"How Stella Got Her Groove Back"


The Making of the Atari 2600 VCSp

  The Finished Product. The Atari 2600 VCSp.

  It all started one day while I was at work . . . I'm a graphic artist and I use computers everyday, and of course they sometimes (quite often) don't work right so I end up on the phone with tech support. So there I was, listening to Musak, sitting in my chair, waiting, waiting... My mind drifted away... to Atari.

  Ah, Atari. I'm sure most people in their 20's or 30's have SOME memory of that fine system, that wondrous achievement, that pillar of an acme of an apex that defined an industry! The point may seem moot now, but, you must realize, had it not been for Atari, the videogame industry probably would not be the same as it is today (read: HUGE)

There had been videogame systems before the Atari 2600, but the 2600 was the system that appealed to the most people and had the best selection of games. Kinda like how computers and the internet didn't take off big-time until Windows 95 came out. (and you anti-Microsoft people KNOW it's true) However, Atari wasn't a HUGE hit right off the bat. In fact, some say that it would have died a quick death had it not been for a technical anomaly in the system...


  The Atari 2600 could only display a background, 2 players and a ball at the same time. So, think of the 2 tanks in Combat, those are the 2 players. And the gunshot is the ball. If you wanted more players, you could take 1 player and flicker it back and forth quickly, to make it look like 2. (It's called multiplexing, and they did that A LOT on the Nintendo).

  But that looks crappy. And some Atari 2600 developers refused to use it. Luckily for the 2600, it had a thing called H-Strobe. I can't recall if it was a glitch or something actually designed into the 2600, but, at any rate, it allowed a player to be duplicated up to 3 times, in a horizontal fashion.

Without H-Strobe, and then WITH H-Strobe.

  I bet a lot of you are thinking "So what?" Well, the thing is, when you have 2 players being multiplied 3 times each, you can have up to 6 players across. And each player can be as tall as the screen, so you can multiply them that way as well. Are you STILL thinking "So what?" Well, recognize this????


  Ah ha! Got ya! Whose laughing now, huh? WHOSE LAUGHING NOW? Well, this game could not have been made had it not been for the H-Strobe effect. See the SIX rows of aliens! Ha! Math wins the day! Space Invaders was such a huge hit when it came out for the Atari in 1980 that people bought systems just to play the game. And with that, Atari rocketed into the stratosphere! (until 1983-ish when they had wasted so much money they were doomed)

I believe Jimmy Carter said it best - "A chicken in every pot, an Atari hooked up to every TV." And maybe he didn't that say... but he should have!