Combat Gets A Computer Controlled Opponent

If you ever spent some time playing on the Atari 2600, there’s an excellent chance you went through a few rounds of Combat. The two-player warfare game not only came with the console but was actually one of the more technically impressive titles for the system, offering nearly 30 variations of the core head-to-head gameplay formula.

But unfortunately, none of those modes included single player. That is, until [Nick Bild] got on the case. While some concessions had to be made, he has succeeded where the original developers failed, and added a computer-controlled enemy to Combat. What’s more, the game still runs on the stock 2600 hardware — no emulator tricks required. The true aficionados can marvel at the snippets of source code he’s provided, but the rest of us can just watch the video below the break and marvel at the accomplishment.

If you’ve never worked on such a constrained system, this might not seem like a big deal. But [Nick] does a great job of explaining not just what he did, but why it was so hard to pull off in the first place. For example, the console has no video buffer, so everything needs to be done during the VBLANK period where the game doesn’t need to be drawing to the screen. Unfortunately that didn’t give him enough free cycles, so he had to split his code up to run across three frames instead of just one. That mean’s the original game logic is now only running 27 frames out of the 30 per second, but he says you can’t really tell in practice.

That said, some cuts had to be made. He needed to remove the surprisingly complex engine sounds to free up some resources, and had to bump the 2 KB cartridge up to 4 KB to hold the new code and data. Turns out the 2600 could handle far larger cartridges via bank switching though, so this wasn’t actually a problem.

Given its age and limited capabilities compared to more modern consoles, you might think the Atari 2600 would be little more than a footnote in gaming history. But there’s a devoted group of folks who enjoy squeezing everything they can out of the system’s 45-year-old hardware which leads to labors of love like this one.

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Firing Bullets Through Propellers

Early airborne combat was more like a drive-by shooting as pilot used handheld firearms to fire upon other aircraft. Whomever could boost firepower and accuracy would have the upper hand and so machine guns were added to planes. But it certainly wasn’t as simple as just bolting one to the chassis.

This was during World War I which spanned 1914 to 1918 and the controllable airplane had been invented a mere eleven years before. Most airplanes still used wooden frames, fabric-covered wings, and external cable bracing. The engineers became pretty inventive, even finding ways to fire bullets through the path of the wooden propeller blades while somehow not tearing them to splinters.

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RoboGames 2008 This Weekend


The fifth annual RoboGames is happening this weekend in San Francisco. RoboGames is a broad reaching competition designed to bring together specialists in all areas of robotics. Last year’s event had 800 entries in 62 different events. The biggest audience draw is definitely the combat robots shown in the video above, but there are other skill and task based competitions. If you’re in the area, this is definitely worth your time. Check out ROBOT magazine’s coverage from last year to get an idea of what you’ll see (or in our case miss).

[thanks io9]