Wednesday, November 07, 2007

VecOS by Revival Studios (Eurocon demo)

This post refers to VecOS by Revival Studios. It is not a Vectrozoa release, and merely reflects my own opinion formed at Eurocon. VecOS is detailed at http://www.revival-studios.com/

VecOS is a very ambitious project to produce a form GUI Operating System front end and a variety of features that one might expect from a modern OS. The key point of VecOS is that all media and components are prepared on a PC, then they are assembled together into a single giant ROM which is booted on the Vectrex. The current limitation is that everything must fit within 32K, the advantage is that data format conversions, interpretations and pre-processing can all be done easily by the PC and presented in a efficient native Vectrex binary. Naturally since its a ROM the OS is effectively Read Only in terms of it's media, but it can hold many components (including traditional GCE binaries - remember most releases were only 4K)

The demonstration contained 4 distinct sections
  • The GUI OS. Impressive skinned GUI, a PSP inspired look and feel was demonstrated, although Maritjn indicated Windows, etc would follow later. This was able to navigate the media elements, and launch traditional binaries.
  • Bitmap display. Displayed a variety of images sourced from gifs etc, apparently full screen. Clearly limited by monochrome dithering, but superb in terms of the size of images. I think we knew Martijn was the master of Vectrex Rastering!
  • Sound player. A surreal demo. Martijn played samples of Prodigy and Jnr-Snr tracks. Martijn was very apologetic of the quality of these tracks since they were sampled at only 3kbps however they were playing on a Vectrex! Click here for an exclusive Ed209 wav sample as produced by VecOS. It might sound a bit rough, but remember this is running on a Vectrex and produced using VecOS automated tools. (sorry but Martijn won't let me relelase the ROM itself.. yet)
  • VecOS BASIC. This is the shocker, not to be confused with Ken Gibbons recent and superb Vectrex BASIC which provides a full embedded Vectrex BASIC editor and interpreter benefiting from the vectrex keyboard adaptor by Richard Hutchinson. VecOS BASIC is a different animal though. You write the BASIC program on your PC in a standard text editor. The language is pretty rich and even allows standard Vectrex vector drawing commands. I read the draft manual, it was very simple to understand and even simpler to learn than old school Spectrum or BBC Micro BASIC. You then compile the BASIC on your PC for the Vectrex although it turns it into a form of bytecode, and then VecOS writes it to a ROM to run on the Vectrex. All the ease and convenience of BASIC meaning literally anyone can write for it, and the power of pre-parsed code. Martijn demonstrated Pong that he had written, the code was simple to read and understand. Very much easier than ASM but running at a good speed. VecOS BASIC also contains automatic VecVox speech translation as a bonus. It will be very exciting to see the first 3rd party VecOS BASIC development. Final thought: It was very impressive, but I wonder if Martijn has missed the Vectrex killer app here? If he could just compile it to full machine code with reasonable optimisation the speed would increase the potential even further! Maybe that will follow soon?
An amazing combination of features, which also included support for Chip8 and other obscure languages. I even heard rumour that Martijn has reverse engineered some of my Vectrex Logo for VecOS!
VecOS could be the best thing to hit Vectrex in a long time or it could be a curiosity; clearly it works hard to make the Vectrex do stuff it was never intended to do, and as a technical achievement it is already incredible. What happens will be down to us and how we receive this. Let's give it the reception, appreciation and support it needs to ensure it becomes a landmark in Vectrex development history! Great work Martijn!

Solar Wars Controls for the Pre Release

(Below are brief control instructions courtesy of Mr Wenting beautifully transposed from my plain notice.)


Solar Wars Play Testing

Many thanks to those who took time to play and discuss Solar Wars with me on Saturday at Eurocon 2007. In particular notable contributions came from Sijmen, Pepijn, Jeroen, Mat, John L. and John M.

There were 8 copies available for purchase. The actual game will be released in about a month or so with all game play issues changes implemented and features such as 1 player mode, superior collision detection, SFX and music added.

Points raised during play testing included:
(Likely response in italics, please comment)
  • The controls take some getting used to. Perhaps a tutorial or at least a reminder to put them on the overlay.
  • Player error e.g. overzealous mirror creation. Creating a mirror will require a large quantity of energy, this will slow down the player's creation and reduce cluttering.
  • Player error e.g. spurious mirror creation. It was suggested all mirrors "die" over time. I'm not sure I like the idea of them deteriorating even when not struck my the laser, as this is a key strategy point, also it would be hard to guage appropriate lifespan. A useful mirror might die to soon and a bad mirror to slowly. I propose a delete mirror feature enabled by holding B1 (select) and pressing B3 (on/off)
  • Mirror quotas. Currently the number of objects is capped. This is a performance constraint and might be relaxed when I optimise the code. The current number is 12 which would well enough, however this number is shared between players. One play can "hog" all the mirrors. I propose to cap each player evenly to prevent one player being denied mirrors by a greedy opponent
  • Extreme defensive play. It was discovered that a losing player might take a 100% defensive stance, leading to a frustrating stand off. Solution currently unclear.
  • The game is great fun in the middle of a battle, especially when prisms are involved, but some levels can prove plain awkward. Apply more thought and quality control to level design.
  • Prisms really do add an excting danger element. The splitters don't seem so great. Consider better level design for splitters or swop it for a new object.
  • The final furlong can prove a little unpredictable when the laser leaves the cursor area. This is already quite tight to prevent easy wins, but the line gradient can bend slightly. Check the collision detection near the cities and remove the "bend"
  • The prism apparently "breaks the laws of optics". (Possibly since it is an icon and therefore to represent a prism and was not intended to rotate correctly.) However to clear this up I will consult a "laser/optic geek" (his words not mine!)
  • To be continued...

Monday, November 05, 2007

A quick Eurocon note

I'm rather pressed for time tonight, so this is a place holder for a few entries I need to write. In particular I will cover in detail what was for me the highlight of the weekend, which was Martijn's presentation of his VecOS.

I will also detail the suggestions made and conclusions drawn by Eurocon attendees who were kind enough to spend time play testing Solar Wars.

Joust Evolution Auctioned

(This article in a draft pending a little more time to complete)

In a somewhat unplanned move, but inspired by the rekindled memories of the charity auction of Spike's Circus in the last Eurocon and following lengthy discussions with John Macallan (who made the physical carts) I found myself auctioning Joust Evolution for the Starlight charity which provides Games Consoles for children who are ill in hospital.

The item actually auctioned is a combination of Vectrex items which occured to me at Eurocon and are listed below: (this may change as further items come to light)
  • The unique sand filled transparent cased Joust Evolution Cart originally intended for CGE2007
  • A unique solid yet transparent cased Joust Evolution Cart used as a prototype for the above.
  • The binary of the final state of Joust Evolution
  • Miscellaneous other development Joust related binaries
  • The transfer of the rights to the carts, binaries and Joust Evolution itself (excluding original source code)
  • The promise that no Joust Classic or Evolution will ever be released by Vectorzoa in any format at any time.
  • The promise that the source code will never be released without express permission of the auction winner (and also at the discretion of myself)
  • The 5 (# TBC) Joust overlay prototypes that were produced by Madtronix
  • A short breakdown of the ROM binary explaining parameters and addresses of note for possible customisation by the winner.
The auction itself took place around 3pm on Sunday 04 November 2007.

An edited version is shown below. This can be removed if anyone objects to its publication.
  • The starting price was 50 euros.
  • The auctioneer is Hakan
  • The ebay charity reserve was quickly hit by SS at 250 euros.
  • We join the bidding as PB astounds the room with a bid of 800 euros!
video

The final winning bid was 1025 euros by Mayhem!
(this equates to 713 GBP or 1484 USD)

Confirmation of the donation will be published here when received by Starlight.
(Similarly I will also post when I receive full payment for Joust)

Note: Martijn Wenting and Jeroen Sanders were both kind enough to donate items to the same charity. This raised a further 65 euros which will also be forwarded to Starlight.

Eurocon 2007 - Game Over (1518 km later)

(..that's 943 driven miles)
Just back, I notice there's lot of news already on the net, but I'll be adding my own contributions pretty soon!
Many thanks to Sandra & Sijmen for their professionalism and passion in arranging the event!