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Atari_Ace's Blog - An Early Atari Computer Technical Demo


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As originally conceived, Atari computers were going to be a platform where the technical secrets were held closely, allowing Atari to reap easy profits by providing software that third parties would be hard to match. At least, that was the theory. But the technical secrets were not going to remain secret forever, and as Atari was slow to provide the software to drive sales of the computers, it made more and more sense to abandon that strategy and open the platform to more developers. Atari eventually did this in late 1981, publishing the technical notes and then more broadly with the publication of De Re Atari in 1982, a more approachable presentation of the material.

But before the technical notes became widely available, Atari used the popular computer magazines of the day to publish some of the technical information. Chris Crawford and Lane Winner at Atari wrote two articles in late 1980, one for Byte magazine and one for Compute!, which explained display lists and player/missile graphics respectively. Both appeared in the January 1981 issues of the magazines, and were later endlessly rehashed in books and magazines over the years.

The Byte magazine article, An Introduction to Atari Graphics describes some of the functionality of display lists and then proceeds to use a modified display list and a modified character set to generate a Byte magazine splash page. Interestingly, the page references the August 1980 issue, perhaps publication was delayed for unknown reasons. In any event, it's probably the first published article on display lists, and is quite interesting both for what it reveals and what it does not. It shows the 14 graphics modes, revealing that there are modes that aren't available from the GRAPHICS command. Since it modifies an existing display list, it omits mentioning details important to writing a display list from scratch. Nonetheless, there was enough information here to help software authors start producing better graphics on the computers.

Listing 2 from the article, which produced the above screen:


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