Randomly musing about NTSC

So I make a nuisance of myself on Twitter from time to time… not much because that’s not my “style” but every now and then something interesting will come up and I stick my metaphorical oar in. For example, a tweet drifted through my feed from Joseph W. which said…

It’s regrettable that the NTSC C64 demoscene never really took off. I know there are some technical reasons why, but there were still some pretty nice demos that came out of NTSC groups.

My response was that “being cordoned off from the PAL scene meant the one-upmanship that drove and indeed still drives demo dev wasn’t there” because, essentially, the coders in NTSC territories saw a small fraction of what was being churned out in industrial quantities over in PAL land and the most technically impressive pieces of code required cycle accuracy and ate all of the available processing power on each frame so wouldn’t run on American or Canadian machines. It’d be difficult to devise uses for some of the VIC-II’s “features” in a vacuum or pick through PAL code that wasn’t running correctly on their machines but, even when emulation unified things a little, the NTSC scene didn’t really seem to evolve.

I have fond memories of the NTSC demo scene in the mid to late 1990s because I was a small part of it; I spent quite a bit of time on the relevant IRC channels, joined Canadian-based Carcass for a while to contribute code and graphics to a couple of releases and, along with contributing to disk magazine Driven on a few occasions with a mixture of articles and the occasional bitmapped logo, I also entered all three of their 4Kdemo competitions and won two! But at the same time, that didn’t bode well for the NTSC scene if PAL bunnies could rock up and beat the “local talent” like that and, despite there being a couple of driving forces like Coolhand trying to keep things rolling, it still ground to a halt eventually…

In response to my tweet, Joseph W. went on to say…

I suppose it would be pointless to make a NTSC demo these days.

…but I’m not sure that’s the case any more than it could be said of other “niche markets” like demos for the C128, SuperCPU or REU-equipped machines. Making demos is primarily done for fun anyway so, if someone felt that they’d get enjoyment from focusing on doing NTSC-specific C64 releases then they should and VICE can handle pretty much anything they’ll throw at it so the rest of us get to enjoy the results. I’ve been sidetracked by demo code since the weekend myself and it’s very tempting to NTSC fix some of my prototype code and throw something together right now…

Workprint – July 2018

Things have been a little rough of late with everything being topped off with our thirteen-year-old dog King passing away on the 7th of June – he arrived here at the start of 2005 as a small, six week old bundle of fluff. I haven’t really been in a fit state for much of anything since then – I pretty much kept up with Retro Gamer and tried “powering through” and sticking to my blog schedules but only managed about half of the “planned” posts – and I was even quieter than usual on social media which is something of an achievement I suppose? I’ve just realised whilst writing this that it happened almost a month ago, but I’m still getting the occasional wobble when it would have been his dinner time…

I haven’t done much code since then, but the bulk of what I’ve written during that period has been “busy work” to keep my mind occupied more than anything else. Vallation hasn’t seen any attention because I didn’t dare sit down with anything that complicated where I could easily lose concentration halfway through modifying something important and leave myself with a steaming mess to knock the bugs out of later… I’m perfectly capable of doing things like that often enough as it is without any external encouragement!

One of the distractions was writing a game for the Spectrum for release under the C64CD brand. It’s pretty much done apart from needing quite a bit more level data, but now it’s that close to complete I’m sort of committed to finishing it as an entry for the venerable CSS Crap Game Competition. It’s crap in the sense that it’s incredibly simple as a game and my Z80 is shockingly bad to the point where I’m considering a disclaimer when the source goes up to Github warning people that it’s not there as a “learning tool” unless being used as an example of how things really shouldn’t be done. That doesn’t stop me being almost perversely proud of it for some reason?

Workprint – June 2018

One ongoing project that’s been vexing me a little is the new C64CD game; the problem I’m having is with the name, which is basically six consonants from the latter half of the alphabet slung together pretty much at random which make it, as far as I can tell, unpronounceable. That wouldn’t be a problem except there’s always a chance I’ll need to talk face to face about this thing down the line and having to refer to it as “Thingybob” because I can’t pronounce my own game title would be embarrassing if I had any shame… perhaps I’ll just tell everybody that it’s pronounced “Thingybob”?

Anyway… the weekend saw me prodding around Vallation with the intention being to migrate to the latest version of Char Pad; this was mainly because it supports direct editing of the character set again rather than painting to the tiles, something which kept me away from every version after the first release. This transition would also mean a begrudging upgrade to my cheap and incredibly cheerless map converter which was originally written because the levels are stored as source code with each screen being a converted block of Char Pad map data followed by colour, exit and enemy data.

But on yanking the existing CTM files into the new version of the editor I discovered that the mode Vallation used which assigned thirty two bytes per tile with half of them being attribute data wasn’t supported in this updated Char Pad! Instead there’s an attribute byte per character so, if the byte for character $14 is set to red, every instance will appear in that colour and there has to be a second copy of the character if you want one in purple. But after muttering darkly about this for about half an hour whilst and prodding grumpily at the data, I realised that the bullet had actually been dodged because, apart from the four teleporter characters which ended up getting their own code, the tiles weren’t using more than one colour per character so converting it was actually possible.

It still took a quite few hours of juggling to sort out the existing levels, followed by rewrites to the tile plotters which updated how they handled colour, then some new code allowing each tile set could have a unique attribute table as well but, after three days scratching my head and swearing, for the most part at least all of those changes are invisible because it looks the same as before! On the plus side, there’s over 5K of memory saved on colour data and I can work in a far more comfortable version of Char Pad now, although the map converter was more cheerless than I remembered it being and will need further surgery sooner rather than later.