Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Time seems to speed up (or is it just me), it is Friday. Yeah!

Before we dig into this weeks topics, let me thank you! Not only did we receive overwhelmingly positive feedback for the 8bitnews.io launch, I also want to say Thank You to everyone, who sent me personal a message.

Back to business. This weeks issue is packed again with cool stuff. We start off with a two incredible pieces of hardware and a ROM hack. We compiled quite a wild mix of learning resources this week, and we will make your landline glow red hot with our list of Youtube marvels for your weekend. Don't miss the Atari 2600 related one, but I don't want to spoil you.

One more thing. Quite a number of readers pointed out, that they wished, they could suggest projects, videos or other content for us to cover. It is your newsletter, so here you go. Bastian just finished the feature and from on today you can suggest whatever you like. Keep in mind though, that we still filter and curate.

With that being said. Enjoy the mid summer, we hope there is some inspiration in issue #05.

Don't miss

That is a Crank.

Playdate - Game Console with a Crank
Source: https://play.date/

This new project almost passed by without ending upon our radar screen. And that would have been a pity. Playdate is a tiny handheld game-system developed by Panic Inc.

And what a beauty! It comes with a black/white screen, which is not backlit, WIFI, Bluetooth, speakers and: A CRANKSHAFT!

Holy moly, finally a device which can be powered by my small human hands? Not so quick young Padawan said the voice, the mechanical gimmick is not meant to make electrons run around in copper wires.

But: it makes up for a whole new kind of gameplay. Playdate will come with 24 games, 2 games every two weeks. And more games are in the planning. Will this indy console be a gamechanger? If the beautiful render graphics on their landingpage actually crystallize into a real world product at only $179, then ... maybe. At least it could be an interesting target to hack with, based on it's 180 MHz Cortex M7, 16 MB RAM and SDK, that supports Lua and C.

However, we are not affiliated with the project or team, hence this is no recommendation to buy. And since pre-orders only start in July, it is possible, you go on a very early X-Mas shopping trip here.

Decide for yourself.

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ROM was not hacked in a Day

Super Mario World Widescreen Version SNES
Source: https://github.com/VitorVilela7/wide-snes

When was the last time, you hacked a ROM? Never? But there are plenty of people doing it. They cut open a gaming cartridge with a knife or other means of brute force, extract the ROM chip, read it out, disassemble the extracted binary into assembly language, attempt to understand the ingenuity of the creators only to humble them afterwards by improving the previously found piece of software.

Applied by the wrong people to the wrong technology ROM hacking can cause great harm. But applied to a SNES game cartridge with Super Mario World on it, it can bring tears of joy not only to your eyes. (Don't wanna talk about pants today.)

Vitor Vilela & friends did exactly that. But instead of making changes to the gameplay, they adjusted the render mechanisms such, that modern aspect ratios are finally supported. 16:9 and 16:10 work already. Ultrawide like 2:1 and 21:9 are in the making.

Who wants to enjoy this wonderful widescreen experience, needs to own the original ROM of course. In addition a cutter knife and we suggest some cut resistant steel gloves ... you know, safety first. Who wants blood splattered over the beloved SNES ☠️.

Currently the patched game can be played in bsnes-hd only. That is a fork of bsnes, which targets widescreen and true color gameplay and is available at github as bsnes-hd is.

So much fun to play Super Mario without the black bars.

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A Mega Update

Mega65 - Secret Update
Source: https://mega65.org

In our first issue in late May we got you in touch with the Mega65 project. And we received quite a number of questions from early readers and people who found the post in our archive later on. And as if they heard the questions, Paul Gardner-Stephen and Detlef Hastik (the creators) reached out to us as well, to provide us with (AFAIK) currently non-public information regarding the plans and progress.

So should FPGA driven hardware be your cup of tea, then this one is for you, and it is for your eyes only 🕵🏻‍♂️.

Paul and Detlef have quite some history. Paul is the creator of the C65GS - kind of a C64 accelerator you might be familiar with. Detlef is an 8bit guru and some might remember his Breakpoint submission "SHizZLe" for Pokémon Mini which is still #2 in the Breakpoint all stars high scores. Both teamed up 6 years ago, recruited an extraordinary team of 16 and worked on Mega65 just in their spare time. And we talk hard- and software here, so the current status is a feat.

The first 100 available devkits were sold out immediately. The team currently works on a first charge of 400 devices to be sold in autumn this year. The second charge of 1000 devices will follow in 2022 and customers will have to wait around 3 months after an order. Fair, given the current supply chain situation and the fact, that everybody is working in their spare time only.

What makes the Mega65 outstanding, is the fact, that it is FPGA based. This means, it can actually emulate close to everything, at least 8bit and 16bit CPUs, graphic- and sound-chips and other periphery. The clou: Gameboy Color und Spectrum cores are available already, and with MiSTer-Cores in the making, Amiga, ATARI ST and other classic systems will come soon. Just insert your old 3.5" Atari ST or Amiga 500 discs into the floppy drive and start playing via HDMI on your TV screen - a nerd dream come true.

If things develop as foreseen by the team, the machine will carry a price tag of around 600€. Given the numerous possibilities and the retro factor, that sounds more than fair to me personally. Especially since everyone involved does this just for fun, not for profit.

We will follow the project and keep you posted, but if you really want to call a Mega65 your own, I guess you will have to scrape the distributors page on a daily basis after the summer. This thing will IMHO sell like fresh rolls from the bakery.

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Ahead of the wave

BBC Micro in your Browser

BBC Micro Basic in your Browser
Source: https://bbcmic.ro

Did you know, that Acorn used BBC Micro machines to develop and emulate the to be coming ARM architecture in the good old days? Ha! But Wikipedia knew.

Acorn won the contract to design and produce this successful 8bit machine series in the 80's. And especially but not only in the UK the BBC Micro series became a huge success. Remember that?

I personally don't, because unfortunately I never owned one. But thanks to Dominik Pajak and Matt Godbolt I can write Basic programs for their emulator running in the browser.

When was the last time, you made Game of Live gliders occupy your screen? Long ago?

You find this and more than 1000(!) BBC Basic Demos in the mini IDE. A great place to tinker, a fine bookmark for those days, where one can just waste hours with hacking.

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ARM Assembly for the Win

Source: https://eclecticlight.co/2021/06/07/code-in-assembly-for-apple-silicon-with-the-asmattic-app

Assembly is not everywhere. Sometimes I wish it would be. Imagine how much computation time and energy we could save globally, if more software was implemented low level. I know, compilers are awesome. But the human brain is still unbeaten, when it comes to inventiveness and creativity writing optimal code for a certain problem. Of course, we can not build everything on the assembly level, but I personally wished, more high level languages allowed for direct ASM execution as some do.

However, since of course the most modern incarnations of CPUs can be programmed in assembly, you could and should point your inner beam of attention to this great, but still unfinished series of wonderfully compiled posts.

The first article introduces you to AsmAttic, which allows you to write assembly for the Apple M1. The second post digs down into registers, followed by a great one about pointers and last but not least control flow using conditional branching based on processor flags.

What the author hoakley put together for TheEclecticLightCompany is not only interesting for those who enjoy programming close to the metal. It is a tour through modern ARM architecture and a read worth your time.

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High Voltage

Source: Eberhard Sengpiel

Did you ever pee onto an electrical pasture fence? Just to find out? Stupid me did. 🤪 Of course nothing happened, and boy am I glad today. But how come, 40000 Volts in these fences do give your inner guts a nice trip on a roller coaster, but do not kill you right off the bat? ⚡️

Did you sleep during your physics and electrical engineering classes? I did not, nevertheless I remember only a fraction of the things, I was teached back then. Earlier. In the stone age.

Need a refresher? Here you go. Alan Wolfe sheds a lot of light into that not so juicy (or especially juicy) topic.

Entertaining and precise.

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A Game from Scratch

Manic Miner - A Game from Scratch
Source: https://feertech.com/legion/software/game/2021/05/21/game-from-scratch-01.html

More and more people dig into 6502 assembly programming. Kicked off by growing interest in retro computing and also numerous super successful projects in that realm, there are news nearly on a daily basis.

Mrs or Mr Anonymous started Legion - a CPU and computer built on a breadboard.

I heard, people do stuff like that nowadays. But that is not all. In a blog post series - currently consisting of 4 different parts - you get an introduction to the binary and hexadecimal number systems, graphics, serial connections to breadboard computers and assembly.

I am curious, what we will see during the summer. Check it out and enjoy, the post can act as a helpful introduction to 6502 assembly.

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Gold Dust

Book: Computer Circuits for Experimenters
Source: https://archive.org/details/computer-circuits-for-experimenters

Hurray. What a find! Computer Circuits for Experimenters from RadioShack is a true marvel!

RadioShack still exists today, but had a completely different reputation at those times. This absolutely worth reading book by Forrest M. Mims the 3rd was released, when Richard Nixon lived in the White House! Still, everything in this book is as valid today, as it was valid in those times.

Every engineer with an interest in hardware design finds a very well written introduction to the components, that act as the foundation of every modern day processor.

Highly recommended! And it's free of charge!

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A NES Game in 40kBytes

A NES Game in just 40 Kilobytes - MicroMages
Source: https://youtu.be/ZWQ0591PAxM

Do you know how little 64 kilobyte actually is. Take a 128kBit mp3 file and play it for 4 seconds. That is it. 40kBytes is even less. Imagine, that in the 80's software engineers stored whole games in that little space. I mean, graphics, sprites, levels, music, sound effects, game logic.

Sounds incredible and close to unbelievable nowadays, but it is a matter of fact. I mean, yes, there was banking, but still, many games were delivered as cartridges containing just one 64kByte ROM chip.

Morphcat Games is a indy games development team and belongs to a huge community, that still produces fresh games for the NES. The video and the game MicroMages is 2 years old already, but should not you know it already, you will enjoy it.

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Racing the Beam

Racing the Beam - Atari 2600
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJFnWZH5FXc

And another must see classic. You know Racing the Beam from Nick Montfort already?

Whether or not, the latest addition of Retro Game Mechanics Explained Youtube channel is still interesting. The Atari 2600 console was released in September 1977. Despite it's massive success it paved the way for modern day game consoles. But with a huge difference. It's technology was so simplistic, that it was a real challenge to program it properly ... and in sync with the raster beam.

This video is an example for outstanding and excellent storytelling, which I would like to find more superlatives for. But I don't.

Check it out, you really don't want to miss this one.

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BE6502 Video Generation

BE6502 - Video Gneeration Circuit
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYom_OBcBCY

A bit older already and you might have seen it. But krallja digs into video signal generation with Ben Eaters 6502 breadboard computer in a little different way. If you own Ben Eaters machine, you might enjoy this one as well as his other videos.

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From 2 Billion to Zero

Atari Story - From 2 Billion to Zero
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_kEhHAMupU

We did not touch Atari that much so far.

To be honest, during the mother of all hate wars (Atari vs. Amiga at that time) I was more on the Amiga side of things.

Sorry Atarians! 👾

However, the story of Atari's rise and fall is especially interesting. Nothing particularly related to computing to learn here, but if you are curious, how a successful multi billion business can just implode, you will like this one by ColdFusion.

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What a week, what an issue #05. As always we enjoyed compiling it. And of course we hope you like it. Please give us feedback, you can reach Bastian and myself via email and of course you can just reply to this message directly.

One more thing: We got quite some grip after our launch last week. And since we do believe in the usefulness of 8bitnews.io, we like to make it bigger.

If you want to help us, please share the link to 8bitnews.io with interested friends, colleagues, partners, parrots, dogs, aliens ... you get it.

Now we release you into your well deserved weekend with the last sentence: Go, create!

Take care.

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