May 2019

Making an Atari game – Day 2

Using my iPad to design sprites

I updated/upgraded the player character in a lot of ways. I got rid of the stupid smiley face temporary graphic I was using and messed around with drawing out plans for how I want the characters to look on my iPad. Of course there are a ton of limits when it comes to creating the graphics on the Atari. For one, you can only have one colour per horizontal line of the sprite. The black pixels you see above are transparent and will show whatever the current background colour is in the game. Also the player character can only be 8 pixels wide. It can have a height as large as I’d like though but I decided to keep that at 8 pixels as well, so all the characters in this game will have a uniform clean look to them. It just seems like they would fit better as a perfect square in this grid like world I’m attempting to create.

128 NTSC Colour Palette
104 PAL Colour Palette

One thing I do find is Atari did have an impressive colour palette to work with for the time. 128 colours for NTSC shown above, and 104 for PAL

First shot of in game player character
The player character in a corridor

I also coded the animations and views of the player character from all sides. He now faces in the direction he is walking! I decided it would also be cool if he had the ability to bust down some walls inside the rooms. So I also managed to code that after a lot of trial and error. I am really happy with how it turned out though.

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Making an Atari game – Day 1

I really didn’t know how difficult this would be. I thought this would be a quick and easy little side project but man was I wrong. The Atari 2600 is a very challenging system to code for. You wouldn’t think so but there is so much to learn. You really need to know the ins and outs of the hardware in order to write the code for it. It’s a very quirky system to say the least.

Day1 Progress shot
First thing I got the Atari to display with the Stella Emulator

That being said I think it was quite a productive first night of learning. I’ve been reading, coding, rereading what I just read, recoding what I just wrote, deleting, starting over, and finally within the last 2 hours of this 12 hour codespree I feel like I am getting the hang of it… Knock on wood.

I’m hoping to create a dungeon crawling, kind of a very lite Zelda type game. So far I have figure out how to create the first room, load it with walls. I’ve created variables that I can change on and off to create a door on each of the walls, if I want an opening in that direction or not. I’ll be able to use those variables later if I have enough space to create a map of the dungeon.

Walls with four doors
Four doors with variables

I also got some half-decent collision detection on my little smiley face player character. Might have to do some more tinkering there though to get it perfect. I had trouble with him getting kind of stuck along the side walls but kinda came up with a quick and dirty fix. However he still gets stuck on the middle obstical/wall things a little bit. It’s not easy. There isn’t a lot of space to work with on this old ancient legendary system.

Learning all of this gives me a lot more respect for the guys back in the 70s and 80s who single handedly developed for this system, in assembly! And managed to push the system to crazy heights beyond what it was really made for.

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The Atari Video Computer System / 2600

Atari Video Computer System / 2600
Atari Video Computer System / 2600

CPU: 6507 (modified 6502 microprocessor)
RAM: 128 Bytes
ROM: 4K max
CPU Clock: 1.19 MHz
Graphics Clock: 1.19 MHz

This is the Atari, this is my Atari. I still remember when I was maybe five or six years old, sitting on the floor in my neighbour’s basement, with video game cartridges spread out around the system. I was looking at which one I should try, and I seen it. The amazing artwork for Yar’s Revenge caught my eye. I threw it in and thought the game was incredible. You actually got to be that robotic fly that was depicted on the cartridge art. I loved every second of it and I wanted to make my own.

But who knew how to make one? Who could show me? I asked my older brother how video games were made. He told me they were programmed with complicated computer code. Well, we had a computer… A Commodore 64C.. I asked him if he knew how to make one? No.. Did he know anyone who knew how to program? He said he would ask his teacher at school, Mr. Williams, he was pretty sure he knew at least something about programming. However, that was to no avail. This was a time before the internet. It wasn’t as simple as googling “How to make a game”. Those were very different times.

I obsessed over this, I really wanted to make a game. I remember sitting in class, drawing out different game ideas, and game levels. I had a little Atari catalog with the game Adventure in it. I never played that game at the time but the artwork, screenshot, and marketing description had me hooked. I sat down with a pencil and paper and drew up what I imagined that game could be, or what I would make that game.

Now let’s jump ahead to September 10th 2018. I was programming my dream game, an RPG on my Mac (which will probably take years to finish) when I happened to come across I saw all these homebrew games being made and sold for the old system. I began feeling nostalgic and started thinking back about how badly I wanted to have my own cartridge as a kid. I thought how cool it would be to actually do it now. Now that I have the ability and resources to do so. How psyched my five year old self would be if I could go back in time and tell him, you did it dude, you made one!

So I decided to put down the RPG for a moment and attempt to create my first Atari game. I set a goal to learn and code the game in 30 days. I wasn’t sure if this was even achievable but it was something to strive for.

I found the site, which had a ton of good information on batari Basic. A high-level programming language that was developed for the Atari. This would make it a bit quicker and easier to reach this 30 day goal. I figured I could design most of the game in batari and anything I couldn’t accomplish in this language I could just do in 6502 assembly.

I work 12 hour night shifts, so I don’t have a lot of free time to spend on this project. I tended to spend 12 hours on any day off I could spare within the next six months on this project.

Each day I would write a journal of what I had accomplished that night to keep track of my goals. I wasn’t really sure if I was ever going to share this journal but since I did finally complete a game I thought I would go ahead and post them as I work on developing the artwork for the cartridge label, game box, and manual.

The game I decided to attempt to create is a Rogue-lite, Randomly Generated Dungeon Crawl, Hack and Slash, Adventure game. This game is called Deepstone Catacomb and starting tomorrow morning, I will post Day 1 on this daily blog of my development process.

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