Exemplary Performance

I’ve had some good games since I started playing World of Tanks again.  Here are some awards I recently earned:

The Arsonist award is not easy to get, especially with an SPG.  With a single shot, you have to almost destroy a tank and score a critical hit on the fuel tank and have the fuel tank rupture and catch fire and have the fire do enough damage to finish off the tank.


I was wondering if I’d ever get the Bombardier award, as it entails destroying two tanks with one shot.  High-explosive artillery shells FTW!


I was not expecting the Battle Buddy award; I had no idea it existed.  I guess it says something about an arty player since SPGs are typically not very accurate and often fire high-explosive shells which cause splash damage. It’s very easy to damage allies if one is not careful.


Destroying a third of the enemy team by yourself is a decent accomplishment.


The Raider award is earned when you capture the enemy base — you have to make it to the enemy flag and stay close to it for a minute or two — and do it without ever being spotted by the enemy.  This is fairly humiliating to the enemy.  It’s especially so when the enemy does it with a terribly slow SPG.


The game also has a campaign for each class of tank.  Each campaign consists of fifteen missions, and each mission consists of a primary win condition and a secondary win condition. These missions are just a goal you can set for yourself — you don’t have do them.

The reward for completing a mission is typically a pile of credits and/or some in-game consumable.  Completing a mission with honors (i.e. fulfilling both primary and secondary conditions) rewards additional credits.   The reward for completing every mission in a campaign includes a female crew member (and this is the only way to get them).

I had completed the entire campaign a few days ago, but the game gives you the option to retry any mission which you did not complete with honors the first time.  Tonight I managed to finally complete the entire campaign with honors.



The results of the game wherein I completed the final mission with honors:


And, finally, here’s a photo of my favorite tank — the Hummel:


More World of Tanks

I started playing World of Tanks again after a long absence. As usual, the quality of the graphics and sound have noticeably increased since the last time I played.

I play German tanks almost exclusively, focusing primarily on the SPG line (“self-propelled guns” — aka artillery, or “arty”). The highest tier SPG I have is the G.W. Tiger (tier 9), but I’ve kept the SPGs from the three previous tiers — G.W. Tiger (P), G.W. Panther, and Hummel — because they’re so much fun to play.

The Hummel is my favorite tank to play in the entire game.


I recently completed the final mission of the SPG campaign, which earned me my first female crew member.


I also like the German tank destroyers, and am currently building experience on the Jagdpanther and Jagdpanther II. A second line of tank destroyers has appeared in the game’s research tree, so I’ve started along that one as well with the boxy Pz. Sfl. IVc (the “toaster”).


I like the Jagdpanther, but the lower tier StuG III is probably my favorite tank destroyer.


I used to play light tanks a lot, but they’ve fallen out of favor for me after I earned my Mastery badge with the VK 28.01 after I killed five tanks in one game with it a few years ago:


I used to play medium tanks a lot, too, but that tapered off quite a bit once I researched my first heavy tank.  After discovering that I’m just not very good at playing heavy tanks, my focus moved primarily to SPGs and tank destroyers.

Here are a couple more photos from the game as it looks now:

And here are some videos I just made:

(Here’s my full World of Tanks video playlist containing older videos)

I Flew an X-wing Today!

I was at my brother’s place today and got to try the Star Wars: Battlefront – X-wing VR demo on his PS4. It was incredible!

Here’s a video of my play-through of the demo (The first seven minutes or so are just me getting used to being in a virtual world with an X-wing starfighter – jump to about 8:00 to see the start of the game):

It’s disappointing that there’s nothing more to the demo than one simple mission. There’s really no reason why the demo could not have had an “infinite play” mode.

Sadly, there appears to be no news of any actual full game like this being developed.

Still, I’m sure someday I’ll be able to fly a properly simulated X-wing fighter — there’s just too much money to be had in selling such a game.

Atari 2600 Programming

atari 2600When I was a kid, our family had an Atari 2600 Video Computer System, as did many of our friends and relatives.  We had a good number of games, and many great memories were made playing them.

A few years back I got a book (Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost) that talked about how those old games were programmed.  It was quite fascinating.  The approach to programming the Atari 2600 is quite a departure from what I do every day as a software developer.  I gained a lot of respect for the old Atari game programmers; they performed incredible feats of coding.

More recently, on a whim, I decided to read up on Atari 2600 programming about a month ago.  Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned:  To run games, the Atari 2600 uses a MOS Technology 6507 microprocessor (a variant of the MOS Technology 6502, a generic 8-bit microprocessor which was first produced in 1975 and is still used in hundreds of millions of devices to this day).  This is the central processing unit: the chip that executes the software written by Atari programmers.

The central processor interacts with two other chips.  One is the MOS Technology 6532, another generic chip designed to provide RAM (only 128 bytes — your computer probably has at least eight billion bytes or more), a couple of I/O ports for interfacing with peripherals (e.g. joysticks), and a timer. The other is a custom chip called the Television Interface Adapter (or TIA), nicknamed “Stella”.  The TIA is responsible for generating the signals that are sent to a TV in order to generate images and sound.  The TIA was designed to keep costs down, and cost-cutting measures led to the chip exhibiting some very peculiar behaviors which required arcane knowledge and carefully timed commands to effectively control.

After learning about programming the 6507 to control the TIA, I’ve discovered that the Atari’s reputation for being notoriously difficult to program games for is not overstated.  First of all, in 1975 we didn’t have computers powerful enough to provide layers of abstraction between the programmer and the hardware which act to simplify programming tasks. The Atari requires coding in an assembly language — literally the lowest level of programming possible in a computer (sometimes called “bare-metal” programming because of the programmer’s metaphorical proximity to the physical hardware).

To illustrate the difference between modern software development and programming in assembler, imagine that you want to write a poem on a piece of paper.  Modern programming is like you grabbing a pencil, then manipulating that pencil to write the desired words on a piece of paper.  With assembly programming, if you want a pencil, you can’t just grab one — you have to first chop down a tree to get some wood, mine some graphite out of the ground for the lead, etc.  Programming in assembler for the Atari’s Stella chip is like you having to time those axe and pick swings in step with your heartbeat or you die.

The ultimate testament to the skill of the original Atari programmers is the fact that the games for the Atari 2600 could not be longer than 4096 bytes.  The entire text of this blog post you are reading takes up a little bit more than that!

So, I decided to try my hand at doing a little Atari 2600 programming myself. I followed a tutorial by Andrew Davie to get started.  Unfortunately, some of the code examples had bugs in them that made learning Atari programming very frustrating at times — I had to debug code that I was in the process of learning!

Here is my first Atari 2600 program (hosted on Google Drive — please leave a comment if there’s a problem with the link).  All this program does is display a Canada flag.  It might not seem very impressive, but if you’re familiar with Atari programming you’ll know it’s no trivial task.

canflag0 screenshotThis zip file contains the compiled ROM that you can load up and run in an Atari emulator like Stella (named after the Atari’s custom chip).  If I had the hardware, I could literally burn this ROM file into a writable Atari cartridge and run it on an actual Atari 2600 machine.

Also included is the source code to which I’ve added copious amounts of comments to make it easier to follow (feel free to tinker with it), and a symbol dump file generated by the program that compiled my code which shows exactly how each command in the source code is converted into numbers that the 6507 can understand.

Also, if you’re interested, here is a PDF of the 1979 Stella Programming Guide.

Edit: Spiceware has also put up an excellent programming tutorial as multiple topics on the AtariAge forums.

My First Super Mario Maker Levels

My goal in creating Mario Maker levels is to be able to make levels that are similar to the ones the original level designers created. I’m not a big fan of filling levels with all sorts of crazy, “non-professional” things like some people do. I try to keep things traditional, and I like making multiple paths and tossing in the odd trick or two.

Here are all of my levels so far:

  • A Brief Jaunt

My very first level. Very short and simple. I wanted to make something my nephew could beat without difficulty. Level length is about 33% of the maximum. Super easy.

  • Don’t Fall!

My first “real” level. A good deal of old-fashioned jumping. Some moving platforms. Level length is about 75% of the maximum. Pretty basic, but not entirely a cakewalk.

  • Bowser’s Sanctuary

My first castle. I created what I think are some good difficulties to overcome. Has a Hammer Brother “mini-boss” halfway through the level. Maximum level length. I consider this moderately challenging, but not frustratingly so.

  • Short and…Spiny???

Here’s an experiment with a crazy, non-traditional level. I was just goofing around, but then realized that what I was doing might have some play-value. I wanted to make something that surprises the player immediately, makes him laugh and think “this is stupid” as he dies, then teases him into accepting the challenge (“the level is really short, I should at least give it a shot…”). Minimum level length possible. Simple setup, but very challenging. High chance of frustration.