• Secret Missions

  • by AgentFriday

I guess my greatest goal in retrocomputing is to show what the C64 could have been if things were done differently. I try to tackle some of the technical problems that tend to get in the way of people accomplishing more. Some of my ongoing projects are: * modBASIC (a basic extension adding some features of modular programming) * easyDisk (a driver that lets you use an Easy Flash cart as a disk drive) * API Framework (a way to load modular drivers anywhere in memory) * Annotated ROM Disassembly


Ode to Joy... sticks

Have you ever played a flight simulator or a racing game on a Commodore 64? Have you noticed how difficult it is to make delicate adjustments to your course using a digital joystick? Well I say it's about time that we brought the C-64 into the analog age.


It seems that most video games from the 80s and 90s used some form of digital controller.  You're pretty much going to move up, down, left, or right in most games, so that worked just fine.  Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Wizard of Wor, etc., etc.... they all used a 4-way or perhaps an 8-way joystick.  Some, like Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Joust did just fine replacing the stick with just 2 buttons.

There was generally one speed at which your spaceship or race car or yellow pie or little Italian guy would move, which I didn't really question that much I guess because I was too busy having fun.  Or in the case of frogs or Q-birt things, it was one hop at a time, but of course you could only hop so fast.  I really couldn't say how much I thought about it back then, but what I do remember is this older kid always teasing me about how hard I was on the equipment.  "You know, no matter how hard you push on the joystick, you still go the same speed."  Well, I tried to ease up, but I'd always get so into the game that I'd end up leaning on the thing with all my weight.  And yes, in modern video games I'm one of those that leans into my turns and ducks to avoid stuff coming my way.

Anyhow, it's only natural as humans that we expect things to respond with more degrees of control than just on and off.  That's because we live in an analog world.  True, in many games, perhaps the majority of them, having different speeds at which you could run, fly, or chomp would have little use, since you would always try to go as fast as you could anyway.  And in the case of Donkey Kong, no matter how fast poor little Mario ran, I would still be trying to bend that stick.

Some games, such as Asteroids and Joust, did a pretty good job of approximating analog control.  In Asteroids, you could rotate your ship to virtually any angle based on how long you held down the left & right (or more accurately clockwise & counter-clockwise) buttons, and your speed could vary over a wide range that you adjusted by firing thrusters for the right amount of time.  Joust used the interesting paradigm of a flapping bird-like character to bridge the gap.  How often you flap is a fairly digital thing, which meshes quite well with the on/off button; but you also determined the depth of the beast's stroke by how long you held down the button.  As a result, Joust managed to use a series of up-down inputs in much the same way a driving game tries to control steering using a digital joystick, but it still felt pretty natural.

But then there are those games that really need analog input and suffer greatly without it.  Flight simulators and driving games are the most obvious.  The best you can do with digital controls is an awkward on-again, off-again dance where the software does its best to approximate what it thinks you must want.  But since the game can't predict whether you're going to continue to hold the joystick to the side or you're about to let off for good (or anywhere else in between), your vehicle pitches and jerks on the precarious verge of a tire-squealing cookie or an unintended barrel roll or 9 G loss of structural integrity.  Accelerator control isn't quite as bad as steering, but control does suffer a bit from having to alternate constantly between "pedal to the metal" and "easy goes, Nelly".

Well, enough of this for now.  Next time, I attempt to interface an analog joystick to a C-64.  Should be fun!

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