When I was researching my collectors guide book, I had to delve into a new side of the classic video game collecting hobby--home consoles. I had an Atari 2600 when I was in high school, but I sold it when the video game market dried up in the mid-80s. I never bought another console until the Sega Dreamcast.
My friend (and Atari collector extrodinaire) Dan Cage gave me an Atari 2600 and a number of games for Christmas in 2002 to help me in my research. I took it a step further and decided to pick up as many 1970s and 1980s home video game consoles as I could afford. And (not surprisingly) I got hooked on the home facet of the hobby as well. I'm not striving for a complete collection of cartridges for every console, or even a complete classic console collection--that's just nuts. But I have accumulated a nice sampling of classic consoles, and I figured they deserve some space on this site.
|Pong||Video Pinball||2600 (VCS)|
|Telstar Alpha||Telstar Combat||Telstar Arcade||ColecoVision|
Atari was, hands down, the king of the home video game business from the late 1970s up to the video game crash of 1983-1984. Almost from the time the Atari VCS (2600) was released, "Atari" became synonymous with "video game." There was a time when, regardless of whether you were playing an Intellivision, a ColecoVision or any other rival game system, you were "playing Atari."
My Atari console collection represents a nice cross-section of the company's early console history.
What classic console collection would be complete without Pong? This was the first of dozens of video ping pong games released in the mid- to late 1970s. Atari's game was a huge success and paved the way for the home video game revolution that was just around the corner. Pong wasn't the first home video game--the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, holds that honor--but it was the first one to gain widespread popularity. When it was first marketed through Sears stores in 1975 (as Tele-Games Pong), 150,000 units were sold during the Christmas season. The Atari model followed early in 1976, and continued to sell well for some time.
I picked up my Pong on eBay for around $40 (which is a very good price--they often sell for $100 or more). It works perfectly.
Pong Story is a great web site that has loads of information about Pong and many of the other early dedicated (non-cartridge) home video game systems.
It didn't take long for video game manufacturers to realize that they had to progress beyond Pong to keep the players' interest. Atari adapted two of their popular arcade games--Breakout and Video Pinball--into a multi-game dedicated console creatively called Video Pinball. Video Pinball was available in both white and wood grain versions, both of which feature seven built-in games.
Video Pinball isn't in huge demand among collectors, so I was able to snag a fully-functional white model on eBay for around $25. If you buy one, keep in mind that the sound comes out of the console, not the TV. Turn the TV down if you don't want to hear the hiss of static while you play.
The 2600 (originally known as the Atari Video Computer System, or VCS) is the king of the classic consoles. Originally released in 1977, the 2600 ruled the home video game market from about 1979 to the "big crash" of 1983-84. Despite the fact that Atari released two other consoles in the 1980s (the Atari 5200 and 7800), the 2600 remained in production in one form or another until 1991.
The story of the 2600 is a long and interesting one, and collecting for this console is a hobby unto itself. At the risk of sounding self-serving, check out my book for a detailed history on the console variations and games, and advice on collecting the huge assortment of games and accessories available for this system.
My Atari 2600 was given to my by my friend Dan Cage. It's the four-switch model, which was introduced in 1980.
For loads of information on the Atari 2600, check out the AtariAge web site.
Coleco's classic video game console history is interesting in that it has a beginning and an end but no middle. After Atari's success with their home version of Pong Coleco, a leather manufacturing company that had shifted their focus to vacu-formed plastic toys in the 50s and 60s, decided to jump on the home video game bandwagon. Their early Telstar line of Pong clones was very successful in the 70s but, as the 80s approached, their video game business dwindled. Coleco shifted their focus to handheld LED games for a few years, again with great success. It wasn't until 1982 that they got back into video games and introduced the ColecoVision, one of the most advanced home console systems of the classic era.
My Coleco collection includes representative consoles from their early Pong era, the transitional Telstar Arcade cartridge-based system, and the ColecoVision.
Coleco cashed in on the Pong craze in a big way. They managed to grab a huge share of the early home video game market partly through good marketing (their original Telstar console was half the price of Atari's Pong) and partly through good luck (Coleco was the only company that got their full shipment of the popular microchip that everyone used to manufacture their home Pong systems in late 1976). Coleco sold the Coleco Telstar line (a whole slew of Pong-clones) throughout the late 1970s. After an abortive attempt at a primitive cartridge-based console (the Telstar Arcade), Coleco dropped out of the home video game console business for several years, only to return with a bang in the early 1980s with the successful ColecoVision, one of the finest classic consoles ever made.
My token Coleco Pong-clone is the Telstar Alpha. Released in 1977, this system plays four Pong-like games (tennis, hockey, handball, and jai alai). The only reason I have this console is that it was part of a package deal on eBay that included Coleco Telstar Combat. Together, the two consoles cost me a mere $30. I'm not sure if they work--I'm embarrassed to say that I've never hooked them up.
Telstar Combat was one of Coleco's attempts to break away from the Pong-clone video game rut. It's certainly unique--no other company manufactured a dedicated console with such elaborate controls. As you might guess, the console plays four variations of a tank battle game, very similar to the Atari 2600 Combat game cartridge. I'm not sure how well this console sold in its time, but it had to cost a fortune to make compared to the other games of that era.
I have to admit that I bought this one on a whim. It's just so cool looking! Some day, I'll have to hook the thing up and see if it works! I picked it up on eBay in a package deal that included a Coleco Telstar Alpha console for about $30 (for the pair). Not bad for a couple of nice historic pieces.
Like all of the other video game manufacturers in the late 70s, Coleco realized that the era of the dedicated console was coming to an end. At the 2003 Classic Gaming Expo, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell said that this was inevitable because "people only had so much room in their closets for these things." Coleco followed everyone else's example and produced a cartridge-based system that allowed multiple games to be played on a single piece of hardware. However, Coleco's approach was truly unique.
The three-sided Telstar Arcade features three different sets of controls. One side has paddle controllers for Pong-style games, another features a gun for shooting games, and the third side has a steering wheel and gearshift for driving games. The cartridges for this system match the console's triangular shape, and each cart features at least one game for each set of controls.
This system was primitive when compared to the competition--both the Atari 2600 and the Fairchild Channel F featured better graphics and a wider variety of games--and, as a result, was only on the market for a short time. Only four cartridges were produced, each with a distinctive silver color. (This is actually an aluminum coating that cuts down on RF emissions--a necessity for the FCC approval of the console at the time!)
I got my Telstar Arcade on eBay. It was sold as semi-working, and that's an accurate description. It produces a picture, but it doesn't play. It's also missing one decal, and several others are peeling. The main reason I purchased this particular console was that the auction included the second set of paddle controllers--a very rare item for this system. The auction also included two cartridges (numbers 1 and 2). Working or not, it's a very cool addition to my collection.
The first ever home video game console war was between the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision. There was a time when it seemed like everyone who had a home video game either had one or the other. I had my 2600 and my friend Bob had an Intellivision, so we took turns playing each other's systems. I liked a couple of the Intellivision titles, but none of them made me want to dump my Atari.
Then, in 1982, my friend Bruce got a ColecoVision. When I compared his system to my Atari, the Atari truly paled by comparison. ColecoVision was about as close to an arcade as you could get in your home at the time. Most of the titles released for the system were offbeat arcade conversions like Lady Bug and Mr. Do!--Atari had exclusive licenses to a lot of the heavy-hitters--but Coleco also had the license to Nintendo games like Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. In a word, the system was awesome!
The ColecoVision arguably holds its own today better than most other consoles of the era. Aside from my Intellivision, I spend more classic console gaming time on the ColecoVision than any of my other systems. My favorites are all arcade conversions--Tapper (the tamer Root Beer version--no Budweiser on the ColecoVision!) and Carnival are my two favorites of the small collection of cartridges I own. There's also an interesting cartridge called Fortune Builder that must have served as an inspiration for Will Wright's Sim City. It is fascinating that an 80s game system with such primitive processing power could play a complex financial and city-building simulation.
I got my ColecoVision on eBay. It was another great package deal--less than $100 for the console, the driving controller, two Super Action Joystick controllers, and 10 games. The console didn't work when I got it, and the gentleman who I bought it from sent me another one--which also didn't work. Or so I thought. Turns out the power supply was bad on the second one, and the power supply from the first worked fine. I eventually ended up with three consoles--two of which really don't work. Oh--the guy I bought it from also threw in an Atari 2600 adaptor module for my trouble. Definitely a great deal.
I have yet to find a definitive ColecoVision web site, but the classicgaming.com entry on the system is pretty good. Check it out.
It's almost silly to have a "Fairchild Consoles" header on this page since Fairchild Camera and Instrument only produced one system. But, hey--I'm a stickler for consistency.
Fairchild's foray into the home video game market lasted only a short time, but their system is a landmark nevertheless. It was never very popular in its day, but it pointed the way to the video game system model of the future.
Like just about every company in the late 70s, Fairchild Camera and Instrument jumped on the home video game bandwagon. what makes Fairchild unique, however, is that they didn't produce Pong-clone systems like everyone else. Their one and only console represented the shape of things to come. The Fairchild Channel F (originally known as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System) was the first cartridge-based home video game. It hit the market just shortly before the Atari 2600. If it had been a year earlier, it might have had time to build a loyal consumer base--but that, unfortunately, didn't happen.
The idea of a cartridge-based system was a sound one, however. During the console's short original run, Fairchild released 22 game cartridges for the Video Entertainment System. Fairchild sold the rights to the system to a company called Zircon in the early 80s, and the system was re-released as the Channel F System II. Zircon produced an additional four games, bringing the library up to 26 (not including the two store demo cartridges, which are rather rare). All of the carts for this system are a distinctive bright yellow color, so they're easy to spot.
As mentioned, there are two versions of the console. The original Video Entertainment System version has translucent plastic lid that covers a compartment where the hard-wired controllers are stored. The Channel F System II is slightly more compact and doesn't have this compartment. Instead, it has clips on the back of the console to hold the controllers in place when not in use.
I got my system (an original Video Entertainment System) on eBay for a very low price (several games included). It was an "untested" system so I was pretty certain it wouldn't work--and that is, indeed the case. I think the problem lies in the fact that a couple of the buttons on the console are jammed. I might get around to fixing it someday. For now, it still makes a good addition to the collection. After all, this is arguably one of the most pivotal video game consoles ever produced!
Magnavox created the home video game console market with the release of Odyssey in 1972. They stuck with the industry for quite a while, and even made an attempt to compete with Atari and Intellivision in the late 70s with a rival console-based system.
Personally, I've never been a big Magnavox console fan. The original Odyssey, while certainly a piece of history, has never held much appeal for me, and the Pong-clones the company produced in the mid-70s were not significantly different than those produced by other companies at the time. My primary interest in this company was always the Odyssey², probably because it was the only cartridge-based system of the classic era that I had never played at the time.
After pioneering the home video game industry in 1972, Magnavox disappeared for a while from the video game scene. They returned to the market in the mid-70s with a series of Magnavox Odyssey dedicated Pong-clones that were mildly successful. But, like everyone else, they saw that cartridge-based video game systems were the wave of the future.
Odyssey² was released in 1978 to compete with the Atari 2600. It had a lot of promise--with a built-in keyboard and more graphics and sound capabilities than the 2600, this system could have had phenomenal games. Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of game variety, and most of the games are real duds in every sense of the word. Only a few games--Quest for the Rings, The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt, and Conquest of the World, for example--showed the potential of the system by combining complex video game play with board game elements to make truly engaging games.
I got my Odyssey² and about 30 games on eBay for around $50. Unfortunately, the console itself didn't work, but that wasn't a problem--I got a working one a couple of days later for $15. These are not uncommon prices, because most of the games are worth little more than a dollar in today's collectors market (there are a few exceptions--but only a few). I hardly ever play with this system, but I'm keeping it out of a sense of nostalgia. And because boxing up everything to sell it would be more trouble than it's worth.
One of the best online sources of Odyssey² information is the Odyssey² Homepage.
Like Coleco, Mattel made a fortune selling handheld electronic games during the 70s. But, unlike Coleco, the huge toy manufacturer stayed out of the video game business while everyone else was trying to make a few bucks off of their own "unique" versions of Pong. When Mattel finally did enter the video game business, they did so with a console that was one of the few that actually gave Atari a run for their money.
Released in 1980, Intellivision was the only real competition for the Atari 2600 throughout most of the classic video game era. With superior graphics and sound, not to mention a more powerful processor, Intellivision played to its strengths. While Atari concentrated on home versions of arcade game hits, Mattel concentrated on creating the best sports simulations available on a home video game system in the early 80s. After Mattel bowed out of the video game business, the rights to the system and the games was purchased by INTV, and new Intellivision consoles and cartridges were manufactured until 1991.
Although Intellivision didn't sell as well as the 2600, it was very popular among players then--and it is very popular among collectors today. ColecoVision is my favorite of the classic consoles, but Intellivision runs a close second. Two Intellivision games--LocoMotion and B-17 Bomber--occupy a lot of my classic gaming time.
My Intellivision experience is a great example of the kind of deals you can get on eBay if you're patient and search the auctions long enough. I got an original Intellivision, an Intellivision II (the smaller model of the console that was introduced in 1983), the Intellivoice module (a speech synthesizer) and 25 boxed games for under $100! Quite a deal. The original Intellivision didn't work, but everything else was fully-functional. I eventually picked up a working original console for $8 at a flea market.
Milton Bradley's foray into the video game console world was kind of an afterthought. Their most commonly-known contribution to the industry was probably the MicroVision--one of the earliest cartridge-based handheld video games, and certainly a forerunner to successful handhelds like the Nintendo Game Boy.
The company's other video game was far more interesting, and certainly unique in the annals of console history even to this day. Of course, Milton Bradley didn't actually make the console. It was produced by a company called GCE. Milton Bradley simply bought the rights and handled the distribution.
Vectrex was arguably the most ambitious and unique classic console ever released. It has a built-in 9-inch black-and-white vector graphics (XY) monitor--the kind of monitor used in games like Asteroids. Most games came with color screen overlays to spice up the graphics, which were already far better than any system available at the time. Whereas Atari and ColecoVision strove for something approximating arcade resolution, Vectrex really had arcade resolution. I really wanted one of these back in the day, but it was too expensive. Plus, my parents rightly pointed out that I had gotten bored with my Atari, so it was probably going to be a waste of $200 to buy a Vectrex.
The Vectrex wasn't around for very long. It was introduced very late in the classic game era and, like every other system, it got caught in the video game crash of 1983-84. After only a couple of years on the market, it died a quiet death. Only 27 games were released for the system (compare that to the over 700 games released for the Atari 2600). There was also a light pen and a 3D headset released for Vectrex. These items are quite rare, and fetch huge prices on the market today.
Vectrex has quite a cult following among collectors, and lots of new games have been released by hobbyists over the years. Lots of these games are available from Mark's Vectrex Carts . You might also want to look for the Vectrex MultiCart. This cartridge houses all of the original 27 games plus dozens of fan-produced games and demos. Details on the cartridge can be found on Sean Kelly's web site. These carts are usually for sale at classic gaming shows like CGE and the PhillyClassic where Digital Press has a presence (Sean works for them). At shows, they sell for around $75. On eBay, the same cartridges sell for about twice as much on the average. Either way, it's a great way to max out your Vectrex game collection in one fell swoop. The only drawback is that you don't get the game overlays. A small loss, since all of the games can be played without the overlays.
I got my Vectrex on eBay for $68. No games except the built-in MineStorm (an Asteroids-like game). I picked up a couple of games--Armor Attack and Star Trek--for about $10 apiece, and then gave up and bought Sean's MultiCart at the 2003 PhillyClassic. I'd also recommend the awesome Protector/YASI cartridge--Vectrex versions of Defender and Space Invaders that's available from Mark's Vectrex Carts.
You can find lots of info on Vectrex at ClassicGaming.com.