Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

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MIT Press, Jan 9, 2009 - Games - 192 pages
30 Reviews
The Atari Video Computer System dominated the home video game market so completely that "Atari" became the generic term for a video game console. The Atari VCS was affordable and offered the flexibility of changeable cartridges. Nearly a thousand of these were created, the most significant of which established new techniques, mechanics, and even entire genres. This book offers a detailed and accessible study of this influential video game console from both computational and cultural perspectives. Studies of digital media have rarely investigated platforms--the systems underlying computing. This book (the first in a series of Platform Studies) does so, developing a critical approach that examines the relationship between platforms and creative expression. Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost discuss the Atari VCS itself and examine in detail six game cartridges: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars' Revenge, Pitfall!, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. They describe the technical constraints and affordances of the system and track developments in programming, gameplay, interface, and aesthetics. Adventure, for example, was the first game to represent a virtual space larger than the screen (anticipating the boundless virtual spaces of such later games as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto), by allowing the player to walk off one side into another space; and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was an early instance of interaction between media properties and video games. Montfort and Bogost show that the Atari VCS--often considered merely a retro fetish object--is an essential part of the history of video games.

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Review: Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

User Review  - Josh K - Goodreads

I really enjoyed this. It looks at game design from the perspective of the design of the Atari VCS (2600) system itself -- how the limitations and quirks of that game console led to certain design ... Read full review

Review: Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

User Review  - William Jones - Goodreads

Pretty good Atari history book. Looses a star for getting overly technical in a few areas. I know understanding the limitations of the hardware is important but there are some sections that border on the esoteric. Read full review


1 Stella
2 Combat
3 Adventure
4 PacMan
5 Yars Revenge
6 Pitfall
The Empire Strikes Back
8 After the Crash
Afterword on Platform Studies

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