You've probably already heard of the 'Atari 2600 ( ake Atari VCS or Atari 2800 in Japan ) .Released by Atari in 1977, this video-game console, or should we say this Video Computer System, is considered as a classic of the video-game industry. It remained on the market for 15 years, and in total, Atari sold over 27 milions units in the word. After that, Atari' tried to repeat the success of the 2600 with the Atari 5200 or the Atari 7800 but failed, considering those came out at around the same time as the NES, which was better in every aspect. In 1987, one year after the release of the 7800, Atari started to work on a new project, it had to be be more powerful than the NES and the SEGA Master System in evey way. This project was titled the Atari 8400. Here we're going to try to understand what happened to this system, with this help of Al H. - who worked on the project for Atari from 1987 to 1988 - and Dan S. who worked on the SEGA MegaDrive from 1988 to 1989. Both of them want to remain anonymous.
More about the Atari 8400
« I started to work on a prototype of the system in november of 1987, our goal was to make a console that would be both cheap and powerful [...]. We had to make a system which would surpass the NES in term of memory, graphics, audio, etc. [...].
I clearly remember that the prototype looked like a black plastic box with wires coming out from everywhere, when we tested the thing for the first time, I was impressed, the 8 bits graphics were amazing compared to the 4 bits graphics the NES had, so were the sound effects and the music, which actually sounded more like music and less like beeping noises [...] .We had a Mario-like 2D platformer cartridge and a buit-in Pac-Man game for testing purpose, and I must say it was pretty good.
By 1988, most of the work was done, and the console worked as expected, in the end, it was effectively more powerful than Nintendo and SEGA's consoles. But for some reason, the project was canceled at the last minute. Atari wasn't confident about the machine, they told us that the prototype was simply destroyed, but other guys who worked on the thing said that the company sold it to SEGA [...]. When I first took a look at the Megadrive and its games, I immediatly recognized the 8400, everything, from the graphics to the sounds looked and sounded alike... »
-- Al H. Could it be true ? Could have SEGA bought the 8400 prototype and sold it under the name Megadrive ?!
More about the Megadrive
« In 1987, I was working on a SEGA project called the Master System Jr. which was meant to be an improved version of the Master System that was released in 1985. The first prototype wasn't very good, in fact, SEGA was really mad when they saw what it looked like, you have to understand, we had little time to make what they wanted, a revolutionary beast ! In the end, it was just a dysfunctional piece of plastic.
One day, in 1988, I realized that the prototype that we were working on was gone, instead what we had was a completely different machine, we were told that another development team had been working on it, and that we now had to finish it, but I and most of the guys working on the project knew that this wasn't true [...]
All we did was finishing what was an already nearly complete video-game console, SEGA changed the name to Megadrive and sold the final product in 1989. I don't know who made the Megadrive, but it was certainly not us, trust me ... »
-- Dan S.
Now you know
The SEGA Megadrive, SEGA's most successful console, was made by Atari.
Of course SEGA gave Atari some "extras" to make sure this would remain a secret !