Re: [stella] Dungeons

Subject: Re: [stella] Dungeons
From: Glenn Saunders <cybpunks@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2001 22:52:27 -0700
At 11:59 PM 4/24/2001 -0500, you wrote:
Heh, in some ways that's cheating too.  You just have to draw the line
even closer.  "But that's not what they intended it to do".  Of course,
think of how many games wouldn't have been made if people had
restricted themselves that way.

If the game is the most important thing, you'll do whatever it takes to make sure the game is realized.

To me, what I find intriguing is the question of what happens when you take the 2600 and grant it all the benefits that come in an era of dirt-cheap memory.

Remember that fighter game that was being written that featured two flickering six-char megasprites? A game like that wouldn't have been written back then because the genre wasn't there and you'd need too much ROM to store the frames of animation. Now you can do it.

When Doug Neubauer was writing Solaris he felt he needed 16K. 16K was cheap enough at the time, so he used 16K. During the 2600 era there was a steady move from 2K to 4K to 8K to 16K to 16K with Superchip and so on. Up through the end of the machine's lifecycle nobody wrung their hands asking themselves philosophical questions about whether it was right or not to use larger capacity cartridges. Are these latter games to be dismissed, then? Games like Solaris, Radar Lock, Commie Mutants, Robot Tank, Millipede, and others are some of the best 2600 titles that ever came out for the system.

What is so interesting to me about the 2600 is what the additional memory allows the stock TIA hardware to be able to do by unrolling loops and doing other sorts of intentionally "bloaty" things that are otherwise impossible when crunching bytes to fit into a 4K memory footprint.

Tod Frye said himself that the 2600 was mostly limited by the memory, more specifically the RAM. The original hardware designers were only going to put 64 bytes of RAM on the system and later changed it to 128. They also made the mistake of not exposing the read/write and clock wires on the cart port, otherwise I'm certain Atari would have released piggy back expander carts and other elaborate things much earlier because it would have been a much more straightforward process, and certainly as early as a couple years after the 2600 came out memory prices were falling fast enough that the 2600 could have easily been released with 2K of RAM on board at the same cost. Bear in mind that the Astrocade came out in early '78 with 4K RAM on board.

As it stands, the Supercharger is a very elegant beast in how it is able to work at all given the above limitations, and opens up the machine to a lot of extra creativity as is shown by the quality of the Starpath catalog.

The Supercharger is not like an FX chip because it doesn't have a processor on board. It's not like the 32X because it doesn't natively generate video or sounds. So it's not really as much of a "cheat" as you think. It's more akin to the N64 ram pack.

All cart-based systems have ROM on them. Many for the 2600 and others have RAM of one kind or another. Memory is memory. It's still the native CPU and graphics system.

I do agree that 4K is a magic sweet spot for 2600 games where there are just enough tradeoffs to make you aware that there were tradeoffs, but not too many to spoil a well written game. But when you have more memory you can go that much farther with more game depth, more colorful displays, more frames of animation, and so on. That's not necessarily a bad thing either. Even a 64K 2600 game is going to appear minimalistic compared to today's games.

And as for using the machine as the designers intended, even before the 2600 was released Larry Kaplan was repositioning sprites and changing color registers in Air-Sea Battle and Al Miller was creating the first playfield bitmap with Surround, exploiting features that Jay Miner and company never anticipated.

There really are only a small handful of first generation titles that conform to a predictable Stella coding style.

Glenn Saunders - Producer - Cyberpunks Entertainment Personal homepage: Cyberpunks Entertainment:

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