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Games Entertainment

Games That Push System Limits 107

Retro Gaming with racketboy has a look at games that pushed the limits of gaming systems. At the end of every console's life, the last few games released for the system are (generally) the shiniest examples the hardware has to offer. The article's author starts with the Atari. From the piece: "I'm by no means a 2600 expert, but Solaris is definitely one game that comes up quite frequently in terms of innovative 2600 games. Considering the 2600 wasn't originally intended to do much more than play Pong variants, Solaris is a technical masterpiece with its sophisticated gameplay and relatively high resolution graphics. Although the game played much like a first-person space shooter, you can always see your ship at the bottom of the screen. The graphics for Solaris were first-rate as the multi-colored aliens are flicker-free and glide along smoothly, even when attacking in groups."
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Games That Push System Limits

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  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @06:16PM (#14719841)
    Mainly due to the cartridge system. You could stuff extra RAM and processing units into the cartridge to expand the ability of the base console. Nothing like that in today's optical drives. Theats one of the reasons generations are so much shorter now- we were basicly buying upgrade hardware in each cartridge.
  • by default luser ( 529332 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @06:45PM (#14720092) Journal
    I'd also nominate:

    For NES, The Guardian Legend (Winter 1988) [], created by Compile. Innovative mixture of gameplay, extremely fast scrolling, an endearing soundtrack, dozens of enemies on the screen at once, HUGE bosses...lots of fun.

    For Genesis, Shining Force 2 (Summer 1994) []. An excellent sequel, it included the best cartoon-style graphics ever seen on the Genesis' limited color pallette, and the instrumental soundtrack, with fake reverb and rich sounds, was way beyond anything else ever attempted on the platform (remember, most Genesis games went with a techno or electronica-inspired soundtrack because the FM sound synth was pretty poor).

    That's about it. The article was pretty complete considering how many systems it coverd.
  • You could stuff extra RAM and processing units into the cartridge to expand the ability of the base console. Nothing like that in today's optical drives.

    It's not like a modern system needs the extra components, though. They've got so much horsepower that any change would be pretty marginal. Thus you tend to get much more bang for your buck by trying to extract more out of tighter and better optimized code. On the Atari 2600 that wasn't an option since you:

    a) Only had 128 bytes of RAM (the SuperChip in some carts added another 128)
    b) Had 2-4K of ROM (without bankswitching tricks that later extended the carts)
    c) Couldn't fit an entire screen of data in RAM. (That 6K in the SuperCharger really helped here.)
    d) Had exactly 1 clock with which to draw to the screen for every three pixels.
    e) Had slightly more than 1MHz of processing time to work with.
    f) Had to draw the screen since you had no GPU to count on. (The TIA didn't do much more than plot swaths of pixels, I'm afraid.)

    Back then you counted clocks for all you were worth. Today you count millions of lines of code for fun. My how times have changed. :)
  • by RoadDoggFL ( 876257 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @06:53PM (#14720173) Homepage
    More to come...
    Part 2 of this series will arrive soon -- covering systems from the Atari Jaguar through the Sega Dreamcast.
  • by b1t r0t ( 216468 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @07:39PM (#14720540)
    NES games basically had to do this from the start. It only had 4K of RAM, half being work (CPU) RAM, and half being video RAM. It used a name table/pattern table style graphics chip (a descendant of the TMS-9918, though not based directly upon it like the Sega and MSX video chips), which meant it didn't even have enough RAM for basic graphics! Instead, it relied on the cartridge to put the pattern table into a separate ROM chip, or to have a RAM chip if it just had to have pattern tables in RAM. While NES games didn't go quite as far as having a CPU in the cartridge like SNES FX games did, their mappers got pretty complicated in later games, such as Castlevania 3 as mentioned in TFA.

    Atari 2600? Pretty much any game other than Pong and Combat was pushing the system, because of it's 1-D graphics chip that was optimized for those two games. Vertical scrolling was relatively easy, but the limit on what you could put on a scanline made horizontal scrolling hard. The real problem, though, was the 4K cartridge address space. Doing all those tricks took up space, and there aren't a lot of good games that aren't at least 8K bankswitched. (and quite a few bad games that are!) It is still to this day getting pushed to the limit in homebrew games (see for examples).

    Of the other popular systems of the day, the 5200 definitely didn't get pushed to the limit. Even though it was mostly compatible with the 400/800 line (easy enough to convert if you had source code), the 400/800 line didn't really get pushed until the XE era, after the 5200 died. Intellivision had some nice games in its later days, and I would say that they did in fact push the system. And the Vectrex was too niche and too late to get pushed to the limit.

    While the 5200 got only one bankswitched game, the Colecovision died before it could get any. Like the 5200, it had 32K cartridge space. Its 16K VRAM and TMS-9918 graphics were really good for character-cell based games. Its only problems were small work RAM (1K) which could be partially made up for by using extra VRAM as secondary storage, and lack of colors (15 fixed colors, only one or two at a time, and not well-chosen ones like the C64 had). The Sega Master System (an expansion of the Colecovision-like SG-1000) video chip made up for this by doubling the max sprites per line, using 4-bit graphics (16 colors) everywhere, and having 32 palette registers.

    Hmm, let's see... here's how much RAM they had, and how much space a game could take before having to use bank switching:

    2600 - 128 bytes RAM, 4K cartridge space
    INTV - about 1.3K RAM, possibly as much as 48K x 16-bit cartridge space, but with a wonky bus
    5200 - 16K RAM, 32K cartridge space
    CV - 1K RAM, 16K VRAM, 32K cartridge space
    Vec - 1K RAM, at least 40K cartridge space
    NES - 2K RAM, 2K VRAM, 40K cartridge space (usually 32K ROM/8K RAM)

  • Re:3D game on ZX81 (Score:2, Informative)

    by silasthehobbit ( 626391 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:41AM (#14723070)
    That would be 3D Monster Maze. Although I recall it being on the 16K ZX Spectrum.

    And yes, I did play it.

    You could also stop the game by pressing Break or something. I forget - as it was like 1983/4 when this was out.



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