What game would you like converted to the Next?

The Speccy's spritely young offspring. Discuss everything from FPGA to ZX
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by Alcoholics Anonymous »

Nienn Heskil wrote:
Tue Aug 04, 2020 2:32 pm
But then of course they had to increasingly start 'overflowing the banks', with all sorts of unrealistic and unnecessary bs, and just overall catering to fb randoms that clearly have, at best, only seen a Spectrum in a picture book before.

....

Anyway, if you're going as far as to drum up a pretense of designing some sort of semi-official (tm) successor to the Spectrum, the reasonable thing to do is listen to the people that actually understand a thing or two about it (because, as painful it is to admit in an age of idiots, they do exist :) ), first and foremost. And maybe less to the kind of folks that requests wasting an unused Z80 opcode just to have an instruction to rotate A 4 times.

I realize braindead fanboys aren't exactly conversation material, but this is simply not the context where you get to use the word 'elitism' or similar, not even close.
This really gets my goat so I am going to go on a little, I hope you don't mind :) There is nothing personal here, just an airing. Full disclosure -- I took over the fpga design of the Next a year and half ago when Victor wanted some free time back.

The Next team is composed of experts from the spectrum community. I am a former vlsi design engineer (I designed ASICs way back when), owned a ts2068 and ran many spectrum games, read the technical magazines, self-taught basic and assembler as a child. I know all about the timex machines, all spectrum models and original pentagons. I know all about the z80 line: the z180, z280, z380, ez80, rabbit semiconductors and others. I have a lot of experience in embedded systems and am an expert in z80 assembly language. I have been part of the spectrum community since 1993ish when the online existence of the spectrum was in its beginning. I have been an active contributor to the spectrum scene for the past 20+ years, most notably through the z88dk c compiler and various things like the sp1 sprite engine which has been used in around 70 spectrum games of the modern era.

Amongst other team members there are professional game developers that started on the zx81/spectrum and have seen their careers pass through many machines to the modern day. There are spectrum luminaries, particularly Garry Lancaster who has been extending +3 dos for heading toward twenty years and that has culminated in the NextZXOS we have today -- a true descendant of +3 dos.

When you talk about "consulting the experts", many of the biggest experts were in the team, and that team comes from the spectrum community. A lot of the time the people calling themselves experts and demeaning others as "fanboys" were not experts at all and on top of that only had a cursory grasp on what they were criticizing. When I read those insulting comments, I cringed and shrugged. They've never been ignored though -- the end result today comes from direction within the team and suggestions from the community. Many times those suggestions were conflicting; don't do this, do do this, etc.

However the main point:
if you're going as far as to drum up a pretense of designing some sort of semi-official (tm) successor to the Spectrum
This was taken very seriously.

Because the community in general only has a weak understanding of hw, the result we have today looks misplaced to them. But it is not. If this were 1990ish and the task was to make a new compatible spectrum competitive with the 16-bits, and we were involved, we would end up close to the machine we have today. Naturally there are some concessions made to the modern day -- in 1990 you wouldn't have sd cards, you wouldn't have a pi / wifi, you wouldn't try to be compatible with all spectrums (I would have aimed for the 128K), you wouldn't get 28MHz, maybe you'd only have one palette, etc. The machine has also benefitted from 30 years of hindsight in the set of peripherals it got, many of which weren't made until the 2000s.

But you would get a layer 2, hw sprites, scrolling ula, tilemap, possibly timex modes (they are only there because of people in the team familiar with timex and the fact they'd been done already on the uno). This would have happened because any spectrum aimed for 1990ish would have had to have been at least competitive with the 16-bits and tasked with that, along with acknowledgement that the spectrum was a games machine, we ended up there. Budgets and technical know-how at Sinclair / Amstrad be damned :) Although this would have been an expensive Sinclair, it would have been cheaper than the 16-bits it would have had to compete against.

How hard are these things to implement? Not very hard. The extensions to the ula (timex modes, hw scrolling) are trivial. Of course you would do them. Layer 2 is even more trivial -- it's a few lines of vhdl and much smaller than the ula. This is a good way to increase colour resolution while at the same time maintaining backwards compatibility with the original system. Sprites are more difficult and would require a separate 16K pattern memory but this is well within the realms of 8-bit machines made in the mid 80s. The later TMS99xx chips often had 16K to 128K of its own memory for things like sprites. You can look at the msx or msx2 for examples. The tilemap is also smaller than the ula and is made to use the same memory as the ula. On the original 128K spectrums, the ula owns 32K of ram (bank 5 and bank 7); on the Next it's only 24K (16K bank 5, 8K for the first half of bank 7) -- more limited than the spectrum! -- and this is where the ula and tilemap coexist. The design depends on faster memory which would have been easily achievable over a distance of 10 years when ram performance would have been doubling every few years. If not, the features can degrade. 50 sprites per line instead of 100. No high resolution mode for the tilemap, etc. It also depends on integrating everything into an asic. This would have been bigger than Amstrad's +3 ula, the Sam's asic but much smaller than the asics used in the Amiga, eg. If required, a single asic could be split into two with one likely devoted to sprites.

So although you may not agree where the Next landed, I hope it's clear it is still remaining honest with a 1990ish what-if machine in the important aspects. However, whether you agree with the choices made, a new spectrum would have had to attack colour clash and limited colours. Those limitations were a function of 1982 costs and technology and would not reflect anything new or competitive made in 1990+.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by Alcoholics Anonymous »

Lethargeek wrote:
Tue Aug 04, 2020 6:34 pm
This is exactly why, as a staunch Spectrum programmer, i can't like Next's approach to gfx extensions. Basically you need to rewrite half of the game for a very different paradigm. For me it's to much hassle, to bothersome and not really interesting considering there is enough real retro platforms having similar features if one feels like playing with them.
Well no, it should be fairly easy to do such a port. That massive wall of push/pop or ldi that is used to scroll the screen would be replaced with a write to a register and the same push/pop or ldi to update the new parts of the screen coming into view. For sprites, every game will have a "move sprite function". Replace that could with a register write to move the sprite. Update graphics if that happens with an otir.
I mean, the (very much technically possible) ideal case would be the same Z80 code producing monochromatic (or clashy) pic on the classic Spectrum but a pic similar to this vid on the "new" Spectrum. The SAME code, down to the last bit. 8-)
I like the ULAX project but the truth is, it is much more complicated than the Next extended architecture and the result is more limited. It's not really something that would have been done in the 1990s. However it may be something I do in the 2020s -- it depends on how long it takes you to do an fpga implementation :)
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by Lethargeek »

Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 12:11 am
a new spectrum would have had to attack colour clash and limited colours. Those limitations were a function of 1982 costs and technology and would not reflect anything new or competitive made in 1990+.
Cost - yes, technology - no. Dozens of colors in home computer is late 70s, hw sprites is late 70s. Even EGA and blitter are mid-80s. There were faster CPUs and/or more powerful 2D/3D accelerators in 1990+ with simplified access to their capabilities. Except the last generation of 2D consoles intended to be cheap with very little RAM available and never be a proper computers.
Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 1:14 am
Well no, it should be fairly easy to do such a port. That massive wall of push/pop or ldi that is used to scroll the screen would be replaced with a write to a register and the same push/pop or ldi to update the new parts of the screen coming into view. For sprites, every game will have a "move sprite function". Replace that could with a register write to move the sprite. Update graphics if that happens with an otir.
You really have no idea how the original ZX Flying Shark (your example) actually does work inside, don't you :roll:
Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 1:14 am
I like the ULAX project but the truth is, it is much more complicated than the Next extended architecture and the result is more limited. It's not really something that would have been done in the 1990s. However it may be something I do in the 2020s -- it depends on how long it takes you to do an fpga implementation :)
Right now i wasn't even talking about the ULAX. Some simpler 80s tech (like EGA done right) was well enough to get the same result.

Anyway, you're wrong in both statements about the ULAX. Its concept isn't complicated at all, basically it is just a dumb framebuffer+DSP+blitter (planned as the main feature). The PPU's complexity is projected to be comparable to the Z80 (wider, but more regular). The main limiting factor is RAM speed, not the FPGA capacity. Also bigger screen area with 15-bit color depth independent pixels with a blitter able to refresh it completely several times per frame just cannot be "more limited" by default :) The results reflect the time invested into the each adaptation (most were done in a few evenings, sometimes just a few hours, and that's with some basic testing included).
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by MarkRJones1970 »

Yes I agree. I'd much rather they look more like Spectrum games rather than Atari ST or Amiga games. Just doesn't sit right when they look like 16-bit titles. If I'm in the mood for those then I'll actually play ST or Amiga games.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by Nienn Heskil »

Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 12:11 am
This really gets my goat so I am going to go on a little, I hope you don't mind :) There is nothing personal here, just an airing. Full disclosure -- I took over the fpga design of the Next a year and half ago when Victor wanted some free time back.
Full disclosure: I absolutely read your every post regarding topics such as this as 'mimimi I have an agenda, and I will blindly defend every decision and/or feature regarding project X/Y/Z, no matter how ridiculous it is' :)
Certainly, we are not going to agree. Personally, the 'next' will always remain a 'FPGA emulator' abomination to me that didn't even sufficiently deliver on a number of it widely advertised selling points (Crank up the Z80 speed to use HDMI? Are you serious? :lol: ), while at the same time managing to incorporate loads of bs that benefits no one, caters to laziness/mediocrity, and/or makes very little sense overall.

But, just this time, I'll feed address a couple of important points.
Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 12:11 am
The Next team is composed of experts from the spectrum community.
<...>
When you talk about "consulting the experts", many of the biggest experts were in the team, and that team comes from the spectrum community. A lot of the time the people calling themselves experts and demeaning others as "fanboys" were not experts at all and on top of that only had a cursory grasp on what they were criticizing. When I read those insulting comments, I cringed and shrugged. They've never been ignored though -- the end result today comes from direction within the team and suggestions from the community. Many times those suggestions were conflicting; don't do this, do do this, etc.
I'm certain that sort of thing is there for the others to judge, esp.when you're doing things on commercial basis. And in this case, the 'expert-ness', or the lack thereof, is evident in some of the decisions taken.

An expert acknowledges faults in their product and doesn't 'just defend' it 24/7 on full auto like a drone. An expert possesses the ability to sort out the good suggestions from the bad, and the ugly. An expert doesn't fall for the 'definition trap' ('We can't seem to come to a common definition of product X, and surely that must mean we're free to do whatever the f.ck we want with it!'), and sees the cases where a community has a good understanding of the image of a particular product, even if they might not necessarily agree on all the details.
An expert keeps their direction reasonable and unswayed by traumas from the past. :)

There really isn't a lot to discuss when just reading a description of another 'killer feature' ('down hl' opcode... what? :lol: ) is, fairly often, sufficient to know at a glance all there is to know about what kind of project this is, and who this is for.

Writing walls of text that basically boil down to 'We're all smart ppl, and we all agree! Yay! And who doesn't agree has weak understanding of hw and just basically stfu', oh, I dunno :roll:
Alcoholics Anonymous wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 12:11 am
Because the community in general only has a weak understanding of hw, the result we have today looks misplaced to them. But it is not. If this were 1990ish and the task was to make a new compatible spectrum competitive with the 16-bits, and we were involved, we would end up close to the machine we have today.
And this is just an arbitrary criteria you've invented on the spot (and the rest is based on it). What's going on?
I'm sure anyone would agree that e.g. the Amiga is sufficiently 'not a Spectrum' in its capabilities already, and that came out during the 80s! -16 bit was old news in the 90s anyway, it was the beginning of 32 bit and the 3D era.

By the same (fail) logic, I could pick another criteria like 'a moderately enhanced Spectrum from the 80s' and state you've failed that for the most part. Is there any point to do this? Not really. But that could've at least made some sense - because the Spectrum is the product of the 80s. Get sufficiently away from it, and you get what you get: 'a PC'. It looks like one, it sounds like one, there's a 100500MHz mode in it (we can almost hear the sound of overjoyed randoms with 'C' background :lol: ). And with that, it becomes a bit unimportant what was your reasoning behind it and whatnot.[1]

[1] This is another problem with your type of posts. You seem to be under the impression that writing things like 'OK, see, fail features X/Y/Z exist because reasons' is a way to 'make up for them' in some sense. It isn't. :roll:
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by smurphboy »

My I respectfully suggest we keep this topic to games you'd like converted to the Next and perhaps move the semi-religious war on the Next itself to another thread?

I'd love to a Next re-implementation of Dandy / Gauntlet on the Next. We should have a speed and tilemode to really let the gameplay and mechanics shine.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by redballoon »

smurphboy wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:46 am
My I respectfully suggest we keep this topic to games you'd like converted to the Next and perhaps move the semi-religious war on the Next itself to another thread?
Yip, I agree! I don’t want to have to avoid another Next thread that I’d actually like to read.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by PeterJ »

smurphboy wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:46 am
My I respectfully suggest we keep this topic to games you'd like converted to the Next and perhaps move the semi-religious war on the Next itself to another thread?
I think I'm responsible for changing the route of the thread, although I certainly wasn't trying to start a war, just an open discussion. Apologies.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by redballoon »

Everything discussed is definitely a valid discussion...just within their own related thread. The graphics style discussion is a bit of a grey (or white BRIGHT 0 hahahaha) area with regards to this discussion though.
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Re: What game would you like converted to the Next?

Post by akeley »

If it actually was a discussion it wouldn't be so bad. But what @Nienn Heskil is doing is just slinging heaps of ad hominems and nitpicking on some largerly irrelevant points, all coated in a veneer of extreme smugness, where he's the one seeing the light and anybody disagreeing a blind sheeple.

This is no discussion, more of a playground shout out. It's a style of discourse which is extremely popular on the net, but also responsible for the burnout of most forums and turning places like reddit into toxic dumps. Luckily we don't see much of it around these parts and I sincerely hope it stays that way :)
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