The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

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Dave
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The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

Post by Dave »

The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games - A small book(let) by Under4MHz, available on Amazon.

NB: I have not actually read this publication, but . . . . .

I wouldn’t normally advertise third party products on here, particularly when I have not actually tried them, but I thought this looked interesting. Folks here are probably aware of a number of impressive games and demos uploaded here by the user “under4mhz”, including versions of Windows classics such as Mahjong. These uploads are really impressive and I was interested to read more about his work.

Google revealed that he has produced a lot of software for many different 8 bit micros, including the MTX. That in itself is great news for us MTX owners, as we all know, from day 1, this great machine was neglected by most games publishers. That’s not surprising, given it’s low volume of sales, but these uploads confirm that the similarity of the MTX hardware to other micros of the time, particularly MSX, meant that there were no technical reasons why more/better software could not have been available.

Anyway, during this Googling, I came across a paperback written by him that gives an insight into how he has produced his software. Whilst most of it is likely beyond me, I thought that some folks here might be interested in it. There are previews available that give some insights, but the full version includes all of the games that he has uploaded here, including his latest offering, LSL, as well as many others.

While I was considering whether to post this, I saw that he had posted a link to the publication in his LSL thread, but thought that it was worth publicising it a little wider - hence this post.

Check it out here

Under4Mhz Secrets: The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games Paperback – May 8, 2022
by Paul Chandler (Author)

Paperback ‏ : ‎ 120 pages
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8449360281

On Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/Under4Mhz-Secre ... B09ZQFSGL1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Under4Mhz-Sec ... 565&sr=8-1

Dave
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gunrock
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Re: The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

Post by gunrock »

Thanks for the Amazon UK link, Dave, I bought it for my Kindle. The Amazon.de site (which is nearest my location) only has the paperback.

No need for more dead trees on my account.
Steve G
Danish Memotech MTX 512, MFX and loving it
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Dave
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Re: The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

Post by Dave »

No problem!

It looks like an interesting read, fell free to post a review :)

regards
Dave
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gunrock
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Re: The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

Post by gunrock »

Ok, so I have finished this book and here is my review. :D

The book is a self-published short collection of thoughts and reflections on titles that the author Paul Chandler (better known in these parts as under4mhz) has released or scrapped across a number of platforms. It is just shy of 120 pages long and is part retrospective developer diary and part-technical treatise of developing for Z80 and TMS99x8 systems.

Paul breaks the book down into several sections. The first covers titles he has finished and released, some of which we have seen on the MTX and others that have been released so far, on only Coleco, SG-1000, MSX, ZX Spectrum or Amstrad CPC. Here you'll find his inspiration for choosing the title, technical data such as sprite and tile sheets, level layouts and on occasion the base algorithm or key logic that he used to implement a particular feature. There is talk about graphics conversion, sound implementation and the technical difficulties he faced.

By far the most interesting part here, is the philosophy and thinking behind leaving out or altering key features in his re-imagining of the original game that served as inspiration. Here, Paul details the difficulty faced - technical and also levels of effort required for features that he feels add little or are just too much for a 3-4mhz Z80 home micro.

The next section covers titles that are unfinished and may not see the light of day and here it's where we find how Paul's ambitions massively outstripped the resources and power of late 70s and early-to-mid 80s technology. With screenshots and a postmortem of each title, much in the vein of the first section, you see that although some of the titles got to a playable demo stage, the compromises required to make the games fit the target platforms and the time required to see them through, that he probably made the right decision to shelve them.

The third section I found quite riveting because these are the demos and experiments that Paul made early on when trying to get to grips with the Z80/TMS VDP/PSG combo and before he had the expertise and experience to understand that many of these ideas wouldn't likely make a viable game. Here amongst other things, we learn about how Bresenham's algorithm fares against DDA for line drawing, bit-banging the PSG for sampled sound playback, battling against accumulated loss of precision in fixed point math and the folly of converting games written for TI calculators or X11, for example.

The penultimate section has a fairly lengthy discussion of Paul's development tools, why he chose SDCC over z88dk, a passing mention on his Linux emulation layer, debugging, optimisation and unit testing(!) techniques. This was very interesting to me as a wannabe MTX developer and in particular the page on Gimp and which shortcuts and settings he used to streamline graphics work for the TMS 99x8 VDP, I have slung a bookmark in for future reference.

The last few pages are given over to a full-length interview with Coleco Users Group (or magazine, I can't remember) which bookends the tome nicely.

Overall a good read. I think it is worth looking at if you are interested in homebrew development on the MTX and machines of it's ilk (spoiler: the Memotech is mentioned just once or twice in passing). As a software developer by trade, I resonated with Paul regretting his perseverance with certain mind-bending issues, when simplifying the feature or leaving it out completely would have made more sense.

Originally, I bought the Kindle version and found the images way too small and indistinct (my old eyes!) and zooming only zoomed the text, thus I got some trees murdered and bought the printed book, which is much better but still lacks some clarity of the images. As with most self-published books there is a lack of professional editing thus spelling mistakes and layout issues exist but not enough to spoil the occasion. Recommended.
Steve G
Danish Memotech MTX 512, MFX and loving it
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Dave
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Re: The Secrets for Creating 8-bit Games

Post by Dave »

Hi Steve

Thanks a lot for the comprehensive review, you have given us a great insight into the book
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