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Atari 7800 Hardware - Another Reason for Failure?

  

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  1. 1. Was the outdated hardware another reason for failure in the 7800?

    • Yes
      8
    • No
      23


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I don't know how much this topic has been debated, but was the outdated hardware also part of the reason of failure? I mean, the Atari 7800 had only 48KB of memory while a lot of other machines of the day had over 100. The processor, 6502, was pretty outdated at the time--it ran at 1.19GHz or 1.79GHz when clocked, while even the cheapest of ran a safe 3MHz.

 

From a technical standpoint, the Atari 7800 was badly outdated. Those specs on an Atari 2600 or 5200 would have been fine, but by time it came to 1986 the market doodling with the over 10MHz range.

 

Now, you may say that my theory leaves out two things: price & the crash. Well, yes, those are two good points, but the ZX81 -- the cheapest computer of the 80s (priced at $100) had 64KB of space and ran at 3.25MHz. At the price of $140, the Atari 7800, and considering the success of the 2600 and 5200, it made me think: why didn't Atari just come up with it's OWN processor? Atari was a huge company, why not create their own?

 

Although the Atari 7800 didn't fail with sales, heck it had 1.77 million of them, but I see a reason why developers weren't enthusiastic about developing games: for it's day, it was outdated. Their games had to be pretty limited to fit the RQ of the Atari 7800.

 

 

Alright, thanks for reading, this was just sorta a question I had for the community:

Was the outdated hardware another reason for failure in the Atari 7800? (Yes or No)

 

Please note I am in no way trying to bash the 7800, it was a good system.

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Being "outdated" was a part of the issue, though you're overestimating the power of the NES overall somewhat. The big issue was that Atari was "old" in many ways, and still was clinging to the idea that the 2600 could make a comeback somehow. The 2600jr was pushed far more than the 7800 (which didn't even get full market release either time!), and retails saw the name "Atari" equated with "thousands of $50 carts we just had to clearance to $1 last year".... The 7800 needed to wow the market, and it didn't, largely because Atari had long ago lost its magic, and Nintendo had claimed it.

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ZX81 was 64k? Atari should have produced their own CPU? 10MHz game systems in 1986? Do you happen to write campaign speeches for your day job?

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ZX81 was 64k? Atari should have produced their own CPU? 10MHz game systems in 1986? Do you happen to write campaign speeches for your day job?

 

I over stated the 10MHz thing I meant to delete that, but you are missing the overall point, did you even read this?

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You get your sales figures wrong for the Atari 7800. It sold 3.77 Million units, not 1.77 million systems.

 

Thank you, corrected.

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You are making a mistake by comparing video game system specs to Computers in 1986. Computers in 1986 were more advanced than game console were. The Atari 7800 specs were outdated by Computer, but the same thing was true for every game console in North America in 1986.

 

Sega Master System had the most advanced technical specs outside of Sound chips for game consoles if you compare SMS to Nes and the 7800. The Sega Master System had problems with flicker for some of the games, but the system itself had more ram, and was capable of doing 128k games without bankswitching, and was the fastest system of the three despite having a z80 processor. SMS games did bankswitch, but didn't add graphic chips or mappers in Sms cartridges.

 

I am saying that because the NES also has 6502 processor like the Atari 7800 and most of the specs of the NES are similar to the 7800 outside of the sound chip. The NES came out in 1983 in Japan and that is when the Atari 7800 was being developed also. The Atari 7800 was ready to be released in 1984 and was test marketed that year matter of fact.

 

The big different between the 7800 and the Nes was the 7800 had much worse sound chip than the Nes. The real reason the Nes won was 5 things outside of 3rd parties.

 

Atari did not spend money on the money on the 7800 to the extent Nintendo did with the Nes. The NES was not capable of 64k games without bankswitching. The Nes had a lot games that were bankswitched past 128k. The Atari 7800 was capable of doing the same because a prototype 512k bankswitched rom cartridge was found years ago for the 7800.The Nes also had mappers, and sound chips built in cartridges also. That means the Nes wasn't capable of doing Legend of Zelda without Mappers inside game cartridges. Atari had plans of putting sound chips into rom Cartridges for the 7800, but that only happen for 2 games.

 

The 2nd problem was Atari the home divisions of Atari was bought out by Jack Tramiel and didn't have the money to compete with the Nes. Jack bought into a financial mess in July 1984 and fired a lot of workers including a lot of management. Jack cared about turning around Atari from a money standpoint and made Atari last much longer than it should have. That meant Jack had to be careful how much Atari had to spend and that means Atari wasn't able to afford what was really planned for the Atari 7800 like adding sound chips that are even more advanced the Atari 5200 sound chip was.

 

The 3rd problem was Atari had to start out with games that were ready to be released in 1984. That meant Atari couldn't start to release Nes style games around 1988 or 1989 as a result.

 

The 4th issue was games were being developed for the 2600 at the same time and a good deal of games were developed for both systems matter of fact. Atari 2600 was a factor for Atari was making money in the late 1980's, but it did hurt the amount of money was put into the 7800 and the amount of games was released as a result.

 

The 5th issue was Jack Tramiel didn't buy the arcade division of Atari from Warner. That meant Atari 7800 was missing out on games like Marble Madness, Gauntlet 1 and 2, Super Sprint, and Toobin' as examples.

Edited by 8th lutz
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You got a lot of your numbers wrong. There was no 48K; I'm not sure if you are trying to refer to RAM or ROM there, but either way you're way off. The 7800 had 4KB of internal RAM (not counting the 128 bytes of RIOT memory that was off-limits in 7800 mode), and more could be (and was) put in the cartridge if necessary. The ROM could be bankswitched well beyond 48KB, as were many of the 'Super Games'. The CPU clock rate was more than reasonable; the 6502 is a reasonably fast CPU per clock, and the Maria GPU clocked at over 7MHz (also note you used GHz where I'm certain you meant MHz). The 7800 was quite close to an NES in specs, which isn't bad considering when it was originally engineered and considering the price includes the baggage of all the old 2600 hardware. I think you're really off-base on this idea, the hardware was a strong point of the 7800, not a weakness. The failure (if it can even be called a failure with near 4,million sold) was clearly one of software and marketing. If the system had not been mothballed for almost 3 years with no active software development, the picture might have been vastly different. The 2600 compatibility was an extra waste that nobody cared about 3 years later but did care about in 1984. The games originally written for the launch in 1984 were not interesting in 1987. The marketing of the 7800 when it was finally released was almost non-existant. Contrast this with the NES: modern games that people wanted to play coupled with massive marketing = smashing success. For comparison, the Sega Master System, also an excellent piece of hardware, didn't fare much better than the 7800 for much the same reason: lack of decent software and poor marketing. Sega, like Atari, was still reeling from the crash and had just reorganized; neither they nor Atari had the deep pockets that Nintendo had. The Famicom had a huge almost 2-year head start in Japan and basically bankrolled itself for the worldwide release of the NES.

 

The golden rule applies: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. Nintendo had (and continues to have) deep pockets. There is a reason the Wii outsold all expectations despite its vastly inferior hardware compared to its contemporaries. Geeks like to think it's all about the hardware, but the fact is it's really all about the software and the marketing. It always has been and probably always will be.

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I mean, the Atari 7800 had only 48KB of memory while a lot of other machines of the day had over 100.

 

Says who?

 

For starters, the 7800 had 4K of RAM. It's primary competitor, the NES had 2K of video ram and 2K of RAM. So roughly the same. The Sega Master System had 8K. As is mentioned, all of the systems enhanced their RAM by including it in cartridges where necessary.

 

The 7800's 8-bit processor accessed ROM in carts as 48KB chunks, which were bankdwitched. This is similar to what both the NES did. IIRC, the NES did it in 40K blocks, while the SMS did 64KB. All of the "1 mega, 2 mega, 3 mega" games etc were broken down into bankswitched blocks.

 

 

The processor, 6502, was pretty outdated at the time--it ran at 1.19GHz or 1.79GHz when clocked, while even the cheapest of ran a safe 3MHz.

 

Its primary competitor, the NES, also used a 6502 running at 1.79. The SMS had a 780, running at 3.58 mhz, but comparing clock speeds of two different processors is pointless.

 

 

1986 the market doodling with the over 10MHz range.

 

Not in consoles.

 

Although the Atari 7800 didn't fail with sales, heck it had 1.77 million of them,

 

Not sure where you pulled that from. It's US sales alone were 3.77 million.

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For its initial launch plan(84), the 7800 hardware was not outdated. To me it was the marketing(lack of) and status of Atari in general as the reason why the system did not do better than it did. The system should have done better. The hardware was capable of many awesome things, but alas it was never taken advantage of...until the awesomeness of Atari 7800 homebrews came onto the scene.

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This is some things I forgot to tell you. Game consoles are supposed to by outdated by computers in terms specs because of cost. There thing was true for Arcade games being more advanced than Game Consoles also before the Dreamcast came out.

 

Before the Sega Genesis came out in 1988 in Japan, there was no game consoles using a 6800 microprocessor. That is different to computers. The Apple Lisa had a 6800 microprocessor in 1983. That meant Nes, and the Atari 7800 6502 microprocessors were outdated. That meant it took 5 years for a game console to get a 6800 microprocessor because of cost.

 

You mentioned about ram and rom, but here is a problem. Ram was not cheap when the Atari 7800 was being developed in 1983, and the same thing was happening in the Nes was developed in 1982. The Nes was released in 1983 after being developed in 1982. Sega Master had more ram than Nes and the 7800 because the SMS was developed in 1984. Ram was getting cheaper by 1984.

 

Atari also had the problem in terms of what Programmers they had and it was more of a programming problem than a hardware problem. The quality of programmers was an issue because of the fact Ibid.inc worked on games for the 7800 and 2 out of the 3 games they did were panned and rightfully so because of how bad the quality was including Karateka. Atari used contractors for programming 7800 games and some other companies they used had mix results or poor also.

 

If PacManPlus was developing games for the Atari 7800 from 1986 to 1990, the quality of games would have been higher and we may not have this discussion to this extent. PacManPlus is matter of fact developing a side scrolling 7800 platform game currently. PacManPlus is really starting to push the 7800 hardware like the game Brentley Bear: Crystal Quest is showing. That means your theory of hardware as a reason Atari 7800 lost to the NES is way off.

Edited by 8th lutz

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Well yes but if developers could make a game with less limitations on a computer, why not do that? If developers could produce a game and have it on the NES with better sound, why not do that instead of the 7800? You have to consider all of the factors here.

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Well yes but if developers could make a game with less limitations on a computer, why not do that? If developers could produce a game and have it on the NES with better sound, why not do that instead of the 7800? You have to consider all of the factors here.

 

You have to understand that computers and video game consoles are two different markets and that computers are much more advance than game consoles as a result from a hardware spec standpoint. The reason developers do game consoles is the fact more consumers back in the late 1980's instead of a high end computer from a United States standpoint.

 

 

.The Nes and the 7800 have the same limitations outside of the sound chip from a spec hardware standpoint, so your point about the 7800 having outdated hardware means nothing to why the 7800 lost. The Nes in terms of games was aided b added stuff to game cartridges such as mappers, and sound chips.

 

As far as the outdated sound chip, that wasn't supposed be as much as problem as you make it sound. Atari 7800 was supposed to have better sound chips built in game cartridges. The Nes also had built in sound chips in games also such as Castlevania III. That means the sound issue is moot because Game companies had no issues of adding sound chips to the NES and it means adding sound chips to Atari 7800 wouldn't have been an issue for developers either.

Edited by 8th lutz

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Well yes but if developers could make a game with less limitations on a computer, why not do that? If developers could produce a game and have it on the NES with better sound, why not do that instead of the 7800? You have to consider all of the factors here.

 

I think 8th lutz has steered this thread away from your original question, which was did the 7800 fail because of its hardware. As myself and others have pointed out, there were no major hardware flaws or limitations in the 7800 that had anything to do with its perceived 'failure'. A platform succeeds when it has support from software developers that make games that people want to play. As I said before, the golden rule applies. You can have awesome hardware and still fail due to lack of good software; history is littered with consoles that were technically superior (Neo Geo, 3DO, Jaguar) that still failed due to lack of popular software support. You can also have a platform like the Wii where the technology is secondary to the software, and have a great success. Nintendo was smart enough to figure out the value of the software side of the equation very early on in the console wars, while other vendors (Atari included) were still trying to have hardware wars. My opinion is that a platform's success or failure will always be driven primarily by the software, not the hardware.

 

I can tell you as a developer myself that your comment about 'if developers could produce a game and have it on the NES with better sound, why not do that instead of the 7800' is way off base. I guarantee you that was never a reason. Developers (3rd party developers at least) target the platforms that make the most money; that is the beginning and the end of it. For example, when EA made the decision to drop support for the DreamCast because they felt the market was getting too fragmented to be profitable, they effectively killed the DreamCast by not supporting it. There was no reason for the PlayStation to win that war, but when EA picked the winner and the loser, as the biggest software provider they effectively decided who won the war. Who had the best hardware, who got to market first - all irrelevant. What matters is, what platform has the cool games people want to play? That is what consumers use to decide which platform to buy. And developers choose the most popular platforms to develop for, because they provide the best return on investment. The popularity of a console is also going to be heavily influenced by the quality of first-party support, i.e. what games are exclusive to that platform, and this requires the console provider to support their own platform with excellent unique games and marketing. Platforms that don't have this will fail.

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the OP again has the wrong knowledge thinking Atari made the 7800. ATARI DIDN'T MAKE THE 7800.]

 

Actually the 7800 was way ahead in 83, Maria could move any objects of any size in any directions. 70 objects in Robotron and no flicker or slowdown. MS.Pac-Man written by Bally for the 7800, Joust, over 10 colours used... Famicom couldn't match that.

 

One thing baffles me, you say the 6502 ran at 1.19GHz or 1.79GHz, and was outdated? Wow,what a processor, who made it, the guy from Star Trek: Voyager Episodes Future's End I + II?

Edited by high voltage

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I get it, consoles are always outdated. But it came out during the crash (bad idea) and developers had restrictions in place. Plus, your forgetting something: I'm not saying it was the reason of the failure, I'm saying that it may have been PART of it. a small reason. Please read before you post :)

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Not only to mention that also the NES was released in 1983 and had a base in developers: it was flexible and good, and then one year later the 7800 comes out and it has a small selection of games.

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Some corrections are in order here:

 

* The NES was not launched worldwide in 1983. The Famicom was only released in Japan in 1983; the NES was not released in North America until near the end of 1985, Europe until near the end of 1986, and Australia in 1987. So, there was a period of at least 2 years where some other competitor could have stepped up everywhere but Japan.

 

* The 7800 was not launched in 1984, it only had a limited test marketing. Less than 5000 units were believed to have been produced for the initial test run, and I think only a fraction of those were actually sold.

 

* A large chunk of the 7800 library was written for the 1984 intended launch. These games were sorely out-of-date by the time the system got a formal launch in 1987.

 

* The 'restrictions' on 7800 cart development were not part of the original plan. Decisions like not allowing new games to have super RAM were made by Jack Tramiel, who was a complete cheapskate. The original design certainly intended to eventually support bank mappers, more RAM, and better sound as the price of chips dropped, just like the NES. The system was designed to have a long life, but Tramiel crippled it. He never believed in consoles, he was just looking to turn a fast buck during a dull period when it became obvious that consoles were not, in fact, dead after all.

 

* Tramiel was also responsible for shelving the 7800 in the first place; it was the first thing he did when he took over Atari.

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Some corrections are in order here:

 

* The NES was not launched worldwide in 1983. The Famicom was only released in Japan in 1983; the NES was not released in North America until near the end of 1985, Europe until near the end of 1986, and Australia in 1987. So, there was a period of at least 2 years where some other competitor could have stepped up everywhere but Japan.

 

* The 7800 was not launched in 1984, it only had a limited test marketing. Less than 5000 units were believed to have been produced for the initial test run, and I think only a fraction of those were actually sold.

 

* A large chunk of the 7800 library was written for the 1984 intended launch. These games were sorely out-of-date by the time the system got a formal launch in 1987.

 

* The 'restrictions' on 7800 cart development were not part of the original plan. Decisions like not allowing new games to have super RAM were made by Jack Tramiel, who was a complete cheapskate. The original design certainly intended to eventually support bank mappers, more RAM, and better sound as the price of chips dropped, just like the NES. The system was designed to have a long life, but Tramiel crippled it. He never believed in consoles, he was just looking to turn a fast buck during a dull period when it became obvious that consoles were not, in fact, dead after all.

 

* Tramiel was also responsible for shelving the 7800 in the first place; it was the first thing he did when he took over Atari.

 

That's wrong. Tramiel didn't 'shelf' the 7800, it wasn't his, the 7800 belonged to GCC. It wasn't included the the Warner Bros sale to Tramiel.

 

>>>NES fanboys, this is getting a bit tedious, stop posting this inaccurate rubbish, read Retro Rogue posts first before opening your mouths and just 'blah, blah blah' comes out of it.<<<

Edited by high voltage

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That's wrong. Tramiel didn't 'shelf' the 7800, it wasn't his, the 7800 belonged to GCC. It wasn't included the the Warner Bros sale to Tramiel.

 

No, your version of history is not correct, sorry. At the point Tramiel took over Atari, the 7800 was the #1 project that was going to turn the company around. There was an outstanding contractual obligation from Warner Atari to GCC for their development costs for software and hardware (read: bill, they were owed money for their services). Tramiel, in typical Tramiel fashion, decided he wasn't going to pay the bill. Read up on the history of Commodore if you want to know more about Jack Tramiel's business philosophy of lying and sticking suppliers with unpaid bills. Anyway, GCC eventually forced Tramiel to pay them something just to "go away". The 7800 was dead on arrival as far as Tramiel was concerned; he bought Atari to exact revenge on Commodore in the computer market, he had no interest in consoles whatsoever.

 

Much later on, the 7800 project was resurrected when it became apparent that it could be a profitable endeavor at a time when Atari was falling behind in the computer space. The tech was done, Atari had the rights to the hardware, and the initial software lineup still existed - they just had to roll it into production and start pumping out additional games. It was nothing ever more than a toy as far as Tramiel was concerned. Atari did not aggressively pursue 3rd party development, which was a huge mistake, one they would later repeat with the Jaguar.

 

 

>>>NES fanboys, this is getting a bit tedious, stop posting this inaccurate rubbish, read Retro Rogue posts first before opening your mouths and just 'blah, blah blah' comes out of it.<<<

 

Don't know who you are talking to here - I have not seen any fanboyism in this thread so far. I'm a huge fan of the 7800 but I lived through that era as an active gamer and I remember exactly how things went down and in what order. The NES definitely deserves some credit for restoring the game industry post-crash; sure, it could have been done by Atari or someone else but it wasn't, and that's just how history unfolded. Hindsight is 20-20; I remember at the time financial pundits were laughing at Nintendo because they claimed video games were clearly just a fad that was going away, and Nintendo was doomed. How wrong they turned out to be! Again, it's all down to software. The crash didn't happen because people were tired of video games; the crash happened because people were tired of video games that sucked. Nintendo was the first company to publish all games for their own hardware, requiring approval (remember the Nintendo seal?). That made a huge difference in the average quality of software for the platform.

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The 7800 was dead on arrival as far as Tramiel was concerned; he bought Atari to exact revenge on Commodore in the computer market, he had no interest in consoles whatsoever.

 

If that were true, he wouldn't have worked through the contractual issues. This is well documented.

 

Atari did not aggressively pursue 3rd party development, which was a huge mistake, one they would later repeat with the Jaguar.

 

in the case of the 7800, most games were outright locked up by Nintendo. It was bad enough that Atari took Nintendo to court over it. When they brought in Mike Katz, we went after computer developers instead. This is also well documented.

 

In the case of the Jaguar, it's also well documented that they put more effort into 3rd party games than they did with any other console except the 2600. Contemporary stock reports and press releases show this.

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Nintendo was also smart in limiting 3rd party developers to only 5 games per year. While some crap did get through (hello LJN) for the most part it did keep the marketplace from being flooded.

 

Nintendo and Sega had enough talented developers in-house to where they could support a system pretty much by themselves and Nintendo had most of the top tier 3rd party developers working on the NES like Konami and Capcom. Atari neither had enough top tier developers in-house in the late 80s nor did they have much in 3rd party support (largely due to Nintendo locking in 3rd party developers).

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The person that said 'Atari didn't agressively persue 3rd party development for the 7800' was right, but it had nothing to do with nintendo tying up software dev's on exclusivity contracts

 

Fact is, the original nintendo 3rd party development policy only prevented software publishers/developers from porting nintendo only software onto other platforms, it didn't stop software developers from supporting non nintendo hardware since, so long as that game didn't appear on a nintendo system FIRST there was nothing to stop those publishers/developers from developing games for non nintendo systems that were intended for non nintendo systems anyway, in other words nintendo didn't dominate games software development, otherwise the likes of the c64/atari 8bit etc shelf life would have ended a lot earlier then 1992, infact the strenght of the c64 games publishing/development market didn't start sagging until long after the megadrive/snes etc was released

 

Atari made it's own problems with the 7800 anyway, since they were selling 2 other games systems alongside it (i.e the rejigged 2600 and the XEGS), if Atari had been serious about the 7800 long term, it would have focused only on one gaming system since no software publisher worth their salt was going to ever support 3 Atari games systems Atari might have stood a chance with better 3rd party games publishing

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Fact is, the original nintendo 3rd party development policy only prevented software publishers/developers from porting nintendo only software onto other platforms

 

Translation: All of the biggest titles were made for the biggest machine ... and locked up on anything else until they were old hat.

 

This isn't like Angry Birds appearing on every device known to man.

 

Atari made it's own problems with the 7800 anyway, since they were selling 2 other games systems alongside it (i.e the rejigged 2600 and the XEGS), if Atari had been serious about the 7800 long term, it would have focused only on one gaming system since no software publisher worth their salt was going to ever support 3 Atari games systems Atari might have stood a chance with better 3rd party games publishing

 

Not in disagreement. But as has been documented, the hot titles were coming out of Japan. And Nintendo had exclusives on them.

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