Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

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Overview

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 EmpireStrikes 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 AtariVCS—often considered merely a retro fetish object—is an essential part of the history of video games.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Read it, it will do you good." — José P. Zagal, GameStudies

" Racing the Beam doesn"t spare the technical details, but is always accessible and compelling. Downright thrilling at times, in fact, a sort of TheRight Stuff of video game development." Darren Zenko thestar.com (Toronto Star)

"Montfort and Bogost raise the bar on anyone wishing to talk meaningfully about computer culture. Not only must we interpret these machines, we must first know how they work — and yes, sometimes this means knowing assembly code. From chip to controller, the authors lead us with ease through the Atari 2600 Video Computer System, one of the most emblematic devices in recent mass culture." Alexander Galloway , Associate Professor of Culture and Communication,New York University, and author of Protocol: How Control Exists AfterDecentralization

Seth Perlow
"Montfort and Bogost's analysis is both technically detailed and historically contextualized, both informative and methodologically instructive. They write with a rigor and grace that future contributors to the series may be at pains to match." — Seth Perlow,Convergence
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262012577
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 1/9/2009
  • Series: Platform Studies
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 630,443
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Montfort is Associate Professor of Digital Media at MIT and the coauthor ofRacing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (MIT Press, 2009).

Ian Bogost is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies and Professor ofInteractive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a Founding Partner at Persuasive GamesLLC, and the coauthor of Newsgames: Journalism at Play (MIT Press, 2010).

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Table of Contents

Timeline

1 Stella 1

2 Combat 19

3 Adventure 43

4 Pac-Man 65

5 Yars' Revenge 81

6 Pitfall! 99

7 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 119

8 After the Crash 137

Afterword on Platform Studies 145

Notes 151

Bibliography 159

Index 169

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    Great

    This is a great book and everyone should get it its amazingly helpful

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 20, 2013

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