This is the famous Atari 2600. It was the game console that started the home video game industry in the late 1970s. Most people my age would recognize the phrase, "Have you played Atari today?" from Atari's commercials in the early 1980s. Back in those days, Atari was the most popular video game console. In the very early 1980s, it was the most advanced system on the market, but that soon changed with the release of Intellivision and later, ColecoVision. However, the Atari 2600 remained the most popular home console until 1985 and the arrival of the incredible Nintendo Entertainment System.

Atari Paddles

My 2600 is a 4-switch unit. Atari also made a 6-switch unit. A 6-switch unit puts the handicap switches on the front of the console instead of on the back. 6-switch units are often called "heavy sixer" because they contain six switches and are noticeably heavier in weight than 4-switch units. The 4-switch unit is the successor to the older heavy sixer. Back in 1982, my parents bought a heavy sixer for Christmas. We thought it was the greatest thing ever and ran around the house in an orgasmic fit of joy. That night, we stayed up until 2:00 am playing Combat. Combat was the free game that came with the Atari. The 2600 also came with two joysticks and a pair of paddles.

Combat (Tank vs Tank)

Atari 2600 games tend to be very simplistic. I think that the most fun we had with Atari was when we were playing against each other. Playing the computer tended to be repetitious and could get boring. Games like Pac-Man and Defender can go on forever. We used the phrase "flipping the game" to mean that enough points were scored to cause the scoreboard to roll over back to zero and start again. Atari games could not be saved so this feat would require hours and hours of constant play.



The saying back in those days was, "It looks just like the arcade game." Unfortunately, Atari games, although much better than Pong, never really looked as good as the original arcade versions. Some came fairly close. Some great examples like Defender and Phoenix really got the best out of the limited capabilities of the 2600.

Phoenix (Red Wave)

Phoenix (Mothership)

The Atari 2600 can be found on eBay for less than $20. Games usually sell for $5 or less. You can now emulate the 2600 very easily using a freeware emulator and ROM images. ROM images tend to be 8 KB or less. You can probably download just about every game made for the 2600 and end up with less than 1 MB of data. It is far cheaper to cure your Atari bug by using an emulator than by trying to go out and purchase every game you can find. Besides, I find that I get bored very quickly with Atari 2600 games. They are very simple and very repetitive.

Atari 2600

The best Atari 2600 emulator for the Mac is Stella. You will need to download their free emulator and then get the ROMs. An Atari game cartridge consists of a single Read Only Memory (ROM) chip that contains the data and code for the game. Plugging a cartridge into the Atari 2600 allows the 2600's microprocessor to access the program stored on the cartridge. In a similar way, you must "plug" a copy of a cartridge into Stella when you want to play it. Having a ROM image (BIN file) of the cartridge allows you to do this. A ROM image is a file, which contains the actual data and code read from the cartridge.

There are several ways to obtain a ROM image of a cartridge:

  • If you're handy with a soldering iron, then you can design and build a device that plugs into the printer port of a PC and read the data from the cartridge

  • You can purchase the Atari 2600 Action Packs by Activision and use their ROM images

  • You can search around the Internet and find ROM images to download

Visit Stella's website to download their free emulator for OS X. Use Google to find Atari ROMs.

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