October 14 marks the 35th birthday of the legendary game console, which landed with a bang in 1977. It wasn't the first home video game system -- that honor belongs to the Magnavox Odyssey -- but it quickly became the most widely adopted and set the standard for many, many years.
To celebrate the console that revolutionized home entertainment, we dug up 35 factoids you might not have heard about while you were busy playing Asteroids and Pitfall.
1. It almost belonged to Magnavox.
Had things worked out a bit differently, we'd be talking about the 36th birthday of the Magnavox 2600. An earlier settlement between Atari and Magnavox over Pong gave Magnavox the rights to anything Atari produced for one year, so Atari held the system back from 1976 to 1977 to keep it their own. Good idea.
2. It was first the VCS.
The Atari 2600 wasn't the system's original name. When it hit shelves, it was called the Atari VCS (short for Video Computer System). It wasn't until 1982 that it was given its now famous moniker.
Actually, before it hit shelves, the Atari 2600 had another name: "Stella." The project's codename was named after one of the engineers' bicycles, and is currently the name of a widely downloaded Atari 2600 emulator.
4. It was kind of expensive.
The initial price for the system was $200. That might seem like a pittance, but in 1977 that was the equivalent of $775 today. And you thought Sony's initial PlayStation 3 pricing was insane.
5. It owes its success to Space Invaders.
While porting arcade games to home consoles would eventually become everyday business, it was unheard of in 1979. A year later, the Atari 2600 featured a port of Space Invaders, considered the first home console 'killer app,' turning the system into a must-have and ultimately grossing over $100 million.
6. But it owes even more to Rick Mauer.
Who? The guy who programmed Space Invaders for the Atari 2600, that's who. Despite how big of a hit the game turned out to be, Mauer is rumored to have received just $11,000 for his work. He never programmed another game for Atari.
7. It's a Hall of Famer.
In 2007, the Atari 2600 was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It's one of just 46 toys to hold that honor. Nintendo's Game Boy is the only other video game system there.
8. Its famous creator didn't actually create it.
Most gamers associate Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell with everything Atari, but it turns out he wasn't responsible for the 2600's development. Engineers Steve Mayer and Larry Emmons, who ran a think tank called Cyan Engineering, came up with the idea.
9. It led to Bushnell's departure.
Atari's sale to Warner Communications in 1976 was done expressly to raise the capital to finish production on the 2600. A year after the system's release, culture clashes between Bushnell and Warner execs reached a point where Bushnell opted to leave the company.
10. It was almost a Disney product.
Warner wasn't Atari's first choice for an investor, though. Both MCA and Disney were approached first, but declined.
11. Now in stereo!
The sound itself might have only been a bunch of bleeps and bloops, but in its original design, the 2600 had two speakers in the top deck to offer stereo sound to players.
12. Heavy Sixers.
The first versions of the 2600 to ship were called "Heavy Sixers," so named because of a thicker plastic case and the six switches on the front. Geeky band name, anyone?
13. It wasn't an immediate hit.
The first truly popular home console wasn't all that popular when it first came out. In fact, it only sold 250,000 units during its first year.
14. It was a label snob.
As was the case with many 2600 games, Space Invaders 2600 was released with four different labels: Red, Silver, Picture, and Text. Today, the picture version is the most desired by collectors.
15. Sears sold their own version.
Couldn't get your hands on an Atari 2600 in 1978? Sears had you covered with the Sears Video Arcade System, a white-label version of Atari's console. It wasn't a shameless rip-off, however -- a full partnership with Atari gave Sears the right to sell the newly branded machine in order to increase exposure.
16. It wasn't cheap to build.
It might not seem like much by today's standards, but the Atari 2600 cost $100 million to develop.
17. It held the first Easter Egg.
The 2600 game Adventure has gaming's first Easter Egg. Developer Warren Robinett, frustrated with the company's policy of not crediting workers, put a message reading "Created by Warren Robinett" in a secret room in the game, but didn't tell a single co-worker.
18. It stuck around longer than you think.
Most gamers assume the Atari 2600 completely died out alongside the video game crash of 1983, but the system secretly hung around for much longer. In fact, the last game released for the system in the U.S., the aptly-titled Secret Quest, came out in 1989.
19. Its biggest game was a coin-op classic.
Space Invaders might have been the first killer app for the 2600, but its biggest seller was another arcade blockbuster: Pac-Man, which sold 7 million copies.
20. Speech! Speech!
Believe it or not, two Atari 2600 games could actually pull off digitized speech: Quadrun and Open Sesame. Though neither were big hits, they were programming wonders considering the power limitations of the console.
21. Attack of the clones.
As the 2600 took off, countless clone machines emerged. One of the strangest was from Columbia House Record Club called the Columbia Home Arcade. Only sold to members of the club's mailing list, it's a serious collector's item.
22. It supported the 99%.
Or one of its games did, at least. Tax Avoiders, a 1982 game for the system that revolved around a millionaire dodging the IRS, was written by a former IRS agent.
23. It had lots of games.
Most gamers can only name a handful of 2600 games, but by the time the system was replaced, more than 400 games had been made for it. That might seem negligible by today's standards, but it blew its competition out of the water. Only about 150 games were made for Mattel's Intellivision.
24. It was buried by ET.
Atari paid $21 million to license the video game rights to E.T. That proved disastrous, as the lousy game wound up contributing to the Video Game Crash of 1983. Most of the resulting games are buried in a desert today.
25. It could go online.
The Sega Dreamcast might have been the first game console to popularize online play, but way back in the early 80s, a fledgling company called CVC released the GameLine for the Atari. The chunky cartridge could connect to servers over phone lines and players could download games to play on their console. It was way ahead of its time, though sadly the GameLine would fade into obscurity after the company folded in 1983.
26. Some of its games are worth a fortune.
The rarest game for the Atari 2600 is Air Raid. Only 13 copies are known to exist today, and they're worth as much as $31,000 each.
27. It took part in the soda wars.
Coca-Cola commissioned a 2600 game from Atari called "Pepsi Invaders" that was given exclusively to its Atlanta employees. The Space Invaders clone let players shot the letters "P E P S I" rather than aliens. It's worth a good $2,000 these days.
28. It had a light gun.
Think the whole light gun thing started with the Nintendo Zapper for the NES? Think again. The 2600 had a light gun controller as well, but only one game — Sentinel — used it.
29. You could play Atari 2600 games on the Intellivision II.
In a twist unheard of in today's console wars, Intellivision released the 'System Changer' adapter for the Intellivision II system that would let games play Atari cartridges on their rig. That's like Sony releasing an Xbox 360 adapter. Heresy!
30. Who you gonna call? Not the Ghostbusters II.
Though Activision released a pretty awesome Ghostbusters 2600 game, the company chose not to release 1989's Ghostbusters II in the U.S. due to the system's waning popularity. Instead, it was exclusively released in Europe. Licensing issues have kept it from appearing in any anthologies, sadly.
31. It featured the power of Chuck Norris.
Action movie star and internet sensation Chuck Norris starred in a game for the system, though it didn't turn out so hot. Released in 1983, Chuck Norris Superkicks was forced to change its name to Kung Fu Superkicks after the license to use Norris' name expired.
32. It had the first movie licensed game ever.
Few action films are released these days without video game tie-ins. That all started with the Atari 2600 and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which let players try to dig up the Ark while dodging thieves, avoiding tsetse flies and struggling with bad controls.
33. It helped Jack Black get his start.
Atari loved using celebs in their advertising campaigns, but little did they know they'd feature one of today's biggest stars when they cast a then-unknown kid named Jack Black to don a pith helmet and pimp Pitfall.
34. It had a few games for adults only.
While Atari hoped to bill the 2600 as a family system ("Have you played Atari today?"), developer Mystique drew a line in the sand by making adult/pornographic games for the 2600, including Custer's Last Stand, widely viewed as the most offensive game of all time.
35. It had a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the RAM powering your phone.
While today's systems launch with bleeding-edge computing power, the Atari 2600 has just 128 bytes of RAM. That's bytes, not kilobytes. Comparatively, an iPhone 5 sports 1 GB RAM.
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