Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

The Atari VCS: The carts

Dr Kenny McAlpine looks at the music - or lack of it - in some of the games that were bundled with and released for the Atari VCS.

Over its lifetime, a number of games, both good and bad, were released for the Atari VCS.

In this video, we’ll review a few of those that I think are important, either because they shaped people’s expectations of the console, because they were great games with great sound, or because they were dreadful and exposed the limitations of the hardware: you’ll realise that Atari’s TIA gave it what you might charitably describe as a ‘characterful’ voice.

Once you’ve completed the video step, what I’d like you to do is to play through some for yourself.

Below, you can find links to several open-source console emulators and to public domain and ‘home-brew’ video game ROMs. There’s also a link to an online VCS emulator that has embedded game ROMs. Please take the time to play through a few of these. It would certainly be a good idea to play through those titles that we’ve discussed here, but there are many other games that are interesting, either because they’re still very playable games, like Activision’s Pitfall II or Atari’s Pole Position; because they exemplify significant moments in gaming history – Atari’s Snoopy and the Red Baron, for example, was one of the first games to feature the music of a professional media composer, and its music stands out as a result – or, as with Pac Man and E.T., because they are dreadful and show up the limitations of the machine’s hardware.

Have a play, and think about the qualities of the music. Does it work as game music? Outside of the game would any of it stand up as music in its own right? Why? Is this to do with the music itself or its function as game music? Do you think expectations about game music would have been different back then? Should you be more forgiving of the music’s shortcomings because the hardware was so primitive by comparison to today’s platforms?

Please post a response to some or all of these questions in the comments section.

Please note that the links below will take you to external websites that are not affiliated with either FutureLearn or Abertay University.

This article is from the free online

Video Game Design and Development: A Bit-by-Bit History of Video Game Music: Video Game Sound and Music

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now