So that’s January out of the way and, after the rush of throwing things out the door over the “festive” period, I seem to have come to something of a halt. I’m not sure what I actually want to work on right now and part of me is pondering the switch to game code… although Rassilon alone knows which project at this point. I have a few which are ridiculously close to finished and there’s a couple in the pending pile which need more attention but even choosing from those – including a few that have never been spoken of, apart from in hushed tones with other members of Cosine – will doubtless prove difficult.
There are a few less sensible ideas on the “to do” list that might get some attention as well though, most of them are partially complete projects filed under the “I wonder if” category and are more proof of concept than anything else. On top of that there’s a range of platforms I want to play with at some point, but those are going to require further research so probably aren’t going to go anywhere in the short term. Perhaps I need to take a couple of days to sit down and think about it…
So let’s get some workprint business out of the way first; since there are now two people showing an interest in converting Vallation to other platforms I might just have to properly shuffle it to the front burner and get on with building the new levels so they actually have a full game to convert. This process will doubtless involve lots of expletives – all aimed at myself for taking shortcuts or bodging – and possibly some rewriting or at least refactoring of the code because it seems to take far more processing time than I remember.
The RLE-based background compression I was mumbling about in the last update is also implemented and works surprisingly well, in fact there’s a simple but functionally complete game wrapped around it now. It has over 56K of background data in there which has been compressed into a mere 23.1K and takes around six minutes to scroll through at one pixel a frame. My intention is to get the entire game done rather than doing a “development diary” so I know it’s finished when writing the C64CD blog posts.
I’ve done a few more tests as regards grabbing video footage, again using VICE and OBS to this time accidentally record a full ten level playthrough of Warhawk. The results look quite solid, but there’s a bit more fiddling with settings I want to do and I have Vegas Pro courtesy of the Humble Bundle to install and get my head around… so who knows, perhaps I’ll become a rich and famous YouTuber? Well okay, probably just a YouTuber but I’m only doing it for the groupies anyway.
In other news, whilst I was away in Kent I met up with fellow Cosine inmates Darren Nevell , Frank Gasking and Sean Connolly for the twice-yearly internal meeting; that makes things sound all official and stuff, but we basically take up a corner of Starbucks and natter for the best part of a day. After nursing a coffee each for a couple of hours we then piled into Level Up and spent a happy hour or so trying to persuade ourselves not to buy everything in sight! Amongst other things I ended up with a PSU for one of my spare Atari 800XLs, a collection of books which are destined for the racking going into my office once it’s decorated including one about BASIC for the Dragon 32, an unboxed freebie of A64 – a C64 emulator for the Amiga which has a dongle for connecting peripherals – and… well, this thing:
Despite looking like an adolescent Enigma machine it’s actually a joystick interface for the Spectrum where each direction and the fire buttons can be connected to keys so pushing left on the stick is, as far as the computer is concerned, someone holding down the O key. I absolutely adore the bizarre but functional nature of this thing; it’s such a perverse work-around for the problem but at the same time will literally work on anything that doesn’t require actual typing to play. Come to think of it, you could also “type” rude words with the joystick…
There hasn’t been much time for coding since the start of the new year, apart from spending a while prodding around a little at Vallation, mostly because another member of Cosine is considering a port and I’d forgotten how some of the level data was organised!
Previously I have pondered about coding something under the C64CD label as a practical demonstration of what processes are actually involved when writing a game; as already noted, my first thought is always “let’s do a scrolling shoot ’em up” but the idea of a tile-based version of Co-Axis didn’t really feel right so the project was pushed to the back burner until a recent Facebook post from Karolj Nadj about writing his first Run Length Encoding routine set me thinking; I’ve already got one of those, so could the scrolling background for a game be compressed that way rather than using tiles?
Run length encoding works by tokenising clusters of the same byte, so if there are twelve $64s in a row in the data they’re reduced down to three bytes which are a copy of the byte itself, a flag of some kind to say it’s going to be repeated and the number of times it should repeat; something like the gaps between landscape details on a scrolling background for example can be compressed quite a bit. With that in mind, out came my four year BlitzMax RLE compression code and the messy, self-modifying 6502-flavoured unpacker for a few tests and, after throwing some test data together and adding a couple of loops to convert the incoming map data to columns rather than rows, it seems to be reducing to around a third of its previous length which is sufficient for what I have in mind.
These early trials also found a bug within the RLE compressor code; because the length is a byte and can’t be higher than $FE there’s a sanity check in the code which stops the currently encoding run when it hits that value and forces a new one to start… all very sensible if I hadn’t forgotten to properly finish that first run in the data before moving on. Instead it only wrote the byte and a trigger for the run but no length value, meaning the 6502 end would pick up the next byte and use that instead, completely mangling the data in the process. This went undetected because the only practical use my RLE code had been put to previously was compressing streams of AY register changes for my prototype Apple II Mockingboard music driver where the data there changes too often for the bug to appear.