Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Team Members

The team at 6502 Workshop had a blast with the Nox Archaist Kickstarter!  While it fell short of our goals, hundreds of people pledged a substantial amount, which proved to us that there is a real interest in a new Ultima-inspired Apple ][ RPG.  As we forge the plan for our reboot campaign, we are continuing to make great progress with the development of the game itself.

On that note, we are happy to announce two brand new team members!  Joining our merry band are Jarrod Kailef and Michael Pohoreski.

Jarrod is well connected in the gaming community and brings with him experience from projects such as Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar, and the 80s reboot Sundog: Resurrection.  For Nox Archaist he will be focused on online community building, written communications, and game design.  His hope is to engage as many potential fans as possible and make them aware of the awesomeness that is Nox Archaist.  (He also supplies at least 35% of the team’s sarcasm, but that’s another story altogether)

Michael is a professional game developer with an extensive career including Electronic Arts in the 1990s. He is an immense contributor to the Apple II community as he is one of the primary developers of the AppleWin emulator, and is a well-known personality in the comp.sys.apple2 newsgroups.   For Nox Archaist he will be contributing his skills in variety of ways including toolchain programming, optimizations and various in-game modules such as the splash screen, main menu, and character creation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kickstarter Reboot!

The Nox Archaist Kickstarter will reboot! Many thanks to our generous backers.


Here is the full text of the announcement posted to Kickstarter today!


------------


We’ve got some bad news, but some very good news as well!

We’ll get the bad news out of the way early so we can focus on the good – we’ve decided to end the Kickstarter early. Although we had a great turnout, it’s clear that in the next three days, we aren’t going to make it to goal we need to fund the cost of manufacturing all of our cool Collector’s Edition feelies.

Now for the good news – we’ve learned a lot from this process, especially through talking with many of you generous backers. We have lots of ideas on how to design a campaign with a goal that we now know we can reach.

Turns out the number of people who are as excited as us about playing a brand new Ultima inspired game on an Apple ][ / MAC / PC aren’t quiiiiite as plentiful as we initially expected. Hah! They don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe we need a better marketing department? Oh wait, we don’t have one. Nevermind.

In all seriousness, this has been a really exciting leap into the unknown, and we love that so many of you decided to take that leap with us. Now, armed with all the knowledge we need to succeed, we will move forward and get our new Kickstarter campaign designed. From what we can preliminarily see, we will still be able to retain some very cool physical rewards.

Rest assured that while we work on the reboot of our Kickstarter campaign for the Collector’s Edition, we will continue development of the game itself. Stay tuned for future project updates with more information about the reboot!

If you have any ideas please post them as a comment to this update or contact me directly at mark<at>6502workshop.com. I’d love to hear from you!

 <Austrian accent> We'll be back!

 -Mark and the 6502 Workshop Team

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kickstarter - Only 5 Days Left!




There is still time to join Richard Garriott and Rebecca Heineman in playing Nox Archaist and get your hands on all the awesome feelies!



"I greatly look forward to exploring this realm!" -Lord British, Creator of Ultima


"I can’t wait to play this game on my Apple IIgs!" -Rebecca Heineman, Creator of Bards Tale III

Click here to back Nox Archaist today and help make this project a reality!







Saturday, October 7, 2017

Will Nox Archaist Have Food?

A new Nox Archaist podcast interview was released this week, hosted by project backers "Matt and Chris" on their YouTube channel.

They have a really cool format for their podcast where the hosts, guest, and gameplay footage play in separate windows on a split screen.


Click here to check out the podcast and join us for a discussion about:

  • Whether Nox Archaist will have food
  • Tech Talk! How Nox Archaist wizards shoot lightning bolts. 
  • Why we think preserving 6502 assembly language knowledge is import 
  • A secret puzzle mechanic Mark blabbed about
  • More!

Matt and Chris have episodes for many other classic games such as Ultima and Bard's Tale! To check these out, visit their YouTube channel.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Retro Computing Roundtable /w 6502 Workshop

RCR Episode #159: Retro Gaming Evolution. Ants, bees, RPGs, tiles, hours (plural).

Click here for the podcast page.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kickstarter: $19 and $39 Apple II options are available

This post is a quick clarification that the $19 “Ones and Zeros” tier and the $39 "Zip It" tier on the Nox Archaist Kickstarter are playable on real Apple II hardware.

We received some questions indicating that these tiers appeared to be for Mac and PC only.


“Ones and Zeros” ($19)

This tier includes downloadable Apple II disk images that can be transferred to 5.25” floppy disks using ADTPro for use on Apple II machines.


"Zip It" ($39)

This tier is designed for Apple II users and includes 4 double sided 5.25” floppy disks for use on an Apple II machine. That's right, the Nox Archaist world is large enough to take up 4 double sided floppy disks!

The floppy disk versions of Nox Archaist are priced higher than the tiers which include the disk images on a USB drive due to the time and materials costs involved with distributing on old school 5.25" floppy media.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Assembly Lines Podcast: interview with Mark Lemmert of 6502 Workshop


Chris Torrence has released another episode of his video podcast "Assembly Lines". This episode features Chris and I discussing:


  • NEW Gameplay Clips of Nox Archaist
  • Info on Nox Archaist combat, stats systems, and more!
  • The sinister world of Nox Archaist and the dark tones in the storyline.
  • Behind the scenes: Creating features new to Apple II RPGs.
  • Lots More!

The gameplay clips include a demonstration of an optional "verbose stats" mode in combat enabling the player to see the dice rolls the game does to calculate things like hit/miss and damage.




Assembly Lines Podcast Episode #54
Assembly Lines Podcast Episode #54

Thanks again for your support! Please continue to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter to help make the Nox Archaist project a reality!

-Mark & the 6502 Workshop team

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kickstarter is underway - Nox Archaist First Backers!


The Nox Archaist Kickstarter has been officially live for one hour and we already have over a dozen backers!

The first 10 Nox Archaist backers will receive a special thank you to with their game from the 6502 Workshop team!


JM of Florida is Nox Archaist backer #1 at the Juiced.GS Collector's Box tier.  Thanks JM!




kickstarter.noxarchasit.com


Kickstarter Campaign is Live!


 

Nox Archaist Kickstarter Is LIVE

 
http://kickstarter.noxarchaist.com/


At our KansasFest 2017 presentation we announced plans for a Kickstarter campaign to produce a collector's edition of Nox Archaist. The 6502 Workshop team is pleased to announce that the Nox Archaist Kickstarter campaign is now officially launched!

Our goal is to recapture the hands on gaming experience of the 1980s classics that we grew up with.
This is the opportunity to get your hands on all the cool physical stuff we are creating to go along with Nox Archaist, such as:

  • Full color game box
  • Fabric map
  • Printed manual
  • Game artifacts

All with professional custom artwork.  



The Nox Archaist collector's edition will be available either on floppy disks for real Apple II hardware or on a flash drive for emulators on MAC and PC. The game will also run on real and emulated hard drives with ProDOS installed.  You can choose to receive the game in a box with custom artwork or in an old school plastic bag.

Below you can check out the game box and some of the cool stuff that are available with Nox Archaist through Kickstarter. The photos show prototypes; there may be a few changes to the the artwork and materials of the final versions.


Nox Archaist Game Box


Canvas Map of the Realm


  Nox Archaist Game Manual

Writ from the King, hand sealed with wax with his royal insignia





Chain Mail Artifact


Tokens of the Realm





Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nox Archaist Kickstarter to launch September 16

kickstarter.noxarchaist.com


Burn the date onto your calendar!

The Nox Archaist Kickstarter is scheduled to launch at 10am U.S. Central Time on September 16, 2017.

The Nox Archaist collector's edition will be available either on floppy disks for real Apple II hardware or on a flash drive for emulators on MAC-PC. The game will also run on real and emulated hard drives with ProDOS installed.  You can choose to receive the game in a box loaded with feelies such as a fabric map and printed manual or in an old school plastic bag.


-Mark & the 6502 Workshop Team


kickstarter.noxarchaist.com

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nox Archaist Presentation: KansasFest 2017

I had a great time this year giving a presentation on Nox Archaist at KansasFest 2017!

Presentation highlights:
  • Castle Tour
    • Tour the first castle in Nox Archaist, complete with drawbridge and battlements!
  • Combat Demonstration 
    • Watch combat unfold with narration about strategies and tactics available to players.
  • Technical Overview
    • Some information about how Nox Archaist works under the hood. 
  • Announcement
    • Nox Archaist Kickstarter will launch September 2017!

A video of the presentation is available here:








Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nox Archaist: What's Happening in August 2017


kickstarter.noxarchasit.com

What will the game be like?

Earlier this year we gave you guys a progress report on Nox Archaist as well as insights into what the full release of the game will be like.

There has been a lot of activity in the Nox Archaist world in the last few months and we thought it was time for an update.

If you saw our KansasFest 2017 presentation you may still find this post interesting as it contains some information we did not cover due to time constraints, especially in the "What Will the Game Be Like?" section below. Thanks for attending or watching via the live stream!







What We've Done So Far

Developing Nox Archaist over the last two years has been an exciting experience. In this time the project team quadrupled from two people to eight. Much of the game engine was completed, including fundamentals such as map movement, towns, NPC conversation, combat scenarios and day/night transitions. Dynamic features new to tile-based Apple II RPGs were developed such as swimming, horse jumping, tall grass (where mobs can hide), and many more which we’ve saved to surprise you in-game.

Thank you very much to all the retro computing fans who have taken the time to post a comment. We really enjoy hearing from you!


Current Status

  • The core elements of the Nox Archaist game engine are complete. 
  • Core features have been stress tested: Traversing maps, transport objects (ships/horses/etc), combat, movable objects, spells, inventory and more.
  • Several game environments have been tested, each with unique features: Villages, towns, castles, dungeons and a few that will be a surprise for you to find in-game.
  • Artists Bill Giggie and Robert Padovan have used their years of experience as professional graphics animators in the movie industry to create hundreds of beautiful static and animated hi-res tile graphics. They are working on many more.  
  • Artist Gordon Mackay has created artwork for our prototype physical items including game  box cover, map, and game manuals.
  • The Nameless One has been working hard to create musical tracks which will be available as a download or on CD. These are expected to be available with some boxed versions of Nox Archaist. Prototype tracks can be heard in recent gameplay videos.    
  • Peter Ferrie (/aka qkumba) is hard at work creating an innovative copy protection scheme for folks who enjoy cracking games.
  • Beth Daggert is lending her extensive experience in both vintage and modern gaming to provide guidance to the creative process and help the team to maximize gameplay potential and avoid pitfalls.





What Will the Game Be Like?

Our development approach has been to build the game engine first, then tell the best story possible using the feature set we created. This method has been passionately espoused by Lord British himself on several occasions including the Book of Ultima and various interviews. With the game engine core elements complete, we will soon focus on turning our high level storyline concepts into specific goals, quests and puzzles. 

While the concepts are subject to change, we thought you might enjoy a glimpse of the type of game we envision that Nox Archaist will be. 

Nox Archaist will be a fairly dark game. The powers of good will certainly be present but some of the most notorious bad asses in the fantasy genre will be integral to the story line.  Heavy hitters such as demon lords, death knights, as well as our own blood chilling supernatural creations will be found within. The Nox Archaist game engine has the capability to make their appearance more dramatic than mobs were in 1980s Apple II tile-based RPGs and we plan to push the limits of the platform as far as possible.

One of the most important design elements we are focusing on is the balance between combat and non-combat activities. Personally, I love both tactical combat and a rich story with interesting quests and puzzles. As a result, Nox Archaist will offer a complex story line set in a non-linear world and will feature a comprehensive combat system. In fact, the player will face challenging combat scenarios that will require a combination of battle tactics and clues found within the game to overcome. Quests, puzzles, and combat found in one area of the Nox Archaist world may contain clues relevant or necessary to challenges the player will encounter elsewhere in the game.

Player characters can wage battles with multiple mobs using their wits, weapons, and spells. If that's not enough, you'll be able to summon allies to join the fray.







Combat in Nox Archaist will take place on the tile grid, enabling the player to make tactical decisions such as:
  • placing spell casters and archers behind fighters.
  • select a specific mob target for each player attack.
  • aim area of effect spells at large groups of mobs.
  • collaboration between thief/assassin and fighter types for increased critical hit chances.

Combat will offer many opportunities for varied tactics character development. A skill based system will allow the player to guide their character toward a specialty (melee weapons, ranged weapons, spell casting, etc) or blend abilities as they see fit. Damage and hit/miss will be determined by a number of factors including skill, base stats (strength, dexterity, etc), the physical size of the target, and various innate abilities.

Characters will be able to choose separate armor to protect their head, torso, feet, and hands. Lucky adventurers may find gear with magical properties, however be aware that not all enemies will be affected the same way.

While our skill based system provides flexibility to blend traditional character classes, those who enjoy classics such as thieves, assassins or mages will find robust role playing opportunities through skills such as critical hit and through the comprehensive spell effects in the game. Expect to see fireballs explode and lightning bolts fly as spell casters do battle.

These mechanics will be implemented in a way so that combat is not one-size fits all, and players will need to use different strategies and tactics to survive and thrive in the Nox Archaist world.


Release Date

We are shooting for a release date in late 2018. Our team is focused on creating an awesome new Apple II game and I am extremely confident that Nox Archaist will be completed.

Seriously. This game is going to get done. Period. If you haven’t already, check out this post on the Origins of the Nox Archaist Project and you’ll understand why :-)


-Mark Lemmert
6502 Workshop


kickstarter.noxarchasit.com




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Nox Archaist Kickstarter Campaign Announced


kickstarter.noxarchaist.com

kickstarter.noxarchaist.com

Nox Archaist - Kickstarter to launch in September 2017


At our KansasFest 2017 presentation we announced plans for a Kickstarter campaign to produce a collector's edition of Nox Archaist. The 6502 Workshop team is now pleased to announce that the campaign is scheduled to launch at 10am U.S. Central Time on September 16, 2017.

This is an opportunity to get your hands on all the cool physical stuff we are creating to go along with Nox Archaist.  Our goal is to recapture the hands on gaming experience of the 1980s classics that we grew up with.

The Nox Archaist collector's edition will be available either on floppy disks for real Apple II hardware or on a flash drive for emulators on MAC-PC. The game will also run on real and emulated hard drives with ProDOS installed.  You can choose to receive the game in a box with custom artwork or in an old school plastic bag.

Below you can check out the game box and some of the cool stuff that will be available with Nox Archaist through Kickstarter. The photos show prototypes; there may be a few changes to the the artwork and materials of the final versions.



Nox Archaist Game Box


Canvas Map of the Realm


  Nox Archaist Game Manual

Writ from the King, hand sealed with wax with his royal insignia





Chain Mail Artifact


Tokens of the Realm






Friday, July 28, 2017

Thank you KansasFest!


https://www.kansasfest.org/

This July I had the great privilege of giving a presentation of Nox Archaist at KansasFest. I had the opportunity to meet many talented and interesting Apple ][ enthusiasts. Their warm welcome and enthusiasm made KFest an incredible experience.

Thank you KansasFest!

We will post a link to the video of the presentation as soon as it's online.


Mark Lemmert
6502 Workshop


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nox Archaist Live Stream: Saturday 7/22, 8:45AM CDT

We just learned from the KansasFest staff that all sessions this year will be live streamed.

https://www.youtube.com/c/KansasfestOrg/live


Tune in on Saturday 7/22, 8:45AM CDT to check out the latest Nox Archaist game play demo, technical discussion and a special announcement.









Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nox Archaist S1E3: Dungeons of Drathnor

Nox Archaist is a new role playing game in development by 6502 Workshop exclusively for the Apple II platform and emulators, with both floppy and hard disk support.

Check out our latest mini story demoing the newest features down in the deep, where treasure swells and evil sleeps.

https://youtu.be/ytS6ueDMEPc

The Nox Archaist story line is still under development. Any names or characters used in these mini stories are not intended to depict real or imagined NPCs, events, or bovines in the actual game. Any similarities are coincidental.


Nox Archaist S1E3: Dungeons of Drathnor

In this episode we are done preparing to enter the ruins. Will we actually enter the ruins? Watch to find out! Onward to glory and gold!

This video demonstrates several new game features:
  • Dungeon Puzzles
  • New Combat Spells
  • New Tile Graphic Animations

About Nox Archaist
Nox Archaist, by 6502 Workshop, is a 2D tile based fantasy RPG with a classic Apple II look and feel. Our mission is to develop a modern evolution of the Apple II RPG genre, while exploring how gameplay might have advanced in tile-based RPGs if large scale development had continued on the Apple II platform after the 1980s.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

6502 Workshop at KansasFest

It's official! We just received approval to present a 60 minute session about Nox Archaist at KansasFest next month.

A gameplay demo, programming discussion, and special announcement are planned.




Friday, June 2, 2017

New 6502 Workshop Team Members: Qkumba, Elizabeth Daggert


We are delighted to announce two new 6502 Workshop team members!

Peter Ferrie (/aka Qkumba) has joined the team as a programmer and project advisor. Peter is a grand master 6502 assembly language programmer and veteran modern software developer with experience at companies such as Microsoft are Symantec. Some of his recent 6502 projects include ProRWTS, BitsyBye with John Brooks for ProDOS v2.4 and 0boot with anonymous cracker 4am. Peter is working on low-level programming in Nox Archaist such as file I/O and copy protection. He is also contributing his general software development expertise to the project.

Elizabeth (Beth) Daggert has joined the team as a project advisor. Elizabeth is a veteran of the modern and 1980s gaming industry. She has worked for studios such as Presage Software and LucasArts. A few of her projects include Load Runner Online and Yoda's Challenge.

With now a team of 8 talented people passionate about the Apple II, we are more confident that every in our ability to make Nox Archaist a spectacular retro gaming experience!




Sunday, May 28, 2017

Nox Archaist featured on Ultima Codex

Recently we received the "Ultimate" compliment - Nox Archaist featured on the Ultima Codex website!



http://ultimacodex.com/2017/05/new-ultima-inspired-project-nox-archaist/



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nox Archaist S1E2 Part 2: Cow-A-Pult

Check out Part 2 of the latest mini story using the Nox Archaist engine to demo the newest features in the game:

Nox Archaist S1E2 Part 2: Cow-A-Pult




In this episode we adventure into the wilds to reach the lair of the marauding orcs and and confront the guardian of the ruins.

New game play elements to look for in this video include:
  • Combat Scenarios
  • Additional Spellcasting Special Effects
  • New Tile Graphic Animations  
Watch for more details in the next issue of Juiced.GS


About Nox Archaist
Nox Archaist, by 6502 Workshop, is a 2D tile based fantasy RPG with a classic Apple II look and feel. Our mission is to develop a modern evolution of the Apple II RPG genre, while exploring how gameplay might have advanced in tile-based RPGs if large scale development had continued on the Apple II platform after the 1980s.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tech Talk: ProRWTS Supercharges Nox Archaist

By: Mark Lemmert and Mike Reimer based on interviews with Peter Ferrie

During our adventures developing Nox Archaist we had the great pleasure of meeting Peter Ferrie (also known as qkumba).  After some discussions on the comp.sys.apple2 newsgroup, Nox Archaist became the test environment for a file system controller Ferrie recently developed called ProRWTS. We used the controller to incorporate hard drive support, design a game engine capable of supporting thousands of tiles graphics, and other features that would not have otherwise have been possible.

We sat down for an interview with Peter recently to learn more about ProRWTS.  We discovered that it is not only a ground breaking development for future Apple II games like Nox Archaist, but also for games written in the 1980s as well. ProRWTS allows virtually any disk-based game to obtain hard drive support via a port to ProDOS, which was not possible before for all games.


What is a File system Controller? Why Write One?

For many years, Peter Ferrie has been a top level anti-virus researcher for companies like Symantec and Microsoft by day, and a grand master 6502 assembly language programmer by night. He has worked on many present-day 6502 projects such as BitsyBye with John Brooks for ProDOS v2.4 (see previous issue) and 0boot with anonymous cracker 4am (see December 2015 issue).

Peter’s desire to create ProRWTS stemmed from his desire to make it possible for all Apple II games to be ported to ProDOS and ported in a way that doesn’t increase the system requirements to run the game. A port to ProDOS has been most practical way to add hard drive support to an existing game because hard drive support is built into the structure of the ProDOS file system and I/O controllers.  ProRWTS resolves some of the limitations of existing ProDOS ports including situations where titles were too large to be ported or the memory required to run the titles would increase.  Peter summed it up well when he remarked to us “Donkey Kong shouldn't need 128kb of RAM to run”. We couldn’t agree more!

A major complication in porting games to ProDOS is that ProDOS takes up a lot of memory. ProDOS usually resides in the 16k region of memory known as bank switched RAM (the language card), which leaves only 48k of main memory available for programs.

Many games in the 1980s were created using custom boot loaders, which didn’t load any operating system at all. The assembled code would run on the “bare metal”, as it was called, because any interaction between the code and the hardware had to be done directly. The benefit of these boot loaders was that a lot more memory was available to be used by the game code since an operating system was not loaded.

Games using a bare metal boot loader sometimes would occupy more than 48k of main memory. This made it impossible to port them to ProDOS without moving ProDOS into the 64k auxiliary memory bank, which is not available on all Apple II systems. This is how games such as Impossible Mission and Arkanoid could require 128k of RAM to run after porting even though they originally only required 64k. From Peter’s perspective, if the original version of a game could run on an Apple II+ with 48k then the ported version should be able to as well. We totally agree.   

Additionally, some games such as Airheart and Rad Warrior originally required 128k of RAM to run. Since 128k was the maximum memory supported on the systems games like these were designed for, there was no memory available to load the ProDOS operating system and the original game code into memory at the same time. As a result, hard drive support for these games was not possible before ProRWTS was created.

Modern games being developed for the Apple II platform face the same challenges. We initially wrote a custom bare metal bootloader for Nox Archaist because our game engine requires 128k to run. Using this bootloader would have eliminated any possibility of hard drive support for us, just like the large games from the past.

ProRWTS solves these problems. As a file system controller, it provides read/write access to the ProDOS file system, much like the native RWTS for ProDOS. However, what makes ProRWTS unique is that it is designed to do this without ProDOS or any other operating system in memory. Thus, for the first time, games requiring 128k of RAM can now be ported to the ProDOS file system and run from hard drives.

To our knowledge, with ProRWTS taking up only 1K of memory, games using this controller will have more memory available for game code than any of the titles of the 1980s that had read and write disk I/O routines. There were a few games, such as Captain Goodnight that did not write any data to disk (i.e. to save the game), which had I/O controllers smaller than 1K. ProRWTS represents an opportunity to create innovative new gameplay mechanics due to its smaller size and other features, especially for those that need to write data to disk.

ProRWTS Features

Some of the key features include:
·      Floppy disk and hard disk support
·      Read/write support with auxiliary and main memory
·      ProDOS directory and subdirectory support
·      Read/write length*
·      Seek forward in open file*
·      Get file size*

*Supported by ProRWTS2, currently in beta testing with Nox Archaist. Ferrie plans on a public release of this version in the future.

At 6502 Workshop, we wrote a front-end interface wrapper to ProRWTS for Nox Archaist that enables any of these features to be accessed with a single standardized call from any memory bank.  This interface is also planned to be publicly available in the future.

ProRWTS: Under the Hood

ProRWTS contains both a hard-disk controller and a floppy-disk controller to maintain backward compatibility. For Nox Archaist, the ProRWTS hard disk controller is launched by executing a file called NOXARCH.SYSTEM from a hard disk with ProDOS installed. Once loaded, NOXARCH.SYSTEM relocates itself into bank-switched RAM and then loads NOXARCH.MAIN into memory address $2000. NOXARCH.MAIN is the first file in the game launch process. NOXARCH.MAIN and the files it loads clobbers the ProDOS operating system because the game needs the memory occupied by ProDOS.

The floppy controller is designed to provide file system access on standalone bootable disks via its own boot loader.

All Apple II computers have a boot PROM that contains a small routine that reads a single sector from the floppy disk drive. When the computer is powered on, the boot PROM loads track $0, sector $0 from the floppy disk in drive 1 into the memory address $800. Accordingly, stage 1 of the boot loader is stored at this disk location.

Stage 1 uses the boot PROM to load stage 2 into $900. Stage 2 loads a small, read-only version of ProRWTS. Then, stage 2 uses the read-only version to load the ProDOS-compatible file called NOXARCH.SYSTEM into $2000. The file NOXARCH.SYSTEM is the full version of ProRWTS. Like the hard disk controller, once NOXARCH.SYSTEM is loaded it relocates itself into bank switched RAM and then loads NOXARCH.MAIN into $2000.

To access floppy drives, the full version of ProRWTS uses the latches at $C080–$C08F to which the disk hardware is connected. These are the latches described at the beginning of chapter six in the book Beneath Apple DOS, which the author discourages using—kind of like the emergency brake in Spaceballs with the “NEVER USE” sign. Unlike the sign, Beneath Apple DOS provides a reason to avoid using the latches. The timing of the access requests is so critical that even crossing a page boundary with the code can throw off the drive arm positioning.  

Beneath Apple DOS recommends using DOS RWTS for file access instead of the latches. DOS RWTS was written by Steve Wozniak using the latches, making it largely unnecessary for other programmers to deal with the complexities involved. However, since ProRWTS is an alternative to DOS RWTS and the I/O controller native to ProDOS, using the latches to interface directly with the disk drive hardware was necessary.

We experienced first-hand the extreme timing sensitivity described in Beneath Apple DOS during development and testing. Even though the floppy controller passed initial tests on drive1, it didn’t work correctly on drive2. In this case, drive1 was an Appledisk model A9M0107 and drive2 was a UniDisk model A9M0104. The slight difference between these two models was enough to throw off the timing of the floppy drive code. This problem by solved by adjusting the number of clock cycles consumed by the ProRWTS code between calls to the disk drive hardware. 



ProRWTS SUPERCHARGES NOX ARCHAIST

ProRWTS has helped us pursue our mission to push beyond the frontier at which Apple II tile based game development left off in the 1980s. In addition to facilitating hard drive support, ProRWTS has also enhanced or made possible many other features in Nox Archaist.


Multimedia Solution
The ProRWTS media auto-detect feature makes it possible for a single build of Nox Archaist to support both floppy and hard disks.

For example, when Nox Archaist is released (expected in 2017), it will be available as a free download containing a series of floppy disk images. The disk images will run on virtual or real floppy disk drives. The contents of the disk images will also be able to be run from a hard disk with ProDOS installed after copying the files from the disk image to a hard disk subdirectory.


Support for Thousands of Tile Graphics
Many Apple II RPGs organize their graphics into tiles. A tile is usually a region of the hi-res video screen that is 2 screen bytes by 16 lines in size. The map in a tile-based game is defined using an array of 8-bit hexadecimal numbers ($00–$FF). Each hexadecimal number represents a unique shape. For example, in Nox Archaist, the shape “grass” has a tile_id of $34; “shallow water” has a tile_id of $88.

Since an 8-bit number represents tile_ids, it is very difficult for a game to have more than 256 unique tile graphics shapes. Using a 16-bit number is usually impractical due to the speed constraints in the graphics plotting routines which render the map graphics that the player sees on the video screen. Tile sets are typically loaded from disk only during game launch to minimize gameplay delays.

Nox Archaist breaks past this barrier by leveraging the increased I/O performance of ProRWTS. Slight gameplay delays in tile-based RPGs are typical when a player enters a location that has its own map, such as castles, towns, villages, dungeons, and the outdoor world. We tested many different games and found that a delay of 4–5 seconds was typical using real floppy hardware and considered that a benchmark that we should strive to meet or exceed.

Using ProRWTS, Nox Archaist is able to load a unique set of 256 tiles when a player enters a location while limiting delay to roughly that 4–5 second benchmark. In contrast, we tested this feature using DOS 3.3 RWTS via our original boot loader and the gameplay delay was around 20 seconds. This time included copying some data from main to auxiliary memory, which is avoided by ProRWTS reading data from disk to auxiliary memory directly.

As a result of this feature, Nox Archaist can support thousands of unique tile shapes, bounded only by disk space. This aligns well with the recent expansion of development team, including Bill Giggie and Robert Padovan. Bill and Robert are professional graphics animators in the movie industry and are taking advantage of the game’s high capacity tile system to help bring Nox Archaist to life.

We do not know yet exactly how many tiles we will create. Our goal for Nox Archaist is to have more tile graphics than any Apple II RPG released in the 1980s. While many tiles will be shared between the various locations in the game, we expect to be able to offer a lot of variety. For example, the following is a likely outcome:

·      Castles with many unique tiles not found in towns or other locations.
·      Castles in different map regions that look very different from one another.
·      Different versions of the same tile. Perhaps the chairs in one town will look different from another town’s.
·      Many, many, many mobs. By dividing tile sets by location, Nox Archaist only stores those mob tiles in memory that are associated with the current player location.

High-Compression Speech Text

Nox Archaist has a comprehensive conversation system that enables the player to talk to NPCs.  Speech text is written with a high level programming language we developed called NTALK.

On the surface, the conversation format will likely appear very familiar to some players. For example, the player can input defined keywords, and the NPC will respond with a response text block. The player can then type in keywords found in the response text block, and the NPC might, or might not, respond with more information about those keywords.

By leveraging NTALK, we were able to add a lot of additional functionality to the conversation system beyond the basic keyword/response architecture. For example:

·      Players can communicate with an NPC using one of three different voice modes: Whisper, Normal, and Yell. The NPC may or may not respond differently depending on the voice mode used.

·      Certain NPC responses can be restricted based on the in-game time of day. Since NPCs move around the town map based on a schedule, this feature also effectively restricts responses based on the NPC’s location.

·      Certain NPC responses can be restricted based on an event flag or can set the value of an event flag. For example, an event-flag restriction could be used so that an NPC has something different to say after a quest is completed. Setting the value of an event flag can be used to make almost anything happen within the game as a result of the conversation. Enjoy!

After developing NTALK we were very excited to begin writing huge quantities of conversation text for Nox Archaist. And then a wise wizard, known to many as Steve Wozniak, hit us with the Wall of Text spell. As we began to comprehend the sheer amount of disk and memory consumed by text, relative to the capacity of the the Apple II, we realized that we would need a compression solution—a solution that not only stored the data compressed on disk, but that also minimized the amount of text loaded into memory at one time.

ProRWTS2 saved the day. After consulting with Ferrie, we deployed a solution in which the speech text is compressed on our development PC using ZX7, then decompressed in memory on the Apple II, but only for the specific NPC the player is talking to at that moment. The decompression is done using Peter’s 6502 ZX7 decompressor, which he graciously granted us permission to use.

The abilities of ProRWTS2 to read a specific number of bytes from a file and to seek to another position in a file are key elements that enables Nox Archaist to store only the decompressed text in memory for one NPC at a time. Here is a walkthrough of how it works:

·      In the game-build process, a separate binary file for each NPC’s speech text is created by the SBASM cross assembler.

·      A QB64 program we wrote collates the binary files together for each location (castle, town, etc.) with a two-byte length value and a one-byte NPC ID inserted between the data of each binary file.

·      In the conversation module, the data is read from the collated binary file for the location the player is in until the NPC ID is found that is associated with the NPC the player is talking to. Once an NPC ID match occurs, the length bytes of the associated speech text are passed to ProRWTS to read in the exact number of bytes needed.

·      Once the compressed speech text has been read into memory, it is decompressed into a buffer used by NTALK to access specific response text blocks.

Disk-Loaded Combat Effects

Nox Archaist has graphics plotting routines for combat effects, which provide capabilities not normally found in a tile graphics engine. These routines use bit shifting and AND/ORA masks to move shapes on the video screen off the tile grid with the background blended in. Here are some things that players can expect to see:

·      Projectile weapons such as arrows and throwing knives.
·      Fireballs that race across the screen and explode on impact.

Unfortunately, the memory that these routines use severely limits the number of shapes for combat effects that we can store in memory. However, we have developed an architecture where the assembly code for each spell and its associated shape data is stored in a “spell file” on disk.  

Loading combat spells from disk would normally not be practical due to disk I/O speed constraints. This approach worked out in Nox Archaist because our spell file is accessed via ProRWTS2. The code and shape data for the specific spell the player is casting is read into a buffer quickly enough to avoid material game delays. As a result, Nox Archaist will engage the player with many interesting combat effects.

ProRWTS is a great contribution to the ecosystem of the Apple II platform through its support of modern day development and by providing effective tools for preserving the past. The small size and flexible options ProRWTS provides for file access opens the door for programmers to create features in games and other software that would have previously been impractical.  We look forward to demonstrating this in Nox Archaist and seeing the innovations that other programmers create.

ProRWTS is available for download at:
https://github.com/peterferrie/prorwts


To follow the development of Nox Archaist stay tuned to Juiced.GS, our website, and Twitter for more updates!