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Why were the controller ports on the back?

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The book Art of Atari has a section on the design of the VCS's original configuration, primarily designed by Fred Thompson and Doug Hardy. Hardy had been at Fairchild and was part of the design team for the Channel F. The book has several pictures of the console in progress, and at one point, it included a little cut-out to hold the games in the middle of the console (pg.298). While Thompson and Hardy discuss the console's design, they do not explicitly state why the controller ports were at the back, but they do include details as to why they made some of the design decisions that they did, and most of it comes down to aesthetics.

 

"I was thinking about it in terms of consumer audio," he said, "and I also recognized that there was a lot more interaction with it - playing with the controls, putting in the carts. I wanted the shape to cradle, to fit in your lap, as the controllers had to be close since they were corded." [...] Marketing consultant Gene Landrum's initial product planning documentation for the 2600 called for it to be "designed for living room or den aesthetics analogous to stereo designs for permanent setting." Simulated woodgrain and other home electronics references would make their way from the design requirements, into final iconic status for the console." (Art of Atari, 2016, Tim Lapetino, 298).

 

It was for this reason that the woodgrain panel was included, why the switches were selected and implemented as they were, and why the console had texturing to hide scratching from use/abuse. It is also likely why the controller ports, power port, and RF cord were placed at the back of the console.

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That wouldn't make any sense as the VCS didn't have any decent sound chips and hardware to take advantage of stereo sound. It is hard for the VSC to have a decent melody let alone a good music track. Even if they had the hardware I doubt any inbuilt speaker setup would be decent (not sounding like a tin can) and it's close proximity eliminates any advantage of stereo.

 

In the 70's, "tin can" sound quality was what you would get from a typical TV with it's single 3" speaker, so stereo "tin can" quality would have been startling from a game console. Boomboxes were far smaller than the monstrosities that are available today, portable radios were primarily mono and headphones were primarily over the ear like those pictured in a post above.

 

Ironically, with push towards portability, distinct stereo separation is being sacrificed for size with "pseudo-stereo" effects are being touted in single speaker devices. On the other hand, my portable Creative speaker with 3" speakers set about the same distance apart as in the original 2600 gives a soundfield that extends far behind the enclosure.

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Some games programmed the bloops and bleeps for right and left speakers and was made to work with the speakers on the 2600.

Thats what I have learnt from someone.

Maybe they were wrong cause I sure as hell am not!

Edited by Jinks

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I'd speculate it's because the circuit board was mounted to the back of the case. No need for extra wires to the front. That way you would just have to mount the sockets on the circuit board and nothing else.

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They really didn't want you disconnecting those controllers!!

 

If it weren't for paddle controllers, I'd say that another motivation for putting them in the back was to deter people from swapping them out all the time and bending the pins.

 

I agree that it was probably cheaper since everything is on one edge towards the back, and the rest of the machine is mostly air.

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Ask Joe Decuir, Steve Mayer, Ron Milner, Jay Miner, Doug Hardy, or Fred Thompson. They designed the thing.

 

But anyway, why not? It looks cleaner, and it's not like the console would have been very far away anyway. You've gotta remember that the role of the console itself in game-playing has changed over the years and became less and less integral to gameplay since the mid-1980s; it's been many years since a game console required any physical interaction other than maybe pressing a power button. In the '70s, most of the baseline functionality (start, reset, power, difficulty, etc.) was tied to hardware; this, combined with the style of games prevalent at the time, dictated that players were going to be reaching for the console frequently anyway. If not to fiddle with switch settings, then to swap cartridges.

 

Today, you don't ever need to even touch the console at all, even to power it on.

 

The irony is that, with the variety of controllers required for different games, the 2600 would have benefited from convenient, front-mounted controller jacks more than systems that actually had them.

 

A sampling of systems with rear-connected controllers:

 

Odyssey 2

Bally Arcade

Channel F System II

Intellivision (sort of...hardwired control cords protruded through the rear-center of the top of the console)

Arcadia 2001

APF M/P1000

Famicom

SG-1000

DINA 2-in-One

 

I know some astute poster out there can come up with a few more.

 

What difference would that make?

 

As the Tandyvision system taught us, there's always room for woodgrain.

 

If you open up a 2600jr., the inside of the shell is actually lined with actual wood. For buoyancy, so it wouldn't get lost when used in the bath. (In an effort to regain market dominance in the late '80s, Atari Corp. briefly tried to re-market the 2600 as the first bathtime video game system, but was unsuccessful.)

 

The 2600jr. was essentially just a 4-switch motherboard in a smaller case, mounted flat inside the case instead of at an angle. That's why the jacks are in the same places.

 

Atari probably just thought it would be funny to confuse people 40 years later.

 

If the theory that all points in time exist simultaneously is correct, the 40-years-ago Atari people are laughing right now.

 

bathtime console? :rolling:

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Jeez! Didn't y'all just plug the damn controllers in and then route the cables under the console? That's what we did. Usually sat on the floor with the thing in front of us. I fried the hex buffer in my heavy sixer twice due to shag carpet. (It's socketed now)

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Buh?

Mine had hardwired controllers, if I remember right

I know worst controller design ever. No ports. To the average guy when the controller wears out you junk the system.

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Atari put the ports in back for survival of the fittest. If you couldn't plug in the controller, you couldn't play. :P

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