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Justin

Was the Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad a mistake?

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I think the Video Touch Pad is one of the coolest things Atari released for the 2600. But it's also tremendously disappointing in that it never went anywhere. It should have been one, big, awesome Touch Pad controller used on multiple games.  So much potential to do so many cool things, just gone. Why? Even an opportunity to repurpose the Touch Pad for use on the 7800. Nope.

The VCS Keyboard Controller, Video Touch Pad, and Kids Controller were all essentially the same thing. Multiple releases of the same product driven by marketing. That's fine, I guess. I think the Kids Controller idea with the Kids Games was a nice idea. The VCS Keyboard Controllers were included with VCS systems early on and made a lot of sense. The Video Touch Pad seemed like 1980s Atari-brand Star Trek touch screens. Wii U or Switch controller for 1982. But what a waste. It seemed like Atari was all over the road.

I rather would've seen one sleek controller to unify things moving forward. And make it amazing. Consider it a redesign of the Keyboard Controller. Something like a cross between the two, large in size like the Kids Controller, but with sleek, low-slung "Atari Wedge" looks closer to the Video Touch Pad, with a high-tech feel. Then create big beautiful overlays like the Kids Controller. The Star Raiders overlay was underwhelming, honestly. Get DC Comics involved! Can you imagine? Big vibrant graphics! New adventures! And still plenty of room for Kids overlays as well as more serious "programming" overlays for Keyboard Controller games. And make this the uniform approach for all "pad" games moving forward. 

The Video Touch Pad seems to have come out right at a time where Atari had made a decision to consciously move away from developing new games for the Paddle Controllers and Keyboard Controllers which had a real presence in the earlier years of the 2600, opting instead to focus almost exclusively on creating games for the Joystick. Seems like a Ray Kassar / Marketing decision.

I remember discovering the Video Touch Pad when I first became really passionate about Atari and began retrocollecting. This was during a time when I was attempting to piece together bits of our video game past like an archeologist digging through magazines, old Atari catalogs, finding clearance games at Kay-Bee Toys and rummaging through boxes at flea markets. This was in an an age where Atari was all but forgotten but before we had the internet. I remembered what Star Raiders was, but I didn't remember the Video Touch Pad and it wasn't in any of the Atari Catalogs I had up to that point. I had no idea that it existed until I found a Touch Pad at the bottom of a nasty box of Atari stuff at a flea market. I pulled it out by its cord which, was all tangled in a nest of other cords, and instantly recognized it was Atari's answer to the touchpads on Intellivision and Coleco systems. 

"I wonder what other games use this?" Turns out none. What a shame.

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I don't think the controller was the mistake.  Not using it for more games was!  As you point out, they made other controllers that, while looking different, were pretty much the same thing.  It would have made more sense to make overlays for the one controller appropriate for the games that came for those other controllers.  Of course, I do have one homebrew game that uses the controller, though.  A perfect example of how the controller could have been used...

 

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I think it was a mistake to market the same controller under 3 names. 

Growing up, I had no idea they were the same thing! I'm sure others were confused too. 

Also, for the touchpad,  I did like how low the keys were. It made it hard to use it with an overlay.

I like the idea of the touchpad and wish more games utilized it, such as Space Shuttle and Tomcat F-14, but the reality is that it is very hard to succeed with secondary controllers, especially if they didn't come with the system.

Even the NES Zapper, which might be the most popular secondary controller of all time, failed to get 20 games out of 700 released for it.

BTW, I bought my Star Raiders on clearance in Meijers in the late 80s.

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Agree with everything touched on thus far. I cannot add much as I've little experience with it, I've no excuse as a generous person did send me Star Raiders with a new looking touch pad that I've yet to try but I don't know why accessories like that always excited me. I was not fortunate enough to experience many back in the day but I agree seemed very cool and so much more could have been done, I think it is yet another example of just how innovative early Atari was, it was not until much later I would learn just how many patents and technology Atari was dabbling in, all industries including medical fields, Atari just seemed HUGE. This may of been the same thing that would hurt them later when things started cooling off, perhaps in some ways they over extended themselves? I am sure Justin has much more insight in such matters but they seemed to be in everything including hologram technologies, portable computing etc, I think many modern technologies have Atari to thank in pioneering so much even if not everything was a success I think it open doors and proved concepts. Well, I hope to use the Touch Pad with Star Raiders at some point. For the longest time and even still a little bit I was confused on the differences between regular paddles for Pong or Warlords and the driving paddles? If someone could clarify the differences that would be great. Even 3rd party companies that created add ons or peripherals that added new features or different ways to control things always looked cool and exciting but again there never seemed to be much continued support outside a game or two. Cool thread JUSTIN. 

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43 minutes ago, MaximumRD said:

Agree with everything touched on thus far. I cannot add much as I've little experience with it, I've no excuse as a generous person did send me Star Raiders with a new looking touch pad that I've yet to try but I don't know why accessories like that always excited me. I was not fortunate enough to experience many back in the day but I agree seemed very cool and so much more could have been done, I think it is yet another example of just how innovative early Atari was, it was not until much later I would learn just how many patents and technology Atari was dabbling in, all industries including medical fields, Atari just seemed HUGE. This may of been the same thing that would hurt them later when things started cooling off, perhaps in some ways they over extended themselves? I am sure Justin has much more insight in such matters but they seemed to be in everything including hologram technologies, portable computing etc, I think many modern technologies have Atari to thank in pioneering so much even if not everything was a success I think it open doors and proved concepts. Well, I hope to use the Touch Pad with Star Raiders at some point. For the longest time and even still a little bit I was confused on the differences between regular paddles for Pong or Warlords and the driving paddles? If someone could clarify the differences that would be great. Even 3rd party companies that created add ons or peripherals that added new features or different ways to control things always looked cool and exciting but again there never seemed to be much continued support outside a game or two. Cool thread JUSTIN. 

I believe the driving paddles turn all the way around where the paddles stop at a point. And only Indy 500 could use the driving controller (and maybe some Homebrews/hacks)

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6 hours ago, TrekMD said:

I don't think the controller was the mistake.  Not using it for more games was!  As you point out, they made other controllers that, while looking different, were pretty much the same thing.  It would have made more sense to make overlays for the one controller appropriate for the games that came for those other controllers.  Of course, I do have one homebrew game that uses the controller, though.  A perfect example of how the controller could have been used...

I completely agree! I love what Holey Moley did with the overlay!

 

4 hours ago, nosweargamer said:

I believe the driving paddles turn all the way around where the paddles stop at a point. And only Indy 500 could use the driving controller (and maybe some Homebrews/hacks)

True! Another good example where simplification could've won the day. Atari could've had one Touch Pad / Keypad controller, and one Paddle. I get that driving Paddles turned all the way around but did that really necessitate having to buy another controller? How about a single controller for Paddle/Driving games, maybe with the ability to toggle between the two. Keeping things simple seems to be the way to go in my opinion.

 

1 hour ago, RickR said:

It would have been cool to see them use it even on games that didn't really need it.  For example, it could have been used to pause, reset, start, select so you could do that from your seat instead of going back to the console on all the games that came after it's release. 

Absolutely! Maybe what I've been overlooking is that Atari did move forward with the "Touch Pad" philosophy with the Atari 5200 which came out just after Star Raiders on the 2600. Possibly from that point forward an attitude developed within Atari that "5200 games use keypads and overlays, the 2600 doesn't need that". Or, worse, after the release of Star Raiders the marketing department realized that the 2600 Touch Pad was encroaching on the 5200's territory of what made it so "advanced". Hmm.. 🤔

If you look at the Star Raiders overlay it only uses a few of the buttons. Almost within the parameters of Start, Select, two buttons and a D-pad.

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Having the keypad certainly made playing Star Raiders easier, but Atari could have implemented all the functions by using the console switches or another joystick, much like how Activision did with Space Shuttle, Sega with Spy Hunter, and Telesys with Stargunner.  By the same token, 3rd-party companies could have supported the keypad (ex: Activision with Space Shuttle), but CommaVid was the only one (with MagiCard).  Atari only released 5 carts that supported the keypads (Keyboard Controllers) between 1978-1980:

A Game of Concentration
BASIC Programming
Brain Games
Codebreaker
Hunt & Score

Star Raiders was the only cart that used both the joystick and keypad (Video Touch Controller).  Activision, Imagic, and Starpath came out with their own Star Raiders knock-offs (with Starmaster, Star Voyager,and Phaser Patrol) - none of which used the keypad.  So the keypad wasn't so much of a necessary item for Star Raiders, but as you mentioned, I'm sure Atari's Marketing wanted the opportunity to remind everyone they could have games using keypad controllers as well (which they certainly did with the 5200).

The following year was when Atari decided to re-do the keypad again (with the Kids Controller) and planned to support it with no less than 8 titles:

Alpha Beam with Ernie
Big Bird's Egg Catch
Cookie Monster Munch
Grover's Music Maker
Holey Moley
Monstercise
Oscar's Trash Race
Peek-a-Boo

The Driving Controller is really one I had hoped Atari would have supported more.  It's the perfect controller for driving games, and a combination of that and a joystick (for shifting) would have been ideal.  But other than 2 homebrews (Stell-A-Sketch and Thrust Plus: DC), Atari's Indy 500 was the one and only driving game to use it.  Paddles really weren't ideal for driving games, yet Atari used them for Night Driver,  That was a very popular title and its release would have been an excellent time to reintroduce the Driving Controllers, as would have the later (top-down) version of Dukes of Hazzard (had it been released) and Pole Position.  When Coleco came out with their own driving controller (Expansion Module #2), I immediately thought that was something Atari should have released years before.  Would have been nice if homebrew programmers utilized that with new games, or hacked versions of existing ones.

Edited by Scott Stilphen

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Well, the touch pad I don't think was a mistake.  But it really didn't seem like Atari really did too much with it unless I missed it.  The only game I thought that used it was Star Raiders.  It wasn't until I started collecting for the 2600 I discovered other titles that used it.  But I do believe it falls under the same genre as the driving controller...not very much support or widely used.  BASIC PROGRAMMING uses them since the keyboard and kids controllers are the same thing.  The 7800 has one cart that uses them as well which Video 61 sells or use to sell.  

I only wish that Star Raiders on the 2600 used it as much as the 5200's version used the keypads.

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