Ah, the classics! What does it take to consider a video game or game system a classic? Well, mostly any game/system made before the stock market crash on video games in 1983, and even a few made after the crash. "Classic" home gaming cartridge systems include:
This was the first home console video game system, even pre-dating the Atari Pong consoles by 3 years. It featured crude black and white graphics, with no sounds at all. The system used cartridges, however, the games weren't really on the cartridges themselves, but were actually just a set of jumpers that told the system what game to display. Included with the system were various game boards and pieces to complement the on-screen games, as well as overlays to simulate color. There was also a light gun released for the system.
The Pong Years (1972-1977)
The original concept for Pong came about in 1958, designed by a man named William A. Higinbotham at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, originally as an entertaining exhibit for people touring the facility. Later on, Ralph Baer came up with and patented a pong-like game for the original Magnavox Odyssey system. Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, played the Magnavox game at a demonstration, and later came up with Pong, the arcade game, and later, the home versions. Her got sued for patent infringement, but later came to an agreement with Magnavox to continue producing Pong. The rest is history, and for many years, the world was given many, many Pong variants and clones by various companies, including Coleco with it's Telstar units, National Semiconducter with it's "Adversary", among a multitude of others.
Fairchild Channel F (1976, a.k.a. Fairchild Video Entertainment System)
This is a strange one. Huge cartridges, with a single little chip inside. The original version of this system, the "Fairchild Video Entertainment System"(The one I have), was like the older "Pong" units, with the sound coming from a speaker inside the console itself. When it was dubbed "Channel F", this was changed. The controllers for this system are interesting indeed. There were no buttons, the joystick did it all. It moved in the standard 8 directions, but you could also "twist" it left and right, sorta like a paddle, and it could also be pushed downwards, and pulled upwards, adding two more functions. This made for some interesting variations of Pong. There were several carts made, but the graphics were all pretty crappy.
RCA Studio II (1977)
This system didn't enjoy much popularity, thanks to being quickly obsoleted by the Atari 2600 which was released the same year. It had black and white blocky graphics, and was capable of playing only simple Pong-like games, with the standard beepy sound effects. While it had a cartridge port, it also had 5 built-in games. One neat thing about the system that somewhat set it apart from the others at the time, is that it featured an automatic TV RF switch box instead of the manual "TV/Game Switch" found on most consoles in the same time period.
Atari 2600 Video Computer System (1977)
Although us classic gamers know different, most people consider this as the one that started it all. It was and is the most popular of all the classic gaming systems, and outlived all of it's competition, even Atari's other systems, with a library of more software than any other system of it's time. If you don't count the minor changes, the 2600 was put out in 3 different forms over its lifespan. The earliest one had 6 switches on the front. Later, the 2 difficulty switches were moved to the back, and is commonly known as the 4-switch model. The last change was the most drastic, when the 2600 was reduced a good bit in size, and dubbed the "2600jr." The original pack-in cart was "Combat", and was later joined by "Pac-Man" in the US models.
Bally Astrocade (1978, a.k.a. Bally Professional Arcade, Bally Astrovision)
A game system with many names. Originally released by Bally, this system had it's share of decent games, with the best port of "Wizard of Wor" available on any console. Built into the system was "Gunfight", Scribble, a calculator, and "Checkmate", a surround-type game. The controllers were neat, resembling pistol grips, trigger and all, with the joystick positioned on top. The joystick doubled as a paddle when twisted left or right, and some games implemented both functions(joystick and paddle) at the same time. A small 30-button keypad is situated on the top-front of the console, and this was used for special functions in some games, but mostly for the Bally Basic cartridge that was available. Users could type in programs, and even save them via the cassette interface located on the Bally Basic cart itself. In it's first appearance, the system didn't sell well, and Bally dropped it. In 1982 several fans of the Bally, after seeing the system's potential via the Bally Basic cart, went together and bought the rights to the system, and renamed it the "Astrocade". With a few new titles added to its library, the Astrocade still couldn't compete with the big boys.
Oddessey 2 (1978)
After many pong clones, Magnavox finally puts out a major cartridge system. Easily recognizable by it's membrane keyboard, handle-grip cartridges, and large controllers, the Oddessey 2 was out to give the Atari 2600 a run for its money. It didn't make too much of a dent, with the simple graphics of its games and only one third-party publisher ever. Although it resembled a small computer, the keyboard was never implemented for such use, and was used mostly for game selections, and entering the occasional word or two. The keyboard probably seen a little more attention than usual when "The Voice" was released, which was a voice-synthesis add-on, and included a program that would attempt to pronounce any word you entered.
APF M1000 (1978)
The APF-M1000 is a cartridge-based game console made by APF Electronics Inc. The controllers are non-detachable joysticks which also have numeric keypads. The APF-M1000 came built-in with the game Rocket Patrol. Am add-on computer was released, and together the console and computer were called the APF Imagination Machine.
The very first 16-bit console system. Mostly known for it's sports titles, Mattel's Intellivision was the Atari 2600's biggest competitor at the time. With an ad campaign starring a snobby George Plimpton showing off the games and claiming it was "Intelligent Television", a voice synthesis add-on named the "Intellivoice", Mattel did a good job of scaring Atari, but not good enough. The system's controllers were among the worst ever made to date, and the sports title's had a weakness of being 2-player only, with no vs.CPU mode. The pack-in cart was "Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack". The Intellivision had 3 incarnations; The original, which was brown, big and bulky, with unattachable controllers; Intellivision 2, which was a smaller white unit, and had detachable controllers, and an integrated Start/Reset switch. The third unit, the INTV 3, was like the original, but was made after Mattel gave up on the machine after the crash. The new company, "INTV", made several new games for the system, and continued to stay in business clear up until 1991. One last note regarding the controllers; As bad as they were, they were 16-directional, as opposed to the still common 8-directional found today, and is the only system to ever have such controllers.
The first programmable hand-held system. The Microvision had an LCD dot matrix screen, sorta like the Game-Boy, but much less advanced. Along with buttons, the main controller was a paddle. The pack-in cart was "Block Buster". I never had the pleasure of playing one of these, as the one I found suffers from the "Black Plague"; The LCD screen is very sensitive in these, and thus are very hard to find in working condition. If you're at a flea market on a sunny summer day and happen to spot one lying screen-up on a table, you might as well forget it.
Emerson Arcadia 2,001 (1982)
This system was designed to outshine the dominant Atari 2600 VCS, but came out just before the superior next generation of console gaming systems, such as the Atari 5200 and Colecovision, were released. And thus, the system was a failure from the start. It featured Intellivision-style controllers, with a screw-hole in the center of the discs for joysticks. This system was released under many different names and countries, including Leisure-Vision, Bandai Arcadia, Leonardo, TeleFever, among others.
With an impressive line-up of arcade game ports of the period, the ColecoVision was a must-have for arcade game lovers. It was the most powerful pre-crash system, with it's closest competitor being the Atari 5200. I believe the pack-in cart was "Smurf Rescue", but "Donkey Kong" may have been included in some packages as well. Several "Expansion Modules" were made for it. EM#1 was a converter that allowed Atari 2600 software to be played. EM#2 was a steering wheel and gas pedal controller, for use with several driving games. EM#3 was the one that did the system in. It was a module that turned the ColecoVision into a home computer, known as the "ADAM". This venture was a total failure, and fiascos like this was part of the reason for the great crash of '83, and caused several companies to go out of business eventually, including Coleco.
Atari 5200 SuperSystem (1982)
This was Atari's "Super VCS". Basically an Atari 8-bit computer re-packaged, the 5200 had graphics that rivaled the ColecoVision, along with a strong line of Atari arcade ports. This system was HUGE, taking up a lot of space, but it did have storage on-board for the controllers. The controllers were neat, with an analog joystick (the first one made for a console), 4 fire buttons, and a 12-button keypad, and you either loved 'em or hated 'em. The joystick was not as self-centering as it should have been, and the whole controller itself was prone to breaking down from time to time. The pack-in cart was "Super Breakout", and the system was originally released with 4 controller sockets, although no 4 player games were ever produced.
In 1982, arcade companies which used vector tube displays in their games were starting to use color ones, and this left a huge surplus of the older black and white ones lying around. Upon seeing this, someone came up with the idea of a home gaming system using these tubes. Thus was born the Vectrex. With a small vector screen built-in, it was the most unique game system ever made. Directly below the screen was the controller, which with the push of a button it pops out. It sported an analog stick and 4 fire buttons. The games were in B&W, but each cart came with a color overlay, which was fitted over the screen to give the illusion of color. Mine Storm, an Asteroids-type clone, was built into the Vectrex. Over 2 dozen carts were made, and a few add-on peripherils were also produced, including a light pen to doodle on the screen with, and a 3-D Imager, which was a pair of glasses with color wheels, and would create a 3-D effect when played with the special 3-D games. Timing couldn't have been worse for the release of a game system, and so the Vectrex didn't go far. If it had been released later, it would've done much better. It is the hardest to find of all gaming systems, and on average it goes for around $100, with the 3-D imager sometimes going for as high as $600 in Internet auctions. Needless to say, if you see a Vectrex at a yard sale or flea market, GRAB IT!
An early portable game system, which had a red color dot-matrix LED display, with a rotating mirror and LED lights inside it to produce the graphics. The pack-in was Defender. Very hard to find, and probably even harder to find in working condition.
Atari 7800 Pro System (produced 1984, released 1986)
Originally designed and produced in 1983, this system sat in a warehouse until 1986, when it was finally released. It was too late though, as Nintendo already had a strong hold of the market with their NES. It was technically superior to the NES in many ways, and it had a special graphics chip capable of handling 100+ sprites on-screen at once. Better yet, it was backwards compatible with the Atari 2600, giving it a large library of games from the start. One bad side-effect of this is that it used the same sound chip as the 2600. The pack-in cart was Pole Position 2, and most of the other Atari-produced titles were just updates of older arcade titles. They were good games, but they couldn't compete with Super Mario. The controllers were pretty crappy, being the worst hand-crampers I ever used. The 7800 line was officially discontinued by Atari in 1991.
Atari XE Game System (1987)
Like the Atari 5200, the XEGS was another repackaged Atari 8-bit computer, with only slightly better graphic capabilities than those before it. Missle Command was built into it, and the other software available for it was mostly updated titles from the older 8-bit computers. With the addition of a keyboard, the XEGS could be turned into a full flegged XE computer, and a disk drive could also be added. Older carts from the Atari 400/800 line of computers could be played on it, and carts made for the XEGS could be played on the Atari 65XE & 120XE line of computers. As you might guess, this system failed miserably, as the novelty of turning a game system into a computer was already worn out a few years earlier.
Coming Soon - More Post-Crash Systems (Nintendo, Sega, etc.)
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