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?

Teenage dreams

I’m running a little late this week due to various factors so here, have some randomness. I’ve always wanted to make computer games and have been trying to since the early 1980s despite not really being able to program well enough in order to do so. My friends and I also tended to talk about games as well, flinging all manner of random, sometimes surreal scenarios against the wall to see which would stick. So for your delight and delectation here are a couple that didn’t pan out for one reason or another, they should be in roughly chronological order and I’ve listed platforms even though there’s a fairly good chance I’m not remembering correctly.

Pavement Pigeon (Atari 8-bit, 1985)
The blame for this one lies very squarely at the feet of my pretty much lifelong friend David Young, who mashed together the “classic” action television series Street Hawk and Clive Sinclair’s recently-released electric vehicle. So whilst Street Hawk was a jet-powered, all-American motorcycle with cool, futuristic weapons, Pavement Pigeon was the British equivalent, a Sinclair C5. We were teenagers, so that kind of juxtaposition was high comedy to us at the time… and still makes me giggle now since I’ve spectacularly failed to grow up since then.

As for what the game would’ve entailed I’m not sure after all these years; I think we were aware of Peace Women and C5 Clive on the C64 at the time – both feature the player character riding a C5 and the latter is very different to the Spectrum game it shares a name with – so that or possibly Moon Patrol clones like Trooper Truck would have served as potential inspirations. David and I both had an Atari 800XL at the time, but neither of us were proficient enough at programming to actually write the game – learning assembly language on a tape-based Atari 8-bit was… difficult – so I might well be misremembering the format here.

Who knows, we might have eventually come up with something similar to Street Hawk Subscriber’s Edition

Piggles (C64, 1986)
I’m far more more vague on the origins for this one; it’s basically a parody of Biggles which was inspired by the hype around the less-than-stellar 1986 film of the same name – well okay, I like it personally but that’s possibly my masochistic streak talking – where the player controls a pig with a propeller attached to its snout… no wings, just a prop and nobody talking about the idea seemed to be concerned by that omission for some reason. My memory is being almost painfully vague about this one to the point where I really don’t know whose idea it actually was, but it was a classmate at school.

I think it was going to takes cues from the official, rather lacklustre Mirrorsoft game Biggles, specifically the plane flying stage but using pre-shifted graphics for the background scrolling. This didn’t get anywhere as a project because nobody involved could draw the flying pig and it’s not every day you find yourself writing something like that!

The Last VW (C64, 1987)
And to finish, one I can’t blame anybody else for; The Last VW was intended to be something of a “parody” of The Last V8 about a post-apocalyptic racer which just happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle for… well, reasons. The plan was to develop it using the rather clunky Creations in part because building a knock off of David Darling’s Mastertronic game with the Codemasters-published creation tool he co-authored was, once more, endlessly amusing to the teenage and slightly more immature version of me.

The result would’ve been more like another budget game called Morphicle – The Transforming Car from the Power House – a terrible game in its own right due to the difficulty curve which was actually steeper than The Last V8 – with fixed speed horizontal scrolling. Due to limitations of the aforementioned utility, it was planned to have just one wrap-around screen to drive through and items to collect in order to finish the stage. I vaguely recall getting a half decent car sprite and some background graphics drawn but lost interest after that.

So there you go, three things the fevered imagination of teenagers came up with over thirty years ago; there were many more – it was probably my most “creative” period on that front even if the majority of the ideas were utterly unworkable – but my memory really doesn’t want to give out further details. Some would say that’s down to shame, but I’m reasonably sure I don’t have any at least in that context? Still, if the little grey cells relent there’s always the chance of another post… you lucky people.