Explore ChatGPT for Augmenting Your Atari 8-Bit Computer Hobby (15-30 mins)

Task: Explore ChatGPT for Augmenting Your Atari 8-Bit Computer Hobby

Needed: Web browser 

Time: 15-30 minutes


Chatbots have been around for a long time as early artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and programmers sought to develop apps that could carry out a conversation. I have previously posted about ELIZA and other chatbots for use on the Atari home computers.

Natural language processing (NLP) has progressed rapidly in the AI era. Large language models (LLMs) are a type of NLP that enable probabilistic modeling of word relationships that can be used to generate text de novo if the model is trained on an appropriate corpus of text. Consider the following sentence with a missing final word:

The Atari 1200XL has a mechanical _____.

An LLM trained on text from the internet would predict the next word to be ‘keyboard’ with a very high probability.

One of the first and most widely available chatbots is ChatGPT from OpenAI that uses a generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) deep learning algorithm to model and generate text. The user can enter a simple query such as:

‘Write a short paragraph about the different models of Atari 8-bit computers that were available for purchase in the 1980s.’

This prompt generates the following AI-written text:

‘Atari’s 8-bit computer line, introduced in the late 1970s and popularized throughout the 1980s, played a pivotal role in the early days of personal computing and home gaming. The initial models, the Atari 400 and 800, debuted in 1979, distinguished by their RAM capacities and keyboard styles. In the mid-80s, to cater to various market needs, Atari released the XL series, which included the 600XL and 800XL — sleeker and more sophisticated iterations. Towards the latter part of the decade, the XE series emerged, with models like the 65XE and 130XE. Each of these machines contributed to Atari’s legacy, offering a mix of gaming and computing capabilities that attracted a broad range of enthusiasts.’

One must be careful trusting the facts presented by ChatGPT and other similar tools as they are probability based and can ‘hallucinate’ with text that is not factually accurate. This was pointed out on a recent AtariAge post.

I provide below a few examples of how ChatGPT can be used to assist with the Atari 8-bit hobby.


Navigate to ChatGPT, register an account, and start prompting! The following are a few use cases to explore.

First, ChatGPT can be used to ask a question. As mentioned, the answer is sometimes not accurate. Here I asked it to tell me the difference between the Atari 600XL and 800XL. Here is the response which seems pretty accurate:

The Atari 600XL and 800XL were both part of Atari’s XL series of 8-bit computers, introduced in the early 1980s. These systems were designed to be successors to the original Atari 400 and 800 computers. Here are some key differences and similarities between the Atari 600XL and 800XL:

  1. Memory:
    • Atari 600XL: Originally shipped with 16KB of RAM.
    • Atari 800XL: Came with 64KB of RAM, which made it more suitable for advanced applications and games.
  2. Physical Size:
    • The 600XL was a more compact machine compared to the 800XL, hence the ‘600’ designation. It was designed to be an entry-level, more affordable option.
  3. Expansion:
    • Both systems were equipped with an expansion port. However, with the 800XL’s greater memory, it was better prepared for additional peripherals and expansions straight out of the box.
  4. Functionality:
    • In terms of basic functionality, the two computers were largely similar. Both could run the same operating system and software, provided the software’s memory requirements were met.
    • They both utilized the ANTIC and GTIA chips for graphics, and the POKEY chip for sound and other functions.
  5. Keyboard:
    • Both the 600XL and 800XL featured a full-travel keyboard, which was a marked improvement over the membrane keyboard of the Atari 400.
  6. Built-in Software:
    • Both machines came with a built-in version of the Atari BASIC programming language, allowing users to create their own software without needing to purchase additional cartridges.
  7. Connectivity:
    • Both systems featured similar ports, such as joystick ports, a cartridge slot, and various other I/O ports. However, due to its larger chassis, the 800XL sometimes had a more accessible layout.

While both the Atari 600XL and 800XL were significant upgrades over their predecessors, the 800XL, with its larger RAM, was more popular among enthusiasts and serious users. The 600XL, being more affordable, was often the choice for beginners or those primarily interested in gaming.

Second, ChatGPT can be used to summarize a web page or body of text. For example, I asked ChatGPT to summarize this article about modems from ANTIC Magazine (1982). Specifically, I wrote ‘Please summarize in less than 10 sentences the following text’ and then pasted the text from the entire article after the prompt. It returned the following summary:

Modems allow computers to communicate over telephone lines. The term “modem” comes from “modulate-demodulate,” converting signals between audio and binary formats. Modems can transmit data at various speeds, with 300 baud being a standard. There are two primary types: acoustic-coupled, which uses foam cups for the telephone receiver, and direct-connect, which plugs directly into a phone jack. Direct-connect modems are generally more reliable. Important features to consider when purchasing a modem include status indicators, autodial/autoanswer, and compatibility. The ATARI computer can use several modems, such as the ATARI 830 and MICROCONNECTION. The SMARTMODEM by Hayes is notably versatile but needs a specific cable for ATARI. As technology progresses, expect modems to become more affordable and efficient.

Third, ChatGPT can be used for creative purposes. For example, I asked it to create a poem about a boy and his excitement receiving an Atari 800 along with a Donkey Kong cartridge for Christmas. Here is the poem it created (not bad!). Note it call also write songs or even write in certain styles such as Shakespeare or rap.

In a room aglow with Christmas light, A boy’s eyes widened in sheer delight. Beneath the tree, wrapped up so neat, An Atari 800, his joy complete.

His fingers trembled, his heart did race, For inside that box, a virtual space. A journey awaited, a dream to unfold, With pixels and beeps, stories untold.

Next, he spotted a smaller case, With a gorilla’s visage, a familiar face. “Donkey Kong!” he exclaimed with glee, “Jumpman and barrels, waiting for me!”

His parents smiled, seeing his joy, Their gift was a hit for their little boy. Hours flew by, joystick in hand, He navigated platforms, so grand.

Christmas morning, with snowflakes so light, Brought an Atari dream, pure gaming delight.

Fourth, you can ask ChatGPT to pretend they are a specific type of person when writing text in response to a prompt. For example, I asked it to pretend it was a Commodore salesperson who was asked to sell an Atari 800XL by highlighting its advantages over the Commodore 64. Here is what it wrote:

Ah, the wonders of the Atari 800XL! While I have immense respect for the Commodore 64 and its contributions to the computer world, there are a few distinct advantages the Atari 800XL offers over its rival:

  1. Superior Graphics: The Atari 800XL boasts a GTIA graphics chip, offering a broader palette of 256 colors compared to the Commodore 64’s 16. This results in richer, more detailed visual experiences, especially for gaming and graphic-intensive applications.
  2. Expandability: The Atari 800XL’s Parallel Bus Interface (PBI) allows for easy expansion, making it a more adaptable system. Whether it’s memory upgrades, newer storage solutions, or specialized modules, the Atari 800XL is primed for the future.
  3. Built-in BASIC: The Atari 800XL comes with the Atari BASIC language built directly into ROM. No need for cartridges or additional software to start programming straight out of the box.
  4. Sound Capabilities: While the SID chip in the Commodore 64 is legendary, the Atari’s POKEY chip offers its own unique capabilities, especially when considering sound effects and music in games.
  5. Versatility in Storage: The Atari 800XL boasts compatibility with both cassette tapes and disk drives, giving users more flexibility in how they store and access their data.
  6. Ergonomic Keyboard: Many users find the Atari 800XL’s keyboard to be more tactile and comfortable compared to the Commodore 64, providing a more enjoyable typing experience.

In conclusion, while the Commodore 64 has its own merits and fan base, the Atari 800XL stands out with its graphics capabilities, expandability, and overall versatility. For those seeking a robust, user-friendly computer with a rich gaming and programming environment, the Atari 800XL is an excellent choice.

Finally, you can ask ChatGPT to write code for you. Here I prompted it to write an Atari BASIC program to generate 200 random dots on a Graphics 7 screen with a black background. I confirmed this works correctly by pasting the core into Altirra BASIC and running it. You can also use it to debug code. For example, I changed the RND functions to RMD and ask it to debug. It changed the RMDs back to RND. Also try asking it to be an Atari BASIC prompt which it will do.

20 COLOR 1
30 SETCOLOR 1,8,14
40 FOR I=1 TO 200
50 PLOT RND(0)*159,RND(0)*95
70 GOTO 70


This is but a taste of what ChatGPT can do. Coming up with prompts that get it to produce what you are looking for can take a bit of trial and error and is called prompt engineering. Be creative!

Note that ChatGPT is not the only chatbot using LLMs to generate text. You can also try Google Bard and Microsoft Bing, for example. There are now dozens of others you can find through a web search.

Note that a paid version of ChatGPT is available ($20/month) that uses the latest LLM (GPT-4 at the time of this post). The free version uses a lesser version with inferior, but often acceptable, results.