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Exploring Early ’90s Video Game Architecture With Another World

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Curious about past computer architectures? Software engineer [Fabien Sanglard] has been experimenting with porting Another World, an action-adventure platformer, to different machines and comparing the results in his “Polygons of Another World” project.

The results are pretty interesting. Due to the game’s polygon-based graphics, optimizations vary widely across different architectures, with tricks allowing the software to run on hardware released five years before the game’s publication. The consoles explored are primarily from the early ’90s, ranging from the Amiga 500, Atari ST, IBM PC, and Super Nintendo to the Sega Genesis.

The actual game contains very little code, with the original version at 6000 lines of assembly and the PC DOS executable only containing 20 KiB. The executable simply exists as a virtual machine host that reads and executes uint8_t opcodes, with most of the business logic implemented with bytecode. The graphics use 16 palette-based colors, despite the Amiga 500 supporting up to 32 colors. However, the aesthetics still fit the game nicely, with some very pleasant pixel art.

There’s a plethora of cool tricks that emerge in each of the ports, starting with the original Amiga 500 execution. Prior to the existence of the CPU/GPU architecture, microprocessors had blitters – logic blocks that rapidly modified data within the memory, capable of copying large swathes of data in parallel with the CPU, freeing up the CPU for other operations.

To display the visuals, a framebuffer containing a bitmap drives the display. There are three framebuffers used, two for double buffering and one for saving the background composition to avoid redrawing static polygons. Within the framebuffer, several tricks are used to improve the graphical experience. For scenes with translucent hues, special values are interpreted from the framebuffer index by “reading the framebuffer index, adding 0x8 and writing back”.

Challenges also come when manipulating pixels given each machine’s CPU and bus bandwidth limitations. For filling in bits, the blitter uses a feature called “Area Fill Mode” that scans left to right to find edges, rendering the bit arrays with spaces between lines filled in. Since the framebuffer is stored in five separate areas of memory – or bitplanes – this requires drawing the lines and filling in areas four times, multiplying by the hundreds of polygons rendered by the engine. The solution was to set up a temporary “scratchpad” buffer and rendering a polygon into the clean space. The polygon can then get copied to the screen area with a masked blit operation since the blitter can render anywhere in memory.

Intrigued? The series continues with deep dives into Atari ST, IBM PC, and upcoming writeups on SEGA Genesis/MegaDrive.



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What is Quibi? Netflix rival launches with superstar names like Spielberg and Witherspoon

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Quibi Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks on stage at CES at the Park Theater in Park MGM on January 08, 2020 in Las Vegas (Getty Images North America)

Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are seeing a huge rise in viewers as millions around the world deal with isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve already seen Disney+ launch in recent weeks and now a brand new streaming service has just gone live in the US.

It’s unclear whether Quibi will eventually launch in the UK, but in the meantime it has some big star names signed up to create content for it in America.

Steven Spielberg and Reese Witherspoon have already agreed to make content for it and Idris Elba is on board with his very own car show.

Quibi, which is the brainchild of Hollywood industry giant Jeffrey Katzenberg is a ‘mobile first’ streaming platform. It plans to differentiate itself from Netflix and Disney+ by offering smaller snippets of content that are meant to be watched on a phone.

It promises original programming that will offer full-screen framing and look right whether the phone is held landscape or portrait. Each show will be no longer than 10 minutes.

Mr Katzenberg said the name Quibi was short for ‘quick bites’ – referring to the short-form pieces of content which would make up the service – with the idea being to reach users who were on the move or short of time.

The company said that in its first year, 175 new and original shows would appear on the service – with a total of 8,500 ‘quick bites of content’.

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The firm’s chief executive Meg Whitman said Quibi was different because it was not based around programmes made for TV and making them fit onto phones, but rather making content specifically for mobile.

‘We’re not shrinking TV on phones, we’re creating something new. The very first entertainment technology platform optimised for mobile viewing, with quick bite content created by Hollywood’s top talent,’ she said.

The platform has two subscription options – a normal rate which will include advertising, or a slightly higher price for an advert-free experience.

As yet, no UK release date has been set.



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The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet

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Running commands in the terminal allows you to do many tasks more quickly than you could using a graphical application. But command prompts aren’t all that great for multitasking, at least not without some help. And that’s where tmux comes in.

Tmux or terminal multiplexer is a command line program that enables you to run and view multiple commands in a single terminal window simultaneously. Each command exists in its own window pane as though you were using a full-blown tiling window manager.

To help you get started with tmux, we have compiled key tmux terms and commands in the cheat sheet below.

FREE DOWNLOAD: This cheat sheet is available as a downloadable PDF from our distribution partner, TradePub. You will have to complete a short form to access it for the first time only. Download The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet.

The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet

Shortcut Action
General
¹Ctrl + b Default prefix key
t Show time (ESC returns to the terminal)
: Enter a command (Example: “:new-session”)
list-commands List all commands that tmux supports
Tmux Terms
Pane An open command prompt (or pseudo-terminal). Panes may appear side by side or vertically stacked inside a window.
Window Your view of open panes
Session A set of open windows
Client The background process that displays your session
Server A single server manages all open sessions (Servers and clients are separate processes that each communicate through a socket in /tmp.)
Creating and Managing Panes
% Split screen or pane in half vertically, creating a new pane on the right
Split screen or pane in half horizontally, creating a new pane at the bottom
Switch to the adjacent pane
o Switch to the next pane
q Show pane numbers (when numbers appear, press number to switch to that pane)
{ Move current pane to the left
} Move current pane to the right
x Close the current pane
Ctrl + Resize pane in steps of one cell
Alt + Resize pane in steps of five cells
Alt + 1 Arrange panes in the even-horizontal preset layout
Alt + 2 Arrange panes in the even-vertical preset layout
Alt + 3 Arrange panes in the main-horizontal preset layout
Alt + 4 Arrange panes in the main-vertical preset layout
Alt + 5 Arrange panes in the tiled preset layout
Creating and Managing Windows
c Create a new window
! Detach pane into a new window
n Switch to the previous window (in order of creation)
p Switch to the next window (in order of creation)
l Switch to the window used most recently
w List all windows and their corresponding numbers
Switch to the corresponding window
, Rename current window
i Display info about the current window
f Search for text in open windows (ESC exits the search)
Creating and Managing Sessions
new-session Create a new session
$ Rename current session
list-sessions List open sessions
attach-session Create a new client and attach it to the specified session (-t target-session)
detach-client -s target-session Detach clients attached to the current session
kill-session Destroy the current or specified session
¹To activate a shortcut, you must first press and release the prefix key, then press the shortcut key.

More Help With the Linux Command Line

The commands above help you work in tmux using multiple panes, windows, and sessions. If you really want to make tmux your own, you can go further by editing the configuration file stored at the following location:

/etc/tmux.conf

You can also try your hand at scripting.

When you’re working exclusively from the terminal, installing tmux is akin to installing a window manager. This gives you more flexibility when working on servers or other devices without an attached screen. Have fun exploring tmux! And if you’re looking for more command line resources, take a look at our Linux commands reference cheat sheet next.

Read the full article: The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet



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Hackaday Links: April 5, 2020

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Git is powerful, but with great power comes the ability to really bork things up. When you find yourself looking at an inscrutable error message after an ill-advised late-night commit, it can be a maximum pucker-factor moment, and keeping a clear enough head to fix the problem can be challenging. A little proactive social engineering may be in order, which is why Jonathan Bisson wrote git-undo, a simple shell script that displays the most common un-borking commands he’s likely to need. There are other ways to prompt yourself through Git emergencies, like Oh Shit, Git (or for the scatologically sensitive, Dangit Git), but git-undo has the advantage of working without an Internet connection.

Suddenly find yourself with a bunch of time on your hands and nothing to challenge your skills? Why not try to write a program in a single Tweet? The brainchild of Dominic Pajak, the BBC Micro Bot Twitter account accepts tweets and attempts to run them as BASIC programs on a BBC Microcomputer emulator, replying with the results of the program. It would seem that 280 characters would make it difficult to do anything interesting, but check out some of the results. Most are graphic displays, some animated, and with an unsurprising number of nods to 1980s pop culture. Some are truly impressive, though, like Conway’s Game of Life written by none other than Eben Upton.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing all sorts of cultural shifts, but we didn’t expect to see much change in the culture of a community that’s been notoriously resistant to change for over a century: amateur radio. One of the most basic facts of life in the amateur radio world is that you need a license to participate, with governments regulating the process. But as a response to the pandemic, Spain has temporarily lifted licensing requirements for amateur radio operators. Normally, an unlicensed person is only allowed to operate on amateur bands under the direct supervision of a licensed amateur. The rules change allows unlicensed operators to use a station without supervision and is intended to give schoolchildren trapped at home an educational experience. In another change, some countries are allowing special callsign suffixes, like “STAYHOME,” to raise awareness during the pandemic. And the boom in interest in amateur radio since the pandemic started is remarkable; unfortunately, finding a way to take your test in a socially distant world is quite a trick. Our friend Josh Nass (KI6NAZ) has some thoughts about testing under these conditions that you might find interesting.

And finally, life goes on during all this societal disruption, and every new life deserves to be celebrated. And when Lauren Devinck made her appearance last month, her proud parents decided to send out unique birth announcement cards with a printed circuit board feature. The board is decorative, not functional, but adds a distinctive look to the card. The process of getting the boards printed was non-trivial; it turns out that free-form script won’t pass most design rule tests, and that panelizing them required making some compromises. We think the finished product is classy, but can’t help but think that a functional board would have really made a statement. Regardless, we welcome Lauren and congratulate her proud parents.



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