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Thomas Jentzsch

Legacy versus ARM-based 2600 Game Development

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Posted (edited)

Some systems seem to gracefully accept co-processor style add-ons. Others not so much. The VCS is a natural.

 

Now whether that’s due to the personality of those who engineered the system and develop for it and its add-ons, IDK. But in lieu of further discussion it’s as good a reason as any.

Edited by Keatah

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44 minutes ago, Keatah said:

Some systems seem to gracefully accept co-processor style add-ones. Others not so much. The VCS is a natural.

 

Now whether that’s due to the personality of those who engineered the system and develop for it and its add-ones, IDK. But in lieu of further discussion it’s as good a reason as any.

Yeah, that's a good point!

Like in the same way even in "classic 4k land", there was surprising room for growth and experimentation, well beyond the original mandate... 

Reminds me of a convo i had w/ Christian Speckner who made the Stellerator emulator (great for embedding stuff into webpages!)

Me:
 

Quote

"Man, you must have a deep understanding of TIA. I think for a lot of casual atari devs (funny that that's not a contradiction in terms, quite), everything is just there and kind of arbitrary, but you must have some idea of like... how the player 'tripler' flag change circuits."

Speckner:

Quote

"As a matter of fact, all sprites on the VCS are represented as counters that increment with the pixel clock (and wrap at 160). These go into a decode matrix that triggers drawing when certain trip points are reached. Changing the number of copies activates different parts of the decode matrix --- if you have three copies, drawing is triggered for tree different counter values."

That kind of blew my mind even though of course I know a lot about Racing the Beam-- in lieu of a traditional mapping of screen memory (which frankly maps very obviously to "2D space"), everything the Atari does in drawing its 2D space is based on time!

So it's that bizarrely flexible, low cost system that makes it integrate so well, I'm guessing...

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13 minutes ago, kisrael said:

So it's that bizarrely flexible, low cost system that makes it integrate so well, I'm guessing...

The VCS seemingly being simple and generic reminds very much of dome early micros like the Apple II. 
 

Neither of the machines were the most powerful in their class, but their versatility allowed them to fit into whatever task was at hand.

 

There were minimal or no mysterious custom ICs to get in the way when a certain solution needed to be done in a certain way. Same with firmware.

 

In the VCS there are no firmware or ROM routines. The developer has to make’em from scratch. Huge adaptability there.

 

And on the Apple II, like in the various languages loaded into RAM, same thing.. More familiar examples might be the mini-OS in Pinball Construction Set. Or SubLogic’s A2-FS2 & A2-PB1.

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4 hours ago, Keatah said:

The VCS is a natural.

That's a opinion, not a fact.

 

BTW: If Atari would have created a smaller cartridge format, the options for enhanced hardware would be limited. And the cartridge format is a pretty random decision, which has little to none to do with technical design.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Thomas Jentzsch said:

That's a opinion, not a fact.

I formed my opinion when I played the various ARM-enhanced games. They retain the fast action and responsive controls that are hallmarks of many VCS games. The audio/visual style, while more complex, isn't so far away that you feel you're playing on a different platform.

 

Quote

BTW: If Atari would have created a smaller cartridge format, the options for enhanced hardware would be limited. And the cartridge format is a pretty random decision, which has little to none to do with technical design.

I think that with modern tech, a lot more can be put into a VCS cartridge. Even if the cart was smaller. And the cart can be made larger if necessary though that would change the original aesthetics. You could easily make a cart 2x or 3x longer, wider, and thicker (like a Supercharger on steroids) to accommodate tech as high as R-Pi, MiSTer, iPhone motherboard, or perhaps a pico X86 something.. Of course that much power moves everything away from being a VCS game.

 

While reading the history of the Channel F they said "the cartridge" came about as a consumer-friendly way of protecting and allowing easy interchange of the program of a fixed-function computer. A bare ROM chip simply wouldn't do. And a carrier package was still crude looking. The design of the cart had to be made so that it would/should visually integrate with the rest of the console. Be safe to handle. Protect the inside electronics.

 

While I had some of the early Pong and Telstar units I don't think I had them for long enough to appreciate the revolution that was the removable cartridge. None of the pre-cart systems I had didn't go stale - I would just switch out the system and keep gaming. When carts did come out it was more like an evolutionary convenience. Yay I didn't have to swap out whole consoles. Now I could just change a small box for a new game. It made sense without seeming like a whiz-bang invention.

 

Today I carry the flag forward with hot-swap SSDs. As tertiary backup. As decoration. As something that fits into holders on a bookshelf or in a small tabernacle crucible. Have an "SSD cartridge" for astronomy, flight simulators, vintage gaming, arcade games, Doom, early DOS games, early Windows games, "scientific" things like fractals, and other categories. Looks nice.

Edited by Keatah

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On 5/21/2021 at 11:23 AM, Dionoid said:

Still, I think it would be cool if someone would create a VGA to TIA display driver and run DOOM on an Atari 2600, using a Raspberry Pi inside a cartridge shell!

 

On 5/21/2021 at 11:25 AM, kisrael said:

It would be a cool gimmick. As long as it didn't get too "popular" as a typical way of making new content, it would be fun

 

Agree. I think that maybe each vintage platform should have one or two of these these whatever gimmicks. Amusing and fun. Even some shock value to those not in the know.

 

On the other hand, a "MAME cartridge" would be quite the thing. R-Pi that runs MAME through a TIA driver kludge-up. Heh. You know.. You could simulate what it might look like by turning down the resolution in MAME itself. Minus the flavour nuances of whatever graphics chip your feeding into.

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On 5/22/2021 at 5:03 AM, Keatah said:

While reading the history of the Channel F they said "the cartridge" came about as a consumer-friendly way of protecting and allowing easy interchange of the program of a fixed-function computer. A bare ROM chip simply wouldn't do. And a carrier package was still crude looking. The design of the cart had to be made so that it would/should visually integrate with the rest of the console. Be safe to handle. Protect the inside electronics.

I think even worse than the "is it soda or is it pop" divide - anyone have relatives (or they themselves) who called cartridges "tapes"? Drove me nuts, just because of the material falsehood of it :-D

 

Not sure what you mean by "carrier package"? But your thought reminds me of the RCA Selectavision disks - this bizarre technology that used a physical needle for sound AND pictures, and kept the disc in those big plastic shells, and then extracting the disc IN the unit. Kind of nuts!

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Posted (edited)

A carrier package is something like a minimal shield or plastic frame around a rom. Or even a tiny daughterboard if you stretch the definition. Making it almost like a module. Sometimes with support for the chip's pins. Not quite consumer friendly because the pins are exposed, still delicate. And definitely not aesthetically pleasing. Very popular in 80's car computers/ECMs. Made to be removed only a few times unlike a videogame cartridge. But much more reliable connectivity.

27849e01-ed3a-4b19-b4f9-f830effe1e6a.jpg.5a964f38dfcc5ce844bc3bec479f2a3e.jpgEEPROM_009a.thumb.JPG.11c5a97b3952f113040e5875ebc6115a.JPG988ec3bb_b1fc_4b2c_adf0_23020924b6b7_a658d2076cb3fa24319d20930cca307482de6332.jpeg.a72f2cebd8a1e42e30ded4c16f3aeeb0.jpeg

Edited by Keatah

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53 minutes ago, kisrael said:

I think even worse than the "is it soda or is it pop" divide - anyone have relatives (or they themselves) who called cartridges "tapes"? Drove me nuts, just because of the material falsehood of it :-D

I'm pretty sure all of my aunts called them tapes (but my mom never did). The first time I heard it I think I was more confused than annoyed.

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I gets much worse when other languages try to use foreign terms. "Public Viewing" anyone? :D 

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10 minutes ago, Thomas Jentzsch said:

I gets much worse when other languages try to use foreign terms. "Public Viewing" anyone? :D 

Oh, is that like an English term that has moved into other languages?? Interesting if so!

Yeah, video does have a problem where sometimes the language doesn't keep up w/ the technology. I guess you could say "did you record that" or "did you get that on video"

(of course the way we have "record" as a noun for both a disc and a general, presumably paper based thing...)

And visually it's weird too. The classic floppy disc save icon, the ear- and mouthpiece style phone icon (i heard kids today, if they're miming talking on the phone, use a flat-slab like hand rather than stick out their pinky and thumb)

 

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1 hour ago, kisrael said:

(i heard kids today, if they're miming talking on the phone, use a flat-slab like hand rather than stick out their pinky and thumb)

 

I have seen it. 😑

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On 5/19/2021 at 3:05 PM, Dionoid said:

During that process, I came across a video by @SvOlli called The Atari 2600 Video Computer System: The Ultimate Talk.

Thanks for letting me know. All the stuff I release is done without any tracking. For my demos I don't have a download counter, I only log errors, no successful accesses to my server. So it's getting any kind of feedback is rather scarce and very much appreciated.

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4 minutes ago, SvOlli said:

Thanks for letting me know. All the stuff I release is done without any tracking. For my demos I don't have a download counter, I only log errors, no successful accesses to my server. So it's getting any kind of feedback is rather scarce and very much appreciated.

I've only skimmed it (shame!) but I mean to swing back to it - in fact it leads off the list of resources I assembled: (hopefully to be pinned soon) because I think videos tend to be good introductions for people. 

 

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And to the topic at hand: on a demoscene competition, only code that works without the microcontrollers are considered "old school". A demo using DPC+ or any other ARM-based coprocessor would be submitted as a "wild" entry, which is the "does not fit any other category" / "catch all category".

 

This is also why I did a "SARA" version of my demo "Bang!", just to make sure once and for all that it's not just theoretically "old school", but also practically. ;-)

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7 minutes ago, SvOlli said:

This is also why I did a "SARA" version of my demo "Bang!"

Wasn't it always "SARA"?

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Yes, it was. But SARA was implemented using the Harmony Cart (or Melody for the releases). And since last year, I finally have a physical SARA board with the demo on it.

 

And also, I can write code that only runs on the Harmony with SARA emulation, but not on real hardware. Do code generation in SARA RAM and try to execute it. "Bang!" does contain code generation for the plasma effect, so there was a chance of encountering this problem.

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8 minutes ago, SvOlli said:

I can write code that only runs on the Harmony with SARA emulation, but not on real hardware. Do code generation in SARA RAM and try to execute it. "Bang!" does contain code generation for the plasma effect, so there was a chance of encountering this problem.

That's interesting, I had written some SuperCharger code that only runs on Harmony, and some CBS RAM code that displays differently on the Harmony than on other flashcarts or Stella, but that I could not confirm for not having a real CBS RAM board to compare.  

 

I'm curious if the Harmony supports running code in CBS RAM but real CBS RAM does not. 

 

Sometimes the folks creating hardware emulation have different implementation ideas - Akanoid AirHead is a CBS RAM game that is White, Black or Rainbow depending on where you play it: 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
On 5/24/2021 at 1:22 PM, kisrael said:

I think even worse than the "is it soda or is it pop" divide - anyone have relatives (or they themselves) who called cartridges "tapes"? Drove me nuts, just because of the material falsehood of it :-D

 

Would it bother you when people would refer to cassettes as "tapes"?  Because then you get into some weird linguistics.  "Rewind the tape" would be accurately descriptive enough, but "take the tape out of the case" would not.  Would it have bothered you if people referred to cassettes as "cartridges"?  Did it bother you when people "dialed" numbers on their touch tone phones back then?

 

I'm of two minds on things like this.  On the one hand, there's a lot of utility in having a sort of lingua franca within a country that preserves all that proper usage and diction, and I think people have been really myopic in relaxing all these standards.  Plus, it just feels viscerally wrong to throw up your hands and allow "literally" to literally mean the opposite of literally just because enough people people insist on it.  Then again, the main purpose of language is to communicate information, and in most of these cases, people know exactly what is meant by the material falsehood, so who cares?  Plus, "I hung up on him" as archaic as it is, will always sound better than "I unilaterally ended the call".

 

Which is about how I feel about the whole subject of the thread.  People were using on-cart hardware to escape the "limitations" of the 2600 from nearly the beginning.  Did they do it to anything like this degree?  No, but the option wasn't practically feasible.   If it had been, they would have.  They would have advertised it as a selling point.  It seems like some people want homebrewers today to advertise it as a disclosure, or maybe even an admission.  Instead of "buy our cartridge because of its awesome power", it should be "buy our cartridge, but just so you know, we kind of cheated."

 

That just seems bizarre to me.  All because people might get a mistaken impression?  What are the odds of this, really?  You're so into the 2600 that you're buying games on AA, but you have so little familiarity with the capabilities of the machine that you look at Galagon and think that's just a standard 16k ROM or something like that?  I guess I can believe that guy exists; I have a very hard time believing he exists in great enough numbers for this to be an issue.  Even if he does, is it really a problem that even can be solved? People who don't understand computers always have loopy ideas about what they can and can't do.  Always will.  No amount of disclosure or education gonna' change that.

 

Then again, something feels not quite right about some of these 'roided out games.  Hell, even some of the Supercharger games don't quite feel like 2600 games.  Nothing to do with their merit as games, it just doesn't have that intangible sense of playing a 2600, which I presume is what people want to preserve when they get reluctant about the WOPR going into the cartridge.

 

EDIT: It's also weird how this seems to be the only hobby where this comes up.  Nobody expects a scratch Golfer to play with Wal-Mart clubs or literal wood clubs.  Nobody tells those Tour De France fellas they should ride those Victorian bicycles with the giant front wheel.  You don't go to a rock show and expect to see the band using generic QVC guitars.

Edited by MrTrust
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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, SvOlli said:

And to the topic at hand: on a demoscene competition, only code that works without the microcontrollers are considered "old school". A demo using DPC+ or any other ARM-based coprocessor would be submitted as a "wild" entry, which is the "does not fit any other category" / "catch all category".

In case of a demo competition, of course it makes sense to set the rule to only use the original system limitations. Because when running a competition, you need a level playing field. And it's amazing to see what kind of cool stuff the demo-developers can accomplish within 4K ROM and 128 bytes RAM - btw, this reminds me of the "A Mind Is Born" demo on the C64, which only uses 256 bytes.

 

But I don't consider creating homebrew games a competition. Maybe it is for some homebrewers, but not for me.
And hardware improvements are just a natural progression and should be welcomed, IMO. Besides, most gamers don't care about what hardware is used inside a game cartridge anyway 🙂

13 hours ago, SvOlli said:

This is also why I did a "SARA" version of my demo "Bang!", just to make sure once and for all that it's not just theoretically "old school", but also practically. ;-)

Using the SARA would not be considered "old school" for competitions, right? As using SARA gives you double the amount of RAM, I would say this gives you an unfair advantage over the other competitors.

 

Edited by Dionoid
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9 hours ago, MrTrust said:

 

Would it bother you when people would refer to cassettes as "tapes"?  Because then you get into some weird linguistics.  "Rewind the tape" would be accurately descriptive enough, but "take the tape out of the case" would not.  Would it have bothered you if people referred to cassettes as "cartridges"?  Did it bother you when people "dialed" numbers on their touch tone phones back then?

Personally I find this tangent interesting! It's prescriptivism vs descriptivism. And even descriptivists like me - who recognize that language is a living changing thing and a dictionary is a score card not a rule book, will have usages that they find irksome and want to draw arbitrary lines.

 

I tend to be a utilitarian in my judgements, then... like if the word is the most concise descriptor, I'm fine with its use, but if there's another word that's just about as concise but more correct, the alternate shouldn't have to be used. So: "carts" are about as good as "tapes" so why not be correct? But we don't have simple replacements for "dial" the number or now for "Hang up", even when the physical actions aren't exactly that! ("End the call" is more words and "disconnect" is more vague)

 

Which is why I don't like "literally" being used for "figuratively", because we don't have a nice substitute for denoting "no, surprisingly, this is actually real in the simplest sense of true" (I wish people would say "he was absolutely driving me up the wall" instead of "he was literally driving me up the wall", if they still need something with more punch)

 

But sometimes it's just personal preference. I say "soda" because thats what people around here say but I was in "pop" country for a lot of my life, and I think it's the better word - a lovely short palindrome that captures the onomatopoeia of the carbonation!

 

9 hours ago, MrTrust said:

Which is about how I feel about the whole subject of the thread.  People were using on-cart hardware to escape the "limitations" of the 2600 from nearly the beginning.  Did they do it to anything like this degree?  No, but the option wasn't practically feasible.   If it had been, they would have.  They would have advertised it as a selling point.  It seems like some people want homebrewers today to advertise it as a disclosure, or maybe even an admission.  Instead of "buy our cartridge because of its awesome power", it should be "buy our cartridge, but just so you know, we kind of cheated."

Yeah, but from the "nearly the beginning" - the people making games back then would have moved on to more powerful base platforms! They wouldn't have - and didn't - use their efforts to cram hardware into chips when there were more fruitful options shifting platforms. Which is what inspired my line of questions: "so why stick with Atari, vs other platforms?" I think the answer is usually "I want to see what can be done within the limitations of the platform", and if we accept that then the question moves to, what's the definition of "the platform". And it's a decent argument to have, even if we never quite agree. And I think you're right where you say, it feels better when it still has the certain 2600 vibe.

 

9 hours ago, MrTrust said:

EDIT: It's also weird how this seems to be the only hobby where this comes up.  Nobody expects a scratch Golfer to play with Wal-Mart clubs or literal wood clubs.  Nobody tells those Tour De France fellas they should ride those Victorian bicycles with the giant front wheel.  You don't go to a rock show and expect to see the band using generic QVC guitars.

I'd say you're not right that it's the only hobby - like take swimming. They've banned certain high performance swimsuits! There are records that were set that might not be broken for a long time if ever because of the era when swimmers had weird material advantages.  Or even for Golf, there are "forbidden" clubs, just google.

 

Now, that's usually about the competition, esp at pro and semipro levels, so i guess you could say this is just a hobby and not REALLY a competition, but I think it's that sense of "unfairness in the competition of the marketplace of attention" that drives some of the negative sentiment.

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11 hours ago, MrTrust said:

Nobody tells those Tour De France fellas they should ride those Victorian bicycles with the giant front wheel.

Not in the Tour, but until fairly recently the rule for the Hour record (literally who can ride the farthest in an hour) required riders to use bikes from the 70’s or built using only materials and techniques available in the 70’s in order to make the record “about the rider, not the bike” (completely ignoring the fact that bikes from the 70’s are light years better than bikes from when the Hour record was first established).

 

In baseball, Roger Maris' 61 home run season got an asterisk because the season was 8 games longer than in Babe Ruth's time, but no exception was made for the fact that balls that cleared the fence on the bounce counted as home runs when Ruth played.

 

What's "fair" can be pretty arbitrary, and usually comes down to the old fogey in charge not wanting to see his favorite slip off the leaderboard.

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49 minutes ago, kisrael said:

I tend to be a utilitarian in my judgements, then... like if the word is the most concise descriptor, I'm fine with its use, but if there's another word that's just about as concise but more correct, the alternate shouldn't have to be used. So: "carts" are about as good as "tapes" so why not be correct? But we don't have simple replacements for "dial" the number or now for "Hang up", even when the physical actions aren't exactly that! ("End the call" is more words and "disconnect" is more vague)

 

Yeah, I don't know; sometimes it's just an aesthetic judgement.  I remember it being big around here in the late 80s early 90s.  "Nintendo tapes" was the one I heard the most, occasionally "Atari tapes", both of which have a nice, sonorous rhythm to them on account of the T in the brand name.  That double alveolar thing rolls off the tongue better.  Nin-TEN-do TApes, a-TA-ri TApes.  Ta-tay, ta-tay.  Kind of a gallop.  Nin-TEN-do CARts?  Just kind of falls off there.  Similar to "roll the footage" instead of "play the video".  Maybe it never bothered me because, at least for a little while there, games literally being on tape was not uncommon, so why not just use that as a sort of synecdoche?  Not unlike how we still use "album", which was archaic even back in the heyday of vinyl LPs.

 

1 hour ago, kisrael said:

I'd say you're not right that it's the only hobby - like take swimming. They've banned certain high performance swimsuits! There are records that were set that might not be broken for a long time if ever because of the era when swimmers had weird material advantages.  Or even for Golf, there are "forbidden" clubs, just google.

 

Well, sure, if you're playing in a USGA-sanctioned event.  Probably shouldn't have referenced the Tour with that one; muddled the point.  If you just show up on a public course to play a round with your buddies, nobody's likely to care.  Manufacturers have been fudging their "legitimate" clubs for years anyway.  A 5-iron today has the same length and loft as a 3-iron used to, but boy it feels good to hit your 5 iron 230 yards, right?  Maybe there are courses that are strict about this for amateurs, but I've never seen one.

 

1 hour ago, KaeruYojimbo said:

In baseball, Roger Maris' 61 home run season got an asterisk because the season was 8 games longer than in Babe Ruth's time, but no exception was made for the fact that balls that cleared the fence on the bounce counted as home runs when Ruth played.

 

That, and the fields aren't uniform and change over the years, so how could there be any meaningful comparison anyway?  Baseball is weird, man.  But MLB is well beyond the hobby level, I would say.  So like I said, I probably shouldn't have referenced the Tour when I really meant amateur, hobbyist type-stuff.  I know, I know, that would technically include the Olympics, but I think you get the idea.

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50 minutes ago, MrTrust said:

I probably shouldn't have referenced the Tour when I really meant amateur, hobbyist type-stuff. 


The point I was really trying to make with the cycling stuff but didn’t really spell out is that most of these limitations are arbitrary. The people who want warning labels on homebrews with extra chips are fine with the DPC in Pitfall II or the CBS RAM Plus carts because they’re “of the time” but what was of the time in 1984 is still beyond what VCS developers had in 1977.

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38 minutes ago, MrTrust said:

 

Yeah, I don't know; sometimes it's just an aesthetic judgement.  [...] That double alveolar thing rolls off the tongue better.  Nin-TEN-do TApes, a-TA-ri TApes.  Ta-tay, ta-tay.  Kind of a gallop.  Nin-TEN-do CARts?  Just kind of falls off there.  

Ah, but "a-TAR-i CARts" sounds GREAT ;-)

 

And yeah, we're pretty much in agreement. Homebrew games aren't really a competition except in a limited way of "in the marketplace of attention" (and I guess, marketplace of sales) and it seems unfair to know that casual fans absolutely will judge a coprocessor cart right up against one that only uses tech feasible in the 80s. But I do think you could find some blurred lines where amateur hobbyists have decided to place restrictions or at least make new categories for stuff involving much fresher gear (so I didn't agree that it was the "only hobby" where it happens)

17 minutes ago, KaeruYojimbo said:


The point I was really trying to make with the cycling stuff but didn’t really spell out is that most of these limitations are arbitrary. The people who want warning labels on homebrews with extra chips are fine with the DPC in Pitfall II off the CBS RAM Plus carts because they’re “of the time” but what was of the time in 1984 is still beyond what VCS developers had in 1977.

Right, but I guess one thing that bubbled up for me in this conversation is that... developers putting 1984 tech were doing it for a system that was still pretty viable (modulo the crash) at the time! By 1987 or 1988, those developers would have been moving on to a different platform! But we love retro. But in part we love it AS RETRO. So it forces the question, what retro limitations are worth heeding so that it's still retro and not just modern, and which ones worth blowing off? and what makes Atari still "worthwhile" as a retro/semi-retro platform. (I got other folks to agree that a cart using its own HDMI out, usb sticks in would probably not be authentically retro... so there's a conceivably some line to think about drawing ... and people may never agree on how exactly to handle the lines or which ones to emphasize but that is all ok)


(PS @MrTrust- notice I said "forces the question" where someone might say "it begs the question" - but "begs the question" was an important unique concept - "assume the question had already been answered" and I can't bring myself to be part of the loss of that meaning ;-D )
 

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