February 4, 2012

Nothing is 0k: Atari 2600 Generative Poetry

Nothing is 0k is a randomly generated poem for the Atari VCS.

Because of the size limitations of the Atari 2600 (4k rom), it is nearly impossible to hold text of any substantial quantity in memory, let alone display it on-screen. In order to do so, I've chosen to represent words in the playfield with each letter's binary form of its ASCII hexadecimal equivalent.

Nothing is 0k for the Atari 2600

With six lines total (two stanzas of three lines), each line contains words with either four or two letters (4-2-4 stanzas). The playfield itself displays the binary form of the hexadecimal code for each letter.

Secondly, the colours of each line represent one letter of a six-letter adjective that represents the mood of the poem, or could also be inferred as the title for each two-stanza poem. The Atari 2600 uses hexadecimal code to represent colour, so by looking at the TIA colour codes (NTSC), you can decipher the randomly generated words.

The poem from above, decoded.

The dots on the bottom of the screen are to aid in reading. Each dot represent one bit; a space, another.

I found the graphical representation in this abstract form an interesting way to view these poems. It can be likened to reading poetry from another language with a different iconography. I suppose it lets you see the forest without knowing that it's made of trees.

Generative poetry on such a constrained platform represents, to me, not only a personal challenge, but also a way to prove that the Atari VCS is so much more diverse and capable than imagined, or even originally intended. I love exploring its boundaries.

Both the .bin and the .asm files are available, free.

Press left joystick button to begin, and to generate a new poem.