Fixed and scaled CHIP-8/SCHIP interpreter

Wednesday, 24th September 2008

The CHIP-8/SCHIP interpreter now seems happy enough to run games, though the lack of settings to control how fast or slow they run makes things rather interesting.


First of all, I've hacked together a painfully simple read-only file system. Each file is prefixed with a 13-byte header; 8 bytes for the filename (padded with spaces), 3 bytes for the extension (padded with spaces) and two bytes for the file size. The above file listing can be generated by typing *. at the BASIC prompt.

I've written a new sprite drawing routine that scales sprites up to double size when in CHIP-8 mode; this allows CHIP-8 games to fill the entire screen. Unlike the existing sprite code, which I've retained for SCHIP games, it runs entirely from ROM; the existing sprite code has to be copied to RAM as it uses some horrible self-modifying code tricks. I should probably rewrite that bit next. smile.gif

As for the bug I mentioned in the last post, it was because of this:

; --- snip ---

; Group 9:
;   * 9XY0 - Skips the next instruction if VX doesn't equal VY.
	call GetRegisterX
	ld b,a
	call GetRegisterY
	cp b
	jp nz,SkipNextInstruction

; Group A:
;   * ANNN - Sets I to the address NNN.
	call GetLiteralNNN
	ld (DataPointer),hl
	jp ExecutedInstruction

; --- snip ---

If an instruction in the form 9XY0 is executed and VX == VY, rather than jumping to ExecutedInstruction the code runs on and executes the instruction as if it had been an ANNN as well, which ended up destroying the data pointer. Adding a jp ExecutedInstruction after the jp nz,SkipNextInstruction fixed the bug.

One other advantage of the zoomed sprites is that "half-pixel" scrolls also work correctly:


...not that I've seen any game that uses them.

2008.09.23.02.SChip.Piper.png   2008.09.23.03.Chip8.Brix.png

2008.09.23.07.SChip.UBoat.png   2008.09.23.08.SChip.Square.png

2008.09.23.04.Chip8.Blinky.png   2008.09.23.06.SChip.Blinky.png

The last two screenshots show two versions of the game Blinky, one as a regular CHIP-8 program and the other taking advantages of the SCHIP extensions.

64KB RAM and a CHIP-8/SCHIP interpreter

Monday, 22nd September 2008

The only major hardware modification since last time is the addition of another 32KB SRAM.

This appears as two 16KB pages in the $4000..$7FFF slot. Currently only the first page is used for OS variables and scratch space, freeing up the upper 32KB entirely for BBC BASIC's use.

One other minor hardware addition is support for a dual-coloured LED on the control port. This LED will be used to signify file access - reads by a green LED and writes by a red LED. As such I haven't implemented a proper file system, but typing SAVE "FILE" or LOAD "FILE" at the prompt will transfer data between the Z80 RAM and a 24LC256 32KB EEPROM. The routines do not pay attention to any file name specified - the first two bytes on the EEPROM indicate the file size, and the rest of the EEPROM is the file. I think some sort of simplified version of FAT may work well, as the EEPROM has a natural page size of 64 bytes which could be used in place of clusters.

Adding the second 32KB SRAM required soldering wires to the underside of the stripboard, not something I'd recommend!

As I have not yet added any graphical commands to BBC BASIC, and as porting assembly programs to this hardware is going to be a bit of a pain until I decide on the way the OS is going to work, I decided to try and port Vinegar to the system. Vinegar is a CHIP-8 and SCHIP interpreter - CHIP-8 programs being simple bytecode and so relatively simple to interpret.


The code I had written was difficult to port, however, being inefficiently and messily written, so I ended up rewriting all of it apart from the sprite drawing routines. The TI-83+ LCD follows the usual trend of storing 8 horizontal pixels in each byte of video memory. The LCD I have stores 8 vertical pixels in each byte of video memory, which means that each 8×8 pixel block in memory needs to be rotated by 90° before being sent to the LCD hardware. This is understandably very slow, and not helped by the Z80 only running at 2MHz. To further complicate issues, games rely on two 60Hz timers, and I have no timing hardware. The current version of the interpreter has some bugs, but is good enough to run some SCHIP programs.

CHIP-8 programs are displayed squashed in the top-left hand corner, as they're designed to run in a 64×32 video mode unlike SCHIP's 128×64 (happily, the resolution of the LCD) - typically, the one thing I really did need to fix for the new hardware, the sprite code, is the only thing I copied over. In reality, CHIP-8 graphics would need to be scaled up to fit the screen. Working out a way of getting the system to operate at 10MHz would really be a welcome upgrade!

Times, backlights and off-page calls

Sunday, 14th September 2008

Dates, times and backlights

I'm using a DS1307 real-time clock to provide the computer with real-time date and time functions. It's a great little chip - all it needs is power, two lines for I2C communications, a 32768Hz crystal between two pins and a back-up battery to keep it ticking when main power is removed and it's happy. That accounts for seven pins; the last remaining pin can be used as a one-bit output (you can set it to a high or low state in software) or it can be configured to output a square wave at 1Hz, ~4kHz, ~8kHz or ~32kHz.


BBC BASIC can access the clock via the TIME$ pseudo-variable. This string variable returns the date and time in the format Sun,14 Sep 2008.15:20:00, and you can set the clock by assigning to the variable. When setting the clock you can specify either the date, the time, or both. Parsing the string has been an interesting exercise in Z80 programming, as it's not something I've ever attempted without regular expressions before!


The only hardware modification since last time is a very poorly implemented software control of the backlight. The fifth bit of the control port specifies whether the backlight is on or off, and it can be toggled with the *BACKLIGHT command. I say "poorly implemented" as the transistor driver I'm using to interface the hardware port with the backlight LEDs results in a much dimmer backlight than when I had the LEDs hooked up directly to the power supply (on the positive side, at least the 5V regulator's heatsink is cool enough to touch - the backlight draws a lot of current).

Calling off-page functions

Now that I have access to all eight 16KB "pages" that make up the 128KB OS ROM, it may help to explain how one can use all of this memory. After all, if page 1 is swapped in and you wish to call a function on page 2, a regular Z80 call isn't going to work as you need to swap page 2 before calling the function then swap page 1 back in afterwards.

The trick is to exploit the way that the Z80 handles calling subroutines. There is a 16-bit register, PC, which stores the address of the next instruction to execute. When you call a subroutine, the Z80 pushes PC onto the stack then sets PC to the address of the subroutine. When you return from a subroutine (via the ret instruction) the Z80 simply pops the value it previously pushed onto the stack and copies this back to PC. Instead of calling the target subroutine directly, you call a special handler that is available on every page. Following your call is 16-bit identifier for the off-page function you wish to call. This handler then (prematurely) pops off the return address from the stack, reads the 16-bit value that follows it (which is the indentifier of the function you wish to call), looks up the page and address of the target function, swaps in the correct page and calls it as normal. When the function returns, the handler then swaps back the calling page and jumps back to the return address.

The Z80 has a series of rst instructions that call fixed addresses within the first 256 bytes of memory. These instructions are useful as they're small (one byte vs three bytes for a regular call) and fast, so I'm using rst $28 to call the off-page call handler (for no other reason than it's the same as the handler on the TI-83+).

As an example, let's say you had this function call at address $2B00:

$2B00:    rst $28
$2B01:    .dw $30F0
$2B03:    ; We'd return here.

When the Z80 executed that rst $28 it would push $2B01 (address of the next instruction) to the stack then jump to $28. The handler at $28 would do something like this:

    pop hl    ; hl is a 16-bit register and would now contain $2B01
    ld e,(hl) ; Read "e" from address pointed to by hl, now equals $F0
    inc hl    ; hl = $2B02
    ld d,(hl) ; Read "d" from address pointed to by hl, now equals $30
    inc hl    ; hl = $2B03 ("real" return address)
    push hl   ; push hl back on the stack so when we return from here we end up in the correct place.

Now, de is $30F0 - this is the identifier of the function we're calling. In my case, the identifier points to a function table on page 0. Each entry in the table is three bytes - one byte for the page index and two bytes for the address of the function on the that page. We'd need to do something like this:

    in a,(Page)  ; Read the current page into A.
    push af      ; Push A and F to the stack for later retrieval.
    and ~7       ; Mask out the lower three bits of the address.
    out (Page),a ; Sets current ROM page to 0.
    ex de,hl     ; Exchanges de and hl, so hl now points to the function identifier.
    or (hl)      ; ORs contents of memory at (hl) (ie, page number) with a, to set the target page.
    inc hl
    ld e,(hl)    ; e = LSB of target address
    inc hl
    ld d,(hl)    ; d = MSB of target address
    ex de,hl     ; hl = target address.
    out (Page),a ; Swaps in the correct page.
At this point, the correct page is swapped in and hl points to the address of the function to call. All we need to do now is call it!
    ld de,ReturnFromHandler ; Address to return to.
    push de ; Store on stack.
    jp (hl) ; Set pc = hl.
    ; Swap back the original page which was pushed earlier...
    pop af
    out (Page),a
    ret ; ...and return to the calling page!

A further advantage of using rst $28 to replace call is that both are the same size, so the assembler can check if you're calling an address on the same page or a different one and insert the regular (and much faster) Z80 call in places where you don't need to swap the page.

Finally, the obligatory video, this time showing a clock that toggles the backlight once a second.

Bank-Switching Memory and I2C

Thursday, 11th September 2008

Cheers for the comments. smile.gif As EasilyConfused pointed out, I have done calculator programming in the past, which makes this much easier - learning Z80 assembly to program a calculator influenced the choice of CPU in this computer, and porting BBC BASIC to the calculator showed that with a minimal amount of code to sit between it and the hardware you'd have a decent operating system with very little work. And if a Terminator-related name is good enough for the UK military, it should be good enough for this project...

The I/O board from a few posts ago has undergone a few revisions:


Both PS/2 ports are now fully wired up, though only the lower one is currently used by the OS for keyboard input. I will need to adjust the AT protocol routines (the AT protocol is used to control both keyboard and mouse) to support multiple physical ports, as it was adapted from code I wrote for the TI-83+ calculator and as such only supports one device at a time. The mouse position will be polled by calling ADVAL(axis%), which on the BBC Micro would return the joystick position (axis% specifies the type of information to retrieve from the mouse - a value of 0 returns the buttons as a bitfield, 1 returns the movement in the X axis, 2 the movement in the Y axis and 3 the amount the scrollwheel has been scrolled).

At the very bottom of the circuit board is another 8-bit latch. This is for the (currently) write-only control port. The three least significant bits specify the current ROM page (one of eight 16KB ROM pages can be swapped in for a total of 128KB) and the next bit specifies one of two 16KB RAM pages accessible in the $4000..$7FFF address range. One of the other bits will be used to switch the LCD backlight on and off in software, one more may be connected to a buzzer, and I'm sure I can find some use for the last two. As it's write-only, its current state needs to be stored in RAM so that you can change bits of it (eg when changing the ROM page you wouldn't want to change the backlight status at the same time; you'd need to retrieve the current state and mask in the bits you wish to preserve). This is obviously an ugly hack, and I'm hoping I'll be able to use some of the space to the right of the latch IC on the circuit board to add the other latch to allow the port to be read as well (an I/O port needs two latches - an output latch that takes data from the data bus and outputs it to external hardware, and an input latch that takes data from external hardware and puts it back on the data bus).

The first test of the new ROM paging hardware was to display a simple animation. Assuming 1KB on each ROM page was taken up by the animation playback program, that leaves 15KB per ROM page. A frame (128×64 pixels) is 1KB, so that's 15 frames per page, or 120 frames total. I converted a clip from Pink Floyd's Arnold Layne music video to a suitable format and wrote a playback routine that could run from RAM. When the computer booted it would copy the player to RAM and run it from there as it could then run uninterrupted when different ROM pages were swapped in to read the frame data.

An animation like this is a useful test, as if the ROM paging didn't work properly (simulated by holding the three ROM page selection lines low) the software would still run, but would just loop the first 15 frames (or play chunks of 15 frames out of sequence) instead of crashing.

Another addition to the circuit above is the cluster of discrete transistors and resistors under the lowest PS/2 port. This is the same sort of pair of open-collector I/O data lines that drive each PS/2 port, except that the two data lines are fed out of the I/O board and back to the breadboard that's currently sitting between the memory board and the I/O board to these two simple 8-pin chips:


This is the I2C bus, a simple, low-speed, two-wire bus that will allow other components be easily connected to the computer. The I2C protocol is implemented in software. The two chips in the above image are a DS1307 real-time clock (foreground, with quartz crystal) which I hope to use for timing purposes and a 24LC256 32K×8 EEPROM which I hope to use for file storage. I would need to have some way of accessing the I2C bus externally (to plug in EEPROMs as removable storage) as well as supporting the internal devices.

I haven't yet done any work on supporting I2C devices properly, but I have added I2C bus emulation to the emulator I'm using to develop the OS. BBC BASIC will pass commands prefixed with a *STAR to the operating system, so I've added a *I2CPROBE command that will hammer through all available addresses and list any devices that acknowledge a write request.

$A0 is the EEPROM and $D0 is the clock.

I think I may have dug myself into a hole for CPU timing. I mentioned that I will need to drop the CPU clock to 2MHz when accessing the LCD; unfortunately, switching between 2MHz and 10MHz doesn't seem to work very well. I can run the system relatively stably at either speed (though at 10MHz data sent to the LCD is occasionally corrupted) but if I try and switch dynamically (eg switching from the 10MHz to the 2MHz clock when /IORQ goes low to indicate an I/O request) the system locks up. My assumption is that during time it takes the logic gates that perform the 10MHz/2MHz switch to properly settle into their new state (which is in the tens of nanoseconds) the clock signal stutters a little, effectively producing a clock signal (albeit a brief one) well over 10MHz. I don't have an oscilloscope to verify this, however. sad.gif

Running BBC BASIC on a home-built computer

Sunday, 7th September 2008

This computer needs a name - I'd welcome any suggestions!

I have built a circuit on another piece of stripboard that will handle memory, clock signal generation and the Z80 itself.

A few posts ago I was wondering about how I'd partition memory. To date I've been using a very simple circuit where the lower 32KB of addressable memory is mapped to ROM and the upper 32KB is mapped to RAM. As my ROM chip is 128KB and I have two 32KB RAM chips, this seems a bit wasteful.

The memory layout I'm now using is quite simple: the upper 32KB is still mapped to RAM. However, only the first 16KB is mapped to ROM, and the three most significant bits of the ROM chip's address lines are connected to a device on the I/O board so that one of its eight 16KB "pages" can be swapped in. The next 16KB will be mapped to RAM, and the most significant bit of the RAM chip's address is connected to the same device on the I/O board so one of its two 16KB "pages" can be swapped in.


For more information, see the Wikipedia article on bank switching. There is a potential problem here; the Z80 uses particular fixed addresses for certain operations. The three most obvious ones are $0000 (jumped to on reset), $0038 (address of maskable interrupt handler) and $0066 (address of non-maskable interrupt handler). As which 16KB bank switched in at power-on is effectively random, the easy way around this problem is to ensure that the first 256 bytes or so of every ROM page has the same code assembled on it. This means that whichever page is swapped in on boot doesn't matter, as the same common boot code is available on each page.

The assembled memory board looks like this:

I have only attached one of the 32KB RAM chips. The wiring was becoming a bit of a nightmare (I think I'll need to solder to the track side of the stripboard to fit in that other RAM chip) so for the moment the system can only access the fixed 32KB RAM. I haven't yet added the device on the I/O board to handle bank switching, so for the moment the ROM is permanently configured to access the first 16KB page by pulling the its three externally controllable address lines low.

That said, this machine does genuinely run BBC BASIC (the last system only ran a mockup with a dummy header at the top of the screen). I've done quite a bit of work on the OS in the emulator and it works pretty well there, and with a minor adjustment to cram it onto a single 16KB page it works well on hardware too.

The row of chips along the bottom of the memory board are responsible for generating the clock signals that drive the computer. If this looks needlessly complex, that's because it can run at either 10MHz or 2MHz and generates the E signal for LCD access. The CPU needs to drop to 2MHz when accessing the LCD (the LCD driver can't keep up, otherwise) so I'll probably end up connecting the input for this 2MHz/10MHz switch to the LCD chip enable pins so that normally the system runs at 10MHz but drops to 2MHz when accessing the LCD. Allowing the user to drop to 2MHz to save power is an appealing idea, however...

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