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Making Games for the Atari 2600 Paperback – December 22, 2016
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I'm only up to chapter 6 at the moment but so far Steven Hugg has been very informative and, best of all, interesting. So often programming books can just be a drag to read, not this one.
I found an error and searched for an errata online but haven't found one. On pg. 40 some changes to the video kernel are made but the snippet is incomplete, to save space I assume. On the third line of this snippet (ldy counter) 'counter' is not defined and people picking this up without some prior knowledge may get frustrated. There are a few other parts of the kernel that have to be changed in order to produce the image on the adjacent page (pg. 41). First CTRLPF should be set to #1 to mirror the playfield. Second, if you don't zero the PF0, PF1, and PF2 registers of the TIA in the overscan or vblank you will end up with what was left over in them when the screen starts to redraw again after vsync. $BF is last stored in them. This leaves the top not being a flat line (as it is on pg. 41). The top line will look like this ##_##_############_##_##############_##_##. You could also 'sta WSYNC' after storing A into PF0, PF1, PF2 in 'lvscan' to solve this without wasting extra space.
These types of mistakes can make learning to program from a book difficult. I have a background in programming and in 65xx assembly, in particular using dasm (not for the VCS though), so I didn't have too much of an issue, but not all readers will have my background.
So far I'm enjoying the book and by no means is this a bad book. Very good actually. All programming books have mistakes. The VCS was a unique machine. Sometimes it will make you cry for a frame buffer, but it's so satisfying to unlock this little machine and make it bend to your will.
I'll update this review as I move through the book.
EDIT: I'll correct my above statement. It seems the book wants you to rely on examples on the companion website to further explain the code snippets. So what I perceived as an error was simply me not realizing that the info was in a different location.
Through the early chapters, the author gently leads you into 6502 programming fundamentals. This books does an excellent job in not only teaching the reader how to write code, but to take command of a feature-rich assembler with marcro's and labels. After the introduction, you're immediately lead into the hardware of the Atari VCS. THIS is where the book REALLY shines. The author does an excellent job illustrating programming principles in a simple, readable way that can be reasonably understood by someone with little to no programming experience.
This is where MANY technical writings (especially in machine code / assembly language programming) fail miserably. As you learn about the 6502's load/store instructions, bit-wise logic, conditional loops and the various addressing modes you will quickly understand these concepts as you: Draw a sprite on the screen, change the background color, manipulate the playfield registers and how to use the processor to keep track of CPU cycles/color clocks for time sensitive operations. Rather then spending 2 hours explaining to someone how indirect Y addressing works with the 6502, I can show someone a few paragraphs in a chapter in this book and they will IMMEDIATELY understand how it works and why. Trust me, I've already done it!
Each chapter becomes a building block, step by step. I doubt many people will feel overwhelmed by the book providing that you take it slow, one chapter at a time. The trick is to get "good" at the exercise in one chapter before moving to the next. While this book isn't a complete bible for the Atari VCS, it's an excellent complimentary piece to the Stella Programmer's Handbook. I do feel that some of the more important aspects of VCS programming were a bit rushed and not as thoroughly fleshed out as they should have been for clarity. But it still reads well.
To anyone who is interested in learning how to program the Atari VCS or any 6502 based console/computer, I highly recommend this book as it translates the technical jargon of the 6502/VCS into an easily understood and smooth read. This is something that you won't hardly find in the 6502 "Bibles" by Rodney Zaks and Lance Laventhal.
Most recent customer reviews
Beware bugs in the sample code, though, which could possibly trip up newbies.Read more