RetroChallenge 2018/04
Now in COLOR!

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An attentive reader (we're still at the very beginning of this series and of this particular page as well!) may have observed the subtitle, “Now in COLOR!” It may come as a surprise, but this is not to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the Netscape font tag extension, which brought the marvels of colored text to the realms of the WWW. (We'll still go with black on white text, be reassured.) Rather, it refers to my previous RetroChallenge projects having been all about monochrome systems like the Kyocera siblings (TRS 80 Model 100/102, NEC PC PC-8201A, Olivetti M10, Kyotronic 85), the DEC PDP-1, and the Commodore PET 2001. But this is all about the dawn of a new era, when video game systems brought glorious colors to the TV, 128 of them as in the case of the Atari 2600. (Also, it's a nod to the great archive of Atari 2600 game reviews by the The No Swear Gamer YouTube channel.)

So it will be about the Atari VCS — the first one, AKA 2600, as we have now to specify. Because, aspiring to the high art of “racing the beam” is something every programmer should try at least once in a lifetime. DASM is set up already…

Atari VCS

The Atari Video Computer System™ or short VCS, also known as the Atari 2600.
Here seen, the four-switch "wood veneer" version as produced between 1980 and 1982.
(Image: Evan-Amos / Wikimedia, public domain.)

What project? Now, implementing a windowed operating system for an 8-bit system which has only 128 bytes of RAM (including the processor stack) may be some fun, but there's also no keyboard (actually, there's the Spectravideo CompuMate Keyboard), so it will probably be about even some more fun, as in a video game. A classic one. By this, I do mean, a really classic one, but none which is already known in some sort or another, something we will come up on our own. First, I was thinking about something featuring a flying saucer and alien abduction, because abducting cows is fun, for sure (assumedly it's a favorite hobby, all those reported aliens can't be wrong), but then I found out about Cosmic Ark and you probably can't to better than that. So we'll probably do with something less fancy, but in more classic style, still in the comfort zone of the VCS, thus lending itself a bit better to a side project to be accomplished in a limited time frame. — Spoilers ahead: It'll be all about Refraction™!

So stumble along with me on my first attempt to program the Atari 2600, VCS, whatever…

Atari VCS online demo

Check out the public Beta (online demo and downloads).

See also: Studio2600, a tiny synthesizer for the Atari VCS / Atari 2600, made as part of this project.

The Episodes

Things to come: Assorted references (Appendix).

— stay tuned —

— This series is part of Retrochallenge 2018/04. —