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Default Gamasutra - History of Gaming Platforms: Atari 8 Bit

August 5th, 2008, 17:38
Gamasutra continues their series profiling the history of gaming platforms with this look at the Atari 8-Bit computer, complete with Atari 's company history, game cartridges and photos that will take you back in time:
When many thirty-something gamers in the U.S. hear the words "8-bit computer," they likely picture a Commodore 64 (C64) or an Apple II. The word "Atari" is forever associated with the arcade and the Atari VCS (aka 2600), the latter of which was covered in an earlier entry in this series.

However, Atari also released a smorgasbord of 8-bit personal computers, collectively known as the Atari 8-bit computer series…
TYPICAL SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
Release Year: 1979
Resolution: 80 x 192
On-Screen Colors: 16
Sound: 4 Channels, Mono
Media Format(s): Cartridge, Cassette, 5.25" Floppy Disk
Main Memory: 48KB
Here's a snip on some of the software:
Games such as Datamost's 1983 platformer, Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory, made excellent use of the Atari 8-bit systems' color options. While the Atari 8-bit's colors are noticeably muted in comparison to other contemporary platforms and can be difficult to manipulate, in the hands of skilled programmers, the results could be impressive.

Unlike Apple, Atari was secretive about the inner workings of their systems. Often, no one would know something was even possible until Atari itself used the technique in a game or grudgingly divulged the information.

This "trade secret" approach sometimes left a quality gap between first-party and third-party games. Nevertheless, clever programmers eventually found ways around Atari's corporate policies to make impressive games of their own.
Rampant piracy almost killed Lucasfilm's entry into the software market before it began, but a name change to LucasArts and dozens of games later, the company is still going strong. Titles such as the 1986 classics Rescue on Fractalus (pictured) and Ballblazer got the company off to a great start.
More information.
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August 5th, 2008, 17:38
Hey! They forgot to mention the 4 expansion slots in the 800 (can't remember if the 400 had any). The original came with the "OS" in a slot-card, along with 16K of RAM on another slot-card IIRC, and we put a 32K 3rd party RAM slot-card in to bring up the old 800 to 48k of RAM.

There were some other cards that went into the expansion slots, but IIRC most were just RAM expansion with a few others that offered CP/M capability. Also more recently people have made IDE hard drive adapters and ethernet cards.

(I still have that old 800, with a 410 Program Recorder, and the 810 disk drive (original one, only supported single sided disks at 90k IIRC).)

And they didn't mention what, for some reason, was my favorite space sim on the 8 bits: Omnitrend's Universe, came with the kind of manual that mini-frames/workstations and their OSes & developer libraries used to come with (nice 3 ring binder packed with info, but only one binder v. the 10s if not 100s for the others).
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