Hey guys! Thanks for reading the blog today, just to let you know that this is the second part of the Atari 2600 console blog so if you missed last weeks click here to catch up on that first!
In 1980, it was decided that the console should be remodelled after being in production for 3 years. This included a revision of the switches, as the left and right difficulty switches were relocated to the back of the machine. This left only four remaining switches on the front of these new models. The VCS also received a further redesign, when in 1982 an all-black console was released. This version is often referred to as the ‘Darth Vader’ due to its all-black appearance, and was also the first console to officially be dubbed the Atari 2600. This is partly due to the fact that the Atari 5200 was also released in this year.
The ‘Darth Vader’ was not the only spin off model based off of the 2600. Atari designing a ‘2700’ which was a wireless version of the original console, however, due to technical difficulties and design flaws, this model was never released. Another variant was the Atari 2800, this was released but exclusively in Japan. The 2800 is considered a failure due to high competition in the country from the newly-released Famicom from Nintendo.
Approaching the end of the 2600 lifespan, Atari started to earn a bad name in the market. Many programmers left the company over this period as they felt as they were not being appropriately credited for their work. Some of these programmers opened their own companies which rivalled Atari such as Activision. Things seemed to be growing continually worst for Atari, as a company called ‘Mystique’ made a series of inappropriate games for the system. Atari ended up taking them to court over this.
What can only be seen as another failure, is when the company mismanaged licenses for two huge franchises: Pac Man and E.T. Pac Man was deemed as a huge failure, lacking the fast paced action, graphics and playability of the arcade original. E.T went on to achieve near legendary status as not only a terrible game, but often cited as the worst video game of all time. In 2013, a long held rumour was proven true when a specially authorised dig in a New Mexico landfill site revealed that Atari buried over 728,000 cartridges in a New Mexico landfill site which had been there since 1983. A project was unveiled to dig these cartridges up and a subsequent documentary was made alongside this. The Smithsonian Museum owns a copy of the previously-buried game; along-with the Henry Ford Museum, who also acquired a sample of dirt and some clothing from the site as part of an exhibition.
Although in the later years Atari admittedly gained a bad reputation, hope was alive in the form of the 2600 as this was still in development until 1992. Also creating another spin-off machine, the Atari 2600 JR which was a mini, more affordable console (around $50 a unit). This included a collection of the more popular and classic titles of the original system. Within its lifetime, the Atari 2600 remained the best-selling American made console, selling over 30 million units over 14 years despite the highs and lows the company went through. The record remained with Atari for many years, only bested due to the development of the XBOX which sold over 84 million units.