Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's been two weeks. It's Friday - again. And a whole bunch of projects based on more or less 40 year old concepts touch down in your mailbox. Kind of strange, isn't it?

Not really. After all, what could be more useful to pass the short, well-deserved weekend, which ends already on this thing called Monday, than a few retro projects?

I can hardly think of anything. Hardly. Really.

Today, 13 nice, small, big, old, new but all exciting topics are waiting for you. Some if not all have caused a stir, excitement and increased pulse during the last 2 weeks. At least for us. Ready?

Then enjoy Issue #72.


Elite Beeb Sourcecode

Elite Source Fully Documented
Imagesource: https://www.bbcelite.com/

When Elite was released in 1984 by Ian Bell and David Braben for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron, I was barely learning to write and read. (Singing and clapping was a year earlier.) And while that memorable event is now almost 40 years ago, (so Elite, not the clapping 🤡) there's no denying its significance.

The game has been ported in the ensuing years for pretty much every platform that cursing parents put under their kids' Christmas tree in the 80s. What made Elite so unique at the time (at least to me) was the freedom of the gameplay and of course the wireframe 3D graphics.

The game definitely opened up the genre of Space Trading and turned a whole bunch of me and my friends into space pilots. 🧑‍🚀

And this thing can't be killed. Currently, it's not the flickerfree variant by Mark Moxon aka @markmoxon that's making the rounds. Mark has recently made the entire source code of the BBC Micro release completely documented available to the astonished general public.

If you want to know how to get 3D wireframe graphics running on a 6502, or are otherwise interested in the subject, you can find the entire package with all the details at www.bbcelite.com.

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MP3 on C64

Commodore64 MP3 Player
Imagesource: https://lyonsden.net/

MP3 on the C64? No way. No, no, no.

And if you live in the same reality as I do, then you realize, that this should not be possible on any of the MOS65XX derivatives. Proof me wrong.

But: With the help of some external hardware it actually works! Steven Lyonsden - @LyonsdenBlog on Twitter - has recently found the proof for it, and presented the just mentioned piece of hardware together with the corresponding software to the world public. The actual hardware comes from an Italian developer named Pietro - unfortunately that's all we know about him. 😕

The piece of PCB, metal and plastic plugs into the userport. The actual core is a simple, probably chinese MP3 playback device. The MP3s are provided via SD card or via USB, but for the acoustic performance you definitely need your own amplifier. But with the help of the accompanying software, the playback works flawlessly, since all you do, is to control the signals which tell the hardware what to do, via the C64.

Sad that the device can't be delivered at the moment. Exciting project anyway.

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WE816 Homebrew

16 Bit Homebrew
Imagesource: https://github.com/danwerner21/

We love homebrew computers. And rarely does a new and interesting build manage to sneak under our radar. And so Dan Werner at home at github here has given the modern Matthias Rust, and instead of a Cessna parked his WE816 neatly past our attention directly on github.

The basis of his machine is - in contrast to many other projects of the genre - not a 65XX derivative, but the 16-bit variant 65816 from the Western Design Center. Accordingly you can expect a lot. At least as far as the address space is concerned, but also beyond that. 512K of system RAM, 96K of system ROM, 32K of video RAM, a TMS9918 graphics processor and an AY-3-8910 sound chip are waiting. Now that's something!

Dan's machine is not only very cleanly designed, but especially the case and keyboard make it a real beauty. Feel like tinkering? The complete BOM and all necessary information can be found here.

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Charming Amiga Utility Disks

Amiga Utility Disks
Imagesource: https://www.datagubbe.se/

In contrast to modern systems, with the 8-bit and 16-bit bolides of the 70s and 80s you could run programs directly on-the-metal without having to boot an operating system in the first place.

Why? Because a large part of the necessary functionality could be accessed directly in ROM, and you could simply bring missing routines on a floppy disk - selectively.

And that's exactly what a lot of tools made use of - UtilityDisks were born. 💾

Carl Svensson aka datagubbe has dedicated himself to the topic in very much detail. If you want to reminisce about old Amiga memories, if you want to get one or the other screen out of your own memories, or if you are completely new but also curious about the topic, you will find wonderful reading and viewing material in Carl's current article.

Enjoy. ❤️

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KIM-1 Software Preservation

KIM-1 Preservation Project
Imagesource: Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago we stumbled across Dave Hassler at home at vanportmedia and his unofficial but no less great KIM-1 Preservation Project. Sometimes you just get lucky. 🍀 Now there's an update - or rather several. 🤩

Over the past few weeks Dave has been working on several additions, including typing up and modifying the source code for Tiny PILOT, to create a comprehensive overall package. Pilot? Anyone?

He also revived VIC and PET PILOT interpreter by Mike Tinglof to make it more performant under KIM-1 BASIC 9. And he also made changes to a version of VTL-2 so that 1K more RAM is available for user programs. 1K!

All bohemian villages?

Then maybe some of the newly added games like RESCUEDODGEM and SINNERS will tell you something. There are also two chess-like puzzle games from VIC-20 for KIM-1: KNIGHT'S MOVE and CENTO. All of Dave's current work is available - as always - on his website at www.vanportmedia.com/PAL-1.

You don't have a KIM-1? Then try Hans Otten's KIM-1 Simulator.

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#4 – New 65xx Macro Assembler

max65 - 65XX Macro Cross Assembler
Imagesource: https://github.com/0xC0DE6502/

With the Elite source code being available, a bigger bang was still missing when it came to tooling. And this also came in February with the debut of a fresh, new, still steaming assembler.

Programming in Assembly is either huge fun, or a real pain-on-the-dark-side-of-the-moon™ – depending on who you ask. Assembly especially for the 65XX family of processors can be real fun though, at least if you have the right assembler at hand, and especially if it supports macros and comes with a whole bunch of build-in features on top of that.

And if we take exactly this as the basic definition of fun, then the fun should have no end from now on. Why?

An unknown Acorn Electron fanboy going by the twitter handle @0xC0DE6502 has recently released a new macro assembler for the 65XX processor family. And this thing has it all. If you know BeebAsm, you'll feel right at home almost immediately. max65 not only borrowed inspiration, but many of the directives and build-in functions are virtually the same.

The documentation is excellent, and for those who like to make life difficult for themselves, this is not a good place to be. For everyone else - take a look, try it out, be happy.

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Imagesource: Evan-Amos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago we talked about Gameboy Doctor. The project of Robert Heaton - tweeting as @RobJHeaton - is more than helpful for anyone, who gets the glorious idea to implement the 500 or so OpCodes of a Gameboy in the form of an emulator of some kind on some platform of some other kind.

But at least as exciting is Robert's story, how he actually came to this project. His path - riddled with a number of stumbling blocks - actually led him to his own Gameboy emulator in Go - Gamebert. To this day not a fully functional project, but in the story behind it maybe one or the other will find her- or him-self.

And even if not, Robert's story might be enough motivation, to learn more about Assembly and the inner workings of a CPU.

Nice reading for a few free minutes.

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DIY discrete UART Receiver

Discrete UART Receiver
Imagesource: https://hackaday.io/JoelBasel

Building your own UART Receiver is one thing. Building an UART receiver without any ICs, but only using self-made logic gates based on transistors, is quite an achievement.

Considering that the creator behind this project - Joël de Kanter with a profile at hackaday.io - did exactly that as a school project, one can only show respect. 👏

Unfortunately the documentation is only available in German, but it can of course easily be translated into other languages. It's not like we lack the tools for that today.

Joël writes, that he actually wanted to build a CPU, but it was too complicated ... quite a pity, because I am sure that he would not only have made it. The project would have been a wonderful experiment and a great lecture for sure.

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Silicon Wizard

Imagesource: https://app.siliwiz.com/

Granted. We all know how to program. At least in one language. Most also can manage one level lower. Assembly. Even further down it gets tighter - machine code. Below that it gets really tight - we are talking about the hardware design of a CPU and potentially microcode. But the likelihood that you are equipped with detailed knowledge at this level is still high, because you are reading our newsletter.

But what about even further down? So not just really close to the metal, but right there - on the metal? Thin, isn't it?

And to be honest, hardly anyone will ever design lithography masks for more or less complex digital circuits themselves. But wouldn't it be great if you knew, how it all worked anyway, so that after a zombie apocalypse you'd be able to start the whole thing all over again with 8-bit computers, internet, crypto, NFT, ML and all the other good things of life? 🤔

The team behind Wokwi to be found as @WokwiMakes is making it happen.

A friendly hello to: SiliWiz.

After a nearly 3 hour study of the excellent introduction to the subject, you screw together your own semiconductors. Literally. A little bit of substrate here, a little bit of polysilicon there, and you can admire the switching behavior of your own construction in the simulation.

Equipping a whole ASIC with it ... probably not. Nevertheless, it is exciting to have this knowledge under the belt.

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A Pig Quest

A Pig Quest
Imagesource: https://www.indieretronews.com/

You don't have to be a fan of the Jump'n Run genre to like the following. Antonio Savona tweeting as @tonysavon supported by MauricetAldo Chiummo and Gaetano Chiummo finally released their long awated genre epic A Pig Quest.

They already had me at Piggy 18 ... just my humor. The release for the C64 more than earned the ZZap64 Gold Medal award, and the game could be THE 2023 Jump'n Run for the breadbin. The attention to detail, graphics, sound and gameplay are more than worth the minimum $9.99 on itch.io.

As always, we are not sponsored and the project is commercial in nature. Decide for yourself if it is something for you. But if you own a C64 or C128, or like to play in an emulator, you probably won't get around this little piggy.

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Imagesource: Nintendo

It had to happen. Currently, you can hardly save yourself from LLM news. Unless you decide to not even turn on the digital-things™ all day long. But who can afford to do that? And who wants that?

And so it came as it had to come, Machine Learning meets Super Mario Bros.

Dave McQuilling - to be found on twitter as @DaveyMaccy - has gathered all the details about the project called MarioGPT. Short version: Make your own levels. Quite interesting actually, if you don't feel like just playing your own level creations.

As a generative pre-trained transformer, it's certainly not one of the first application scenarios, that come to mind. But I'm really just waiting for LooGPT and friends ... and I'm quite sure that at least one very innovative "AI startup" is already working on it. News on that, when the time has come. In the meantime, have fun with this small but very nice level builder, should you get it to run.

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Simpler than SAP-1?

Simpler than SAP-1
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/mPkAgXJOoSc

The Simple-as-Possible-1 architecture first described by Albert Malvino is actually already so barebones, that even less than that is hardly imaginable. At least, if it is supposed to be Turing-complete, and thus to be able to execute quite sensible programs completely automatically.

So what is there to Dr. Matthew Regan's claim: Simpler than SAP-1?

We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. If you know Ben Eater's 8-bit journey, you know what it's about, but you'll still be pleasantly surprised and entertained. If you don't know Ben yet, this video is highly recommended, followed by Ben's series on a SAP-1 homebrew.

Curious? Rightfully so.

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Self Sustaining Gameboy

Self Sustaining Gameboy
Imagesource: https://github.com/asmboy4gb/

At what point can a machine actually be called self-sustaining? Opinions certainly differ quite a bit here. But what you basically need, is an assembler, an editor and the possibility to permanently store source code as well as binary output on some storage medium.

Everything else like compilers, libraries, frameworks, TCP/IP stacks, and 42 additional layers of problems can then be implemented by oneself without further ado merely with the help of enough available lifetime to waste. And Voila ... a self-sustaining machine.

Can this be done on a Gameboy? An unknown creator posting as Asmboy4gb and probably going by the name Andreas not only proved this, but also released the related project. At Asmboy4GB the name itself says it all. Programming for the Gameboy on the Gameboy.

Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Lovely.

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So, you can stop reading here. Close the lid and enjoy reality. Is sometimes quite a nice experience.

Anyway, Issue #72 has found its end here and thus the upcoming #73 has already been put into the starting block. In exactly two weeks from now it should be time again. Get the champagne ready. 🍾

If you like, please help us to keep 8bitnews alive. We need exactly 3 things: subscribers, subscribers and ... subscribers. Maybe you can help out with one of those.

And if you have topics for one of the upcoming issues, don't hesitate. We don't bite and typically answer every email.

See you in two weeks. In the meantime, build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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