Featured Vintage Software: Video Chess (1979) (Atari)
ATARI GAME PROGRAM (CX-2645)
Programming Language : 6507 ASSEMBLER
Released On (Media): Cartridge (4KB)
Released by ATARI, INC. Consumer Division in 1979 for the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), also known as the 2600.
This a nice example of an early computer chess program on a home computer system, in this case the Atari 2600 VCS. It's also a game which shouldn't have been possible given the hardware limitations of these early Atari computers.
The Atari used hardware sprites, a sprite is a bitmap or graphics object displayed on the screen (such as a chess piece) independent of the background (such as a chess board). Due to the hardware limitations of the Atari it was only able to display 3 sprites beside each other, not ideal for a game like chess that would require 8 sprites (or chess pieces) per row. However the programmers were able to develop a software technique that would overcome the hardware limitations and allow display of 8 or more sprites beside each other.
Original Program Instructions
I'm not a serious chess player but I find the program enjoyable and challenging enough for me. The game play is simple enough, move the cursor (the flashing X) to the piece you want to move and press the fire button. The piece will begin to flash, then move it to the location you want to move it to and press the fire button again to release it. The computer will not allow you to make an illegal move, it will make a warning sound then cancel the move.
There are two "double moves" allowed in the game. One is known as "castling" and the other as "en passant". Atari Video Chess will allow either of these moves during a game.
RIGHT DIFFICULTY SWITCH:
A position the computer plays the white pieces.
B position the computer plays the black pieces.
LEFT DIFFICULTY SWITCH:
A position allows you to setup the board anyway you want.
B position is set to begin play.
GAME SELECT SWITCH:
Sets the level of difficulty from 8 to 1, with 8 being a learning level for beginners.
GAME RESET SWITCH:
Start or restart a game.
DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?
If you own an actual Atari 2600 Video Computer System or a Coleco Gemini then you can pickup a game cartridge cheap online somewhere like eBay. If you don't you can also try something like one of the new Atari Flashback consoles, these come preloaded with many different games.
Alternatively you could use a software emulator such as Stella, it's a popular multi-platform Atari 2600 VCS emulator available for many different operating systems. We've made the Video Chess binary file available for download that you can use with Stella. You can also follow the link below to download Stella itself.
Stella Multi-Patform Atari 2600 VCS Emulator
Download Atari Video Chess
(4KB) BIN File