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Tin_Lunchbox

Video Chess, the First Chess Video Game?

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I was testing a Sears Video Arcade (same, basically, as an Atari 2600) yesterday and I wound up playing some games of Video Chess. I came away reimpressed by the quality and accessibility of the simulation. The joystick control is simple and intuitive, it looks pretty good. And, for whatever it's worth from me as a not-really-a-player (I understand how the pieces move but have only vague ideas about strategy) it plays well.

 

video_chess.png

 

Those colors are surprisingly pleasing to the eye to me, but there's also a black-and-white mode if one prefers.

 

I started wondering early this morning if Video Chess were the first chess video game, and I do believe it was, though I'm not quite sure. The copyright mark on the cartridge states 1978. I did 15 minutes of research to find out about some other early chess video games, but I wasn't really able to assign a date to them.

 

Magnavox' Odyssey 2 had a chess game, with cruder graphics (by far) than the 2600/SVA game. I read, don't know how reliably, that Magnavox stuck a separate CPU in this "module" because the O2 couldn't otherwise handle chess.

 

Fairchild's Channel F had a chess; it was apparently the 20th of 20 games by SABA, a German Channel F games publisher. Graphics somewhat cruder than Atari's chess and emits an annoying chirping sound when moving the pieces.

 

Our favorite enemy Mattel's Intellivision ;) actually had two chess simulations: one on its "Triple Challenge" cartridge that also has checkers and backgammon, and the presumably more advanced "USCF Chess" (Intellivision excelled at getting those organizational endorsements). Now USCF chess, it does look good, but to me it looks cluttered, as well you evidently are supposed to learn the use of the controller insert (it has pictograms of pieces and then words on the buttons) which seems unnecessary to me.

 

Fourthly, I stumbled across a dedicated chess video game console "Star Chess" which may well have come out in 1978, however it is not really chess (it has a space theme, renamed pieces and hyperspace option, and so on).

 

I would be interested in hearing others' comments on Video Chess or any of the above.

 

For any of you hacking and homebrewing geniuses out there, it might be possible to improve the graphics on this (full-screen perhaps) as well the movement of the cursor is a tiny bit sluggish and could stand to be snappier.

 

Oh, and lastly (I mean it this time) I did notice a Youtube video where Mr. Zach Matley has evidently already (2006?) homebrewed a 2600/SVA Chess. Without particularly wanting to criticize Zach's effort, it doesn't look that great (no idea as to the play).

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The book Racing the beam states that the first Chess game was on a computer in 1951.

 

Correction just double checked it was a Checkers game, not Chess

Edited by high voltage

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I'd love to see a match between Atari chess and Intellivision chess. A reminder of the old days and the competition between those two systems.

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I'd love to see a match between Atari chess and Intellivision chess. A reminder of the old days and the competition between those two systems.

 

I've thought about this kind of thing, Tinman, and it could be fun in a number of ways, but the only way it could be meaningful is to match the respective simulations at their highest levels. Because Video Chess famously takes several hours to move a piece at its level 7, it would take weeks, maybe months.

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I'd love to see a match between Atari chess and Intellivision chess. A reminder of the old days and the competition between those two systems.

 

I've thought about this kind of thing, Tinman, and it could be fun in a number of ways, but the only way it could be meaningful is to match the respective simulations at their highest levels. Because Video Chess famously takes several hours to move a piece at its level 7, it would take weeks, maybe months.

It's been done before, I'm sure of it. Do a search and you'll find it. I believe it ended in a draw.

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It's been done before, I'm sure of it. Do a search and you'll find it. I believe it ended in a draw.

 

I can't find that. If this is accurate, please link it.

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Video Chess was the result of a misrepresentation lawsuit that had been filed against Atari by a customer because the original VCS box had a picture of a chess piece, indicating that a chess game was available, even though there wasn't. The marketing people went directly to the programmers and asked them to create a chess game for the VCS only to be told that such a game would be impossible.

Edited by rolenta

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Just to be clear, my work on chess back in 2006 was only a demo. The challenge was to get the Atari 2600 to display the graphics for a chess game without flickering or Venetian blinds. There is a cursor you can use to pick up and move pieces, but there is no gameplay.

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Video Chess was the result of a misrepresentation lawsuit that had been filed against Atari by a customer because the original VCS box had a picture of a chess piece, indicating that a chess game was available, even though there wasn't. The marketing people went directly to the programmers and asked them to create a chess game for the VCS only to be told that such a game would be impossible.

 

Fascinating stuff, but the lawsuit story reportedly originated in the March 1983 edition of IEEE Spectrum, in which Larry Kaplan (who didn't program Video Chess, but I'm pretty sure did other great stuff, not just Bridge) told an anecdote (http://2600connection.atari.org/faq/faq_atarivcs.html#general19). Bob Whitehead and Larry Wagner had teamed up for Video Chess, but Whitehead says he knew of no such lawsuit, but heard repeatedly from corporate executives who said there had to be a chess cartridge because there was a chess piece pictured on a common version of the 2600 box.

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Those colors are surprisingly pleasing to the eye to me, but there's also a black-and-white mode if one prefers.

 

 

 

Ah, the pleasures of youth. That's not exactly an "option," more of a requirement since at that time many people (myself included) had B&W TV's. :P

 

Video Chess is OK, but the computer can take eons to make moves later in the game. That said, at the time, it was great for kids who had no one to play chess with.

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2600 chess vs Int chess at the highest level would be interesting... but isnt their a flaw in VC where the computer is moving pieces around in simulation, decides to cancel its thinking and forgets where the pieces started and thus "cheats"?

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It couldn't be played at the highest levels because not only does it take way to long for the VCS to make a move at it's highest level, but it's reported that the computer will "cheat" and start moving pieces around the board. You could always have it play on a lower level, though. You could probably play through the first 3 or 4 levels with each system and keep score that way.

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Those colors are surprisingly pleasing to the eye to me, but there's also a black-and-white mode if one prefers.

 

 

 

Ah, the pleasures of youth. That's not exactly an "option," more of a requirement since at that time many people (myself included) had B&W TV's. :P

 

Video Chess is OK, but the computer can take eons to make moves later in the game. That said, at the time, it was great for kids who had no one to play chess with.

 

I'd like to interject that back in the day, we used the B+W feature quite often in games to give a sharper contrast. Yes we had a color TV, but the reception was suspect and grainy, thus B+W feature was certainly a nice option. But yes when I went off to college, I had a tiny B+W tv and you could get odd colors of grey if you left it on "color", certainly though, switching to B+W gave it a sharper contrast.

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Thought I'd let you know that I played Chess for the Atari 8bit line of computers yesterday. It has eight levels, just like Video Chess. It has other similarities, like the control mechanics are near identical. However its level 1 is much easier than Video Chess' level 1. I beat Atari 8bit level 1 almost right off. I must now admit that 2600/Sears Video Arcade Video Chess at level 1 beats me more often than not.

 

This just goes to show that if one wants to pit one chess program against another, one must set each program to its highest level for it to be meaningful, because the lower levels are basically degraded functioning levels and are set arbitrarily.

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The book Racing the beam states that the first Chess game was on a computer in 1951.

 

Correction just double checked it was a Checkers game, not Chess

 

OK...which computer featured a video representation of the gameplay first? All I'm finding is ones which used printouts of board positions...but I'm guessing that one of the minis had done it first.

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There were a number of chess titles released for the Sinclair ZX81 computer (perhaps bettern known as the Timex Sinclair 1000 in America) in the very early Eighties. Perhaps the most impressive was 1K ZX Chess by David Horne and originally released by Artic (later re-released by Sinclair Research). Apparently the code only uses 672 bytes of RAM.

 

 

1kzxchessarticcover.jpg

 

 

More details can be found on Simon Holdsworth's superlative ZX81 site...

 

http://www.zx81stuff...ess(Artic).html

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Good call...it looks like Peter Jennings' MicroChess may have been first to feature gameplay on a video display. Supposedly, it was the first commercial chess program (1976).

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Good call...it looks like Peter Jennings' MicroChess may have been first to feature gameplay on a video display. Supposedly, it was the first commercial chess program (1976).

 

According to what I'm finding, the only MicroChess from 1976 was on the Kim-1 with a six numerical character LED display, not video. Moby Games has screenshots of a TRS-80 video display version that it says came out in November, 1978 (http://www.mobygames...s-80/microchess).

 

Edit: But if we go by Moby Games, it is accurate that it says Video Chess for the 2600/Video Arcade as well as Atari's Chess for its 8bit line came out in 1979.

 

Edit: Sports Illustrated magazine said at the time that chess programs for Atari video game, TRS-80, Apple, and Pet computers were available no later than December 17, 1979 (http://sportsillustr...26396/index.htm).

 

Edit: Might be closing in on the answer. Radio Shack was advertising MicroChess on cassette for TRS-80 on 22 February, 1979, strongly implying its availability at that time (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=LucgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FW4FAAAAIBAJ&pg=6389,3955402&dq=microchess&hl=en).

Edited by Tin_Lunchbox

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I saw scans of the Atari pages of the Sears Christmas catalog (Wish Book) for 1978 and 1979. Chess was not advertised in the 1978 catalog but it was in the 1979 catalog.

 

It threw me off a bit because the Video Chess cartridge is labeled © 1978, but indeed it seems that MicroChess for TRS-80 preceded it.

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I believe I have the TRS-80 version. I still have my original Model III, I can take a peek to see if any dates are on it (Not that it would mean anything)

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I guess to me, as I read the topic, the first chess video game implies a game for a video game system (which an MIT mainframe is not,) so unless the o2 chess game with the giant cpu brick (which I have,) or the fairchild chess cart (have also,) came out before video chess, video chess gets the nod as first chess video game in my book.

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Those who want to pit the 2600 again the Intellivision, just load the games in an emulator and turn off the speed throttle. That won't work around any bugs, but it will make the game go faster.

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