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Designing a cartridge that supports 100% C/C++ game development

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Sorry, yes it was the Melody board I tried to purchase in quantity. And yeah, perfect solution...except for actually getting them in quantity, or feeling like a reliable source could be had. Seems impossible. It's one thing to say something is available and completely another matter to actually get them. If I remember correctly just getting emails returned took weeks. And the answer was always...well maybe. If I'm going to spend weeks writing a game I'd kind of like to know I could actually produce the cart.

 

Yeah, I've heard about this cost thing...a lot. I may be wrong but wouldn't the cost per board be under $10? Maybe way under like maybe $4? I see no reason that should be a factor in selling a game for $75. If it's a kickass board and a kickass game.

 

I don't care if it's a Melody clone or grafts a monkey brain to silicon. Any board that can get the same or better performance would be great. I only care about power. I want the chance to make the best game the 2600 has ever seen.

 

Unfortunately I suck at hardware. But maybe I can learn enough to knock off a board.

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Very true. I tried to buy Harmony cards or license the design awhile back and got no where. Would be great if someone came up with something that developers could use. I don't want to write a game that requires players to own a Harmony cartridge. I want my game to be in a standalone cartridge. It's really been very frustrating.

 

I'm willing to paid for prototype boards and/or a board run and give a number of boards to anyone who can make a Harmony clone...standalone, no loading lots of games. Or discuss other terms.

Talk to Albert. If you want to sell homebrew games that utilize DCP+, he can provide you with melody PCBs I think, if you have a game to place on them. He's been extremely busy with store updates though. DCP+ ROMs currently work on Harmony and Stella emulator for PC/Mac/Linux. Plenty of options for development, for playing ROMs, as well as selling carts.

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Talk to Albert. If you want to sell homebrew games that utilize DCP+, he can provide you with melody PCBs I think, if you have a game to place on them. DCP+ ROMs currently work on Harmony and Stella emulator for PC/Mac/Linux. Plenty of options for playing ROMs as well as selling carts.

I'm sorry, but I'm completely baffled why you think I didn't already do that.

 

Let try to be super clear here.......It is completely insane to think any serious game creator would put themselves completely in the hands of another person/company. Can you imagine Activision writing games and then asking Atari to produce the carts and sell them?????

 

If Albert happens to have a few games in his pipeline well, too busy, or whatever, then it's sorry Charlie.

 

I would never in a million years ever put effort into the development of a product without very clear path to release. That apparently is completely unavailable going thru Albert. It's very much a...well maybe...do the game and let's see... And just to get that "response" takes weeks.

 

Yes, if I was willing to just write a game for fun, then sure...here Albert, do whatever you want...then sure, great channel.

Edited by DanOliver

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Oh....and I don't want to sell homebrew games, I want to sell professional games. I think that is the issue. In order to do that I need a board source. This puts me into competition with Albert so surprise he's not thrilled at the prospect. I wouldn't be either.

 

So, I'd welcome any help in the creation of such a board.

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@Dan, there are more people besides Albert and Batari and CPUWIZ doing boards. Hozer makes some basic PCB designs, although mentioning his name here might get me in trouble. Mostly though if you pick a third party board, you may be limited to the simpler bankswitch schemes like those that existed back in the day. I'm not sure what games you are planning to develop, but I would love to play them. I have nothing but respect for the great "old hat" game designers who developed games back in the day with graph paper and ticker tape.

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Perhaps I'm not explaining myself very well....

 

I want a board that provides Melody type power or better.

 

Is there any source other than Albert and Batari?

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Do you want the most powerful board for writing a classic game in Assembly or a board for writing an ARM game in C++ Dan?

 

I think they may not be the same - BoulderDash for example doesn't use the ARM, but uses more ROM and RAM than the 32K/8K Melody/Harmony is equipped with.

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That's a good question. I don't really know. I'd like whatever gets the most stuff on the screen. I don't really care how or what language.

 

I assume it would kind of depend on the game whether loads of ROM/RAM was better. Are the BoulderDash boards/design available?

 

I really don't understand hardware. It's kind of like the original Atari. The hardware designers create it thinking it can do Pong and simple games. My job is to figure out how to make it do more. I never had any idea what chips were in a 2600. I just knew what values in what memory locations did what.

 

I want to get my hands on something with the most power, something I can manufacture, and see what I can make it do. Melody sounded like it's got a lot of power, that makes it my prime target. I'd rather have more CPU power than ROM/RAM if I had to guess.

 

I want to target a single board and do several games. It takes a few to really understand and exploit a system. And it's cheaper, or at least easier, to use the same board for several games.

 

Open to suggestions. I've been kind of waiting a long hoping something would become available. Was hoping this project was it, but sounds dead now.

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IMO you have two options here:

  • Either you cooperate with Al, one way or the other
  • Or you find someone who creates the hardware you need for you

Both options have their pros and cons, its up to you to decide which way to go.

 

BTW: Boulder Dash uses a Melody board, IIRC.

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I think I read in the past that, only for large quantities, you could buy melody boards and the programmer from Batari. (EDIT: here is the thread: http://atariage.com/forums/topic/185952-questions-about-the-melody-board/) Then you had to provide the cases and labels yourself and build the carts. (No one produces cartridge cases for the 2600 at the moment, so you have to recycle old carts for that)
I also believe that you can have Albert produce all the carts you need (with cases and labels) and have them shipped to you.

 

If, on the other hand, you want your games in the AA store and collect royalties, you have to provide the finished product before a deal can be made.

Also, keep in mind they do this in their spare time, and health and other real life issues have precedence, so if you didn't hear back for wathever reason, my suggestion is to try contacting them again.

The only way you can be sure the hardware isn't discontinued is to design it yourself, or hire someone to do so. Developing the Harmony/Melody took probably a few tens of thousands of dollars just for prototyping.

Yes, if I was willing to just write a game for fun, then sure...here Albert, do whatever you want...then sure, great channel.


Fun is the only reason games for old consoles are still programmed.

Are you willing to make money writing 2600 games?

 

That's unlikely.

Edited by alex_79
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Dan when you wrote Video Games for Atari in the 80's you were given constraints but didn't have to worry about any of the production issues outside of that, and you also didn't have to worry about the size of your target market.

 

If you choose to manufacture tiny cartridges compatible with the Atari portable that would elimiate your production problems and maximize the size of your target market simultaneously because your tiny cartridges would also be compatible with full size classic Atari's via the Harmony mini-cartridge adaptor (sold seperately):

post-30777-0-86052300-1496153573_thumb.jpg

 

That approach would limit you to old-school memory expansion and bank switching like with the StarCastle release that was done in 8K via Kickstarter; that's one way to ensure you have funding for your classic game - I think people liked that the StarCastle project was programmed in optimized Assembly and that a programmer from the 80's wrote it - I prefer it to the other StarCastle (also a great game) because the gameplay reflects that.

 

post-30777-0-00101200-1496154788.jpg

Conversely if you go with a Melody solution you've got KITT in the cartridge but you minimize your market segment by dropping support for the current Atari consoles that are on the market and their actively expanding user base. And as you've observed, you cannot control or gaurantee production.


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IMO you have two options here:

  • Either you cooperate with Al, one way or the other
  • Or you find someone who creates the hardware you need for you

Both options have their pros and cons, its up to you to decide which way to go.

 

BTW: Boulder Dash uses a Melody board, IIRC.

Yes, I choose option #2. Anyone wanting to help? Otherwise, yeah, I'll look other places. Of course the harder this process is the less fun, the less chance of completion.

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I think I read in the past that, only for large quantities, you could buy melody boards and the programmer from Batari.

That was my understanding too. But actually making that happen is an entirely different experience.

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I would recommend against cloning the harmony/melody boards. There are much more powerful microcontrollers available now. Something with hardware FPU would be nice.

 

There's still some uncertainty around bus-stuffing, so I think it makes sense to get it working on the harmony first. Then if the harmony isn't strong enough the driver could easily be ported over to a more powerful microcontroller with minimal effort. It's already known that the melody board just wires an NXP LPC2103 directly to the VCS buses. It would be fairly trivial to do the same thing with a newer LPC series. Something like a LPC4078fbd100 would probably work nicely. In low volumes I think you'll be surprised with the total cost of each assembled board though. I can't imagine there is much margin on the harmony carts.

 

I've always been disappointed that the DPC+ driver wasn't open source. Had it been I'm pretty sure we'd already have bus-stuffing by now. The harmony is a good piece of hardware that has been held back by software. It's just a shame that the entire community wasn't able to contribute to the software.

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Also, keep in mind they do this in their spare time, and health and other real life issues have precedence, so if you didn't hear back for wathever reason....

Bingo. That is the entire issue. It's totally cool for people to do whatever they like, no problem.

 

For me I want to produce some 2600 carts and therefore need a source I can depend on. Therefore that source can't be anyone who does it only when they want to unless of course that person is me. So I'm looking for someone who can help deliver a board I can take to a manufacturer and produce.

 

Cases, labels, boxes I have handled.

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It's just a shame that the entire community wasn't able to contribute to the software.

Hey, I did the menu software. icon_smile.gif

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Fun is the only reason games for old consoles are still programmed.

Are you willing to make money writing 2600 games?

 

That's unlikely.

Thanks. Been told that type of thing on many ventures by endless amounts of people. Sometimes they were even right.

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Dan when you wrote Video Games for Atari in the 80's you were given constraints but didn't have to worry about any of the production issues outside of that, and you also didn't have to worry about the size of your target market.

Size of the target market was always a huge concern in designing a game.

 

At VentureVision production issues for me was a bigger issue than game design. I loved designing the cardboard insert in the box to keep the cart in place, that saved us time and money. I learned the entire production process at Apollo in order to start VentureVision.

 

At Atari, yes, I lost production control. That sucked. The cart, box, manual to me is as much a part of the game as the game itself.

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If you choose to manufacture tiny cartridges compatible with the Atari portable that would elimiate your production problems and maximize the size of your target market simultaneously because your tiny cartridges would also be compatible with full size classic Atari's via the Harmony mini-cartridge adaptor (sold seperately):

attachicon.gifPIXELS rare blue mini Atari 2600 cartridge.jpg

 

That approach would limit you to old-school memory expansion and bank switching like with the StarCastle release that was done in 8K via Kickstarter; that's one way to ensure you have funding for your classic game - I think people liked that the StarCastle project was programmed in optimized Assembly and that a programmer from the 80's wrote it - I prefer it to the other StarCastle (also a great game) because the gameplay reflects that.

 

attachicon.gifKITT.jpg

Conversely if you go with a Melody solution you've got KITT in the cartridge but you minimize your market segment by dropping support for the current Atari consoles that are on the market and their actively expanding user base. And as you've observed, you cannot control or gaurantee production.

 

 

Hmmm... I have to check out the portable. Thanks.

 

However, I still want to target Melody or similar board. It's hard to describe...desire to make the best 2600 games ever. You know, writing this I had a thought. I have been focused on a market of 100-200 carts per game. Maybe I should just release 5-10 copies. I can get Melody boards for that number. Hmmmm, indeed.

 

Maybe target the portable for other games. Not super appealing, kind of same old same old. But maybe.

 

OK, talked myself into it. If I can't get a Melody type board that I can produce I'll just do 5-10 copies. Thanks for the back and forth, helps me think.

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I would recommend against cloning the harmony/melody boards. There are much more powerful microcontrollers available now. Something with hardware FPU would be nice.

 

There's still some uncertainty around bus-stuffing, so I think it makes sense to get it working on the harmony first. Then if the harmony isn't strong enough the driver could easily be ported over to a more powerful microcontroller with minimal effort. It's already known that the melody board just wires an NXP LPC2103 directly to the VCS buses. It would be fairly trivial to do the same thing with a newer LPC series. Something like a LPC4078fbd100 would probably work nicely. In low volumes I think you'll be surprised with the total cost of each assembled board though. I can't imagine there is much margin on the harmony carts.

 

I've always been disappointed that the DPC+ driver wasn't open source. Had it been I'm pretty sure we'd already have bus-stuffing by now. The harmony is a good piece of hardware that has been held back by software. It's just a shame that the entire community wasn't able to contribute to the software.

I'd be thrilled to be able to write for something better than Melody. I'd be willing to kick in cash, maybe others would. Be great to make it all open source.

 

I suck at hardware so no help there. But anything I can do software wise I'd be happy to help. Developer system, tools, drivers.

 

One thing though...Hardware people often look at these things from a hardware standpoint, of course. They see the hardware as they designed and them have a specific expectation. I on the other hand look at hardware as something to be exploited, violated, bent over a chair so to speak. So I would very much like to get a board built with whatever goodies a hardware designer can cram in then design a game. Designing a game for Melody and porting it just sounds a little limiting to me. But I don't really know anything about hardware. It just seems if the new board had a more powerful CPU, maybe a FPU, or whatever, that a game could be designed better to exploit those features.

 

And I say screw cost. And screw making it easy to program. I never really understood this C++ thing. C++ easier than Assembly, or libraries making it easier. Well yeah, for doing "a" game. Not for doing the greatest games ever.

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I suck at hardware so no help there. But anything I can do software wise I'd be happy to help. Developer system, tools, drivers.

 

If you could help with the new bus-stuffing driver that would be awesome. Since the driver is so close to hardware you really need to be set up with a logic analyzer to be effective though. Would you at least be comfortable with doing a little soldering and bread boarding? It's nothing complicated, basically you just need to create a breakout box to attach the logic analyzer to the VCS address and data bus. It's less than $200, including the logic analyzer, to get something similar to this:

 

post-40226-0-49226100-1488335867_thumb.jpg

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The lingering uncertainty about bus stuffing has to do with warm-up latency, right? I know in my particular case that stuffing took different amounts of time to start working when starting from different room temperatures.

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If you could help with the new bus-stuffing driver that would be awesome. Since the driver is so close to hardware you really need to be set up with a logic analyzer to be effective though. Would you at least be comfortable with doing a little soldering and bread boarding? It's nothing complicated, basically you just need to create a breakout box to attach the logic analyzer to the VCS address and data bus. It's less than $200, including the logic analyzer, to get something similar to this:

 

Absolutely. I can handle soldering and bread boarding as long as I'm told exactly what goes where. You can email me 3635 at waterbugdesign plus com if you like.

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That's a good question. I don't really know. I'd like whatever gets the most stuff on the screen. I don't really care how or what language.

See here:

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/258191-bus-stuffing-demos/

 

The entire display kernel basically gets hijacked with the ARM directly controlling the TIA. Since this requires bus conflicts to work by over-driving the bus, certain models of the Atari don't like it well. Most genuine 4- and 6-switch models can handle it, but some Jr models and 7800s may not

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I'm not sure what games you are planning to develop, but I would love to play them.

 

OK, talked myself into it. If I can't get a Melody type board that I can produce I'll just do 5-10 copies.

So it will only ever be an extremely limited production to be hoarded by collectors. So guys like me, who actually might have an interest to play your game, can't. :sad:

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