MiSTer FPGA: Core do Atari 2600 updated! And a bit of latency.

The Atari 2600 It has always been one of my favorite video game consoles. It was my first contact with video games and the first one I had.

When I set up mine MiSTer, was already aware that the core Atari 2600 still I had many problems, and no one was working on it. I was not yet ready to replace my console original.

Last night, I plugged the MiSTer to test some new arcade cores, I started one Live broadcast and when running the update script, to my surprise, the core of Atari 2600 was updated.

The news:

Atari 2600:
- Rework paddle control, support for mr.Spinner.
- Fix in timer and new audio module from PhantombrainM.
- Fix the video in some games.
- Add UA mapper (Pleiades).
- Update the framework.

With this update many games that didn't work started to work. Some examples are: Condor Attack, Name This Game, Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle, and Tapper.

Condor Attack is a problematic game to play on LCD TVs with the original hardware, even with Framemeister ou o OSSC, due to the non-standard update rate. Tapper It is also, for using 480i instead of 240p like the vast majority of (or maybe everyone else) Atari games 2600. Inclusive I already presented a solution here on the Skooter Blog. I'm glad that MiSTer now support both, unchanged.

Tapper - Atari 2600, no MiSTer FPGA.

Tapper – Atari 2600, no MiSTer FPGA.

Other games had audio problems, as Enduro, Pitfall and Cosmic Ark. The latter was not playable, because there was no warning sound when an asteroid was on a collision course with the ship. Now they're all working perfectly.

Cosmic Ark - Atari 2600, no MiSTer FPGA.

Cosmic Ark – Atari 2600, no MiSTer FPGA.

Check out the video of my live broadcast. Unfortunately a good part of it went without sound, apparently there is a bug in the Elgato Game Capture HD that makes it not catch the sound of MiSTer sometimes:

And now let's talk a little bit about latency. Many people in the MiSTer has a certain obsession with low latency, playing only with wired controllers and with alternative protocols like LLAPI and SNAC, through accessories.

But when I am asked if playing with a Bluetooth controller causes noticeable latency… I say that in most cases the answer is no. After all, modern consoles with the Playstation 4 use Bluetooth too, and we don't notice any latency in it. Although the newest version of DualShock 4 also work with wire, to meet the “gamers professionals”.

On the other hand, it may be to add that many old games were more focused on quick reflex, and then latency can make a difference. Note that the fact that latency is not noticeable does not imply that it cannot harm the player, even though he is not consciously realizing it. Ultimately, in these fast reflex games, controller latency can make a difference, especially if added to the TV latency.

And yesterday I felt this problem when playing Cosmic Ark and not being able to get the quick reaction I needed. This is a game in which it is necessary to be very fast in the reflection in the part where the ship is in space, with asteroids popping up everywhere. I ended up not going as far as I normally will.

But the blame in this case is only the Bluetooth latency? Not, is not. Several factors were combined in my case, so that the latency of the 8BitDo m30 Bluetooth it was just one of them.

The most relevant factor in my low reflex was probably the fact that I was playing with a D-Pad. O D-Pad do 8BitDo m30 is great, fits many systems. But for Atari 2600 I really like the good old joystick CX40. There's no comparison, the joystick allows for a much faster reflection than any D-Pad.

Fortunately you can use the joystick CX40 on the MiSTer, just use a USB adapter. And configuring the polling from USB to 1ms (have a script for that), the joystick latency is almost zero.

Another relevant factor here is the framebuffer from the MiSTer that i keep off (vsync_adjust=2) in almost all cores, mas o Atari 2600 Unfortunately is exception. That's because at Atari 2600, unlike other systems, each game sets its refresh rate as it sees fit. At the time of CRT TVs this was no problem, as they are very tolerant of non-standard refresh rates. But LCD TVs are more demanding.

Play with Atari 2600 that framebuffer is possible in most games, but in some it is impossible, because of very non-standard update rates or games that are changing the update rate during the game (Frontline it is an example), causing loss of sync.

Note that this problem also affects those who play with console original using a Framemeister or a OSSC. But not MiSTer you can get around this using the framebuffer (vsync_adjust=0). The side effect is that we have extra latency that is not welcome in games like Cosmic Ark. Ideally we should be able to enable or disable the framebuffer per game, maybe with an option in the core itself, as there is no core of Game Boy Advance. Maybe in the future…

Por fim, we have the latency of the LCD TV itself. But this one I will disregard as guilty for my poor performance in Cosmic Ark, because my comparison is being made with my performance using console original + OSSC on the same LCD TV. So, a diferença deve estar no conjunto D-Pad + Bluetooth + Framebuffer.

Agora que o núcleo do Atari 2600 está mais maduro, vou jogar mais com ele, mas certamente vai ser com um joystick CX40 + USB adapter. Controladores sem fio vão ficar só para os demais núcleos.

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Emerson N. Oliveira

Skooter, nesse FPGA do 2600 há alguma forma de ligar os cartuchos originais? Fiquei interessado no projeto. Tenho alguns cartuchos do Atari aqui em casa mas não possuo o console. Seu blog é uma excelente fonte de informação. Hug.

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