27 December 1996

How to Start a Classic Video Game Collection Part 2: The System Choices - The Atari Trio (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

In this article I'll start discussing and comparing the major classic video game consoles. If you are still undecided after my last article, this should help you decide which one you would like to start collecting. Your best bet is to start with the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari 5200, Magnavox Odyssey², Mattel Intellivision, or Coleco Colecovision. In this article, I'll discuss the three Atari systems. Next time I'll cover the latter three.

I'll start with the Atari 2600 and use it as the yardstick by which to measure the other systems. The reason I’m choosing the 2600 is because it was the world’s most popular video game console up until the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and it remains the favorite of classic collectors. You should have no problem starting a 2600 collection, as 2600 consoles and games are by far the easiest to find. Early 2600 games have primitive graphics and sound, but many later games pull off some amazing graphics feats, particularly considering what the programmers had to work with. The 2600 also had a variety of controllers available for it that gives it a larger variation in types of games than most other systems. The controllers are fairly sturdy, although paddles are known to deteriorate with time. This can be fixed, however. All in all, the 2600 is an excellent choice for a beginning collector.

The Atari 7800 is another excellent choice because it can also play 2600 games (with a few exceptions). The 7800 does nothing to improve the 2600 games, but having a 7800 would give you a slightly larger base of games to collect. Atari 7800s are rarer than many of the other systems discussed here, so you might want to pick up a 2600 until you find one. 7800 games have excellent graphics (on par with the NES), although the sound is generally little improved from the 2600. The 7800 joysticks are notorious for giving hand cramps, but 2600 games and many 7800 games can be played with 2600 controllers.

The Atari 5200 was released between the 2600 and 7800. It's generally not too difficult to find one or games for it. Its graphics ability is between the 2600 and 7800, but its sound is generally better than both. An adapter exists which allows you to play 2600 games, but it is hard to find. The main downfall of the 5200 are its controllers. It comes with a pair of joysticks that are notorious for being worn out and very hard to fix. Furthermore, unlike 2600 and 7800 joysticks, they can act as both joysticks or paddles and they do not automatically return to the center position. This makes some games more difficult. Although some alternative controllers exist that are better, they are quite rare.

By now you should have a handle on the Atari systems. Of the three, I'd recommend starting with a 2600, or a 7800 if you can find one. They offer the most variety, larger game libraries, and easier to find alternative controllers. Next time we’ll see how the major non-Atari systems stack up.

Copyright 1996, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

02 December 1996

How to Start A Classic Video Game Collection Part 1: Picking a System (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

If you're new to the hobby of collecting classic video games, you might be wondering how you should start a collection. If you're lucky, you still own your childhood system. If you're not so lucky, I'll give you some advice in this first series of editorials. Future editorials will cover a quick comparison of the systems, where to find them, and what prices you can expect to pay. For now, let's get started by trying to choose a system to start your collection.

You have lots of choices, but you're probably better off starting with something relatively easy to find with a large library of cartridges. By far, the easiest system to find (and find games for) is the Atari 2600. Next would be the Mattel Intellivision. After that, it depends on where you live, but likely choices are the Magnavox Odyssey², Coleco Colecovision, Atari 5200, and Atari 7800. There is one special case: the GCE/Milton Bradley Vectrex. If you see one, buy it! (If it's reasonably priced, which for a Vectrex is $30 and under.) If you don't like it, you'll be able to sell it or trade it for nearly any other system because of its rarity.

Of course, there are other factors to consider. You might want to collect for the system you used to have so long ago. You might even go searching at thrift stores and yard sales and just start with the first system you find. If you're particularly wealthy, you might just go out and buy everything you can find. All of these choices are fine. It's just a hobby, so there is no right or wrong. I would encourage you to start with a system you know or suspect you would enjoy playing. That's the reason most people start this hobby; they simply enjoy the games.

If you're still uncertain which system would be best for you, I'll briefly discuss each in my next editorial. Meanwhile, I encourage you to use the classic home video games resources here at Suite 101 to start learning on your own.

Copyright 1996 i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[April 26, 2013: Actually, I think anything under $100 was pretty reasonable for a Vectrex back then. Today, under $100 would seem to be a really good price for one in good shape.]

Thanksgiving finds (Goldmine lost)

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

Well, I went to visit in-laws out of town for Thanksgiving. I did a little searching and came up with a few items, but no 2600 cartridges I didn't already have and no 7800 cartridges at all. My best 2600 find was Slot Machine. I did find some interesting 2600 controllers, though. One is actually a Sears Video Arcade II (Atari 2800) controller. The other is a joystick where you can wind the cord into the base by twisting the joystick. Cool! 8)

The most frustrating find was Art Master for the Vectrex. Frustrating because there was no Vectrex or light pen in sight. 8( Now I have a cart that plays pretty intro music and then leaves me with a menu of three choices I can't pick. Thank goodness for the emulator!

I was also saddened to learn that my gold mine, which I posted about a few years ago, is gone now. I had tried to visit it twice before now, only to find it closed at the times. This time it was open but the old owner sold it to another guy who cleaned things out. He still has 2600 cartridges, but he also said there were Sum Guys (Great, he's multiplying. 8( ), who came in regularly and went through the 2600 stuff. Judging from the 5200 cartridges, they go through those too. (Pac-Man, Centipede, Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Centipede, Centipede. Oooh, look: Super Breakout! [That's sarcasm, son.])