Read the Book “Racing the Beam” by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (3-6 Hours)

Task: Read the Book “Racing the Beam” by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (3-6 Hours)

Needed: The book

Time: 3-6 hours


I had an Atari Video Computer System (VCS) or 2600 before I owned an Atari 400 and then 800 computer. The 2600 was my first experience with home video games. Prior to that I recall playing some of the early coin-op games like Space War in the arcade. I have an extensive 2600 cartridge collection and have always been fascinated by how these games were made. I taught myself 6502 assembly language back in the early 2000s and dabbled a bit in my own game prototypes. I got serious last year and made and released a retro edutainment game for the 2600 called Gene Medic. The game took me about six months to make and I discovered just how difficult programming is for a system that has only 128 bytes of RAM, no graphics processor, and limited to 4k of code in ROM. The book “Racing the Beam” published in 2009 by The MIT Press provides a nice summary of the history of the 2600 along with some of the technical details and programming challenges. The authors explore these topics through six different games including Combat, Adventure, and Pitfall. I highly recommend this book. It is an easy and fun read and will leave you with a great foundation for exploring the 2600.


“Racing the Beam” by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (2009) is available in hardcover from Amazon for $21.51. It is also available on Kindle for $15.39.

Racing the Beam
Racing the Beam


The book has been quite popular among Atari enthusiasts. Here is the book’s Wikipedia page. Here is info about the book along with some links to reviews on Montfort’s website. Here is a Wired article about the book. I plan to do some future project posts on 2600 programming.

Atari 2600
Atari 2600