The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 4
Jun26

The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 4

Part 4: Studying SID It’s been over a year now since I started work on my platform game, and there is still plenty of work to do on it. I would never have imagined it would take me this long to make a Commodore 64 game, but I constantly find myself revisiting things that I thought previously completed to improve them.  I’m without a doubt past the 50% progress marker now anyway, which is definitely a positive. And on another positive note, Bear has found a really nice home with new Commodore 64 game developers Pond Software. Pond’s first release earlier this year, ‘Spaceman Splorf: Planet of Doom’ is a very polished score chasing game with excellent sound and graphics and can be downloaded for free from: http://pondsoft.uk You can also read about Pond’s upcoming releases, which include entries for the 2016 Reset 4kb Game Coding Competition, which I would encourage any C64 coders to take part in! Details of the competition can be found here: http://cloud.cbm8bit.com/resetc64/crapgamecompo2016v1.1.pdf The Sound Interface Device I’m sure at some point everybody has been impressed by a piece of music played by the Commodore 64’s SID chip.  Over the years there have been many names associated with squeezing excellent pieces of music from the three sound channels of the SID – Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Jereon Tel, Steve Rowlands…  Look them up on YouTube if you still need convincing. Before I started writing my C64 platform game, I had a small amount of knowledge of how the SID chip worked having read about it in various books and magazines.  When it came to making use of it in my own programs however, I only really managed to get the most basic of sounds working. For some games this is absolutely fine (my Snake clone had small noises to indicate picking up, crashing and starting the game, and also a very simple tune when the game first loads), but for other more complicated games it really is deemed unacceptable for a C64 game to not have some cool music and sound effects. This was the case with RockMaze, my first attempt at creating a C64 game.  I can’t remember if I ran out of time, or if I failed at attempts to get sound effects working, but either way the game ended up being completely mute.  When I was asked recently if I would like to contribute to the Reset magazine cover disk, I thought this would be an ideal time to read up on the SID chip once again and try to add some music and sound effects to RockMaze. After a quick internet...

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The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 3
Dec28

The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 3

Part Three: The Joy of Plex Things have been progressing well with my Commodore 64 platform game since part two, and I have now put together a trailer showing the first two areas of the game. Before I begin retelling my joyous experiences of learning C64 sprite multiplexing, I’d like to show a couple of screenshots that show the origins of Bear, who actually started life in Unity 3D. I had numerous attempts at making a platform game in Unity, with the goal then to be able to publish it to numerous platforms (probably starting with iOS). However, I found it difficult to get the pixel perfect platforming I was aiming for, and I struggled to make graphics assets that would suit the game I had in mind. In the end, I gave up on the idea, and Bear sat untouched for a good long while. I’m really glad that I decided to get my C64 out of the loft and set it up.  This is what sparked the idea of making Bear into a C64 sprite, and attempting to make my platform game again.  I’m surprised that the restrictions of working with a C64 has helped to bring the game to life, and that I found it much easier to create graphics with a 16 colour limit and a low resolution.  Something to Bear in mind if I ever attempt to make the game in Unity again! Speaking of restrictions, one quite large restriction on the Commodore 64, is that it only has eight hardware sprites available to use, which looking on the bright side, is more than enough for some games.  In fact, the first two games I made for the C64 didn’t even use sprites in the main game, and were just used to show things like the game logo and score, and everything else was built from screen characters. Some games require many more than the eight available sprites though, and so a technique called sprite multiplexing is needed to allow this. This technique takes advantage of the register which tracks where the screen refresh is currently happening, and re-uses sprites that have already been displayed by moving them down the screen underneath the refresh so that they are drawn again, giving the impression that there are actually more than eight sprites. This is quite a commonly used technique on the C64, one famous example is of the massive ‘fist’ boss in Turrican. The fist is made up of rows of sprites that are reused again and again to make one very impressive giant enemy! There are very helpful sprite multiplexing code examples (along with...

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Has online gaming changed on the PlayStation from PS2-PS4?
Dec23

Has online gaming changed on the PlayStation from PS2-PS4?

Hi fellow Retro Heads. Firstly, an apology – I’m not sure I can classify this post as ‘strictly retro’ as I’m going to be mentioning current gen consoles as well (only back two generations I promise). There is something about online gaming that takes me back and I have the same nostalgic feeling that I have for my Master System. As someone who in recent years has ritually purchased every release CoD have thrust upon me and put more hours than I care to remember into games like Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3,  I now find myself just putting them on having a couple of rounds and switching off my system whether I’m playing well or not. It appears the draw to me putting hours in has gone. I had thought that maybe it is I’m now the wrong side of 30 and I just don’t get the time, maybe it’s because my mates and I no longer have same systems… but even back when we all had PS3s everyone seemed to put in more hours and enjoy the games more than I did. So what had changed for me? Well to answer that question I need to take you back to where my online gaming started. Unlike many I’d never had experience of online gaming till the PS2 and a game called SOCOM: NAVY SEALS. Many of you reading this probably had years more experience of online gaming via PC;  I was lucky if I could buy a PC that ran the latest football manager not that I was poor, although I’m still not a millionaire, the price of a good gaming PC Vs a PS2 and my Friday Night drinking fund was only going to produce one winner; and it wasn’t Bill Gates. So what was it about online PS2 gaming that drew me in? SOCOM: NAVY SEALS. At the time I still lived at my parent’s house (so did my much older brother, which is even more sad). We both owned a PS2, because anyone with a sibling knows that sharing is just a myth invented by hippies and people without children, and our own copy of said game. It was no brainer that when we got back from a night at the pub drunken online gaming while eating a kebab from the local late night ecoli dealer was on the cards. It brought good banter to the house and plenty of arguments that we both laugh about now… Sometimes. But it wasn’t just me and my brother who seemed to play together; We joined a clan known then as the [S-A] which stood for...

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Confessions of a Car Boot Addict – Part 1
Oct29

Confessions of a Car Boot Addict – Part 1

I have read so many articles and viewed a whole load of YouTube videos on “Finds,  Rants and Tips” on retro game hunting in the wild i.e. car boot sales and charity shops (flea markets and thrift stores for any American readers), that I thought maybe I should share my experience of this matter, as there seems to be a lack of opinion from the UK hunters. First of all I must make it clear that this is my first attempt at writing anything that will be viewed by anyone other than myself, bar the odd social media post, since I left school some 15 years ago, so bear with me as I go… So where to start? My name’s Dana and I’m a 31 year old guy and I am based in the West Midlands. My on/off flirtation with retro gaming began when I got my first home computer as a child – the Amstrad CPC 464 and moved on through the years, like many others to the the present day machines. It was then I felt that after the hype of buying the next generation console wore off I would decide I’d rather be playing something from two or three previous generations, which is where it all began. Luckily for me, my partner has now allowed the games room at our home to exist. One of the main buzzes I get from retro game playing and collecting is the whole hunt involved in finding them. Although there are two great retro gaming shops in my local area, and more and more starting to pop up on local markets along with good old Ebay, I feel that I am somewhat cheating myself in building my collection. That’s not to denigrate people who do, as I on occasion I have purchased from said places and often getting really good deals, but I’d say at least 80% of my collection has been acquired by the good old car boot sale. I think it’s that bit of gamble where I could go and find very little or I could just stumble on something great at unbelievable prices that makes the process more enjoyable. I’ve been hunting regularly, attending at least two boot sales a week, for around 18 months, and after seeing what people have to say and show on various online collectors groups I’m a part of, I’d say I do quite well;  if you’ve got someone calling you the ‘Car Boot Master’ you must be doing something right. I’d like to add I’m not someone who just goes and buys everything video game related regardless of what it is,...

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The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 2
Oct03

The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game – Part 2

Part Two:  Pixel perfect platforming Since the last instalment, I made the decision to go completely back to basics and do some research before progressing any further with my platform game. Why?  It has been a dream of mine to make a C64 platform game for a long, long time, and I want to make the best job of it that I possibly can. And it’s always good to learn something new, right? Since I am (possibly quite badly) self taught in machine language and it has been many years since I used it last, there are a fair few gaps in my knowledge of how machine language and the C64 work, so I figured it would be a good idea to try to fill in some of these gaps to make progressing with coding as easy as possible. I already owned The Commodore 64 Programmers Reference Guide, which is very handy to refer to and learn the basics of machine language, but I needed something a little more advanced.  I sought out some recommendations from the Lemon64 forums, and one book that cropped up again and again was Jim Butterfield’s ‘Machine Language for the Commodore 64‘. I recommend the revised and expanded edition, which you can download along with lots of other great books from here: http://www.bombjack.org/commodore/books.htm Jim’s book is widely regarded as being the best way to get started and to advance with machine language.   Another great suggestion given to me was to study some source code from other C64 games. This was a very valuable step to take as it has taught me many programming tricks, ways to structure code and some great ways to conserve memory.  It can be a little daunting diving in to somebody else’s code, but with the right approach and some patience can be incredibly rewarding when you discover something new. Armed with all of this new information, I actually decided to start my game again from scratch, which although has cost me time and was somewhat painful, it will now ensure that my project is structured correctly and that all of my code is up to date with the new knowledge I have gained. Another piece of  ‘research’ I decided was needed was to play some platform games for inspiration.  One of these was the first game I remember playing on my Dad’s ZX Spectrum 48k, which had only three buttons to control the main character, the simplicity of which I adore: Left, Right, Jump. Simple. Too many games these days have you clumsily looking down at your hands trying to remember what does what. None of that here....

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The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game
Aug19

The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game

Part One: Initialising and moving a sprite I find it absolutely incredible that the Commodore 64 development scene is alive and well.  Thanks to companies like Psytronik there is still a healthy stream of games arriving on the C64 25 years after I first got my machine in 1990. I was fairly late to the Commodore party, having had my first 8-Bit computer experiences on my Dad’s ZX Spectrum 48k.  I loved every minute I spent with the little rubber-keyed beauty, but eventually wanted to branch off into a territory of my own choosing…  I wanted a computer of my own. I chose the C64 after reading about a recent price drop and an influx of new cartridge releases which promised to give the 64 a new lease of life.  This didn’t turn out exactly as Commodore had planned though, and it wasn’t long after I first owned the machine that the 8-Bit computer scene gave way to the 16-Bit computers and consoles. I never once regretted my decision to follow the C64 route though. Like all 8-Bit computer owners, my first programming attempts were in the BASIC language, but I soon grew frustrated that I couldn’t make the type of games I wanted to make as BASIC just wasn’t fast enough.  And so, armed with an Action Replay cartridge and the Commodore 64 Programmer’s Reference Guide, I taught myself the basics of 6502 machine language. My first creation was a Boulderdash / Repton clone called RockMaze, written mainly in BASIC but using the speed of machine language for scrolling the screen and copying levels in and out of memory.  It was a fun little game to make (and play), and even had a level editor. After this, I was determined to write another game, but this time made in 100% machine language.  For this, I decided it would be better to use a very simple concept, and created a clone of the Snake game (which was later made very popular by a certain mobile phone company!) My bedroom programming time soon disappeared in favour of the usual teenage pastimes (pubs and girls if I remember correctly!), and the games I made were destined to be forgotten at the back of a dusty loft. Fast forward to 2015, and after joining the Lemon64 community, I was asked if I would like to give RockMaze and Worm! an official release. Wow!  Finally my games would actually get played by somebody other than myself! After some rummaging in the loft for the old tapes and converting the games to run on disk, they were uploaded to the Commodore 64 Scene Database...

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