Task: Load Cassette Games on Your Atari 2600
Needed: Arcadia / Starpath Supercharger, compatible cassette game
Time: 10-15 mins
One of the many limitations of the Atari 2600 video console system (VCS) was that it only had 128 bytes of RAM. This and the other limitations significantly crippled the games that were made for the system. The Arcadia or Starpath Supercharger was a special cartridge that expanded the RAM of the Atari by 6KB allowing for games with better graphics and gameplay. Games were loaded from cassette via an audio cable that plugged into a cassette player. This was available in the early 1980s and sold for around $45. The game sold for around $15 each.
I picked one of these boxed with the Phaser Patrol game on eBay years ago and finally got around to trying it. Unfortunately, my only cassette player seems to have died. I looked around and decided to purchase a USB cassette player on Amazon that has the added functionality of making it possible to create MP3s from cassettes. It was only about $20 and worked perfectly. There are a number of plastic components but the reviews on Amazon were very positive. If you don’t have a cassette player you can also load the MP3s of the games on an MP3 player and plug the Starpath in that way. I tried this with my laptop but couldn;t get it to work. I think the modern laptop audio connections are more complicated with the dual microphone signals. I haven’t tried it with any other devices. A screenshot of the Phaser Patrol game is shown below on a small TV. It reminded my a bit of Star Raiders and really looked awesome. I felt like I was playing a game on my Atari 800.
Purchase a Starpath Supercharger. As of this posting, there were several Superchargers for sale on eBay. The prices ranged from about $50 to more than $100. There was one for sale on Amazon in this price range.
Locate a working cassette player. I went with a new USB cassette player that I found on Amazon for about $20.
Plug in the Starpath Supercharger cartridge into your Atari and power on the console. Plug the audio cable from the Starpath into your cassette player. You will see a screen asking you to rewind and play the cassette. Do that now.
After you rewind and play the csssette the Starpath will automatically detect the audio signal and start to load the game. Note that it prompted me to rewind and press play several times while loading. I assume this is because it didn’t load correctly some of the time. I could get it to load after a few tries. The load times are very short so it isn’t really a problem.
I was very impressed with the quality of the games and the ease with which they loaded. This must have been a heavenly option back in the day. I will update this post if I am able to get the MP3 loading to work with a laptop or smartphone.