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What did the original programmers write Atari games on?


Blacklight

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This is something I was always curious about. What specifically did Atari use to write their games on? Did they write the code on a PC and then compile it with some special software and transfer it to the Atari or was the code written on a modified Atari 2600 with a keyboard attachment or some combination of PC and Atari2600? Did they write in a special Atari language? I've always wondered what hardware and software they used to do that and what the technical process was to create those game cartridges we all love.

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I guess they probably wrote it in assembly, much like the homebrewers do. They didn't have batari Basic back then, which probably made it a lot harder! As for what kind of computer they wrote it on, I remember someone saying someone wrote an Atari 2600 game on an Apple II, but I don't know.

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Different companies used a variety of methods which changed over the course of the 2600's lifespan. At Atari around the early 80's there was a centralized PDP machine (not sure which kind off the top of my head) and terminals on the programmer's desks. After assembling the source, the object code was transferred to an emulator. The emulator was, of course, hardware based and was nothing like today's software emulators. This took a variable amount of time depending on how large our code/output was and how many people were using the computer at the same time.

 

The emulators used were slightly incompatible with an actual 2600, so that's why cartridges were burned from time to time. They also had debugging features, of which I don't know the specifics. I've see source code where there is an assembler switch that changes the code slightly depending on whether the target was an actual system or the emulator.

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The a look at my talk (the second video) here: http://www.atariage.com/forums/topic/197100-asm-or-bbasic/#entry2516667 (edit: fixed link) . At about 19:30, there's a rough overview on how development for the 2600 developed (no pun intended)...

 

In the early days, the software was written on a computer and assembled to a special cartridge containing RAM instead of ROM (which was only writable from the computer). For debugging a recording logic analyzer was used. At least that's what Warren Robinett (the creator of Adventure) answered to an email I wrote to him asking the same question.

 

The computer in question was proprietary, as the first PC was released in 1981, as the Atari 2600 was released in 1977. My guess, that it would have been a CP/M machine, which would have been possible from the time frame, was wrong. It was the time where everyone could set his own standards, and get away with it.

Edited by SvOlli
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