Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's Friday. Again. That sucks. Two days off, lots of free time, no work commitments at all ... how can you stand it?

Let us help. In the following sentences concatenated to wanna-be articles, we'll take care of a whole bunch of topics that could reliably solve your boredom problem.

This week we're talking about a DIY game console, bare metal emulators, an FPS for the Atari 800, NES Assembly, Wolfenstein 3D, RNGs, and a whole lot more.

We hope there's a topic or two for you in our issue with the meaningful number #23.

Have fun!

Don't Miss

NULL 2 Retro Handheld

NULL 2 KIT - DIY Retro Handheld
Source: https://www.null2.co.uk/

What is really mean? Leaving your children standing in front of a candy store without a cent of money in their pockets and saying: Wait here, I'll be right back.

This or something similar is (unfortunately) the case with the NULL 2 Kit. Sold out. Completely. In 15 minutes.

Null 2 is a (retro) handheld console that you can build yourself. The special thing about it is, that it is based on the Raspberry PI Zero W or the PI Zero 2 and has to be assembled completely by yourself from the parts of the Tindie project. Unfortunately, the case is not part of the kit, so you have to hire a laser cutter yourself.

The team behind Ampersand has done a great job. Once the work is finished, and the pride of your work has given way to curiosity about the possibilities, the question arises as to which consoles can now be emulated. Thanks to RetroPie this should be quite a bloody lot, but unfortunately we couldn't find out, if these systems are really supported on the PI Zero W or the 2.

Curious? Jeff Geerling just posted a video on the NULL 2 on YouTube.

Certainly not a Christmas present for the kids. But maybe one for yourself?

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Bare Metal C64

Bare Metal C64 on a Raspberry PI
Source: https://unsplash.com/

As a die-hard retrocomputing enthusiast, you probably belong to one of two camps. Either you like to use retro machines - mainly for a little time travel to the beloved 70s and 80s - or you like to build hardware or software, and are more interested in how these early machines really worked.

Both absolutely valid. Besides the NULL 2 project above, the following is interesting for members of both faiths. You may already know it, bare metal emulators have been a thing since 2019. But after having Retro Shack's video in issue #22, we didn't want to just sink the topic.

BMC64 is kind of genius. Take a Raspberry PI, forget the operating system, build a minimal bootloader, and combine the VICE emulator with a set of low level libraries for hardware access. And voila, you have one of the fastest retro emulations you can build based on a general purpose CPU.

Even more ingenious: The whole thing is also available for the C128, the VIC20, the PLUS4, the PET and in another project at least for the ZX Spectrum.

Randy Rossi - maintainer of the project - makes the whole package available as open source since 2019. And author Gareth Halfacree goes into detail about the build process in the hackster.io article. So should you look for a way to emulate your beloved 8bit computer of the 80s, here you go.

The perfect tinkering destination for rainy November weekends.

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FPS for Atari 800

ATARI 800 - First Person Shooter
Source: https://atari8.dev/

So now they have built a first person shooter for the ATARI 800. Great news for anyone who has been waiting for them to build a first person shooter for the ATARI 800. 👹

Wait. Excuse me? An FPS on 8bit hardware from the 70s?

Yep ... [sigh]

I definitely seem to be spending my time on the wrong things. Anyway. Code, graphics and design come from Robert 'Globe' Pecnik, but the whole thing is of course a team effort. Final Assault is freely available as an .xex file.

And if you want to know, what the whole thing looks like before downloading, there's a video on the YouTube channel Atari 8 Bits For Ever waiting for you.

But beware, the first 3 minutes and 45 seconds are really only for die-hard fans of 8bit music (no criticism here …), and after the overall experience there is a possibility of slight eye- or brain-damage.

But who really cares about that, when having a FPS for the 800? 🥳

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The Rise Of Nintendo

Story - The Rise Of Nintendo
Source: https://grantland.com/

Blake J. Harris is the author of 'Console Wars' and 'The History Of The Future'. You know him for sure, don’t you?

Whether or not, his article The Rise of Nintendo is unreservedly recommended, as it highlights a number of details that you wouldn’t necessarily know about Nintendo.

The quality and length of this article are linearly related, so this is only for those, interested in history. However, it is definitely worth the reading time. 

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Ahead of the Wave

Famicom Party

Famicom Party - Learn 6502 Assembly Programming
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Kevin Zurawel was our guest in one of the last issues with a video already. The video was about 6502 Assembly development for the NES.

Now Kevin adds something on top. And that is a book. Free of charge!

Famicom Party is licensed under a Creative Commons License and the book is - apart from not yet finished chapters - completely available online.

And 6502 Assembly is all but obsolete. Western Design Center produces fully compatible successors of the legendary 6510 CPU to this day. And whether you want to program 6502 Assembly for the NES, the C64 or C128, or any of the other myriad of systems based on the 6502, the fundamentals of the Assembly dialect in this book are the same for all systems.

Actually a case for $49 on Amazon. In fact free of charge. Thanks Kevin!

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Wolfensteins FizzleFade

Wolfensteins FizzleFade Algorithm
Source: ID Software

Who doesn't know Wolfenstein 3D? The historically accurate, multi-genre, several billion polygon adventure from 1992. 😶 John Carmack's and John Romero's very own Glory-Forever-Machine™.

But do you know what FizzleFade is?

That's the algorithm that does the screen fading when you either die, or kill a boss. And it's a tricky one, because it looks random, and has to turn around all the pixels on the screen within a constant time.

Thinking about it, the problem behind it is not necessarily trivial. Neither is FizzleFade. Jaco Pretorius picked up the initial work of Fabien Sanglard - to be found here - and walks us through the details.

Exciting article and quite a bit to learn. 

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Commodore 64 - Fun with the RNG
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Probably pretty much everyone who has ever developed their own hardware beyond a certain status, has sooner or later become aware of the following challenge: Randomness - or a Random Number Generator, RNG for short.

Since computers have an inherently deterministic disposition, they cannot do anything, that is not deterministic. And randomness - at least real randomness - is not deterministic.

So how do you build a generator for random numbers on a deterministic machine?

Basically, you have two options. The first is a PRNG, or Pseudo Random Number Generator. This is an algorithm, that spits out random looking results, but is deterministic in the end. If you know the seed and the state of the system, you can predict the resulting number sequences.

If you want true random numbers, you need analog help. So some form of device that generates true random values based on the unfathomable mysteries of quantum chromodynamics. And now guess what:

Your C64 has such a device. Crazy, isn't it?

Michael Doornbos has taken up the subject, and I don't want to break the suspense here. In his article he goes into the use of the C64 RNG, and links to the actual background captured by 8-Bit Show And Tell to be found here on YouTube.

Curious. Hop over.

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BBC Micro Aviator

In 1983 Geoffrey J. Crammond published the flight simulator Aviator for the BBC Micro. 3D Vector graphics. In 1983. As a reminder, Elite came on the market only one year later.

So it's no exaggeration to say, that Aviator was groundbreaking - in terms of graphical capabilities - on the BBC Micro.

Today - almost 30 years later - this causes at most a yawn or a shrug of the generation 'Nintendo Switch'. But who cares? [Kids] 😋 

Marc Moxon is obviously fascinated by the topic. (We like you, Marc.) He disassembled the machine code, documented it, and made it available here on GitHub. The source itself can actually be assembled into a working binary using an assembler, so we're talking about the real thing here.

You have too much time and are curious how the 6502 was persuaded to do this feat? Then you will have lots of fun.

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1930 Teletype as Linux Terminal

1930 Teletype as Linux Terminal
Source: https://youtu.be/2XLZ4Z8LpEE

CuriousMarc is as accomplished as he is (for my personal taste) a bit too full of himself. But rightfully so, considering his personal history, but not necessarily everyone's taste. However, his content is more or less regularly just stunning.

This time he takes a Teletype terminal from the 30s, which he has repaired before, and builds a connector, so that he can use the monster as a Linux terminal. Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Quite worth seeing. Judge yourself.

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8-Bit Z80 Homebrew

8-Bit Z80 Homebrew
Source: https://youtu.be/n_eEDAQWMdY

Zilog's Z80 CPU gets too little attention from us. Touché. But this week we stumbled across a video that could redress the balance.

The unknown producer behind the YouTube channel Zeal 8-bit Computer has built a homebrew based on the Z80. And for my taste, his video on YouTube has far too few views and likes so far.

The latter would be really deserved, because not only the computer but also the video are really worth watching. Z80 fan?

Decide for yourself.

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Atari before the VCS

Atari before the VCS
Source: https://youtu.be/KnTiOoZreD8

Imagine sitting on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', you’re on the $1 million question, and it’s: 'What was Atari's first home game console?'

The answer - of course - is the ATARI 2600 or VCS. The $1 million grin on your face gives way to sheer panic, because ... you're out.

In fact, there was a machine before, that ATARI brought into so many living rooms. Adrian Black - a regular on our show - has struck again. Curious what was there before the VCS? Then check out his latest video.

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That's it. At least for the next 7 days. During this time you will have to endure it. But now that we have provided you with some material, that shouldn't be too hard. We sincerely hope, that there was one or the other topic for you in this issue.

If that is not the case, or if you have any other reason to complain, please do not hesitate. Contact us directly by email, or use the Suggest feature on our page.

On the other hand, if you enjoyed the issue, we'd love for you to share it. Just hit the 'Forward' button in your mail client, enter the email address of the person you obviously love, and hit 'Send'. We'll take care of the rest then. 😁

Enjoy the colorful autumn days of the northern hemisphere. We'll be back in a week. In your inbox. In the meantime, build something. And please ... speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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