Television Emulation for the Atari VCS

This is absolutely stunning: Ian Bogost had his computer science students at George Tech modify Stella, the opensource Atari 2600 emulator, to reproduce the same kind of visual artifacts you would’ve seen when you played the VCS on a CRT television (those big boxy TVs with tubes, for those of you who don’t remember). Their CRT Emulator will soon be a configurable option in Stella.

Now we’ll finally be able to recapture the original experience of playing Yar’s Revenge on your parents’ 19″ Magnovox, minus the wood console.


The crisp image in the bottom half is what we see when we play an Atari 2600 game on Stella now. The top image is what we would have seen playing in the late seventies on a television — and what we’ll soon be able to experience with Stella (Click the image for a larger version).

And here’s a question I’ll be asking my videogame students today: why would degrading the graphics on a game actually be a good thing?

3 thoughts on “Television Emulation for the Atari VCS”

  1. Awesome indeed. MAME has something similar where you can put transparent PNG overlays on top of the game image in such a way that they mimic CRT phosphors.

    I wrote a paper a while back on how the fuzzying effects of CRT are part of the aesthetic and design strategies of VCS graphics — especially with regard to number and letter design.

    It’s an important part of the ontology of these digital objects, and as a layer of mediation, the CRT is as integral to their constitution within the game-world as any of the programming that generates the bitmap. The CRT screen doesn’t just stand in between the game object and player, it brings the object into existence and gives it shape — especially on the VCS.

  2. I don’t have it published yet (I got a “revise and resubmit”, but haven’t gotten around to either), but I’d be happy to send you a copy.

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