Secret Quest (16K)
  • Shooting Arcade (16K)
  • Sprint Master (16K)
  • Super Football (16K)
  • Fatal Run (32K)

CBS Electronics called theirs RAM Plus, and used them in Omega Race and Tunnel Runner (Wings was to be the 3rd). 

Mattel/M-Network called their carts with 2K of RAM "Super Cartridges", but BurgerTime was the only game they released that used it (In Search of the Golden Skull was to be a 16K Super Cartridge with 2K ofn onboard RAM). 

U.S. Games developed a special "RAM/ROM" chip for their Pink Panther game, which added 8K of ROM and 2K of RAM., but the company went under before it was produced.  NAP bought the Pink Panther game from them, along with the RAM/ROM chip.  According to an interview with NAP's Bob Harris (in the Spring 2001 issue of Classic Gamer Magazine) NAP hired a company to fabricate the RAM/ROM chip , but unfortunately, the new chips failed and the Probe 2000 division was shut down as a result.


Q: What is the VCS/2600 pinout information?

A: Controller port pinout:

 
 

VCS/2600 cartridge port pinout:

Top
 D3   D4   D5   D6   D7   A12  A10  A11  A9   A8  +5V   SGND
--1- --2- --3- --4- --5- --6- --7- --8- --9- -10- -11- -12-
 GND  D2   D1   D0   A0   A1   A2   A3   A4   A5   A6   A7
                        Bottom

Top Row

Pin 2716 Pin MPU Name Description
1 13 D3 Data 3
2 14 D4 Data 4
3 15 D5 Data 5
4 16 D6 Data 6
5 17 D7 Data 7
6 * A12 Address 12
7 19 A10 Address 10
8 n/c A11 Address 11
9 22 A9 Address 9
10 23 A8 Address 8
11 24 +5V +5 VDC
12 12 SGND Shield Ground

* to inverter and back to 18 for chip select

Bottom Row

Pin 2716 Pin MPU Name Description
1 1 A7 Address 7
2 2 A6 Address 6
3 3 A5 Address 5
4 4 A4 Address 4
5 5 A3 Address 3
6 6 A2 Address 2
7 7 A1 Address 1
8 8 A0 Address 0
9 9 D0 Data 0
10 10 D1 Data 1
11 11 D2 Data 2
12 n/c GND Ground
 

A standard VCS/2600 cartridge contains the equivalent of a 2716 or 2732/2532 with one notable exception: the chip select line is active high, not low. The high order address line of the 6507 (A12) is used as the chip enable. There was at least one company that used EPROMs with a 74LS04 inverter to compensate for this. Note that numbers indicate left to right numbering.

On cartridges, GND was also connected to SGND. Best to make sure that they are wired together.


Q: What are the AC Adapter power supply specs?

A:

VCS/2600:

Rating 9VDC, 500mA
Plug type 1/8" phone
Polarity Tip positive
Alternative All Atari-made models of the VCS?2600 have compatible power supplies

2800/Sears Video Arcade II

Rating 10VAC, 750mA
Plug type coaxial ??mm/??mm
Polarity n/a
Alternative Atari 5200, Atari Jaguar, SMS / Genesis, TurboGrafx-16

7800:

Rating 9VDC, 1A
Plug type unique
Polarity n/a
Alternative None, although a 1/8" phone jack can be added and a VCS/2600 AC Adapter used

 

TECHNICAL


Q: Are there any published VCS/2600 technical articles available?

A: Here’s one from the March 1983 issue of IEEE Spectrum, titled: Design Case History: the Atari Video Computer System. It is quite an interesting read although it contains no code. Digital Press hosts several articles in their Technical Documents section.


Q: Are there any emulators for the VCS/2600?

A: Several, although only javatari and Stella are still maintained and updated:


Q:
How do I archive or dump cartridges? 

A: Several different cartridge copier devices were made:

Atari Game Recorder

The Atari Game Recorder is a device that copies carts to cassette tape and also admits the playing of games from tape. Instructions and schematics are in the following issues of Radio Electronics (it's a three-part article):

Dec 84 Vol 55 no 12 p. 69-72.
Jan 85 Vol 56 no 1 p. 51-58.
Feb 85 Vol 56 no 2 p. 69-72.

The article was written by Guy Vachon and David A. Chan. The construction of the AGR is not for the faint of heart, and the device does not handle bank-switched carts - you're limited to 2K and 4K games only.

Copy Game

Made by VGS.  A device released in Brazil that allows you to copy cartridges. It looks similar to a Xonox cart shell, with switches and LEDs on one end, and a cartridge port on the other. You plug in the cartridge you want to copy and read it into the device's memory. You then plug in a 'blank' EPROM cartridge and write the device's memory to it.

Duplicator

Made by Unimex. Upon its release in 1984, the Unimex Duplicator cost 200 DM, about as much as the 2600 itself. Like the Yoko, it feeds off of the 2600's power supply. There are 4K, 8K and 12/16K EPROMS available for the Duplicator. Similar in appearance to half of a 6-switch VCS, it has a MASTER and a COPY slot. Copying a game takes about 8 minutes. Small changes in voltage, however, will cause the copying to fail, and not all new EPROMs work. So far, the system has only been found in Germany. There are 2 versions - one that's all black, and the other that has a gold plate on top.

E-PRO 2000

Made by Pete McKevitz.  Allows you to copy 2K and 4K carts to either an EPROM, a blank cartridge, or both (at the same time!). You can also put two 2K games on a 4K EPROM and flip between them via a toggle switch (using the included blank cartridge). How many were made/sold is unknown, but John Hardie found close to a dozen units, with most of them being complete; he sold one (complete with cart and manual) to Jose "wonder007" Artiles in 2006, and brought another to CGE2K7. A 3rd one is on display at the Digital Press store.  Mr. McKevitz contacted us in October 2012 and provided the following information:

I designed and built that programmer around 1981/ Spring 1982.  As far as development went, I had a shop back then called "Pete's Electronic Service & Supply". We were selling satellite TV equipment, Apple II clones, and a few other things, and I did PC board design on the side. I had a good friend named Paul who worked at a Radio Shack down the street from the shop, and after a little persuading got him into "Pete's." We worked on the project together and came up with the E-Pro 2000.  We actually hand built about 100 units.  I remember placing a half-page add in Computer Shopper, when it used to be the size of a large Metropolitan phone book. Sales were not good.  Atari went into bankruptcy a few weeks later and we scrapped the project and liquidated the entire stock to a fellow in Texas at around $30.00 bucks a piece.  I still have motherboards, mem xfer boards, a few game boards, and assorted parts, such as the 24 pin .100 spacing connectors (these were used on the ATARI VCS/2600 game machine itself. They were just not available in those days, so we had to place an order of around 1000 units to have them made especially for us, and they were not cheap as I recall).  What I do not have is a completed boxed unit.  I don’t know why but I never saved a complete unit.  The E-Pro 2000 and the directly programmable game carts were all that we did.  We had hopes of doing much more but when Atari tanked as well as everything else in 1983, we just pulled the plug on all efforts in that direction.

The Game Brain

Made by Super Vision. A backup device that allows you to copy cartridges to cassette tapes, using a standard cassette player. It resembles a Supercharger in appearance. It was only available through mail order and cost $98.95, which included a free T-shirt. Collector Rick Weis is the only person known to have one. An ad appeared in the October 1983 issue of The Logical Gamer newsletter (pg. 2).

Game-Copier

Made by Yoko. Sold and distributed by a company called C.S.K., the Yoko came boxed in Styrofoam with paper wrapping. The EPROM cart was sold separately. Each cart can hold two games (4K max). The games are selectable via a small dipswitch on the front of the cart. The copier gets its power from the 2600's power supply. To copy, insert the blank cart in one slot and the original in the other, and hit the red start button. The manual contains a list of games that can be duplicated. Oddly enough, the list has many games that have never been released, such as Fall Guy, Alligator People, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Targ, Kickman, Stomp It and Butch Cassidy. Believed to have been sold only in The Netherlands.

Magic Box

Made in Taiwan.  No other information is available about this.

 

Prom Blaster

Made by JS & A. A small unit with 2 cartridge ports that allows you to copy 4k or 8k games in 3 minutes with the push of a button. The copier sold for $119 and blank carts were $15. According to their ad, it was developed by a company in Houston, TX and touted as a perfectly legal device (referring to the copyright act amendment passed in 1980), while at the same time promoting it as a good way to make extra money. JS & A (J.S. & A. Group, Inc., for Joseph Sugarman and Associates) also planned to offer 9 exclusive games with the intention that Prom Blaster owners could sell copies to their friends. It wasn't long before Atari took them to court to stop the sale of them (especially since an Atari cart appeared in their ad). They shut down soon after, and the games never materialized.  A copy of the court hearing records detailing Atari's cast against them can be found HERE.

Repro Game Kit/Repro Vision System

Made by Home Vision. This cart duplicating device is much smaller than the other two European copiers by Yoko and Unimex, and is very similar to the Vidco Video Game Recorder. The kit was packaged in a small cardboard box and contains a copier, a blank copy cart (called a Repro Cart, although the picture on the box shows a Repro Card label), and a game cartridge. The copier is a small, black device with a slot on each end with a red button and LED in the middle. It needs a 9V battery for power, (the Vidco Copier needs 3 AA's.) According to the box, copying takes about four seconds (while the Yoko and Duplikator take at least 5 minutes). It has only been found in Germany and Belgium. The game Parachute was pre-copied on the Repro Cart. Also included as a seperate cartridge is the game Robot Fight, which is a hack of Missile Command.

Video Game Recorder

Made by ZiMAG/Vidco. This device uses an internal battery to copy the code from a cartridge onto a special blank cartridge called a Copy Cart. It's very similar to the Repro Game Kit by Home Vision. Due to memory limitations, not every cartridge can be copied, but the unit is fairly reliable. Dishaster was packaged with the unit, along with 1 Copy Cart. The listed entry applies to the complete set (which is usually referred to as Copy Cart, as that's the only name on the box). Originally listed in 1983 at $59.95, and later advertised for $49.95. A sealed copy sold on eBay in 2010 for $3,500.


Q:
How do I transfer ROMs or binary files to a VCS/2600?

A:

Cuttle Cart

Made by Chad Schell / Shell's Electronics.  He made these for both the Atari VCS/2600 and 7800. The Cuttle Carts are no longer made. Used ones occasionally appear on Ebay, but be prepared to spend more than they were originally sold for.

Harmony cart 

Modified 7800 system - see Eckhard Stolberg's Atari 7800 Developer's Page

Modified Atari Flashback2 system - see Fred X. Quimby's modified Flashback 2 and "Alex 79" variant 

Modified Starpath Supercharger

Krokodile cart


Q: How do I make my own cartridge?

A: You'll need some equipment - both soldering and desoldering irons, an EPROM programmer, and an EPROM eraser.  Parts needed are EPROMS, pcbs (in most instances, a standard 4K cart pcb will work), and an additional chip, such as a 74LS04 hex inverter, or a GAL or PAL chip. What size EPROM and what type of pcb you'll need depends on the size of the game.  2 and 4K games use either a 2532 or 2732 (plus a 74LS04). 8K games use a 2764 and a GAL/PAL chip (either chip can be used, only the programming is different).  Larger games, or ones that require special chips such as the SARA require a special pcb.

Apollo designed at least 3 different 4K boards.  These were used in Apollo's Lochjaw and Chase The Chuck Wagon carts. Other companies used them for their games such as Gammation (Gamma Attack), Telesys, and Wizard Video (Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  They were also sold through Jameco to the public:

Randy Crihfield of Hozer Video Games was the first person to describe how to modify an Atari 4K pcb to make your own cartridges.  He later designed and sold new 4K boards.

Chris Wilkson was the first person to use a PAL chip and design a board for 8K and 18K games.  Unfortunately, others in the homebrew community have since taken credit for Wilkson's work, and even went so far as to encrypt their PAL or GAL chips to try and prevent others from copying them.  Wilkson was also the first person to design a 32K board.

Robert Demming has a website describing how to build your own 512-in-1 multicart.


Q: How do I add a pause switch?

A: The October 1983 issue of Videogaming Illustrated magazine featured an article by Bob Guerra on how to install your own pause button on your Atari VCS/2600. Actually, it wasn't a true pause button, but rather how to add an extra button to your joystick that's wired up to the TV Type switch on the system.

Victor Trucco has created a true pause circuit that can be added to any VCS/2600 system, similar to how the pause switch works on the Brazilian Atari VCS/2600-compatible system, the Onyx Jr., by Microdigital.


Q: How do I convert an Atari joystick for use with a PC?

A: Greg Bendokus wrote an article about how to hack a serial-style PC gamepad controller for use with an arcade-style controller. Scott Stilphen wrote a similar article using Gravis USB gamepad inside of an Atari joystick. Victor Trucco has an article on how to make your own USB interface board for use with an Atari joystick.  RetroZone also sells a kit called the Atari RetroKit to convert your joystick to USB


Q: How can I convert a mouse into a paddle controller?

A: Eduardo has done this, you can see some pictures and general instructions here.


Q: How do I convert an NES controller to an Atari pinout?

A: See the following YouTube video.  Here's an article on converting one for 7800 use.


Q: How do I convert a Sega Master System light gun to an Atari pinout?

A: The Aug 1988 (Vol 7, Num 4) Antic Magazine contained an article called First look: Inside the XE Game System: Hardware surprises revealed. It described the conversion:

To modify the Sega gun for the Atari, you'll have to cut off the incompatible connector. The wires must be stripped back and soldered into an Atari joystick connector as follows:

 SEGA GUN  ATARI JOYSTICK PORT
Blue wire  Pin 1 stick FWD
Gray wire Pin 6 trigger
Green wire Pin 7  +5 volts
Black wire Pin 8 Ground
     

Because of the close fitting connections for the XEGS ports, don't wire in a DB9 female connector that has "ears". Most joysticks don't have wires for unused signals, so cutting up an old joystick cable may not work. Specifically, an Atari joystick does not need the +5 volts, so there isn't likely to be a wire connected to Pin 7. However, you can find joystick extension cables at Radio Shack, which have all nine pins wired from male to female. Antic disclaims responsibility for any damages that might occur during improper implementation of this, or any, hardware modification project we publish.

Once it's all hooked up, you'll notice that gun fires when you release the trigger, which is annoying. The Sega trigger wiring is the opposite of what the Atari light gun uses. To rewire the trigger switch, remove the five screws (one is under the Sega logo on the side). Find the trigger micro-switch with three connections. Wire to the normally closed contacts.

A schematic can also be found on John Soper's website.


Q:
How do I make a glove controller, similar to Mattel's Power Glove for the Nintendo NES?

A: Eduardo has done this, you can see some pictures and general instructions here.


Q: What audio mods are available?

A: Modifying an Atari VCS/2600 for stereo sound is a simple project that involves adding a couple RCA phono jacks to the system case, and wiring them to the output pins of the TIA chip.  Victor Trucco wrote an article on his method.

Some of the more professional video mods (below) also include support for stereo sound.


Q: What video mods are available?

A:

Nathan Strum has a nice comparison site of some of the various A/V mods.

In our experience, the 6-switch models offer a superior picture output, compared to the 4-switch and JR models.  Coupled with a coax-to-phono connector, they offer a picture quality that's comparable to any mod, and you can obtain composite A/V output if used in conjunction with a VCR.


Q: How do I build my own rapid-fire module?

A: The Spring 1984 issue of Special Projects magazine featured an article by Jim Stephens called "Build Fire-Fli" on how to build a rapid-fire module for your Atari VCS/2600.

John Soper posted this autofire circuit by Marco Antonio and Checa Funcke.


Q: How do I program my own VCS/2600 games?

A: Back in the 1970s, a major financial investment in specialized equipment (such as a Genrad) was needed.  You also needed a fundamental understanding of assembly language programming, as well as basic knowledge of the Atari VCS's 6507 processor chip (which is a variant of the more-popular 6502).  Today, programming a VCS game can be done with a standard PC and a few software tools.  Even the most novice programmer can use a program like Batari Basic to program games for it.  Today, the main online source of information for VCS programmers is the Atariage website. Prior to that, the Stella mailing list (also know as the Atari 2600 Programming list) was, but since April 2006 it's no longer supported. Here are the Stella list archives as well as the Stella archive excavation, which culls many of the interesting bits.


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