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Alter Ego

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Class: Homebrew
Publisher: The NES Dump
Region: United States (USA)
Rarity:
3  Cart: Very Common
No box exists
No manual exists
Peripherals: Standard or Compatible Controller
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
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From NintendoAGE

This game was developed by Denis Grachev.

NES Conversion by Shiru

NES Music by Richard "Kulor" Armijo

This is a cool game that involves swapping the character with his shadow.  It is a puzzle game and provides a good challenge.

From www.thenesdump.com:

"Pretty amazing homebrew!"

Download the NES Rom

Download the Manual

From the Publisher
Development notes

After completing Lawn Master, I had plan to try use C compiler to make a simple NES game. From my previous experience with programming in C for micros (Genesis and ZX Spectrum), and from things that thefox did, I knew it could be very worthy in terms of development speed. The plan was to check it, and, in case of success, prove that C is an actual option to develop NES games, not just a theoretical possibility.

I wanted to make a project very fast, so I decided to not do an original game this time, because design takes most of the time, and just make a port. I've seen two new ZX Spectrum games by Denis Grachev, Join and Alter ego, at WoS when they were released, and liked the combination of simplicity, playability, and sort of retro appeal in them. I made a low-level library in 6502 assembly to use in the project first. When main features of the library were implemented, I have sent a mail to Denis, asking if he would allow to port Alter Ego. It took some time, from June 8 to 17, to get the answer. Denis gave his permission, but I already was busy with other project, and only has been able to start on the port June 25.

Development process took about 10 days, the game was fully completed, but without music, at July 5. This includes finishing the library, writing all the game code from scratch, reverse-engineering levels format, and beating up both the original game and port few times to test everything. The most difficult part that was not expected by me initially was redesign of all the levels from scratch. Initially I thought I can just convert them, edit a bit, and draw new graphics, but in order to be able to use more colors and make better graphics I had to completely redo all the levels to the NES attribute grid, only keeping overall design of the original levels. In other words, none of the original data get into the port, and there were some changes to make it more playable as well, so it is actually more like a remake than a port. Levels and graphics redesign took most of the time. I also made 5 graphics sets instead of 3 sets from the original.

Code part was relatively easy both in assembly (low-level libary) and C (game), except for few WTF bugs that took some time to figure out. There are about 1000 lines of assembly code for library, 1000 lines of FamiTone code (has been adapted easiliy), and ~1500 lines of C code. Even total number of lines, 3500, is significally less than amount of assembly code in my previous NES games that were written in assembly, had ~5000 lines each (including FamiTone too), and were much simpler gameplay and game logic wise.

As the game was a bit short on RAM, I've put FamiTone vars along with palette buffer into the stack page. Despite being written in C, the game uses ~20 bytes of the stack at most.

Other part of speeding up the development process was 'outsourcing' of the music. I knew it is a risky decision, because any other person involved into a project actually increases overall time, not decreases it, but I just tired from making everything by myself all the time. It did increased time very considerably - although I've negotiated about the music with kulor even before starting any actual work on the game, by different reasons including personal busyness and some misunderstanding, he only started 15th, ten days after the game development itself was completed. This amount of music revealed a lot of bugs and problems in FamiTone, not all of which were fixed, and data of one of tracks was fixed by hand due to lack of time. Music was finished 22th, just in time for DiHalt demoparty. Initially I planned to just release game, but because the party date was now close, and there was a multiplatform game compo, I decided to release the game there to get more publicity.

My conclucion regarding C usage on NES is that it is worthy indeed. It speeds up and simplifies development process a lot because it greatly reduces amount of code to be written and debugged, and the code is much more readable. However, to use C you just have to know the system and 6502 very well, because debugging is much more difficult - in case of the problems when C code does not work as expected, you need to figure out what to do by examining of the generated assembly code. So it is not easy way to program for NES, it actually requires more knowledge than programming in assembly. Execution speed is, of course, lower, but this wasn't an issue for this project, the size of the generated code was more important actually - it is much larger than it could be if programmed in assembly by hand.

Please note that the game is released as freeware, not Public Domain. There are three authors involved. I personally grant you rights to do whatever you want with things I created (code, sound effects, graphics), but rights to other components (game concept, characters, title, music) are reserved to authors of these components. I.e., if you want to port it somewhere else, you need to ask Denis Grachev (and Kulor, if you need music) for permission.


Software used

CC65 - C compiler and assembler
Notepad++ - for all the code and text works
FamiTracker - to make all the music and sound effects
UnrealSpeccy - playing and reversing the original version
Borland Turbo Explorer - to make a level editor, but it was only used to view levels
FCEUX, VirtuaNES (profiler mod) - to test everything, some others for compatibility tests
NES Screen Tool - to design all the graphics, screens, and levels
Inkscape, Blender, GIMP, CutePDF Writer - to make manual and label