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Atari 2600 originally desinged to be backwards?


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#1 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:13 AM

This may have been addressed in the distant past, but far to many posts to look through. I am wondering if it's possible that the Atari 2600 board was originally designed to face the opposite way, or even the whole console. The cart label faces the back, the controller plugs are in the back. Somehow it ended up sloping the other direction and the switches, RF line and power cord were arranged for the way it turned out.

 

Edit: add picture

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#2 Gamemoose OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:25 AM

I don't think so. When you look at the console from the front, you'd see the cartridge's title facing you along with all the switches that are necessary and accessable (power, color/b&w, game select and game reset or the aforementioned list with the difficulty switches on a six-switch). The controller ports are in the back and the cords typically wrap around the system, which makes for a clean set up. When done, tuck the system away and if you leave controllers plugged in, they can rest on the lower part of the system with the cords in back.

That was always my take on it.

#3 KaeruYojimbo OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:42 PM

The woodgrain and the Atari logo are a pretty good clue that that's meant to be the front.

I think this is a case of trying to apply modern standards to something that pre-dates those standards. Front-facing controller ports are a no-brainer now, but that didn't become the norm until the US release of the NES (even the Famicom controllers were connected in the back of the console).

My guess is the designers wanted the front of the VCS to be as aesthetically "clean" as possible and put all the connections in the back.

#4 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:52 PM

I'm just happy they didn't choose to use coiled telephone-style cords for the controllers. 



#5 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:46 PM

If you look at old pictures, you'll see that most consoles were set up close to the players: on a table between their seats, laying next to them on the floor, etc.  This is why the 2600 in particular had such looong power and RF cables, while the controller cables were comparatively short.  It made perfect sense at the time: you had to swap out the cartridges at the console, and you had to manipulate the console switches as you played, so why not make them as easy to reach as possible?  In that configuration, when you insert the cartridge, the top and front labels are facing the player, as they should.  It also makes sense for the controllers to be plugged into the back, because that would be an easy place to reach them.  (It was also more practical because the internal 2600 circuitry was all in the back; the front of the console is just empty space.)

 

Putting the console next to the TV is an idea that came a bit later, and when you try to squeeze the 2600 into that configuration, the cartridge labels and controller ports may indeed be facing away from you.  That doesn't mean that it was designed "backwards"; it just means that you're not setting it up in the way it was intended to be set up.



#6 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:47 PM

The woodgrain and the Atari logo are a pretty good clue that that's meant to be the front.

I think this is a case of trying to apply modern standards to something that pre-dates those standards. Front-facing controller ports are a no-brainer now, but that didn't become the norm until the US release of the NES (even the Famicom controllers were connected in the back of the console).

My guess is the designers wanted the front of the VCS to be as aesthetically "clean" as possible and put all the connections in the back.

5200 had ports on the front and cart label faces the front. I meant before the case was designed.



#7 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:52 PM

If you look at old pictures, you'll see that most consoles were set up close to the players: on a table between their seats, laying next to them on the floor, etc.  This is why the 2600 in particular had such looong power and RF cables, while the controller cables were comparatively short.  It made perfect sense at the time: you had to swap out the cartridges at the console, and you had to manipulate the console switches as you played, so why not make them as easy to reach as possible?  In that configuration, when you insert the cartridge, the top and front labels are facing the player, as they should.  It also makes sense for the controllers to be plugged into the back, because that would be an easy place to reach them.

 

Putting the console next to the TV is an idea that came a bit later, and when you try to squeeze the 2600 into that configuration, the cartridge labels and controller ports may indeed be facing away from you.  That doesn't mean that it was designed "backwards"; it just means that you're not setting it up in the way it was intended to be set up.

I was inspired to ask this by this photo on eBay:

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#8 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:53 PM

Yeah, I can see how that might look backwards if you're accustomed to seeing newer systems.  As the saying goes, "the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
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#9 BassGuitari OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:41 PM

If you look at old pictures, you'll see that most consoles were set up close to the players: on a table between their seats, laying next to them on the floor, etc.  This is why the 2600 in particular had such looong power and RF cables, while the controller cables were comparatively short.  It made perfect sense at the time: you had to swap out the cartridges at the console, and you had to manipulate the console switches as you played, so why not make them as easy to reach as possible?  In that configuration, when you insert the cartridge, the top and front labels are facing the player, as they should.  It also makes sense for the controllers to be plugged into the back, because that would be an easy place to reach them.  (It was also more practical because the internal 2600 circuitry was all in the back; the front of the console is just empty space).

 

To piggyback on this, it should be considered that with early systems such as the Atari, the console itself was often integral to gameplay. The design of the Atari in particular was, in many ways, a holdover from the dedicated Pong console era, when any software interaction beyond basic paddle movement was done in hardware. This is also why controller cords were so short then--why would they need to be longer if you were going to be right in front of the system anyway, operating switches and buttons and exchanging cartridges?

 

This was not exclusive to the Atari by any means, either. The Odyssey 2's alphanumeric keyboard and short joystick cords demanded that players would be positioned in the immediate vicinity of the system. The Studio II is the extreme example, with keypad controls integrated into the console itself.

 

This design philosophy was a holdover, itself, nearly from the start. The Bally Arcade was way ahead of the curve, with fully software-based menu navigation that could be manipulated with either the console-mounted keyboard or the game controllers themselves; unless you're messing with BASIC, the only real reason to touch the system is to swap a cartridge and press "reset." And Bally 'videocades' are hotswappable so there's no need to even touch the power switch until you're finished playing altogether. Even several early Channel F games had controller-based 'OS' functionality as well. The APF M/P1000 and Intellivision introduced keypad-equipped game controllers which obviated the need for any console-mounted controls beyond power and reset (which are fundamentally hardware functions that boil down to "on/off" and "interrupt"). Yet, they each had comparatively short controller cords and power cables which dictated that players would be right on top of the things.

 

I actually think the conventional wisdom of how players interacted with each other--that sort of quaint and very '70s idea of players huddled together around the machine--was deeply entrenched and influenced both console design and game design (chicken vs. egg?) well into the '80s.

 

I think that more than any other system, the Nintendo marks the paradigm shift which removed the game console as an element of software interaction once and for all and literally changed the way we play home video games. In turn, I think this shift was made possible by the shift away from arcade-style games that was going on at the time (which, arguably, was also heralded by the Nintendo), toward bigger, more involving games that take longer to play and reduce the frequency of cartridge changes.

 

And that's really the key thing that allowed it to happen, IMO. The Intellivision, Atari 5200, and Colecovision came close--they all check the same boxes as the NES from a hardware interaction standpoint ("all you need is power and reset")--but their overwhelmingly arcadey libraries precluded the necessity for comfortably lengthy controller cords from which to enjoy prolonged gameplay sessions...although the proliferation of third-party controller extension cords and RC joysticks were probably the first breaths of changing winds. As if anyone could escape the Atari 5200's gravitational pull anyway. :P :-D


Edited by BassGuitari, Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:48 PM.


#10 atarilovesyou OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:16 PM

Interesting theory...but in the reverse setup, all the printing on the various switches are then upside down. But you arw right about ease of use, the other way around.

#11 lingyi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 16, 2018 3:58 AM

In the 70's electronics were supposed to blend into the furniture, which is why most electronics were encased in wood or hidden behind smoked glass or wooden doors. 

 

There was a thread that showed an ad with the 2600 on the floor between the two players where each could easily reach the front selector buttons and be able to swap out carts. When not in use, the console was supposed to placed back on the shelf with all the wires hidden. I suspect the Intellivision had the controllers tuck into the the top of the unit for the same reason. 

 

Also, remember that the ribs and deep flat surface of the 2600 were there because it was supposed to have two stereo speakers firing upwards. A design that would only work if you had the unit directly in front of or to the side of the players. 



#12 lingyi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 16, 2018 4:21 AM

Notice the functional resemblance of these '70's electronics to the 2600

029_I-_UNCAT11_XXXXX-0001_A0.jpgsonybetamaxsl-7200.jpg

Also the original Famicom followed the basic lines of the 2600 (the controllers are hard wired to the back). When it was redesigned for the U.S. as the NES, it was built to resemble a front load VCR and the controller ports moved to the front. 

 

 download_1.jpg



#13 BassGuitari OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 16, 2018 9:43 AM

There was a thread that showed an ad with the 2600 on the floor between the two players where each could easily reach the front selector buttons and be able to swap out carts. When not in use, the console was supposed to placed back on the shelf with all the wires hidden. I suspect the Intellivision had the controllers tuck into the the top of the unit for the same reason.

 

I think you hit on another interesting thing here.

 

In the '70s, videogames were not a "lifestyle" like they are now. They were just another form of amusement, not much different than, say, a Monopoly set. And when you're done playing Monopoly, you don't leave the box out--you put it away.



#14 lingyi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 16, 2018 2:35 PM

Ahhh...you're bringing back memories now. 

 

Before videogames, the family room entertainment center was stacked with adult games like Scrabble (in it's plain brown/maroon box), Monopoly, Risk, etc. Games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders belonged in the kids room. 


Edited by lingyi, Sat Jun 16, 2018 2:35 PM.


#15 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 16, 2018 4:46 PM

Interesting theory...but in the reverse setup, all the printing on the various switches are then upside down. But you arw right about ease of use, the other way around.

 

My thinking was, the exterior design would come last and so conform to this orientation. Not saying we should actually do this. :grin:



#16 christo930 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jun 17, 2018 2:08 PM

This may have been addressed in the distant past, but far to many posts to look through. I am wondering if it's possible that the Atari 2600 board was originally designed to face the opposite way, or even the whole console. The cart label faces the back, the controller plugs are in the back. Somehow it ended up sloping the other direction and the switches, RF line and power cord were arranged for the way it turned out.

 

Edit: add picture

 

Get a Darth Vader model and re-route the ports to the front!  That would be really cool. I think it would be rather ugly with a wood-grain unit, but the Darth Vader model is all black and the ports would like fine.



#17 louisg OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jun 17, 2018 6:47 PM

A lot of these explanations make sense. There's one thing I don't understand though: That the cart's label faces away. This would've been especially useful with the carts which list the variations on the front so that you wouldn't have to crack open the manual.



#18 Video ONLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:35 AM

Cause it's an intended long console? At least it's controllers aren't hardwired like many long consoles.

Many of the switches do stuff, even in gameplay, so you need access to the system itself all the time. Remember the original even had the difficulty switches on the dash, so really the only thing in back is the controller ports, which people likely didn't swap often anyways. When your done, you could pack it in your entertainment system without unplugging everything and still hide all the cords.

#19 Osgeld OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 6:10 AM

A lot of these explanations make sense. There's one thing I don't understand though: That the cart's label faces away. This would've been especially useful with the carts which list the variations on the front so that you wouldn't have to crack open the manual.


Yes the front where the cart is at a 45 degree angle pointing at the floor

Very useful

#20 louisg OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 10:08 AM

Yes the front where the cart is at a 45 degree angle pointing at the floor

Very useful

 

Designed at the correct angle for when the 2600 is on the TV cart and you're lying on the floor ;)



#21 wongojack OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 10:27 AM

 

And Bally 'videocades' are hotswappable so there's no need to even touch the power switch until you're finished playing altogether. 

 

I did not know this!

 

 

Great post



#22 BassGuitari OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:25 PM

A lot of these explanations make sense. There's one thing I don't understand though: That the cart's label faces away. This would've been especially useful with the carts which list the variations on the front so that you wouldn't have to crack open the manual.

 

I'm not certain on this point, but my best guess is that Atari was assuming players would have their manuals handy, and that the cartridge labels weren't really intended to be referenced on the fly mid-game, but rather provide an easy reference when selecting a cartridge to play. Rather like the NES, where you're not even supposed to see the cartridge at all.  ;) 

 

Kinda going back to the thing I was saying before where, in many ways, it follows that early videogame "culture" was informed by extant forms of gaming entertainment, namely board games and card games. And by that I mean the ways videogames were approached and treated as mediums of entertainment, not the games themselves. Some conventions carried over, among them being taking care of the instructions and rule books and paperwork and ephemera that came packed with the game, and keeping them for reference; barring their value as collectibles, these have been essentially throwaway items for 30 years from a practicality standpoint.



#23 louisg OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:31 PM

 

Kinda going back to the thing I was saying before where, in many ways, it follows that early videogame "culture" was informed by extant forms of gaming entertainment, namely board games and card games. And by that I mean the ways videogames were approached and treated as mediums of entertainment, not the games themselves. Some conventions carried over, among them being taking care of the instructions and rule books and paperwork and ephemera that came packed with the game, and keeping them for reference; barring their value as collectibles, these have been essentially throwaway items for 30 years from a practicality standpoint.

 

Yes, that's so easy to forget. Everything from the Channel F resembling a 4-track, to the Famicom carts having the same form as cassettes (complete with a notch that didn't do anything!), or computer game companies like SSI putting their games into boardgame style boxes. Even the Super Famicom still did it with the boxes that looked like VHS tapes! Though I could also I guess say something about the later generations adopting CD and DVD cases (and even the PC Engine used jewel cases for its cart games), though at least those used the same medium. I'm getting off topic. But yeah, all the gaming-specific design had yet to be developed, and we take it so much for granted. 

 

During the 00s it feels like we got back to game-system-as-entertainment-center-component with the front-loaders


Edited by louisg, Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:35 PM.


#24 -^CrožBow^- OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:56 PM

The main labels on the cart face in the direction they do, so that other people walking into the room...etc can see exactly what game you are playing without even looking at the screen. Kinda like a way to advertise the game since as was noted the system was designed to sit on a coffee table in front of and between the two players. So those behind the console would be able to clearly read what game was loaded into the system. Course the only issue with this thought, is Atari and most of the other 3rd party game publishers, actually have that front label on upside down so the title is in fact obscured. But like in the case of Coleco made carts, the labels aren't upside down when inserted into the console.



#25 Video ONLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 18, 2018 5:29 PM

Darn autocorrect. That's supposed to be "pong console" not "long console" LOL.




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