Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

You made it, it's Friday. Autumn has arrived in the northern hemisphere and that means less hours in the sun, but more hours in front of the glowing CRT. (…preferably in green or amber).

And to sweeten this time for you, we've collected a number of interesting topics that have popped up over the course of the week.

Focus in this issue are FPGAs, but we also talk about some exciting retro gaming hardware, VCS games, using AI for sprite map generation, the VIC-20, a fantastic 8- and 16-bit emulator, and much more.

We hope there's a bull's eye for you, so let's get started with issue #21.

Don't Miss

Analogue OS

Analogue OS
Source: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios

Someone out there has decided that we get way too much sleep.🥱 But what do you need sleep for, when you can enjoy your free time just with a huge selection of games for a no less huge number of game consoles?

What sounds like every gamer's dream is also the holy grail of retrogaming: a game console that can accurately emulate all relevant retro consoles. If the whole thing fits into the handheld form factor, works better than a software emulation thanks to a FPGA, comes with mature hardware, an overarching operating system, and you can even develop your own FPGA cores ... then a lot of people start drooling now. 🤤

Handkerchief within reach? Analogue OS is here.

Chances are you already know the various consoles from Analogue. Thanks to FPGA based implementation, the systems emulate a variety of retro game consoles and do so very competently.

The Analogue Pocket is a Gameboy-sized handheld, and thanks to the new OS, it opens up a wide range of possibilities. With the launch, GBA, GBC, GB, & GG. NGPC, NGP, TG16 and LYNX will be supported and more consoles are supposed to follow.

If you're a gamer or just looking for retro emulation hardware, this one should be for you.

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All ATARI 2600 Games

All ATARI 2600 Games
Source: https://voxodyssey.com/

Age alone won't get you a medal of honor. And certainly your age has nothing to do with being a retro-computing or -gaming fan. But age from 45 upwards helps with your chance to have grown up with a VCS.

If you are one of the lucky ones who still owns an Atari 2600, or got this first really popular game console in another adventurous way, then here is your new, shiny and last encyclopedia!

VoxOdyssey Atari-2600 is a game database project that has compiled probably the most complete collection of game titles for the VCS. 👾

The team behind VoxOdyssey provides detailed information about each game, a screenshot and/or a box scan. So if you're looking for that one game, you know exactly what it looks like, but can't remember the name, voxodyssey to the rescue.

For everyone else, a wonderful piece of gaming nostalgia.

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AI based Sprite Map Generation

AI based Sprite Map Generation
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Unfortunately, far too many methods today are called 'AI', but in the end it is just another target for machine learning. But what can you do - this is marketing.

A really wonderful application scenario for the technology has now been developed by Dmitriy Smirnov et.al.:

The generation of sprite sheets from video animations. 🏁

What happens here, is that the ML is trained to separate foreground sprites from background, and to store individual animation phases in a sprite sheet in a meaningful and usable way.

Admittedly PixelArt is an art. Hardly any game designer will let herself be deprived of this fun. But when it comes to getting as much sprite as possible into as small a map as possible, this approach could be quite helpful. 

All information about Marionette is also available on github. You find the docs as well as the full source code and given some patience you will be up and running quite quickly.

You're working on an 8-bit title and you're not at war with Python? Then give the project a chance.

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Michael Tomczyk & VIC-20

Michael Tomczyk & VIC-20
Source: https://talesfromthecollection.com/

Some people are always in the spotlight when it comes to historical upheavals. When we talk about the microcomputer revolution of the last 50 years, names of the usual suspects quickly come to mind.

But at least as interesting are the stories of people whose names never became as popular. One of them is Michael Tomczyk. Never heard of him?

But you know the VIC-20 - predecessor of the Commodore 64. As Product Manager of the VIC-20 development, Michael was responsible for the development and launch of the first microcomputer, which sold more than a million units.

But that alone is far from the whole story. Michael is an authority on nanotechnology, has authored several best-selling books, and was friends with both Apple Steve's, among others.

Tim Santens - on Facebook as TalesFromTheCollection - had the pleasure of interviewing Michael.

The result is a nice read for a rainy fall afternoon. 

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14in1 Emulator for Mac

14in1 Emulator for Mac
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Tom Harte is an old acquaintance in our magazine. A few months ago we featured his project CP/M for macOS. If that was a ride on the bumper cars, get ready for the roller coaster.

Fireworks please for ... CLK. 🎆

Ok, Ok, the name can certainly be worked on again ... but if you clicked the link, then you have - in my opinion - one of the most interesting retro software projects of 2021 in front of you.

Tom emulates no less than 14(!!) 8-bit and 16-bit machines on a Mac. From the Acorn Electron to the Atari ST and Macintosh to the ZX Spectrum, all machines of distinction are represented.

The SDL2 based project can and must be built by hand. ROMs and disk images have to be provided by yourself - of course. But then the retro experience is only a command line call away.

Thanks Tom! Deep respect.

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Ahead of the Wave

Visual Verilog Simulation

Playing with retro machines is one thing. Building such a machine yourself is quite another. But surprisingly, it's easier than you might think.

You may be one of those who have built a working computer using applications like LogiSim, Digital or others. If so, you've probably also thought about getting your creation to work on an FPGA using Verilog or VHDL. 

And that's where a new project for Verilator with SDL comes into play. Verilator generates C++ models from Verilog designs. SDL as a library gives low level access to graphics hardware. The combination of both - brought together by Will Green - opens up whole new possibilities.

Especially the chance to bundle your own LogiSim creation into an independent software - including graphical output.

Your heart beats for FPGAs? Then you can't avoid reading this one.

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New FPGA Rival

New FPGA Rival
Source: https://justanotherelectronicsblog.com/

Imagine an FPGA including a 720p capable HDMI connector for under $20. Hold that image in your mind and then klick here. Gotcha!

The universe of possibilities with an FPGA are endless. You can use it as an accelerator for complex functions or create a whole custom chip design on it. But when an FPGA comes with an integrated HDMI connector, then it is definitely predestined for living room tasks.

And the SiPEED comes with HDMI. 🤷‍♂️

The unknown author behind justaanotherelectronicsblog gives you an intro to the piece of metal and plastics along with all necessary information. At this price tag we are sure, there is much to be heard from this neat little device.

Go and check or yourself.

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Theory of Computation

You are already retired, lying on the couch with a bruised leg for the next year or just have your sabbatical ahead of you? (What a burden 😁) Then we might have the perfect goal and the perfect course for you. 

Theory of Computation is one of the fundamentals of any computer science degree. And as dry and brittle as the title sounds, this theory is what separates the wheat from the chaff. And you want to be part of the wheat, don't you?

MIT Opencourseware brings the entire lecture by Prof. Michael Sipser from Fall 2020 online. Factually priceless. Actually free of charge.

Decide for yourself. Live goals, you know...

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C-128 DOOM

C-128 DOOM
Source: https://youtu.be/1tDflgqJlTw

DOOM on 'XYZ' has become the running gag of the last week. My personal favorites were DOOM on a slice of bread and DOOM on John Romero’s forehead 😂.

Now, sit tight and relax all muscles - DOOM on a Commodore 128.

Ok, not really, but the demo created by Andreas Larsson and presented by a YouTuber going by the name anovaprint is quite impressive. Last but not least it is math trickery and it is unlikely that this could become a game engine.

But … imagine what if? Here is the video. Impressive at least.

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What’s NES Game Dev like?

What’s NES Game Dev like?
Source: https://youtu.be/TPbroUDHG0s

8-bit game development is fun. 8-bit game development is very hard at the same time. You mostly find yourself optimizing assembly instructions just to save 1 Byte or a clock cycle. But exactly that byte and clock cycle make the difference on systems with clock rates around 1MHz and RAM of 64kB or even less. 

There are platformers with more than 30 individual levels, sprites, music and gameplay logic, that fit into under 64kB. In case of the NES the available space for a cartridge game is even less. 

Kevin Zurawel spoke about exactly that at the last Strange Loop Conference

And this talk is more than just interesting. Using mostly the beloved Super Mario Bros. as an example, Kevin speaks about all the nifty tricks that developers applied back in the days and still today.

My gravatar needs more space than these games. Interested? Hop over to the video. Plenty to learn here.

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Turing 6502

Turing 6502
Source: https://youtu.be/QLMGyuh8FAs

We introduced you to Dr. Matt Regan and his series already way back in issue #19 where Matt built an Apple ][ compatible from a 6502 CPU, RAM and a couple of logic chips.

But that was only the beginning … to warm you up so to say. In his second series Matt builds a Turing machine is capable of simulating all 6502 instructions.

What a feat!

In his latest video he tackles the Fetch-Decode-Execute cycle, but we recommend to start the series from the beginning. The style is different when compared for example to Ben Eater, but if you grokked the basics already, you can learn a ton from Matt’s series.

Enjoy something fresh.

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Music on a Möbius Strip

Music on a Möbius Strip
Source: https://youtu.be/sToqbqP0tFk

Music and Math have a very, very close relationship. If you ever studied music theory, you know that especially symmetries are one of the cornerstones of an audiophile experience.

Our off-topic video this week comes from the well known and renown Numberphile channel and is about music on a transparent Möbius strip. Be careful, an interesting twist is waiting for you. 

As always, very entertaining, informative and simply pleasing to watch.

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With every issue we think: It can not get any better. No matter what the retro heart desires, there is a hardware, a software, a video or a tutorial for it. No wish remains unfulfilled.

And yet, new projects surprise us every week and we simply do not run out of material.

But if you should find something you absolutely want to see in 8bitnews.io, don't hesitate to contact us directly via email. We are grateful for every hint.

Apropos grateful: We would be even more grateful if you could support us in our plans for world domination. It doesn't cost anything. Just a minute of your time sharing a link to 8bitnews.io with interested friends, relatives and colleagues.

So there is a weekend in front of you. Seize the time. Create something. And speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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