Pinball Construction Set - Your Thoughts on the BudgeCo Title

Bill Loguidice's picture

I've been doing some work now on the Pinball Construction Set chapter for the book and would love to hear some of your thoughts on this "software toy" construction set. Bill Budge's title, first published through his own BudgeCo company in 1982, was of course later picked up and published by Electronic Arts (one of their earliest titles that helped put the company on the map), starting in 1983, for Apple II, Apple Macintosh, Atari 8-bit, Coleco Adam (this release is overlooked by nearly every online source, by the way), Commodore 64 and PC. While I'd love to hear about your experiences with Budge's title and titles like it, I'd also like to hear about even some of the more hardcore construction sets or mainstream development tools, like, for instance, Penguin's The Graphics Magician. Every thought and tangent is appreciated. Thanks!

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Rowdy Rob
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MSX
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Well, there was only one MSX machine ever launched in North America, and that was the Yamaha CX-5M, which was sold in music stores as a music computer.

I recall going into department stores in Japan during the mid -80's and seeing rows of first generation MSX-based machines, each one a different model or brand name. There must have been dozens of models! With such an onslaught of MSX models and developers, I had little doubt at the time that MSX would easily conquer America.

The games demoed on these machines were very high-quality; they had a certain "life" to them. It wasn't so much the graphics or sound (which were generally very good, competitive with our favorite 8-bit computers), but the ambition of these programs that really impressed me. One that stood out was a giant robot battle game (anime style), sort of a precursor to the console "Pokemon" battle games (or even JRPG-style battle systems). Every time you selected a "move," a cut-scene played out demonstrating the effects of your actions, and then the enemies actions, etc. It might not sound like much, but it was done very well.

The MSX games showcased what the potential of the TI graphics chip was capable of if placed in the right hands... the Colecovision's library looked somewhat lame, graphics-wise, compared to what the Japanese were doing on the MSX.

We never saw anything like these games on the Colecovision, which is a shame because of the very similar specs of the MSX and Coleco platforms. I actually believe that the Colecovision might have weathered the "crash" a lot better if there was an influx of Japanese game developers to push the hardware to MSX hieghts! We Americans really missed out on the MSX phase.

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Bill Loguidice
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MSX and ColecoVision
Rowdy Rob wrote:

We never saw anything like these games on the Colecovision, which is a shame because of the very similar specs of the MSX and Coleco platforms. I actually believe that the Colecovision might have weathered the "crash" a lot better if there was an influx of Japanese game developers to push the hardware to MSX hieghts! We Americans really missed out on the MSX phase.

That's true, as even the Adam never received anything to truly push it, and with its RAM, it could have possible surpassed the best of what was on the MSX 1 specification.

By the way, I'm sure you're aware, but Opcode Games: http://www.opcodegames.com/ has been taking MSX 1 games and enhancing them for the ColecoVision for years. I own all of their released games to date, though there's some question, with the lead programmer all but retired, whether we'll see anymore specifically from them (others have, though, like the recent Mr. Chin conversion that I own). While not exactly easy to convert MSX games to the ColecoVision, it's not that difficult, perhaps only a notch or two above converting Atari 8-bit games to the Atari 5200...

And yes, we, as Americans, might have missed out on the MSX phase, but the reality is there was nothing wrong with the "de facto" C-64. Pretty much everything possible on the MSX specification was possible with the C-64, and then some.



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Bill Loguidice
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Pac-Man Collection!
Bill Loguidice wrote:

By the way, I'm sure you're aware, but Opcode Games: http://www.opcodegames.com/ has been taking MSX 1 games and enhancing them for the ColecoVision for years. I own all of their released games to date, though there's some question, with the lead programmer all but retired, whether we'll see anymore specifically from them (others have, though, like the recent Mr. Chin conversion that I own). While not exactly easy to convert MSX games to the ColecoVision, it's not that difficult, perhaps only a notch or two above converting Atari 8-bit games to the Atari 5200...

Speaking of Opcode, it looks like Pac-Man Collection is finally finished: http://www.atariage.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=131570&st=0

This is exciting news, particularly since this is a special 128KB cartridge! The translations look to be absolutely spot-on, better than even the NES version(s)!



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Calibrator
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Some aspects
Bill Loguidice wrote:

While not exactly easy to convert MSX games to the ColecoVision, it's not that difficult, perhaps only a notch or two above converting Atari 8-bit games to the Atari 5200...

I guess the biggest source of conversion problems is the much more limited system (not video) RAM of the Coleco. MSX1 come with at least 8KB while the Coleco only has a single KB (most MSX actually have at least 16KB). Both feature 16KB video RAM but games requiring much more than 1KB system RAM (like RPGs) are very hard to convert.

The 16KB-equipped Atari 5200 console doesn't have this problem as most game cartridges are designed for 16KB Atari computers anyway - the different joystick (analog instead of digital) is the main culprit for problems here.

Quote:

And yes, we, as Americans, might have missed out on the MSX phase, but the reality is there was nothing wrong with the "de facto" C-64. Pretty much everything possible on the MSX specification was possible with the C-64, and then some.

I certainly don't want to start a system war here but the MSX did have some advantages over the C64:
Most MSX1 models were built quite sturdily and with good keyboards (there were a few variants with rubber keys) while the C64 often didn't work because of Commodore's sloppy quality control (Chistmast sucks when the new computer doesn't work) and the keyboard is mediocre.
And you need a Basic extension for the C64 to match the Basic of the MSX - especially where hardware support is concerned. These are hidden costs for beginners.

I agree, though, that the graphics and sound custom chips of the C64 are superior (there have been written volumes on this) though I'll probably never understand why the video chip has to halt the cpu to steal cycles. The Atari 8 bit computers have the same problem, while the Apple video hardware without it's custom chip doesn't have this problem and the cpu runs with full speed all the time.
As the Atari video chips were designed by the ingenious Jay Miner (also responsible for the Amiga chipset) I assume there is a good reason why the Atari CPU has to lose 30-40% of its 1,79 MHz clock speed in most video modes...

The C64's 64KB RAM is a big step up for games programmers who can bank switch the ROMs, while most MSX1 models only have 16KB and are intended to use with cartridges like the Atari 400 and 600 models. The problem with this is that some companies try to use this as the common denominator and try to maximize sales. The Atari 400 at least is understandable as memory was very expensive when the machine came to market and the machine's keyboard has obviously been designed for the wet hands of thumb suckling children...

From what I've read the C64 was a bit of a rush job - especially in the OS and BASIC department.
The same can be said of the C1541 floppy and it's faulty default firmware with its excruciating slow transfer speed. Floppy speeders prove that the hardware wasn't to blame (except the "terrific" idea of putting a hot power supply beneath the drive mechanism).

One can endlessly argue if the MSX1 standard was needed in the world while Commodore was pumping out cheap C64 to suit most needs, Atari tried to survive with Jack Tramiels proven tactics after he bought Atari in 1984 and Apple hovering way above in an entirely different price and user segment. People in Asia or the Netherlands (where the native Philips had a foot in the door with its well built MSX systems) may see this differently, though.

Back then my own experiences weren't unhappy with an Atari 400 and later 130XE, which has been bought because of a mixture of hype (128K RAM!!!) and compatibility (a C128 was out of the question even though I would've had a source for copied games).

From today's standpoint I think a very strong Z80-equipped competitor (with custom chips of Atari/C64 quality) would've been very interesting to see compete against the 6502-based systems in the home segment - just to see how their architectures would've duked it out (the Apple II's Z80 competition were the CP/M machines which were for professional use only).

The MSX standard at least came close, but wasn't equally successful worldwide. The ZX Spectrum perhaps had more luck, at least in Europe, but it's hardware is downright primitive compared to the other machines to allow for a lower price. Funnily, its fans actually perceived the C64 as a high end machine because of its "too high" price - imagine that!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zx_spectrum

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Systems
Calibrator wrote:

I certainly don't want to start a system war here but the MSX did have some advantages over the C64:

No system war at all. These days I love them all and own most, if not all, of the systems. It's good for us to talk these things out and it's a plus that it's always on a higher level than " sux!".

I think each and every system released had some quirk or some advantage over its contemporaries, save for a select few duds, like the Mattel Aquarius and the TRS-80 MC-10, which, other than the former's looks and the latter's size, really didn't have much going for them in terms of being competitive with contemporary systems.

Again, my only point was that while the MSX and MSX 2 specifications had their draw - hell, it was like an audio-visual form of CP/M and a predictor to the rise of the PC standard in terms of having lots of manufacturers for one standard (much like the Arcadia chipset and 3DO would try on the console side) - they were not strictly necessary by late 1984/early 1985. The US market was pretty much set on the low end, then, by the time the MSX 2 standard was ready, set on the higher end. MSX could have hit at both times and both times would have failed soundly. There was barely room for Atari in a world of Commodore (again, at least here in the US/North America).



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Rowdy Rob
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8-bit GFX pushed to the limits (Bill and Mark)
Bill Loguidice wrote:

And yes, we, as Americans, might have missed out on the MSX phase, but the reality is there was nothing wrong with the "de facto" C-64. Pretty much everything possible on the MSX specification was possible with the C-64, and then some.

It's not so much the hardware "possibilities" as the human "possibilities" I'm talking about. Even now, 20+ years later, these systems are being taken to new, expanding heights by homebrew programmers! Imagine if these "homebrew" programmers were around during the heyday of these machines, and had corporate budgets behind them? That's kind of what I saw with MSX back then in comparison to the Colecovision. The Japanese programmers took the Coleco/MSX platform to new heights (at least in my eyes), which would have spurred the Western programmers, which would have further spurred the Eastern programmers, etc.

The screenshots from the "Opcode" website (which I never heard of until your reference, BTW), look extremely cool! Too bad these programmers will never be justly rewarded financially for their efforts!

Mark Vergeer wrote:

Hires Mode
[....]
I've used this graphics mode with nmi-sprites on top (raster interrupt sprites to be able to display more than 8 sprites at once) to be able to simulate 320x200 pixels with 4 colours per 8x8 pixel attribute cells. Those sprites needed to be single colour/hires sprites in order for it to work. Multicoloured sprites had a horizontal resolution that was half the 320x200 resolution.

Believe it or not, Mark, your technique is very close to the technique I had in mind 20+ years ago that I wanted to introduce to the world on the Atari! Yes, I used "sprites" (or "player/missile graphics" as they were referred to on the Atari) to enhance the colors. #&$*%!!!! I need to do some more research to see if my technique hasn't been already reproduced on the Atari, since the C-64 guys (like you!) have something very similar! Great minds think alike, eh? :-)

Mark Vergeer wrote:

I got this from the programmer's reference guide. But this website explains it much better than I do and shows some nice examples of enhanced graphics modes on the c64 that programmers have discovered and that where not thought possible by the original designers of the machine. The graphics modes consists of various interlaced modes being able to use more colours per attribute cell, simulate more than 16 colours by blending or interlacing. I just love the c64 because of the direct access to the hardware we were able to tap into possibilities the original designers didn't foresee to be possible!

OMG!!! That website is awesome, and again, it looks like the technique is very similar to mine! (I think mine has a few more tricks up its sleeve, though.) Considering the Atari had many more colors available (256 vs. 16), I think a fair picture of what I had in mind can be seen. I lost my old code, however, and was already fired up to reproduce it until I read your message.

Thanks to you, I really have to do more research to make sure my technique hasn't been discovered yet before I proceed with my "demo". :-(
[/quote]
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Bill Loguidice
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AtariAge
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Thanks to you, I really have to do more research to make sure my technique hasn't been discovered yet before I proceed with my "demo". :-(

Don't get any ideas about leaving for good, but you should probably post your thoughts on the appropriate AtariAge forums. They have very active and talented 8-bit developers on there who would know right away if what you've come up has already been done.



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Rowdy Rob
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Atari programming
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Don't get any ideas about leaving for good, but you should probably post your thoughts on the appropriate AtariAge forums. They have very active and talented 8-bit developers on there who would know right away if what you've come up has already been done.

Some of it clearly has been done, but I think I still have an opening... Ironically, modern PC's give me an edge I didn't have back then. Developing...

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Calibrator
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Atari techniques
Rowdy Rob wrote:

It's not so much the hardware "possibilities" as the human "possibilities" I'm talking about. Even now, 20+ years later, these systems are being taken to new, expanding heights by homebrew programmers! Imagine if these "homebrew" programmers were around during the heyday of these machines, and had corporate budgets behind them? That's kind of what I saw with MSX back then in comparison to the Colecovision. The Japanese programmers took the Coleco/MSX platform to new heights (at least in my eyes), which would have spurred the Western programmers, which would have further spurred the Eastern programmers, etc.

The screenshots from the "Opcode" website (which I never heard of until your reference, BTW), look extremely cool! Too bad these programmers will never be justly rewarded financially for their efforts!

Agreed!

Quote:

Believe it or not, Mark, your technique is very close to the technique I had in mind 20+ years ago that I wanted to introduce to the world on the Atari! Yes, I used "sprites" (or "player/missile graphics" as they were referred to on the Atari) to enhance the colors. #&$*%!!!! I need to do some more research to see if my technique hasn't been already reproduced on the Atari, since the C-64 guys (like you!) have something very similar! Great minds think alike, eh? :-)

OMG!!! That website is awesome, and again, it looks like the technique is very similar to mine! (I think mine has a few more tricks up its sleeve, though.) Considering the Atari had many more colors available (256 vs. 16), I think a fair picture of what I had in mind can be seen. I lost my old code, however, and was already fired up to reproduce it until I read your message.

Thanks to you, I really have to do more research to make sure my technique hasn't been discovered yet before I proceed with my "demo". :-(

Using Player-Missile-Graphics as colored backgrounds is a known and well used Atari technique.
Example: the dashboard in "The Great American Cross-Country Road Race" by Activision (there are more but this is what I remember offhand).
I'm very curious how you'll step up from this!

Sidenote:
Interlaced/page flipped graphics modes are also used on the Atari to increase available colors for each pixel to 256 (with GTIA-equipped machines). It's used in the demo & homebrew scene, at least, and flickers horribly unless you have a 100 (PAL) or 120 Hz (NTSC) CRT (which I didn't have back then). I don't know how they look with an LCD TV-set, though.
You basically have two frame buffers (each 40x192 bytes - one is for the 16 colors, one for the 16 hues) and then you switch the GTIA register for the graphics mode (which decides how the 4-bit data in the frame buffer is interpreted - colors or hues) and the start of the frame buffer (ANTIC display list) in the vertical blanking interrupt.
Very good for static pictures but not for action games (though you can trick a lot here). The downside: The resolution is only 80x192. But this also works in 160x192 mode -- with less colors, though.

take care,
Calibrator

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Mark Vergeer
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Nothing beats the sid in my opinion

When it comes to sound on 8 bit computers nothing beats the specific SID sound, the SID chip actually comes pretty close to being a real synthesizer. I must say I also like the sound the NES / Famicom produces. The MSX line and coleco sound very alike in my opinion. The MSX line got better sound with the FM-Sound cartridge which made it sound very much like the Sega Genesis/Megadrive and early PC sound cards.



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