[ Retro Scan ] The Atari Trak-Ball

August 16th, 2018 by Benj Edwards

Atari 5200 and Atari 2600 Trak-Ball advertisement scan - 1983A controller bigger than your head

The reports of Retro Scan’s death are greatly exaggerated.

I just emerged from the other side of a huge house move that taxed my body and soul. Moving my huge collection was very difficult, and now dealing with where to put it all keeps that stress going. I feel behind on lots of things, but it’s time to catch up. One of the best ways to do that is with a new Retro Scan. So here we go — let’s talk trackballs.

As far as I know, the first arcade video games to use a trackball were Midway’s Shuffleboard and Atari Football, both from 1978. As to which came first, I have no idea at the moment.

Atari really ran with the trackball (they called it a “Trak-Ball”) and produced several mega arcade hits that used the interface, including Missile Command and Centipede. It only makes sense that they would bring the tech home to their Atari 8-bit computer line — and the Atari 5200, as seen here — in the form of the Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller.

(An aside: Despite the ad saying the Trak-Ball controller works for the Atari 2600, I know of no vintage 2600 games that support trackball mode natively. There is a joystick mode switch on the bottom of the controller, however, that lets you use it with any game.)

Of course, the 5200 version of the Trak-Ball controller is legendarily huge. It’s almost as big as the (already big) console itself. But I’ve heard good things about it, despite never having used one. I do have the smaller CX22 Trak-Ball controller and I enjoy games of Missile Command on my Atari 800XL with it from time to time, although it is criminally under-supported (in Trak-Ball mode) by games on that platform.

So how about you guys: Have you ever used the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball? What did you think about it?

[ From Video Games Player, October-November 1983 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever used a trackball with any game console? Tell us about it.

8 Responses to “[ Retro Scan ] The Atari Trak-Ball”

  1. Ghazban Says:

    Moving sucks but glad you are back Benj! Been missing your updates here

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks, Ghazban! I appreciate it. I realized I have been missing posting them as well.

  3. Hacky mchackerpants Says:

    Never had one, but I did have a custom made trackball for my Amiga. Used it for Arkanoid iirc. Ps good to see the new post ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Agustรญn Says:

    This blog rules, just wanted to say that. I keep coming here and i never show my support, and that’s a shame.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks for the support, guys. It means a lot.

  6. Ant Says:

    Benj: Welcome back! I was starting to get worried about you! Yeah, moving does suck even if it is just a cubicle. Ha! I am not a fan of trackballs. ๐Ÿ™

    Agustin: Ditto. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Amadeus484 Says:

    Welcome back! Missed these quite a bit.

    I never used a trackball in a console, but I would love to try and convert a 5200 trak-ball to USB as sort of an uber-trackball. I heard that the ball has a good weight, and that it rolls around quite a bit.

  8. Eagles409 Says:

    I never cared for the trackball as a control device, it’s the main reason I was never into Centipede, I hated the controller for it.

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