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December 2013 Retro Gaming Article

December 17, 2013 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

CX21? The Video Touch Pad? OK, the Atari 2600 Star Raiders controller!

FYI- this article is sheer conjecture and devoid of fact :)

CX21 The Video Touch Pad I often forget the Atari 800 computer was released in 1979. It always seems more like a mid-80s sort of device to me. On the other hand the 5200 was released in 1982 and it was essentially a game console reduction of the 800 computer. But that crazy little 2600 outlived them both when it was discontinued in 1992, which is an interesting fact when looking at the CX21.

The Atari 800 had the power, and game library, to give fierce competition to home game consoles - even the Atari 2600. Today, nobody would confuse a PS4 with a laptop. They are greatly separated in both form and function. You don't fire up the PS4 because you have a huge spreadsheet to update. At the same time you don't go to your PC when you want to play a game... Hey wait a minute.

Although we distinguish computers from game consoles, we recognize that computers are powerful enough to play games as well as run other applications. I'm actually surprised that the Xbone doesn't run on Windows and have a version of Office.

So, back in the early 80's - what was a computer versus a game console? The big differentiation was memory and peripherals, like keyboards & mice. Of course almost every game console was slated to have a keyboard (aka: computer upgrade) coming soon. Very few came to market, but the line between consoles and computers was sort of vague.

Gamers sought the devices that best met their needs. Those needs were often met on a rotating basis between consoles and computers as the 80s advanced. But don't forget about that underpowered (by comparison) colossus the Atari 2600!

CX21 The Video Touch Pad Atari released Star Raiders for the Atari 800, in 1979, giving it the dubious honor of being one of the 1st first-person shooter games. Not like FPSs in gaming's 8th generation, but in a late-70s "Wow, I'm looking out a window that's actually my CRT" sort of way. It wasn't a terribly exciting game, but it did get ported to the 2600 (1982) and ST (1986) - the 2600 being the odd choice.

The 800 and ST were computers. They had memory and lots of buttons. The 2600? 4k and far fewer buttons - just one for most purposes. Star Raiders was compressed into 2600 form in 1982 and compensated for it's lack of buttons with it's own controller chock full of buttons (aka: the Video Touch Pad).

The Video Touch Pad was a 12-button pad much like you find on a 5200, Colecovision or Intellivision controller. The overlay identifies the 5 buttons needed for Star Raiders. Considering no other games were released to support this pad, it begs one to ask why Atari created it. Activision made great use of the 2600's console buttons for both StarMaster and Space Shuttle. These were quite sophisticated games for the 2600 and may have benefited from the Touch Pad... unless they had to pay a fee to adapt a game fo rit's use. Who knows.

In an age when consoles and computers were vying for top billing and customer loyalty, its interesting to see the effort put into porting a computer game to a game console lacking the memory and hardware to rally support it. The 2600 is a mighty beast!

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