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Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer…
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Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies) (edition 2009)

by Nick Montfort (Author)

Series: Platform Studies (1)

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1598125,710 (3.78)None
A study of the relationship between platform and creative expression in the Atari VCS. 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.… (more)
Member:Htom_Sirveaux
Title:Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies)
Authors:Nick Montfort (Author)
Info:The MIT Press (2009), Edition: 2nd ptg, 192 pages
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Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System by Nick Montfort

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A curious history of the Atari 2600 - highly technical at times, rather light on the surrounding history and drama. ( )
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
A decent early effort in the platform studies genre, this book suffers a touch due to a disorganized feel and shortage of content. While there's a good mix of both technical and contextual/historical information, I believe this book could've easily been at least twice the length, going deeper into the technical details of the VCS platform. Organization of the content into an initial technical deep dive before a discussion of the impacts the platform's limitations and unique characteristics had on game programming and design might've helped the book seem less scattered.

Regardless, it's a very interesting and worthwhile read on the Atari VCS, an iconic video gaming platform and one that really stretched its capabilities both over its commercial life and into the present through the retro, vintage and homebrew communities.

I'm looking forward to reading other entries in the Platform Studies series. ( )
  neuroklinik | May 14, 2016 |
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 decisions (good and bad) that affected some very seminal games.

I'm a programmer, so when I think about game design it's very hard for me to completely distance myself from thinking about what would be easy or difficult (or impossible) to actually implement. Sometimes laziness prevents me from making design choices that would be harder to execute. But I like to think that having an intimate understanding of the platform (say, iPhone) gives me a more refined sense of how to make something good particularly for that platform. I can avoid getting mired in things that just won't work. Like how painters study their brushes so they know what the possibilities as as far as texture, stroke weight, etc. So talking about game design from exactly this perspective clicked with me very nicely.

Also: I am just a bit young to have experienced the Atari 2600. I've seen them and probably poked at a game or two as a kid, but I'm of the Nintendo generation. Reading this book with the internet handy to watch some of these games in action gave a really great introduction to the Atari 2600 (or, at least, as good as one could get without really playing one). And this book contains a lot of info about the history of Atari (and Activision and other 3rd party devs) as well as the historical context of all of this.

Finally, this book seems like a great introduction to the hardware history of computers. The book talks about the chips, the design of the motherboard (if that's what it's called), and how the hardware impacted the platform. And get to learn a bit how TVs work. Electrical engineers won't be impressed, but I learned some stuff.

So, yeah -- even though this book can get fairly technical (on an introductory level, at least), it's still a very easy read. Well organized. Fun. Very interesting. Great book! ( )
  chasing | Jan 18, 2016 |
A fantastic history of one video gaming platform, told through a selection of games. Each of these sections discusses the unique and distinct features of each title, telling the story of the evolution of manufacture, marketing, programming, and ultimately the maturation of the home gaming environment. Easy for the lay person to enjoy as much as it will appeal to people with more than a passing interest in the evolution of video gaming. ( )
  davemee | Oct 27, 2015 |
When I was a kid, I wanted to make Atari games when I grew up.

Stupid kid. :)

This book goes through some high-level review of the challenges presented by trying to program the Atari 2600, and uses six specific games to tell about how the programmers figured out more of how to make the system into something awesome.

While it doesn't get anywhere near as mind-bending as the Stella Programming Guide, it will show aspiring programmers that there are probably less aggravating ways to make a living.

If you don't understand any programming principles, it's going to be a pretty dry read with some neat history tucked inside. If you do understand programming, it's still kind of dry but at least you will come to grips with how hopelessly primitive the Atari 2600 is.
( )
  phlll | Feb 22, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nick Montfortprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bogost, IanAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed

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A study of the relationship between platform and creative expression in the Atari VCS. 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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