originally introduced their Atari 2600
system with an expected lifespan
of about two years, and in 1978-1979, designed a follow-up system, code-named "Sylvia", which was planned on being the Atari 3600. However, the incredible success of the 2600, coupled with major complaints
for the odd 10-bit set of chips that were to be the 3600, led them to can the project
Eventually, the success of the competing Intellivision system convinced the folks at Atari another system did need to be designed, to take up after the 2600, as it was seriosly beginning to show its age. So the engineering staff got to work. No, the system was not created in response to the ColecoVision, as some have stated.
In 1982, code names such as "Pam" and "Video System X" ceased to exist as Atari introduced their "Atari 5200 Supersystem". The development of this system was simplified in many ways, as the system was more or less a slightly-altered version of their Atari 400/Atari 800 lines of home computers, an 8-bit system packed witk 16K. The sleek wedge-shaped black case was influenced by a "remote control" version of the 2600 that had been worked on inside Atari, along with a few other features.
The initial release of the Atari 5200 had quite a few changes from previous available systems. There were four joystick ports in the system, something not to be seen in another system for a long time. The RF switch was automatic, and to facilitate this automatic switching, the power supply plugged into that switch instead of the system, and the power was sent along the video cable to the system. These features were later removed from subsequent design adjustements. The system was even designed so when switching cartridges, instead of the loud white snow static, there would only be a black screen.
The feature of the 5200 that received the most attention, however, was the joysticks. They were long, and rectangle-shaped. The top-center had the joystick, and there were fire buttons on both sides. Under the joystick was a numeric keypad, complete with start and pause buttons - the 5200 was the first system to have this feature, now a standard on consoles. The big issue was the joystick. Instead of a digital joystick, the 5200 used an analog stick - which hit at Mattel's statements about the Intellivision "pad" allowing 16 directions to the 2600 stick's eight. The 5200 stick could detect all variations in direction, along with how far it has been moved. However, one key feature was missing - the stick was not self-centering. This could make games like Pole Position easier to play, but with the majority of games, this was a big negative.
The 5200 controllers are considered by many as probably the biggest cause of the system's failure. It was a victim of poor policy was rampant in Atari - the person who had developed the stick had never played a single video game in his life. The marketing group in Atari was so happy with the idea of such a "groundbreaking" control, that they didn't listen to the consistently horrible opinions expressed in focus groups and by engineers, who even sent a petition to the director of engineering to stop the release of the sticks. There are third-party controllers available, and are recommended for most games.
The 5200, after hitting the market, was hurt in many ways. Besides the controllers, Atari was trying to develop software for the 2600, 5200, home computers, and arcade, all at once, resulting in trying to do too much. Effort was not being removed from the 2600, which was dying, when it could have helped the 5200's success. It was not a jump over competing technology of the time - the other available systems were competitive with the 5200. But, most importantly, the large drop in computer prices such as with the Commodore 64 helped to create the video game crash that did in all the systems available at the time.
There are prototypes of varied types of 5200 hardware. A 5200Jr. system, which was to be a mini version of the system similar to the 2600Jr. was developed, but never made it to release. Also, a company called Spectravision had worked with Atari to make a system to fit into Hotels, the "Atari 5200 Hotel Unit", which would allow people in hotels/motels to play from a 4 game unit. It also never made it to release.
When they system was launched, it had a number of games available. However, these were the standard titles that Atari had used already, and were tired and didn't use the system's capabilities well. Even if they were once hits, Galaxian, Space Invaders, and Super Breakout just didn't hold attention anymore - they didn't show the system being forward looking but just rehashing familiar names. Eventually, they did move on to games that used the capabilities, presenting better efforts. Arcade classics that hadn't been done yet, such as Robotron: 2084, Dig Dug, and Pengo came to the machine in prime form, and original games like as Ballblazer, Rescue On Fractalus!, Beamrider, or the sequel to Miner 2049er, Bounty Bob Strikes Back.
When the crash occured, development for the 5200 was still moving along quite well, and suddenly the market was dead, and the consoles were dropped. There were still a number of games in the pipeline, and as a result, there are a significant number of prototype games for the system, higher than just about any other system - 33 confirmed prototypes in total.
Note that the games Cloak & Dagger, as shown in the movie, does not exist, not even in a prototype form. The box and cartridge shown in the movie were mock-ups, created specifically for the movie. The game did exist in the arcade, which is the version shown, and also for the home computer systems.
CPU: 6502C, 1.76 MHz, 8-bit
Memory: 16K RAM
Colors: 256, 16 on screen
Power Supply: 4-Port: 11.5VDC @ 1.95A, 2-Port: 9.3VDC @ 1.95A
The system also included the "ANTIC" chip, a special graphic co-processor. It has direct access to the RAM, where it reads the display list, which tells is how to draw the sceen. The system has 17 display modes, and the ANTIC is able to use a variety of them on a single screen at the same time. The display data the ANTIC reads cand be anywhere in memory, and in fact, different parts can be in completely different locations.