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Related to Atari game consoles, games, or computers.
Bill Loguidice's picture

Home Computer Designations of the Late 1970s: A Feature Article

So, do you think today's computing landscape of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones, tablet computers, and netbooks - among other designations - is confusing? Imagine a computing landscape with no particular point of reference outside of mainframes and terminals. That's exactly what it was like in the world of personal computing from the mid-1970's to the start of the 1980's. The terms "laptop" and "notebook" were still several years away, with "portable" computers describing those systems you carried about like an overstuffed suitcase and ran off of AC power (like the Osborne 1 [1981], Compaq Portable [1983], or the Commodore SX-64 [1984]), a form factor many of us more accurately refer to today as "transportable" computers.

In any case, continuing along the same line of thinking started with my blog post, "Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?", or my related segment on Armchair Arcade Radio - Episode 1 (and with which I will pursue a somewhat similar theme in Episode 2), I thought I would describe how the 1979 book by noted writer Steve Ditlea, Simple Guide to Home Computers, classified the personal computing landscape of that time.

First off, in Part I, Home Computer Fundamentals, under Chapter 1, The Home Computer Revolution, it calls the Altair 8800, the "world's first home computer". In Part II, Choosing a Home Computer, and specifically Chapter 7, it starts off with "Programmable Video Games" (which is the name of the chapter). The systems he designates as programmable video games (and in the last part of the chapter refers to them as "starter units") are the "Odyssey2 Computer Video Game System", the "Bally Professional Arcade", "Cybervision 2001", and the "VideoBrain". Ditlea calls the Odyssey2 a "price breakthrough", though it's arguable to me if the North American version of the Odyssey2 ever really qualified as a computer in the traditional sense. It does in fact offer a very nice Computer Programming cartridge - which is mentioned in the book - but never any ability to save your output. If it qualifies under that scenario, then the BASIC Programming cartridge for the Atari 2600 would also make that console a computer, albeit even more primitive than what was offered on the Odyssey2. At least in the case of the Atari 2600, though, Spectravideo did eventually come through in 1983 with the CompuMate add-on, which not only added a keyboard and a reasonable BASIC, but the ability to save your data to tape.

Matt Barton's picture

Howard Scott Warshaw on Yar's Revenge and E.T. for the Atari 2600

This 15-minute episode features Howard Scott Warshaw talking about his rise and fall at Atari, designing the epic win Yar's Revenge and the epic fail E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. It's a moving story that, if anything, will convince you of just how little the industry has learned from that fiasco. Enjoy, and, as always, if you like what you see, tell all of your friends!

A very special thanks to DavyK for providing the box scan for this episode!

Matt Barton's picture

Matt interviews Howard Scott Warshaw

In this episode, Howard and I talk about what it was like working for Atari in the post-Bushnell Kassar years. Did you know that most of Atari's games were reviewed by the MRB--and you'll need to watch the video to learn what that means!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?

Commodore PET 2001-8Based on a lively discussion over at AtariAge, I finally have what appears to be independent confirmation of what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with the BASIC programming language was. For purposes of definition, "first recognizable modern day personal computer" means a pre-assembled (non-kit) computer with a built-in display output (typically to a monitor early on and later to a TV) and full keyboard. The BASIC part means having some type of operating system with BASIC commands, preferably (though not required to be) in ROM. Now, we all know the holy trinity of 1977, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80, which were released (meaning not just announced, but actually available to buy and, more importantly, use) in that magical year, in that order, and each of which set the standard for all others to follow. Logic would dictate then that the first computer to fit our definition would be the Apple II. However, as the French would say au contraire mon frere. After some total misses were brought up, one computer in particular began to generate some legitimate consideration, the Processor Technology SOL-20 (SOL 20; NOTE: Though apparently far less popular, the reduced feature-set SOL 10 was also available). Unfortunately, there is a criminal lack of historical information related to both the company and the computer, so pinning down a release date for the pre-assembled version was difficult (as was customary for the time, kit versions were available--even the Apple II could be bought as a kit, though the Commodore PET and TRS-80 could not). While I've been able to briefly handle a fully operational SOL-20 in the past, due to its high cost on today's open market (easily north of $400 with often questionable functionality), I've been unable to acquire one, so my first-hand knowledge of the system is decidedly limited.

AtariAge user "desiv", was the first to find this article, which is a report from a gentleman who had a computer store at the time and pretty much pegged a general availability of 1976 for the SOL-20. Not satisfied with this single account (for one thing, there were a few mis-remembrances in there, like saying the SOL-20 was never sold as a kit), I decided to end the debate (if only primarily with myself) once and for all by checking my personal library's materials for another contemporary perspective. Luckily, I found one.

According to my copy of Owning Your Home Computer (The Complete Illustrated Guide) (1980) by Robert L. Perry, on page 49, "About the same time [mid-1975], Robert Marsh, a computer engineer, founded Processor Technology, which marketed the first computer complete with keyboard and video screen--SOL, the first personal computer deserving the name." and "Except for the first version of the Processor Technology personal computer, called SOL, there was no complete home computer at the beginning of 1977." Then he goes on to talk about the usual suspects, Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer and Ohio Scientific Challenger, as being introduced that year (of course actual availability is a different issue).

He mentions another challenger a bit later, the Polymorphic 8800, which was introduced in 1976, which contained connections for a video monitor and a cassette recorder (as well as BASIC in ROM). Unfortunately, you had to add your own keyboard, which disqualifies it. He then talks a bit more about the SOL 20, "The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

Perry then devotes some time to the second generation of kit computers, like the RCA Cosmac Elf II, and Heathkit H-8. Then, towards the end of page 54, he starts in with the TRS-80, leads into the PET, talks about the Apple I and II, the Ohio Scientific Challenger, the Compucolor 8001, and the Exidy Sorcerer (which he says, correctly, was introduced in the Spring of 1978).

On another note, he devotes Chapter 5 to "The Newest Home Computers", which, given sufficient publishing lead time for this 1980 book, would have placed most of these releases between 1978 - 1979, which falls in line with what we already know well (of course, some, like the Mattel Keyboard Component, were only ANNOUNCED at this time and would still be some time away). These systems include: Sinclair ZX80, APF Imagination Machine, Interact Model One, Mattel Intellivision (with Keyboard Component), TI-99/4 (not the 4A), Bally Professional Arcade, and HP-85.

On a final note, in Chapter 6, "The Handiest Home Computers", he discusses the TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II/III, Ohio Scientific Challenger series, Compucolor II, Exidy Sorcerer, and the Atari 400/800. Definitely a good book, and definitely an end to the "mystery". Nevertheless, if you want all of the usual qualifiers above and BASIC to reside in ROM, you're still looking at the Apple II, which was released in June 1977.

Any thoughts out there to the contrary?

Bill Loguidice's picture

Nolan Bushnell Added to the Galaxy of Stars for our Upcoming Feature Film Documentary, Gameplay

Thanks to the efforts of Carl Williams and his Scenic 7 PR, we were able to get in touch with and set up an interview with the legendary Nolan Bushnell, for our upcoming feature film documentary, Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution. While it was a toss-up whether or not Nolan would appear closer to where Matt or I lived first in his travels, it turned out that it was near my neck of the woods, and we were able to conduct the interview today, Father's Day, in New York City. We had a great camera person on the remote shoot, and I had the pleasure of getting additional invaluable assistance from our own Christina Loguidice, both prior to and during my interview. Nolan was a true professional and provided many great sound bites we'll be able to use throughout the film. Added to the other industry celebrities we already interviewed, a great script, and compelling clips, the film is truly coming together as we gear up for a 2011 release. Be sure to stay tuned to Armchair Arcade for all the latest updates on our progress!

Bill Loguidice's picture

N64/GB/GBC Combi and Atari 2600 Plug-in Adapters being Prepared for Retrode USB Adapter

RetrodeRetrodeJust a quick bit of breaking news that the Retrode (formerly: snega2usb), a USB adapter for playing Super Nintendo/Famicom and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis cartridges legally on your PC, smartphone, laptop, network router, Wii, Pandora, etc., will soon have N64/GB/GBC combi and Atari 2600 plug-in adapters. Great news for a product with an ever expanding feature-set.

Check the official update below for more details or simply visit the Website:

davyK's picture

Middle Aged Gamer's Collection #2,#3,#4

#2 Combat, #3 Video Pinball, #4 Kaboom! (Atari 2600)

1970's TV games allowing the family to play Pong was one thing, the Atari 2600 was something different altogether. It still delivered the "family playing together" experience (indeed many first gen titles have no 1 player mode and quite a few offer 4 player modes) but now there was a whole library of games to choose from. It was the first truly programmable console and required you to plug in a cartridge - each one delivering a unique game (at least in theory!) The early days of the 2600 were about the family playing together - and nothing like it was really seen again until the Wii came along.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Armchair Arcade TV: Episode 3 - Satans Hollow

Armchair Arcade TV is now in high definition (720p) and available at a wide range of locations, with a wide range of subscription options, and in a wide range of formats, including YouTube, iTunes, RSS, and many more via!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Virtual Atari - Play Over 550 Atari 2600 VCS Games in Your Browser

Bill Martens of Virtual Apple (Apple II and IIgs) fame sent word that his latest project, Virtual Atari, is now open. There are currently over 550 Atari 2600 VCS games on the site, all running in the JStella emulator in Java. Another great site to add to the master browser emulator list!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Armchair Arcade TV: Episode 1 - Route 16

Hello, everyone. I'm debuting a new regular video series entitled, "Armchair Arcade TV". The first one, with the surprising name of "Episode 1" is on little known Centuri arcade game, Route 16 (Route-16), from 1981, with feature coverage of its first home translation for the Emerson Arcadia-2001 and its family of systems. Other games and systems are also featured. This is my first time on Adobe Premiere and on a new computer system, so the usual issues cropped up in the creation of this, but naturally these will improve in all ways over time, including the host segments. In the mean-time, enjoy the first episode. The full transcript follows the video.

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