Game Standards and Procedures

Atari 2600 VCS


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Table of Contents

The following documents the user interface desired for 2600 games. This is meant both to provide a guide to development program and as a check list for finished carts. Please compare these against any existing games. Some of these standards are changed, and they supercede previous standards. Note that these standards may be waived on a case-by-case basis to maintain copyright loyalty or for games with special requirements.






Games should power-up displaying a Copyright Screen. Game parameters should be single player and Default Difficulty. After about 20 seconds, the game should go into Auto-Play mode. From then on the game alternates between Copyright Screen and Auto-Play. This is called the Idle Sequence.









Game Select

Due to limitations of the 2600, game options are usually displayed as option numbers only (referenced in the manual). It is desired, however, that text be used if possible and if it does not take up otherwise needed code space. Game Select is usually part of the Copyright Screen or the Auto-Play display. If any game option is changed, all scores must be zeroed. The following Game Select display is offered as a suggestion for a way to display options using numbers:

     |                                                   |
     |          GAME                   PLAYERS           |
     |                                                   |
     |           1                        1              |



Alternately, the following is a way to display the options in the better-looking manner, utilizing text:















This section deals with the mechanics of starting, pausing, and ending gameplay.









Game Options

This section deals with the various options the player can choose. Most games naturally fall into the 'One Player' or 'Two Player Alternating' mold. Game programmers are encouraged to explore the possibilities of Competitive and Team play options. In 2-player alternating mode, player 1's joystick should be deactivated while it is player 2's turn, and vice versa.










For a 1-player game, always read the left-most controller. For a multi-player game, assign controllers from left to right. Controllers should only be shared for:


Games which use non-standard controllers should support joysticks if possible. Any mixture of valid controllers should be allowed for multi-player games.






Difficulty Switches

Players of differing skills may be handicapped by using the difficulty switches. The 'A' position (advanced) is the more difficult setting, and the 'B' position (beginner) is the easier setting. Any game using these switches should poll them frequently.






No-Defeat Mode

In a non-release version of all games, a no-defeat mode should be included for testing, documenting, and sales purposes. A way is needed for moderately-skilled players to see the higher levels of play.






Foreign Versions

All 2600 games MUST be made in both PAL and NTSC versions. SECAM should also be supported (most PAL games work fine on SECAM machines). If this is kept in mind from the start, then the conversion process can be much easier at completion of the NTSC version.




About This Page

This page is based on the Game Standards and Procedures PDF file at and is used with permission. Most of the text on this page is straight from that PDF file, but I have corrected errors and made a few changes. For example, the word key was used in a few places where switch would normally be used, so I replaced key with switch for the sake of consistency. I also did the same thing with page and screen. They seemed to be used interchangeably, so I went with screen.

Atari 2600 BASIC

If assembly language is too hard for you, try batari Basic. It's a BASIC-like language for creating Atari 2600 games. It's the faster, easier way to make Atari 2600 games.

Try batari Basic
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