Fun

Atari 800
Atari 800

I am a retro computer and retro gaming enthusiast. As a kid, I had an Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS) followed by an Atari 400 and then an Atari 800 home computer. I learned to program in Basic and dabbled with Pilot and Assembly. I found the Atari systems to be very inspiring and my experience with them set up a lifelong interest in computer science and informatics that set the stage for my career as a biomedical information and computational geneticist.

I have a number of Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 systems with a collection of several hundred cartridges. I also have multiple Atari home computers including two 400s, two 800s, a 600XL, two 800XLs, a 1200XL, a 65XE, and two 130XEs. I also have Atari XEGS and Lynx gaming systems along with an Atari Portfolio handheld computer. There is a growing community of people who grew up with these old systems that are keeping the hardware and software alive through collecting original devices and through emulation on modern computers. See Atari Age, for example.

In 2017 I designed, programmed, and released a new ‘homebrew‘ edutainment game called Gene Medic for the Atari 2600. This game was programmed in assembly language and tested on original hardware. Programming for the Atari 2600 is challenging for several reasons. First, there is no graphics chip which means the CPU must do all the work and render the screen line by line. Second, the system only has 128 bytes of RAM. Third, the early cartridges could only hold 2,000 or 4,000 bytes of code on their ROM chips. Finally, you must learn assembly language for the 8-bit 6502 CPU and the challenging specifics of the Atari 2600. This was by far the hardest coding I have ever done. Here is a piece about my game that appeared in the Daily Pennsylvanian newspaper from the University of Pennsylvania where I work.

Gene Medic
Gene Medic

There are a few good books that give a historical overview of the Atari gaming and computer systems and the impact they had on modern systems. The first is Racing the Beam that focuses on the Atari 2600. The second is Breakout that focuses on the 8-bit home computers. There is no question that Atari should have dominated both the gaming and home computer space over the years. Warner Communications bought Atari for around $30 million in 1976 and never really understood what they had. They blew it as a company in so many different ways. A decent review of the history of Atari can also be found on Wikipedia. A more detailed history can be found in the book Atari Inc. These books and the Atari Age website are good places to start if you want to get into the modern Atari revolution. I also maintain an Atari Projects web page.