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Happy Birthday (sorta, maybe?) Atari 2800!


Ballblaɀer

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On this date in 1983, Atari announced that it would sell the Atari 2600 in Japan, renamed and updated to be the Atari 2800.  :party:

 

At least, that's according to this 2010 article at 1UP.com -- but does anyone happen to know their source for this claim?  Or can confirm/deny it for sure?*  I don't necessarily doubt them... but that said, there definitely exist conflicting reports regarding whether the 2800 came to market in Japan before or after the Famicom in July 1983.  The 1UP article (among others) claims it was on May 10 and/or "two months" before the Famicom, while other sources say it wasn't sold until October (p55) or Fall 1983.  For a fantastic read on conflicting information like this, BTW, check out Hardcore Gaming 101's article about trying to determine when Adventure was actually released.  It's just one part of an outstanding seven-part series that discusses the difficulties inherent to video gaming history research.

*Answered later in this thread!

 

My top three Atari 2800 unanswered questions:

 

1) When was it actually announced, when was it released, and why the conflicting dates?  Was the originally intended release date in May?*

2) What's the story with some of the consoles having AW (Atari Wong) serial numbers, while others have SV-XX3 (Sunnyvale) serial numbers?*
3) Why are there (comparatively) so many Atari 2800s showing up for sale in Mexico these days?  Was there an overstock liquidation, like what happened with cases of boxed late-release red label games (Motorodeo, Ikari Warriors, etc) in Venezuela?

*Answered later in this thread!

 

2800-related viewing:

 

Atari 2800 TV commercial (30 seconds)

Atari 2800 TV commercial (15 seconds)

Atari 2800 / Pole Position TV commercial - a parody/copy of the famous "Blown-Away Man" Hitachi Maxell ad

Atari 2800 "junk" tear-down photos - Japanese blog

Atari 2800 game box scans (10) - Tumblr

Atari 2800 flyer/poster - RatsCats

 

2800-related reading:

 

1983: The Summer That Changed the World @ USGamer.net (multi-part article)

Atari 2800 @ AtariMuseum.com

Atari 2800 History + lots of box scans @ Freelancer-Games

Gangster Alley for the 2800? @ FamicomBlog

 

Bonus 2800 tidbit:

According to Jerry Jessop (Atari employee 1977-1985), Joe Tilly, the lead engineer of the Cindy/2800 project, was shot and killed by San Jose Police in 1983 after having had some clear difficulties in his life.

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I have to admit that the 2800 is a nice looking console. It puzzled me at first as to why this model has four controller ports. But then I realized that the controllers are a hybrid and would require four controllers for the paddle games. I also like the pre 7800 design. I'd own one! Happy Birthday 2800 or tanjoubi omedetou 2800!

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Didn't realize it basically had both joystick and paddle controller built-in one but still seems like a wonky controller design for Atari and were the 4 controller ports really beneficial for anyone at any given time I wonder?

 

Agree it's an odd design, and it feels very strange to use them at first, but I do like them.  Four ports would only have been needed for some paddle games, but when you look at the very short list of games that allow four players to play simultaneously (below) it certainly seems like a strange design decision.  Perhaps people complained about needing to buy a new set of two paddles if only one them stopped functioning?  Maybe I'm not giving early 80s consumers enough credit for trying to DIY repair a broken paddle at home, but I feel like if I didn't have a relative who was comfortable opening up a broken paddle to figure out how it worked and how to fix it we'd have needed to buy a new set of two.

 

It brings to mind the 5200 design: four ports, and essentially no games that made use of the feature.  Super Breakout (released with the console) was four-player, but not simultaneous play.  RealSports Tennis had four-player simultaneous play, but nowhere was it documented how to activate it (one had to select doubles tennis and then press '4' on the joystick keypad).  RealSports Basketball was being developed with four-player play, but never got released.  Likewise with Asteroids, and that was scrapped early on.  And... that's it, hence the eventual revision to a two-port console.

 

2600 3+ player (simultaneous) games, non-homebrew - complete list?

Atari: Warlords, Video Olympics, Street Racer, Casino (simultaneous betting only), Blackjack (three-player, simultaneous betting only)

Sears: Steeplechase

Starpath: Party Mix

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There is clearly interest in Atari and Japan, so again i can only assume that magazines simply lack the industry contacts/freelancers with 1st hand knowledge/material to cover this side of Atari in depth?.

 

I think that likely explains most of it.  I'm only an armchair researcher here, but I suppose there's also the language barrier, combined with general Japanese cultural insularity and an inclination to actively avoid/ignore "failure".

 

Maybe Dan Kramer would be the person to approach?.

 

He's been credited with putting design work into the Japanese-exclusive Atari 2800 in 1982.

 

Possibly!  I'd sure love to know more.

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So, digitpress.com has the FCC Qualification Documents for the CX 2800.  After reading through them, I feel they slightly re-frame the story of the 2800/Video Arcade II, and they also answer my question about the serial numbering.

 

The prevailing narrative I've seen reported in multiple places (again -- probably all paraphrasing the same unknown original source, but who knows because nobody bothers to cite anything) says that when Atari made the 2800, Sears "liked it enough" (or "were so impressed by it", "thought enough of it", etc) that they decided to rebrand it and sell it in the USA as the Video Arcade II.  According to the FCC documents, however, it seems the FCC application for the Sears Video Arcade II was filed by Atari Inc. *first*, way back on March 9, 1982.  The FCC granted the certification for the Video Arcade II, BPA83SCX2800, on April 2, 1982 (see sheet 11).

 

On the other hand, Atari Inc's FCC application for the 2800 (which was submitted using the FCC's "Abbreviated Procedure for Identical Equipment") wasn't filed until December 28, 1982, and wasn't granted by the FCC until January 18, 1983 (see sheet 3).  The new FCC ID was BPA83ACX2800.  I'd wager that the S in the first FCC ID stood for Sears; the A in the second ID for Atari, but I grant it could also just be coincidence.

 

The "Statement Regarding Change in Identification With No Design Change" (sheet 9) states:

 

The original equipment bearing FCC identifier BPA83SCX2800 is now manufactured by Atari Incorporated in the U.S.A.  The equipment bearing FCC identifier BPA83ACX2800 will be manufactured in Hong Kong by Atari Wong, Ltd.  In all respects the equipment can be considered identical, as certified to in letters contained in Exhibit 3.

 

All of this above information corresponds with CX2800 serial numbering, as best I can tell.  There appear to be four different labels used between the two brands of the same console:

 

- The earliest Sears Video Arcade II consoles have labels with SV-XXX serial numbers.  Here's number SV-332 029837, indicating it was manufactured in Sunnyvale in the 33rd week of 1982 (i.e. August).  Here's one from the 35th week of '82.  And one from the 40th week of '82, etc.  So far, I've seen Sunnyvale date codes on Sears consoles ranging from SV-302 to SV-412

 

- At some point in late '82 or early '83, Sunnyvale started putting Atari 2800 plates on the consoles they were making.  Here's one from the 2nd week of January 1983 featuring the Atari Inc. designation, but retaining the original Sears FCC ID.  Here's another one -- while you can't see the whole serial, you can see that it's again an Atari Inc. label, it has an FCC ID, and the code is printed in the same SV-0X3 style.  One more.  Presumably these were the first 2800s -- manufactured in the USA to sell in Japan -- and they would have been made in the week or two before (or at the same time) when the new FCC ID was granted.

 

EDIT 5/2017: here's one from the 1st week of January 1983, again with the original Sears FCC ID. 

 

- The letter from Atari-Wong (sheet 13 in the FCC Qualifications docs) indicates that they were already manufacturing the CX2800 for Atari Inc. in mid-December of 1982.  The second FCC ID had not yet been granted at this point, and labels on the Atari 2800s made by Atari-Wong for sale to Japan reflect that -- there is no FCC ID listed (or needed).  The 2800s manufactured in Hong Kong unfortunately do not have date codes like the Sunnyvale models.  The highest serial on this label type that I've seen so far is AW 0056660.

 

- The letter also states that Atari-Wong would be manufacturing and inspecting Sears units in Hong Kong for shipment to and sale in the USA (i.e. the reason for the new FCC ID, as far as I can tell).  So, these final (?) CX2800s are Video Arcade II units that have the Sears brand logo, the new FCC ID on the labels, and were manufactured by Atari-Wong.   Here's another example.  It's possible that Atari-Wong was making these concurrently with 2800s for Japan.

 

Of course, none of this necessarily helps in determining when 2800s were first put on sale, but it's at least the start of a working timeline.  That said, if Atari-Wong was, as the letter suggests, manufacturing 2800s in mid-December 1982... and they weren't put on sale in Japan until October 1983...  well...  wow.

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Quick update!

 

Associated Press article with a Tokyo byline on 4/12/1983 (this particular print comes from the Spokane Chronicle):

 

26512467661_5a94e1c911_o.png

 

It was probably still Monday here in the USA when the announcement was made (hence it being in Tuesday's paper), but that's just being pedantic... anyway yeah, per this report, the date of 4/12/83 as the 2800 announcement date is correct.  The article also says that May 10 is when they were to start sales.  Whether or not that actually happened remains to be proven.

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One note of curiosity is how Atari's popular Pac-Man would not be in the lineup of carts available to the Japanese market. I will admit that for the time the 2600 Pac-Man was not what it should have been but to not make it part of the software lineup is saying something. Does it suck as a game? Not really. Does it suck as a Pac Man clone? In every way. Too many things just keep it from being called Pac-Man...yet it is Pac-Man for many childhood 2600 owners. I would love to get my hands on the 2800 and a few of its games regardless if they are identical to NA versions or not. Atari should have done this before releasing the 5200, it might have been more successful.

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One note of curiosity is how Atari's popular Pac-Man would not be in the lineup of carts available to the Japanese market. I will admit that for the time the 2600 Pac-Man was not what it should have been but to not make it part of the software lineup is saying something. Does it suck as a game? Not really. Does it suck as a Pac Man clone? In every way. Too many things just keep it from being called Pac-Man...yet it is Pac-Man for many childhood 2600 owners. I would love to get my hands on the 2800 and a few of its games regardless if they are identical to NA versions or not. Atari should have done this before releasing the 5200, it might have been more successful.

 

I'm not sure about that Pac-Man bit at the end of the article.  It was released in Japan for the 2800, so... perhaps it was just not among the first 25 games that they had in mind for the launch?  Until someone unearths the press release, or a transcript of the press conference, I'm not entirely willing to take the AP at its word about a planned exclusion of Pac-Man.

 

The games/cartridges themselves are identical to USA releases; only the boxes and manuals are unique, as far as I'm aware.

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