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Checkers (Atari VCS, Jul 1980, Activision) “Chess is like looking out over a vast open ocean; checkers is like looking into a bottomless well.” -Marion Tinsley Marion Tinsley was the World Champion of Checkers from 1950 to 1990. Other people only gained the title if Tinsley didn't show up to play. He won the World Championship whenever he chose to play for it. Jonathan Schaeffer was a computer scientist. He lead the team that developed Chinook. Chinook is the computer program that plays checkers. Their story is a great story which I would love to tell you. Instead, I'm going to tell you the short and crappy version of that story. Chinook almost beat Tinsley in 1992. In 1994 they played against each other again. They played six games to a draw. Tinsley had to stop playing because he was in a lot of pain. The pain was cancer. He died a few months later. Chinook never defeated Tinsley. Tinsley's death inspired Schaeffer. Schaeffer's computer program "solved" Checkers in 2007. What that means is that the computer knows all the ways to play the game so that it either wins or draws. A much better version of that story can be found here: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/07/marion-tinsley-checkers/534111/ I don't really have anything to say about Activision Checkers. It's a good version of Checkers. It's easy to play. The graphics look fine. There are a total of four games on the cart. Three games against the computer. (Novice, Intermediate, Expert) The Novice game takes about 15 minutes. The Expert game can take about 2 hours because the computer takes longer to think. The Intermediate game takes more time to play than the Novice game and less time to play than the Expert game. I bet you already knew that part about the Intermediate game. The fourth game is a two-player game. For the two-player game I needed to find another person. Every person I tried to drag into my house ran away from me. I decided I would cheat by having another computer program choose my moves for me. I chose the website MathIsFun, which has a Checkers game. I put Activision Checkers on Novice. I put MathIsFun Checkers on Hard. Activision Checkers won. Apparently that website is for kids, so don't be impressed. You might have thought I was going to have Chinook play against Activision Checkers. That would have been smart, but I didn't think of it until just now. Chinook is here: https://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/play/ Let me know if you win.
Video Checkers (Atari VCS, Dec 1980, Atari) In 1980, Checkers feels like the new Blackjack. Blackjack seems like it was a requirement to be on every system. Checkers... well, maybe not on every system. It was already on the Fairchild Channel F (which, I missed back when I played through 1978 like... more then a decade ago, but less than 40 years ago. I'll get to it soon.) and we've seen it on the Intellivision and Atari. Now we get to play it on the Atari again. This time, I did think about going to use the world-famous A.I. Checker Program, Chinook, but alas, I wasn't patient enough to sit through the Atari's "thinking" phases at its top level, so I'm just going to go over the features that this Checkers has. Nine levels of difficulty: Games 1-9 represent Checkers against the Computer in 9 levels of increasing difficulty. Game 10 is human vs. human in case all of the checker boards in your house had been stolen or something or you wanted the novel feeling of playing the game on the TV. I'm not judging you for this. The computer takes longer to decide its move the higher the skill level. Ranging from less than two seconds on Level 1, to 30 seconds on Level 6, to 15 minutes per turn on Level 9. "Giveaway" Checkers: Games 11-19 are called "losing" or "giveaway" Checkers. Giveaway Checkers is a variant of the game where you try to lose your pieces first by forcing your computer opponent to jump your pieces. I honestly had never of this version of Checkers before. Skill level of the computer increases as you move from game 11 to game 19, of course. Game Select (to change skill level) functional during a game: Something interesting about the Game Select switch. You can start playing a game on a skill level and decide, in the middle of the game, (but not while the computer is thinking) to increase the skill level. I thought that was kind of neat. Checker notation is used: Atari's Video Checkers uses checker notation and it's noted at the top of the screen. The manual specifically mentions playing other computer opponents and using the Checkers notation to convey the moves to avoid any confusion. (I tried playing two computers against each other when the board is inverted on one. It is hard (for me) to turn my brain around like that. The number system makes it easier to translate the moves to the other computer.) Checker Notation bonus: The B/W switch lets you change up the numbering system in case the computer playing against the Atari is less flexible. This was thoughtful to include and makes the Atari seem to be the more gracious opponent. ("Oh, of course, binary opponent. This unit is happy to adjust its numbering settings for you! It's no trouble at all!") Set up your own board: Moving the left difficulty switch to "a" allows you to set up the board however you like and then play it by putting the switch back to "b". Actual instructions on playing Checkers!: Yeah, I mention this because Activision's manuals are pretty light in general (which was mostly fine). Their manual for their Bridge game didn't fuss with giving the rules at all and their manual for Checkers was also quite brief. Atari's Video Checkers' manual seems absolutely luxurious in comparison. My impression is that the feature set of Video Checkers is pretty rich. I'm not knocking the others (and I'm not going back to actually compare them, lawds no.) but if I had to pick the one I've liked the most so far, I'd have to pick Atari's Video Checkers. I still need to look at Checkers on the Fairchild Channel F though. One game left for the Atari in 1980, Activision's Skiing.