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Andrew Davie

The Video Game Homebrew Crash of 2016

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I've also been having a lot of fun with RAM kernels (some people call them self-modifying, but normally the modification is done outside of the actual kernel), I think theres still a lot of potential in this - see: http://atariage.com/forums/topic/195210-very-early-wip-of-something-ive-been-working-on-for-ages/and http://atariage.com/forums/topic/223257-arkanoid-2600/?p=2985254 - I think circus atariage employs similar techniques.

Originally it was the idea but that quickly changed to rom kernels. The game will turn out to be 32k with no extra ram. The Atarivox will be used for highscores and verbage. I'm proud of CAA. It is the first game to ever smoothly scroll 18 P1's in one row. Although its done with flicker I've also did demos that were flickerless, but of course in CAA we need to mask some balloons while drawing the catcher too.

 

I'm also proud of the 7 digit display in there... In particular how I implemented the colors.

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when does it cease to be an Atari 2600 game?

If a time traveler from the year 2116 handed me a cartridge that had tech in it that has more computing power than all of the computing power that exists today combined then as long as it can be plugged into my Atari and contains a game I would consider it an Atari game.

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If a time traveler from the year 2116 handed me a cartridge that had tech in it that has more computing power than all of the computing power that exists today combined then as long as it can be plugged into my Atari and contains a game I would consider it an Atari game.

 

I think eisposta summed it up pretty well without realizing it - if playing the game entails swapping out the 6502 for another CPU the game is no longer running on the Atari, it's literally running on top of the Atari.

 

What if the cart had video and audio out and usb controller ports? Would you still consider it an Atari game?

 

Suppose I put my slim PS2 atop my Vader? It fit's perfectly and looks streamlined like an expansion unit that plays 128-bit Emotion Engine games on the VCS, kind of like the Colecovision expansion unit.

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Never understood the logic of people who actively collect after market games. Sure some of these games may be fun to play but collecting them esp bad ones? I don't understand it and never will. They weren't made during the lifespan of the system. In other hobbies these would be considered nothing more than replicas. Imagine some WWII collector trying to collect every WWII replica item ! He would have to track down every snap it model airplane,every modern Nazi flag and every D-Day anniversary ceramic plate. Most of it is overpriced junk that can't be sold for 1/2 of the release price.

 

Just buy the games that you want to play on real hardware and forget the rest of them.

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I think eisposta summed it up pretty well without realizing it - if playing the game entails swapping out the 6502 for another CPU the game is no longer running on the Atari, it's literally running on top of the Atari.

 

What if the cart had video and audio out and usb controller ports? Would you still consider it an Atari game?

 

Suppose I put my slim PS2 atop my Vader? It fit's perfectly and looks streamlined like an expansion unit that plays 128-bit Emotion Engine games on the VCS, kind of like the Colecovision expansion unit.

 

I'm not a programmer but weren't there games released during the lifespan of the system that used additional hardware (Super Charger games, Kid Vid) or found creative ways to boost the limited resources of the 2600 (Pitfall II)?

 

The biggest difference is the time frame. If it wasn't made during the lifespan of the system it isn't an Atari game.

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I'm not a programmer but weren't there games released during the lifespan of the system that used additional hardware (Super Charger games, Kid Vid) or found creative ways to boost the limited resources of the 2600 (Pitfall II)?

 

Yep:

randomterrain.com/atari-2600-memories-cheating.html

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I think eisposta summed it up pretty well without realizing it - if playing the game entails swapping out the 6502 for another CPU the game is no longer running on the Atari, it's literally running on top of the Atari.

 

What if the cart had video and audio out and usb controller ports? Would you still consider it an Atari game?

No because it wouldn't be outputting from the Atari to the TV.

 

Suppose I put my slim PS2 atop my Vader? It fit's perfectly and looks streamlined like an expansion unit that plays 128-bit Emotion Engine games on the VCS, kind of like the Colecovision expansion unit.

I would say yes but it is still kind of a no or a partial yes because it is a yes for different reasons than my time traveler tech example. To use your Colecovision Expansion Module 1 example, I think of Atari 2600 games as also part of the Colecovision library in a similar way that I consider them a part of the Atari 7800's and Atari 5200's libraries in the sense that they add reasons to own those consoles because it gives more games for them. However, I wouldn't say that Atari 2600 games are Colecovision games in the sense that they were originally designed with the intent of being ran on the Colecovision.

 

It would be the same thing with a PS2 on top of an Atari 2600. The PS2 games would become Atari 2600 games in that sense but not in the sense that they were designed with the Atari 2600 as the target machine. However, if a developer created a game that ran on the PS2 with the intent on using it as an expansion for the Atari 2600 with the game being intended for the Atari 2600 as its targeted machine then it would be as much of an Atari 2600 game as Super Charger games are.

 

So, if a game was designed for the purpose of running on a console then it is a game for that console but if a game happens to run on a different console because it was made to for the purpose of backwards or sideways compatibility then it is only a game for that new console in the sense that it has been added to the library of games you can play on that console.

 

Game Boy Advance would be a good example of what I mean. Only Game Boy Advance games are games designed for it but Game Boy and Game Boy color games are still part of the library. Another way to put it is that any game that can run on a console is part of its library but there is a difference between the ones that were designed for it and the ones that can run on it because the hardware was designed to be compatible with another console's games.

 

As a consumer that is how I have always looked at it. How it works, the added chips in carts, "cheats", etc. doesn't matter to the consumer. What matters is the perception of the results. If I see a cart that says it is for the Atari 2600 then it is an Atari game regardless of what tech is inside it. If that cart runs on a Colecovision Expansion Module 1 then it is part of the Colecovision library but still obviously only because of sideways compatibility. On the 7800 it would be backwards compatibility. I think of both sideways and backwards compatibility being like ports to the new console by porting the older console's hardware to bring that library over. I guess in a way I would also consider emulators as similar expansion modules/hardware ports.

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As far as I know, a Bus Stuffing kernel, like the DPC's three channel in-tune sound on one of the Atari's 2 audio registers, are a software programming technique.

Using hardware like the DPC, DPC+, or the Harmony's ARM processor just removes some of that processing off the 6502 by preparing the data so the 6502 can grab and use the results without spending time itself to come up with the results.

 

In some analogies that is cheating, like using a calculator for a math test and not doing it in your head or on paper.

I understand admiration for purity, like something amazing in 4K.

But then there are too many banking schemes. Everything beyond 4K is cheating.

 

I don't like the term cheating. To me, cheating would be over-clocking, swapping the 6502 with some other processor, bypassing the TIA for another type of video card display output. Then it is no longer an Atari 2600.

 

I see.. Well.. The wife was thinking that the fundamental essence of the VCS is found in the interplay between the three main chips, RIOT, TIA, and 6507. All of it reacting to the map in the Game Program ROM. So making a game that relies on additional processing hardware and is in part, or in full, "synthesized" outside of that 3-way affair means you aren't really running a VCS anymore. It would be like a VCS II or VCS+, something like that. She explained it as active hardware outside the original design and scope. The dialog between the original chipset is upset, sometimes forcefully so with bus stuffing. The new processor in the cartridge is doing things the VCS isn't aware of.

 

However, bank switching doesn't necessarily fit into that category. Especially if it doesn't use off-board assist logic gates like from the LS series. You see, the bank switching is computed by the original 6507 or by lookup table (I'm not a VCS programmer). And the VCS is completely aware and in control of memory access. Bank switching is nothing new. Bank switching is simply counting higher and keeping a notepad on the side for keeping track of where you are. Bank switching is not "alien" hardware working in a different dimension, unlike ARM stuff.

 

I can argue against all that by considering the VCS cart slot as an expansion port. I can argue that Harmony/Melody/ARM games are viewed by the 6507 as a type memory that is dynamic and constantly changing. A memory chip with its own processor so to speak. Fathom that! Imagine you were the VCS chipset, and this funky new cartridge came along that changed its Game Program every clock cycle.

 

Ideally I think we'd all like to believe if it fits in the slot it's a VCS game. And our varying technical knowledge and insights will cause one to agree or disagree with that.

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No because it wouldn't be outputting from the Atari to the TV.

 

 

I would say yes but it is still kind of a no or a partial yes because it is a yes for different reasons than my time traveler tech example. To use your Colecovision Expansion Module 1 example, I think of Atari 2600 games as also part of the Colecovision library in a similar way that I consider them a part of the Atari 7800's and Atari 5200's libraries in the sense that they add reasons to own those consoles because it gives more games for them. However, I wouldn't say that Atari 2600 games are Colecovision games in the sense that they were originally designed with the intent of being ran on the Colecovision.

 

It would be the same thing with a PS2 on top of an Atari 2600. The PS2 games would become Atari 2600 games in that sense but not in the sense that they were designed with the Atari 2600 as the target machine. However, if a developer created a game that ran on the PS2 with the intent on using it as an expansion for the Atari 2600 with the game being intended for the Atari 2600 as its targeted machine then it would be as much of an Atari 2600 game as Super Charger games are.

 

So, if a game was designed for the purpose of running on a console then it is a game for that console but if a game happens to run on a different console because it was made to for the purpose of backwards or sideways compatibility then it is only a game for that new console in the sense that it has been added to the library of games you can play on that console.

 

Game Boy Advance would be a good example of what I mean. Only Game Boy Advance games are games designed for it but Game Boy and Game Boy color games are still part of the library. Another way to put it is that any game that can run on a console is part of its library but there is a difference between the ones that were designed for it and the ones that can run on it because the hardware was designed to be compatible with another console's games.

 

As a consumer that is how I have always looked at it. How it works, the added chips in carts, "cheats", etc. doesn't matter to the consumer. What matters is the perception of the results. If I see a cart that says it is for the Atari 2600 then it is an Atari game regardless of what tech is inside it. If that cart runs on a Colecovision Expansion Module 1 then it is part of the Colecovision library but still obviously only because of sideways compatibility. On the 7800 it would be backwards compatibility. I think of both sideways and backwards compatibility being like ports to the new console by porting the older console's hardware to bring that library over. I guess in a way I would also consider emulators as similar expansion modules/hardware ports.

Excellent post and perspectives Schizophretard! :)

 

I agree what constitutes an Atari VCS game is in the eye of the beholder; a PS2 atop a Vader can indeed be considered Atari games, an Atari centric gaming experience or at least an Atari themed amalgam of black streamlined plastic components.

 

The SuperCharger conceptually being the same as the PS2 atop the Atari also makes sense because they are both add-on's that extend the system, but the PS2 is a modern computer.

 

As a programmer I cannot consider PS2 games in the same league as SuperCharger games because I know that most SuperCharger games use only a little extra RAM and could pretty easily be put on Atari's 8K Super chip carts or on CBS carts (128 and 256 bytes of extra RAM respectively).

 

Here's a 6K SuperCharger game that pushes the Atari, but it's still only using 256 bytes of extra RAM:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aghqgf6qqRw

 

With your Delorean, we could bring this game back to 1982 and put it on Tape or cart whereas the PS2 technology is not interchangable with any of the Atari's expanded cartridge formats.

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I see it differently than what sems to be the general consensus here. I think there are a lot of titles of "questionable" and poor quality being released. But there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming number to me. Generally I'm quite pleased with the quality of the homebrew scene of the past 5-10 years...at least as far as the Atari/INTV/Coleco scene is concerned. Games like Princess Rescue & Zippy The Porcupine (Batari Basic...Hi!), Halo 2600, Computer Space/PONG are among my personal all time favorites of the consoles (I have to put nostalgia aside and be objective).

 

The scene where the modern cart production is really obnoxious atm though, is the NES. And that my #1 console. There's a couple sites that are flat out just offering crap by the numbers, and pressing up hard copies of any halfway decent homebrew or hack. But the VCS/INTV/CV scene is really nice right now. My only issue is when the hot titles are pressed up in such limited numbers. I've only been able to procure a couple of the carts I've REALLY wanted the last few years. This "only 100 copies" shit is for the birds. It really seems like the supply is way under the demand for some of these games.

Edited by MadZiontist
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My grandparents had the simple view. All games on the TV were "Atari". Even the Apple II floppy diskettes didn't escape that overall blanket label - they'd say, "Don't you have enough Atari games already?" ..while pointing to a tub of 500+ floppies. I would always answer with a universal and emphatic, "No!"

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My grandparents had the simple view. All games on the TV were "Atari". Even the Apple II floppy diskettes didn't escape that overall blanket label - they'd say, "Don't you have enough Atari games already?" ..while pointing to a tub of 500+ floppies. I would always answer with a universal and emphatic, "No!"

I thought everyone knew real Atari games only come on Tari tapes.

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My grandparents had the simple view. All games on the TV were "Atari". Even the Apple II floppy diskettes didn't escape that overall blanket label - they'd say, "Don't you have enough Atari games already?" ..while pointing to a tub of 500+ floppies. I would always answer with a universal and emphatic, "No!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdUvpgqoe4E&spfreload=10

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So does this mean that my preordered Playaround oculus rift compatible Atari 2600 homebrews aren't really Atari 2600 games !

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With your Delorean, we could bring this game back to 1982 and put it on Tape or cart whereas the PS2 technology is not interchangable with any of the Atari's expanded cartridge formats.

I don't think a game has to fit within Atari's expanded cartridge formats. It seems contradictory to me to desire homebrew games to keep a console alive as if it never died in the first place but then limit the homebrews based on what tech existed when the console died. It should be approached as if the console never died and is just as popular today.

 

Pretend it is an alternate universe where the Atari 2600 never died. It is still on the market today selling numbers like the PS4. There are millions still playing Atari. The keyboard expansion to turn it into a computer actually happened and other plans they were working on in the 80's too. Also, since then they came up with new ways to expand it to keep it relevant. Things like more advanced carts, maybe even something like the Super Charger but loads games from blu-ray discs, and etc. All the old third parties are competing to sell Atari games while using these new expansion modules and tech to produce games better than their competitors. Activision, Imagic, Coleco, etc. are still in the game. There is fierce competition between all of them and YOU are a new third party within that competition.

 

I believe that is the kind of mindset a homebrew programmer should have. Instead of,"I want to make a great game by pushing the hardware to the defined limits of its death." it should be,"I want to make a great game by pushing beyond the defined limits of its hardware's death." People want homebrews for consoles because they wish they never died in the first place. Software still alive but hardware dead doesn't make much sense to me.

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I believe that is the kind of mindset a homebrew programmer should have. Instead of,"I want to make a great game by pushing the hardware to the defined limits of its death." it should be,"I want to make a great game by pushing beyond the defined limits of its hardware's death." People want homebrews for consoles because they wish they never died in the first place. Software still alive but hardware dead doesn't make much sense to me.

I get your point, but you misunderstand the motivation of many experienced homebrewers. They always want to push the hardware to its limits. If that is the original hardware or expanded hardware makes no difference here. The software is the result of developing within those limits.

 

But some are more retro than others and that defines what kind of hardware they want to push. The hardware they want to use, defines the limit. So hardware is the key element. And the really odd original hardware is the main reason why many developers like to develop for it. Else many wouldn't be here.

 

So if you would give those people e.g. an XBOX 360 like hardware for the 2600, they would either go away or would develop XBOX 360 games.

Edited by Thomas Jentzsch
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I don't think a game has to fit within Atari's expanded cartridge formats. It seems contradictory to me to desire homebrew games to keep a console alive as if it never died in the first place but then limit the homebrews based on what tech existed when the console died. It should be approached as if the console never died and is just as popular today.

For me, the fun is in 'how far can I push this old hardware'. (old hardware everything available during the lifespan of the console) When you add new hardware, that fun is gone. When I want something more advanced, I can jump to the atari 8-bit, lynx, jaguar maybe.

 

That said, it could be fun to write a crazy advanced ARM kernel which spits out dynamic opcodes to the 2600, to make a wonderful game. Of course, there is no right or wrong way.

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On the subject of whether or not the ARM "bus stuffing" games are or are not Atari games, they are. The cartridge interacts with the hardware inside, the 6507, the TIA, RIOT, whatever, same as a traditional 4k ROM. All graphics and audio are being output by the TIA chip, so games must still work around it's limitations. The day they bus stuff the system to the point that it can output 160x192 full motion video, it will still be a VCS game because it relies on the TIA to generate a signal on an unmodified VCS.

 

As a counterexample, stuff like the Coleco module or a modern device like the Advance Game Port which plays GBA games on an SNES, is not a true game as it only relies on the console for power and controller input, and outputs through a separate AV jack mounted in the cartridge. That is not an SNES game, but the Super Game Boy is because it uses the SNES display hardware and CPU to generate the picture. The SGB uses a Game Boy CPU as an expansion chip, same as games like Super Mario RPG or Star Fox relie on those extra pins.

 

To say ARM enhanced Melody games are not VCS games is like saying SMRPG or Star Fox are not legitimate SNES releases.

 

They are. My two cents.

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It just depends on how you define Atari 2600. For me it is not only the TIA (though it plays a major role), but also the CPU. Just like RIOT, RAM, ROM etc. A game where an ARM (or any other modern hardware) does almost all the calculations and drives the 6507 CPU is developed in a very different way.

 

There is nothing "wrong" with using modern hardware, but at least from a programmers perspective, pushing ancient hardware to (and beyond!) its known limits is a completely different challenge.

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from a programmers perspective, pushing ancient hardware to (and beyond!) its known limits is a completely different challenge.

 

Isn't this ultimately what has changed, I wasn't around, but have dug through a lot of the old posts etc.. on the stella mailing list, and it seems to me that at that time the target audience for any homebrew game was other programmers. Now there is an established audience of collectors/others interested in retro systems who either aren't interested in or aren't currently capable of programming.

 

It turns out a lot of them couldn't give a stuff what constraints a programmer places on themself, or what hardware is plugging into the cart slot, the better the game, the better as far as they are concerned. Also maybe their nostalgia isn't just connected to playing the game, but opening the box, reading the manual, having a game your mates don't have etc... Hence the love for nicec packaging, limited editions etc...

 

Now personally I can't understand why someone would program for the ARM on 2600, but they're a hell of a lot closer to me than 99.999999% of the population who would think it's a ridiculous idea to program in anyway for the 2600, so really we should probably just acknowledge that each 2600 programmer seems to place there own arbitrary constraints on what they want to do, mostly different for any given project, and get on with having fun making games/demos etc... :)

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The day they bus stuff the system to the point that it can output 160x192 full motion video, it will still be a VCS game because it relies on the TIA to generate a signal on an unmodified VCS.

mmmh. address bus plus data bus - stuffing, has that been done already? (It could smoke your 2600 though...) Then you really have an external cpu connected to the tia. Edited by roland p

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mmmh. address bus plus data bus - stuffing, has that been done already? (It could smoke your 2600 though...) Then you really have an external cpu connected to the tia.

The guy with the 2600 port of Conway's Game of Life demo came pretty close, albeit in monochrome.

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I get your point, but you misunderstand the motivation of many experienced homebrewers. They always want to push the hardware to its limits. If that is the original hardware or expanded hardware makes no difference here. The software is the result of developing within those limits.

 

But some are more retro than others and that defines what kind of hardware they want to push. The hardware they want to use, defines the limit. So hardware is the key element. And the really odd original hardware is the main reason why many developers like to develop for it. Else many wouldn't be here.

 

So if you would give those people e.g. an XBOX 360 like hardware for the 2600, they would either go away or would develop XBOX 360 games.

 

I guess I can understand that for the sport and challenge of it but that seems different to me than the mindset of the original programmers because they didn't seem to have an issue with using the tech they had available to them at the time to make better games. They added extra ROM and RAM in carts, created the Supercharger, Atari attempted to add the keyboard, etc. The motivation was,"What extra hardware in carts or expansion modules, what extra accessories, controllers, etc., and what games do the consumers want?" I see no difference between that and if someone made a cart today with the space for a 1GB game or made some modern day homebrew Super Charger and then modern day programmers pushing the limits of those things. I get your for the sport of it way but it isn't the way the retro programmers did it. They were focused on what the consumers would want to play and what hardware and accessories they would want to play with. ;)

 

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