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dlmartins

ARM based/enhanced Atari development, MISTer FPGA, and preservation

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I had a recent discussion on the MiSTer FPGA discord. It started off as a discussion about preservation that eventually led to enhanced games and their use. I really enjoyed the back and forth discussion.

 

I think some of the discussion went a bit off the rails due to misconceptions about who actually created these ARM enhancements, such as CDFJ. My impression is it is believed to be from random, lazy homebrew developers and not the best of the crop of current Atari developers who put a lot of thought and effort into this. Someone even equated it (I guess) to an NES experiment sticking a raspberry pi in an NES, which is kind of amusing that the thought went that way.

2132176385_MISTer-Atari-dumb.thumb.png.ac8fe1284d080467bad3d2e43446e882.png

 

 

(For backstory, CDFJ stands for Chris (@cd-w) Darrell (@SpiceWare) Fred (@batari) and John (@johnnywc), who were involved in its creation. 

)

 

I'll paste some of the discussion on the end of MiSTer development.

201052843_MISTer-Atari-shittyhomebrews.thumb.png.05302dc87a951f87e6656af0bbe20236.png

 

1753338105_MISTer-Atari-mapper.png.7a31ba12d69c44bd44bb3ae037ead86d.png

 

1479146327_MISTer-Atari-lazy.png.199a81f3d617ffbc0041358d605b69e1.png

 

879302620_MISTer-Atari.thumb.png.e59dcd4a268620fd72b9f173127ae317.png


It also echoes the thoughts of adding enhanced game support to MiSTer. It is seen as ridiculous (Can you enhance the core to support Harmony/Melody cartridge type · Issue #43 · MiSTer-devel/Atari2600_MiSTer · GitHub).

1167412670_MISTer-Atari-HarmonyMelody.thumb.png.9674c08913c952bff74c0330a07bfa3e.png

 

Personally, from a technical level, I can totally understand support in MiSTer not being feasible and it doesn't echo the strict, museum preservation guidelines of MiSTer.

However, it does seem disturbing (to me) that any new games for older consoles must be written in a time capsule/time appropriate approach, so they can be supported by older emulation. My thinking is these games are being made today (in 2021) and many Atari DEVs approach it that way, they want to use the latest technology available at this time, not 1992.

 

My main questions for the Atari development community:
- Is there a danger for enhanced games, by their nature, to not be preserved or playable?
- Is the lack of support in MiSTER and possibly other hardware based approaches for these enhanced games a concern?
- Is the use of enhanced games lazy and a lazy approach (compared to a Mapper)?
- What are the primary reasons for using ARM based enhancements?

 

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42 minutes ago, dlmartins said:

My main questions for the Atari development community:
- Is there a danger for enhanced games, by their nature, to not be preserved or playable?


No, Stella supports them.

 

Quote

- Is the lack of support in MiSTER and possibly other hardware based approaches for these enhanced games a concern?

 

If hardware based emulation is designed to use cartridges then by definition they should support the enhanced games or their design is faulty.  If they're designed to use ROM files then I don't care if it supports it or not as I'll use Stella.

 

Quote

- Is the use of enhanced games lazy and a lazy approach (compared to a Mapper)?

 

Fuck no, getting 2 CPUs to work hand-in-hand is anything but lazy.

 

Quote

- What are the primary reasons for using ARM based enhancements?

 

As I point out in my blog entry extra hardware! this is the natural evolution of cartridge development.  

 

I do find it strange that people developing homebrew hardware are going to crap all over other people developing homebrew hardware.

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38 minutes ago, dlmartins said:

I'll paste some of the discussion on the end of MiSTer development.

Wow.

Was the intent of quoting those posts to encourage a discussion?

The only result for me is that I will immediately put that idiot @Kitrinxon ignore, as well as this thread.

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45 minutes ago, dlmartins said:

My main questions for the Atari development community:
- Is there a danger for enhanced games, by their nature, to not be preserved or playable?
- Is the lack of support in MiSTER and possibly other hardware based approaches for these enhanced games a concern?
- Is the use of enhanced games lazy and a lazy approach (compared to a Mapper)?
- What are the primary reasons for using ARM based enhancements?

(1)  ALL games are always in danger of not being preserved if no one makes the effort to do so.  Playability depends on preservation, which depends on people being willing to preserve them.

 

(2)  As long as there are emulators available that support emulating the hardware, there's really no need to be concerned.  Those working on MiSTER have no obligation to support the hardware unless their goal is to be able to run those enhanced games.

 

(3)  Maybe.  I would actually argue that one of the goals of programming is to be lazy and not work harder than you need to.  In general, any kind of programming is always work regardless of the platform.

 

(4)  In Atari 2600 games, ARM based enhancements allow developers to get more out of the system... mainly, get more out of the TIA (audio/video) chip.

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MiSTer is open source and has many different contributors. Some of them, like Kitrinx, might have contoversial opinions but there isn't really one Council Of Doom deciding stuff and setting things in stone. The quote in the OP from Sorgelig, the maintainer, might look kinda bad, but I've seen similar things said before about some issues, which were later solved/incorporated anyway. So that's something to consider too.

 

 

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I appreciate the thorough and direct responses.

 

@splendidnut, absolutely. I respect and admire the work Kitrinx has done. My intent here was to bring this to the folks actually working on the enhanced games and get genuine responses to the concerns. SpiceWare provided an excellent response and he is one of the main people involved in CDFJ, etc., so it carries even more weight, in my eyes.

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17 minutes ago, splendidnut said:

For reference, @Kitrinx was way more nice/civil in this discussion:

Cause she knew everyone was listening?  🙂

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Is MiSTer about preserving hardware and helping develop new software?  Or is it a machine for playing warez?  

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Programmers will eventually look for ways to go beyond system limitations. The launch titles didn't use bankswitching.

Maybe some programmers are lazy for not using code optimization. Maybe they're just using the resources available to them at the time.

If a game is good, it's a good game. How it works under the hood is secondary.

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As an aside, this thread/discussion may also be important when AtariAge, Champ Games, etc. start selling roms. People may want to play them on their MiSTer, for the various advantages it provides (lower latency, more accuracy if the core is implemented correctly, etc.), not knowing they will likely never be playable.

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1 minute ago, dlmartins said:

As an aside, this thread/discussion may also be important when AtariAge, Champ Games, etc. start selling roms. People may want to play them on their MiSTer, for the various advantages it provides (lower latency, more accuracy if the core is implemented correctly, etc.), not knowing they will likely never be playable.

More accurate than Stella?  Why?  Because FPGA is *magic*?  :-)  Is it really more accurate?  

 

Also, I don't recall Champ Games promising MiSTer compatibility...

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1 minute ago, orange808 said:

More accurate than Stella?  Why?  Because FPGA is *magic*?  🙂 Is it really more accurate?  

 

Also, I don't recall Champ Games promising MiSTer compatibility...

FPGA being more accurate than Stella is probably out of the scope for the discussion here, but FPGA does have inherent advantages, assuming the core is implemented correctly. Stella is amazing, no doubt.

 

I don't think Champ or AtariAge have promised MiSTer compatibility either, but I think some customers could assume that the roms would play, especially when the 7800 core has 2600 functionality unlocked (which seems to be the plan). I just wanted to point it out.

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Just now, dlmartins said:

FPGA being more accurate than Stella is probably out of the scope for the discussion here, but FPGA does have inherent advantages, assuming the core is implemented correctly. Stella is amazing, no doubt.

 

I don't think Champ or AtariAge have promised MiSTer compatibility either, but I think some customers could assume that the roms would play, especially when the 7800 core has 2600 functionality unlocked (which seems to be the plan). I just wanted to point it out.

Fair enough.  People selling roms might want to let people know their game will only work with emulators with that can emulate all Atari hardware--including new carts.

 

Regardless, the popular (and often repeated) claim to inherent accuracy advantages is false.  That's why I pointed it out. 

 

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5 hours ago, dlmartins said:

Is there a danger for enhanced games, by their nature, to not be preserved or playable?

I can only see the risk that we might not be able to produce them on cart when the hardware required doesn't exist anymore. But I am sure they could be converted to more modern hardware. IMO the much bigger risk is the use of closed code, which might prevent or complicate this conversion.

 

But even then, there will always be emulators. Especially when they are open source.

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Please forgive my ignorance.

 

Stella emulates Atari 2600 hardware and since we can't update the original hardware, why does Stella require updates?

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15 minutes ago, Yurkie said:

Please forgive my ignorance.

 

Stella emulates Atari 2600 hardware and since we can't update the original hardware, why does Stella require updates?

Many reasons:

  • To fix bugs; to accommodate for changes in the OS, or bugs in Stella itself
  • To add features; self-explanatory
  • To add new bankswitching schemes; it's kind of hard to emulate a scheme that hasn't been invented yet :)
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8 hours ago, orange808 said:

Is MiSTer about preserving hardware and helping develop new software?  Or is it a machine for playing warez?  

 

The same was said before for emulators...

 

Forgive me if this sounds naive to experts but doesn't the DC-10 Nano that MISTer runs on have an ARM processor to run the game's ARM based code?

 

 

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43 minutes ago, MrMaddog said:

 

The same was said before for emulators...

 

Forgive me if this sounds naive to experts but doesn't the DC-10 Nano that MISTer runs on have an ARM processor to run the game's ARM based code?

 

 

Kitrinx would have to chime in on the feasibility of that.  It might be easier to create a framework to target the Nano hardware directly at compile time--and make each game it's own core.  Obviously, devs would need to port their stuff over.

 

 

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Wouldn't it be up to the emulator/simulator to acquire the capacity to run whatever new games come out? Yes. I dislike seeing developers modify their games to run on emus or to accommodate an emulator's shortcomings. Real hardware always always comes first. And it's up to the emu devs to match it.

 

2 hours ago, Yurkie said:

Please forgive my ignorance.

 

Stella emulates Atari 2600 hardware and since we can't update the original hardware, why does Stella require updates?

New bankswitch schemes. These can be hardware based, such as new circuitry & wiring in the cartridge. Stella needs to be modified/extended to understand the new circuitry in the cartridge. After all, if it is an emulator of hardware, new hardware means new versions.

 

In other words, Stella emulates the original VCS out to and through the cartridge slot, through a standard cartridge PCB, through the ROM addressing in the ROM itself, ending at the actual "game program" instructions. If you start changing that "last-mile hardware" then it's really a whole new ballgame. You've got a new console. Need new emu code to accommodate that new PCB and socket and ROM layout.

 

9 hours ago, dlmartins said:

FPGA being more accurate than Stella is probably out of the scope for the discussion here, but FPGA does have inherent advantages, assuming the core is implemented correctly. Stella is amazing, no doubt.

Over the years Stella has advanced quite considerably. And I consider it a gold standard when it comes to exploring nuances of a game or trying to break a game.

 

9 hours ago, dlmartins said:

I don't think Champ or AtariAge have promised MiSTer compatibility either, but I think some customers could assume that the roms would play, especially when the 7800 core has 2600 functionality unlocked (which seems to be the plan). I just wanted to point it out.

Thing is the MiSTer core is incomplete. It isn't aware of newer bank switch schemes and certainly not aware of the hardware in recent Champ or Spiceware games. MiSTer isn't going that last mile. MiSTer isn't recognizing the fact that the original VCS becomes a dual-processor system with Harmony/Melody/ARM carts.

 

Again it's MiSTer's responsibility to gain compatibility. MiSTer must consider the new circuitry and not just what's in the console.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, MrMaddog said:

Forgive me if this sounds naive to experts but doesn't the DC-10 Nano that MISTer runs on have an ARM processor to run the game's ARM based code?

If they can integrate it with the VCS core, make the ARM code run on the ARM processor, and keep all the timing intact. Probably yes.

 

10 hours ago, orange808 said:

Is MiSTer about preserving hardware and helping develop new software?  Or is it a machine for playing warez?  

It's like MAME. It's warez. Flying cross-country with "preservation" as the call sign to ease the conscience and state noble intentions.

 

OTH, in order to preserve something "interactive" you must save and replicate the behavior and responses. So a side-effect of "preservation" is that the games are playable. As so stated in the MAME charter.

Edited by Keatah

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Someone attached a card reader to a Mister. That would work with ARM games, no?

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