Watching Charlatan (C64)

Since I’m in a demo-ish mood, let’s do something different and watch a demo rather than playing a game! Charlatan by Solomon of the Beyond Force was released in early 1989 and, after the relatively simple intro, launches into a part which was incredibly impressive at the time since it moved a rainbow of colours around in ways that seemed impossible. The heart of this demo is an FLI routine in all but name – Solomon is credited with having pioneered the routine but didn’t christen it, that came later – which forces the VIC-II to fetch colour data on each raster line rather than for every character row. That display routine is paired up with a processor-intensive chunk of code which refreshes the colour data for that part of the screen once per frame.

At the time it was released the results were absolutely stunning and I remember it just leaving me completely gobsmacked; I just about understood how regular vertical colour splits worked enough to realise that it couldn’t be done that way and I was almost fooled by the baloney in the scrolltext since the only other solution would have been characters and the effect was displaying far too much colour to be handled that way. It eventually took my friend Matt who was a far better coder than me prodding around and working out that it relied on VIC-II “features” and, once aware of that, I did produce something similar which worked in a similar way to Charlatan‘s wonderfully hypnotic sort-of-sequel Splitter did.

It could have been a teensy bit tidier around the edges – the timing at the top of the screen isn’t stable and the grey area could have been blanked simply by enabling multicolour mode and changing the bit pattern for the part of the screen where the effect is – but Charlatan was released during the early, “Wild West” era of demo coding when getting an innovative new routine out into the world was as important if not more so than aesthetic concerns. And the movement of both the FLI effect and the animation are still hypnotic after nearly thirty years, which was the primary motivation for my “remaking” the former for MD201509 a few years back…