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6 Cool Things I Found In The Atari Museum


The Atari Museum is a collection of rare Atari history - including prototypes, schematics, code, paperwork and other fascinating historical oddities and one-offs relating to Atari’s 50+ year history of retro gaming and retro computing. So join me as I tell the story of how this valuable website - run by the late, great Curt Vendel - has been restored and preserved, and explore some of the treasures within.

Also hear some of the stories from behind the scenes at Cyan Engineering - Allan Alcorn, Ron Miller, Nolan Bushnell, Owen Rubin and more!


Curt Vendel is sadly no longer with us, having passed away way before his time at the age of 53 back in September 2020. I remember this news hitting pretty hard during what was already a difficult time for a lot of people, he was a well-known and loved figure in the Atari community and I had some good chats with him myself on Facebook Messenger early on in my collecting days - there was nothing he loved more than sharing his knowledge and expertise on all things Atari so very much a kindred spirit.

Curt - an engineer from New York - was a veteran of the scene, originally running Staten Island Atari Users Group in the early 80s and later on - its spinoff BBS in the pre-internet days. He was a prolific collector and documenter of Atari history, picking up a lot of abandoned paperwork, data files and even one-off prototypes over his lifetime, particularly when Atari went bust in the mid-90s.

In fact, by the early 2000s he owned more historical Atari technical documentation than Atari itself - by that point owned by French game publisher Infogrames - and so they brought him onboard to work as a technical consultant for various “retro” TV game type devices like this one made by Jakks Pacific which I’ve actually had from new and dates to 2002.

This all culminated in the original Flashback consoles. Over 15 years before the NES Classic, PlayStation Classic and Genesis Mini, Curt’s company Legacy Engineering designed and built what was essentially the first plug-and-play mini console - in this case based on the Atari 7800. This first iteration from 2004 has 20 built-in games and was reportedly developed in 10 weeks, with Curt doing the bulk of the electrical engineering and porting work himself.

By his own admission he wasn’t happy with the situation as he’d had to use off the shelf components designed for knockoff NES-on-a-chip type consoles, so once it hit store shelves he immediately started on the Flashback 2, which was redesigned from the ground up using the original schematics of the Atari 2600 - fortunately he personally owned the originals. In fact his Flashback 2 was so close to the original design that it could even be modded with a cartridge slot to play original cartridges.

But the story of those is something I’m going to cover in a future video because it’s a pretty fascinating tale in its own right.

In this one I want to talk about Curt’s website - originally launched in 1997 as, later moving to its permanent home at

The trouble is, the domain registration expired a year after he passed in 2021 and the site’s files were hosted on his home server. He made no records of any passwords and his family and associates haven’t been able to gain access - and so that was it - a lifetime’s worth of online preservation and documentation work gone.

Thankfully it was at least partially preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine - now please don’t get me wrong, the Internet Archive does incredible work and I’m so glad that it exists - but if you’ve ever tried to browse a website on the Wayback Machine you’ll know that it’s slow and usually riddled with broken images and missing files which is an unfortunate side effect of their crawling process.

So I took it upon myself to reconstruct the Atari Museum as it stood in 2021 using the wayback machine downloader and some files that hadn’t been archived from a much older mirror of the site’s predecessor hosted at It’s a bit of an ongoing project and I’ve put it all in a GitHub repo as well as making the site itself available online with the blessing of Karl Morris, who was Curt’s partner in the Atari Historical Society and actually ran his own site called Atari Explorer which we’re also in the process of trying to rebuild and make available once more.

Incidentally, Karl now writes and publishes books on Atari history under the brand Zafinn Books - and no, he hasn’t sponsored this video or anything, he’s just been really friendly and helpful and I happen to own all of his books and they’re a real labour of love with a lot of firsthand information that you won’t find anywhere else so I’ll link to those as well as everything else mentioned in this video in the usual place if this piques your interest in obscure Atari history.

Curt spent over 20 years putting all of this stuff online to be seen and to educate people - so I think that the least I could do is to show you some of the cool stuff I found picking through every single page of his website - and oh yes, there’s some cool stuff including a holographic game system, a working videophone from the 1970s, a pet robot, and even mind control.


But first, lets start with something a bit more familiar. This is the Atari CX-2000 prototype, also known as the CX-2500 or the VAL, after the co-designer Gregg Squires’ wife. Atari’s iconic Video Computer System or 2600 console had been out for 5 years at this point, and Atari wanted to give it a fresh redesign for the 1980s.

So a company called Henry Dreyfuss Associates were brought onboard to commission a study into so-called “human factors” - basically ergonomics and the like - and the dimensions of the console and design of the integrated joysticks were incorporated into these 1982 prototypes as a result of their feedback, with a classic brown version being built by Atari’s New York lab, and the slightly later and more complete blue version being built in their home of Sunnyvale California.

They feature a cartridge slot in the rear this time - not in the top like the older 2600 - alongside the more familiar joystick and power and RF connectors. There was a redesigned motherboard to fit into the new case, and unlike the earlier versions that used metal dome contacts, the joysticks used mylar flex PCBs similar to the later 5200, so I imagine they probably didn’t work very well.

Also in Curt’s collection are some schematics for a joystick-less version dating to later on in ‘82, which of course is much more similar to the 2600jr which would eventually be released in 1986 under Atari’s new owner Jack Tramiel, although the junior shares very little in common with this prototype and was marketed as a low cost option alongside Atari’s current consoles of the time - the XEGS and 7800.

So, if you’re one of my OGs and have been watching this channel since the very beginning, you’ll no doubt remember this - Atari’s “Touch Me” handheld game from 1978, from the short lived Electronic Games division, which had its very own headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York. It’s basically a Simon-type game where you have to memorise the patterns and press the buttons in the correct order - pretty impressive for a low cost thing that you could slip into your pocket in 1978.

Now, thanks to the Atari Museum we discover that Atari actually had more grand ambitions for its handheld gaming division - with this marketing mockup for an officially-licensed Space Invaders game and a version of their very own Super Breakout. Unfortunately sales of Touch Me were sluggish, so Atari decided to pull the plug on the whole division.

The other two games were slated for release in 1980 and Atari’s Linda Whitten even produced - sadly non-functional - mockups, featuring a spinner or paddle and a single button for control. It’s a real shame these never saw the light of day and it seems that no working prototypes of either game were ever produced.

But Atari’s Holoptics lab - as in holograms - did manage to get their own handheld all the way to the finish line the following year in 1981. Now, Atari at the time was absolutely convinced that holography - as in holograms - was going to be the future of gaming and invested heavily in the technology.

The end result was the Cosmos - developed under Allan Alcorn who was perhaps more famously known as the designer of Pong - and Atari even developed 8 different games for it, produced retail packaging, sales flyers and other marketing material, and commissioned a pilot run of 250 units.

Now, the Cosmos wasn’t perhaps quite as exciting as it seemed, as the display itself wasn’t actually “holographic” so to speak - it used a grid of 40 LEDs as the display with a holographic overlay. In fact the overlays actually went into production and do come up for sale on ebay from private collectors from time to time - although I’m not sure what this seller was smoking when they came up with that price.

Atari was also working on a more sophisticated tabletop version called the Spector, which used the same grid of LEDs and a rotating hologram to give a more convincing 3D effect, and it seems based on the images from the Atari Museum that they were at least at the prototype stage with that model.

In the end, despite taking over 8000 preorders at 1981’s New York Toy Fair, Atari’s then-CEO Ray Kassar pulled the plug on the project, instead wanting to focus on sales of their VCS - or 2600 - console.

It’s not known how many Cosmos units survived, but Curt at least had one working console in his possession and posted this video of it in action on the museum website, as well as showing it at some Atari meetups. The technology developed for this game ended up in a very obscure tabletop called the Entex Adventurevision, which used an even more migraine inducing system of rotating mirrors in combination with the LEDs and that may have even gone on to inspire Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, but I think that’s way off topic for this video.

So, still well and truly in the sci-fi camp, lets move on from holograms to mind control.

Oh yes.

…well, not quite.

You see, in 1980 Atari partnered with Hong Kong based electronics manufacturer Wong’s Electronics to produce low cost 2600 consoles. The company was better known as a keyboard manufacturer but Atari engineers Jim Scudder and Bill Lapham worked closely with them to produce a whole new concept in game control devices.

Thus, the Mindlink was born.

Now, I mentioned a moment ago that this wasn’t really mind control, and it wasn’t. It was basically a headband that measured electrical impulses in the wearer’s forehead muscles. A couple of games were known to be adapted to work with it - Pong - of course - and a version of Breakout which had been rebranded as Bionic Breakthrough, and these games were chosen due to the limitations of the device itself and the fact that they only required the player to move in one dimension - left and right or up and down.

After a few years of secretive development and fine tuning Atari had sunk millions of dollars into prototyping and getting manufacturing contracts in place for the electronics and even the plastics and started marketing the device with a big announcement in 1984.

The day after announcing Mindlink on US national TV, Atari was approached by the organisers of the Special Olympics who were interested in using it as an assistive technology for their athletes - and proposals were made internally for extra sensors that could attach to the arms and legs for a fully immersive experience.

So, what became of this amazing technology? Well, a month after the announcement, most of Atari was sold by its then owners Warner Communications to Jack Tramiel’s Tramiel Technologies Ltd. who saw it as nothing more than a toy and cancelled the entire thing. A few units did survive - Curt owned at least one complete setup and demoed it at the 2003 Austin Gaming Expo - but that was that.

There’s a reason Tramiel had a reputation for being ruthless.

But here’s one thing that Warner didn’t sell to the Tramiels - instead deciding to sell it to a subsidiary of the Japanese electronics giant Mitsubishi - Atari’s highly secretive phone division, known throughout most of its life as Project Falcon, but unveiled to the world at CES 1983 under the much more appropriate name AtariTel.

Of particular interest was videophone technology, and the AtariTel page on Atari Museum goes into the history of this technology in really fascinating detail, and this article formed the basis of a chapter in Curt’s book, Business Is Fun, which I still think is one of the best books I’ve ever read on what life was like inside Atari Inc in those early days, and it’s another one I can highly recommend if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

Anyway, this research culminated in a working videophone known as “Phoney” - which was developed at Atari’s Grass Valley, California engineering lab under its elite development team Cyan Engineering way back in 1976.

The system relied on the fact that normal phone conversations would have pauses in them, and it was these moments of silence when the “video” data would be sent across the line in the form of a series of monochrome 16x16 resolution still images - obviously, the more awkward silences, the more frequently the image would update.

There’s even a funny story about Atari founder Nolan Bushnell visiting for a demo and using it as an opportunity to moon his engineers in the next office, which sounds very much in character for him.

Unfortunately this original prototype was destroyed when Atari engineer Ron Milner - more on him in a second - decided to steal the power supply for another project and accidentally sent 110V through its 5V rail, frying the electronics. This incident was added to an ever-expanding list of “Disasters” for the Cyan Engineering team, which apparently were so frequent that there was a dedicated file at Atari’s HQ for documenting them.

AtariTel was revived in 1981 and went on to work with Porsche design to produce some really sleek and futuristic looking handsets, with the focus being on speakerphones for corporate use. In fact one of their designs - known as the “Eagle” - even ended up on display in the legendary Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Also in Curt’s collection is a prototype of a really innovative phone / home intercom system known as the Telectra, which was apparently of particular interest to Atari’s owners Warner Communications who funded the project very generously. As you can see from this TV ad featuring MAS*H’s Alan Alda, the Telectra allowed a house’s powerlines to be used to create a network of handsets that could transfer calls between them and act as an intercom.

As alluded to earlier, the AtariTel division was sold to Mitsubishi in 1983 who went on to use Atari’s technology to develop the Lumaphone, a commercially available videophone released in 1986.

So, I said I’d talk a bit more about Ron Milner - you know, the guy who blew up the priceless one-off prototype videophone. He’s perhaps most famously known for co-creating the original VCS console prototype alongside Steve Mayer, again as part of Atari’s elite Cyan Engineering team based in Grass Valley.

The story goes that on one of Atari boss Nolan Bushnell’s legendary visits, he challenged Ron to design and build a robot that could - and I quote - “bring me a beer”.

Thus, the Kermit project was born. Kermit was built around a single board kit computer from MOS technology called the KIM-1, which featured the popular 6502 CPU. He moved in a similar way to a modern Roomba with two wheels driven by independent DC motors and a caster underneath, and featured a sophisticated suite of sensors including sonar range finders, microphones, infrared, and a bump sensor made out of burglar alarm tape.

All of this interfaced with the KIM-1 using 3 custom cards developed in-house by Ron and his colleagues at Cyan.

The top dome - built inside a salad bowl from a local department store - could rotate independently so Kermit could look around, and underneath his hair is a switch that allowed him to be petted - responding with R2D2-like cheerful beeps from his internal speaker. Kind of like a 1970s Furby.

He even had his own official Atari ID badge.

Later on Kermit was used as a platform to develop a robot navigation system using an off-the-shelf barcode scanner. Sadly, he met his demise while under the care of Atari arcade engineer Owen Rubin - who still owns Kermit to this day - who unfortunately left him unsupervised in Atari’s Sunnyvale offices where he fell down the stairs.

So those are some of my absolute favourite things that I found while exploring Curt Vendel’s Atari Museum. If you’re interested in this weird and wonderful Atari history the links to the museum and the books I’ve mentioned are in the description. If you’d like me to do another one of these digging out some more cool stuff do let me know down in the comments and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future updates, this one has been a load of fun to put together and there’s a lot more where these came from.

Finally I just want to say thanks to my supporters whose names you can see on screen as I speak, thank you very much for watching and I’ll hopefully see you next time.

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Relevant Links:
Atari Museum Mirror:
Zafinn Books:
Atari Inc. Business Is Fun Book:

Featured Items: Curt Vendel Obituary:
Guru Meditation Atari 400 Video:
Noir Magnetique Classic Gaming Expo 2014 Video:
Wayback Machine:*/
Wayback Machine Downloader: mirror:
Karl Morris Photo:
Atari 2600 Prototype Image:
Touch Me Video:
Octavius Entex Adventurevision Video:
Atari Museum MindLink Video:
Special Olympics Ad Video:
Telectra Alan Alda Ad Video:

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