A collection of items from the early days of the coin-operated and home entertainment industries including console gaming, home computing, and related pop culture.

Atari 1200XL Computer

The Atari 1200XL was released by Atari Inc. in March 1983 as a successor to the still-popular Atari 800 8-bit computer. Although the 1200XL featured a modern case redesign and several technical improvements including 64K of RAM, recessed cartridge and controller ports, function-keys, and a built-in self test, the system soon became notorious for its lack of 100% software and hardware compatibility and substantially higher price. Negative press reviews and poor sales resulted in Atari discontinuing the ill-fated 1200XL in June 1983, only four months after its release.

The 1200XL (S/N 83SDA013143133) has the honor of being my first personal computer. Fueled by my interest in my uncle’s Atari 800, my dad purchased the 1200XL as a present from Computer Mail Order, but a back-order status delayed the system from shipping until what seemed like months later. In fact, it became a daily ritual to listen and wait for the UPS truck to drive down our street, hoping that it would stop this time instead of driving past.

Although Atari quickly released a Translator disk which allowed incompatible software to run successfully, the system’s shortcomings weren’t an issue for me. Atari cancelled the 1200XL and replaced it with the superior 800XL model, but my trusty 1200XL remained my computer of choice until the 16-bit 520ST came along a few years later. Ironically, the 1200XL has since become highly sought-after among vintage computer collectors due to its history and reputation.

Pong

Pong is the first commercially successful video arcade game. Commonly mistaken to also be the first video game, Nolan Bushnell’s new company Atari Inc. released Pong in November 1972, one year to the month after his trailblazing but commercially unsuccessful Computer Space video arcade game was released.

Unlike the multi-button Computer Space, Pong’s success came from its simplicity: “avoid missing ball for high score”, where two players use a dial to volley a ball across the screen in tennis-like fashion. Due to this success, Pong was quickly copied by rival companies hoping to cash in on the new market. Atari itself released several variations of Pong.

There are two cabinet versions in the collection: the first cabinet features a flat lower front panel and a baker’s bread pan as a makeshift coin box. The second version features an angled front, presumably to provide additional foot room when standing in front of the game.

After a several years-long search, I was fortunate to acquire this game from another arcade collector in 2009. Nearly 1600 miles of driving later, this fully functioning and excellent condition Pong was finally in the collection. The game had previously been rescued from storage in the mid-west US. Little else is known about the history of this particular machine other than its circuit board was repaired just prior to acquiring it.

Ironically, after years of unsuccessful searching for this historic yet elusive arcade game, the second one was located and purchased within 20 minutes of home for a fraction of the price not but a month or two later.

Computer Space

Computer Space is the world’s first commercial video arcade game. Based on the early mainframe computer game Spacewar!, this one-player shooting contest pits a player-controlled rocket ship against computer-controlled flying saucers.

The game uses no microprocessor or memory – all game logic and display is achieved by employing a state-machine design consisting of logic gates and diodes. An off-the-shelf GE 15-inch black-and-white television was factory-modified for use as the video display and a metal paint-thinner can serves as the coin bucket. The game was conceived by Nolan Bushnell and designed by Ted Dabney.

Computer Space was manufactured in a futuristic-styled fiberglass cabinet in several colors: red, blue, yellow, and green. A one-of-a-kind white model appears in the 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green. It is estimated that Nutting Associates produced 1300-1500 units in total, as the game was not a commercial success.

The game in my collection is red and is serial number 10116. It includes the original paint thinner can and was acquired in southern California.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders is an early arcade shooter and arguably the most successful arcade game from video game history’s ‘bronze age’. Designed by Taito designer Tomohiro Nishikado, Space Invaders enjoyed massive success in Japan before Midway licensed it for distribution in the US in the fall of 1978. As of 2016, it remains the highest-grossing video game to date and an urban legend states that the game’s initial popularity led to a shortage of 100-yen coins when first released in Japan.

This is the original Midway-produced standard upright cabinet and includes the Braze multi-game kit featuring other Intel 8080 8-bit processor-based games of the era. Drawing from a display technique used by early coin-operated electro-mechanical rifle games, the cabinet superimposes the game’s black-and-white monitor display over a colorful artistic rendering of a blacklight-reactive moonbase. The result is a visual masterpiece.

Space Invaders is the first arcade video game cabinet I ever owned. My father managed a shoe store during the early-1980s, and when the parent company closed his store, he was tasked with closing the store and liquidating the assets and store fixtures. An owner of a small bakery nearby expressed an interest in some display fixtures, so he and my dad arranged a trade for one of several old arcade video games tucked away in the backroom of the bakery. I can still vividly remember walking back there with my dad and picking out the Space Invaders, the only title I instantly recognized among the other black-and-white arcade games. We hauled it home where it sat, non-working, waiting to be repaired. Unsure how to proceed, my dad soon traded it to my uncle who eventually did get it working. I would play it in his garage whenever we went to visit.

In keeping with the tradition, the game in the collection is one of the first arcade games I acquired – this one from an auction in California, and unlike that first game, this one’s unlikely to ever leave. The game and its cabinet is a true classic.

Combat

This early shoot-em-up is one of the original nine games available at the launch of Atari’s pioneering 2600 console. Designed by Steve Mayer, Joe Decuir, and Larry Wagner, it features 27 variations of one and two-player tank and airplane games.

Combat was the original pack-in game included with the 2600 from its launch in 1977 until 1982, where it was replaced by Pac-Man. Atari Inc. (later Atari Corp.) produced several repackaged versions over the life of the console with varying box and label styles.

Atari 2600

The Atari Video Computer System, better known as the “Atari 2600”, is the first commercially successful programmable video game console and was first produced in 1977 by Atari Inc. The console connects to a television through an RF antenna switch-box and has a cartridge port for game programs. Two controller ports allow for the connection of player controllers including joysticks, paddles, steering, and keyboard controllers. Game variations and difficulty settings are selected through its front-panel switches.

The console features an 8-bit MOS Technology 6507 CPU, a cost-reduced version of the 6502 CPU running at 1.19 MHz. The system architecture provides 128 bytes of RAM and can address 4K of ROM. The system was designed in Grass Valley, California by Joe Decuir, Steve Mayer, Ron Milner, and Jay Miner. Atari sold the system from September of 1977 until discontinuing it on January 1, 1992. It is estimated that 30 million consoles were sold. The system originally retailed at $199.

There are several variations of the Atari 2600 console in the collection:

Model CX2600 is the initial production early-model VCS. Manufactured in California, is it known as among video game collectors as the “heavy-sixer” for its six front-panel switches and heavy-gauge metal RF shielding. The game program Combat was included with the system.

Model CX2600A is a Hong Kong-manufactured unit nicknamed the “light-sixer” for its six front-panel switches and lighter-gauge internal RF shielding. It is my first video game console and was given to me as a Christmas present by my parents in either 1981 or 1982. The game program Combat was included with the system.