Epic Comeback in C64 Debugger

February 23, 2018

You may remember Epic Comeback, the small but punchy Commodore 64 demo I made last summer. There is a utility called C64 Debugger which, among other things, can visualize what's happening in the C64's memory while a program is running. This can reveal some interesting stuff, even if you are not that much into programming in assembly. I made a video of it, check it out in full screen!

Some of the observations that you can make...

‐ The memory activity colors are: Blue for reading, Red for writing, Green for mixed reading and writing.

‐ Upon a hard reset the Commodore 64's memory is initialized with a 00 00 00 00... FF FF FF FF... byte pattern, so you can see stripes in the visualized memory.

‐ When the demo is first loaded from disk, it takes up about 1/3rd of the 64K RAM. It's compressed though. First the decompressor copies the whole compressed data to the top of the memory, then starts working on it and fills up the memory with decompressed data from the bottom up. At one point the decompressed data starts overwriting the original compressed data (red line) while the rest of the data is still being decompressed (blue line). Red catches up at the end, just as the decompression ends, filling up nearly the whole 64K RAM of the Commodore 64. This is so much data that the C64 kernel couldn't load it from disk in a decompressed state by default.

‐ The chessboard animation is not too interesting in memory activity, it's mostly a character set based animation with a bunch of video matrices and video bank switching. On the bottom of the screen you can see the constant update of those zero page variables that the animation is using.

‐ When the animation goes away, the demo generates a bunch of wave tables for the plotter, this takes up about 1/4th of the RAM in the middle of the visualizer. The rest of the memory is filled up with two generated executable code blocks, one for each video buffer. The effect is redrawn on each screen refresh, but uses so much CPU time (well, all of it) that double buffering is necessary to avoid screen tearing.

‐ In the middle you can see the X and Y double-sine wave of each of the 128 plots (this looks awesome in the memory visualizer) applied to the lookup wave tables, to figure out where to draw the plots in the video memory. This is all reading, so it's shown with Blue color. The plotter drawing is pure writing, so it's shown with Red color above the waves.

‐ The generated plotter drawing code gets executed and self-modified all the time, as you can see it from the activity on the bottom part of the memory visualizer. As the plotter slides out of the visible screen area, less and less plots need to be drawn, so the memory darkens a bit until the next plotter configuration slides up into view.

‐ I did a hard reset at the end, so you can see how the memory is cleared up before the kernel initializes the BASIC interpreter, which is the default user interface of the Commodore 64.

Cool, isn't it?