“We had no money, no factories”: the magical story of Atari, founded 50 years ago, lives on in the Lego set

“We had no money, no factories, no market share. All we could rely on was our creativity.” Nolan Bushnell remember like this the birth of Atari in 1972;. A year earlier, with me Ted DabneyBushnell had created the first arcade game in history: Computer space.

At that time their company was still called Syzygy Co. But the two soon realized that someone in California had chosen the same, unlikely name. And so they changed it to Atari exactly fifty years ago.

It is true that Bushnell and Dabney had no money. Or rather, what they had – the proceeds from the sales of Computer Space – they had invested in Atari and its first, legendary, arcade: Pong. It was a success. And the way it arrived is incredible. The young engineer who created this ping pong simulator was called Al Alcorn. And he had never seen a video game in his life. In Alcorn, owned by Bushnell and Dabney just hiredhe had been asked to develop something that would test his abilities.

Innovation Almanac – November 29, 1972

Pong is born: it was like paddle, but inside a cabinet

by Riccardo Luna



They were the seventies. Children, at home, could rely on limited forms of entertainment: a few channels on television, comics, music and toys such as Lego bricks. If they wanted to play a video game, they had to fill their pockets with coins and go to the nearest bar.

Atari changed everything. The concept of a console, originally called Stella, was realized in 1977 under the name Atari VCS. But it will go down in history as Atari 2600.

The 1980 Atari 2600 model that inspired the Lego replica

The 1980 Atari 2600 model that inspired the Lego replica

“The Atari 2600 was one of the most memorable gifts I ever received as a child. I was amazed: I could play arcade games at home.” Chris McVeighthe model designer who oversaw the copy – in Lego bricks – of the popular console.

McVeigh is a nostalgic, the perfect man for the new set for sale in Lego Stores. Until three years ago was a simple “Lego builder”: he used bricks to create objects related to his adolescence, mainly in the eighties. Computers, portable radios, cameras: Each time McVeigh put together a model, he wrote down the steps and posted instructions for replicating it online. It turned out, of course, that Lego hired him in 2019.

From all sets Lego icons – collection that includes, for example, the replica of the Transformer Optimus Prime and the DeLorean from Back to the Future – theAtari The 2600 is probably the one that borders on perfection in terms of fidelity to the original. And for that, probably, it appears as the “Less Legos” from all.

Even the two joysticks they are identical and move just like the originals. The soul of Lego, in this case, is hidden: lifting the upper part of the model, in fact, the diorama of a portico of the eightiesapparently rebuilt with bricks.

At the heart of the original Atari 2600, on the other hand, was the MOS Technology 6052 painted by Chuck Pendlethe first 8 bit microprocessor at an affordable cost. To be clear, this allowed the first computers to enter homes. It was used forapple IIfor example, and for the Commodore 64. The Ram, on the other hand, was barely 128 bytesso small that it requires a fair amount of creativity from those who created video games, as Wired Usa said in an excellent article about the tricks and gimmicks that developers adopted during those years.

Atari game cartridges made of bricks realistically fit the console

Atari game cartridges made of bricks realistically fit the console

Incidentally, in the Lego box of the 2,532-piece set that celebrates the console, and at the same time the 50th anniversary of the historic brand on June 27, there are also the bricks used to assemble unforgettable video game cartridges: Asteroids, Adventure And Centipede. There is no Space invaderswhich in 1979 had caused a permanent wheel console sales.

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