• Imagine a bicycle ride in a valley surrounded by mountains. The screen consists of a mountain range, also used as the visual horizon, scrolling horizontally thus giving a 360 degree rotation effect. The foreground has a variety of objects to add depth.

    Picture yourself as Darth Vader flying your Goddamer Condor through one of the Death Star trenches--then you are attacked by the rebel Luke Skywalker or... ride a bike with Elliott and his gang of friends helping E.T. go home or... or... or... or...

    In 1982, Atari realized the potential for this type of physical controller and went to work on "Project Puffer," a mission to create a home exercycle with two hand grip controllers, a wheel speed pickup, and the necessary attachment for an Atari computer or 5200. By interfacing their machines to an exercise bicycle, Atari planned to make exercising fun.

    The Puffer featured hand controllers which easily attached to most existing exercise cycles and gave the conscientious user directional control. The act of peddling was to give the imaginary vehicle motion and the rider exercise. Therefore, no peddling--no motion. For the overzealous cyclist, a pulse rate sensor could be added to monitor excessive heart beat activity.

    The two hand controllers replaced the original hand grips on the exercycle. The Puffer controllers were designed to fit as many of the current exercycles as possible while at the same time remaining inexpensive and durable. A magnet attached to the wheel monitored the wheel speed and a Hall effect sensor detected the passing magnet which can be read by the computer to calculate the wheel speed. The housing for the sensor was also the junction box for the hand controller cables and the computer cable. The computer required only one cable to be connected to a joystick input.

    From internal documents that we have obtained, it appears that the Puffer was conceived in mid-1982 as a new and desirable market for Atari to enter. In a hectic, few short months, a prototype was brought to the operation for showing to the Warner Board of Directors, at Monterey, in late September, 1983.

    Atari subsequently studied and developed hand controllers from a medical considation, operator convenience, and cost effectiveness point of view. Their engineers developed a minimal hardware solution to the problem of interfacing the wheel speed to the computer to keep the cost low and this also served as a junction for all cables. Atari's total hardware cost for the home attachment unit was found to be $15.

    Three new programs were developed to show Puffer's capabilities in particular applications, and one more was modified to show its limitations. The games were Jungle River Cruise (originally called "Riverboat"), Tumbleweeds, Pole Position, and Ms.Pac-Man, all for the 5200 and 400/800 (a 2600 game appears to have never been developed).

    Although the "Puffer" was treading into seemingly hitherto uncharted waters, the concept was not new. Suncom had introduced the Aerobics Controller for the 2600, and several other outfits were launching publicity campaigns in an effort to grab the attention of the public and create a market for exercise/gaming hybrids that they were planning to release. However, none of the aformentioned devices created a dent in the market. Therefore, with the Puffer, Atari sought to create a whole new software market tailored to exercise bikes and other exercise aerobic games.

    From observing corporate documents, it was apparent that Atari did not see the Puffer as merely a "niche" product. With the Puffer, they felt that a growing and sufficient interest in health fitness in the early 1980s could be a new door for them to venture into both a "new market place" and a "new market class". With the Puffer, Atari believed they had a great chance to associate video games with a healthy 1980s image as well as breathing new excitement to video games. In addition, the target market audience were believed to be 68% females and 84% of potential purchasers being 25+ years in age. By introducing video games to a whole new demographic, they were effectively planning on creating an entirely new market for videogames. What a concept!

    Atari's planned market entry strategy was as follows:

      - Establish the concept and position it as a healthy and fun-filled game playing exercycle.

      - Get to the professional exercise market, professional sports personalities, schools, colleges, and universities.

      - Shortly afterwards or maybe at the same time, introduce an arcade/ public coin-op version for sale through Atari's regular distribution.

      - When the concept is established, introduce a home version which plugs into a 5200, 400/800 and VCS 2600.

    In order to reach a wide spectrum of consumers, Atari planned on producing three Puffer models - the Pro Model, an Arcade Model and a Home Model.


  • This deluxe model was intended specifically at the professional exercise market (health clubs, universities, schools, etc.). It was to have a regular game cabinet attached to a regular exercise bicycle and sold as one unit. One game was known to be in development -- a "Chase" game similar in concept to Paperboy. With the Puffer "Pro" Model, the player was to be able to set the degree of difficulty, i.e. the rate of pedaling. Other features planned were a heart rate monitor, and handlebars which had limited motion which would translate to direction on the screen.


  • The Arcade Model was similar to the more sophisticated spa-type system of the Pro Model, but with the absence of a few features found on its bigger brother. It was to lack the heart rate monitor and energy expended count. The Arcade Model also was to come in a one-piece cabinet and have a coin-slot mechanism.


  • The Home Model consisted of two types -- a folding exercise bike sourced on an OEM basis with Atari controls mounted on them, or an add-on module for those who already own an exercise bike. The Home Puffer was to plug into the joystick port of a 5200, 400/800 or VCS.

  • The suggested retail price was to be $150 with one game packaged with the Puffer. Atari had plans on releasing controllers to fit other exercise instruments such as rowing machines and foot pads if the Puffer proved to be a success.

    Just as Atari was ready for production of the Puffer and its compatible software programs, the project was put in the back burner as Atari began to lose an incredible amount of money in the marketplace. The Puffer was resurrected in early 1984, and Atari planned to agressively market and sell the Puffer in the summer of 1984, with a full-scale marketing campaign that was to coincide with the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.

    However, the purchase of Atari by Sam Tramiel in the Spring of 1984 brought an end to the ambitious product, as the new regime under the Tramiels sought to identify Atari as a professional home computer company.

  • We are fortunate to recover the lost archives of the "Puffer" project. Below are additional links to memos, diagrams, schematics, and internal documents. We will have more/actual cart and screen pics soon. Enjoy!

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