Jump to content

Still not completely fixed, apparently

Posted by Nathan Strum, 02 April 2018 · 537 views

Video Game Ramblings

Previously, I mentioned at the very end of this post:

(My 2600) boots to a black screen unless my AtariVox is plugged into the right joystick port. For some reason.

That's not the only problem anymore. You see, I've been testing the Trak-Ball™ hacks on it.
Why have I been testing them?
Well I wouldn't have wanted to go to the trouble of designing labels for hacks that didn't work now, would I? ;)
Posted Image
The problem is... some of them just won't work on my six-switch 2600.
What's weird is - some of them do work.
On my four-switch, all of the hacks work fine. Both of my CX-22 Trak-Balls™ work with all hacks on that system.
But on my six-switch, only these hacks work:
  • Missile Command
  • Colony 7
  • Nexar
  • Reactor
  • Marble Craze
  • Missile Control
  • Plaque Attack
So those are all good. But these don't work on my six-switch:
  • Centipede - controller only moves left and up/down. You can not go right, and you'll get stuck along left edge of screen.
  • Millipede - Y axis is fine, but the X axis responds far too fast and makes moving/aiming impossible.
  • SpaceMaster - same as Millipede.
  • Star Wars - same as Millipede.
And yes - I'm using the correct versions where applicable, and those that auto-detect are doing so correctly:
Posted Image
So between that, and the problem with needing to have an AtariVox continually plugged in, I'm a-guessin' something is amiss with my 2600.
I'm observant like that.
So that means... I have to pull my 2600 apart. Again.
I'm assuming this is a RIOT problem again. But I'm not sure. So I'll have to do some chip swapping to find out. Ugh. But it won't happen anytime soon. I just got this thing put back together and I'm not inclined to go tearing it all apart right now.
But while I'm here, I do have some observations on the Trak-Ball™ hacks.
These aren't reviews, as such. Since for one thing, I only review games that I have on actual, released carts. Not fake renders. :ponder: Plus, I have a gazillion other reviews to write before I get to these.
So consider this a warm-up. :)
For these first six games - playing them with a Trak-Ball™ is transformative, and these are "must-buys" when they're available:
  • Missile Command - I already reviewed Missile Command, so check my comments there.
  • Reactor - This is one of my favorite unsung 2600 titles, and this hack really lets it shine the way it always should have. It brings a lot of the arcade feel back to this title, and the controls are superb.
  • Centipede; Millipede - Both are dramatically more playable (and fun!). If I had any complaint, the controls may be just a touch too fast. However, I'm perfectly willing to accept that perception is due to how bad I am at both games.  ;)
  • The Challenge of Nexar; Colony 7 - Both feel like they should have always been Trak-Ball™ games. They almost play like entirely different games - the hacks are really that good.
Less successful are:
  • Marble Craze - Just to be clear, the Trak-Ball™ is a noticeable improvement over using paddles. That said, I wish braking was more forgiving. I keep meaning to just slow down, and end up going over the edge. A lot. I'm not sure how to fix that. Some of it is due to the nature of a Trak-Ball™ being a free-form analog control, and some of the maze layouts being designed for you to go dead-straight vertically or horizontally to get through them. Rolling a Trak-Ball™ in a dead-straight line is next-to-impossible. Stopping on a dime to change direction in a dead-straight line is even closer-to-impossible. But again, the Trak-Ball™ is a significant improvement, and makes the game much more playable. I think for it to truly work to its fullest potential, some of the mazes would need to be redesigned with the Trak-Ball™ in mind, rather than paddles. Or there would have to be some sort of AI that would dampen X or Y axis input, depending on the predominant direction you were heading. Or something.
    One lingering frustration that became more apparent the further I got into the game, is that it's not always clear what constitutes a path leading offscreen, since instead of having the path's color extend to the edge of the frame, there's a band of "falling to your death" color at the edge, such as the blue on the right side of the Berzerk robot:
    Posted Image
    To me, that says "don't go here". So I'm always second-guessing that. This is especially obnoxious on the Adventure maze level, which looks like it's full of dead-ends, but isn't.
    Finally, on the hack, there's a graphic glitch on the title screen (it shows up on real hardware, too):
    Posted Image
  • Missile Control - This is a pretty obscure game, and while the Trak-Ball™ moves your aiming cursor around just fine, the game's control scheme is wonky to begin with. Firing directly at the enemy works well, but then you're expected to ricochet shots off of huge rockets flying up either side of the screen. As the game progresses, this is the only way to hit enemies, and it's more guesswork than anything. It doesn't help that your range of motion is limited so you can't always aim where you want to. This is part of the original game, and the Trak-Ball™ can only help so much. 
  • Plaque Attack - Another game with wonky controls in the original. Again, the Trak-Ball™ works fine for moving you around, but Activision blew it with this one, in that you can only aim up or down. They should've made aiming four-way. That would've vastly improved this game. Plus not making it about teeth would've helped it be less weird. But hey... dental hygiene education. I guess.
  • SpaceMaster X-7 - I haven't played this enough to determine if the Trak-Ball™ really helps or not. I tend to find myself wanting to stay in one spot, fire for awhile, move, fire, move, and repeat. The Track-Ball™ doesn't lend itself to that, but when you do need to move around, it works well.
  • Star Wars: The Arcade Game - The 2600 version of Star Wars has one of the worst control schemes of any 2600 game. I hated it so much when it first came out, I returned it to Toys 'R' Us and exchanged it for something else. Gyruss, I think. By using the same objects for the crosshairs and lasers, aiming and firing becomes a sluggish, inaccurate chore. Having a limited range of motion doesn't help. The Trak-Ball™ does improve it marginally, but it can't save what was a bad design to begin with.
Anyway... if any of you hardware-inclined types have any suggestions on what's ailing my 2600 this time, let me know in the comments. I'd really like to get this thing back to 100%. Finally.

Many thanks for the feedback, especially about Marble Craze. This is more than welcome!


Glad that you like Nexar, I didn't get much feedback about that one. Same for Colony 7.


Before my HDD crashed, I was working on improving the TB controls for Marble Crazy and make them a bit more forgiving (better damping and centering). So the version you are testing is not the latest one, but the latest one available until my HDD is eventually fixed. Fingers crossed.

I don't think I want to go that far and change the existing mazes. That wouldn't be Paul's game then anymore. But I have created and added one (or two?) on my own.

As for the offscreen leading paths, I had the same problem initially. After a while I knew the mazes, so I didn't care. Maybe there is something I can do without a major redesign of the kernel, but probably not. I hope people can get used to it.

The graphic glitch from the menu is only a result of the developer version. There you can select any maze directly, but I haven't implemented any graphics for this.


As for Missile Control, please give the original a try too to see the differences. I have already extended the cursor area vertically quite a bit. So aiming has become much better than originally. To me (after playing the game quite a lot during development of the hack) aiming is no guesswork anymore, it's more like 50:50. And actually I like this hack quite a lot (more than you). :)


Looking forward to more feedback after warming up!


And good luck with getting your six-switch completely fixed soon!

  • Report

Colony 7 actually took awhile to get used to. I was so used to playing it with a joystick, I had to completely change how I played. But after a number of games, it really felt good. Nexar just worked right away. It was pretty cool. Same with Reactor.


I haven't played a lot of either version of Missile Control, but I'll check out the original some more as well as the hack.


I wouldn't expect the mazes to be changed in Marble Craze - that's not really the point of the hack. If there were a Trak-Ball specific Marble Craze II, then I could see it. I look forward to seeing the additional changes you were working on.


I hope you can get your HDD sorted out. I lost a couple and had to learn about backing up the hard way. Twice. :roll:


Not sure how much playing time I'm going to have in the next month - work is about to get really busy (as it does). Plus, I've got an aardvark to work on somewhere in there. :ponder:

  • Report

IIRC Nexar became completely unplayable after a few rounds. So it was begging for faster controls.

  • Report

I've always liked Nexar. According to my old high score sheet, my best was 392,750 back in the early 80's. I have no idea if I could get anywhere near that now.


For that matter, I wonder if I could get anywhere near where I was 11 years ago. :ponder: I'll have to see what I can do with the hack.

  • Report

Incidentally - the new title screens are a nice addition! Very well done.

  • Report

392,750? How did you do that with Nexar??? :o :o :o


And thanks, I did the titles as good as my limited talent allowed. :)

  • Report

I was (at least) 30 years younger. ;)


The logos turned out nice. If there are any you'd like some additional tweaking done to, just let me know.

  • Report

Whichever you want to tweak most. :)

  • Report

I didn't change much, mostly Centipede and Millipede. The rest all look great. :)


I did make some minor tweaks to Reactor and Missile Command:














I re-did Centipede and Millipede to more closely match the arcade/label font. As a bonus, Millipede has a little more vertical space for the Trak-Ball text:














Here are the bitmaps (as GIFs - if you need a different format, let me know).






  • Report

Good changes. I especially like your Centipede update and I think I can hack these into the existing ROMs.


Millipede, Spacemaster X7 and Star Wars are all done by OmegaMatrix, so I suppose we should make him aware of this discussion.

  • Report

Sounds good!


So I suppose Crystal Castles is still impossible? ;)

  • Report

Yes, because the kernel is very, very busy with hardly any free cycles. So no chance to put it there. And outside the kernel, the controls become way too sluggish.


But maybe eventually someone has new ideas...

  • Report

Here's a hypothetical question, born out of complete ignorance... :ponder:


Would it be (theoretically) possible to convert the game over to CDF to gain enough cycles to add Trak-ball support?

  • Report

To make use of CDF, you would have to create a new kernel. So all the logic which feeds the (new) kernel has to be rewritten for the ARM. And if you plan to do that anyway, a complete rewrite is probably easier, faster and with an overall better result.

  • Report

Kind of thought that might be the case. Worth asking though. :)

  • Report

I believe the entire problem related to Millipede, Star Wars, and SpaceMaster-X7 is interferance with the AtariVox being plugged into the right port. I read that you said you needed it get your Atari working, but that is causing the issues here.


I have tried these roms on real hardware myself, and they were fine. Please note that with Millipede the speed is halfed for the Y-axis as the area is very narrow vertically.

  • Report

My six switch Light Sunnyvale fails on Millipede until

I remember to take the AtariVox+ out. 


Is that due to using that port as a RAM location?

I remember initially you used a port location fora store. 

But then I thought from optimizing you may have found a byte of RAM. 


Also with Millipede I was playing thru the Framemeister to the Crosley Retro 1080p display and was getting low scores. VER 6.5 I think. 

So I thought it may be a lot of lag. 

Then tried just Composite to Crosley 1080i. That didn't improve my scores much. 

I haven't gone back to the RF H6 CRT yet. 

Is there any version I should be using to test. 

I considered myself quite good, getting 380,000+, but now I'm lucky to see 45,000. 



  • Report

One other thing, did you have the all in one Millipede? There is a version that has the auto-detection screen at startup (like in the picture you have posted of your TV above). As far as I know no one has tested it. That is the most recent version.

  • Report

Were Colony 7 labels made? Was permission ever obtained?

If not, I myself, would still buy a one-off - if there are labels that will not see any use. 

  • Report

Yes, we got permission from Manuel. That's why Nathan is testing it too. :)

  • Report