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Have you played Atari today?

by Matty filed under gadgets on October 1, 2007 06:27 PM

I have.

Atari is 30 years old this month. To celebrate, I just finished adding a cartridge slot to an Atari Flashback 2, which is a small game console with 40 built-in games. Now I can play the built-in games or play some of my old Atari cartridges. Anybody up for a quick game of E.T?*

Click the "read more" link for more general geekery on this topic.

Is geekery even a word?

The Flashback 2 is a product that caters to folks like me, who remember the Atari as a cornerstone toy of childhood. (Yep, I said it. Itís right up there with Star Wars figures.) Designed to look like a kid brother to the 2600, the Flashback 2 (or the FB2) even sports fake wood grain detailing, and comes with two authentic joysticks.

Flashback 2: Designed for fun

The superior retro design isnít just skin deep. The FB2 works with your existing joystick and paddle controllers, if you can find them in the attic. Inside, a single chip replicates an Atari 2600. When I am playing games, I am running the same exact code that I played 30 years ago. There is no emulation at all.

After voiding the warranty and opening the case, there is an extra treat. Printed on the back of the board are brief instructions for connecting a cartridge slot to the system. You can sometimes find cool stuff on circuit boards. I also learned that the FB2ís project name is ďMichele.Ē

Adding the cartridge slot really increases the shelf life of the FB2. Instead of getting bored with the built-in games, I can play my favorites too. For the record, some of the cartridges that Iíve kept for years include: Midnight Magic, Pole Position, Empire Strikes Back, Pitfall, and oh yes, E.T.*

Hack job

Other folks have done a fine job of describing how to do this. Instead of boring you with every detail, I present some general thoughts.

Overall the modifications went smoothly, and took me about a day. But I really took my time with it. I picked up the cartridge slot online, and I was able to pick up everything else on a trip to my friendly neighborhood Radio Shack.

Using the handy reference printed on the circuit board, I soldered 24 wires between the marked pads on the board and the cartridge slot. To make the wires easy to keep track of, I used a spare IDE ribbon cable.

In addition to putting in the slot, I also added a switch to select between the built-in games or the cartridge. I also removed the attached 6 foot RCA cable, and replaced it with a couple of RCA jacks on the back.

If youíre going to try this, know that will you have to solder very tiny things with great precision. Make sure that you have a small tip for your soldering iron. Be patient, and tin everything.

After Dremeling some holes in the case for the new parts, I was ready to play.

*Footnote: The Atari E.T. Game

I mentioned E.T in the introduction. If you arenít familiar with the life and death of this unassuming little video game, read on.

The E.T. video game for the Atari 2600 is considered by many to be the worst video game. Ever. The millions of dollars paid in licensing fees and the lack of sales of this game were key contributing factors to Atariís downfall.

The game was bad for a number of reasons; primarily it just isnít any fun to play. The game was rushed through development in order to capitalize on the success of the movie and the tie-in marketing maelstrom.

The graphics are underwhelming, even for an Atari game. The gameplay is so unintuitive that you really have to read the manual, a rarity for the time. In the early 1980ís, most games could be completely described in one sentence or less. Asteroids Ė Avoid the rocks and shoot them. Pole Position Ė Drive the car fast. E.T. Ė Collect colored squares (Reeseís Pieces) and blobs (phone parts). You may fall in holes, but it's okay because you can make your neck tall and float out. Avoid pretty much all people. Thereís more that you need to know to play about zones and warping, but it really doesnít make much sense. Besides, thereís more to this story.

So Atari had a whole bunch of E.T. cartridges that it couldnít get rid of. Between the unsold stock, and the games returned by an angry and vaguely confused public, Atari was sitting on millions of those cartridges.

At this point in the narrative, I like to imagine that Atari consulted with a mafia hit man named Vito. Vito was able to get things done. Or perhaps the suits at Atari were petulant bastards with revenge in their hearts. Of the two, I like Vito better.

Anyhow, Atari loaded all those games onto 14 semis and drove them from a warehouse in El Paso across state lines to desolate Alamogordo, New Mexico. What happens in Alamogordo stays there, if you get my drift.

The prodigal game was dispatched with, execution style. First, the cartridges were crushed. But that wasnít enough for the worst game ever. The mangled remains were then dropped into a large grave. Finally, the games were encased in cement and the hole was filled in. Yes, Atari hated this game so much that they killed it three times to make sure that it was really dead.

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Hi, this blog has been upgraded, but I'm leaving the old pages online until the search engines catch up. If you want to join the discussion, this may be the page you're looking for on the new site.

Posted by: Rachel on October 2, 2007 10:40 AM

Yes, geekery is definitely a word...heck, it's more than a word. It's a lifestyle.

Yippee for 1977...birth year of some of my favorite 30 year old things: Atari, a certain Honda motorcycle, and a certain husband, celebrating 30 years today.

Posted by: Nanc on October 2, 2007 11:50 AM

Ha ha ha - you said "slot" a lot!

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