Tag Archives: 2600

New to the RolyRetro Collection – Atari 2600 “Woody”

After years of retro games collecting I finally buy a pair of Atari 2600 consoles

Being an avid retro games collector with a minor case of OCD, I love nothing more than taking an old and unwanted console and bringing it back to life. The beauty of many of the old 80’s consoles is their construction – they were built from industrial strength materials, using plastics and sometimes metal that have stood the test of time. With very few moving parts and a very simple circuit board – I’m talking before the advent of CD-ROM – there was little to go wrong apart from worn out cartridge sockets and sticky switches. In many cases these consoles can be brought back to life with nothing more than some mild detergent and a bit of WD40.

The Atari 2600 is a classic example of this, with it’s bomb-proof plastic case hiding a nothing but air and a small circuit board powered by a MOS 6507 processor.

Atari 2600
My newly acquired Atari 2600 consoles and cartridges – before cleaning up

My latest acquisition was an untested pair of Atari 2600 “woody” variants, with the classic wood effect trim on the front of the machine, included with a bundle of games. I already have the all-black “Darth Vader” version of the console, but had been on the lookout for the woody version to complete my collection. I figured at least one of the two would work, and if I was lucky could sell one reconditioned and pay for the cost of the original purchase. In effect a free Atari 2600!

On picking up the games from the local eBay seller (and saving shipping fees) I investigated the two boxes as well as the game to understand just what I had bought – there are a few variations of the machines and I wanted to trace the serial numbers to understand their history. Fortunately, both machines seemed to be in very good, if dirty (hooray more cleaning) condition. One of the machines even had the reseller’s sticker on the rear indicating it was sold by Bakers of Clacton- on-Sea in Essex. I did check to see if by some miracle the shop still existed but it is no longer there.

Using the references available online from the AtariAge website, it appears that both are the CX2600 model, produced in Hong Kong from 1978 to 1980, as opposed to the original Sunnyvale model which was slightly heavier and produced in the US. They retain the 6 switches on the front of the unit, as well as the lovely wood panelling – a feature which I think Sony and Microsoft should bring back for the next generation of console hardware.

After a wonderful evening of polishing and dusting, the consoles have both cleaned up a treat, and look almost as good as when they rolled off the line 35 years ago in Honk Kong – the only visible signs of wear and tear being the worn orange pinstripe running around the switches. The worst part (or best depending on your personal levels of OCD) is the long plastic grooves on the top of the machine that need a good going over with cotton buds in order to scrape out 30 years of dust and grime.

The restored Atari 2600
The restored Atari 2600
Who knows how many hours of gaming these machines have seen, but they look like they are ready to go another 35. I’m not sure the original release of XBOX or PS3 machines will still work after 5 years, what with the red ring and yellow blinking lights of death, and in 30 years I doubt even the later versions will still be playable.

The next step is to plug them in and see if they still work, as well as checking out the big bag of cartridges which are in various states of disrepair, but hoping there might be some rare gem in there that I have not uncovered before. I’m also thinking that I might try a video mod to allow connection via a component cable, so I can play on a modern TV.

I’m hoping that both work – I’ll post another update when I have located a power supply and controllers and can fire up these classic consoles.

The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600

The Empire Strikes Back is regularly quoted by fans as their favourite Star Wars film, focused on Luke’s development as a Jedi knight, and his relationship with his evil nemesis Darth Vader.

AT AT Walkers from the Empire Strikes Back
AT- AT Walkers from the Empire Strikes Back
The stand-out action scene in the film is the battle on the ice planet Hoth, where the Imperial forces locate and launch an attack on the rebel base with ground troops and the iconic AT-AT Walkers. These huge lumbering machines resemble giant camels, carrying troops and spitting lasers, and in the film’s equivalent of the Death Star trench run, have to be slowed down by the rebel forces to allow the evacuation of the base.

This scene forms the premise for Parker Brothers 1982 game, released on the Atari 2600, where you as a rebel pilot take on the mighty walkers, in a game resembling the classic Defender by Williams. Piloting a rebel Snowspeeder, you can fly horizontally across the landscape to locate and attack 5 imperial walkers, which are moving from the left to the left towards your base. The location of the walkers is shown on a map (Defender again) at the bottom of the screen. In the film the only way to bring the walkers down was using a slingshot to wrap around the huge legs to trip them over, but on the Atari 2600 you have to shoot down the walker with repeated hits of your laser. Multiple hits to the body were required, slowly turning the colour of the walker from black to red and orange, before finally destroying them. You could also aim for a weak spot indicated by a flashing blob.

The Empire Strikes Back Atari 2600 Screenshot
Atari 2600 Screenshot

The walkers themselves were not without their own weapons, requiring you to dodge lasers while you zipped around the walkers, and whilst at first they were “hollow” allowing you to fly through them, on later levels they were solid, increasing the difficulty level. Your ship had 3 lives, indicated by the colour of the snowspeeder, but could be repaired by landing at the bottom of the screen, but this consumed valuable time. On later levels the AT-ATs would also fire smart bombs, and march more quickly towards your base.

The level is complete when you have destroyed all 5 walkers, or the walkers reach your base and the game is over.

So the big question is, was Parker Brother’s Empire Strikes Back any good? I certainly remember playing it as a teenager and spending hours perfecting my technique, and on replaying the game today it feels just as good as it was in 1982. Given the gaming potential of the original Star Wars film, it is an interesting fact that this was the first ever computer game from the iconic series. It certainly captures the essence of the film, and the battle scene that we all wanted to be in, playing hero Luke Skywalker. At the time my only regret was that you couldn’t use a tow cable to trip the AT-ATs.

Since the release of this game there have been Star Wars games released for every home computer and console from the NES to the XBOX 360, including recreations of the Hoth battle scene. The best of these was part of the Rogue Squadron series of games starting with the Nintendo 64, and later the Gamecube. In these later releases you finally had the ability to take down the AT-ATs with a tow cable, just like in the original film, and it was worth the 15 years I had to wait for this to happen.

There have been some great Star Wars games over the years, as well as some spectacularly poor releases, but this first game falls into the former category, and a great gaming memory for any Star Wars fan around in the early 80’s.