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The Southsider

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About this blog

Atari musings and random thoughts

Entries in this blog

 

Programming on Paper

I have always preferred programming on paper for some reason. I think this is because I didn't have a computer at home when I first learned to program. The only computer available to me for a long time was in my school, and its usage was strictly controlled and very limited. As a result, I used to write out my programs by hand in exercise books, and spend my precious computer time typing-in these listings and attempting to debug them. At the end of the session, I would print out what I h

cd-w

cd-w

 

Juno Third

It has been a while since my last blog posting, and I haven't been very active on the site recently. This is not because I have lost interest in the Atari - it is just that I haven't had time to do much on my various projects lately. The main distraction has been a book that I have been writing for the past year. The publishers deadline was the end of February, and as usual I ended up writing the majority of it in the last two months! However, now that it is out of the way I should hav

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Juno Second

I have produced another Juno First kernel demo which is attached to this message. This mockup shows the aliens at fixed positions, and you can fire the ships laser. This demo is basically just to check that there is enough time to display the scrolling background and reposition the aliens in a 1 Line Kernel (1LK). The background lines actually skip over the repositioning lines which makes it a bit jerky, but this will be fixed later.The next step will basically require a complete kernel re

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Juno First

There has been some discussion on these blogs lately about good arcade games to port to the 2600. In particular, Manuel posted a list of obscure titles in his Planet Bob blog. Since I hadn't heard of most of them before, I decided to fire up MAME and try them out on my new X-Arcade stick. The game which I enjoyed the most is probably Juno First, which is a bit like a vertically scrolling version of Defender. I am surprised this game isn't more popular as it seems very similar to the cl

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New Year

The start of a New Year is one of my favourite times. In Scotland, the beginning of the year (called Hogmanay) has traditionally been the most important celebration of the year. The city of Edinburgh (where I live) has a huge street party every year to celebrate Hogmanay, which involves fireworks, music, dancing, and excessive drinking! It is a time that can be appreciated by anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or cultural calendar. From my own point of view, I like the opportuni

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Pipe Mania

I often seem to have the following motivation problem: whatever task Iam supposed to be working on is the thing that I least want to do,while the thing that I can't work on is the thing that I most want todo! This seems to hold regardless of the tasks that are involved. Iseem to be constantly forcing myself to get on with the essentialtasks, while my mind is pulling me towards the less important tasks.I suppose this is just a corollary to the "shiny object syndrome" thatI described in my blog

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GlobeTrotter Visit

GlobeTrotter (Trotter for short) is currently visiting me here in Edinburgh as he continues on his worldwide tour. I was supposed to pick him up at the vgXpo but he didn't make it in time, so he came by mail instead. There were some delays as he got impounded by customs on the way over and I had to pay import duty to retrieve him, but eventually he arrived. If this all sounds like gibberish, then this thread should enlighten you Anyway, he will be continuing his journeys soon, but I have

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Minigames

It has been rather quiet for me on the Atari front lately, after all of the excitement of the show. Since I returned the other facets of life have been taking up all my time, leaving little room for anything Atari related. It is that time of year when an endless succession of parties and engagements fill up the weekends, and work becomes hectic trying to meet all of those arbritrary end-of-year deadlines. I suspect that I won't have much time now to work on PoP until the New Year, though th

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Showtime

I attended my first computer show ever yesterday: the vgXpo in Philadelphia (formerly PhillyClassic). I thought I would post my impressions and experiences here just in case anyone is interested Unfortunately I didn't take a camera to the show, but hopefully there will be some pictures by other AA member soon.I have been visiting the AA site for a bit over a year now, since I first got into the Atari 2600 homebrew scene. During that time I have read about various computer shows in the USA o

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Signs of Life

OK, I know I said that the last entry would be my last update for a while. However, I couldn't resist tweaking the PoP code just a little more before I leave! I came up with a nice way to animate the objects in the game, so this update contains flickering torches and bubbling potions. The sprites were done in a hurry and will be improved later, but you should get the idea. I have done some initial work on the spikes in this version (see screenshot): they spring up when you get near, but

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A Brighter Outlook

This will probably be my last entry for a while as I am off next week to Washington DC for a conference, and then on to the vgXpo in Philadelphia the following weekend. Fortunately things are looking better for the vgXpo now as many people on the forum have said they are still going, and AA will have a stand there after all. The Hunchy 2 carts have now been soldered by Al, and should be available for sale at the show. If there are any bugs still remaining in Hunchy 2 then it is too late!

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Highs & Lows

The Highs:Juston has finished the label for Hunchy 2 and it looks amazing (see below). My first Atari cart release looks set to happen real soon, and I can't wait to see the finished product. The 2005 minigame multicart is also coming along nicely, and will contain some of my minigames (Hunchy, Jetman & Nightrider). The deadline for the minigame competition is also nearly here and I hope my games will do well, though the competition is tough.The Lows:I have booked my flights and accomo

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Limits of Scale

As someone who has been taught Software Engineering, there is something both refreshing and frightening about assembly programming on the Atari. On the one hand, all of the standard rules about abstraction, modularity, generic data structures and exception handling go out of the window as there is simply not enough memory or cycles. On the other hand, the resulting code ends up becoming increasingly complex and tangled in the quest for space and efficiency!My PoP project is now the largest as

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Tile Trouble

I have been spending the last week getting Hunchy II into shape for the PhillyClassic show. I think I have the final binary (barring some possible tweaks to the tile screen), jussts is nearly finished the label, and the manual text is written and being compiled by Tony Morse. With luck, my first Atari 2600 cart game will soon be released, and I can't wait to play it!As part of the testing process for Hunchy II I unpacked my Supercharger from storage. At the same time I decided to see if Po

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Lickety-Switch

Another quick PoP update:Following on from last time I have now managed to connect the switches and doors together. The attached demo shows the results with three switches and two doors. The upper switch opens the left door on a timer (it closes again after a delay), the lower right switch opens the right door, and the lower left switch closes the right door. There were an unbelievable number of special cases to consider, e.g. closing a door that is half open, but I think I have got them al

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Sliding Doors

Just a quick update on my PoP project:In my last entry I outlined a complex scheme for implementing the doors and switches. After a weekend of programming I have now implemented the doors part (see attached) and it appears to work. I have also coded most of the switches part, but it isn't linked to the collision detection yet. The attached code shows two doors being animated. The cool part is that if you go off the screen to the left or right then you see the same doors moving. The ne

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Multi-tasking

I am not very good at multitasking. I find it difficult to switch from one project to another, and so I tend to give a single project my full attention for some time while ignoring the rest. My problem is that I have a lot of projects, including redecorating my house, writing a book, developing several websites, and learning to drive. I guess that my girlfriend should also be included in that list! As a result, my Atari projects tend to move along at a relatively slow pace, with occasiona

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Collision Detection

In my opinion, one of the hallmarks of a successful game design is that the player should feel fully immersed in the experience. That is, rather than the player simply feeling that they are controlling the game character remotely, they should feel as if they ARE the character itself. All of the great games that I have played have given me this feeling. For example, when playing Super Mario Bros, I soon start to feel the out-of-body effect and I become Mario himself. I stop noticing the c

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BASIC Programming

A little spot of nostalgia as I haven't done anything on PoP in the past week:I enjoy reading the posts on the recently formed Atari 2600 Basic Programming Forum. A lot of the issues that are raised, and the problems faced remind me of my own experiences with BASIC programming many years ago. I think it is a shame that modern computers do not come with a built-in BASIC interpreter as it is a great tool for teaching programming to beginners without the complexities of pointers or objects (prov

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Kernels

If you read any discussion on Atari 2600 game programming you will soon come across the term "kernel". For the uninitiated, the kernel is the part of the code responsible for getting a picture on the screen. In any game, the Atari spends around 3/4 of its time in the kernel, so getting this code right is crucial. The reason that a kernel is required is a quirk in the design of the Atari. Memory (RAM) was expensive at that time, and so the console was designed without any video memory.

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Running to Stand Still

There are some times in programming, particularly on the 2600, that you have to expend a lot of effort to achieve relatively little. The last few days working on the PoP kernel have been like this for me. Having now become convinced of the safety and benefits of the undocumented 6502 instructions, I decided to use them to improve the efficiency of my code. In particular, I wasn't happy with the self-modifying code used in the kernel. Although this code was working fine, it was taking 14

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PoP Development

I have been dropping hints for some time about a new Supercharger project that I have been working on. However, I am now finally ready to reveal some details about this project. The main reason for the delay was that I had some difficulties getting my head around the oddities of the Supercharger. On reflection it doesn't appear too complex now, but the lack of clear documentation (now fixed thanks to Eric), and the way you have to read memory to write caused me some big headaches. I ende

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Europe & The PSP

You need to have a thick-skin to be a gamer in Europe. Since the beginning, we have had to suffer from shoddy PAL conversions, lengthy release shedules, and a feeling of total neglect in the market. I am sure there are parts of the world that are worse off, but Europe always comes in as a distinct third place behind Japan and the US. Particularly galling is that a great many games are actually written in Europe, but are still subject to these problems. The latest insult to us Europeans was

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Perfectionism

I am a perfectionist in may areas of my life. To others, I probably come across as somewhat of a pedant, but I remain unapologetic! I think this quality is present, and necessary, in almost any gamer and programmer. It is this quality that drives one to collect every gold coin in Mario, to achieve the highest score, or squeeze every last byte and cycle out of the Atari 2600. However, there are times when this quest for perfection can get in the way, or it becomes increasingly unclear what "p

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Motivation

When I tell people that I write games for the Atari 2600 in my spare time, the first question they ask is usually an incredulous "Why?". Unfortunately I don't have a good answer for this, and my arguments about it being fun and challenging usually fall on deaf ears. At the end of the conversation, I am often left wishing that I hadn't brought it up. Not that I am ashamed of it you understand, just that it is difficult to convey to the uninitiated what an interesting and rewarding activity

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