Jump to content

Chronogamer

  • entries
    227
  • comments
    1,078
  • views
    426,086

Video Chess (Atari VCS, 1979)

Mezrabad

2,165 views

[b]Video Chess (Atari VCS, 1979)[/b] :)

Someone in one of the forums (AA or DP) asked what was our most disappointing Atari game back in the day?

I responded "Video Chess". I think I meant to say "Basic Programming" but at that moment, my answer was "Video Chess". For the record, I take that back.

As a teen, here's the problem I think I had with [i]Video Chess[/i] in a nutshell: Long move times for the AI.

Each successively difficult level of play takes the VCS longer to make its move. Level 8 is the learning level and the playing for real games start at level 1. Quoting from the manual, here is how long the AI can take for each move on each level.

Level 1 - 15 seconds
Level 2 - 30 seconds
Level 3 - 45 seconds
Level 4 - 2 min., 45 sec.
Level 5 - 3 min., 15 sec.
Level 6 - 12 minutes
Level 7 - 10 hours
Level 8 - 10 seconds

In case you missed it, you should take notice that level 7 takes 10 [i]hours[/i].

I think that, at 14 years old, I was hoping this cart was going to help me improve my chess game and I was disappointed to find out that the [i]really[/i] challenging levels of the game were just going to take too damn long for me to play. "Too damn long" must've been anything over 30 seconds. Ah, the impatience of youth!

Another issue I had as an impatient 14 year-old was the cursor's response to the joystick input. It seemed so slow to respond that it felt like it was taking me as long as the VCS to make my moves.

If you're a serious chess player, this game will probably not satisfy you in a reasonable amount of time. If you are not, then, here in 1979, this is probably the only videogame console option for your single-player chess needs. The only other of which I am aware is only being sold in Europe under the name of [i]Schach[/i] for the Fairchild Channel F.

When I took out this game recently to chronogame it, I found that I was much more able to appreciate it now that my hair has greyed some and I'm not in quite the hurry I used to be.

Level 1 is challenging enough for me and waiting 10 seconds isn't a problem. Either I was a much better chess player 25 years ago, or I just had higher expectations for myself.

There's mostly no flicker, with the exception of the cursor. Think about that for a minute. 32 chess pieces, every type of piece is distinct, identifiable and none of them flickers. The cursor flickers, but that's okay; cursors are supposed to flicker.

In addition to chess playing mode, there's a mode that allows a player to set up any kind of chess situation they'd like and then play it against the VCS. That's pretty cool.

I now think the joystick response isn't all that bad, but I've found that I prefer to use a Genesis controller.

So, shame on my teenaged self for not appreciating this cart when I first saw it.

A small drawback is the fact that the whole screen blanks and flickers crazily when the VCS is thinking about its move. If you're the type of person that can suffer a seizure from certain types of flickering lights, I don't recommend you test yourself against this cart.

If you're a beginning to intermediate player and you can't find someone to play chess with you then Atari's [i]Video Chess[/i] will do, otherwise, you'll most likely find it more satisfying to play a friend.


10 Comments


Recommended Comments

[i]A small drawback is the fact that the whole screen blanks and flickers crazily when the VCS is thinking about its move. If you're the type of person that can suffer a seizure from certain types of flickering lights, I don't recommend you test yourself against this cart.[/i]

Atari needed to do something to show that the VCS was still alive, and that something needed to be doable with no RAM overhead and minimal CPU overhead. Having a pair of lines move outward and inward probably would have been good and wouldn't have required a whole lot of CPU overhead (basically the cost of a WSYNC for each move), but flashing colors was probably easier. A flashing vertical stripe might have been nicer than having the whole screen flash, though.

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote]The only other of which I am aware is only being sold in Europe under the name of Schach for the Fairchild Channel F.[/quote]

Do you have it? Might be interesting to let them play against each other and see which machine will win :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
I can attribute beating our chess club captain to this game.. No I wasn't in the chess club in school, but during study hall, he offered a challenge..

[quote]In addition to chess playing mode, there's a mode that allows a player to set up any kind of chess situation they'd like and then play it against the VCS. That's pretty cool.
[/quote]

I would spend hours setting up some off the wall configuration, sometimes with multiple queens and kings. I once tried to make a turn based football game as well.. Most often than not, the computer would just think about it forever, until I got bored and reset to try another configuration.. great game :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote name='Cybergoth' date='Mon Mar 5, 2007 2:37 AM']
[quote]The only other of which I am aware is only being sold in Europe under the name of Schach for the Fairchild Channel F.[/quote]

Do you have it? Might be interesting to let them play against each other and see which machine will win :)
[/quote]

That's a great idea!!! Yeah, I've got both. I'll dust off the Fairchild and fire up [i]Schach[/i]!

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote name='supercat' date='Mon Mar 5, 2007 12:40 AM']
Atari needed to do something to show that the VCS was still alive, and that something needed to be doable with no RAM overhead and minimal CPU overhead.[/quote]
I think the issue is more one of timing than CPU or RAM requirements. When the game is thinking of it's next move, it's going to take a variable number of cycles to complete a search. So when to hit VSYNC? Now, it might have been possible to wrap a chunk of code in a timer test + VSYNC, but that probably would have increased the time per move by 25-50%.

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote name='EricBall' date='Mon Mar 5, 2007 8:30 PM']I think the issue is more one of timing than CPU or RAM requirements. When the game is thinking of it's next move, it's going to take a variable number of cycles to complete a search. So when to hit VSYNC? Now, it might have been possible to wrap a chunk of code in a timer test + VSYNC, but that probably would have increased the time per move by 25-50%.[/quote]

Trying to maintain a vertically-positioned display would probably have been a 20% CPU hit if Atari didn't want to spend much code on it, but setting up four single-pixel sprites with HMxx values of $10, $20, $E0, and $F0 wouldn't take much code or time; any time the game finishes with a fair chunk of "thinking", it could STA WSYNC/STA HMOVE. A cost of about 40 cycles for every bit of thinking it does that's big enough to justify some motion.

Share this comment


Link to comment
My dad spent a lot of time on Video Chess when he first got the VCS. I remember beating it consistantly on the lowest levels. I once tried playing it on the highest level but I lost patience after only three or four moves (after two days I wanted to play some other games). My dad, who was a much better chess player than me, quickly learned to beat the VCS consistently on the higher levels. He would make a move and, while the VCS was figuring out its move, he would switch the TV tuner box and watch a show for a while. I don't think he really tried playing it on its highest level (pressure from my brother and me no doubt discouraged him). It wasn't long before he stopped playing chess on the VCS and played it on a portable electronic board he got one Christmas (you put real chess pieces on the electronic board and lights would blink telling you where the built-in computer made its move). Nowadays my dad plays chess on his laptop.

So, mezrabad, did you try playing Video Cess on its highest level? :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote name='ubikuberalles' date='Tue Mar 6, 2007 10:45 AM'](you put real chess pieces on the electronic board and lights would blink telling you where the built-in computer made its move).

So, mezrabad, did you try playing Video Cess on its highest level? :)
[/quote]

I tried but never had the attention span for it. It would've kicked my ass anyway, just more slowly and over a longer period of time than it did around level 4 back then. (Now it beats me at level 1)

A friend of mine had the electronic chess board you're talking about. My one "chess claim to fame" was that I could play an entire game on that thing without using any physical pieces. I wasn't a good enough chess player to ever beat it in that "mode", but my friends were always impressed with my ability to keep the whole game in my head. Actually, it was probably the only way I could beat my friends at chess; challenge them to a game of no-piece chess and watch them lose track of the board. :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
[quote name='Mezrabad' timestamp='1173231110']
I could play an entire game on that thing without using any physical pieces
[/quote]

Whoa, really? That's kind of impressive!

Did you ever put the Channel F playing against the VCS? Probably one of the most boring experiments in the world, but if anyone did it, I'd like to know how it went. :P

EDIT: HAHA, I see you have an whole entry on the subject! :D

Share this comment


Link to comment
[color=#000000][font=verdana, tahoma, arial, sans-serif][size=3][size=3]Previous entry: [/size][/size][/font][/color]http://www.atariage.com/forums/blog/87/entry-2918-backgammon-atari-vcs-1979/

[color=#000000][font=verdana, tahoma, arial, sans-serif][size=3][size=3]Next entry: [/size][/size][/font][/color]http://www.atariage.com/forums/blog/87/entry-3022-trip-to-modern-arcade/

Share this comment


Link to comment
Guest
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...