Atari 2600 Programming for Newbies

Session 19: Addressing Modes

By Andrew Davie (adapted by Duane Alan Hahn, a.k.a. Random Terrain)

RT Eyes Tip Jar

Page Table of Contents

Original Session

Are we having fun, yet?


We're already familiar with a few ways of loading numbers into the 6502's registers, and storing numbers from those registers into RAM or TIA registers. We'll re-visit those methods we know about, learn some new ones (not all of the 6502's addressing modes, but enough to get by with).


This session we're going to have a bit of a look at the various ways that the 6502 can address memory, and how to write these in source code.





A, X, and Y Registers

As you should be aware by now, the 6502 has three registersA, X, and Y. 'A' is our workhorse register, and we use this to do most of our loading, storing, and calculations. X and Y are index registers, and we generally use these for looping, and counting operations. They also allow us to access 'lists' or tables of data in memory.


Let's start with the basics. To load and store actual values to and from registers, we can use the following. . .

    lda #$80    ; load accumulator with the number $80 (=128 decimal)

    lda $80     ; load accumulator with contents of memory location $80

    sta #$80    ; meaningless!  DASM will kick a fit.  You can't store to a number!

    sta $80     ; store accumulator's contents to memory location $80

    ldx #$80    ; load x-register with the number $80

   ; etc..

All registers can load numbers directly (called 'immediate values'). The above examples show the accumulator being loaded with #$80 (the number 128) and also the X register being loaded with the same value. You can do this with the Y register, too.


You can't STORE the accumulator to an immediate value. This is a meaningless concept. It's like me asking you to put a letter in your three. You may have a post-box numbered 'three', but you don't have a 'three'.




Mostly we can rely on DASM to choose the best form of addressing for us.


So far, we have seen that what we can do with all the registers is essentially the same. Unfortunately, this is not the case with all the addressing modes! The 6502 is not 'orthogonal'The registers aren't all equal. Some operations require certain registers. For example, you can only do math with the A register and if you want to set the stack pointer, you have to use the X register. There are many examples.
(Adapted from a post by Ed Fries)
and this has some bearing on our choice of which register to use for which purpose, when designing our kernel.


OK, so now we should know what is meant by 'absolute addresses' and 'zero page addresses'. Pretty simple, really. Both refer to the address of memory that the 6502 can theoretically accessand zero page addresses are those in the range $0000 to $00FF inclusive.











Soon we'll cover the remaining 6502 addressing modes, and also discuss the 6502's stack.







  1. Use this method of absolute,x table access to modify or create a kernel which loads the graphics data from tables. Separate each playfield register into its own table, as above.
  2. Can you extend this system to asymmetrical playfield? Don't worry, we're going to give a complete asymmetrical playfield kernel (and tools!) in the next session.
  3. How would you incorporate color changes into this system (ie: if you wanted clouds on the left, sun on the right)?
  4. Each table requires 1 byte of ROM per PF register per scanline. Can you think of ways to reduce this requirement? What trade-offs are necessary when reducing the table size?
  5. Find a 6502 cycle-timing reference, and try to calculate exactly how many cycles each instruction in your kernel is taking. Add-up all the instructions on each line, and work out just how much time you have left to do "all the other stuff". Such as sprite drawing!




Other Assembly Language Tutorials

Be sure to check out the other assembly language tutorials and the general programming pages on this web site.



< Previous Session



Next Session >





Session Links

Session 1: Start Here

Session 2: Television Display Basics

Sessions 3 & 6: The TIA and the 6502

Session 4: The TIA

Session 5: Memory Architecture

Session 7: The TV and our Kernel

Session 8: Our First Kernel

Session 9: 6502 and DASM - Assembling the Basics

Session 10: Orgasm

Session 11: Colorful Colors

Session 12: Initialization

Session 13: Playfield Basics

Session 14: Playfield Weirdness

Session 15: Playfield Continued

Session 16: Letting the Assembler do the Work

Sessions 17 & 18: Asymmetrical Playfields (Parts 1 & 2)

Session 19: Addressing Modes

Session 20: Asymmetrical Playfields (Part 3)

Session 21: Sprites

Session 22: Sprites, Horizontal Positioning (Part 1)

Session 23: Moving Sprites Vertically

Session 24: Some Nice Code

Session 25: Advanced Timeslicing





Useful Links

Easy 6502 by Nick Morgan

How to get started writing 6502 assembly language. Includes a JavaScript 6502 assembler and simulator.



Atari Roots by Mark Andrews (Online Book)

This book was written in English, not computerese. It's written for Atari users, not for professional programmers (though they might find it useful).



Machine Language For Beginners by Richard Mansfield (Online Book)

This book only assumes a working knowledge of BASIC. It was designed to speak directly to the amateur programmer, the part-time computerist. It should help you make the transition from BASIC to machine language with relative ease.



The Second Book Of Machine Language by Richard Mansfield (Online Book)

This book shows how to put together a large machine language program. All of the fundamentals were covered in Machine Language for Beginners. What remains is to put the rules to use by constructing a working program, to take the theory into the field and show how machine language is done.



6502 Instruction Set with Examples

A useful page from Assembly Language Programming for the Atari Computers.

Continually strives to remain the largest and most complete source for 6502-related information in the world.



Guide to 6502 Assembly Language Programming by Andrew Jacobs

Below are direct links to the most important pages.



Stella Programmer's Guide

HTMLified version.



Nick Bensema's Guide to Cycle Counting on the Atari 2600

Cycle counting is an important aspect of Atari 2600 programming. It makes possible the positioning of sprites, the drawing of six-digit scores, non-mirrored playfield graphics and many other cool TIA tricks that keep every game from looking like Combat.



How to Draw A Playfield by Nick Bensema

Atari 2600 programming is different from any other kind of programming in many ways. Just one of these ways is the flow of the program.



Cart Sizes and Bankswitching Methods by Kevin Horton

The "bankswitching bible." Also check out the Atari 2600 Fun Facts and Information Guide and this post about bankswitching by SeaGtGruff at AtariAge.



Atari 2600 Specifications

Atari 2600 programming specs (HTML version).



Atari 2600 Programming Page (AtariAge)

Links to useful information, tools, source code, and documentation.




Atari 2600 programming site based on Garon's "The Dig," which is now dead.



TIA Color Charts and Tools

Includes interactive color charts, an NTSC/PAL color conversion tool, and Atari 2600 color compatibility tools that can help you quickly find colors that go great together.



The Atari 2600 Music and Sound Page

Adapted information and charts related to Atari 2600 music and sound.



Game Standards and Procedures

A guide and a check list for finished carts.




A multi-platform Atari 2600 VCS emulator. It has a built-in debugger to help you with your works in progress or you can use it to study classic games.




A very good emulator that can also be embedded on your own web site so people can play the games you make online. It's much better than JStella.



batari Basic Commands

If assembly language seems a little too hard, don't worry. You can always try to make Atari 2600 games the faster, easier way with batari Basic.



Back to Top


The Good and the Bad

Negative ions are good for us. You might want to avoid positive ion generators and ozone generators. Whenever I need a new air cleaner (with negative ion generator), I buy it from A plain old air cleaner is better than nothing, but one that produces negative ions makes the air in a room fresher and easier to breathe. It also helps to brighten my mood.

Never litter. If you can't find a trash can, take it home and throw it away there.

Hydrofracking is bad for you, your family, your friends, and the environment.

Some people appear to have a mental illness because they have a vitamin B deficiency. I take B-Right.

Unfermented soy is bad! “When she stopped eating soy, the mental problems went away.”


View this page and any external web sites at your own risk. I am not responsible for any possible spiritual, emotional, physical, financial or any other damage to you, your friends, family, ancestors, or descendants in the past, present, or future, living or dead, in this dimension or any other.


Use any example programs at your own risk. I am not responsible if they blow up your computer or melt your Atari 2600. Use assembly language at your own risk. I am not responsible if assembly language makes you cry or gives you brain damage.


As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Home Inventions Quotations Game Design Atari Memories Personal Pages About Site Map Contact Privacy Policy Tip Jar