Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

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MIT Press, Jan 9, 2009 - Games - 192 pages
31 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  - Paul Cowan - Goodreads

Wonderful one for the computer geeks: the story of how the Atari VCS programmers managed to make their games perform well under INSANE hardware constraints. Incredible tales of trying to fit all your ... Read full review

Review: Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

User Review  - Jon Stewart - Goodreads

This may be a niche book, but it definitely hits at the convergence of several of my interests. First, and in some ways most superficially, it's about the Atari 2600 (aka VCS). I grew up playing and ... 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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