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2600 Vanguard Proto? Tester? Bootleg?


CasualCart
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So I chanced a purchase on a 2600 Vanguard "prototype / tester" PCB recently, but I have serious doubts now about its authenticity.

 

The seller said, "I bought several of these from an ex-Atari programmer in the late 1990's. This is an "early finished" prototype of a game that was sent outside of the company for play testing. That is how it was explained to me. PCB has been kept inside the stapled bag since the early 1980's."

 

I play-tested the first loop of the game and it appears to be the final build, which makes sense for a tester. I also dumped the ROM, but I'm not code-savvy enough to compare it against the retail game. My concerns are that the PCB has some kind of glob-top rather than an EPROM chip, and one of the copyright dates on the board is 1983 (which I believe post-dates Vanguard's retail release).

 

So can anyone figure out what I've got here?

 

-CasualCart

 

 

Vanguard Proto Reduced 1.jpg

Vanguard Proto Reduced 2.jpg

Vanguard Proto Reduced 3.jpg

Vanguard Proto Reduced 4.jpg

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Those are not prototype boards, Atari would typically send out "Lab Loaner" cartridges, and/or boards that would use EPROMs.  Here's an actual prototype of Vanguard, courtesy of AtariProtos.com:

 

vanguardproto.jpg

 

The board you have pictured with the plastic blob over the chip is just a different means of packaging the chip.  I have opened thousands of Atari 2600 games in the last 20 years, and I run into this type of board periodically, as well as several others that don't use the typical chip we see for most Atari 2600 games.  For the most part, production boards like this used masked ROM chips and are generally produced in very large numbers.  It seems unlikely that Atari would have used these boards to send out for "testing", since it would be expensive to redo a run of masked ROMs if the game had to be updated due to discovery of bugs.  I could certainly see Atari sending out boards like this to reviewers, though, especially if the printed materials hadn't yet been completed.  But for this purpose, Atari would generally send out games in "Lab Loaner" carts, and I'd only expect bare boards (such as the one I pictured above) to be used internally for testing.

 

ateam_05884.jpg

 

That's all I have for now. 

 

 ..Al

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Just wanna back up Al on this, there's no functional reason for a "glop top" to be on anything other than something that was manufactured in large mass, so my guess is it's a retail game missing its shell. FWIW I actually didn't know official Atari games ever got made this way, so I learned something new today.

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2 hours ago, TheRedEye said:

FWIW I actually didn't know official Atari games ever got made this way, so I learned something new today.

Yeah, I've seen at least 5-6 different chip packages for Atari 2600 games produced by Atari. Some more common than others, although DIP package chips are by far the most common, and I think they are the only ones with an RF shield over the chip (although I could be wrong there)..  I think this is why some people over time have believed these "unusual" chip packages represent prototypes of some type, given they are much less prevalent.

 

 ..Al

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I actually have a bunch of these I received from someone that had a 'TV repair business' in the 80's   He was also an authorized Atari repair center.  He claimed he got these as parts to repair broken cartridges.

I still have the auction photo, this is from 2005:

 

chips.jpg

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11 hours ago, Rik1138 said:

I actually have a bunch of these I received from someone that had a 'TV repair business' in the 80's   He was also an authorized Atari repair center.  He claimed he got these as parts to repair broken cartridges.

I still have the auction photo, this is from 2005:

Well, I think that makes the Vanguard board definitively not a prototype, but a board intended to be used to repair a broken cartridge.  Thank you for sharing that image!  Very interesting that Atari would send boards like this to service centers, rather than just replacement carts.  I wonder when they replaced the board if they also replaced the labels?  As you'd need to damage the label to unscrew the cartridge.  I bet they didn't replace the labels.

 

 ..Al

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On 2/17/2022 at 11:29 PM, Rik1138 said:

I actually have a bunch of these I received from someone that had a 'TV repair business' in the 80's   He was also an authorized Atari repair center.  He claimed he got these as parts to repair broken cartridges.

I still have the auction photo, this is from 2005:

 

chips.jpg

Neat! I guess these boards are a bit special, then. Not testers in a development context, but rather for hardware repair!

 

Thanks so much for sharing - and you've got some great games there! (I was playing a lot of Defender recently and really grew to love it.)

 

-CasualCart

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On 2/17/2022 at 3:16 PM, Dopy25 said:

Out of curiosity and I am sure there is no exact ratio, but what are the chances the OPs board was even sent to anyone misspelled like it is? Was that a common thing within Atari?

Misspelled? Are you telling me you've never played "Van Gaurd" before???

 

-CasualCart

 

 

Van Gaurd.jpg

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  • 3 weeks later...

As a followup to this post, I just finished opening up about 100 Atari 2600 cartridges to remove the boards.  About three-quarters of these were silver label cartridges, and a fair number of those had a variety of different chip packages.  Here's a photo (click for a larger view):

 

Atari_2600_Cartridge_PCBs.jpg

 

There are four distinct styles of packaging here, the square package on the left, rectangular package, blobs, and that circular package on the right.  There's some variety between the different styles of packages as well, mostly minor differences, but you can see the boards varied quite a bit in color, and there are some elements on similar boards that are different.  Also, there are blob packages with circles and squares, with distinctly different board layouts. 

 

Here are the games from the above boards:

  • Battlezone
  • Centipede
  • Defender
  • E.T.
  • Galaxian
  • Joust
  • Jungle Hunt
  • Kangaroo
  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pac-Man
  • Pole Position
  • RealSports Soccer
  • Swordquest Earthworld

So, a variety of games, and these boards really aren't that uncommon.  Especially for silver label games, and I imagine this is also true of red label games that came later.
 

Also, it's interesting to note that Atari only included RF shielding with the original circuit boards that use a DIP (Dual-Inline Package) chip, where the chips have legs that go through the other side of the board and the solder is on the back of the board.

 

 ..Al

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We've gone over this topic probably half a dozen times, it can be found via search.  It all started back ages ago (15+ years), when Hozer put up a page (probably still there somewhere), stating that you may have a prototype if you have one of these.  ?

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