I think I’ve made it pretty clear that these little shows are going to be painfully geeky, and I assure you that this week’s episode will absolutely live up to that claim. Fundamentally, what I’m talking about here is something that I think is one of the greatest catalysts to creativity: restrictions. Specifically, the very significant restrictions of the old Atari 2600.
This is still car-related because I’m talking about a racing game, Activision’s 1982 release, Grand Prix. Here’s an old commercial for the game:
Despite what the commercial implies, you would have to have an extremely distorted view of reality to mistake this game for anything approaching reality, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an impressive achievement for its time, on the Atari 2600 hardware.
You’ll notice that the cars are, surprisingly, non-terrible looking, with actual shading and racing stripes and all that. The reason they look the way they do has to do with some very specific quirks about the absurdly limited 2600 hardware, and it’s actually the look of these cars, and the very clever methods used to get them, that inspired the whole game itself.
I explain the whole thing in the video—why the game is horizontal and why that matters, the incredible restrictions old Atari programmers had to deal with, why these very limitations ended up making the system far more flexible than anyone ever imagined it could be, and so on.
If you want to know more about this, MIT Press has an incredible book called Racing the Beam that you should read—it’ll make you respect the hell out of this humble little machine and the brilliant women and men that squeezed so much out of it.
Anyway, watch the painful geekery up there. Someone has to, right?