You may be asking what a homebrew game is. Simply put, a homebrew game is any game made for a console by a person like you or me, under no contract from a company. Some systems are harder to program than others, therefore, some systems have more avid homebrew communities than other.
The Atari 2600 has a devoted homebrew base and several homebrew games are released every year. Because of the age of the system, the only new content for the 2600 being released today is from homebrewers. Here is a list of some current games being worked on by people for the system. If you want to see what some people have done in the homebrew scene, here is Elevator Amiss, programmed by Bob Montgomery, and Go Fish, also by Montgomery.
Most games on the 2600 revolve around getting a high score doing some arcade style task like shooting enemies or dodging obstacles. Thinking about creative ways to make simple tasks into games can be very fun and since games for the 2600 are generally pretty simple, game design is not all that hard.
There is a snag though. The Atari 2600 was made a rather long time ago and people were completely happy to program in assembly language back in those days. Programmers were a lot more patient. Assembly for the Atari 2600 may seem daunting and for a novice programmer it is. Unfortunately, there was never much of another, more high level option for a programmer wanting to get into the VCS home brew scene.
That was until now! In 2007, some Atari 2600 fans wrote a BASIC compiler for the 2600. This was ground breaking in the sense that now, anyone with at least some sort of programming knowledge could start writing homebrew Atari 2600 games without having to learn the unfamiliar 6502 assembly language.
To get batari Basic up and running on your computer, you’ll need a couple of things.
First, you need to actually download the compiler source code, which could be found on the batari Basic website, under “Download”. Thankfully, the compiler is multiplatform, it runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and instructions for installation and use of it can be found on their website. Just follow the instructions for your platform.
Next you will need an emulator to play your games after you compile them. Stella is a good one, but there are some others out there. Stella and z26 are both linked to on the batari website, also under “Download”.
If you’re proficient at the command line, then you’re good to go. All you’ll need beyond that is some sort of text editor, like notepad on any Windows machine.
If you want to go the command line route, thorough instructions for setting up all of that are included in the “Installation” and “Tutorial” sections of the batari Basic website. Basically, you need to download and extract the compiler and then set up the command path so you can use the “2600bas” command on the command line to compile your games.
If you aren’t comfortable compiling on the command line, then you can download a couple of Integrated Development Environments, both of which are Windows only unfortunately. Crimson Editor is linked to on the batari Basic website and instructions for setting that up are included in the “Tutorial”.
Your other option is Visual bB. You can download that here. Visual bB looks and works a lot like Microsoft Visual Studio and is focused on use with batari Basic, unlike Crimson Editor. This makes it streamlined for batari Basic. Best of all, Visual bB has integrated sprite and sound editors, further easing the development process.
To set up Visual bB you just need to start the program. It will then ask for the path to the compiler and emulator. Just go through the folders on your PC to the executable for the compiler and then for your emulator.
Batari Basic is heavily documented and the documentation is linked to on the batari website. You can view that here also. If you have some prior programming knowledge, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick it up.
This is where it gets fun. Start programming. Let your imagination run wild!
batari Basic makes Atari 2600 programming approachable for the masses. Its main advantages lie in the ability it gives to program without learning assembly language, which is something we can all appreciate.
Designing homebrew Atari 2600 games can be extremely fun and the Atari 2600 combined with batari Basic makes it so that almost anyone can get into it rather painlessly. So, why not give it a try?