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Atari 2600 (a2600) - Game console
The Atari VCS, later called the Atari 2600, arrived around Christmas 1977 and became the dominant video game console of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It became the first successful console with games on cartridges. In the 1980s in the United States, the word "Atari" was perceived as a synonym for "Atari 2600". The console usually came with two joysticks or two paddle controllers and one game - first it was a Combat game, and then a Pac-Man game, and the games were one of the favorites on this console. Games became a favorite for the generation of that time. A lot of people played games on the console.
Console manufacturer: Atari
Type: Game console
Generation of console: Second
Release date: October 14, 1977
Units sold: about 40 million
Storage media: Game cartridge
Bestseller: Space Invaders
Predecessor: Atari PONG Successor
: Atari 5200
Set-top box specifications: Set-top box processor
: 6507, 1.19 MHz
RAM: 128 bytes, in VLSI
ROM: 4K Max
Video controller: Stella, graphics chip that controls synchronization with the TV and all other video processing tasks Video controller
frequency: 1.19 MHz
Game storage media: cartridges
Controls: 2 joysticks for games
In 1975, Atari acquires the research company Cyan Engineering to develop next-generation gaming systems. For some time, work was underway to create a prototype, known as "Stella" (that was the name of the bike of one of the engineers). Unlike previous generations of systems containing multiple games programmed as a set of logic gates, the Stella core was a true central processing unit, which used MOS Technology 6502 in a cheaper version, known as 6507. It was associated with a memory and I / O chip MOS Technology 6532 as well as video and audio chip TIA (Television Interface Adapter) of our own design. In addition to these three chips, the first version of the machine contained one more - a standard CMOS buffer chip. In this way, the prefix had a small number of chips and the prefix kept the construction cost relatively low. The prefix in later versions had a buffer chip, which was later removed. At first, the console didn't use a cartridge, but after seeing what looked like a cartridge on another system, the engineers realized that they could put games on a cartridge by adding a socket and packaging for it, thus the games could be sold separately from the console.
In August 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor released its microprocessor-based Video Entertainment System. Stella isn't ready for production yet, but it's becoming clear that it needs to be released before the 'me too' product line comes along - as happened after the release of PONG. Atari simply doesn't have the money to complete the system quickly as PONG sales are already fading. As a result, Nolan Bushnell goes to Warner Communications and sells the company to them for $28 million with the promise that Stella will be released as quickly as possible.
A key contributor to the console's success was the hiring of Jay Miner, a chip designer who managed to simplify circuitry so that TIA fit on a single chip. After that, the system was tested and was ready for release. At the time of its release in 1977, the development costs of the console amounted to about $100 million.
The CPU used was MOS Technology 6507, a stripped down version of the 6502 running at 1.19 MHz. Although the microprocessor dies were identical, the 6507 was cheaper than the 6502 because its package contained fewer address pins - 13 instead of 16. The reduced number of pins was an important factor in reducing the overall cost of the system, and since RAM was very expensive in those days, even 8 kB of maximum addressable memory was never intended to be used.
The designers of the Atari 2600 opted for an inexpensive cartridge interface that had only 12 address lines, resulting in only 4 kB of cartridge memory being used. It seemed that this was enough, because Combat occupied only 2 kB. Later games circumvented this limitation through bank switching. The maximum supported cartridge size was 32 KB.
Graphics, sound effects and reading data from game controllers in the console were handled by a specialized TIA (Television Interface Adapter) chip. The chip was designed to minimize the amount of RAM required.
The console had only 128 bytes of RAM, which included the stack and the entire state of the game world. The graphics allowed up to 240 lines per screen, while the horizontal resolution was variable. The role of the frame buffer was played by a 20-bit register, which contained half of the line of the playing field (the second half, at the choice of the programmer, was drawn by repetition or mirrored; that is, the horizontal resolution of the background is 40 pixels). In addition, there were two 8-pixel sprites, two single-color "rockets" 1/2/4/8 pixels wide and a "ball" 1/2/4/8 pixels, they had a higher resolution - up to 160 pixels per line . All this had to be collected and written to the video controller registers every line during the horizontal blanking signal. After passing the last active line, a personnel quenching pulse began, during which the game could work on its own logic - react to the control and recalculate the new position of the game objects. There was very little reaction time, and any mistake in timing led to visual artifacts on the screen. This problem was called "chasing the beam".
Games ran at 60fps on NTSC and 50fps on PAL/SECAM. On NTSC, a palette of 128 colors was available, on PAL - 104, on SECAM - 8, while 4 colors could stand in one line - two for the playing field (one of them was duplicated as the color of the ball) and one for sprites (the same the colors were the colors of the rockets).
Such a video system was flexible, but difficult to program. One of the advantages of the 2600 over competitors such as ColecoVision was the ability to change settings on the fly. For example, although each sprite could only have one color, that color could be changed between lines. If two hardware sprites weren't enough, developers could share a sprite across multiple objects (such as the ghosts in Pac-Man) or draw software sprites, which was only slightly more difficult than drawing a playing field. So, in the game Pitfall! the swinging rope is made from a ball, and the second sprite went to both the logs and the scorpion.
The sound was handled by two independent tone/noise generators. The set of available frequencies is limited: the frequency of 30 kHz was divided by 1…31. It is extremely difficult to make harmonic music out of this, but still it was a good non-repulsive sound, far superior to the sound of the built-in speakers.
In 1975, Atari acquires the research company Cyan Engineering to develop next-generation gaming systems. For some time, work was underway to create a prototype, known as "Stella" (that was the name of the bike of one of the engineers). Unlike previous generations of systems containing multiple games programmed as a set of logic gates, the Stella core was a true central processing unit, which used MOS Technology 6502 in a cheaper version, known as 6507. It was associated with a memory and I / O chip MOS Technology 6532 as well as video and audio chip TIA (Television Interface Adapter) of our own design. In addition to these three chips, the first version of the machine contained one more - a standard CMOS buffer chip. In this way, the number of chips was very small and the cost of construction remained relatively low. In later versions of the console, the buffer chip was removed. At first, the use of a cartridge was not intended, but after seeing the semblance of a cartridge on another system, the engineers realized that they could put games on a cartridge by just adding a connector socket and packaging for it.
In August 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor released its microprocessor-based Video Entertainment System. Stella is not ready for production yet, but it becomes obvious that it needs to be released before the “me too” series of products appears - as happened after the release of PONG. Atari simply doesn't have the money to complete the system quickly as PONG sales are already fading. As a result, Nolan Bushnell goes to Warner Communications and sells the company to them for $28 million with the promise that Stella will be released as quickly as possible.
In 1977, the console changed its name once again. Atari Video Computer System became known simply as Atari 2600. Marketers spied this idea on the earlier model CX2600, which was sold for $199.
A key contributor to the console's success was the hiring of Jay Miner, a chip designer who managed to simplify the circuitry so that TIA fit on a single chip. After that, the system was tested and was ready for release. At the time of its release in 1977, the development costs of the console amounted to about $100 million.
Start of sales
The initial price of the console was $ 199, by the time of launch, 9 games were ready. In order to play competitively with the Fairchild VES, Atari called their console the Video Computer System (VCS). A short time later, Fairchild renamed the VES to Channel F. Both of these systems were caught in a vicious cycle of price cuts: the PONG clones, rendered obsolete by these newer and more powerful machines, were being sold at bargain prices. Soon, many clone makers left the market. In 1977, Atari sold only 250,000 VCSs. In 1978, out of 800,000 cars produced, only 550,000 were sold, requiring additional financial injections from Warner to cover costs. This led to controversy that resulted in Atari founder Nolan Bushnell leaving the company.
Gradually, the public realized that it was possible to play something more interesting than PONG, and programmers learned to squeeze the maximum out of the console, and then popularity came to 2600. By this time, Fairchild had exited the market, deciding that video games were a bygone fashion - and in doing so, giving away the entire growing market to Atari. In 1979, the Atari 2600 became the best-selling Christmas present (and set-top box), largely due to its exceptional qualities, and nearly a million consoles were sold that year.
Atari then licensed the triumphant arcade game Space Invaders from Taito, and this greatly increased the popularity of the device; after the game was released in May 1980, sales doubled to 2 million units a year. 2600 and its cartridges became the backbone of Atari's $2 billion revenue in 1980. Sales doubled over the next two years, reaching nearly 8 million units in 1982.
During this period, Atari expanded its product line with two 2600-compatible models. The Atari 2700, a wireless version of the console, was developed but was never released due to a design error. In early 1983, the Atari 2800 model was also developed for sale in the Japanese market, but there it experienced competition from the Nintendo Famicom.
During this period, Atari continued to grow until the company's R&D department became the largest in Silicon Valley. Much of the development budget was spent on projects that didn't seem right for a video game company; many of these projects never saw the light of day. Meanwhile, several attempts to create new models of game consoles failed for one reason or another. Nevertheless, sales of home computer models - Atari's 8-bit family - were not bad, if not impressive. Warner was more than happy, as sales of the 2600 showed no end in sight, and Atari brought in more than half of the company's revenue.
Meanwhile, within the company, dissatisfaction with programmers who created many hit games at Atari was growing. For example, Rick Mauer, the creator of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600, received no fame and only $11,000 in royalties, while cartridges with this game brought in about $100 million. Warren Robinett, lead programmer for Adventure, hid his name in the game in a hidden room to protest the company's anonymity policy. Many of the programmers left the company and founded their own independent game development companies. The most famous and longest-lived of these companies was Activision, founded in 1980, whose games quickly became more popular than Atari's own games. Atari tried to block the development of third-party games through the courts, but failed, after which publishers such as Imagic and Coleco entered the market. Atari has suffered lawsuits after Mystique released several pornographic games for the 2600. The most famous of them - Custer's Revenge - caused protests on behalf of women and Indians. Atari brought Mystique to court for releasing this game.
In 1983, due to the aggressive pricing policy of companies that produce cheap home computers (Commodore), the market for video consoles was catastrophically reduced - the crisis of the video game industry was coming. At the same time, a series of failures in the release of potential gaming hits finally marked the decline of the Atari 2600.
After the departure of the Atari 2600, its place in the market is taken by the Nintendo Entertainment System, which had practically no competitors.
In 1984, Warner sold Atari to Commodore Business Machines, which liquidated the money-losing gaming division almost immediately.
Atari 2600 Jr.
In 1984, a new version of the Atari 2600, known as the "Atari 2600 Jr.", saw the light of day. Advantages of this console: lower price, compactness and a new design similar to the Atari 7800. The redesigned Atari 2600 was advertised as a budget gaming system (price less than $50). With the release of the updated console, new games began to appear, both from Atari itself and from third-party developers (including Activision, Absolute Entertainment, Froggo, Epyx, Palan, and Exus)
Console Atari 2600 Jr. sold in Asia until 1990, and in the US and Europe until 1991. The last licensed game was KLAX, released in 1990. Over the entire life cycle of the console, over 30 million units have been sold, and the game library has more than 900 titles. End of official support for the Atari 2600 by Atari Corp. took place on January 1, 1992, making it the longest-lived console in video game history at 14 years, 2 months.
The Atari prefix absorbed wonderful games:
Frogs and Flies;
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back;