Ian Bogost has posted a fascinating article about the nuances of the screen indicitive of historical technological advances over the years, in the context of the Atari VCS. Bogost notes an extremely important factor in the reception of ‘retro’ gaming and the emulation of the medium (in this case, the open-source Atari emulator, Stella) — that of the unique side-effects of the CRT screen – the only option available at the time these machines were widely available and used:
In today’s world of huge, sharp LCD monitors, it’s hard to remember what a videogame image looked like on an ordinary television of the late 1970s. Emulators like Stella make it possible to play Atari games on modern computers, serving the function of archival tool, development platform, and player for these original games. But unfortunately, they also give an inaccurate impression of what Atari games looked like on a television.
Many of today’s players may only experience Atari games in emulation. Indeed, many of my students may have little to no memory of CRT televisions at all. Given such factors, it seems even more important to improve the graphical accuracy of tools like Stella. 1
Those of us, ahem, old enough actually to remember playing on these games as kids might notice the differences Bogost highlights between receiving a game on CRT and doing so on an emulator through which such quirks of the medium are automatically ironed out.
It is interesting that even in the supposedly ‘clean’ digital medium (which is itself a misleading term given the analogue nature of many old electronic and electrical devices) – indeed in the utmost cleanliness of the medium – there is an effort being made to consider and produce as an option the ability to recreate material specificities which are highly significant to the reception of the software, grounded as it is in a historical, technological and social context as integral to the software’s identity as the medium itself.
Having this as an optional setting on Stella will be great. Hope it happens soon.
(The header image is a screenshot from Berzerk, my favourite game for the Atari 2600 back when I was about 5 or 6…!)
- Ian Bogost, A Television Simulator: CRT Emulation for the Atari VCS. http://www.bogost.com/games/a_television_simulator.shtml ↩