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JJohnson

Alternate Atari History

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Hi folks,

 

I'm writing up an alternate history timeline and I wanted to do a slightly different Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 history, and wanted to run it by everyone to see if the numbers make sense, and to figure out what the changes would mean for Atari gamewise.

 

So here goes:

 

1977: Atari VCS released.  Changes:

-6502 chip with 16 rather than 13 pins

-read/write pin is present, allowing in-cart RAM expansion, and with bank switching, up to 512KB ROM, 32KB RAM

-256 bytes (not 128) of RAM (or 512?)

-2 colors per sprite

-4 sprites per scanline without flicker

-256 colors, but 8 per scanline

-Space Invaders looks like the homebrew Space Invaders Arcade; Pac-Man looks like Pac-Man 4K; Donkey Kong looks like the homebrew version.  No ET, but there are some crappy games that don't help the 2600, but no bottom-out crash.

 

1982: Atari 5200 released.  Changes:

-Atari VCS now the 2600, and re-released in the Atari Jr form factor at $99

-Priced at $199

-Atari play tests games to make sure they are of higher quality

-320x192 8 color resolution, 256x192 16 color

-3 color sprites at 4 per scanline

-256 colors, 16 per scanline

-16KB RAM

-built-in 2600 compatibility

-controller's joystick is better designed and self-centering, so all games can be played as expected

-4 ports with several 4-player games to show off cooperative gaming, such as a 'super pacman' with 4 pacmen, 'monkey business,' a Donkey-Kong-like game with 4 player gorillas saving their gorilla father, 4 player 'combat' with either 'free for all' or teams.

-Pitfall looks about like the 8-bit computer version (if possible)

 

1986: Atari 7800 released.  Changes:

-tile based, having seen the NES and played a few games, realizing this is the future

-$169 vs. the $180 for NES

-European gamepad released worldwide with an optional joystick for an arcade experience

-256×240 resolution or 320x200 resolution

-1, 4, 12 colors per sprite; 30 per scanline without background, 16 with background at 4 colors, 8 with 12 colors each. 8x8 or 8x16 sprites

-coarse and smooth horizontal, diagonal, and vertical scrolling feature

-tilemap playfield with 8x8 tiles and tile flipping

-4 square wave channels, 1 noise channel, 1 triangle wave channel, 1 DPCM channel

-2600 backward compatibility (or 5200, or both)

-Atari and SEGA successfully sue and get Nintendo's exclusivity contracts nullified, and third parties do port games to the Master System and 7800, such as Megaman, Castlevania, Contra, etc.

-NES is released as before and releases practically the same games as before, but Atari does release side-scrollers, RPGs, shooters, etc. to compete, leading to over 250 games for the Atari 7800.

 

What kinds of games could we have gotten from these versions of the systems?  Are these specs reasonable for the time and for an Atari that did better financially?  Do any numbers not work technically and need to change?

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Bit too fantasy for me, but the main thing that goes against it from a realism perspective is cost. There's a reason most games run on 2kb or 4kb roms. A lot of Ataris success is led not from having grandstanding technology but rather doing the best it could cheaply. 

 

Rather than impressive sequel consoles, it would likely have delayed it, and possibly pushed a bigger crash. There is historical examples of how the most graphically capable console on paper does the worst financially. 

 

But what if the atari was doing 2010s level games in 1970s? Well for a start, they would have been the neo geo of their age. Expect $200+ price tags for games. Arcade experience at home? Yes. Affordable to the masses? No. Don't expect those silly quick fire pick up and play games either, it wouldn't be worth it and even if priced comparatively, it could either make or break either side of the market. A "cheap" rip of donkey kong or pac man, common place at the time in reality, would have stolen the market over an arcade true conversion at wildly higher costs. 

 

One of the other issues is my understanding is the 5200 (didn't come out here, so pretty ignorant!) is a consolised computer without a keyboard, similar to the C64GS and the GX4000 for commodore and amstrad. That is, they were unlikely to have any major changes unless the computer line had it planned, and 4 player ports would have been inventive at the time (particularly with split controller use for 4player already in 2600).

 

7800 of course is/was/could have competed with the NES and master system, and perhaps shared many of their game libraries however under these turn of events atari may have folded as a company by this point or merged with another company. 3 companies in the console market has never really worked either, sega dropped off the radar and Nintendo has only survived through innovation, atari if it did have a 7800 by that point would have still been the weaker neighbour without a huge marketing campaign. 

 

I feel like I've stomped on your parade a lot, but the idea of a 70s neo geo is amusing, and would be curious to play what kind of games would actually come out from that. I'm just not sure that would have led to continued success. Perhaps sega would have taken more of the US market by storm, or perhaps Nintendo would develop an even bigger monopoly by the mid 80s.

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Posted (edited)

Too much armchair quarterback in all of that.

 

More likely:

 

1977 - VCS Released as-is, then support tapered off when the next console came out as it should have been.

1980 - 400 Released as planned, as the super game console maybe with no keyboard, The 800 has one and is sold as a computer with full 48K at Apple ][ prices to compete with it.

1984 - Never conceived or built, as the 400 did better than the 5200 so was never commissioned to supersede it and fix the mistakes, and games got better and better since the controller issue didn't come into play and people were not wasting time programming the 2600.

Edited by Zonie
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On 4/23/2021 at 2:34 PM, JJohnson said:

I'm writing up an alternate history timeline...

Wow, I wish I had your free time.

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4 hours ago, Mikebloke said:

Bit too fantasy for me...

Strongly seconded. 

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Atari’s problems under Warner had more to do with poor business decisions than poor technology. The company was structured as several divisions which each served different markets; this created inefficiencies, rivalries between divisions, etc. Also, they didn’t adjust their sales estimates when new competitors appeared; they tried to force more product down the line, which resulted in huge returns from their distributors. And their CEO didn’t realize that programming & game design were skilled positions, so he scared away their best employees.

 

Atari Corp’s problems stemmed from poor decisions made early on, (Focusing on Europe, shifting focus away from games, buying Federated, not supporting developers enough, etc.) These set them back, so they couldn’t develop new technology quick enough for the market, & that put them in a poor position going into the 90’s.

 

To create an alternate history for Atari, you’d need to redo their business decisions, starting with the way the company was organized in the late 70’s. But be wary! Atari might not have been able to expand so quickly without organizing several divisions, & without that quick expansion, they might not have made enough for Warner to keep them around.

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I'm sure there's a quantum reality where all that happened.  ;)

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There have been alternate timelines proposed where the crash didn't happen or Atari selling the Famicom outside of Japan.

 

Now there's an idea.

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8 hours ago, Billy Beans said:

Wow, did I stumble into the Fanfic forum?

Nope, more like the saddest version of ASSTR.

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my alternate history would be something like

2600 - same as now

5200 - still based on 400 tech, but fix the design flaws (better joysticks, smaller console, better price),  also more competitive and compelling games

7800 - should never have existed.  It was too soon.  It was a panic move by Atari to what Coleco was doing.  This lead to them abandoning the 5200 after less than two years, angering many Atari fans.   Instead they should have focused on having the best games possible for 5200, with an eye to replace it with a new console around 1987, give or take.  The new console might use an advanced version of 7800 sprite tech, or Amiga chips, or who knows what?

 

After this it's hard to see how things play out.   There's a good chance that the NES as we know it doesn't exist if Atari wasn't distracted from the console market.   Remember the reason Nintendo originally offered the NES to Atari was because Nintendo was afraid to compete against Atari.   With the chaos after the Tramiel purchase, Nintendo saw their chance.

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My turn-

1977: Same as now.

1979: Atari buys intellivision for a buck, releases console with better controllers.

1982: Atari buys Coleco for a buck, releases console with better power supply.

1983: Atari buys Nintendo for a buck, releases console with better zif socket.

1989: Atari buys Sega for a buck, releases console with better capacitors

20XX: Atari buys Microsoft for a buck, releases console with better heat dissipation. 

2017: Atari buys kickstarter for a buck, releases console with better netflix for moms.

2021 Atari buys Hotel for a buck, rereleases all in one retro console with self cleaning cart ports, built in flat panel CRT, self centering true 64 bit controllers, and a free quadricorn.

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Like I said, the 7800 didn't even need to exist if the 5200 was done right. Too bad they didn't quickly figure out the joystick fuckup and release a digital one. If the Jag controller was conceived earlier...

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On 4/26/2021 at 10:06 AM, Billy Beans said:

Wow, did I stumble into the Fanfic forum?

 

On 4/26/2021 at 7:49 PM, Billy Beans said:

Dear Penthouse Letters...

Needs more B ( o )( o ) BIES!!!

 

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Posted (edited)

I had to Google ASSTR. 

Gross.

 

328_11218.jpg

Edited by RJ

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On 4/26/2021 at 7:48 PM, x=usr(1536) said:

Nope, more like the saddest version of ASSTR.

<sarcasm>Gee, thanks.  So helpful.</sarcasm>

 

I am honestly trying to write a story, including Atari in it that does a little better.  I would appreciate a little better consideration, as I'm going to try to add this into a publish book.

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On 4/25/2021 at 7:00 PM, RJ said:

Wow, I wish I had your free time.

No, you don't.  I have 3 jobs, I have little free time.  I'm trying to publish a book in addition to try to enable me to drop one of those 3.

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On 4/27/2021 at 10:22 AM, toiletunes said:

My turn-

1977: Same as now.

1979: Atari buys intellivision for a buck, releases console with better controllers.

1982: Atari buys Coleco for a buck, releases console with better power supply.

1983: Atari buys Nintendo for a buck, releases console with better zif socket.

1989: Atari buys Sega for a buck, releases console with better capacitors

20XX: Atari buys Microsoft for a buck, releases console with better heat dissipation. 

2017: Atari buys kickstarter for a buck, releases console with better netflix for moms.

2021 Atari buys Hotel for a buck, rereleases all in one retro console with self cleaning cart ports, built in flat panel CRT, self centering true 64 bit controllers, and a free quadricorn.

Or, if you're going to be a smart-aleck, you could just skip past the post if you had nothing useful to contribute.  I'm writing a book, which I take seriously.

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On 4/27/2021 at 10:03 AM, zzip said:

my alternate history would be something like

2600 - same as now

5200 - still based on 400 tech, but fix the design flaws (better joysticks, smaller console, better price),  also more competitive and compelling games

7800 - should never have existed.  It was too soon.  It was a panic move by Atari to what Coleco was doing.  This lead to them abandoning the 5200 after less than two years, angering many Atari fans.   Instead they should have focused on having the best games possible for 5200, with an eye to replace it with a new console around 1987, give or take.  The new console might use an advanced version of 7800 sprite tech, or Amiga chips, or who knows what?

 

After this it's hard to see how things play out.   There's a good chance that the NES as we know it doesn't exist if Atari wasn't distracted from the console market.   Remember the reason Nintendo originally offered the NES to Atari was because Nintendo was afraid to compete against Atari.   With the chaos after the Tramiel purchase, Nintendo saw their chance.

Interesting.  What was Coleco doing?  The Adam computer?

 

My original thought was the 2600 was released in 1977, so a new console in 1981/1982 would be enough time to have a better-designed system to compete better with the Intellivision and Colecovision, both seemed to have some better games in them when comparing to the 2600.  that's why I still had the 5200 exist, so that it would keep Atari competitive, hopefully make their games a bit better, maybe easier to program for (ball sprite and missile sprites?), rather than designed for Pong and Combat.  Have it be backward compatible without an adapter to the 2600, and you can upgrade without worry, I would think.  I've been watching the post-mortems on games like Pitfall and the Atari 2600 itself, which I found out doesn't have a resolution more than 40 pixels, according to that video (all that 'racing the beam' stuff).

 

The 7800, yeah, it can come out a little later, sure.  But it definitely needs better sprites, tilemaps, and better scrolling.  Comparing the same games between the NES and 7800 shows the NES looked better at the time, but I don't know if that were due to programmers not knowing how to program to the 7800's strengths, or if it were really that weak in comparison.

 

The 5200 if it came out in an altered timeline definitely needs to fix the controller issue, size, price, but I think the tech inside it needs a little improvement for it to be worth the upgrade.  I just don't know what Atari could have reasonably done to make an upgrade.  Resolution?  Colors?  What would have been reasonable at the time, had Atari made better choices?

 

As for the 7800, I remember Atari did get the chance to bring the Famicom over, so I think that if they saw that, they would, rather than release the 7800 as-is, try to make it better than or equal to the NES like Sega's Master System.  It had more colors, which is good, but it needed tilemaps, smooth scrolling, better sprites, slightly better resolution with more colors at once, and of course, games.  Thanks for the meaningful response, I appreciate it.

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On 4/25/2021 at 2:38 PM, Mikebloke said:

Bit too fantasy for me, but the main thing that goes against it from a realism perspective is cost. There's a reason most games run on 2kb or 4kb roms. A lot of Ataris success is led not from having grandstanding technology but rather doing the best it could cheaply. 

 

Rather than impressive sequel consoles, it would likely have delayed it, and possibly pushed a bigger crash. There is historical examples of how the most graphically capable console on paper does the worst financially. 

 

But what if the atari was doing 2010s level games in 1970s? Well for a start, they would have been the neo geo of their age. Expect $200+ price tags for games. Arcade experience at home? Yes. Affordable to the masses? No. Don't expect those silly quick fire pick up and play games either, it wouldn't be worth it and even if priced comparatively, it could either make or break either side of the market. A "cheap" rip of donkey kong or pac man, common place at the time in reality, would have stolen the market over an arcade true conversion at wildly higher costs. 

 

One of the other issues is my understanding is the 5200 (didn't come out here, so pretty ignorant!) is a consolised computer without a keyboard, similar to the C64GS and the GX4000 for commodore and amstrad. That is, they were unlikely to have any major changes unless the computer line had it planned, and 4 player ports would have been inventive at the time (particularly with split controller use for 4player already in 2600).

 

7800 of course is/was/could have competed with the NES and master system, and perhaps shared many of their game libraries however under these turn of events atari may have folded as a company by this point or merged with another company. 3 companies in the console market has never really worked either, sega dropped off the radar and Nintendo has only survived through innovation, atari if it did have a 7800 by that point would have still been the weaker neighbour without a huge marketing campaign. 

 

I feel like I've stomped on your parade a lot, but the idea of a 70s neo geo is amusing, and would be curious to play what kind of games would actually come out from that. I'm just not sure that would have led to continued success. Perhaps sega would have taken more of the US market by storm, or perhaps Nintendo would develop an even bigger monopoly by the mid 80s.

I wasn't suggesting 2010-level games in 1970s at all, or making an Atari Neo Geo (equivalent in comparison to Intellivision and Colecovision).  I understand why they used 2K and 4K ROMs in the 1970s, and according to this, why they made a lot of the limitations they did.  But if you've ever seen alternatehistory.com or any speculative fiction book, many people like asking 'what if?' and trying to posit the ramifications of different choices.  

 

In this instance, knowing the limits of the 2600, I posited, what if the 2600 had used the full 16-pin chip, rather than the 13-pin chip, had 256 bytes rather than 128, and the read/write pin were present (at a minimum), and if possible, more sprites in one line without flicker or 2-color sprites?  What would be different with that?  What if they'd done 4K or 8K Pac-Man instead of that prototype weird version we got?

 

So, then going from that, what if the 5200 had been done slightly better?  Such as: smaller case without controller storage; lower price; perhaps slightly better graphics/memory and including backward compatibility; better joystick.  Make it worth it and make games better enough that people want to buy it rather than pass it over, so that in comparison to Colecovision and Intellivision, the 5200 is the better choice.  I saw the 'Realsports' comparison between the 2600 and its competitors, and their Baseball commercial showed how lacking the 2600 was graphically.  So, what if the 5200 were slightly better is my question there.  My brother has one, but doesn't play it, and when I compared games online, they don't look better enough for the 5200 to be worth it.

 

As for the 7800, it can come out later, sure, but it most certainly needs tilemaps, better sprites, smooth scrolling horizontally, diagonally, and vertically, the full better sound (not 1977 sound, geez), and a way to get more third party support.

 

Your post did stomp on my parade, but not as badly as others (RJ, toiletunes, Billy Beans, x=usr(1536)) who didn't even take the time or courtesy to either consider my post seriously rather than snarkily/sarcastically reply, or just scroll past it to avoid being rude.  There is a lot of alternate history on alternatehistory.com, Harry Turtledove's novels, the Man in the High Castle, etc, so I do enjoy speculating on what might have been.  It's an interesting thought experiment.

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Of course, with emulation, we could theoretically alter the Stella emulator to allow 256 bytes, and so on to see what we could get away with.

 

Is there a technical breakdown of the 5200 and 7800 like the 2600?

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, JJohnson said:

<sarcasm>Gee, thanks.  So helpful.</sarcasm>

 

I am honestly trying to write a story, including Atari in it that does a little better.  I would appreciate a little better consideration, as I'm going to try to add this into a publish book.

Combativeness is always a great idea when looking for help.  Consider why you're receiving the replies that you are before dispensing the snark.

Edited by x=usr(1536)
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