DE DEBUNKING TMR’S ANTI C128 “LESS MONITORING”   Leave a comment

DE DEBUNKING TMR’S ANTI C128 “LESS MONITORING”

IIWASHERESTOPMy program to print “I WAS HERE!” allowing the RUN STOP key to break out of the program

Recently, on the blog http://c64crapdebunk.wordpress.com/ , which actually helps this blog get more publicity, TMR, who is fluent in 6502 Assembly Language, can probably remember all the hundreds or thousands of significant memory locations to POKE and PEEK on the Commodore 64, and may also have memorised the logarithmic tables wrote the following…

“So the author feels that remembering a four digit alphanumeric value might magically be easier than remembering a five digit numeric one… but hasn’t managed to do either himself so we can safely ignore his uninformed opinion dear reader.”

I first started working with hexadecimal numbers in Locomotive BASIC on an Amstrad CPC computer. This BASIC was written in 1984 and updated in 1984 or 1985, compared to Commodore BASIC V2 on the C64 written in 1977 for the Commodore PET with a small update in 1979. I immediately found hexadecimal numbers easier to remember than the mainly 5 digit decimal numbers on the Commodore 64. I recently read an article published in 1983 which I’d never seen before. This article points out that the VIC-II chip is mapped in to the C64 starting at $D000 (53248), which I think is easy. I can remember it by thinking that the VIC-II chip is on D block. I think the registers end at $D02E. This sounds like the quaint expression “Coooeee!” which a friend often greets me with when he phones. I can imagine being a postman or courier with a package to deliver. I already know I need to deliver it to an address on D block, then the person expecting the package comes out from a door at the end of the street and shouts “Coooeee!”, which reminds me of $D02E. As I walk along the block, I’m being watched by a nosy neighbour at $D012, who’s keeping track of where I am, so that reminds me that $D012 holds the current raster line number. It seems to me that MOST memory locations of chips and their registers on the C64 start with the numbers 532, which in the famous Greco/Roman memory system as described in the book “How To Develop a Super Power Memory” by Harry Lorrayne, are represented by the letters LMN as in lemon, so probably the inspiration for the website name lemon64. As most of the important locations seem to start with 532, it means that system isn’t much good with the Commodore 64. Similarly, lots of or even most C64 Assembly Language routines are located at $C000, so we can call this address Code block.

TMR went on to say…

“The BBC computer literacy project specifically focused on BBC BASIC and no other 8-bit was directly compatible with it, so the author opens himself to even more ridicule by trying to single out the C64. And who, exactly, is responsible for the claimed “misdirection” exactly?

The BBC computer literacy project started before the BBC Micro was released or had sold many units. The book “30 Hour BASIC” was written in a subset of Microsoft BASIC, designed to be compatible with as many computers as possible, although some specific versions were produced for particular computers, because the book was designed for complete beginners, who wouldn’t even know the difference between PRINT and DATA, which I didn’t know when I was trying to write one of my first programs, guided by the Commodore 64 course “An Introduction to BASIC”. This meant that simple things such as brackets placed in the wrong places, commands such as CLS, MODE [number], RANDOMIZE, etc, could cause programs on various computers to stop with an error message, The programs were tested on a Commodore PET, as well as on a prototype BBC Micro. In the BBC series “The Computer Programme” (1982, copies of which have been uploaded to and deleted from Youtube, then more copies uploaded), Commodore PET computers were featured, as well as the BBC Micro. Also, even in the first episode of the BBC series “Making The Most of the Micro” (1983, which you might also find on Youtube) a disabled student was featured writing documents on an Apple ][, as well as controlling electrical equipment with a 20 column screen display like a Commodore VIC-20, with what looked like a Commodore 64 sitting next to the Apple ][, and there were at least 2 Commodore PET computers shown during that episode. As for “misdirection” I recently found what I can only describe as a semi secret stash of information, which was hidden from me when I owned a Commodore 64. I think this information should have been republished by Commodore in books with their official C= or more like C< “chickenhead” logo and made widely available. As a Commodore 64 owner or Commodore 64 victim, amazingly enough, I looked for magazines with the name Commodore, or Commodore 64, in their title, although I also bought some non specialised computer magazines which were widely available. One magazine I didn't buy had a series of amazing articles or exposés about the secrets of how to program hires graphics, sprites, sound effects and music on the Commodore 64 by a team of people who had used computers before the C64 came out and who seemed dedicated to fixing the Commodore BASIC V2 mess. Unfortunately, this magazine didn't have the name Commodore or even 64 in its title! Apart from this, the magazine may not have been widely available in London where I lived, but during my time as a Commodore 64 victim I'm fairly sure I visited Silica Shop in Sidcup, London Borough of Bexley, SE London, as well as Foyle's book shop in Charing Cross Road, London W1 and some newsagents near there in the West End of London, but I didn't notice this magazine. Some of the articles were also compiled into books and republished with the name Commodore 64 on their covers! These books should have been available at Foyle's or WH Smith's if anywhere, but I don't remember seeing them. Can anyone guess what magazine or book publisher I'm talking about? If so, then how or when did you hear about them?

TMR also wrote…

“Your correspondent has previously done some digging around Apple II disk images to understand the process behind making an auto-booting program for the machine and, whilst some of the boot loaders are BASIC at least on the pirated versions available to download, the majority of those games were machine code. That might be wrong of course[1], but unless the author can produce verifiable statistics…”

I wrote that most Apple ][ software was written in BASIC. I was actually talking about applications, not games. I read a story that it was essential for Apple to renew their licence for Applesoft BASIC from Microsoft, otherwise they may have had to stop selling the Apple][, because MOST software (except games) for that computer was written in Applesoft BASIC http://apple2history.org/2012/02/26/microsoft-indirectly-killed-the-apple-iie/ .

“Of course it wasn’t possible to save a BASIC 8 program out and give it to a friend with a C128 who didn’t have the BASIC 8 package… this has previously been a massive issue for the author when talking about the C64, so your correspondent is “surprised” that he failed to mention it in relation to the C128 – anyone would think he has some bias!”

DataBeckerC128InternC128 Internals in the original Data Becker German version

I never said that I approved of Commodore failing yet again to provide BASIC commands to control new hardware. I was just stating a fact. It is possible to program the VDC chip using 6502 Assembly Language, which is a language that looks easier to me every day, but unfortunately, the VDC is more difficult to program than the VIC-II chip. I think this is bad and so far I haven't even seen the VDC display from my C128, because I haven't yet bought a compatible cable. Various programmers in Germany who worked for Data Becker publishers were good at investigating and reverse engineering computers. It was them who found out how to program the VDC in detail, then they published this information in a Data Becker book in German. Unfortunately, these books weren't widely available or not at all in Britain, although some people would have understood them, so people here had to wait until translations were published by Abacus Books in the USA, then imported. It was the same for their Amiga and Atari ST books, which they’re mainly known for. I never saw any British editions, although Data Becker did set up an office over here. I think it's much easier, even a Kinderspiel, to understand German than the Alptraum which is Commodore BASIC V2, because I found it easy to learn German before getting a Commodore 64, and I continued studying German while struggling with the Commodore 64, as well as after I sold the C64. A high percentage of German words are the same or very similar to English words, such as Bier, Butter, Arm, Hand , Finger, Milch, Computer, Schule, Schuh, Jacke, Stuhl, and Maus. There was even software available for the Commodore 64 when I owned one which taught German. For more information see http://www.pauljoycegerman.co.uk/abinitio/whygerm13.html and http://german.about.com/od/vocabulary/a/alreadyknow.htm .

DataBeckerC64GrafikThe C64 Graphics Book by Data Becker in German

I said previously…

“I think it would have been a great idea if the Commodore 128 had come out some time before 1985 or even in 1982 instead of the Commodore 64. It seems to be a case of missing the boat. It ended up being overshadowed not only by the Amiga, but also by the Commodore 64 not being discontinued, which should have happened in or before 1985. Unfortunately, the C128 ceased production in 1989, although the Commodore 64 continued until 1994, when Commodore went bust”.

TMR replied…

“It might seem a “great idea” but the C128 simply wouldn’t have been financially viable as a commercial product in 1982; in fact the price tag was more reasonable by 1985 but still put it out of reach for the majority of home users, especially in the UK where cost was an important factor. The C64 kept selling because it’s a popular computer, despite what the author claims”.

Of course, Commodore were making a big profit on every C64 they sold. According to ads in old magazines, the Commodore 64 was selling in Britain during 1983 for around £344, then came down to £199 in 1984. The reasons for the crap BASIC V2 were just to avoid paying Microsoft $3 or even $10 per C64 sold, Commodore owned the chip manufacturer MOS who made most of the chips in the C64, and there's no real way of knowing how much profit they were making on it. A lot of the Commodore 64 computers sold in Britain were actually made here, so they avoided import duties as well. It would certainly have been possible to produce a computer with at least some of the features of the C128 as prices of RAM and other costs came down, but Commodore didn't do this, because they just didn't care. Sinclair discontinued its 48K Spectrum, replacing it with the Spectrum 128K, Atari replaced its 400 and 800 models, replacing them with their XL range, while Apple had various upgraded versions of their original Apple ][ computer. I don't think they waited to see if the public agreed with them before discontinuing these models. Atari made a big mistake with their 1200XL, so then it was revamped into the 600XL and 800XL.

I wrote…

“The differences between those computers summed up are whereabouts in RAM to place your Assembly Language/Machine Code programs, the ASCII/ATASCII/PETSCII codes for specific alphanumeric characters, where is the screen memory located, and if you use any ROM based routines, then the addresses of these routines will be different on different computers, so you have to look them up and replace them..”

TMR replied…

“This is a worryingly naïve way of looking at 6502 machine code and no, it really isn’t anywhere near as simple as the author is trying to imply”.

I'm basing this on the examples in the book “Machine Language for Beginners” on http://www.atariarchives.org/mlb/ , as well as the knlowledge that software houses often or usually developed software for various computers which shared the same or compatible processors.

TMR wrote…

“The irony is that in the author’s fantasy the Spectrum Simulator couldn’t save or load files in a form compatible with a real Spectrum whilst in reality it could do exactly that; BASIC programs or even SCREEN$ files could be exchanged between the two machines and a teenage version of your correspondent occasionally did so to convert a friend’s Spectrum-drawn graphics (created with the OCP Art Studio before the author starts dribbling about Spectrum BASIC again) to the C64”.

It's a pity this wasn't widely known. This information was obviously covered up! I read that even the Commodore 16/Commodore Plus/4 cassette data recorders were incompatible with the C64, which prevented me from buying a third party extended BASIC that was “language compatible” with BASIC 3.5.

TMR wrote…

“This is one of those trade offs that happens in 8-bit computer design; at the same resolution the Amstrad CPC or BBC Micro only get four colours for the entire display where the Spectrum has fifteen and the C64 gets sixteen. That’s why it can do things like this if the artist uses a graphics tool:”

The BBC Micro, and Amstrad CPC both used the 6845 video chip, which the Acorn Electron used a compatible chip. These chips all had a feature called “individual pixel clarity”, meaning that however many or few colours there are on the screen, each pixel can be any one of these colours, regardless or what colours the neighbouring pixels are. This means no colour bleed, although the Commodore 64, Spectrum, and Commodore 128 all had this. MSX computers, as well as other computers which used the same or compatible Texas Instruments 9918/9928/9929 video chip, also suffered from colour bleed/attribute mode, but only in horizontal 8 pixel lines, instead of 8×8 pixel squares. These are all much better systems than the Commodore 64.

TMR wrote…

“The VDC has only two colours per 8×8 pixel attribute cell, but they’re half the width of the C64 ones and it’s worth remembering, however, that all of the other machines with a comparable mode (the Amstrad CPC or BBC Micro for example) only have two colours where the C128 VDC has sixteen”.

I haven't been criticising the VDC, because that chip wasn't used in the Commodore 64, so this comment is irrelevant. The Commodore 128 is much better than the Commodore 64. Unfortunately, I still haven't seen the output of this chip from my Commodore 128, because I haven't yet bought this right lead, although the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron could display their highest resolution modes on a TV, while the Amstrad CPC was sold with a green screen or colour monitor and required a plug in RF modulator/PSU for this.

TMR wrote…

“The lack of understanding is purely the authors; calling $FFE1 doesn’t “re enable” the Run/Stop key as the author claimed previously, it merely checks the key and the author’s code is then exiting on a positive response. In real world programs (as opposed to the tiny fragments the author is offering up) just exiting to BASIC without resetting the registers like that is pretty much useless because they do things like turn on the hardware sprites, change where the character set or screen pointers are looking and so on”.

It's not possible to use just the RUN STOP key without calling $FFE1. I'm writing fairly simple 6502 Assembly Language programs so far, which means that I don't want to reset everything by pressing RUN STOP and RESTORE.

Finally, TMR shows us a screen shot of five POKEs to consecutive RAM locations starting at 8192, followed by a SYS 8192 call, which cause a flashing ripple border effect. I think this shows clearly how difficult Commodore BASIC V2 on the C64 is to read and understand and how 6502 Assembly Language is easier in this case. I hope to crack the Commodore 64's secrets in the near future. I now see this as a challenge to restore my confidence before I move on to bigger and better things. This may include writing a replacement BASIC for the C64, which could be similar to the BASIC on another computer, instead of Commodore BASIC 3.5. It should run faster than extended BASICs, because C64 BASIC is very slow. If I manage this, then I'll release it as Shareware without any features being disabled, because I'm not obsessed with money, unlike Jack Tramiel!

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Posted November 16, 2013 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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