Video Chess and the 10-hour Bug

Friday, November 16th, 2018

Wow! Atari wrote a game that uses some pretty good artificial intelligence. It was fun to play and very challenging. So how could this one possibly be eligible for the Hall of Shame?

Well, first of all, Atari’s Video Chess for the 2600 was very fun to play. That is how I learned the fundamentals of chess (however, I am not any good). The good ‘ol Atari kicked my butt every time. Video Chess had several different varieties of skill levels in which you could compete. Unfortunately, you couldn’t compete against another human. Oh, well. Anyway, the higher the difficulty, the longer it took the Atari to think of its next move. Sound good? Well, if Atari didn’t take that one point beyond stupid.

If you chose game option 7, the Atari would invoke the super-duper-analyze-and-conquer-mega-glory-gusto mode. In this mode it would take on the average of 10 hours (yes, I said 10 hours) to figure out its next move. Now, I’ve always heard it explained (I think it was by an ex-Atari employee [actually all of the people that worked for Atari are ex-Atari employees]), that the Atari is analyzing every possible combination of moves in order to properly execute the move with the least window for the opponent to circumvent pending move in a strategic form (?). Now, I don’t know what that means, but I think it has something to do with ordering pizza. Anyway, you can’t tell me that this was an intentional feature of the game. I mean, 10 hours to make a move? It even did that on the opening move. What could possibly take the Atari 10 hours to figure out on the opening move? The only things that you can move are either the pawns and the horsey-lookin’ dudes (some people call them knights). I got news for anyone trying to play game option 7, your Atari will burn up and fry the motherboard before you get 4 moves into the game. Heck, my cousin burned up his Atari after accidentally leaving Popeye on all night.

The only thing I can guess is that Atari found out about the 10-hour bug a little too late and advertised it as a “feature”. In other words, Atari was a very good prototype for Microsoft. The only way that the feature was intentional is that Atari wanted people to burn up their Atari computers so they would have to buy new ones. No matter which way you looked at it, the entire ordeal stunk.


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