Notes for Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

Key concepts: platform studies.

Related theorists: .

Series Forward



1 Stella

Unexplored territory of engineering level consideration of platforms informed by history of material texts, programming and computing systems.

(2) But studies have seldom delved into the code of these programs, and they have almost never investigated the platforms that are the basis of creative computing. Serious and in-depth consideration of circuits, chips, peripherals, and how they are integrated and used is a largely unexplored territory for both critic and creator.

Types of Platforms

Serious investigation of specific machines to reveal relationships to creativity, design, culture.

Perform parallel analysis of Bally pinball platform with Atari VCS.

(3-4) Our approach is mainly informed by the history of material texts, programming, and computing systems. . . . Only the serious investigation of computing systems as specific machines can reveal the relationships between these systems and creativity, design, expression, and culture.

Roots of Video Gaming

Cartridge Games for the Home

Design of the Atari VCS

Much as possible because the VCS machine was simple and did a few things very well.

(15) So much was possible on the Atari VCS, and not because it was a powerful computer. It wasn't powerful at all. Rather, so much was possible because the machine was so simple. The very few things it could do well—drawing a few movable objects on the screen one line at a time while uttering sounds using square waves and noise—could be put together in a wide variety of ways to achieve surprising results.

Plan of the Book

Plan of book focuses on certain game cartridges that exemplify range of possibilities latent in original platform.

(15-16) The cartridges that are central to our discussion are as follows: Combat, the cartridge that was originally bundled with the Atari VCS. Adventure, which established the action-adventure genre. Pac-Man, a more direct take on a successful arcade game. Yars' Revenge, Atari's best-selling original VCS game. Pitfall!, another innovative original that was developed at Activision, the first third-party videogame company. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back . . . shows how a compelling cinematic situation can be translated effectively into a videogame challenge.

2 Combat

The Use of ROM in Video Games

Pinball platforms also began using ROM in this era of early eight bit computing before operating systems, networking, databases and other components of modern present computing, though still formed and characterized by stored program von Neumann architecture.

Early use of ROMs in video games with amazing account of sprites still stored in diode matricies rather than memory, which eventually becomes common media converging element.

(21) Atari's driving game Gran Trak 10 was the very first to have a store of ROM, but it did not use a chip to implement this memory. It stored sprite graphics in a matrix of diodes, each of which was placed individually on the printed circuit board.

Joysticks and Other Controllers

Discussion of MOS 6532 RIOT/PIA.

Bally pinball machines used Motorola version 6820 PIA and pmrek the Intel equivalent 8255 PPI.

(23) The chip on the VCS board that handles most of the input from controllers is a standard one, a MOS Technology 6532. . . . Because of these three functions, the chip is called the RIOT (RAM/Input/Output/Timer); in the Stella Programmer's Guide, it is referred to as the Peripheral Interface Adaptor (PIA).

Immediate control via joysticks was once an innovation, inspiring direct manipulation; recall Burks, Goldstine and von Neumann account of ringing a bell and flashing a strobe to indicate computation is complete, then going into an atemporal state until reset for the next computation.

(25) The is the type of immediate control that helped inspire the “direct manipulation” concept of computer interfaces in the 1980s.

How the System Computes

VCS constraint of 8K.

For Bally pinball designs, 2K limit and the number of switch inputs, solenoid and lamp outputs are constrained by the 48 total digital input and output lines afforded by the two PIAs.

(25) The processor selection thus constrained the system to using no more than 8K of memory at once.

Where VCS Meets TV

Is McLuhan characterization of television theory skeumorphic, or does it merely echo prior concretized materialities?

(27) As Marshall McLuhan mused, “the scanning finger of the TV screen is at once the transcending of mechanism and a throwback to the world of the scribe.”

VCS programmer draws each frame, pacing the beam.

Shotgun method in pmrek for SCR triggering akin to pacing the beam as real-time control engineering problem.

(28) Instead [leveraging functionalities encapsulated in an automated external apparatus], the VCS programmer must draw each frame of a program's display manually to the screen, synchronizing the 6507 processor instructions to the television's electron gun via the TIA [Television Interface Adapter]. . . . In these cases, the programmer must carefully “cycle count” processor instructions so they execute at the right time. While “racing the beam” is a catchier name, “pacing the beam” is more apt, since the program might have to be sped up or slowed down.
(28) The highest resolution graphics the TIA can draw are sprites, which can be as small as eight color clock cycles across (figure 2.3).
(30) Next comes the overscan period. At the time the Atari VCS was designed, the position of the CRT in the television casing varied considerably. The overscan period is a “safe zone” to account for this, and it provides the programmer with another thirty scan lines of time to run program logic.

For Two Players
(32) By featuring difficulty switches, the Atari VCS offered itself for use by pairs of players who might be older or younger siblings, children and parents, novice and expert.

Combat's Code
(32-33) Although VCS programming is an arcane practice, people today—even those with limited programming experience—can read and understand VCS programs.

Claim that VCS programs exhibit manageable complexity, such as not being compiled from a high level language; assembly closer to machine level, so that VCS ROM is literally a physical copy of the source code, and can be disassembled (if permitted).

(33) Compilers for languages like C and Java take higher-level commands and convert them into sets of machine instructions. Assemblers simply reformat processor instructions. For this reason, a VCS ROM is essentially just a copy of its source code, obfuscated by the process of assembly. A disassembler can be used to convert ROM instructions and data back into readable assembly language code. Code obtained in this manner does not include any natural language information labeling memory locations, or lines, or subroutines, but someone familiar with the platform, given some time, can often usefully reconstruct a program's source code using this technique.

If disassembly not permitted, violating copyright, then is scholarly research based on such misuse legitimate is an ethical question for digital humanities.

(33) When a program has been carefully disassembled and commented, as has been done with Combat, understanding the program becomes much more tractable.

Main loop does all other control operations during vertical blanking interval of television electron beam, then executing kernel code that paces the beam drawing the screen.

Compare pinball operation, both original platform and how implemented using newer operating system controlled, nondeterministic, general purpose.

(33-34) The basic flow of Combat follows the progress of the TV's electron beam, busily preparing each line that is to be drawn while the current one is appearing on the screen. During the vertical blanking interval, as the beam moves from the bottom of the screen to the top, the VCS running Combat does the computation necessary to process input, deal with game logic, and update the score if necessary.
(34) The first routine in
Combat's main loop checks the position of the VC console switches. . . . The Atari VCS has no operating system to intercept inputs and respond to common ones.
(34) Finally, after all of this is done, a routine called the “kernel” is called to draw the display by setting up the scan lines one at a time. The kernel is the last routine in
Combat's main loop.

Game Variations
(36) Interestingly, the game variation matrix is duplicated almost exactly as it appears in code in the
Combat manual (figure 2.5).

Paddles, Video Olympics, and AI

First artificial intelligence game players as variations on original two-player games.

(37-38) From the standpoint of the system's launch in 1977, the really interesting game variations in Video Olympics may have been not the four-player ones but the two one-player “Robot Pong” variants that were offered—the first ones on the cartridge. In the austere 2K cartridge, amid the fifty variations in numerous different categories, with reference to other simulated computer game opponents, come to be called “artificial intelligence.”

Importance of making mistakes resembling human response to make play more fun, a form of Turing test implicit in videogames.

(39) Effective game AI needs to simulate good, “intelligent” human behavior. But as Relay Moe demonstrates, convincing AI also needs to simulate certain types of unintelligent human behavior, in the form of mistakes that make play more fun.

Revisiting Combat

3 Adventure

Text Adventure into Action Adventure
(45) The PDP-10
Adventure was an experiment, a diversion created by hobbyists. Although it is easy to forget about this in today's highly corporate videogame marketplace, many important games have been developed in such a way.

Virtual Space

Hardware collision detection of TIA afforded particular game types and create virtual space.

In pinball various playfield mechanisms afford game types, with lots of variation in how utilized.

(48) Thanks to the TIA's provision for collision detection in hardware, it is easy to implement things such as shooting or being shot by missiles, running into a wall, or consuming something. All the program has to do is read from a set of memory-mapped registers reserved for collisions.


Persistence of concept of movement from room to room solved by Robinett for Adventure.

(49) This movement set the standard for later action-adventure games, including the tile-based games in the Ultima and The Legend of Zelda series. Even though most contemporary action-adventure games use three-dimensional (3D) rendered worlds rather than two-dimensional (2D) top-drawn ones, the concept of movement from room to room, as in a castle or dungeon, persists. [Warren] Robinett's solution to contiguous movement through space may seem obvious to us now, but it required a great deal of engineering, given the nature of VCS screen graphics.
Adventure required the creative adaptation of the machine's technical features for new, unforeseen purposes.

I Am a Ball

Avatar borrowed from Sanskrit incarnation.

(51) Since the release of Ultima IV in 1985, game developers and players have called this on-screen persona an “avatar,” a term borrowed from the Sanskrit word for incarnation.

Good point about using existing technical objects in new ways as a form of technological innovation, such as graphics registers for player avatars and castle walls, and how it affects technical and expressive consequences.

In pinball platforms, consider repurposing use of solenoid outputs to control sounds.

(53) The repurposing of graphics registers has both technical and expressive consequences. Technical innovations are often understood as the creation of new technology—new materials, new chip designs, new algorithms. But technical innovation can also mean using existing technical constraints in new ways, something that produces interesting results when combined with creative goals. Designing the TIA's graphics registers to support games like Pong and Tank represents an interesting aspect of how platform development happens: reusing those graphics registers for player avatars and castle walls demonstrates a negotiation between the platform and the author's vision of a game.

Handling Items

(54) Thanks to a relatively simple circuit on the TIA, the Atari VCS offers more precise collision detection than is done using the standard technique in modern software toolkits such as Adobe Flash (see figure 3.2).

Getting Lost

Traversing virtual space supplants narration as procedural rhetoric.

(58) The traversal of space has become a standard way to require the discovery of a particular input sequence, something that had been previously done through the subtlety of language.

The Easter Egg

Easter eggs different than skeumorphs but help connect technical object with human (and perhaps other technical) cultures to which it belongs.

(59) The Easter egg is a message, trick, or unusual behavior hidden inside a computer program by its creator.
(60) Computer software, produced in business contexts or otherwise, is often impersonal. Easter eggs lay a human touch on such artifacts, reconnecting them with their creators and the craft practice of authorship.

Roles that today form collaborations for Hayles all devolved to early game programmers.

(61) The game programmer's job at that time was much more like a combination of what we now call the executive producer, the designer, the programmer, the artist, and the sound designer.
(62) The turn away from text and toward graphics started by the VCS
Adventure was partly encouraged by games licensed from films, which began to emerge in numbers in the early 1980s, just as Adventure was released.

Lost genre of text-based interactive games and fiction like Zork could be considered examples of technical and expressive possibilities afforded under specific technological media.

(63) The graphical turn in video games has been a bittersweet one. The Crowther and Woods Adventure, Zork, and the interactive fiction games that they fostered enjoyed enormous success during the 1980s, but that form was no longer marketable by the beginning of the 1990s. Interactive fiction continues to thrive among communities of writers and players without being the mass-market phenomenon it once was. And despite tremendous advances in the visual fidelity of game hardware and software, the interactive engagement of contemporary adventure games has changed little since the VCS Adventure set the stage for the genre.

4 Pac-Man

Chasing the Blinking Coin-Ops

Discussion about how an existing game or other cultural item is represented in a game separate from how different technical platforms represent the same or similar games, such as the doomed VCS Pac-Man and favored tile-based systems.

Porting video games also of interest in PPS: consider Space Invaders, Mr and Mrs Pac-Man, Spy Hunter, and others.

(67) Pac-Man, of course, was already a video game before it was a VCS cartridge. Porting a graphical video game from one computer platform (the arcade board) to another (the Atari VCS) does not demand a change in fundamental representational or functional mode. Both versions are games, rule-based representations of an abstract challenge of hunter and hunted. Where the two versions diverge is in the technical foundations—in their platforms. And in the case of this title, those differences were significant enough to doom the VCS rendition of Pac-Man, by some accounts even causing a major crash in the videogame market during 1983.

Bitmaps and Mazes
(68) The arcade incarnation of
Pac-Man demonstrates how the notion of the maze became more tightly coupled to the hardware affordances of tile-based video systems. In the arcade game, each thin wall, dot, or energizer is created by a single character from video memory. . . . This method allows the hollow, round-edged shapes that characterize the Pac-Man maze—a type of bitmap detail unavailable via VCS playfield graphics.


Sprite (movable bitmap) became standard for home consoles, although a challenge for VCS programmers.

(70) This style of sprite—a movable bitmap—later became the standard for home console hardware and was used in many systems, including the Intellivision and the NES.
(71) Although the arcade board provides a facility for vertical sprite flipping in hardware, the vary idea of such mirroring doesn't even make sense on the VCS, as the programmer must manually set up and draw sprites on an individual scan-line basis, not as a bitmap at a Cartesian coordinate.
(72) When faced with the rows of aliens in
Space Invaders or the platoon of ghosts that chases Pac-Man, VCS programmers needed to discover and use methods of drawing more than two sprites, even though only two one-bye registers were available.

Bank Switching and Ms. Pac-Man
(79) The VCS rendition of
Ms. Pac-Man demonstrates that an artifact with a strong social and cultural context must carry some significant signs of that context into its adaptation. . . . Perhaps the most interesting feature of the VCS rendition of Ms. Pac-Man is that it includes an authentic arcade attract loop, dramatic interludes, and accurate Ms. Pac-Man logos on both the splash screen and the game screen.

5 Yars' Revenge

Development story of Yars Revenge reveals interplay between arcade and home games.

(81) In 1981 Yars' Revenge burst forth from Atari, powered by impressive graphics and sound and providing for compelling play. . . . The story of its development reveals much more about the interplay between arcade and home games.

A Yar is Born

Through the Wandering Rocks
(86) Early games like
Spaceware and Pong could be played only as head-to-head multiplayer games. Space Invaders was the first arcade video game to track high scores across individual games, but Asteroids was the first game to allow players to personalize a high score with their initials.
(86) The space combat gameplay itself became a medium for social combat in the arcade.

Building on Star Castle

The Code Zone
(93) The neutral zone's random-looking patterns are not provided by a pseudorandom number generator—an intricate algorithm that, although deterministic, is complex enough to create a sequence that looks random. . . . The alternative is to lay out a random-looking pattern in ROM and simply load random-seeming bytes from this small entropy pool, one that suffices to create a disorganized visual display.
(93) Warshaw used the second technique, but he made use of a random-looking sequence of bytes that would already be laid out in ROM by the time the game was finished—the game's code itself.

Looking at the code as visual pattern a point Hayles would enjoy making.

(94) When the player looks at the neutral zone on the screen, he is also literally looking at the code.

Into Fiction; On to the Future
(97) But whatever the influence of past programs, the developer always also encounters the current platform. When the work being developed is innovative, it is often enabled by new exploration of a platform's capabilities, by reconceptualizing the platform's limitations, and by attending in new ways to how and why people use it.

6 Pitfall!

Third-Party Games from Activision

Development Practices

Single programmer creating an entire game.

(102) In the heyday of the Atari VCS, a single programmer would create an entire game.

Assembler code example illustrates apparent obfuscation due to frugality requirements.

(102) Assembler programs are composed of elementary instructions, not of higher-order functions. For example, the following assembly language instructions load a value from the top of RAM, add the value 8 to it, and store the result in the TIA register that sets the background color.
(103) ROM frugality often required clever rearrangements of assembler code, which sometimes made the resulting source files appear to be puzzles encrypting their content rather than roadmaps elucidating it.

Design Philosophies and Styles

Pitfall! Crosses the Road
(109) The inspiration for Pitfall! Wasn't the side-scrolling jungle adventure, but rather the running man. The adventure just gave him a reason to run.

Cultural Inspiration
(109) The little running man was partly responsible, but cultural references also helped fully furnish the game's fictional world.

Jungle Generation

World for Pitfall consistently created by code using pseudorandom sequence rather than storing a large imagine in little ROM.

(110) Crane's solution to the puzzle of ROM mapping a large world with little ROM was to not store the world in ROM at all. Instead, the world is generated, consistently, by code.
(111) The finished program uses an algorithm to generate each screen based on a screen definition. At the heart of this algorithm is a polynomial counter, a type of binary counter that increments in pseudorandom sequence.

Adventuring at Home

Social reason to limit gameplay in public venues hindered open-ended play Pitfall permitted, which was well suited for the home.

(112-113) Even when compared to Activision's previous games, Pitfall! was particularly well suited to the living room or den. In the arcade or the tavern, there is a social reason to limit gameplay, in addition to the financial incentive to increase coin-drop. But the living room invites people to consume media in much longer segments, such as the thirty-minute television show.

Attention to Detail

Creativity and Control

7 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
(119) Parker Brothers held the lucrative
Star Wars license for toys and games. At this time, it still wasn't clear what home video games exactly were as products.

Bounced from the Toy Store

License to Program

Corporate concerns rather than technical or creative factors determined whether to license a property like Star Wars for video games.

(124) The representational power of the machine was slight in comparison to today's consoles with their 3D graphics and full-motion video, but there were manuals and box materials to create the necessary associations. Anyway, a lack of representational power never prevented properties from being licensed for other non-electronic game forms and for various toys. When the question was whether to license a property for use in a video game, the answer always was based on corporate concerns, not technical or creative factors.

Attack of the Movie-Game
Death Race was denounced on 60 Minutes and featured in The National Enquirer. This did wonders for sales of the cabinet, for a short time, but before long the protests led Exidy to capitulate and pull the game from the market.

ET ranked worst game of all time, likely due to hurried release for holiday season.

(127) E.T. has been ranked, more than once, as the worst video game of all time.
(127) A general problem that the makers of licensed games faced was the need to tailor their schedules to the release of other media properties or to the Christmas season, along with the need to maintain qualities of the particular property being used. All of this was added to the usual constraints and pressures provided by the platform and the market.

Imperial Technology

Parker Brothers commissioned reverse engineered of VCS trade secrets to develop third-party games.

(129) How did this programmer, Rex Bradford, learn to develop VCS games? He explained: “Our first job was to reverse-engineer the trade-secret Atari [VCS]. Parker Brothers hired a company to strip off the top of the graphics chip and photograph it. [Two] engineers stared at the circuit diagram, while I wrote a disassembler to examine existing cartridge code.”

The Players Are Listening
(131) Although continual sound effects were common in VCS games, it is hard to produce anything that sounds like Western music on the machine. The frequencies that the TAI can generate miss most of the chromatic scale.

Pinball parallel to complexity of playing sound during game led to separate sound boards, triggered by extra solenoid outputs.

(132) Playing a tune during gameplay, rather than in an introductory sequence or at a point where play is paused, introduces additional difficulties. It has to be accomplished in the vertical blanking interval along with the main game logic.
(132-133) One reaction to this was to ignore this limitation and paint the character's skin some shade of pink or yellow. This was the route taken by the company Mystique, which produced so-called pornographic cartridges for the Atari VCS, including
Bachelor Party, Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em, and the particularly odious Custer's Revenge.

The Sun Sets on Atari's Empire

Nintendo developer better first-party licensing model for supporting retailers and developers while maintaining control.

(134) Nintendo devised a way to support retailers and third-party developers—yet also to control them.
(134) Nintendo's first-party licensing model set the stage for the more homogeneous and anonymous work-for-hire mode of videogame development that remains the norm. It also introduced a culture of “soft censorship” in video games, with console manufacturers getting the last word on what they would and wouldn't allow on their hardware.
(135) Atari's system has remained influential both as a distant technological ancestor of today's home consoles and as a residual but compelling presence in today's gaming landscape.

8 After the Crash

Long run from 1977 through 1992; compare to pinball platforms.

(137) The Atari VCS had one of the longest production runs of any microcomputer, and certainly the longest of any dedicated home videogame console. Models were manufactured from 1977 through 1992.
(137) Lower-cost electronics contributed to such advances.
Realsports Boxing uses a 16K ROM, allowing eight times as much code and data as the original cartridges did. But new conventions for gameplay also began to feed back into VCS game design. . . . The VCS titles from the late 1980s often adapted the conventions of games produced for such newer home consoles [of Nintendo and Sega], also borrowing from contemporary arcade games that were unimaginable ten years earlier.
(138) The abstract simplicity of the machine, combined with the stringent constraints that simplicity imposed, made for an extremely flexible system.

Playing On
(140) The increased power of modern computers, and their different set of limitations, can sometimes make it very difficult to accurately port games.
(141) The Flashback 2 mimics the appearance of the first model of the Atari VCS and includes a faithful implementation of the original VCS board, all on a single low-cost chip.
(142) The Atari VCS is certainly not just a “video” device in the generic sense of being able to display a moving image: its TIA was designed to interface with a particular type of video and audio hardware, a television set. All of its unique features emanate from this.

Besides emulation, homebrew programmers continuing to discover unknown capabilities of the VCS platform, and Bogost uses it for teaching.

(142) Although many homebrew programmers are motivated by nostalgia, they are doing more than recreating the glory days of the Atari VCS—they are continuing to discover previously unknown capabilities of the platform.
(143) Atari's venerable system has also been used to help students learn and engage with the history of creative computing. In 2005, the twenty-four-hour Retro Redux event at New York University challenged students in the area to design Atari VCS games. Both of the authors of this book have had students play and analyze games on the system; Ian Bogost has also had them program their own original games in Batari BASIC and assembly.

Pinball platforms share with VCS opportunities for discovering additional platform capabilities, exploring creative computing, and learning programming.

(143) Just as a practice like letterpress printing is a contemporary, ongoing activity in addition to being the dominant method of printing from times past, the Atari VCS is admirable for its historical role in video gaming while it remains playable and programmable today.

Afterword on Platform Studies

Five levels of analysis: reception/operation, interface, form/function, code, and platform, reflecting network layer model.

Add process aspects that foregrounds control operations among multiple temporal orders of magnitude to five levels of analysis to base diachrony in synchrony.

(145) We find it useful to distinguish five levels that characterize how the analysis of digital media has been focused—each of which, by itself, connects to contexts of culture in important ways.

Reception/operation level includes aesthetics, reader-response, psychoanalytic approaches, media effects and empirical studies of interaction and play; notable theorists Turkle, Iser, Geoffrey and Elizabeth Loftus.

(145) Reception/operation is the level that includes reception aesthetics, reader-response theory, studies based on psychoanalytic approaches, and similar methods. This level is also where media effects studies, such as desensitization to violence, and empirical studies of interaction and play are found.
(145) Although only those types of media that are interactive are explicitly operated, all sorts of media are received and understood. This means that insights from other fields can often be usefully adapted to digital media at this level.

Interface level includes HCI, humanities and literary comparative studies of user interface, visual, film theory, and art history approaches; notable theorists Bolter and Grusin, Ryan.

(145-146) Interface studies include the whole discipline of human computer interaction (HCI); comparative studies of user interface done by humanistic scholars and literary critics; and approaches from visual studies, film theory, and art history. . . . The interface, although an interesting layer, is what sits between the core of the program and the user; it is not the core of the program itself. A chess program may have a text interface, a speech interface, or a graphical interface, but the rules of chess and the abilities of a simulated opponent are not part of the interface.

Form/function level includes game rules, nature of simulation, abilities of AI players.

(146) Form/function is the level dealing with the core of the program, including the rules of the game, the nature of the simulation, and the abilities of the computer-controlled opponents. It is the main concern of cybertext studies and of much of the work characterized as game studies or ludology.

Code level includes software studies, code aesthetics, critical code studies, new media analog to software engineering and computer programming, and may be productive even without source code; notable conferences include Ars Electronica festival, Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts.

(147) Code is a level where explorations are still only beginning. Code studies, software studies, and code aesthetics are not yet widespread, but they are becoming known concepts. . . . Even if the source code is not available, however, an analysis at this level of compiled code and of records of the development process can reveal many useful things.

Platform level is abstraction beneath code that provides affordances and constraints instantiated at higher levels of coding, forms, interfaces, and use, new media analog to systems engineering and computer architecture; notable theorists Galloway, Steven Jones, Kirschenbaum.

(147) Platform is the abstraction level beneath code, a level that has fortunately received some attention and acknowledgments, but which has not yet been systematically studied. If code studies are new media's analogue to software engineering and computer programming, platform studies are more similar to computing systems and computer architecture, connecting the fundamentals of digital media work to the cultures in which that work was done and in which coding, forms, interfaces, and eventual use are layered upon them.

Appeal to all levels begs for syncretism.

(147) As we discussed the Atari VCS, we did not shy away from mentioning some things about what games mean and how people play them, what interfaces particular games use, the particular ways that games function, and the with which they are implemented. But though we have considered other levels, our focus in this book has been on the platform level, the one that we believe is most neglected.

VCS chosen because it exhibits manageable complexity, pleasurable use, and collectibility, though claims for some peripheral effects seem a stretch.

(148) We chose the Atari VCS as a starting point because it has been so influential and popular. It is also relatively simple—we are able to discuss every chip on the board in some detail without producing a technical manual. It didn't hurt that the Atari VCS remains, to us, an immensely pleasurable game system to play on, to hack on, and to program.
(148) But consideration of the platform can also enlighten our understanding of interactive visual art, educational programs, hypertexts, works of interactive fiction, demos, creative projects in text generation, visual and kinetic poetry, and much more.

Consider programming languages as platforms, too, anticipating 10 PRINT.

(148) There have been many influential software platforms designed to run on different sorts of boxes. . . . Studies focused on the code of particular BASIC programs are important to pursue, but studies that consider the programming language as a platform for computational expression will also be important.
(149-150) First, we hope that new media studies of all sorts, by curious fans and devoted scholars, will look to the platform level more often and will explore how the platform is relevant to the work, genre, or category of creative production that is being considered. It is not always obvious how to go about this, and explorations of technical details can be challenging, but already we have been provided with some good examples of platform-aware work in Alexander Galloway's
Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, Steven E. Jones's The Meaning of Video Games, and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. . . . But we also hope that this book will serve as a more general reminder that studying what is underlying and assumed—the platform—is rewarding in all sorts of digital media research.
(150) Beyond that, we hope that others will choose to undertake studies that center on platforms themselves.

Montfort, Nick and Ian Bogost. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009. Print.