Stellaaaaa!

I found a great online development environment for the Atari 2600 console at 8bitworkshop.com. I noticed the URL while skimming through a book on Amazon entitled Making Games for the Atari 2600, by Steven Hugg.

There are a lot of great code examples on the site, but the most useful thing about it, IMO, us the fact that your code is compiled and executed as you type. Being able to instantly see the result of your changes is incredibly convenient. Also useful is the timing calculations that the site can do on your code. If you want to do any tinkering with Atari 2600 code, be sure to check that site out.

As for my castle program, I did some more work on it over the weekend. I tightened up the castle drawing code a little bit and made the castle a little taller. I also got rid of the shading on the grass for now; I want to save as many cpu cycles as possible for the time being. The colors are a bit dark and need to be tweaked, but I’ll do that once I have actually sprites moving around so I can get a better sense of what colors will work best.

In the screen shot above you can also see a ballista in the castle courtyard. This is going to be the player. It doesn’t actually do anything yet, but eventually the player will able to move the ballista left or right within the castle walls.

Once player sprite motion is implemented I’ll work on making it shoot arrows up at the sky. I have some animation frames drawn for the firing of the ballista which I hope to be able to add in as well.

I came up with a ton of ideas to add to the game over the weekend as well, including different enemy types, power-ups, difficulty settings and even a possible boss battle. If I don’t lose interest too soon, I think I can make a pretty enjoyable game out of all this.

Atari 2600 Programming

It’s been a while since I last looked into writing programs for the Atari 2600. The last thing I was messing with was drawing a sort of castle onto the screen. I was having a bit of trouble with that and my interest eventually just petered out.

I recently returned to this project and got the castle to draw nicely. I then added a sky and grass to the background, then I added some fancy shading to the grass. Here’s a screenshot of what I have so far:

I would like to eventually use this as the basis for some sort of game. The idea currently swimming in my head is to have the player control a ballista inside the castle which he could move to the left and right. Dragons would fly across the screen in the sky and the player would have to shoot them.

The dragons would vary in color, with certain colored dragons being faster than others. The dragons would also shoot fireballs down at the player. If possible, it would be cool to add swooping dragons as well.

We’ll see if any of that ends up happening.

I’m experimenting with drawing sprites right now (sprites are things that can move, like the player for example). I’ve managed to get the player 1 sprite to display, but it’s not anything usable for a game yet.

I’m optimistic that I can get a moveable player on the screen soon. I’m a little worried that the sprite logic might force me to simplify the color gradient for the grass — processing power is very limited on the Atari.

I’ll probably post the source code for this program once I have a moveable player implemented.

Candy Cane Cookies

I baked a batch of candy cane cookies yesterday using a recipe I got from a box of mini candy canes when I was a kid. I tried to do something fancy by making the cookies look like peppermint swirls. The swirls turned out okay, but not quite as nice as I’d hoped. I should have rolled the dough a bit thinner, I think.

The cookies are pretty hard when they’re done (tougher than your typical ginger snaps, for comparison). This is not all that surprising given the ingredients.

The cookies are very delicious, though. I’ll probably bake more again sometime and make them much thinner. Even though the swirls didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked, I think I’d do it again, too; the swirls seem to psychologically enhance the flavor.

Here’s the recipe:

I found I had to bake the cookies a little longer than 12 minutes — 14-15 minutes seemed about right. I guess the baking time would depend more on how thick the cookies are, and I probably made the cookies thicker than they should have been.

And, again, I substituted peppermint oil for the peppermint extract, using about one drop of oil instead of the 1/4 teaspoon of extract. After tasting the baked cookies, it seemed about right.

Mostly Successful Baking

I just baked some peppermint-flavored butter cookies. They turned out great, except for one thing: I made them too big.

The peppermint flavor is not very strong.  I only had peppermint oil, not peppermint extract, so I had to be careful with how much I used. The oil gave off pretty strong vapors; my hands can still feel the tingly coolness of the oil.

The cookies themselves are super light and fluffy.  I had never made butter cookies before, so I was unsure how they would turn out.  I had no idea if the cookies would contract at all (they did not) and I used the amount of dough per cookie as depicted in the recipe (2 oz per cookie).

Really, if I hadn’t made the cookies so large they would have been absolutely perfect. As they are, you can’t really eat them in any sort of graceful manner.  The cookies are just too thin and fragile.  Even putting frosting on them was enough to break them if I was not being delicate enough.  I’m a little disappointed because I was hoping to share them.

Here are links to the recipes for the cookies and the frosting.

After The Last Jedi

Well, The Last Jedi certainly did have a different, non-Star-Wars feel to it through much of it, but I liked it.


– – – SPOILERS – – –


I’m still digesting the movie, but here are some thoughts:

Snoke: I didn’t really like Snoke as a villain in The Force Awakens.  However, while watching The Last Jedi, the character really grew on me. I ended up liking the character so much that I’m a little upset that they killed him off.

Poe: I’m glad Poe got more of a focus in this film.  I felt he got the short end of the stick in TFA.

Finn: Finn was almost a secondary character in this film.  You could remove all of his scenes from the movie and it would have no real effect on the end product. It was a little disappointing.  I really thought they were going to kill him off at the end.  That would have been a pretty bold film-making move.  Alas, he is robbed of a heroic sacrifice.

Rey: Again, Rey ends up being great.

Kylo Ren: I was please that Kylo saw more character development in this film.  The character had great “story” potential in TFA, and a lot of it is realized in this film.

Hux: Not much happening with Hux, which was all right.  He was entertaining enough for the bits he was in.

Leia: Leia’s few scenes were all right, but I felt the whole “coming back from the dead” thing was kind of lame.  Even though that was all done before Carrie Fisher died, I couldn’t help but feel like Leia’s apparent on-screen death and resurrection was in bad taste.  I know that’s not a fair judgment, however.

Luke: I really like what they did with Luke.  The whole “failed master” thing was a refreshing change.  Hamill did a masterful job.

Others:

  • Chewbacca gets a couple of good scenes, but he’s out of the picture for the most part.
  • The three main droids all see reduced roles, too.
  • I liked the new Vice Admiral Holdo character, played by Laura Dern. It sucks that they killed her off.
  • Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, was great.  I’d love to see more of his character.
  • I liked the few First Order officer characters with speaking roles, especially the captain of the new Dreadnought ship.

One new main character which I haven’t listed yet is Rose.  I actually have a fair number of gripes with this character.  I just did not like this new character, even from the first few still images I saw of her before the movie.  At first it was just an unfair dislike just because of her haircut (an unfair criticism, I know), so I kept an open mind for the movie.  I even started off liking the character a little at the beginning of the movie, but that gradually faded.

Rose and Finn’s part of the story were entirely unnecessary.  In fact, it totally felt like the movie was written without them in mind at first, then they were hastily written into the story after it was complete — Finn being added in because the script writer just forgot about him, and Rose being added in solely to appeal to the growing market in China.  It didn’t help that the character was so clichéd, either.

I don’t care that the character of Rose was played by an Asian actress; it’s just painfully obvious that that’s the reason Disney added the character to the movie (a similar thing happened with Rogue One, but at least we got two awesome characters out of that).  Seriously, stop writing in characters for their race just so you can pretend you don’t care about race.

It also felt like half the time Rose’s character was CGI and/or had her voice dubbed over.  That was particularly jarring.  I don’t know if this is just my mind playing tricks on me or what.  A similar thing happened in Rogue One with the character of Baze Malbus in one scene.  I don’t know if the filmmakers are using CGI to “fix” issues with acting, lighting, or whatever in post, similar to the way Lucas was editing together the performances for different actors from different takes to make one “ideal” take in the Prequels.

I felt most of the space battles were pretty lackluster.  Some of that may be due to the fact that I saw the movie in 3D (due to lack of options).  Dogfighting scenes in these movies are ruined by 3D: everything looks muddied and blurry.

The ramming of the Raddus into the First Order’s flagship, the Supremacy, was particularly spectacular.  This was one of the best scenes in all the Star Wars movies combined.  Even when it became obvious what was going to happen, it was still shocking.  It was just a masterful piece of film-making. You could actually feel the entire theater’s collective jaw dropping when it happened, which is something I haven’t felt in a theater experience before.  For those few seconds people were left speechless — the only sound the odd person’s voice being able to make was a gasp.

Some people complain about the comedy, but I thought it was all right.  I was worried at first with Poe and Hux’s interaction at the beginning (“I can hear you, can you hear me?  Is he hearing me?”); if the movie had had that tone throughout then it would have been an awful, awful movie.  In hindsight, it’s similar to Poe’s humor at the beginning of TFA.

There’s still more to say about the film, but I’m just tired of typing.  Again, I enjoyed it, and I’ll see it in the theater again.  I’d rate it maybe a B-.