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What VCS games are in Stereo? And other musings..


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I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Combat actually plays in (((STEREO))). The left player sounds come from the left speaker, and the right player the right. It was nice to discover the game code was seemingly left unchanged even after the decision to route the TIA sound output through the then commonplace mono television speakers.


Of the 1977-1979 Atari games that do real stereo sound to some gameplay effect, even if simplistic like left play = left speaker, and right player = right speaker, are:

Air-Sea Battle

Flag Capture

Sky Diver

Space War

Indy 500

Street Racer


Slot Racers

Dragster (1980)


The resonating engines in Indy 500, Street Racer, and Dragster sound a whole lot better. I wouldn't go as far as to say ultra spectacular or anything but I enjoyed listening to it for a while.


I was a little disappointed to find the Video Olympics and Breakout didn't at least make the blip of the ball sound happen on the speaker to which the ball was closest to. Left or Right. Similarly with Video Pinball. Action on the left side = left speaker and so on. Human Cannonball could have had the canon launch sound from the left and the splash sound from the right.


What would have been the determining factor as to why some games had stereo and others not?

A technical limitation/requirement of the hardware?

Programming directives from management saying we're not having two speakers in the console, so therefore programmers didn't bother? But some games were already under developments and therefore continues that way.


While it seems ALL games can be made to play in stereo, like for example Missile Command - they're not going to sound "enhanced" at all. Certain sounds come from the left and others from the right. Yes. To repro all the arcade sound effect, all the TIA channels seem to be needed, naturally. And it seems best to mix them all into one channel. So like Missile Command on the VCS is really a monaural game. And forcing stereo mode makes things sound unbalanced. In that case there doesn't seem to be any advantage to separating the sounds among left or right channels.


The only remotely possible thing I could imagine is having some sort of sound detector or "sensor" that "listens" in on, say, the right channel for some data or a certain sound and which is wired up to activate something in the outside world, like a switch. Or maybe even act as a low-speed modem or data output. To what advantage, I don't know!




Which kind of makes me want to ask for a feature in Stella. Maybe there could be a way to have a mini soundboard as an option? Where we can assign specific TIA sound outputs to left or right speakers. I wonder if that would improve or add a new dimension to the sound in some games? Granted it goes beyond what a real-hardware VCS can do. But. Mods! Just a thought.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm interested in this topic, too. With only two sound channels IIRC I'm not sure how else something like Indy 500 could've been done (given that the engine noises are constant), though it is cool that the left speaker lines up with the left player and vice-versa. It must sound nice to get just a bit more space in the audio.

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