During the last Retro Gaming Con in Portland, I found few missing ROM cartridges for my Atari 400/800 computers. Even though I also own several models of the more advanced XL series, the original Atari computers are close to my heart. They remind me of two good friends as well as my amazement affront of THE killer app of the time: Star Raiders. Think about it, you could play Star Wars at home!
My friend convinced his parents to upgrade his Philips Videopac console to the Atari 800. Needless to say that I spent hours at his place defending the starbases against the aliens. We could even team-up. While one was piloting and shooting, the other was handling the stellar navigation, shield operations and other aspects of the flight. The second good memory is playing Donkey Kong on my other friend’s Atari VCS.
So I dusted off my 800 & 400 two weeks ago and connected them to the TV (a lot more on that later on, since I didn’t reach the display quality I am looking for), and took a fun trip down the memory lane. These systems are really remarkable. They are literally built like tanks with their cast iron chassis providing the required EMC shielding. Nice detail: when you were caught by the game fever you could pop open the cartridge compartment and the power was switched off automatically, so you really could not ruin your investment by hot plugging a ROM cartridge!
Last but not least, the floppy drive – the Rolls-Royce of the options – opened-up your computer to something more than programming and playing games (yes, it really was in that order). Keep in mind that at the time, really no-one knew what to do with a computer. Balancing your checkbook? Maintaining a database of your cellar or stamp collection? It took about four decades to turn these machines into useful commodities.