Atari XE Games System Jul 20, 2014 16:12:45 GMT
Post by The Laird on Jul 20, 2014 16:12:45 GMT
The year is 1987, Jack Tramiel’s Atari are getting back on their feet and once again making their mark in the video game industry. Following the successful launch of the Atari ST in 1985 and equally successful re-launches of the 2600 and 7800 in 1986 Atari looked back to the ageing 8-bit computer line for their next retail venture. They first released 2 new computers based on the popular XL series called the 65XE, containing 64k of RAM, and the 130XE, with 128k of RAM, XE stood for XL Expanded. These computers were styled to look more like the Atari ST with white cases and the cartridge port moved to the side. But this isn’t where they stopped, they also chose to release a console version of the hardware called the XE Games System to try and bridge the market between consoles and computers. The idea was this machine would appeal to kids who wanted a games console and adults who wanted a computer. Sadly most people didn’t get this vision and it just ended up confusing the market and competing against their own 2600 and 7800 consoles with many similar games.
The original XEGS release came in two different forms; the basic package came with the console, joystick, cables and built in version of the Atari arcade game Missile Command. While the deluxe edition included all of that plus a light gun, Flight Simulator II cartridge and of course the keyboard to turn it into a fully-fledged computer. Unlike Atari’s previous attempt to consolise the 8-bit line, the 5200, the XEGS used the exact same cartridges as the home computers. The console was basically a 65XE in a fancy case (the 5200 was just an Atari 400 at heart) so came with 64k of memory and built in BASIC too. As well as software it was possible to use all existing peripherals with the machine too so you could upgrade it further with the addition of a printer, cassette recorder or disk drive. Atari heavily advertised the hybrid console as an alternative to the best selling NES in North America.
In Europe where computers still ruled the roost and the NES was nothing more than an over priced grey box gathering dust in Boots the XEGS was marketed as an all-in-one home computer package. It was only available in its deluxe form and mostly marketed through home catalogues like Littlewoods and Great Universal. While the XEGS confused the market it did sell in decent numbers but mostly to people wanting to use it as a computer. Although it could use all existing software Atari released 32 XEGS branded games that would work without the need for a keyboard, nearly all of these were just re-packaged versions of existing 8-bit cartridge games. In the last few years a number of finished but unreleased prototypes games have turned up that were intended for release on the XEGS. The declining 8-bit market is cited as a reason for these games being unreleased according to internal documents that were also discovered. These titles include notable games such as a conversion of the Midway arcade game Xenophobe, the link up FPS style game Face Ball (a conversion of the ST title Midi Maze) and the classic Capcom coin-op Commando. The XEGS is still supported via homebrew as part of the 8-bit line and some of the recent releases like Space Harrier really show what this hardware is capable of in the right hands.