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jbadams

Atari 2600

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I dug out my Atari 2600 console the other day, and figured it'd be a good challenge and learning experience to program some (probably very simple) games for it. But after a brief search I havnt found much in the way of useful information as to what language I'd have to code in, any tools that are avaliable, and importantly, how I'd actually interface with the Atari to get some code onto it. If anyone has tried this before or seen/heard of any helpful resources I'd love to get some pointers on how to get started. (And yes, I've tried a search of these forums and google). EDIT// correctly some fairly horrible spelling. [edited by - kazgoroth on April 9, 2004 10:16:19 PM]

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I actually wrote an Atari 2600 game last year. It''s called Backfire (if you go to atariage.com you can download it and play it in an emulator.)

2600 games are written in 6502 assembly language. The 2600 actually has a 6507 processor, but the 6502 and 6507 are almost identical. There are some 6502 assembly tutorials on the web, but your best bet would be to see if you can find an old 6502 book. I got one on Ebay for $7.

atariage.com has a lot of information that will help you get started. They actually have a forum called "2600 Programming for Newbies". This forum has a series of tutorials that will teach you the basics of 2600 programming.

After you go through the tutorials (which I wish had been around when I started this a couple of years ago!) you will want to join the Stella mailing list. It is a discussion group where Atari programmers ask questions, and post sample source code. You can also search through the archives for specific topics. Atari Age has a link to the Stella mailing list in their links section.

As far as interfacing with the Atari, you have a few different options. I use a device called a Cuttle Cart. It was made a couple of years ago by a guy named Chad Schell. The Cuttle Cart looks like a regular cartridge, except that it has an audio cable coming out of it. The audio cable can be plugged into the audio out of your soundcard. A program that came with the Cuttle Cart translates your compiled code (a .bin file) into an audio signal and the Cuttle Cart reads the audio signal and converts it back into binary.

The bad news is that the Cuttle Cart that I have is no longer in production. I think he only made about 200 of them. But he did make a Cuttle Cart 2 a while ago. I''m not sure if it''s still in production or not, but if it isn''t, you can also use a Starpath Supercharger. The Supercharger came out in the mid 80''s and does basically the same thing as the Cuttle Cart (not exactly the same, but it will work for game development.) I haven''t checked lately, but a couple of years ago Superchargers were going for about $80 to $100 on Ebay. The only drawback to using a Supercharger is that it will have to be modified slightly before it will play a standard 4k rom. I have never done the modification, but from what I have heard it isn''t that difficult. Atari age should have a link to a page that can show you how to make the modification.

A final option is to test your code in an emulator (which you can download from Atari Age). The only drawback is that sometimes the emulators don''t run the code exactly the way a real 2600 does. It''s possible to write a program that will run on an emulator, but will not run correctly on the actual machine (or vice versa). If you are going to use this method, your best bet is probably to test your code in at least two or three emulators. If you write a game that runs correctly on three different emulators, chances are it will run fine on the Atari.

Finally when you''re all done, Atari Age can produce and sell your game in cartridge format. They can also set you up with people who can do really great artwork for the label and the instruction manual.

Sorry for the long post. This is the first time I have seen a question on this site that I can actually answer. I guess I just got carried away.

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Thank you, the information on Atartiage and that you have provided is exactly what I was looking for. Now I have a fair bit of work ahead of me to get something up and running.

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Let me know if you get stuck. I would be willing to share my source code with you if that would help. Writing an Atari game is a lot different than writing a game for PC, but it really is a lot of fun.

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