Back in November 1977, when the Atari 2600 was to be available in retail stores. Atari wanted a lineup of game that could appeal to a wide variety of people. One of these niches are education games, which was filled with Basic Math. Atari thought that mathematical solving, a traditionally unappealing concept, into an interactive game could push parents to buy it for their children.
Atari made two attempts. Basic Math was the first one, made at the same time as the 8 other launch title game. In 1982, they attempted it again with Math Gran Prix, a racing/board game hybrid that ask the player to solve mathematical in order to advance on the field.
Basic Math was rereleased in the 80s as Fun with Number. They were also a Sears branded release that was named “Math.”
Basic Math is not the first commercial mathematical educational game. The RCA Studio II had TV School House II: Math Fun while the FairChild Channel F had Videocart-6: Math Quiz I (Addition & Subtraction) and Videocart-7: Math Quiz II (Multiplication & Division). The VideoBrain computer also have a math game titled “Math Tutor I,” but it is unclear which month the game came out. All thesis games came out in 1977.
As described in the game’s instruction manual, you are being tasked to solve mathematics problems by the Computer Teacher. You must give him the answer and will answer you with a beep and jingle. There is a different jingle of when you have the right answer and when you have the wrong one. If you fail, the Computer Teacher will show you the right answer.
The gameplay is very simple. In the first four variations, you are able to choose the first number (from 1 to 9). Then, the game ask you to do either an addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.
However, you can only have one type of arithmetical operation per game. The last four variations are the same as the first four, except that you can’t choose the first number and generally, the mathematical question are harder (especially on the multiplication and division variation).
In all variation, the game ask you solve 10 mathematics questions. After solving the last one, you will see your score flashing and the total number of mathematics problems done.
One very interesting thing about the game is the way the Computer Teacher expect you to answer some of the division.
Instead of asking a decimal number when the division doesn’t give a whole number, the Computer Teacher will expect you to do a modulo. To do so, there is a reserved space where you can input 2 extra numbers that represent the remainder. For example, if you divide 11 by 2, the answer won’t be 5,5 but 5 with a remainder of 1. You can’t write decimal numbers in this game.
There is no three-digit calculation to do, however, answers can have as much as four digits (mostly in multiplication at the highest difficulty).
Basic Math’s Atari 2600 playthrough
This playthrough using the original Basic Math, the one that came with the 8 other launch title in November 1977. It through all game variation. 80 different mathematical problems are solved. The right difficulty switch is set to A, which activate a time limit for each question. The left difficulty switch is also set to A, which give 24 seconds to solve a mathematics problem. However, it also causes the random number variation to generation 2 digits problems.
This makes multiplication and division problems much harder with the time limit. Because of the short nature of the game, some colour cycling, common in early Atari 2600 games, are shown at the end. However, in Basic Math’s case, it is much slower.