Atari Tempest: Time-Lapse Photography

Thought we’d try something different this week.

For the record, I am definitely a ‘point and click’ photographer – my mobile phone has always been my camera of choice. The extent of my photography skills is using an image size optimiser for the pictures I post here on the blog. Manipulating images and setting ISO levels, exposure and such is not something I’ve ever thought to do or take the time to begin to understand.

My mobile phone contract was up this month, and after a bit of research, I chose the new Huawei P9 as a replacement for the next couple of years. It is a lovely bit of kit, and boasts a new dual-lens camera made by Leica. There are a wealth of easy to use options and filters to help even a cack-handed user like me to produce some decent and interesting looking pictures (but don’t hold me to that going forward!). One of the features you can select is a long exposure mode that effectively takes a series of pictures in quick succession, and layers them on top of each other to give some great effects when shooting the right subject. What you end up with is a time-lapse style picture. A single frame of several seconds or minutes of action combined.

We’ve all seen those clever pictures of car tail lights trailing down a dark road right? – yeah, similar to that.

So I thought the effect might work well on my Tempest arcade machine. The blue grids remain static, with the action occurring across the screen on top. So I set the camera up on a tripod to hold it firm, pointed the camera at the screen, and played a few games. recording short bursts of game play as I went.

(If you’re unfamiliar with how Tempest plays, check out this video on YouTube)

So here’s how they turned out. Most of these images represent about 10 seconds of gameplay:

Tempest 1Tempest 2Tempest 3Tempest 4Tempest 5Tempest 6Tempest 7Tempest 8Tempest 9Tempest 10Tempest 11Tempest 12Tempest 13Tempest 14

Some came out better than others: leaving the mode on for too long, just creates a big bloody mess, so you have to play around with timing to get it just right. But overall as you can see, the resulting images give you a whole new perspective on the game.

I might try to do a few more of these with other games that give a similar effect in the future (I did try Asteroids, but it came out as a bunch of random lines across the screen – everything moves on that game!).

Do feel free to share these images – I’d appreciate a link back to the blog in return.

If you were hoping for some more in depth arcade reading material, go check out the archives at the top of the page – there’s over 50 articles to choose from. Usual service resumes next week!


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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Scott says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Anybody who says games aren’t art….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hungrygoriya says:

    These are fascinating to look at. I’d wear these on a t-shirt any day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ringadingding says:

    as a Tempest owner, i love this so much. i know that some professional artist did a series like this a few years back… not sure where i read about it, though (Boingboing?). i have one of the shots of it as a desktop image on my computer once in awhile. There’s something about those old Atari vector graphics…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Barrie Ellis says:

    Gorgeous. There’s a really nice one of Lunar Lander floating around on the web too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James says:

    Really lovely! Can you explain where the scan lines come from, though? Tempest was vector graphics so I’d have thought it would have straight, clean lines with no breaks or saw-toothed edges.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Neil McEwan says:

    Stunning. I love the Tempest graphics anyway, I think the screen is amazing, and these images certainly back this up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wolfsbora says:

    I totally agree with everyone on here. I would never have thought of using Tempest, or any other game, as a medium for time lapse art. Well done. I hope you don’t mind if I make one or 2 of these into 21:9 aspect ratio for my ultrawide monitor.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. infomodity says:

    Rosemarie Fiore’s series “Retrograme Time Lapse Photographs” from 2001/2002:


  9. These would look great framed and on a wall. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Josh Renaud says:

    Wonder how this would look with Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Shirt please.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. jeffsgames says:

    These are amazing! Great job.

    I bet Pac-man and Donkey Kong would both look sweet with fixed level designs.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Simon says:

    @James: I am no expert on these things, but this is a *color* vector game, so the monitor probably has a pattern of three different phosphors on the front and a mask where the electron beams have to pass through. That way scanlines might be visible, even when controlled via XY vectors.

    That, or they had some really funky antialiasing algorithm back then… 🙂


  14. Eric says:

    The Honda Civic’s taillights remind me so much of the Tempest ship I get mesmerized driving behind them on the highway. Maybe you could revisit this and incorporate the two?

    Liked by 1 person

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