Thursday, 28 June 2012

Happy birthday, Atari

I discovered today that Atari, the dominant computer game company of the 1970's and early 80's, is celebrating its 40th birthday. As part of the celebrations they have released around 100 of their classic games for the iPad and Android platforms. Having discovered this during a weekly staff meeting I surreptitiously downloaded as many games as possible while going "uh, huh" and "interesting" at suitable breaks in the conversation
Of course one of the games I now have is "Video Chess" which was designed for the Atari 2600. As with most chess programs I find in the wild, I gave it a workout on the easiest level, and I must say that it is better than most. However I am a few moves away from checkmating it (taking a break to type this), in a game that has probably lasted around 25 moves.
There are two interesting artefacts from that era that are apparent in the modern version. Firstly the user input is really klunky, as you have to move a cursor around using a simulated joystick, and use the button the select the piece. The second is that when the computer is thinking, the screen flashes different colours, and the board disappears. If I remember correctly, this is because the 2600 only had so much memory, and the memory normally used for the screen was needed by the program to work out its next move.

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