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Asteroids: why 8Kb and then such a bad port?


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#1 highinfidelity OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:43 AM

As a heavy Asteroids player (it was the first arcade I put my hands on as a kid) I have always been extremely disappointed with the 2600 port, although many - for reasons I fail to understand - seem to put it on their favourites' lists.

Let's look at it with open eyes: the harlequin-coloured asteroids stink, the way they move only vertically at game start is disappointing, the game action only vaguely recalls that of the arcade, the game is definitely on the easy side (and when it gets hard it's not for the right reason), the idea to put the saucers into a "variant" is as bad as it can be.

That said, these are limits we may accept had it been stored in a standard 4K cart. But they programmed it into one of the first 8K carts released, didn't they? How did they manage to make such a poor game with 8Kb? Were programmers forced to use it mainly to override hardware limitations (I'm thinking to the great number of big objects floating on screen, which is unusual for the 2600 architecture)?

I mean: look at what they did with Ms. Pac-Man, that's a great port and it's no wonder it took 8Kb, but Asteroids is mean in both graphics and gameplay, it looks like one of those primitive releases like Space Wars...

Edited by highinfidelity, Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:45 AM.


#2 Rybags OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:21 AM

Given the hardware limitations it wasn't that bad.
The computer version wasn't much better in terms of look/feel. The 7800 version kinda stinks too.

You also have to consider that programming techniques improved with time. And regardless of how much Rom space you have, there's only so much the hardware is capable of.

#3 Thomas Jentzsch OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:52 AM

The game is too easy, agreed. For that I created Sadistroids. :evil:

#4 high voltage OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:54 AM

The extra 4K was needed for the in-game music, colour asteroids, 66variants for one or two players and some other features. Hey I'm sitting at work reading the excellent 'Racing the beam' book.

Read it yourself and you'll find out why some games were like this or that.


#5 high voltage OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:55 AM

Dont like the colours? Use the color/b&w switch.

Edited by high voltage, Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:01 AM.


#6 NE146 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:58 AM

Let's look at it with open eyes:, the way they move only vertically at game start is disappointing,


I was very very disappointed in that too. I recall it well! Of course the even-numbered variations (the so called "fast" asteroids games) make the smaller asteroids fly out at an angle which makes it a little better somewhat.. but the beginning part is just like a curtain of asteroids to your left and right moving straight up and down. What the heck was up with that? :lol: That was really my first and primary beef with the game.

Thomas' hack kind of fixes that with asteroids flying in more angles. But yes, it makes you wonder why they couldn't make an algorithm in a 2600 version that gave more random movement to the asteroids, including the initial big ones.

Edited by NE146, Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:00 AM.


#7 NE146 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:11 AM

Dont like the colours? Use the color/b&w switch.


http://www.atariage....ds-arcade-hack/

Culmination of several hacks (including Thomas') for a slightly better arcade port. Worth checking out :)

#8 ls650 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:20 AM

Personally I really enjoy Asteroids on the 2600. Given the hardware I think it's actually a pretty decent port.

#9 Tin_Lunchbox OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:20 AM

It's not a faithful port but it's a great game. Try variation 4.

Vector graphics in a fine resolution are something the 2600/Video Arcade is not capable of. So the programmer (it was Brad Stewart) played instead to its strengths, he used color and a pretty-well established ship design (last seen in Space War, IIRC). He did an amazing job, and the cartridge deserves all the accolades it gets.

It would be nice, sure, if the large asteroids had a quicker lateral movement rate. I assume there was a technical limitation that made this difficult. Once you start blowing up the asteroids and there's a lot of stuff on screen including the small asteroids moving diagonally, the fact that the larger ones don't is barely noticeable IMO.

#10 Rybags OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:25 AM

In-game music? It's 2 notes with a pause between, probably cost 30 bytes.

More game variations doesn't necessarily mean lots more programming.
Essentially they're just bitsettings which control certain program behaviours.

#11 ComputerSpaceFan ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:43 AM

Thank God someone else said it cuz I have always disliked Asteroids 2600 (and I love the arcade machine). I too am bewildered why so many people list it as a good game.
But having said that, all was put to rights when I played the Asteroids Deluxe game on the FlashBack 2, if they had released that back in the day I would have forgiven all sins that the first title made. Asteroids Deluxe is fantastic!

#12 Rybags OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:52 AM

You can still have poor ports that are good games. It stands up well in the context of 2600 games in general.

That said, I can't think of a single official Asteroids home version that was done faithfully in the day.
Realistically you want 320 pixel mode to get anywhere near a vector look and 32 or more angles for the ships. I don't think any Atari/Atarisoft version did so.

#13 NE146 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:03 AM

Let me just say that I've always liked 2600 Asteroids and agree it was and is a great port (I first hacked it to have "vector" graphics back in 1998). However, it is the 100% truth the "up/down" curtain of asteroids immediately to your left & right was very odd to me initially back when the game was new.

i.e. Why don't any of them start on top or bottom of you? And of course why aren't there any flying left/right?

Yes of course we all know it's most likely a limitation of the 2600, etc. And it is what it is, and it does it fine at the end of the day quite honestly. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I had those questions as a kid especially coming from playing the arcade version. :) It'd be interesting to find out if this was merely a by-product of the way the port is designed, and if a rewritten-from-scratch 2600 Asteroids would be able to get around it and have some nicely random moving big rocks. :lol:

#14 SpiceWare ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:06 AM

It's not a bad port at all, especially when you understand the limitations of the machine. The biggest issue is the Atari only has 2 sprites, and to show all those asteroids flying around is a tricky thing to do. What they ended up doing was to flicker everything. During one update of the screen they draw the ship, saucer and the ship's shots. The other update draws all the asteroids and the saucer's shots.

If you look at the asteroids in motion using the debug colors in Stella:
Asteroids (1981) (Atari) no copyright_3.png

Asteroids (1981) (Atari) no copyright_4.png

you'll notice that one sprite draws all the upward moving asteroids while the other draws all the downward moving asteroids. This lets them draw all those asteroids without adding any more flicker because the upward moving asteroids never cross the path of other upward moving asteroids, and likewise for the downward moving asteroids. Because of this, the only speed variation can be in the left/right movement. As I recall, the even numbered games have more variation in the left/right speeds, so those are the ones I always played.


If you haven't seen it, I've been working on Space Rocks - a remake of Asteroids that has arcade like movement of the asteroids. I'm able to do this because I'm using the 70 HMz ARM CPU found in the Harmony/Melody cartridge to handle all the logic that's required to be able to display up to 48 asteroids, player ships and enemy saucer using just 2 sprites with minimal flicker. Here's the the homebrew forum topic for it, though at the moment the most current build is in my blog.

Here's a video of it in action. There's still a lot of work to be done on the graphics, sound effect and so forth, but the foundation is in place.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uErk65UgCpo

Edited by SpiceWare, Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:08 AM.


#15 SpiceWare ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:14 AM

Realistically you want 320 pixel mode to get anywhere near a vector look and 32 or more angles for the ships. I don't think any Atari/Atarisoft version did so.

While there's no way to get 320 pixels on the 2600, I am using 32 angles for the ship in Space Rocks :D

#16 KevinMos3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:18 AM

I grew up with the Atari versions of games and never saw the arcade machines until a few years later, so I have a hard time understanding people's complaints. I also have a hard time understanding the desire for vector graphics on something like a 2600 (it just can't do good vector). I liked Asteroids on the 2600 and when I saw the arcade machine, I was appalled. Crappy lines with no color??? That was my first impression of the arcade game. It was at a bowling alley and there was no way I was going to put quarters in that. The same thing applied to Battlezone and Defender (although Defender at least had color, but I didn't like the lines for terrain).

I never thought anything of the asteroid movement either. I liked to stay alive as long as possible, so if it had been a lot harder, it may have discouraged me from playing as much. I would often play Asteroids after a long hot day of working on the farm and quickly dying would not have been entertaining.

Maybe it's because of the time & environment in which I grew up. I'm not old enough to have seen an Atari when it first came out. I was actually born the same year as my heavy sixer. ;) My first experience with any video games at all was probably Christmas of '83 or '84 when my cousins got a vader console. I was hooked on Atari from that point and begged for one of my own. I didn't get one until Christmas of '86 when the Jr. came out. By this time, Nintendo was also here and that's what all my friends were getting. I would still have very little arcade experience until a few years later, so by the time I saw these famous arcade machines, I had either been playing Atari for quite some time, or was more accustomed to Nintendo style graphics.

Spiceware's Space Rocks looks great; but even now, I always set the option to solid objects when I play. :)

#17 NE146 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:34 AM

Spiceware: Wow.. Space Rocks looks great! Is it only compatible with a Harmony/Melody cart though? Just curious.

I also have a hard time understanding the desire for vector graphics on something like a 2600 (it just can't do good vector). I liked Asteroids on the 2600 and when I saw the arcade machine, I was appalled. C

I don't think the colors is much a issue with people anymore. It's been fixed 10x over at this point in all sorts of ways. So if you like the original colors, or B&W, or a simulated outline to approximate "vector" graphics, or simulated b&w "vector", it's all available. :)

I never thought anything of the asteroid movement either. I liked to stay alive as long as possible, so if it had been a lot harder, it may have discouraged me from playing as much.


I think it's more a point of variation..All it is is the rocks obviously move in all random directions in the arcade game so the 2600 version just acted so much less so. Whether or not it'd be "harder" is debatable. :) i.e. If you happen to only have 1 or 2 rocks on the screen, it'd probably be the same difficulty whether they moved in a random direction vs just up & down. :lol:

#18 SpiceWare ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:58 AM

Spiceware: Wow.. Space Rocks looks great! Is it only compatible with a Harmony/Melody cart though? Just curious.

Thanks! You can play it in Stella as ARM emulation was added a while back. Make sure you have version 3.7.1 or later though, I discovered a bug with DPC+ emulation while working on Space Rocks, it's been been fixed in that build.

I don't think the colors is much a issue with people anymore.

Ah, but it is. That's why Space Rocks has options for multicolor, white, blue or green :D

#19 FujiSkunk OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:43 AM

I spent many, many childhood hours playing Asteroids, and even now I still say it's a great game on its own merits. Yes, it's limited compared to the arcade game, though not nearly as limited as Pac-Man or Defender. Other than the vertically scrolling asteroids, which is a necessary limitation as SpiceWare explained, there really wasn't too much lost in the translation.

And no disrespect intended, but...

Let's look at it with open eyes:


Right there your argument loses merit. When someone claims a difference of opinion is because of "closed eyes," I get the impression they are not interested in debate, they're just interested in screaming, "You're WRONG!" That may not be what you intended, but it's still the impression you make.

#20 Tinman OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 11:18 AM

Asteroids was one of the very first games I ever got on our Atari, and I've always liked it. When we got our 2600, of course it came with Combat, and my parents bought us Space Invaders to go with it (really, the reason I wanted it in the first place). Then my sister and I were each allowed to pick out a game for ourselves. She picked Missile Command and I picked Asteroids. I've never regretted that decision. :)

Still, Space Rocks is pretty cool! The sheer number of objects flying around on the screen at times is impressive.

#21 DEBRO OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 11:18 AM

Hi there,

Thank God someone else said it cuz I have always disliked Asteroids 2600 (and I love the arcade machine). I too am bewildered why so many people list it as a good game.
But having said that, all was put to rights when I played the Asteroids Deluxe game on the FlashBack 2, if they had released that back in the day I would have forgiven all sins that the first title made. Asteroids Deluxe is fantastic!

Flashback 2 or Flashback 2+ ? :)

#22 ComputerSpaceFan ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:26 PM

Hi there,


I played the Asteroids Deluxe game on the FlashBack 2, if they had released that back in the day I would have forgiven all sins that the first title made. Asteroids Deluxe is fantastic!

Flashback 2 or Flashback 2+ ? :)


Hmmm I have both machines, is Deluxe different on them? Or is it just more stable on the 2+? I have kept that unit in storage "for a rainy day".

#23 KevinMos3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:19 PM

I don't think the colors is much a issue with people anymore.

Ah, but it is. That's why Space Rocks has options for multicolor, white, blue or green :D


And I appreciate that VERY much! :D

#24 NE146 ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:38 PM

'Course I was referring to the colors on the original 2600 port. But that's an awesome feature implemented nonetheless :)

#25 yllawwally OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:02 PM

You can look at the dissasembly yourself to see how they did it. http://www.bjars.com...assemblies.html There is some empty space in the rom. They probably tried to keep it 4k. Once he went past 4k, it didn't matter if he used the space efficiently, as long as he kept it under 8k. A 4,1k game uses the same hardware as a 8k game. Asteroids came out pretty early, before many of the tricks were learned. This was one of the first arcade ports, and was very early in the atari lifetime. It's amazing that it was so close to the arcade. The game plays well. Most arcade ports are easier than the original version. I suspect the arcade version would of had colors if they were available, on the type of monitor they were working with. I played this game alot when I was young.




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