Video Chess is a chess game for the Atari VCS (renamed to the Atari 2600 in 1982) programmed by Larry Wagner and Bob Whitehead and released by Atari in 1979.[1][2] Both programmers later developed games for Activision.[1]

Video Chess
Video Chess Special Edition cover
Special Edition cover
Developer(s)Larry Wagner
Bob Whitehead
Platform(s)Atari 2600
Release1979; 44 years ago (1979)

Gameplay Edit

A chess game is in progress.

The game is played from an overhead perspective. The player uses a cursor to select and move pieces, rather than using chess notation. If an attempted move is illegal, a warning sound is made and the move is not made. If the right-most switch is set to A the computer plays as white; setting it to B lets the player play as white. With the left switch, selecting A allows the board to be set as the player pleases, whereas selecting B sets up the board for a regulation chess game.[3]

There are eight different difficulty levels, with the computer-player taking a variable amount of time to determine its moves for each level, ranging from a few seconds to ten hours. According to the manual, these were the average amount of time it would take at each level for the game to determine its move.

Development Edit

The box art of the first production run of the Atari Video Computer System features a chess piece, though Atari was not yet contemplating designing a chess game. A man from Florida supposedly sued Atari over the box art.[4] Video Chess programmer Bob Whitehead said he was not aware of such a lawsuit.[5]

At first, the console's strict hardware limitations seemed to preclude it hosting a chess program. The hardware can only display three sprites in a row, or six (such as in Space Invaders) with the right programming. The eight-piece-wide chess board exceeds this limitation. Whitehead developed a technique known as "Venetian blinds" where the position of each sprite changes every scan line to allows eight or more sprites in a row.

Atari developed a bank switching ROM cartridge for prototypes of Video Chess to exceed four kilobytes. The released version is the standard 4K size,[4] but this technology was later used for other Atari VCS games.

Reception Edit

Video magazine praised it as "a reward for Atari owners" which even basic chess players "should find rewarding for many hours of enjoyment". The reviewers were surprised that the gameplay was limited to a single player, and noted the high retail price of US$40 (equivalent to $160 in 2022), but they praised the programming which prevents illegal moves, and which includes more advanced chess concepts like castling and en passant capturing which had not yet become standard in all chess video games.[6]: 77 

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ a b Hague, James. "The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers".
  2. ^ "Venetian Blinds Demo". AtariAge.
  3. ^ "Video Chess Manual". 1978.
  4. ^ a b "Video Chess (Atari)". AtariAge. Retrieved August 28, 2007.
  5. ^ "DP Interviews Bob Whitehead". Digital Press. Retrieved August 28, 2007.
  6. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Laney, Frank (April 1980). "Arcade Alley: Faster Than A Bullet - Atari's Super Game". Video. Reese Communications. pp. 18, 76, and 77. ISSN 0147-8907.