Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wireless Controllers - Atari Style

Wireless controllers have only recently become standard for current-generation consoles, but they're not as newfangled as one might think.  Cynex Manufacturing Corporation's Game Mate 2 brought wireless joysticks to the Atari 2600, way back in 1983:

Note the thick radio-transmitter/battery compartment joystick bases and the 8" receiving antenna, which put 1980's cell phones to shame.  One might be tempted to think that with Atari 2600 games running at a steady 60 frames-per-second, lag would have been a major issue -- but I've played with a set of Atari's official wireless joysticks, which used very much the same technology, and they weren't horrible to use.

And despite the ad's energetic art direction, the joysticks were not actually capable of destroying young Skywalker.  They operate silently and safely.

Of course, playing twenty feet away from a 25" TV tube with an Atari 2600 connected to it using a noisy RF antenna connection... that tended to be more of an issue at the time.


  1. This is another on one of those ideas, like the "Mindlink" and the exercise controllers that Atari was working on in 1983/1984 that show how the video game industry would have accelerated if it had not died in 1984. Many of the same idea that are "new" now (Wireless, Wii Sports, etc.) would have been built and iterated in the 80's. In many ways, the Japanese domination of video games layer that decade simply perfected what the golden age had started, but took 20 years to truly innovate.

  2. I often think the same about games like Guitar Hero -- the Atari 2600 could have handled something along those lines, with a little help from a music chip a la Pitfall II and/or a cassette recorder. Sometimes the idea comes first and the technology needs to be improved and perfected, other times it's the idea that's late to the party.

  3. Those joysticks look too thick and cumbersome to hold. I'm guessing back then you needed a pile of D cells to run all of that.

  4. I have some of those in the box ...... i haven't used them in a while but they did work with an atari 2600