Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Space Invaders: Atari Archive Episode 32

For those who have some interest in video games.


I can't emphasize enough how difficult it is to write programs on the Atari 2600, also called the Atari VCS.  Since the machine only had 128 bytes of RAM, there is no video memory at all.  Instead, as the raster draws the picture on the TV screen, the microprocessor has to constantly send information to the display as to which pixels to draw.  It is a miracle that it can display anything at all.  The code necessary to draw the screen is contained in the ROM cartridge.  Most of the microprocessor time is spent drawing the screen, and any game logic had to be done during the television vertical blank period, which is the period of time that the electron gun moves from the bottom of the screen back to the top of the screen to start the next frame.  The vertical blank happens for about 1330 microseconds, sixty times per second.

There were a few rare 2600 cartridges that would have extra chips on them to boost the memory or the capabilities of the machine.  These special cartridges only got made when the chips became cheaper, like in the late 1980s which was near the end of the life of the 2600 game system.

Some early primitive computers with limited memory, like the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, and Timex-Sinclair 1000, also used the microprocessor to draw the display.  This didn't involve computer code like on the 2600, but a hardware trick to get the microprocessor to copy bytes from the memory to the display.   It is my understanding that the first McIntosh computer lost about 40% of its processor time driving its display.

Memory limitations would drive the graphics on all videogame systems and computers throughout the 1980s.  Instead of every pixel having its own unique memory location, which has been true since the mid-90s, the screen would be made up of tiles, or blocks, which are like the characters on a computer keyboard.  Each tile could be defined to whatever you want, usually with a limited number of colors.  When I was programming on the Super Nintendo, the artists would create the tiles, and the program would tell the tiles where to display on the screen.  Objects that move on the screen are called "Sprites", and the hardware displays these in front of the background tiles and they are made up of their own separate tiles.  Since the mid-1990s these kinds of display methods were no longer necessary because the chips were faster and the systems had more memory.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary

This is a good documentary about Pinball.  It was made in 2009.


I remember seeing a non-electric antique amusement machine that was probably from the 1930s,   It wasn't very big, but it worked by putting in a coin, like a nickel, and turning a handle to get roughly 7 to 10 metal balls.  Then you would pull a lever to shoot the balls at holes.  If the balls landed in the holes then they would accumulate in the "score" window.  Although the game had a football theme, it was more like a pinball version of skeeball.  As primitive as the game was, it was somewhat fun to play.

Growing up in small-city Indiana, there wasn't much amusement in the early 1970s.  I remember seeing some mechanical games, like a baseball-themed game and a shooting game, both of which I found thrilling to play.  I definitely felt addicted at first.  I was young and impressionable.  This started me down a path of enjoying games.  

As a side note, in late 1974 I began to enjoy playing chess immensely which I still do.

Around summer 1975, an arcade opened up in my local mall, which had mechanical games.  My friends and I enjoyed meeting and playing the games.  The cost of pinball was 2 games for a quarter.  These mechanical games eventually would mostly give way to video games.  

There was a perfect storm of events in the second half of the 1970s that would shape my life forever.  I already was very interested in electronics because at the time this was the cutting edge of technology.  I started reading about computers and I first got to use one in 1975.  I learned how to write simple computer programs, taking to programming as a duck takes to water.  In 1976 I made friends with someone who had built an extremely primitive computer from a kit, and I learned how to program it using "machine code" which is the more difficult language of the microprocessor itself.

In 1977 video games were starting to become popular and the movie Star Wars came out.  Both were very influential on my life.  The late 1970s were culturally defined by video games, pinball, Starwars, and disco.  It was a time of cheap thrills when the economy was probably the worst since the Great Depression.  We had an oil crisis, massive inflation, and unemployment.  Most people today are too young to remember how difficult those times were.

I not only became interested in video games but I wanted to write games.  I was fortunate that my high school bought computers and taught simple computer programming in algebra class.  I was already developing programming skills and I spent much time writing programs on the school computers.

In the mid-1980s I was able to get my own computers and I started a business selling programs that I wrote, some of which were relatively primitive video games.  

In 1985 I temporarily had a job at a Showbiz Pizza maintaining and doing minor repairs on the videogames and mechanical games.  In 1993 I got my first job as a video game programmer in Utah.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Blessings on the hand of women!
Angels guard its strength and grace,
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Infancy's the tender fountain,
Power may with beauty flow,
Mother's first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow—
Grow on for the good or evil,
Sunshine streamed or evil hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Woman, how divine your mission
Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Blessings on the hand of women!
Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
And the sacred song is mingled
With the worship in the sky—
Mingles where no tempest darkens,
Rainbows evermore are hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
- William Ross Wallace, 1865.

Monday, May 2, 2022

8 Struggles of Being a Highly Intelligent Person


I strongly relate to #6, but also #2 through 5 and #7.

I'm not sure what qualifies as "highly intelligent", but I am highly analytical, maybe too analytical, and tend to understand some topics at a deeper level.