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Games Entertainment

Atari 2600 Game Development 317

gjb6676 writes "An article over at ExtremeTech is covering recent game development projects on the Atari 2600. The amount of cartridge space they have to work with is a sobering thought: 'A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes. "That's 20 Kbytes, five times the amount of (ROM) space developers had to work with in the 2600.'"
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Atari 2600 Game Development

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  • by lightspawn ( 155347 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:16PM (#5224384) Homepage
    Check out, for example, the homebrew projects at Atari Age [atariage.com].
  • I think.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Equidist ( 630494 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:17PM (#5224395)
    I think that says more about Word 2002 than it does about the 2600.
    • Re:I think.. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > I think that says more about Word 2002 than it
      > does about the 2600...

      I think that this probably says more about
      current software development than anything
      else. These days memory is cheap and I fear
      that too often not much effort is put into
      making programs efficient. While it isn't
      practical to squeeze every bit of space and
      time out of a program, there should be some
      effort. These days many progams really are
      in fact inefficient hogs (for whatever reason...
      lazy programmer, bloated system libraries, ???)
      • Re:I think.. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jagilbertvt ( 447707 )
        Yes, but this software "bloat" is what drives the market for faster cpu's, cheaper memory, and larger hard drives. If we made efficient software we'd still be paying $2000 for a pentium 200.
    • by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:06PM (#5224872)
      at 18kb for the Word *.doc version of my term paper and 8kb for the OpenOffice *.sxw version, I don't think either of them would fit on an Atari 2600 cart.

      Granted, the OpenOffice file is merely bloated while the Word one is reminiscent of the restauraunt scene in Monty Python's The Meanting of Life.
  • by tadheckaman ( 578425 ) <tad@hecSTRAWkaman.com minus berry> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:17PM (#5224397) Homepage
    20KB of data for a 2 word document? thats insane. .TXT is best!
  • by use_compress ( 627082 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:18PM (#5224404) Journal
    Why not start porting some of the 2600 games to the X-Box? I'm still waiting for Custer's Revenge [extremetech.com] 2!
  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:18PM (#5224405) Homepage Journal
    Is the "sobering thought" really the 2600's limit, or is it MS Word's docu-bloat? Remember that Moore's Law doesn't get you anything if Gates' Law is also in effect.

    The trick is to exploit Moore's Law, and avoid Gates. Then technology becomes a Good Thing.

  • Bank switching? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I know that some games were larger than the 256 bytes that were standard, by use of 'bank switching', so telling the readers that it is all they have to work with is misleading.
  • by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:18PM (#5224409)
    so the code had to be writing directly to the screen output as fast as the action required. I don't know if any systems at that time did have a buffer, but I thought I read something about why it was worthwhile in the book "High Score".

    It allowed the system to extend its usable life of the platform after developers got familiar with how to work with it.

    • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:29PM (#5224523) Homepage
      Actually, the 2600 had enough "VRAM" to store background data for a single line on the screen. So, you had to write out the data for each successive line during the horizontal blanking period of the video display. This also means that, even if the screen is static, you still have to do all this work, just to keep it there.

      Now, this all had to be done just to keep the background of the display intact. The programmer also got 2 player objects and 2 missile objects to work with... basically primitive sprites. 'course, with such limited resources, writing any kind of advanced game is a challenge. As they mention in the article, the Defender! programmer(s) tried to get around the sprite limitation by changing the sprite objects during even/odd frames to simulate more of them.
      • Oh, and an addendum to my post... you, of course, weren't limited to writing to VRAM during the hblank. You could (and I'm assuming many did) write the VRAM as the electron gun was scanning the line...
      • Ah, memories (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mr_death ( 106532 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:34PM (#5225216)
        I was the co-developer on the Atari 2600 versions of Jungle Hunt and Pole Position.

        Yes, there were two players (8 pixel sprites) and two missiles (1, 2, 4, or 8 pixels wide, if memory serves.) And the "easy" way to set up a display line was to write the bitmap and position of the players and missiles during vblank.

        However, there was an underhanded way of getting more than two players on a line, if they were separated by enough space (~12 pixels, if memory serves.) While the line is drawn, you keep track of where the "currently drawn pixel" is. When that location is just past the end of a player, you reposition the player to ~12 pixels ahead of the current position, and rewrite the bitmap. We (General Computer Company, a captive developer for Atari) could get up to 6 players on a line, if they were separated by enough distance.

        Yes, I am dating myself ... but oh, what memories.
  • 4K (Score:4, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:19PM (#5224413) Homepage Journal
    Can't fit much pr0n in 4K.
  • by Marco_polo ( 160898 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:19PM (#5224420) Homepage
    Defender 2 'the revenge'
    space invaders 'EXTREME'
    Atari Football 2003
    Night Driver with Infrared Goggles
    and Combat: Gulf War

  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hafree ( 307412 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:20PM (#5224426) Homepage
    Imagine that, programmers having to write efficient code for a change. These days, a "hello world" program won't even fit on a floppy after the required libraries have been compiled in...
    • Re:Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

      Is that because

      1. the programmer didn't write an efficient "Hello, world" program?
      2. the point of a "Hello, world" program isn't to acheive efficieny?
      3. compiler/linker/OS combinations have become much more complex?
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:28PM (#5224509)
      Imagine that, programmers having to write efficient code for a change.
      That would be great --- imagine it: every piece of software would take ten times as long to write and a hundred times as long to debug, and I'd see all the benefit of 17KB extra space on my 100GB hard drive. Where can I sign up to this marvellous dream?
      • Re:Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 0x0d0a ( 568518 )
        You know, I really don't remember MacWrite taking forever to come out, but I *do* remember it being pretty damn bug-free -- unlike MS Office.

        Writing apps that aren't bloated does *not* necessarily entail lots of debugging and excessive writing time.

        Too many programmers have decided that doing a crummy job is good enough (since, thanks to hardware advances, people won't usually notice unless a crash turns up). As a result, the state of software engineering and the quality of the products turned out is downright awful compared to any other field of engineering.
    • Efficient code is not neccesarily judged by code size.

      Which is more efficient, pushing a string onto a stack and calling a software interupt, or writting something which looks like:

      print "Hello, world.";

      I can tell you which one is easier to read and write by the humans. You can get a perfect shape for your screws by hand threading them, or you can have a factory which threads thousands of screws an hour (perhaps with the odd dud), which allows you (the human) to design a train engine -- not just concentrate on making that one, perfect screw.

      Hardware can do so much, and it can do so much more each year. To not use that is a waste.
  • duck pond (Score:3, Funny)

    by twiggy ( 104320 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:20PM (#5224427) Homepage
    as long as they code "duck pond" and put it in a cartridge so I can play it in my old Intellivision with the Atari adapter, I'll be happy...

    mmmm, duck pond.. now with new color graphics!
  • Memory switching (Score:2, Informative)

    by jhampson ( 580482 )
    Ahh, but I seem to remember that developers used to do something called 'bank switching' in the carts.
    They had more than 1 memory chip in there and they could switch to another chip.
    Was it Activision that started using that trick? I remember that they had the shweetest games. A friend of mine got the first "extra memory" game, although I don't recall what it was. The one with chopper flying down the river, maybe?
    And it was cool the first time I heard my Atari talking to me...(not imagined, really!)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:21PM (#5224439)
    We paid a buck a byte, and we liked it! None of them fancy schmancy kilobytes, and most definately not 20 of em! With 20 of em, we could've written programs to launch people to the moon, and get em back safely again! And still had room to fit the bible in too! Heck, we could've done that in 10! You kids these days and your fancy megabytes, and gigabytes... I bet you've never had to walk to and from school up hill in both directions, either.
    • When I was a kid, we didn't even have 1's and 0's, just 0's. And we wrote our programs in stone with our teeth.

      We walked to school naked, barefoot, uphill both ways, and against the wind-driven snow. We wrapped barbed wire around our feet for traction and also used it to fight off the 3-legged wolves that preyed on the slower 2-legged wolves.

  • by guido1 ( 108876 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:21PM (#5224441)
    From the article:
    According to Chris Larkin, developer of the Atari 2600 card game Kablamo!, each developer typically came up with a proprietary method of bank switching to increase the ROM size to an average of 32 Kbytes of code.

    My 2600 died... All I've got left are the pong paddles (wheel things...) and some cartriges. :(
    • it's really sad that you had to describe in more detail what the "pong paddles" were.

      I used to play Arkanoid on my C64 w/the "wheel things". Ahhh, that's my next move. Buy an Arkanoid arcade machine :)
  • Rom Size (Score:5, Informative)

    by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:23PM (#5224454)
    'A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes. "That's 20 Kbytes, five times the amount of (ROM) space developers had to work with in the 2600.'

    Initially, games were 4KB. But there were also 8KB games (I believe on a single ROM, but I may be wrong) and with an extra chip in the cartridge to handle addressing games of 16KB could be squeezed in.

    For instance, Solaris, which was the best gane ever. http://skintigh.tripod.com/atari/solaris.html

    Less related: there were cartridges that I assume had 64 4KB roms. The first was a menu to select which of the games to play. I also assume this was done without permission of the copyright holders. Then there were tape drives...
  • ...it also depends on how long the words are.
  • 20kb (Score:5, Funny)

    by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:24PM (#5224467) Journal

    Well, if they didn't append your medical records to every Word file, it really wouldn't be that bad. :)

  • I wish I haad the hardware/programming knowledge to make some homebrew carts on my spare time. It would be fun to make some games for my game.com, now sitting, gathering dust.

    Now only if I could find the dial-up hardware/software thing for that. Would be fun just to see how it works.
  • Two word file in Word 2002, single letter file in Word XP ?
  • by Sebastopol ( 189276 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:30PM (#5224531) Homepage
    I see two angles here.

    1. the number of programmers has exponentially ballooned since the early 80s, leading to a larger number of less godlike programmers, AND programmers have become more reliant on fat libraries and limitless resources, so coding something this small would bend my brain for sure.

    2. game content has changed dramatically. q bert was weird. space invaders was weird. pac man was weird. (yes, sports games did exist, but they weren't mainstream then). games today are less weird. it's either a first person shootemup, sports, or a linear fiction w/some combat.

    Focusing on #2, I'd like to see if there really is some creative game writing locked away in some programmer's brain out there, or if we've become a nation of UnReal, GTO, Final Fantasy, and Madden XFL clones.

    I don't mean to put down these fine games, I enjoy many console games. What I'm trying to get at is the utter weirdness of what people come up with when severly limited by resources. Facsimile and simulation are out the window, so you really have to dig deep for a good game.

    We'll see, I'm very interested in the outcome. Maybe the winners of the IOCCC should check this out.
    • Here [slashdot.org] is a great idea for a game design! I can't wait for that one to come out.
    • I personally think that there should be two requirements for any CS course.

      1 Programming for embedded systems.. you have 4 meg for OS and app, that's it.

      2 programming for a PIC.

      I have 1024 bytes for my program AND data.. THAT'S IT. when you throw away the laziness of using libs it's amazing what you can do in 512 bytes.

      Most CS classes do not teach skill or efficiency. they teach a loose understanding and acceptable practices. and this is producing alot of very medicore programmers.

      So for you programmers out there... spend about $50.00 and buy a 16f84 pic and a programmer, download the software and actually learn how to write software that is tight and efficient. you'll also gain something else... understanding of the hardware... something ELSE that should be a requirement in every CS course.

      Except for games, everything being done today on office pc's has already been done and being used 20 years ago and 1/10th the size and at least 100 time more optimized.

      What's your excuse for how slow and bloated your app is today?
  • Shoot... It's exactly half the RAM my first computer had... (Sinclair Spectrum, for those who are interested).

    Haaaaa... I am getting all teary-eyed now. Those were the days... =)
  • The Good Old Days (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FormerComposer ( 318416 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:33PM (#5224562)
    Working on the Tandy Color Computer was similar. I programmed Super BustOut for the initial release of the machine. 4K Rom, 1K Ram (1/2 of which was the screen.) You had to squeeze every byte out of the 6809's instruction set (one of the greatest processor designs ever!) But we ended up with a great game ... like Breakout but with
    * 2D paddle motion
    * horizontal or vertical brick orientation
    * gravity in some modes
    * "English" on the paddle/ball interactions
    * single or dual player in competitive or cooperative simultaneous play
    * sound effects (CPU generated)
    * etc. etc.

    Just before release, with 9 free bytes left, a bug was found. The initial fix would break the ROM barrier by 13 bytes. Yet another pass through the code doing the 4th or 5th optimization -- finally got it in and ended up with 11 free bytes.

    Amazing what is possible in ASM but, boy, it was many 20 hour days!

    So I understand those 'smallest executable' contests, but how much functionality does the executable really have? Or how much of the Word document is really information?

    • I had a copy of Super BustOut! I played it on my CoCo2! It was a lot of fun.

      Of course, I used to program in 6809 Assembler for fun, too. ;)
    • by renehollan ( 138013 ) <.rhollan. .at. .clearwire.net.> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:40PM (#5225273) Homepage Journal
      ...complete with SEX, and BRA instructions (Sign EXtend, and BRanch Always -- of course, in the interest of an orthogonal instruction set you had LBRA (Long BRanch Always), as well as BRN, and LBRN (... BRanch Never) -- rather goofy NOPs really, but great for timing loops. Oh yeah, there was also a JMP (JuMP) instruction, if ya dina' mind the 'bsolute addressin'.

      I once hacked together a "multi-line BBS expansion board for an Apple ][" that was 6809 based in 17 chips: 6809, 6883 DRAM controller (two banks of 32K), 2 64Kx4 DRAM chips, a 32K EPROM, three PALs (mostly address decoding), 4 2681 DUARTS (one on the Apple side of the bus, one on the 6809 side for a serial link between them, leaving a spare serial port on the apple side and five for modems on the 6809 side, and buffering chips for a fully independent backplane (separate from the Apple bus).

      Coded the whole damn thing in assembler too.

      Man, those days were fun! I think I still have that board (wire-wrapped, of course) for posterity. I remember the 6502 had this wierd read after write which didn't jive well with the 2681, so I had to disable odd address reads in the memory space of the card from the Apple side.

  • Is this really a submission about writing 2600 games, or is it just more Microsoft flamebait?

    I'm sure there are tons of file formats that even when empty take up what would appear to be "large" amounts of space. Never mind that Word is written for today's computers, for which 17K is hardly even noticed, hence there is little need to optimize empty files.

    By the way, the newest Word has a built in versioning system. I'd like to know what options on this system were set when this 17K file was created. Also did the user choose to save any other information (Macros, etc.) with the file?

    Like I said, this submission isn't really about programming for the Atari. If it was, the obligatory troll wouldn't have been there, and the article would never have been posted.
    • Well, the 4K/20K comparison comment is less a bash on Word and more of an example to help people understand exactly how small the space was that people had to work with back then. (So they used a very familiar current example - who hasn't used Word?)

      When you have a website or write articles, you can phrase your commentary however you want.
  • by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:38PM (#5224602) Journal
    It seems to me that the Programming for the Atari 2600 is like working a Chinese Puzzle. Previously, I've wondered why not write new titles for MAME? It's available on multiple platforms and probably not so hard to develop on since it's emulating newer architecture.

    • It's been done, albiet it's mostly hacks of older games.
    • by BigJimSlade ( 139096 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @04:17PM (#5225652) Homepage
      Ask and ye shall recieve:

      Arcade Development Central [emuvibes.com]

      It's a little out of date, but it looks like the links still work. A guy named Charles Doty programmed most of the demos. Most replace an existing game in Mame (or Raine, Callus, etc) rather than adding a new driver for it. Tools for compiling are there too. There was a Yahoo Groups page for arcade development (link on the site, check it out) but the last post was in August.

      There is also a Pong clone for the NeoGeo that is not directly supported in Mame, but works with a hacked in driver. The developer had box art for it and everything. Unfortunately, I lost the link to the developer's web site.
  • by WIAKywbfatw ( 307557 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:38PM (#5224605) Journal
    It's hard for kids these days to imagine a PC with anything less than 128MB of RAM and a graphics card equipped with 32MB of it's own (512MB and 64MB are typical figures on newer PCs and graphics cards) but, back in the day, we got by just fine with only a few KB to play around with.

    Sure, Tank and Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 weren't deep, multi-layered games but they did provide hours of fun. Similarly, Paradroid, Wizball and even Elite, the cream of the crop on the Commodore 64 would seem dull and shallow to most of the new generation of gamers used to the depth of Grand Theft Auto 3, Starcraft or EverQuest.

    But, to those of us who were gaming back then, these titles were as immersive and addictive as anything available today. Hell, I still fire up VICE (the best C64 emulator available) to play some of those titles today, and not just for nostalic reasons - back then, without the flashy graphics and sound games had to be immediately playable and fun or else they just didn't capture the imagination.

    Who remembers breaking joysticks waggling them back and forth playing Track and Field? Who remembers the pride they felt when they finally reached Elite status? Or when they completed Impossible Mission? The shear unadulterated fun of playing Pong and Breakout for hours on end, not giving a damn that the last five minutes weren't at all visually distinguishable from the first five?

    It's funny, but even though I'm an avid gamer I've bought fewer games in the last two years than I have in any one year before that, going back as far as 1983. Partially this is because today's games have more depth to them, but mainly it's because there are fewer and fewer titles that really enthuse me any more.

    The lack of originality in the games industry today is part of it - I haven't seen a truly original game since Populous - but, ironically, I don't think that today's games capture the imagination half as much as the games of yesteryear.
  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) <dmorinNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:40PM (#5224622) Homepage Journal
    The domain you program for brings out different skills. If you get into the mindset of using as few bytes as possible and bumming everything you can, then you can do what appears to be magic. of course, you won't be good for much else :), but one thing at a time. There are tradeoffs, always, such as time/space. But I expect that readability and maintenance are in there somewhere, too. :)

    Last week over lunch a developer posed a programming problem he'd been given on a job assignment. We all suggested a similar algorithm..then I went home and coded it. Then coded a more optimized one. And said I wanted to optimize it more. They asked me why it mattered that in one iteration I had two multiplication operations, and in the second version I had one. Why, because it's faster, of course. That's the sort of thing that's meaningless to an enterprise middleware programmer (for the most part), but everything to a game designer. Maybe you're doing this operation 10 million times a second, and every nanosecond you shave counts.

    Hacking means working with the resources you have in the constraints you've been given. It's a shame that so many developers now would look at challenge like that and just dismiss it rather than seeing it as an opportunity to wake up some parts of your brain you don't normally get to use. Why must "solve it" mean "solve it once" instead of "give me the best solution"? It's a pretty safe bet that if you stop at one solution you haven't found the best one. Why be pleased with that?


    "256 bytes? It's impossible to write a game in 256 bytes! I need over 100 bytes just to pull the A20 line high and enable extended memory!!"
    - badly remembered quote from a rec.games.programmer who just didn't get it

    • the sort of thing that's meaningless to an enterprise middleware programmer (for the most part), but everything to a game designer.

      It mattered to game designers then, but not now. It's rare indeed to need to twiddle on that level these days. When you have hundreds of millions of cycles per second, and multiple instructions executing at the same time, many so-called optimizations are just noise. With complex programs, they key is to keep the code clean and understandable.
      • Well, then, sometimes it's just *fun*. Did you ever fix a broken appliance even though it would have cost you less time and money to just go buy a new one? I don't think that professional programmers for the most part engage in such personal challenges. I can't really see anybody making money from selling new 2600 cartridges. But if you look at it and it's a personal itch, then go ahead and scratch it.

        Here's another working definition of hacker -- when you can't NOT solve a problem that's been placed in front of you. You have to solve it because damnit, it has to be solved. Maybe somebody else asked you the question, maybe you just saw a piece of code and wondered "Can I make this faster/smaller/cooler"? Once the challenge is extended it can't be undone.

        It's this latter reason that managers often wouldnt want to hire hackers because they would create their own requirements, ignore the real ones, and not give up the code because they wanted to add just one more feature. I personally think that all coders should go through such a phase so that they know how to grow out of it and turn it back on when it's useful to them.

  • by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:40PM (#5224623) Homepage Journal
    "A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes."

    Did anyone else read that and think "10,240-BIT WORDS? What kind of workstation is that running on?"
  • what id like to see (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaens ( 639772 )
    is not really so much atari coding, but how about some reakes of old atari classics like texas chainsaw massacre? (yes it was a real game, and it was banned in the US for violence)
    but seriously the atari had some good shit on it that would be fun to remake

    • The texas chainsaw game was NOT banned in the US for 'violence'. The game was just a pac man-type maze game where the power pills were replaced with gas cans to fuel your chainsaw so you could kill the people.

      Within the 2600 graphical display environment, this was hardly violent compared to the original movie.

      The availability of the game was very limited because it wasn't officially licensed by Atari. It and Custer's Revenge were basically bootleg software for the 2600. I think you could freely order it from places like 47th street photo.

      I only chimed in here because I get a little annoyed when people say XYZ piece of entertainment was "banned in the US" because of its violent content. The US government has never banned anything because of violent content.
  • A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes. "That's 20 Kbytes, five times the amount of (ROM) space developers had to work with in the 2600.

    who cares? what, are they trying to port Microsoft Word to the Atari?

    then i guess that's a humdinger. i'll be looking forward to their Oracle port...

  • The Golden Age (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Madcapjack ( 635982 )
    Although the limit must have frustrated programmers, I think it forced programmers to come up with innovative games. No wonder many people consider the Atari age to be the Golden Age of video-games.
  • Stella programming (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darth Maul ( 19860 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:42PM (#5224643) Homepage
    What's even more scary than the 4K ROM limit is the 128 bytes of RAM. Yes, 128 bytes. 6502 assembly is easy, and the Stella chip architecture was an amazing acheivement. Read the Stella Programmer's Guide (available here [alienbill.com]) to be truly amazed at what it took those guys to develop games.

    In my game I'm just at the point where I have a playfield, a moveable player, and one missile I can shoot. And that took a lot of effort. You know you're doing hardcore software development when you have to count cycles to make sure you're not computing when the electron beam is actually being drawn. You have 2700 or so cycles to work with "above" the television image per screen for computation, and only about 48 for each scan line before you start messing up your game image because you're still doing computation. It's interesting because you're tied to the physical progression of the electron beam across the TV.
  • My Project (Score:2, Funny)

    by Wolfier ( 94144 )
    I and my team is still making a game for the abacus. It'll be very exciting and its name will be "Dude Abacus Forever"
  • by MarkRH ( 629597 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:45PM (#5224660) Homepage
    By the way, we also published a second story [extremetech.com] last Friday on the connection between Microsoft's SPOT smart objects and a wireless games distribution platform from Atari that was field-tested, but never produced. (You thought the Xbox was huge...) With pics!

  • Doom has been ported to everythinge else, I can't wait to see the 4Kb version on the Atari 2600.
  • by TheAlchemist ( 89319 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:49PM (#5224694)
    Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the homebrew games that have been released for the 2600 in recent years:

    2600 Homebrew Search Results [atariage.com]

    And here is a list of games that are currently in development for the various Atari consoles. This list changes pretty frequently, and there are some projects not yet listed as the authors aren't very far along with them (Yes, I know that last link is listed in the linked story, just including it here for the convenience):

    Titles In Development [atariage.com]

    A list of Atari 2600 games that have been hacked to change the graphics, sounds, colors, and more!

    Atari 2600 Hacks [atariage.com]

    And finally, many games that were only released in either NTSC or PAL formats have been modified to work with the other television standard. This is useful for people who have the ability (such as through a Cuttle Cart [schells.com]) to play these binaries on a real television:

    Atari 2600 TV Format Conversions [atariage.com]

  • From the article:

    The Atari 2600 was released in 1977, discontinued in 1984, and support was dropped in 1997, according to Machine-Room.org, a site tracking old computer systems.

    Support until 1997? Microsoft won't want us to know about companies that do that. My next OS will be from Atari! Or maybe an Amiga, because it looks there'll be a company called Amiga for the rest of my lifetime.

  • The most time-consuming aspect, Larkin said, was just the electronics, as he's a software programmer by trade. The cartridge includes over 180 hand-soldered points, and 135 connections. Larkin said he's also designed a basic vibrating "Rumble Pak" add-on for the Atari controller, and tested it, as well as a multi-tap device that allows 4 players to simultaneously play the 2600 console. Larkin has also asked Nintendo for formal permission to use a link cable to connect his Game Boy Advance to a Windows PC.

    Why did he ask Nintendo for permission for connecting his GBA to a PC? There is no license agreement when you're buying a GBA. Is sending ones and zeroes to your own GBA is prohibited by the DMCA? If it is, doing so without Nintendos permission is called civil disobedience and should be encouraged.

  • Think of ASCII art artists. They have limited resources, but combined in nice ways to achieve far more effects. Think Atari 2600 and Commodore 64's memory and disk areas. They only had some outputs for video and sound and generally the system was very simple. In Atari there was no OS (or an extremely simplified cartridge prog runner) and in Commodore, the V2 Basic didnt really provide any software provisions for use to the game code. One programmer could understand the entire Atari 2600 datasheet and make the best use of it, and be creative with it. He could also end up being an expert with his sources and development tools.

    Today we have the entire development process so heavily bloated, even the OS needs teams to work on its various parts. The resulting code is therefore neither optimized to the MAX, nor too stable. Gaming aside, the computer industry is in a bad shape. Think of all the layers in an application server like Websphere, or an ERP system with say Oracle as a backend database. We cut the process in so many different layers and standardized the communication between the layers to try and achieve that kind of stability, but each layer is worked on by whole teams on a repository.

    So the largest amount of time is shared between learning something new, some standard, protocol or language, exploring huge code repositories till you come across what you need, or debugging, which is all the more complicated. Theres so such thing as creativity among programmers anymore. Theres plenty of space, so just code according to the algorithm.

    Free software programmers are exempt from this rule generally. They take their time, make sure they know the language theyre working on, and get creative, free from the control of a project manager or deadline.
  • by jvmatthe ( 116058 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:00PM (#5224803) Homepage
    The Atari 2600 homebrew scene just did lose out on a really great opportunity. Activision Anthology, which emulates a ton of Activision titles for the old 2600 on a PS2, was to have an online component which would allow owners of the PS2 disc to download homebrew games for playing on the emulator. That would have absolutely rocked, and I think it would have really given the guys writing these games the kind of credit they deserve.

    You can read about that and other interesting bits about Act. Anth. in an interview [linuxgames.com] with the Anthology producer Ken Love.
  • I wore out so many joysticks playing this console. The Activision games were the best!
  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:15PM (#5224983)
    The first inklings of hobbyists developing for the Atari 2600 were back in 1992-1993 via a mailing list. Then the first homebrew games showed up a few years later, such as Edtris, Lights Out, and Oystron. Emulators really helped the scene to take off.

    Arguably, if you're wanting to experiment with tiny games, then you'd be much better off using Python and Pygame. You could write an Atari 2600-style game in a week of off hours that way, compared with the months of cycle tweaking it takes to get even a simple Atari 2600 game up and running. While it's a noble technical challenge, it isn't a good way to fool around with minimalist game design.
    • It kindof depends on your goals. If you only intend to play with pure game design, then yes... use python. It's a very clean language, and quite popular these days.

      OTOH, if you want to learn how to write efficient code, and produce something fun in the process, then coding for an older computer architecture is a very good way to do it.

      I've often remarked on how learning Assembly on the C64 (6510 CPU, wonderful!) made learning C and other language soooo much easier, as I already understood at a very fundamental level, what pointers were, and what the computer was going to do with if(a) printf("%s", a);
  • A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes. "That's 20 Kbytes, five times the amount of (ROM) space developers had to work with in the 2600."

    Well sure, but you can't Mail Merge a 2600 game now can you Mr Smarty Pants?
  • Believe or not, but there is even a competitive market for developing new Atari 2600 games. On top of the one mentioned in the Extreme Tech article, there is also the one shown at http://www.vgwiz.com [vgwiz.com] that also provided bank switching solutions. Talk about resiliency for the Atari 2600.
  • Retro (Score:3, Informative)

    by Stween ( 322349 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:30PM (#5225166)
    For anyone interested in games of yesteryear in the UK (like myself), I'd recommend the Edge magazine spin-off Retro.

    The current issue has a truckload of "The making of..." articles from Edge, covering a lot of games up to the early 90's, including: Space War, Asteroids, Battlezone, Civilization, Carrier Command, Populous and many others :)

    I bought it today and it's excellent, IMHO :)
  • Word Document Sizes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shaheen ( 313 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:52PM (#5225395) Homepage
    I hate people that talk about Word document bloat as if they know exactly what's going on when Word saves a document. "Look! A one word document takes 20KB! Word is crap!"

    What people don't realize is that there's quite a bit of formatting information in there. Remember stuff like page size, margins, fonts used (sometimes fonts are compiled directly into the document - depending on your settings - so that when you send it to someone, they don't need those fonts to view it correctly). That's just global formatting. What about stuff like paragraph formatting? Font styles/sizes?

    All of it can't come for 0 bytes, and maybe all of the above doesn't account for all 20KB, but I probably haven't touched on half the stuff that's there that people take for granted with a modern word processor.

  • A two-word file in Word 2002, for example, requires 20 Kbytes.

    So much for my brilliant plan to port MS Word to the Atari 2600... :(
  • Forget Atari... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andrewkov ( 140579 )
    I'd be more interested in doing something like this for my Playstation 2, plus it would be easier to burn CD's than cartridges. Anyone know if there is an SDK for Playstation 2? I searched the web briefly but couldn't find any info.
  • I once programmed a robot that had 16k of flash for basic code (it had an on-board interpreter), and 32 BYTES of memory. Since it was only doing one task, we were able to actually give it some learning ability, and do it only using 11 bytes of memory. We used a good chunk of the flash instruction space as well. While it is not hard to make a simple system very compact, they fact that the Atari developers were able to force an inherently complicated system like a video game to be sufficiently simple that it would fit into rather limited space is truly impressive.
  • Word? D'oh! (Score:3, Funny)

    by mraymer ( 516227 ) <mraymerNO@SPAMcenturytel.net> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @04:20PM (#5225693) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, we've all heard that MS leans toward bloatware. Well, rightly so... the target market for Word XP is computers with more than enough disk space for 20K files. But here's a song from back in the day... It may be out of date in the technical aspects, but its message rings clear. ;)

    Nine-tenths of a gig,
    Biggest ever seen,
    God this program's big:
    MS Word 15!
    Comes on 10 CD's,
    And requires -- Damn!
    Word is fine, but jeez:
    60 megs of RAM!?

    Oh, Microsoft, Microsoft, bloatware all the way!
    I've sat here installing Word since breakfast yesterday.
    Oh, Microsoft, Microsoft, moderation please!
    Guess you hadn't noticed -- 4-gig drives don't grow on trees!

  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:35PM (#5226325) Homepage
    2600 101 [alienbill.com]. Albert from AtariAge has eventual plans to give it a permanent home there.

    Good place to get a feel for the basics.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll