Atari 7800 expansion module - what is the point?

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davyK
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Over at atariage there is quite a bit of excitement over an expansion module for the 7800 which features among other things, hi-score cartridge functionality and POKEY sound. This is OK but it also features more memory - an extra 128K. I find this a bit odd as I don't see the point of homebrew projects that use the extra memory as it isn't a 7800 any more..

I am also dissapointed that a recent homebrew project for a version of Circus will now only fully work with the module - normal 7800 consoles will feature no sound as the title uses the POKEY sound chip. I for one would have bought this if there was a limited amount of sound without the expansion module. Circus is one of the favourite games and I was impressed with early builds supporting 2600 paddle control.

Its a worrying development. Any thoughts? I haven't posted my thoughts at Atariage as they seem to be quite taken with the project and I don't want to rain of some people's parade as the module represents a great technical piece of work but it isn't cheap. I have supported homebrew titles - buying Pacman collection for 7800 and Medieval Mayhem for the 2600 (have even posted reviews in the shop). Maybe I should moan in the forums there? It is creating a two tier system with those without the module getting a product that simply isn't worth the money in this instance.

Bill Loguidice
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Sound issues and the paddles perhaps related?
davyK wrote:

Re-reading the thread I see that this actually was meant to be an XM project from the start but it's still a shame that a plain 7800 has no sound at all. Circus really looks to be a great port, and its a game I love, but a silent version wouldn't be acceptable for me. Maybe my fondness of the game makes this a bigger issue for me than it really is.

I could certainly be wrong, but wasn't the sound thing related to making the paddles work in 7800 mode on the 7800? I think there's generally some conflict or another, which is why the paddle has never been supported on the 7800 to this point. Not sure if I'm remembering that correctly...

I too am a huge fan of Circus. Any paddle/spinner game, really.

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davyK
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Re-reading the thread I see

Re-reading the thread I see that this actually was meant to be an XM project from the start but it's still a shame that a plain 7800 has no sound at all. Circus really looks to be a great port, and its a game I love, but a silent version wouldn't be acceptable for me. Maybe my fondness of the game makes this a bigger issue for me than it really is.

I know that Medieval Mayhem for example runs in more memory than would have been commercially viable back in the day but because its standard hardware I can see its validity as it still is limited by the TIA and its an impressive achievement even with the extra RAM.

My fear is that anything new for this system will require the module as developers won't be able to resist taking advantage of POKEY and the extra RAM.

Bill Loguidice
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I pre-ordered the expansion

I pre-ordered the expansion module (XM) quite some time ago, but then I support pretty much all quality homebrew efforts, be it hardware or software (in fact, I just got my ZXpand in the mail today, which greatly enhances the ZX81/TS1000, and recently ordered "Robinson's Requiem" for the Atari Jaguar CD and "Puzzli" for the ColecoVision, as three examples). I also got the XM version of "Circus".

I actually agree completely with you DavyK, that if you go too far, it ceases to be the original system and in fact is something else entirely, rather defeating the purpose of maintaining the original hardware. There are actually several examples of this. With that in mind, I think we all have our personal thresholds of how far is too far. It also seems to be an increasingly common trend to create things akin to the XM and there are several upcoming examples for other systems illustrating that very fact. I think it's really a case of you have so much power available these days on these inexpensive chips, that it's cheap and "easy" to keep adding features. More memory? Just a few dollars more and minimal extra coding effort. More ports? Just a few dollars more and minimal extra coding effort. Increased sound channels? Just a few dollars more and minimal extra coding effort. Etc.

Philosophically, it's often best to ask, if this system continued to be commercially viable, how would the original company expand it? Would they create something like the XM? Possibly. That to me is more the spirit of these things, and how we have to judge them. After all, there are many homebrews that make use of cartridge memory, for instance, that was never available to programmers back when these systems were commercially available. Is it then wrong to create software that takes advantage of that? Sure, it still plays on the original unaltered hardware, but it's still going above and beyond what was originally available. The same is true of these expansions. Naturally, you want to see the main system do the vast majority of work, but if it's in keeping with the spirit of the original, so be it.

For me, philosophically I look at the XM as a way for 7800 homebrew coders to get around things like 7800 memory bottlenecks and POKEY supply constraints, by being able to easily support both. In most other ways, the games will still feel very much like original 7800 games (and other features, like the high score feature, is something that was available back in the day via the never-released high score cartridge and supported by some games). I also like the fact that the XM will be able to deliver on what Atari promised back in the day, and that's expanding the 7800 into a pseudo-computer system. Again, very much in keeping with the original spirit.

In any case, while it's a shame that homebrew coder efforts will be split on a system that needs more homebrew games, the fact of the matter is there is a large enough library on the platform where whatever efforts the XM diverts, it should still not minimize the fun you can have unexpanded. The same goes for the similar projects that are in the works.

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