In The shed

Do not approach the over-grown shed,
For the creature within will have your head.
It sits in the corner among the webs and dust,
Hiding in the dark, hunger is its lust.
Darkness as a cloak, worn all day,
Lurking in the gloom, waiting for its prey.

Pen and Ink


Peering Into The Future - 2014-03-22

We are not far away from computer generated movies being undetectable from real video. Also predictive and creative software is improving at a phenomenal rate. So what! You might think, well imagine this. Take a step into the near future and add your favourite TV series, you know that old one that was brilliantly written but only lasted a couple of series, you just wish you had more episodes to watch. Well, feed the video of the original episodes you have into a computer and run it through the Series Maker Application. What is it? Well I reckon we will be able to develop software that can easily make new models of all the actors using just existing video, recreate every scene into a 3D rendered model then absorb and assimilate every plot and dialogue. But it doesn't just stop there, predictive and creative algorithms will be able to come up with new stories with the same feel as the originals then 'film' each episode using the models. Brilliant, now we can have another series of Faulty Towers, furthers adventures of the U.S.S Enterprise or even recreate brand new episodes from the 1960's Corrie. I can't wait, I really miss Noggin the Nogg.

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General - 2013-12-12

I spend a lot of my spare time looking at the code of old ZX Spectrum games. I do this strange activity for several reasons. One is to see how a game is put together looking at the design, architect and structure of the data. Another is to see if there is anything hidden within the game, like an unused graphic or room. Thirdly I have an aim of maybe converting these games to a modern platform, like the PC, and want the port to be identical before I improve anything on it.

This is quite a popular past time amongst the retro-scene. Some guys port games from one 8-bit platform to another, which requires the same effort to break the original machine code in order to understand which bits need changing for the different hardware. Some guys just play the game to death in order to understand it fully before creating a remake on a PC or tablet. I think for some of us it is a penance for not releasing a game when the 8-bit platforms where originally in use.

My first step is to start disassembling the Z80 code and try and workout where everything fits, including the data and the graphics. My approach is to find any code that writes to the display file (the screen) as this is an obvious code which can be changed visually. Normally you end up finding either an area of the screen which is written in memory then copied to the display or some sort of graphics or sprite routine. From here I back trace the code and normally end up relating some sort of data structure holding positions and sizes of the moving objects within the game. At this point I like to start to write some PC code which takes this raw data and converts it to something the PC can display, ending up with larger copies of the original graphics being display on a PC. Don't laugh but I find this a little bit exciting, seeing emulated spectrum graphics in my own program.

Of course, doing this in my spare time means it is slow and laborious. Naturally family life and work has a higher priority so I tend to spend those quiet hours before bedtime looking at this stuff and normally when I pick up steam after an hour or so and really start to fathom some complicated code it is normally time to get some sleep else suffer the next morning after a late night. I have in the past thought if anyone does this for a job. It is hard to think of a position in the software industry which requires these skills. There are modern retakes on old games, but these tend to have the essence and character of the old game only and are normally a totally different spin which I would assume do not need to know the ins and outs of the original. Would a company be willing to pay a coder to spend a month breaking down an old 8 bit game for the data and graphics? I can't imagine many direct ports would sell or be played either. It would be a bit of a dream job to spend some time reverse engineering a classic, porting it to a modern platform then redesigning the port adding more levels, better graphics and more interaction in the game. Anyone?

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Site Update - 2013-10-30

I've created a new section called projects.

This includes my Java Tutorial Adventures In Java.

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