Atari 5200

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Atari 5200
Atari 5200 system and controller
ManufacturerAtari Inc.
TypeHome video game console
GenerationSecond generation
Retail availability
  • NA: November 1982
DiscontinuedMay 21, 1984
Units sold1 million[1]
MediaROM cartridge
CPUMOS 6502C @ 1.79 MHz
Controller inputJoystick
PredecessorAtari 2600
SuccessorAtari 7800

The Atari 5200 SuperSystem, commonly known as the Atari 5200, is a home video game console that was introduced in 1982 by Atari Inc. as a higher-end complementary console for the popular Atari 2600.[2] The 5200 was created to compete with the Intellivision, but wound up more directly competing with the ColecoVision shortly after its release.[3]

The 5200's internal hardware is almost identical that of Atari's 8-bit computers, although software is not directly compatible between the two systems. The 5200's controllers have an analog joystick and a numeric keypad along with start, pause and reset buttons. The 360-degree non-centering joystick was touted as offering more control than the eight-way joystick controller offered with the Atari 2600.

Hardware[edit | edit source]

The 5200's large size is due in part to controller storage in the back of the unit.

Much of the technology in the Atari 8-bit family of home computer systems was originally developed as a second-generation games console intended to replace the 2600. However, as the system was reaching completion, the personal computer revolution was starting with the release of machines like the Commodore PET, TRS-80 and Apple II. These machines had less advanced hardware than the 5200, but sold for much higher prices with associated higher profit margins. Atari's management decided to enter this market, and the technology was repackaged into the Atari 400 and 800. The chipset used in the these machines was created with the mindset that the 2600 would likely be obsolete by the 1980 time frame. What was surprising, however, was that the entry into this new market of competition helped to quickly cut off the sales of the 2600.

Atari decided to re-enter the games market with a design that closely matched their original 1978 specifications. In its prototype stage, the Atari 5200 was originally called the "Atari Video System X - Advanced Video Computer System", and was codenamed "Pam" after a female employee at Atari Inc. It is also rumored that PAM actually stood for "Personal Arcade Machine", as the majority of games for the system ended up being arcade conversions. Actual working Atari Video System X machines, whose hardware is 100% identical to the Atari 5200 do exist, but are extremely rare.[4]

The initial 1982 release of the system featured four controller ports, where nearly all other systems of the day had only one or two ports. The 5200 also featured a new style controller with an analog joystick, numeric keypad, two fire buttons on each side of the controller and game function keys for Start, Pause, and Reset. The 5200 also featured the innovation of the first automatic TV switchbox, allowing it to automatically switch from regular TV viewing to the game system signal when the system was activated. Previous RF adapters required the user to slide a switch on the adapter by hand. This unique RF box was also where the power supply connected in a unique dual power/television signal setup similar to the RCA Studio II's. A single cable coming out of the 5200 plugged into the switch box and was used for both electricity and the television signal.

The 1983 revision of the Atari 5200 has two controller ports instead of four, and a change back to the more conventional separate power supply and standard non-autoswitching RF switch. It also has changes in the cartridge port address lines to allow for the Atari 2600 adapter released that year. While the adapter was only made to work on the two-port version, modifications can be made to the four-port to make it line-compatible. In fact, towards the end of the four-port model's production run, there were a limited number of consoles produced which included these modifications. These consoles can be identified by an asterisk in their serial number.

Controllers[edit | edit source]

The Atari 5200 controller

The controller prototypes used in the electrical development lab used a yoke and gimbal mechanism that came from an RC airplane controller kit. This simple design gave smooth linear control and was highly reliable.[citation needed] The design of the analog joystick, which used a weak rubber boot rather than springs to provide centering, proved to be ungainly and unreliable. They quickly became the Achilles' heel of the system because of their combination of an overly complex mechanical design with a very low-cost internal flex circuit system.[5] Another major flaw of the controllers was that the design did not translate into a linear acceleration from the center through the arc of the stick travel. The controllers did, however, include a pause button, a unique feature at the time. Various third-party replacement joysticks were also released, including those made by Wico.[citation needed]

Atari Inc. released the Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller for the system, which was used primarily for gaming titles such as Centipede and Missile Command. A paddle controller[6] and an updated self-centering version of the original controller[7] were also in development, but never made it to market.

Games shipped with plastic card overlays that snapped in over the keypad. The card would indicate which game functions, such as changing the view or vehicle speed, were assigned to each key.[citation needed]

The primary controller was ranked the 10th worst video game controller by IGN editor Craig Harris.[8]

Internal differences between the 5200 and the 400/800[edit | edit source]

Although the Atari 5200's internal design was extensively based on that of the 400/800 home computers, the differences were sufficient that games designed for one would not run directly on the other.[9] John J. Anderson of Creative Computing alluded to the incompatibility being intentional, caused by fierce rivalries between Atari's computer and console divisions.[10]

One of the most obvious differences was the 5200's lack of a keyboard. However, there were several others:

  • The 400/800's 10 KB operating system was replaced with a simpler 2 KB "monitor program", of which 1 KB is the built-in character set.[9]
  • A number of important registers, such as those of the GTIA and POKEY chips, appear at different memory locations.[9]
  • The purpose of some registers changed slightly on the 5200.[9]
  • The 5200's analog joysticks appeared as pairs of paddles to the hardware, which required different input handling to the traditional digital joystick input on the 400/800.[9]

Atari Corp.'s later XE Games System revisited the idea of a console based on the 400/800 hardware. However, as this was essentially just a 65XE computer with a detachable keyboard, it was (unlike the 5200) able to run most of the home computer titles directly.[11]

Market performance[edit | edit source]

The Atari 5200 did not fare well commercially, compared to its predecessor, the Atari 2600.[12] While it touted superior graphics to the 2600 and Mattel's Intellivision, the system was initially incompatible with the 2600's expansive library of games, and some market analysts have speculated that this hurt its sales,[13] especially since an Atari 2600 cartridge adapter had been released for the Intellivision II.[citation needed] (A revised 2-port model was released in 1983, along with a game adapter that allowed gamers to play all 2600 games.)[citation needed] This lack of new games was due in part to a lack of funding, with Atari continuing to develop most of its games for the saturated 2600 market.[14]

Many of the 5200's games appeared simply as updated versions of 2600 titles, which failed to excite consumers.[15] Its pack-in game, Super Breakout, was particularly criticized for not doing enough to demonstrate the system's capabilities,[citation needed] and this gave the ColecoVision a significant advantage when its pack-in, Donkey Kong, delivered a more authentic arcade experience than any previous game cartridge.[16] In its list of the top 25 game consoles of all time, IGN claimed that the main reason for the 5200's market failure was the technological superiority of its competitor,[17] while other sources maintain that the two consoles are roughly equivalent in power.[18]

The 5200 received much criticism for the "sloppy" design of its non-centering analog controllers.[19]

At one point following the 5200's release, Atari had planned a smaller, cost-reduced version of the Atari 5200, which would have removed the controller storage bin. Code-named the "Atari 5100" (a.k.a. "Atari 5200 Jr."), only a few fully working prototype 5100s were made before the project was canceled.[20]

On May 21, 1984, during a press conference at which the Atari 7800 was introduced, company executives revealed that the 5200 had been discontinued after just two years on the market.[21] Total sales of the 5200 were reportedly in excess of 1 million units.[1]

Technical specifications[edit | edit source]

The 5200 runs off a 1.79 MHz 6502C CPU
  • CPU: Custom MOS Technology 6502C @ 1.79 MHz (not a 65C02)
  • Graphics chips: ANTIC and GTIA
  • Support hardware: 3 custom VLSI chips
  • Screen resolution: 14 modes: Six text modes (8×8, 4×8, and 8×10 character matrices supported), Eight graphics modes including 80 pixels per line (16 color), 160 pixels per line (4 color), 320 pixels per line (2 color),[22] variable height and width up to overscan 384×240 pixels
  • Color palette: 128 (16 hues, 8 luma) or 256 (16 hues, 16 luma)
  • Colors on screen: 2 (320 pixels per line) to 16 (80 pixels per line).[22] up to 23 colors per line with player/missile and playfield priority control mixing. Register values can be changed at every scanline using ANTIC display list interrupts, allowing up to 256 (16 hues, 16 luma) to be displayed at once, with up to 16 per scanline.
  • Sprites: 8 (1, 3 colors per sprite, up to 9 colors per sprite mixed by playfield priority control)
  • Scrolling: Coarse and fine scrolling horizontally and vertically. (Horizontal coarse scroll 4, 8, or 16-pixel/color clock increments, and vertically by mode line height 2, 4, 8, or 16 scan lines.) (Or horizontal fine scroll 0 to 3, 7, or 15 single-pixel/color clock increments and then a 4, 8, or 16-pixel/color clock increment coarse scroll; and vertical fine scroll 0 to 1, 3, 7, or 15 scan line increments and then a 2, 4, 8, or 16 scan line increment coarse scroll),[23]
  • Sound: 4-channel PSG sound via POKEY sound chip, which also handles keyboard scanning, serial I/O, high resolution interrupt capable timers (single cycle accurate), and random number generation.
  • RAM: 16 KB[9]
  • ROM:
    • 2 KB on-board BIOS for system startup and interrupt routing.
    • 32 KB ROM window for standard game cartridges, expandable using bank switching techniques.
  • Dimensions: 13" × 15" × 4.25"

Games[edit | edit source]

Missile Command for the Atari 5200

There were a total of 69 games officially released for the system.[citation needed] Super Breakout, Galaxian and Space Invaders were the system's launch titles. A port of Asteroids was advertised as a launch title, but was never released.[citation needed] Gremlins, released in 1986, was the last game officially released for the system.[citation needed]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Schrage, Michael (May 22, 1984). "Atari Introduces Game In Attempt for Survival". Washington Post: C3. "The company has stopped producing its 5200 SuperSystem games player, more than 1 million of which were sold." 
  2. "The Atari 5200 will be available in October". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 1, 1982.,140029&dq=atari+5200&hl=en. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  3. G4TV's Icons season 2 episode 1 "Atari"
  4. Curt Vendel. "Video System X". Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  5. "The Atari 5200 Super System". Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  6. Curt Vendel. "Atari 5200 Paddle Controller Prototypes". Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  7. Curt Vendel. "Self Centering Joystick Prototypes". Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  8. "Top 10 Tuesday: Worst Game Controllers". IGN. February 21, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2009. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Transporting Atari computer programs to the Atari 5200, Claus Buchholz, ANALOG Computing #15 (January 1984), via Article retrieved April 22, 2007.
  10. Anderson, John J. (March 1984). "Atari". Creative Computing: p. 51. Retrieved February 6, 2015. "The games division [..] saw the home computer division as a threat [..] If any of their new machines could expand into true computers, the reins would automatically be handed over [..] To the games division, this was a fate worse than death [so] they chose death. [The 5200 was internally] very nearly an Atari 800 [but] all compatibility and expandability had been designed out" 
  11. Harris, Neil (May 12, 1987). "Re: Is Atari killing the 8 bit?". Atari Corp. Retrieved June 5, 2014. So what we have with the XE Game System is essentially a 65XE in disguise. [..] It is completely compatible with the current 8-bit line, including software. 
  12. Moss, Stuart (2007). The Entertainment Industry: An Introduction. CABI. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-84593-551-1. 
  13. Mace, Scott (August 6, 1984). "A New Atari Corp.: The House That Jack Tramiel Emptied". Infoworld: p. 52. Retrieved January 27, 2011. 
  14. Kent, Steven (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Prima Publishing. p. 230. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  15. Staff, New York Times (2007). The New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind. New York: Macmillan Publishers. p. 472. ISBN 978-0-312-37659-8. 
  16. Kent, Steven (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Prima Publishing. p. 209. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  17. "Atari 5200 is number 23". IGN. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  18. "Colecovision vs Atari 5200 Hardware Comparison". Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  19. Hubner, John (December 5, 1983). "What Went Wrong At Atari". Infoworld: p. 148. Retrieved January 27, 2011 
  20. Curt Vendel. "5100/5200 Jr". Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  21. Sanger, David E. (May 22, 1984). "Atari Video Game Unit Introduced". New York Times: 3 (Section D). "Company officials disclosed for the first time yesterday that the 5200 is no longer in production, and Atari appears to be selling off its inventory." 
  22. 22.0 22.1

External links[edit | edit source]