Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's almost unbelievable that 7 days should have passed again, but the calendar doesn't lie, it's Friday. 🙌

Time for a short written summary of this week's events. At least as far as the topics of retro technology in the forms of hardware and software are concerned.

Enjoy our current issue #37.


BASIC Computer Games

BASIC Computer Games - Reimplemented
Imagesource: Workmen Publishing New York

Only a few years ago - around 1973 - the author David H. Ahl published a milestone in computer games history. His book was called BASIC Computer Games and contained source code for a series of games that you could type in yourself - but actually meant for the use with DEC minicomputers.

After the microcomputer revolution began in the late 1970s, sales of the book went through the roof, and more than 1 million copies have been sold to date.

The book reviews nearly 100 games and explains the underlying mechanics in detail. It is still a source of knowledge for anyone who would like to learn more about software and game architecture.

Jeff Atwood has obviously been really impressed with the book, because he's about to go a perceived 100 steps further. In his github repo he collects the reimplementations of each of the games in the book in different, modern programming languages. C#, Java, Pascal, Perl, Ruby, Python, and VBNet versions of each program are implemented. Nearly 150 contributors helped so far, and the repo is very well maintained.

Not only something for indiegame devs!

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C64 Basic for the NES

C64 Basic on the NES
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

MrCalcWatch is what I like to call a dark-matter-programmer™. They don't shine at you all day, you never see them anywhere online, you don't know their names, nor do you hear anything about them.

But if you ever get close, they develop a tremendous gravitational pull! ◼️

And the following has gravity, even if it might be seen as very nerdy. In the original forum post, MrCalcWatch describes how he ported the C64 Kernal and BASIC ROM to the NES.

In principle an obvious idea, both systems use 6502 derivatives as CPU, but the architecture and memory map is quite different. All the more astonishing that the feat was actually accomplished!

There is a short article about it on hackster.io and if you want to see the whole thing in action on an emulator, you can find 4 short demo videos there.

Some people just have too much free time. 🤓 But well done!

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The Beauty of Manuals

The Beauty of Manuals
Imagesource: https://apple.com/

Just like producing good hardware or good software, creating a good manual is a craft. The basis is the ability to break down complex contexts so, that they can be broken down into even simpler steps and explained in an equally simple way. The supreme discipline is then to develop a visual language that reduces the need for words.

The variety of microcomputers and new technical gadgets in the 80s led to very special development in this area. And so a whole series of technical manuals of that time can indeed be seriously considered art today. 

Fabrizio Ferri-Benedetti is a self-confessed friend of this kind of art, and in his recent article goes into the finer points of some of the gems in his personal collection.

A nice article with even nicer examples of simply excellently designed manuals and ... of course the obligatory link to the bitsavers, where hundreds of these pieces can be found online for immediate download and enjoyment.

A real treasure trove for retro enthusiasts.

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BBS Directory

BBS Directory
Imagesource: https://8bitboyz.com/

In Issue #24, we ourselves were quite surprised to find, that in 2021 the BBS boxes are still not dead yet. 

That's good. That’s great. That’s awesome!

In principle also obvious, if one assumes that bulletin board implementations are naturally outstanding suitable for Telnet or SSH connections. And therefore each system with a halfway capable terminal should be usable for a BBS connection.

Whether you want to see BBS’ as the predecessor of the modern WWW or not, they still have a very special charm. And especially charming is the fact that people like the 8-Bit Boyz still care about the topic, and have compiled and maintain a whole list of currently available BBS on various topics.

Currently there are 127 BBS in the list, and there should be something for pretty much every taste. Whether nostalgia or curiosity - both are valid drivers for a few experiments with this ancient and lovely technology.

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SNES Development

SNES Development
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

The release of the SNES was a few (more or less) years ago. The launch stretched from 1990 in Japan to 1993 in South America, and the console's success is history. 

And to this day, there is an indiegame community that keeps releasing games for the console. But the hardware is also interesting for students and people interested in technology, who want to learn something new beyond the 8-bit technology of 6502, Z80 and Co.

And that's exactly what Wesley Aptekar-Cassels proves in his latest blog series, which is about software development for the console.

Wesley starts here with the first part of his series. Competently he shimmies through the different aspects of hardware, architecture and software, links to a whole bunch of super useful resources and takes the curious reader all the way to an MVP in 6 concise parts.

Looking for a new challenge beyond 8-bit systems? You could definitely find it here.

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BLAKE3 on 6502

BLAKE3 on 6502
Imagesource: https://github.com/oconnor663/

An interesting one is the HN find of the week. A BLAKE3 implementation in 6502 assembly for Ben Eater's BE6502 breadboard computer.

Equally interesting were parts of the discussion about if and how such an implementation can be done for an 8-bit CPU. And always nice to see, when someone implements more complex algorithms despite the hardware limitations to addition, subtraction and 3 registers with 8bit word width.

But why not? In principle everything that is computable should be possible on an 8bit CPU. (Assuming enough banked memory ... and enough lifetime ...)

Jack O'Connor is responsible for this great experiment, and if you wonder what BLAKE3 actually is: a hash algorithm that is fast, secure and highly parallelizable. Not that the latter matters for the 6502 single core. 😛

Impatiently waiting for Ben Eater's next video? Then this will surely help you pass the time.

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Macross 6502

Macross 6502
Imagesource: https://github.com/Museum-of-Art-and-Digital-Entertainment/

Last but not least the find of the week: also for friends of the four digits 6, 5, 0 and 2.

In 1984 Chip Morningstar was more or less fed up with low level assembly programming for the 6502. His idea: The development of a macro cross assembler as well as a linker, which should make the creation of working bytecode for games like Lucasfilm's Habitat much easier.

And he succeeded!

The ladies and gentlemen at The Video Game Museum have taken on the current source, and made sure that it compiles on at least 32-bit Mac architectures.

If you like to use the 6502 or one of its derivatives often, you will find Macross and Slinky a very interesting toolchain.

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Andromeda Invaders

Andromeda Invaders
Imagesource: https://github.com/susam/

Surely you know Space Invaders. Probably one of the most famous early arcade games, which captivate you despite or even because of its quite simple gameplay. 👾

Probably there is no architecture in this world, that doesn't have a clone of this classic. Nevertheless, it is always refreshing, when someone takes up the theme of the game and implements it again on the basis of current technologies.

Susam is the culprit of the current incarnation, which can be found on GitHub. 

Andromeda Invaders is a single page JS app with a little under 1000 lines of ES5 Javascript. The implementation is straight forward but still interesting. And if you want, you can play the game directly online - on the desktop but just as well on a mobile device.

Nice pastime!

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C64 Wordle

It had to happen. The Wordle fever is rampant, and sooner or later a port for the breadbin had to hit the market. 

A programmer named Havoc did it, and if you want to torture not only yourself but also your little Commodore with the game (sorry, all a matter of opinion 👹), you can find the direct download at csdb.dk.

I somehow feel reminded of Flappy Bird ... 🤔

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Floppy Disk Copy Protection

Floppy Disk Copy Protection
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/MMtIQ8rw_9Q

A topic that we have never looked at before, but that should have accompanied pretty much all of us in the 80s: floppy disc copy protection.

If you think about the topic, the question arises relatively quickly, how a digital medium like a floppy disk can be protected against copying. Anything that needs to be read can be copied, right? Wrong!

The copy protection tricks of the days therefore also required certain hardware peculiarities of the corresponding reading and writing devices, and the topic is indeed super interesting.

Rob Smith has decided to shed some light on this darkness 🔦, and a few days ago published a video in which he addresses this very topic.

Interesting and entertaining!

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A slightly shorter issue makes room for the end and the credits. As always, we hope something in this issue is worth your reading time, and as always, we welcome feedback of any form. 

You can simply reply to this email, and you're guaranteed to get a response from us. By the way: the same goes for any comments about topics we might cover in future issues.

If you liked the issue, feel free to share it with friends and family. Our reader base is constantly growing, and every new subscriber is welcome. Therefore: sharing is caring! ❤️

We'll be back in exactly one week from today. Feel free to make a note in your calendar! And in the meantime - build something and speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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