2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

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2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby VideoGameCritic » May 31st, 2018, 4:05 pm

For the Super Cobra Arcade review, I thought it was be good to revisit the original Super Cobra, which I originally reviewed in 2000. This new review is a lot better, but same grade.

crimefighter
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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby crimefighter » May 31st, 2018, 6:38 pm

Perfect example of showing how much better programmers have gotten at making games on an old system.

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scotland
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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby scotland » May 31st, 2018, 7:20 pm

That's part of it, but its also 32k and better tools. Spice Ware would know all the details.

From the Atari Age discussion:
Thanks! Yup, as DH said, it's [programmed in] CDF which is basically a more feature-rich version of DPC+, which of itself is an extension of the DPC chip developed by David Crane and Activision back in the early 80's for Pitfall! 2.

As with all 2600 games, you are still bound by the TIA chip and the kernels are all written in 6502 assembly. The big advantage of CDF/DPC+ is the extra ROM, extra RAM, fast-fetch (which allows you to dynamically update a TIA register in 5 cycles), and of course the 70Mhz ARM processor. I call this twice per frame, once during VBLANK to set up the current frame (graphics) and once during overscan (this is where I do most of the collision detection, game logic, sound, etc). DPC+ also adds 3-voice digitized music and sample support. CDF adds, among other things, the ability to do a dynamic JMP in 3 cycles (vs. 10 in DPC). The ARM code is also written in C which (at least for me) is easier to program game logic with.

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby SpiceWare » May 31st, 2018, 9:24 pm

John actually said that, not me ;) but yes, the we have better resources than they did back in the day. Some of the key things are
  • great community support support - other programmers frequently help out, artists (both pixel & audio), play-testers, etc.
  • better development tools (Stella's integrated debugger is da bomb!)
  • better documentation
  • better understanding of the hardware
  • and for those who wish to utilize it, extra hardware!

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby Gleebergloben123 » June 1st, 2018, 1:40 pm

SpiceWare wrote:John actually said that, not me ;) but yes, the we have better resources than they did back in the day. Some of the key things are
  • great community support support - other programmers frequently help out, artists (both pixel & audio), play-testers, etc.
  • better development tools (Stella's integrated debugger is da bomb!)
  • better documentation
  • better understanding of the hardware
  • and for those who wish to utilize it, extra hardware!


Thanks Spiceware, I was about to ask questions as to why the graphics are so much better on the homebrew version, and you answered it nicely. Also, when you say "Better documentation and better understanding of the hardware" what exactly do you mean?

To quote poet Ron Swanson, "Please and thank you."

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby GameOfThrones » June 1st, 2018, 5:59 pm

Critc, you are deluded. I bought Super Cobra the first day it was out and it is a fantastic game considering what system it was on and when it was released.
Okay the scrolling is not great but for the time it is fantastic plus I think it is a 4k game. Maybe it has 8k. Put that next to the one from 40 odd years later which has 32k.

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby SpiceWare » June 1st, 2018, 7:35 pm

Guess I could have linked to the documentation ;) Atari had the Stella Programmer's Guide, but a lot of the third party companies had to reverse engineer how the Atari worked so were at a disadvantage. It's interesting to look at the terms used in the Coleco's documentation :
  • VIC (coleco term) = TIA (atari term)
  • Object = Player
  • Projectile = Missile
  • Border = Ball

Likewise we have documentation on the various tricks that were learned later in the 2600's life (ie: better understanding of the hardware). An example of that is suppressing the HMOVE bar during mid-screen repositions (ie: reusing the sprites multiple times down the screen). In a number of games you'll see little black bars down the left side of the screen, that's an HMOVE bar:
Air-Sea Battle (1977) (Atari).png
Air-Sea Battle (1977) (Atari).png (1.28 KiB) Viewed 800 times


HMOVE bars are also often referred to as a comb because they can look like a comb for your hair:
Missile Command (1981) (Atari).png
Missile Command (1981) (Atari).png (1.18 KiB) Viewed 800 times


The bar is a side effect of how the TIA fine-tunes the objects positions. Back in the late 90s, when I maintained the OS/2 port of Stella, Brad Mott (creator of Stella) was trying to figure out why He-man's title screen was messed up. From Stella Programmer's Guide:
The HMOVE command must immediately follow a WSYNC (Wait for SYNC) to insure the HMOVE operation occurs during horizontal blanking.


So as designed, you're supposed to use HMOVE at the very start of a scanline. During Mattel's reverse engineering they didn't figure that out, and in He-man they hit HMOVE at the end of a scanline, which caused the objects to be positioned differently than normal. So Brad did an experiment and figured out that hitting HMOVE at cycles 73 or 74 would allow for setting of all X locations while not generating an HMOVE bar. A number of homebrews (like my Stay Frosty 2) take advantage of this.

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby VideoGameCritic » June 1st, 2018, 8:05 pm

GameOfThrones wrote:Critc, you are deluded. I bought Super Cobra the first day it was out and it is a fantastic game considering what system it was on and when it was released.
Okay the scrolling is not great but for the time it is fantastic plus I think it is a 4k game. Maybe it has 8k. Put that next to the one from 40 odd years later which has 32k.


I believe everything you say is true, but I am reviewing these games based on how fun they are to play in 2018. I can't go back in time.
Super Cobra hasn't age well and was never highly regarded to begin with.
Still, I'm happy for the people who still play and enjoy the game. Bad games need love too!

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby goldenband » June 1st, 2018, 8:40 pm

I seem to recall having fun with Super Cobra on the Atari 2600, but I'm not sure whether I'm confusing it with the Intellivision port, or even the Vectrex version of Scramble. Still, I doubt it's a game I'd think deserves a grade as low as F, but that's just me.

Speaking of the Intellivision port, any chance we might see that one reviewed? I remember it as being fairly decent.

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Re: 2018/5/31: Atari 2600: Super Cobra, Super Cobra Arcade

Postby VideoGameCritic » June 2nd, 2018, 8:43 am

Your wish is my command.

By the way, I'm just finding out that there is an Atari 2600 version of Scramble! Sure would be nice if Atari Age could send me a review copy.


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