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Racing The Beam or Once Upon Atari?

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We have a really big family so for Christmas we do a Secret Santa so that everyone gets one present (we're not big into masses of gifts). For the past couple of years we've had a web page/blog where each member of the family can post their 'Christmas wishes'. Everyone has put up their wishes except me. Now, my girlfriend is pressuring me as time is getting short! I've decided that I want to get either the book Racing the Beam or the Once Upon Atari DVD but I really can't make my mind up!

 

I've watched the IGN clips of OUA on Youtube. There are 9 clips each about 4 minutes long - that's pretty short for a documentary. Is the DVD much longer and does it contain more information? Are there any extras such as a commentary??

 

Is the Racing the Beam book worthy of my single Christmas wish? Is it biased, does it lack detail, are their lovely pictures, etc, etc?

 

Help out a confused old fart and give me your opinions!

 

Thanks for any feedback. :)

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Racing the Beam is definitely what you want if you're hoping to learn some interesting things about how Atari VCS games are designed. As opposed to Once Upon Atari, the book focuses on the real meat -- if you're hoping to read about the guts of the console, and how early programmers got it to do things that it had not been designed for.

 

There are some interview snippets included in the prose, with a significant chunk from Larry Kaplan, who explains techniques that allowed programmers to take advantage of the way in which the 2600 displays graphics on television screens. It's quite a technical book; I found it easy to read overall, but occasionally challenging in terms of the science involved (I haven't made any VCS games, so I didn't quite understand everything).

 

If it were me -- this is a personal thing -- I'd get the book, but please keep in mind that I like reading about behind-the-scenes stuff in a technical sense, and don't really care for behind-the-scenes stuff in terms of the people and personalities involved. The DVD features the latter.

 

So Racing the Beam is an extremely well written and researched, mainly technical book about game design. However, if you're more interested at this time in stories told by the personalities at Atari in the 1970s and '80s, Howard's DVD would be more your cup of coffee. Be prepared to wince a bit, as it's got some corny, unnecessary interludes involving Tarot cards, as if he's narrating to Saturday-morning cartoon viewers.

 

However, the actual interview segments with his fellow designers are funny. There's not much about game design itself, in a technical sense. It's more Behind the Music than being about the music itself, to coin an analogy.

 

I hope this helps! Given your interest in the Atari 2600 VCS, I feel that you'll enjoy either one.

 

Edit: There aren't many "lovely pictures" in the book; more like a bunch of lovely diagrams. :)

Edited by Chris++
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I have not seen once upon atari, but have read racing the beam. While it is a small book, it is an amazing read with some great insight on the industry, from the main players of the time. Not many pictures though.

 

My two cents

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I haven't seen the documentary, but Racing the Beam is a fantastic book, very well worth reading, even if you're not ever planning on trying to develop for the 2600. I really enjoyed reading it and it's on my "need to read again" list.

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Thanks guys. It's looking like the book is getting the vote so far. I don't intend to code for the 2600 as assembly is way over my head. Maybe one day I'll have a go at Batari though.

 

Having said that I am geeky enough to follow psuedo code and general programming ideas and have an uderstanding of older TV tech (raster timing etc) so the book does really tickle my fancy.

 

I take it the DVD doesn't really contain much more than extensions of the IGN/Youtube clips? I don't mind the gaming culture kind of thing either but I'm not sure I'll learn much more as I already know they got drunk and smoked a lot of dope! :P

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Another vote for "Racing the Beam", it's great book!

 

It does have some technical details but you don't need to be a programmer to understand it. It explains what the console was originally design for, and how programmers worked within those limitation to make their games beyond what it was designed for.

 

A lot of questions in the forum are answered with "read Racing the Beam" :)

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Both!

 

Racing the beam is a fantastic book. The only one that I've found that chronicles that great era, introduces the players in context, discusses how the hardware drove the market, and where the market went from there and why.

 

Once Upon Atari is another animal all together - a fantastic, personal documentary by one of the most influential game developers of all time. The interviews, by allowing the people at Nolan Bushell's Atari, and Nolan himself to tell you their stories and perspectives allow you to get to know these people in a way that I don't think you can from anything in print.

 

Racing the beam is the book that inspired me to write Star Castle for the 2600. The chapter a Yar is born drew my interest to Howard Scott Warshaw, which led to my getting Once Upon Atari, and reading all of the interviews about Star Castle and Yars Revenge. I was a huge fan of both games and never knew their connection.

 

D. Scott Williamson

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Racing the Beam made me start coding for the VCS last year, so I guess that a sign of quality and I really recommend reading it.

 

Besides that I don't know anything about "Once Upon Atari", except that it could be a nice present for me :-)

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Does anyone know if you can still purchase Once Upon Atari from the onceuponatari.com site? It looks like it hasn't been updated in a while...

 

Thanks,

-B

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Right, Racing the Beam it is. Maybe I'll look into getting Once Upon Atari for Easter or something. :)

 

Thanks for everybody's opinion.

 

Dragonstomper: I'd be surprised if it wasn't available. Surely, it couldn't be too hard for him to just burn off a copy as and when orders were made? :)

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Wow! It doesn't look like I'll ever get Once upon Atari. I was showing my girlfriend the website and she offered to buy it for me for my birthday (three days after Christmas). I went to the checkout full of glee, created an account and then *SMACK!* It was going to cost another $50 just to ship it to the UK - that's $80 in total! Oh well... what a bummer... I really thought I had it as well. :(

 

Still, I'm getting the book so that's good. :)

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Once upon Atari is an interesting film since you get to learn from the original programmers in terms of what it was like to work for Atari back when the 2600 ruled all. You get to find that they all have some interesting personalities and some of their trials and tribulations as they worked for the iconic Atari company.

 

I think you would like the video and it is a way to get to know Howard Scott Warshaw and get a sense of what he is like both as a programmer and as a person.

Edited by AtariDude

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Wow! It doesn't look like I'll ever get Once upon Atari. I was showing my girlfriend the website and she offered to buy it for me for my birthday (three days after Christmas). I went to the checkout full of glee, created an account and then *SMACK!* It was going to cost another $50 just to ship it to the UK - that's $80 in total! Oh well... what a bummer... I really thought I had it as well. :(

 

Still, I'm getting the book so that's good. :)

 

Try calling the number instead (yeah, I know it might be long distance). I wonder if the auto-calculate just went wonky on the shipping, because it doesn't cost anywhere near $50 to ship a DVD(s?) to the UK. A real person might be able to give you a real shipping amount.

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