Monthly Archives: February 2011

Tele-Arena Lives On

Readers know I have a peculiar interest in taking apart video games and that I would rather study a game’s inner workings than actually play it. I take an interest on others’ efforts in this same area. It’s still in my backlog to take a closer look at Clone2727’s body of work. But I wanted to highlight my friend’s work on re-implementing a game called Tele-Arena.

Back In The Day
As some of you are likely aware, there was a dark age of online communication that predated the era of widespread internet access. This was known as “The BBS Age”. People dialed into these BBSes using modems that operated at abysmal transfer speeds and would communicate with other users, upload and download files, and play an occasional game.

BBS software evolved and perhaps the ultimate (and final) evolution was Galacticomm’s MajorBBS (MBBS). There were assorted games that plugged into the MBBS, all rendered in glorious color ANSI graphics. One of the most famous of these games was Tele-Arena (TA). TA was a multiplayer fantasy-themed text adventure game. Perhaps you could think of it as World of Warcraft, only rendered as interactive fiction instead of a rich 3D landscape. (Disclaimer: I might not be qualified to make that comparison since I have never experienced WoW firsthand, though I did play TA on and off about 17 years ago).

TA was often compared to multi-user dungeons — or MUDs — that were played by telneting into internet servers hosting games. Such comparisons were usually unfavorable as people who had experience with both TA and MUDs were sniffy elitists with internet access who thought they were sooooo much better than those filthy, BBS-dialing serfs.

Sorry, didn’t mean to open old wounds.

Modern Retelling of A Classic Tale
Anyway, my friend Ron Kinney is perhaps the world’s biggest fan of TA. So much so that he has re-implemented the engine in Java under the project name Ether. He’s in a similar situation as the ScummVM project in that, while the independent, open source engine is fair game for redistribution, it would be questionable to redistribute the original data files. That’s why he created an AreaBuilder application that generates independent game data files.

Ironically, you can also telnet into a server on which Ron hosts an instance of Tele-Arena (ironic in the sense that the internet/BBS conflict gets a little blurry).

I hope that one day Ron will regale us with the strangest tales from the classic TA days. My personal favorite was “Wrath of a Sysop.”

Notes on Linux for Dreamcast

I wanted to write down some notes about compiling Linux on Dreamcast (which I have yet to follow through to success). But before I do, allow me to follow up on my last post where I got Google’s libvpx library decoding VP8 video on the DC. Remember when I said the graphics hardware could only process variations of RGB color formats? I was mistaken. Reading over some old documentation, I noticed that the DC’s PowerVR hardware can also handle packed YUV textures (UYVY, specifically):

The video looks pretty sharp in the small photo. Up close, less so, due to the low resolution and high quantization of the test vector combined with the naive chroma upscaling. For the curious, the grey box surrounding the image highlights the 256-square texture that the video frame gets plotted on. Texture dimensions have to be powers of 2.

Notes on Linux for Dreamcast
I’ve occasionally dabbled with Linux on my Dreamcast. There’s an ancient (circa 2001) distro based around a build of kernel 2.4.5 out there. But I wanted to try to get something more current compiled. Thus far, I have figured out how to cross compile kernels pretty handily but have been unsuccessful in making them run.

Here are notes are the compilation portion:
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Decoding VP8 On A Sega Dreamcast

I got Google’s libvpx VP8 codec library to compile and run on the Sega Dreamcast with its Hitachi/Renesas SH-4 200 MHz CPU. So give Google/On2 their due credit for writing portable software. I’m not sure how best to illustrate this so please accept this still photo depicting my testbench Dreamcast console driving video to my monitor:

Why? Because I wanted to try my hand at porting some existing software to this console and because I tend to be most comfortable working with assorted multimedia software components. This seemed like it would be a good exercise.

You may have observed that the video is blue. Shortest, simplest answer: Pure laziness. Short, technical answer: Path of least resistance for getting through this exercise. Longer answer follows.

Update: I did eventually realize that the Dreamcast can work with YUV textures. Read more in my followup post.

Process and Pitfalls
libvpx comes with a number of little utilities including decode_to_md5.c. The first order of business was porting over enough source files to make the VP8 decoder compile along with the MD5 testbench utility.

Again, I used the KallistiOS (KOS) console RTOS (aside: I’m still working to get modern Linux kernels compiled for the Dreamcast). I started by configuring and compiling libvpx on a regular desktop Linux system. From there, I was able to modify a number of configuration options to make the build more amenable to the embedded RTOS.
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