[stella] Re: Need programmer: Atari 2600 RPG Project

Subject: [stella] Re: Need programmer: Atari 2600 RPG Project
From: emooney@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Erik Mooney)
Date: Fri, 04 Apr 1997 21:22:26 GMT
>Wow..  pretty ambitious.  Considering what a pain it is to write a
>"regular" 4k 2600 game, I wonder how many people currently are capable of
>coding a 16k bankswitched game, with RAM to boot?   Has anyone
>disassembled Millipede or Stargate to check the feasability of using 16k
>bankswitching for an RPG game?

As long as your assembler can compile into the 16k format, it isn't that
difficult.  The debugger in PC Atari supports viewing multiple banks of
data.  Bankswitching should be easier for an RPG than for Millipede or
Stargate because, ideally, the main code for the game would take around 2k
and then you could have multiple other 2k sections to store say, the layout
for various areas in the game.. necessitating a bankswitch only when
entering a new area (reminiscent of Ultima 5-6 era and early Sierra games
on the PC.. "Please insert disk 3") instead of the dozen bankswitches per
frame Millipede goes through.

Adding support for the 128 bytes of "Superchip" RAM wouldn't be that
difficult as long as you've got info on where the RAM is located within the
2600 address space.  I haven't found any such docs yet, but I'm sure
someone knows.  Emulators support this format, so testing is easy; testing
on a real console is difficult, though, unless you've got a 16k EEPROM that
supports the required bankswitching and has the Superchip RAM, and you have
an EEPROM burner.

I still think the best format for a 2600 RPG would be a Supercharger
multiload, distributed on CD.. this would be much cheaper to manufacture
and distribute (considering 4k carts cost at least $10, a 16k cart with RAM
would be upwards of $25-$30), and would allow 2k of RAM easily and up to 99
banks of ROM - even if it isn't pretty graphically, the size of the game
world could easily rival NES RPGs like Zelda and Final Fantasy.  This could
also be released as a PC CD-ROM, with each load stored as a .wav file and
some kind of interface so pressing only 1 or 2 keys loads the specified
chunk.. this'd also allow a virtually infinite number of loads.
Theoretically, you could even devise a cable to run from the second
joystick port (which can be configured to output.. a standard DB9 serial
cable fits the Atari port, though I don't know offhand what the pinouts
are) to the PC serial port, thus letting the Atari signal the PC what and
when to load.. thus making the entire process automatic (not unlike a PSX
or Saturn loading the next section from CD.)  Ultimately, I suppose both
these ideas could be combined, with up to 98 loads stored as CD audio
tracks so it's playable from any CD player, and also include a PC interface
and cable for automatic loading.  Possibly the B/W switch or one of the
difficulty switches could toggle between automatic and manual loads.. or
even, autodetection could be done: the 2600 sends a signal on joystick 2
regardless of any switches.. if the Supercharger doesn't detect an incoming
waveform, it displays "Please load track X."

Disadvantages of CD: smaller target audience, and the available supply of
Superchargers would likely be exhausted if such a project was actually

It may even be possible to bypass the Supercharger if a PC is a file
server.  Suppose we've got a cart with say, 2k ROM (mostly
screen-displaying and input-reading routines) and 2k RAM.. then, if we're
hooked to a PC via a serial cable in joystick 2, the Atari could demand
anything from the PC (which would have effectively unlimited storage) such
as dungeon maps and store that in the 2k RAM, where there should also be
enough room for character data.  The joystick ports can be configured for
either input or output, and I think that the trigger can be set for input
while the directional switches are output, allowing bidirectional
communication without having to switch the port back and forth.  Timing
would obviously be tricky, though not impossible.  An EEPROM and burner
would be required to test unless we can get an emulator to support this,
but once the screen-display routines are done, the rest of development
shouldn't be too hard.  Despite the requirement of a PC, I don't think this
violates the classic-system spirit too much.. the only thing we're breaking
is the ROM storage barrier (and adding some RAM, but the Supercharger
already does that) and we're not adding any hardware beyond a standard
(hopefully) serial cable.

</brainstorm> =)

>I guess you could write Adventure differently 4 times and bankswitch
>between the 4 parts..  :)

Nono, write ET four times and bankswitch!  Sixteen screens of pits to fall
into! =)

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