Opinion page by Duane Alan Hahn.
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The Atari Promise
Are they a passing fancy,
like Hula Hoops?
They're exactly the opposite. The ATARI
Video Computer System™ Game is not a toy,
to be put in the closet and forgotten. It's a
permanent part of a home entertainment
center. And just as there are constantly new
records available for your stereo, Atari will
constantly offer new Game Program™
cartridges for your system.
Some people say that it's cheating to use extra ROM or RAM in a cartridge. If homebrew assembly language masters want to challenge themselves by making mind-blowing 2k or 4k games that leave people wondering how they did it, that's great, but using more ROM or RAM is not cheating.
Atari was using bankswitching in 1981 (more ROM) and CBS Electronics started using RAM PLUS in 1983 (memory 3 times as powerful as ordinary games), so putting more ROM or RAM into cartridges is doing the same thing these companies already did in the early 1980s. It was a natural progression to give us increasingly better games and there's nothing wrong with continuing the progression today. If you can plug a cartridge into an unmodified Atari VCS and play it, it's an Atari 2600 game. Doesn't matter if it has 20 gigabytes of RAM and a magical half-unicorn fairy living inside of the cartridge.
Even after reading this page, some people still argue that they want homebrews to stay within the original limits, but you can't go above 4k if you stick to the original limits. What they actually mean is they want to pick a year like 1982 that is limited, but not too limited. They think we couldn't possibly use technology similar to what was used in Pitfall II: Lost Caverns because it was released in 1984 and that's just too far into the 1980s. That's like religious people who pick and choose from their holy books. Some sins are going too far, but other sins are just right.
Here's something about David Crane and Pitfall II: Lost Caverns from The Knight Shift blog:
The Atari 2600 system's hardware could not, by itself, handle all of Pitfall II's technical demands. Game creator David Crane engineered and patented a special component that was embedded in the cartridge along with the game's ROM. Called a Display Processor Chip (DPC), it enabled Pitfall II to be capable of much more than any other cartridge for the console. Crane had hoped that the DPC would extend the shelf life of the Atari 2600, but the deepening game "recession" along with the age of the system (nearly eight years old at the time) meant that the DPC never got a chance.
Below is a small piece of a Nolan Bushnell interview from the May/June 1989 issue of Atarian Magazine:
You mentioned the 2600, which Atari introduced back in 1977. How can you get such complex games to run on the 2600?
First of all, we use lots more memory today. Early games like Dodge 'Em and Canyon Bomber used about 4000 bytes (4K) of memory or even less. Newer games and the ones we're working on now use as much as 64K; that's 16 times as much!
From 1982 through 1984, when I was still in high school, the kids I knew were happy and impressed when a cartridge had extra ROM or RAM in it. It was a selling point. Who wouldn't want better graphics and larger or more complex game worlds? With new tricks discovered and constant advancements in cartridge technology, the Atari 2600 really could have been what they promised:
(Click on the image above if you want to see the entire 2 page magazine ad.)
If the Atari 2600 is supposed to be a permanent part of our home entertainment centers, of course the cartridges should become more advanced over time. Atari cartridges grew with us. As we demanded more complex games with better graphics, Atari and some third-party companies delivered. If Atari could have kept their promise, who knows how advanced Atari 2600 cartridges might be today with nonstop advancements through the 1990s and 2000s?
Even batari Basic users are now able to make bB DPC+ games that have 256k of extra RAM for data, 10 multicolored single-height sprites, a non-mirrored multicolored playfield (any resolution) with simultaneous single line background and foreground colors, and more. Until DPC+, batari Basic sprites had double-thick rows, so they weren't as pretty as the sprites that assembly language programmers could use. We can finally create sprites that are as detailed as the ones made by Imagic and Activision.
People have complained about the low quality of older batari Basic games, while others would complain that it's cheating for batari Basic users to make bB DPC+ games. Well, bB DPC+ is the only way most batari Basic users could even come close to making a game that looks as good as the ones that homebrew assembly language masters can create. If you agree with me that extra RAM and ROM is not cheating, that it's continuing what classic game companies started, then embrace bB DPC+ games and be glad that batari Basic games are going to have better graphics and more objects on the screen. Imagine what bB users will be able to do with 10 multicolored sprites and higher resolution playfields!
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