Jump to content

Photo

Porting ZGRASS... anywhere


13 replies to this topic

#1 kenjennings OFFLINE  

kenjennings

    Dragonstomper

  • 747 posts
  • Me + sio2pc-usb + 70 old floppies
  • Location:Florida, USA

Posted Sun Feb 21, 2016 10:55 PM

I read in a couple places that ZGRASS was ported to PC, Mac, and Amiga as "RT/1". Does anyone have any of these? I haven't been able to find a download for Amiga, and the applicable occurrences of ZGRASS and RT1 on Google are so few that I have little hope of this existing.

Is there original source code available for ZGRASS on the astrocade? I haven't found that either.

Has anyone considered porting ZGRASS to other platforms, say something comparable in the 8-bit world, like the Atari 8-bits??

#2 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:39 PM

I read in a couple places that ZGRASS was ported to PC, Mac, and Amiga as "RT/1". [...] I haven't been able to find a download for Amiga, [...]

 
First off, for those that don't know what ZGRASS is, here's the short definition from Wikipedia, "GRASS (GRAphics Symbiosis System) was a programming language created to script 2D vector graphics animations.  [...] A later version that was adapted to support raster graphics was known as ZGrass."  The full ZGRASS article is here:
 
https://en.wikipedia...mming_language)
 
Outside of the Wikipedia article, I have never heard of "RT/1."  Who made this?  When was it released?  Could you please provide any non-Wikipedia link(s) to some of the information about "RT/1" that you have found?
 
I'd love to play around with a version of ZGRASS (if that's what "RT/1" is: a port of the language) for the Amiga.  The Amiga's hardware seems like a perfect match for ZGRASS on a 16-bit computer, just as ZGRASS for the Atari 8-bit seems like a great fit too.  I guess an Atari version of ZGRASS would have to be called AGRASS (Atari GRASS), as ZGRASS was short for Z80 GRASS.
 
For those who may not be familiar with what the ZGRASS language is capable of producing graphically, here are some screenshots, which are on the front of a folder:
 
uv-1_folder_1of4.jpg
 
The inside and back of the folder has many more pictures that can all be seen here:
 
http://www.ballyalle...v-1_folder.html
 
Just last week I re-scanned this folder in at 1200dpi.  Here's an example of one of those pictures ("dumbed down" to 600dpi so it's not too large):
 
ZGRASS (Weather Forecast).jpg
 

Is there original source code available for ZGRASS on the astrocade? I haven't found that either. [...] Has anyone considered porting ZGRASS to other platforms, say something comparable in the 8-bit world, like the Atari 8-bits??

 
I'm not sure how the language could be ported to the Atari without the source code (or, possibly, a disassembly of the ZGRASS ROM).  The ZGRASS language isn't available in binary or source form for the Astrocade-- although just recently (within the last month) a prototype ZGRASS Viper 1 was sold which contains ZGRASS 32 (a 32K version of ZGRASS-- called, for that very reason ZGRASS 32).  I think (but am not sure) that the National Videogame Museum purchased that system.
 
Here are a few pictures of that recently sold Viper 1:
 
Viper Z-GRASS 2000 (Auction)_02 (Keyboard and Case).jpg
Viper Z-GRASS 2000 (Auction)_02 (Finished Consumer Ready).jpg
 
The version of ZGRASS that you'd want to get your hands onto would be the one released with the DataMax UV/1 computer:
 
https://en.wikipedia...ki/Datamax_UV-1
 
That system featured hi-res mode, which the Astrocade only had available in the arcade games that used the Astrocade chipset (such as "Wizard of Wor" and "Gorf").
 
I don't know of any UV-1 computers available, nor of any dumps of this system's ROMs.  Possibly you could contact Tom DeFanti about ZGRASS.  In the early 2000s he sent me a whole bunch of information on ZGRASS.  All of this information found its way to various parts of BallyAlley.com.  For instance, you can find it here:
 
General ZGRASS Documentation:
 
http://www.ballyalle...ass/zgrass.html
 
The ZGRASS Manual:
 
http://www.ballyalle...sary_Manual.pdf
 
ZGRASS Videos:
 
http://www.ballyalle...V-1_Videos.html
 
Ken, let me know of anything that I can do to possibly help you obtain your goal of getting ZGRASS going on an Atari.  (Yeah, I know the first step needs to be getting some form of ZGRASS...)

Edited by ballyalley, Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:54 PM.


#3 Komb' OFFLINE  

Komb'

    Combat Commando

  • 7 posts
  • Location:Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Posted Wed Feb 24, 2016 7:52 PM

Well, you could try revise engineering it from the user manual.

 

Of course, the results may not be 100% accurate. But you'd have to make allowances for the different architecture anyway.



#4 kenjennings OFFLINE  

kenjennings

    Dragonstomper

  • Topic Starter
  • 747 posts
  • Me + sio2pc-usb + 70 old floppies
  • Location:Florida, USA

Posted Sat Feb 27, 2016 9:06 AM

 
Outside of the Wikipedia article, I have never heard of "RT/1."  Who made this?  When was it released?  Could you please provide any non-Wikipedia link(s) to some of the information about "RT/1" that you have found?
 

 

The text on the Wikipedia page appears to be taken from Thomas A. DeFanti's page on EVL about GRASS. 

 

https://www.evl.uic....try.php?id=1935

 

"The last version of GRASS was RT / 1, a port of GRASS to other platforms that seperated the language from the display model and allowed it to be ported to other platforms. Versions existed for DOS, Windows, SGI platform using OpenGL, HP-UX, AIX, Macintosh and Amiga."

 

I sent an email to Tom DeFanti inquiring about the ports.  This took a few tries.  Invalid email addresses.  The last one I sent hasn't bounced so far.  We'll see how this goes.



#5 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Sat Feb 27, 2016 1:16 PM

 

I sent an email to Tom DeFanti inquiring about the ports.  [...] We'll see how this goes.

 

Good luck finding out about the ports of ZGRASS, from Tom.  I suppose if you manage to get a hold of him he may be able to point you to some form of the original GRASS or ZGRASS.  If ZGRASS is ever dumped into a ROM image, then I hope that support for it is added into the Astrocade emulation in MAME.  Possibly Tom could actually post into this thread?



#6 kenjennings OFFLINE  

kenjennings

    Dragonstomper

  • Topic Starter
  • 747 posts
  • Me + sio2pc-usb + 70 old floppies
  • Location:Florida, USA

Posted Sun Feb 28, 2016 4:22 PM

Remarkably, I have an answer.. .   He was pretty nice about the interruption and provided a lot of interesting facts:

 

Hi Ken,

The Graphics Symbiosis System (GRASS) was written in PDP-11 assembler and only ran on the PDP-11 and Vector General Display.  I stopped working on it in the late 1970s.  The Zgrass language was written in Z-80 assembler and ran only with a Bally Arcade chipset for graphics. J. Fenton and Nola Donato and I wrote it, and we stopped working on it in the early '80s.  In the mid-80's, I started working on the C version of Zgrass called RT/1. It ran on several platforms (IBM PCs and the like, and Apple Macs) mainly with Truevision Targa graphics frame buffer cards, and we kept it going until the early '90s when I switched my attention to virtual reality on SGI computers.  
 
GRASS had lists of x,y,z endpoints that defined lines to be drawn by the graphics hardware (it was a caligraphic or stroke display, not a pixel display). Zgrass was a 2D pixel-based system, as was RT/1. 
 
GRASS was backed up on then standard 9-track mag tape. I have one of these, but how to read it, and if it is readable are unknowns.  I don't have any media with Zgrass code preserved.  I have one Mac 3/5" floppy with RT/1 on it, but I don't know if it has source code or just the executable.  
 
All these languages had BASIC-like syntax, with the addition of pretty sophisticated string manipulation so that one could craft and execute program segments with programs.  And, of course, they had high level primitives optimized in assembler that made the languages operate as real-time instruments with a keen sense of timing, like video games and musical instruments.  The sense of time, of course, never really existed in standard graphics languages which pretty much built up complex frames in orders of magnitude slower than 30fps.  
 
If I run into any more documentation, I will contact you.  Whatever I have is stored in my cabin in Wisconsin, and I don't get there often, typically going only mid-summer. 
 
Thanks for your inquiry.  

..tom..

 

 

 

Not a lot of good news.   Looks like the business end of *grass could be largely lost unless someone else who worked on it retained the related media.   Perhaps when summer comes around he'll be able to recover something.

 



#7 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Sun Feb 28, 2016 8:04 PM

Remarkably, I have an answer.. .   He was pretty nice about the interruption and provided a lot of interesting facts


Thanks for sharing the full email with us. I'm glad that he got back to you so quickly. Now I'm going to
 

The Graphics Symbiosis System (GRASS) was written in PDP-11 assembler and only ran on the PDP-11 and Vector General Display.


The GRASS system is what was used in the original Star Wars movie trench computer animation sequence:
 
animating_the_death_star_trench_tn.jpg

http://www.ballyalle...DeathStarTrench
 
Surely there are some Star Wars fans that must have looked deeply into this subject before.  I'd like to see more information about the links between GRASS and Star Wars.
 

In the mid-80's, I started working on the C version of Zgrass called RT/1. It ran on several platforms (IBM PCs and the like, and Apple Macs) mainly with Truevision Targa graphics frame buffer cards, and we kept it going until the early '90s

 
I'm a little fuzzy on Tom's explanation of RT/1. Was RT/1 a commercial product?  If so, when was it released?  Tom makes no mention mention of the Amiga. Was that version actually created?  I recently ran across a mention of the Targa graphics card in an article about ZGRASS-- but I can't remember where.  Somewhere on BallyAlley.com-- I just can't remember in which article.  Ugh.
 

GRASS was backed up on then standard 9-track mag tape. I have one of these, but how to read it, and if it is readable are unknowns.


Getting data off those 9-track tapes will be an interesting issue if the tape is still available.  The Atari community has archived 9-track tapes from Atari, right?  Maybe if this GRASS tape pops up, then they can help sort out any archived-related issues.
 

I have one Mac 3/5" floppy with RT/1 on it, but I don't know if it has source code or just the executable.


Reading a floppy disk will be easy compared to a 9-track tape! If Tom comes across this Mac disk over the summer, then that would be great.  Even if the source code isn't available, it would be neat to see the RT/1 system running.  How difficult, do you suppose, the target Targa boards to come by nowadays?
 

[GRASS, ZGRASS and RT/1] had BASIC-like syntax, [...] they had high level primitives [...] that made the languages operate as real-time instruments [...].


It is the real-time use of ZGRASS that I always found intriguing.  For instance, Jane Veeder created "WarpItOut" using ZGRASS.  Here's an article (with some pictures) about it:

 

http://www.ballyalle...talk)(1983).pdf

 

Here's some video of "WarpItOut" in action:

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=UcU1LyGdg3k

 

"WarpItOut" was placed inside an arcade game-like cabinet for use.  It looked like this:

 

WARPITOUT-Jane_Veeder.jpg
 

Looks like the business end of *grass could be largely lost unless someone else who worked on it retained the related media. Perhaps when summer comes around he'll be able to recover something.


This is sad to hear, but not unexpected. I wonder if Tom can tip you off to some other people to talk to. Perhaps Larry Cuba?

Man, this makes me really yearn to work on the Bally Alley Astrocast podcast!  Interviewing these people needs seems like it really should happen!



#8 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Fri Jul 1, 2016 11:38 AM

Yesterday I OCRed an article by Tom Meeks called ZGRASS Language.  This was published on pages 5-7 of the April 1981 issue of The BASIC Express (formally known as Cursor) newsletter.  It begins with an editor's note:

 

"To show our readers the ease with which ZGRASS (the system language utilized by the AstroVision Add-Under for the Bally Arcade) can be learned, we asked Tom Meeks, who is a proud owner of the UV-1 (hi-res, $5,000 version of the Add-Under) to write an article for us explaining the use of the language. Tom, needless to say, is in love with the unit and plans to purvey ZGRASS-32 units to educational institutions."

 

Here is the article's first paragraph:

 

"Actually, it's much harder to write about Zgrass objectively than to learn it in the first place. There is something about the Zgrass language that brings out the "G-O-l-l-y!" and "Gee-Whiz!" in me. So, while I'll do my best to be objective and cool in appraising the capabilities of Tom DeFanti's brainchild... the truth is that it's just too much fun to pick at with any fervor."

 

This article shows some programming examples, which are really quite interesting.  The article can be read here:

 

http://www.ballyalle...Tom Meeks).html

 

Hopefully this summer Tom DeFanti can find some of his ZGRASS material-- that would be super neat!

 

Adam



#9 Mr SQL OFFLINE  

Mr SQL

    Stargunner

  • 1,711 posts

Posted Fri Jul 1, 2016 6:39 PM

 

Remarkably, I have an answer.. .   He was pretty nice about the interruption and provided a lot of interesting facts:

 

...All these languages had BASIC-like syntax, with the addition of pretty sophisticated string manipulation so that one could craft and execute program segments with programs.  And, of course, they had high level primitives optimized in assembler that made the languages operate as real-time instruments with a keen sense of timing, like video games and musical instruments.  The sense of time, of course, never really existed in standard graphics languages which pretty much built up complex frames in orders of magnitude slower than 30fps.  
 
If I run into any more documentation, I will contact you.  Whatever I have is stored in my cabin in Wisconsin, and I don't get there often, typically going only mid-summer. 
 
Thanks for your inquiry.  

..tom..

 

Not a lot of good news.   Looks like the business end of *grass could be largely lost unless someone else who worked on it retained the related media.   Perhaps when summer comes around he'll be able to recover something.

 

 

 

 

ZGRASS sounds really powerful for making Video games - particularly the BASIC features for controlling the graphics operations per frame in real time.

 

vwBASIC for the 2600 has similar fine grain 30 fps (or even 60) control over blitter operations and musical instruments.

 

The quick start guide has a couple of examples:

Attached File  vwBASIC_quick_start_guide.pdf   617.88KB   45 downloads

 

vwBASIC also mirrors ZGRASS "numerous instructions for specifying 2D object animation, including scaling, translation, rotation and color changes over time."

 

If you want to code with something like ZGRASS on the Atari, vwBASIC may be fun to try!  :)



#10 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Thu Aug 4, 2016 9:47 AM

Remarkably, I have an answer [from Tom Defanti].

[Back in February, Tom wrote, "Whatever I have [related to ZGRASS] is stored in my cabin in Wisconsin, and I don't get there often, typically going only mid-summer."]

Perhaps when summer comes around he'll be able to recover something.


Now it's mid-summer.  Do you wanna try contacting him again?

 

Adam



#11 kenjennings OFFLINE  

kenjennings

    Dragonstomper

  • Topic Starter
  • 747 posts
  • Me + sio2pc-usb + 70 old floppies
  • Location:Florida, USA

Posted Sun Nov 6, 2016 10:31 PM

Now it's mid-summer.  Do you wanna try contacting him again?

 

 

Thanks for reminding me.  

 

Tom, not nearly as lazy as I am, replied to me right away.....

 

I looked through my stuff in September.  I did not find any GRASS/Zgrass related stuff that isn't on videotape.  I did find a source code listing for the Bally Arcade, but it is marked confidential on every page, and this is my signed-out copy.  I'd need to get permission from someone, I do not know whom, to release me of this confidentiality.  Is there any traceable ownership (Astrocade?).  On the other hand, you may already have this document--there were a bunch handed out to the programmers and developers.
 
I have a 9-track tape in my office here with source code in .rol format for GRASS (PDP-11 assembler) if it still reads. It's been untouched for ~35 years.
 
Have you contacted Steve Heminover in Chicago?  He has piles of related materials, I believe.

 

 

 

So, pending questions. . .

 

1) What is the state of Bally/Astrocade proprietary/confidential information?   Who owns it?   Who would have to give Tom permission to release it?  (assuming he has something new we haven't seen before.)

 

2) Who has the resources to read that old tape?   Is 9-track tape/source code in .rol format for PDP-11 assembler enough information?



#12 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Mon Nov 7, 2016 11:27 AM

1) What is the state of Bally/Astrocade proprietary/confidential information?   Who owns it?   Who would have to give Tom permission to release it?  (assuming he has something new we haven't seen before.)

 

2) Who has the resources to read that old tape?   Is 9-track tape/source code in .rol format for PDP-11 assembler enough information?

 

I'm glad that you heard back from him.  I'm not sure who owns the rights to this information.  Bally sold the rights to Astrovision in the early 80s.  I have no idea who owns the rights now.  I'll ask this questions to the BallyAlley Yahoo group today.

 

I really glad that the ZGRASS source code exists in some format!

 

Adam



#13 ranger_lennier OFFLINE  

ranger_lennier

    Chopper Commander

  • 141 posts

Posted Sat Nov 12, 2016 5:28 PM

I think it would be very difficult to determine what became of the ZGRASS rights without looking at the associated contracts. If it's a major company like Bally, Warner Bros., etc., I doubt they would just release them. It's not that they'd exactly care. In fact, I'd say the odds of any consequences for just releasing it without permission are minuscule. But there's no advantage to them even taking the time to figure out who owns it.

 

At one point, Alternative Engineering, a small third party hardware developer, had a license to release the add-under with ZGRASS. I don't know the terms of that deal, but it's not impossible they still have those rights. I've talked to one of Alternative Engineering's owners, Ed Larkin, fairly recently. I believe he no longer had any documents, though, and wasn't sure how to contact the other former owners of the company.

 

Does Tom have other versions of ZGRASS, such as for the Datamax UV-1 computer?

 

I could probably find someone who could read an old tape if he were willing to loan it out.


  • jhd likes this

#14 ballyalley OFFLINE  

ballyalley

    Stargunner

  • 1,371 posts
  • Location:Albuquerque, NM

Posted Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:51 PM

I think it would be very difficult to determine what became of the ZGRASS rights without looking at the associated contracts. If it's a major company like Bally, Warner Bros., etc., I doubt they would just release them.


I agree with this-- it would be difficult to find who owns the rights to ZGRASS.  I did ask on the Bally Alley Yahoo group if anyone know who owns the rights to the Bally games. Only one person answered that post. I was hoping for more of an answer, but no one ever follow-up on my question.  On November 7, Lance Squire replied to what he knows about who owns the rights to the games:
 

"Near as I can tell from this Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia...ki/Midway_Games

What ever assets were left of Bally/Midway are now owned by Warner Bros.

Someone could contact them, but I don't think they would care about the Zgrass source being released.

But then, I am Not a lawyer. :)


I really have no idea how to track the rights down the publishers. Does anyone have experience with this? How is it done?
 

Does Tom have other versions of ZGRASS, such as for the Datamax UV-1 computer?


Even getting a clear picture of the UV-1 computer from Tom DeFanti would be great. The only picture of the UV-1 that I've ever seen is very grainy and is quite low-quality. It's hard to even know what the machine looks like from the picture.  This page on BallyAlley.com has pictures of the ZGRASS and the UV-1 computer (that runs the ZGRASS language):

 

http://www.ballyalle...grass_pics.html

 

If anyone knows of other pictures of the UV-1 computer, then please point them out to me.
 

I could probably find someone who could read an old tape if he were willing to loan it out.


That would be cool if the 9-track tape could be dumped-- although it seems that Tom would first need to be assured that the ZGRASS code could be released... and I'm not sure how to do that.

Adam






0 user(s) are browsing this forum

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users