Video Chess (Atari VCS, 1979)
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 Video Chess 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 hours.
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 really 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 Schach 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 Video Chess will do, otherwise, you'll most likely find it more satisfying to play a friend.