How I ended 2014, and plan to end 2015 (a hardware non-Jam)

Posted by (twitter: @mikekasprzak)
November 5th, 2015 4:19 pm

TL;DR Last year, a few dudes on the internet made tiny games for retro game systems, and it was awesome. Planning to do it again (though I’m building something physical this time). You should join us! #HardDare

This is a story.

Near the end of 2014, I started researching how to program the Commodore 64. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. The Commodore was the computer I grew up with as a kid, but as a kid, I only ever wrote lousy BASIC programs on it. I never made anything that truly utilized the hardware.

But once I stumbled across this video, there was no turning back.


After getting some test code running on a C64 emulator, I set a goal. Since the Commodore 64 was the gaming machine of my childhood, to make things that much more interesting, I decided: In the final days of 2014, I would make a small game based on something I wanted to make as a kid.

After digging through my sketches, doodles, and notes, I chose to do something with these:


This was me from the early 1990’s, probably when I was 11 or 12 years old. I used to draw pixel art and game maps on graph paper (I painted on my Commodore 64 too, but I don’t have backups).

In the 20+ years since then, I have learned a bit about drawing. I’m not great, but I have improved. So I decided to re-create the character.


Using some of the excellent free tools available for Commodore 64 dev, I made sprites.


And after a bunch of work, I got this running in an emulator.


Before finally getting it running on an actual Commodore 64.

(NOTE: I stole the SID music file, but it’s playing for real on the C64)

At the end of the day, there wasn’t really much of a game there, but I was extremely proud to have finally make something that ran on the Commodore 64. That machine meant so much to me as a kid, and this something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time.

Want to hear something interesting? I wasn’t the only one.

A couple friends on Twitter were also playing with little retro projects for old game hardware.

Ryan made a game run on the Nintendo Famicom (NES).

Tim made a game run on the Atari 2600.

As you can see, we were sharing Vines of our progress while we made them. It was really cool seeing the progress videos. So cool, I had to message the guys recently just to say how cool that was. 😀

And you know, I think we might be doing something like this again (I know I am). :)

Me, for 2015, I’m planning to dabble with hardware.

Some weeks back, I ordered some old sound chips. Chips such as the MOS 6581 (AKA the Commodore 64 SID), Yamaha YM2612 (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive), and an AY-3 (other). I’m going to try directly interfacing with those sound chips using either an Arduino or Raspberry Pi (still deciding).

I ordered them via AliExpress, which means China, which means shipping can take a month+ to get to me. That’s why I’m bringing this story up now, a good month+ in advance in case anyone else gets inspired.

* * *

This isn’t a Ludum Dare event, or an announcement for a new Game Jam. We’re not planning a structured event. This is merely an invitation. It’s me saying hey, some of us will be doing cool things with hardware in December, and maybe you want to too.

Maybe you too have a few spare days before the end of 2015 to do something. I usually have a few just after Xmas and Boxing Day. I’ll be doing my little project then.

Unlike software, hardware requires that you have what you need on-hand. December is often an extremely busy time for mail, and since folks may want to order things (Arduinos, Raspberry Pi’s, ICs, Flash carts, etc), you may want to do it sooner than later.

I suggested to the guys that we should come up with a common hashtag (not sure what it should be yet, feel free to make suggestions). That way, it’s easier to find the stuff we’ve been up to. Photos, Videos, Vines, maybe a wrapup blog post. But this isn’t a structured event. Just a casual intent to play.

That’s the plan. You’re welcome to join us. :)

EDIT: I’ve been using the hashtag #HardDare, a pun on Ludum Dare and Hardware.

21 Responses to “How I ended 2014, and plan to end 2015 (a hardware non-Jam)”

  1. LastResortGames says:

    I have been meaning to actually play with a Raspberry Pi instead of just letting it sit around. This sounds pretty cool. I will have to try and make some time too.

    Hashtag suggestion #LudumHardDare

  2. Jezzamon says:

    Sounds cool! I have a little Arduino Gameboy-like thing that I’m going to make a game for anyway, so I’ll join in with that!

    But I’d also love to make an actual Gameboy game! Gameboys meant a lot to me as a kid, and I’ve done quite a bit of coding in assembly at university. I guess I could get started with an emulator first.

  3. narve says:

    I’m building a computer out of 7400 series logic chips. So far, I have a “developer console” (reads and writes to the data line, selects registers to read and write to) and an ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit). It can add numbers and do a few other basic functions. The boards all have the same shape, and they stack onto eachother.

    The electronic design is somewhat similar to the Scott CPU; the main difference is that almost all of the instructions are copying data from one register to another. The only exception to this is for moving to a different spot in the program; this has to be done cleanly, so it goes through its own process. That’s speculative, though; I haven’t designed the instruction decoder and EEPROM board yet.

    • PoV says:

      Dude, that’s badass.

      Who’d you use to make your boards?

      • narve says:

        I’m using a company called PCBWay. They actually have pretty impressive turn-around time: I ordered two boards and they arrived within a week. Each board is $13, plus shipping. They send you five of each board, which I guess is just kind of standard practice among those services, although it does seem a bit wasteful.

  4. Truck says:

    So, all month, and not just a weekend? Seeing as how I know how quickly I manage to get things done on the Amiga and C64, despite wanting to (: I could do ‘all month’ (:

  5. Xaipher says:

    This is such an amazing idea. When I was in college I bought a book that walked one through building an Intel 8088 computer and then taught them how to program it ( I never did find all of the parts — I had a budget of $0.00 (yay college!) I was able to scrape together everything except for the timing crystal. Now that I have a job and a little disposable income I should resurrect that project….I just hope the components have not been damaged sitting in my college lab tool box in sitting in my closet.

    As for the hashtag. my first thought was #LDHard; however, PoV said something less “Ludum Darey” and my very next thought was #RGHard which stand for “[R]etro[G]aming[Hard]ware” and is based on the concept in computer science NP-hard

    GLHF to anyone participating!

  6. refreshgames says:

    That’s awesome stuff, I’ve recently recieved some chips for burning my in-progress Gameboy ROM onto. Just need to finish the code!

  7. MalphasWats says:

    I recently bought myself a Genuino. I was inspired by the project and ordered a bunch of things that could potentially arrive just in time to participate in your proposed non-software-not-a-jam!

    I will have to dismantle my super wicked awsome cardboard robot that I built while I was waiting though!

  8. I have very similar sketches from the same time period, I suspect many of us do!

    Sounds like time to dust off the old Apple ][ or Atari kicking about in the loft

  9. Osgeld says:

    I would be interested im always tinkering, along with my apple II and atari 2600 (with blank roms) I have a home brew 6809 system (no graphics yet though all terminal based) and a big fat 16k AVR with tiny basic linked to the arduino TV out library, which gives me 240×200 1 bit graphics and 8k ram left for basic programs

  10. prankard says:

    That sounds really really cool.

    I’ve always have been fascinated with old hardware of my childhood back when you couldn’t comprehend how people made ‘games’ interact and work on screen.

    My game console of my childhood was the Sega Master System, and after a quick googling you can program a chip that will rom inside an original cartridge:

    I’d love to make a simple game/just get it loading on the hardware with this. Maybe I’m in. An eprom programmer, a donar sms cart and a 27C256 chip.

    Looking at the date, I’m a little late for the party. But might still have time, as only need to do the hardware for the last part. Software running on emulators first.

    I’ve done a hello world emulator with the 8Chip, but would love to do more and have a go at assembly for a real (existing) chip.

  11. PoV says:

    After mulling it over, I’ve been using the hashtag #HardDare. I can’t miss a perfectly good pun. 😉

    For now I’ve just been posting some of the various parts I ordered (I ordered *a-lot*, but they’re coming from China).

  12. MrTwister says:

    I’ll try to do something for #HardDare too! I have a couple of hardware projects that I could totally tackle this December!

  13. prankard says:

    Is there going to be an official post for this in December?

    I’m in!

    I’m only going to program for the master system but get it on the actual device. The hardware part isn’t that hard.
    The Zilog Z80, is what I’m programming for. Is anyone else using that? It’s used on the Game Gear, Sega Master System and co-processor the the Sega Genesis?

    The chip is supposed to be derived from the older Intel 8080 processor. Apparently the GameBoy uses a combination of the Z80 and Intel 8080 commands too.

    Even though it might seems like a simple project, it’s a big learning curve for me. It’s my first use of assembly programming (I’ve made a basic emulator before, but that’s in reverse).

    All my parts should arrive before the end of December, just got to make it work.

    So it’s game on!

  14. Nutter says:

    erk, I’m definitely late to the party, but I’m going to try to roll something together with the parts I have on hand so I can hopefully catch up a bit! It does mean it’ll be less retro than some others though – likely based on a small ARM microcontroller of some sort.

  15. Scipio Xaos says:

    That’s so coooooool…. But sadly I won’t be able to participate. :p I’ve got, like, zero hardware experience and no assembly experience. I do have an amiga 2600 (that I can barely recall playing on) but it’s been, unfortunately, a bit weathered… Hopefully I can get it working one day and maybe I’ll join #HardDare next year. 😉

  16. bunnyhero says:

    wow this brings back memories. i did some of my earliest game dev on a c64 (just for fun, for myself). wish i still had them. they might be sitting on some old floppies at my folks’ house somewhere, but probably trashed years ago.

  17. wokani says:

    My dad bought my brother and I a ZX Spectrum in the 80’s and we loved it. We always wanted to add a Commodore 64 to our collection though.

    Now decades later I am searching for a good quality working C64 but. Having already mastered the Z80 Assembly Language it is only natural for me to learn 65xx which is what I plan on doing between Christmas and New Year.

    If I manage to write anything decent I’ll pass it along.

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