Skip to main content

Atari VCS (1977)

Image of an Atari VCS games console. The woodgrain is good!

The New Wave of Accessible Gaming

The Atari VCS (aka Atari 2600) was a fantastic machine back in 1977 and gave many years of fun around the world. This was many people's first experience of accessible gaming too thanks to Atari's "Special Feature" game variations, difficulty level switches and easy to adapt game controllers.

Thanks to the variety of game controllers that were released for the Atari during its life time there are a range of ways that these games can be played under emulation. Almost all games can be played using the keyboard with some 'paddles' compatible games being playable with a mouse controller too.

The Atari 'Stella' emulator is certainly a step-up in complexity from the RCA Studio II emulator, giving many more options to the user. Below gives a basic run down of how to get started. More advanced users may wish to jump in with the full instructions here.

Getting Started

Stella installation icon.Download then install the latest "win32.exe" Stella Emulator.

Stella Atari VCS Start Icon Double-click on the Atari Fuji logo to start Stella. Oh dear. No games...

Finding Game ROM files

You can download "Cave 1K" for an initial test if you like which is a tricky one-switch helicoptor game. Right click on the link above then save within the "ROMS" folder found by navigating to your C: drive then to "Program Files" then to the "Stella" folder. Restart Stella and you should see the game appear.

Trouble Shooting: If your game does not appear after restarting, then you may need to point Stella to the correct folder. Go to the "Options" menu then "Config Files" then click on the "ROM Path" button. From here you should be able to navigate to the correct folder where your game is located.

Next you can find more games from the OneSwitch list which includes a number of one-switch playable games. The following offer a great resource too:

  • Atari Age: An absolutely superb resource of Atari information including ROMs.
  • Le Geek: A select range of Atari games including some Activision classics.
  • Atari 2600 land: A few hacked games including Space Invaders with infinite lives.

Basic Emulator Controls

Most games on the Atari VCS had to be started by pressing the "game reset" lever on the actual console. Likewise, game variations need to be selected using the "game select" lever, and so on. See below for more of the controls you will need.

Stella: Emulator Controls

F1 = Game Select (Select a different Game Variation)
F2 = Game Reset (Start Game)

F5/F6 = Adjust Player 1 Difficulty level (B/A)
F7/F8 = Adjust Player 2 Difficulty level (B/A)

ESCAPE = Exit game
TAB = Bring up the Options Mode window whilst playing a game.

F3/F4 = Toggle video to suit a Colour TV or Back & White TV
Alt + ENTER = Toggle between Full screen and Widowed mode
Alt + "=" = Enlarge the window size
Alt + "-" = Shrink the window size
F12 = Take a game screenshot for use at the game navigation window.

Joysticks and Paddle controllers

The Atari allowed for quite a wide range of controllers to be interchanged. Most games use a digital joystick with a single fire button. Many other games such as Super Breakout use a rotary 'paddle' controller.

Joystick Controls

Atari Joystick


Cursor Keys (direction)
CTRL or SPACE (fire button).


G,H,J,Y (direction)
F (fire button).

Paddles Controls

Atari Paddle Controllers.


LEFT, RIGHT cursor keys and CTRL or SPACE (fire button).


UP, DOWN cursor keys and 5 (fire button).

It is quite easy to reconfigure game controls from the "Input Settings" accessed via the Options screen. This will be essential if wishing to use a 4Noah game utility. I recommend using the 4Noah VCS utility first and following its instructions. Note: Stella and 4Noah can struggle to work well together at times so you may need to experiment.

For gamers wishing to try using a head-tracker or eye-tracker with paddle compatible games it is worth noting the following keyboard commands:

CTRL+G = Keep the Mouse Pointer within game window on/off

CTRL+0 - Mouse = Paddle 0
CTRL+1 - Mouse = Paddle 1
CTRL+2 - Mouse = Paddle 2
CTRL+3 - Mouse = Paddle 3

Playing the Games

From the on-screen menu you can navigate with a mouse or the cursor keys. Press RETURN or double-click when you have selected the game you wish to play. Don't forget to take a good look at the instructions first at AtariAge to give you a better idea of what does what. Have fun!

LEGAL NOTICE: Many game ROMs remain the copyright of the original owners who may or may not be happy for them to be played under emulation. Put in the context of these games impossible to play in their original format for some disabled gamers and I would hope that attitudes would be more relaxed. Support developers by letting them know why you can't play their games and offer some solutions.