ColecoVision and TMS9918 Multicolor

Thursday, 3rd April 2008

One notable gap in my TMS9918 (video) emulation was its "Multicolor" mode. This mode broke the screen down into 4×4 pixel squares, resulting in a 64×48 grid. Each cell could be assigned a unique colour, giving you a crude bitmapped video mode.

No Master System or SG-1000 software used this mode to my knowledge, which reduced the likelihood of it being supported at all (if I could't test it, how could I emulate it?) I was tipped off that some ColecoVision software made use of it, so set about emulating the ColecoVision.


The ColecoVision hardware is very similar to the SG-1000 in terms of what is inside the case - a Z80 CPU, TMS9918 video and SN76489 sound. The memory map (as in, which address ranges map to which memory devices) is different, as is the I/O map (as in, the I/O ports that the various hardware components are connected to). To handle this case, the emulator now has a Family field, which can be set to Sega or ColecoVision. This controls which of the different mappings it uses for memory and hardware I/O.

Another difference is the presence of a BIOS ROM. The Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear consoles had the option of BIOS ROMs, but all these did was very basic initialisation and header/checksum checking. The ColecoVision, however, has an 8KB BIOS ROM that offers a lot of functionality to the programmer, so this must be present to run most ColecoVision games.


The controllers are also quite different. As well as the typical eight-direction joystick and two fire buttons, it added a 12-key keypad (0-9, * and #). This many keys is making my InputManager class look thoroughly idiotic, so that will certainly need a rewrite.

Apart from that, it's pretty simple. RAM is 1KB instead of 8KB; the sound generator uses the standard 15-bit wide shift register (instead of the 16-bit wide one used in the SMS); the video display processor interrupt output is connected to NMI rather than INT.

With those differences applied, it's easy to add the few lines of code to emulate the Multicolor video mode.

Smurf Paint 'n' Play Workshop

ColecoVision emulation has not been tested at all thoroughly, so chances are it doesn't work very well; Multicolor emulation has been tested with precisely one game!

You can download the latest build of Cogwheel from its website, featuring the new ColecoVision emulation.

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