Atari 2600 programming techniques are fascinating. The hardware is so very limited, and programmers must use every possible trick to scrimp and save the last CPU cycle and byte of RAM. The console’s longevity is remarkable, with new games and demos still being produced today – over 100 new titles last year alone.
Atari programming requires racing the display electron beam, updating graphics registers just before the instant they’ll be used to paint the next pixels on the current scan line. With only 76 CPU cycles per scan line, there just isn’t enough time for the poor 6502 to do very much.
To create better-performing Atari games, programmers may need to think outside the box – literally.
Thanks to Harmony and similar (cartridge) devices, within roughly the past 10 years, there has emerged a large and growing library of “hardware accelerated” homebrew Atari games. With the extra support of the coprocessor in the Harmony or UnoCart cartridge, these games are able to create graphics and sound that are much more impressive than anything that was possible back in the 1980s.
When an Atari 2600 game console from 1977 is hot-rodded with a 32-bit coprocessor running at 100+ MHz, is it still an Atari 2600? Should games that target this augmented hardware still be considered Atari 2600 games?
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