After Hours

Play Atari classics on your PC

Before the Wii, Xbox, and PS3 was the Atari 2600. It defined the home gaming console. Now you can play some of the classic Atari games right on your PC.

Before the Wii, Xbox, and PS3 was the Atari 2600. It defined the home-gaming console. Now you can play some of the classic Atari games right on your PC.

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In a previous Classics Rock post, I pointed out what state-of-the-art gaming looked like on a microcomputer in 1979 with the Dancing Devil for the TRS-80 Model I. Much like today, however, even then if you wanted to have the best experience with computer gaming you were better off with a dedicated console rather than a general-purpose computer.

State-of-the-art gaming at the end of the 70s and early 80s was epitomized by the Atari 2600. Starting in 1977, Atari sold millions of these consoles. They served as the first experience that many people had with computer games. The Atari had the benefit of sound and graphics that microcomputers of the time couldn't hope to match, at least not at the price point.

Where TRS-80s, Apple IIs, and Commodore 64s were selling above $500, the Atari 2600 debuted at $199 and wound up costing $50 by 1984. Until the sector collapsed due to over competition in the mid-80s,  Atari ruled the home game market.

Atari in action

If you're under 30, you've probably never seen an Atari game in action. For those over 30, the mention of an Atari 2600 probably brings back memories of childhood Christmases and hours wasted at friends' houses watching large square dots move across a TV screen.

We've already shown what the inside of an Atari 2600 looks like in our Atari 2600 Cracking Open gallery. But I found a spot on Atari's Web site where you can actually play some of the old games.

Atari Play has only a miniscule subset of the Atari games that were available. However, you'll find plenty of classics there, such as Missile Command, Asteroids, and Centipede. The games are all Java based, so you'll need to have a Java runtime for your browser. After that they'll run just fine — but probably a lot faster than you remember them being on the original equipment.

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