Watching PasIntro (Atari 8-bit)

If you write a new high-level compiler for an 8-bit system, what do you do in order to promote it? Well in the case of Mad Pascal for the Atari 8-bit, the developer was Tebe of Mad Team so the most obvious way for him to showcase what his shiny new utility is actually capable of was always going to be to create a demo with it. The result is PasIntro and, considering it’s not running at flat out assembled code speeds, the results are surprisingly impressive.

There are two routines included, a large twister and some Kefrens bars. The latter is somewhat anaemic – I’m assuming it’s actually rendering everything to a back buffer over multiple frames rather than racing the raster and drawing a new bar on each scanline as it’s about to be displayed like these routines would normally do – but it still works reasonably well despite that. Where PasIntro shines visually however is the large, colourful twister routine which looks very smooth and has an independently-moving grid effect behind it which is a very neat touch.

But the biggest selling point for me personally is the bit that wasn’t written in Pascal, the soundtrack from Wieczor of Lamers which starts playing as the demo’s pre-calculation begins and continues behind both of the effects as they cycle through their presets. It really does have to be up there amongst my all-time favourite pieces of POKEY music and adds to the experience as a whole.

Watching NWCUG Demos (C64)

As the name might suggest, the North-West Commodore User Group – or NWCUG for short – wasn’t actually a demo or cracking crew in the same way that contemporaries like the Mean Team or Borderzone were, it was instead a user group which covered, perhaps unsurprisingly, the north west of the United Kingdom. They also had a presence on UK-based online service Compunet and a few of their members produced a cluster of demos in the group’s name for release on said service so, as a “bumper” post to get back up to speed after a few weeks off, here’s a look at the three demos bearing the NWCUG brand in their name.

To begin with we’ve got The NWCUG Demo, a two parter which starts with an intro whizzing some square blocks around the screen and running a scrolling message across the bottom; nothing special but it’s fun to watch and has a good, upbeat tune playing as well. The main part has a large scrolling message at the bottom of the screen where each character in the font has been scaled up to eight times its regular size and there’s an area at the top where a series of pictures dissolve in and out. There’s also a NWCUG logo built from expanded sprites which sits in the lower border and a couple of tunes available from the function keys including a solid cover of Dire Straits’ Walk Of Life.

As with the first demo, NWCUG 2 opens with a scroller and sprite sinus, although everything has been overhauled since the previous demo’s intro; the sprites this time are defined as hearts rather than just blocks and their movements are more interesting, with the latter also being true for the excellent multi speed, direction and colour scroller which is, for me at least, only marred by the short length of the text especially since this is probably my favourite piece of music in all three of these demos as well.

Pressing the space bar will start the second part which has some Max Headroom animations originally drawn by Bob Stevenson and reworked via ESCOS to use the upper, lower and side borders whilst dancing to some appropriate David Whittaker music. A tap of the Restore key from there brings up a simulation of the NWCUG page on Compunet, accompanied by some classical music and a scrolling message where the “duck shoot” menu would usually be and, when the music ends on this part it, hands over to a simulated test card entirely built from colour splits.

NWCUG Demo 3‘s first part has some raster bars in the side borders, although sadly they’re not properly timed so there’s some “sparkling” on a C64C or C128. The expanded sprite logo and scaled up scroller from the first NWCUG demo make a return, except with the former cycling through different colour schemes and the latter sporting cool-looking shadow effects. Hitting space gets another ESCOS-style part which this time reproduces the demo Power Windows but in all four borders, allowing the user to move the picture up and down under joystick control.

Finally, slapping Restore pulls up another sprite sinus part to finish the show which this time updates sixteen sprites with eight being displayed on each frame. It might be flickery – I was surprised that the YouTube video comes out as well as it does – but the routine comes with several presets to choose from and the option to play with various settings once they’re in motion. It also features my second favourite tune from all of the NWCUG demos playing behind it, a wonderfully laid back piece that fits the sedate, almost hypnotic movement of those sprites very well.

Almost all of the music in these three demos are original and enjoyable, the graphics are good throughout in part because there’s a couple of “borrowed” Bob Stevenson works in there and the code is for the most part solid. I remember originally watching the second and third NWCUG demos as a teenager after a friend downloaded them – I didn’t see the first until some point in the 1990s if memory serves – and being completely blown away at the time. All three have a unique style throughout despite their being collections of parts and, for me at least, still hold together well now.

Releasing Level One (C64)

We’ve reached the end game for 2018’s Intro Creation Competition so there’s been an inrush of new releases over the last couple of days including one last contribution from yours truly with the ever patient Andy Vaisey on music. It went through a few names but Level One was the final choice simply because it looks somewhat like a game.

The scrolling area takes up the entire regular screen – 39 visible characters across by 25 down – and is being moved using a double buffered scroll routine similar to the ones employed by games which in turn leans on some Run-Length Encoded background data. It also uses the C64’s Extended Colour Mode so, although there are only 64 characters available in the font, it can have four possible background colours for each character so I don’t have to scroll the colour RAM.

Something a little trickier is happening in the black bands above and below the scrolling; these are ten pixels high and sat in the borders, but containing a seven character wide Cosine logo and nineteen characters of either static text or scrolling message. To get twenty six characters into that space the code has to abuse the ghostbyte, splitting it at five points on each scanline to produce the extra two characters (they’re at the far left and right of the screen on both lines) and mask off the raster bars for the areas between the sprites.

I suspect a few people will be asking themselves if a game with similar graphics would be possible and the answer is a sort-of-yes, although drawing decent backgrounds when restricted to just 64 characters is bloody tricky!