By Andrew Davie (adapted by Duane Alan Hahn, a.k.a. Random Terrain)
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Page Table of Contents
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.
As you should be aware by now, the 6502 has three registers—A, 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'.
All registers can load and store values to memory addresses by specifying the location of that address (or, of course, a label which equates to the location of that address). For example, the following two sections of code are equivalent. . .
lda $F000 ; load accumulator with contents of $F000 ; or. . . where = $F000 lda where ; ditto (correction made 7/7/2003)
As noted, the above will work for X and Y registers, too. This form of addressing (addressing means "how we access memory") is called 'absolute addressing'. Earlier we covered how the 6502 addresses code over a 16-bit memory range (that is, there are 2^16 distinct addresses that the 6502 can access, ranging from 0 to $FFFF). To form a 16-bit address, the 6502 uses pairs of bytes—and these are always stored in little-endian format (which means that we put the low-byte first, and the high-byte last). Thus, the address $F023 would be stored in memory as two bytes in this order . . . $23, $F0.
Now, when DASM is assembling our code, it converts the mnemonic we write for an instruction (eg: 'lda') into an opcode (a number) which is the 6502's way of understanding what each instruction is meant to do. We already encountered the mnemonic 'nop' which converted into $EA. Whenever the 6502 encountered an $EA as an instruction, it performed a 2-cycle delay (it 'executed' the NOP).
We've briefly covered how each 6502 instruction may have one or two additional parameters—that is, there's always an opcode—but there may be one or two additional bytes following the opcode. These bytes hold things such as address data, or numeric data. For example, when we write 'lda #$56', DASM will place the bytes $A9, $56 into the binary. The 6502 retrieves the $A9, recognizes this as a 'lda' instruction, then fetches the next byte $56 and transfers this value into the accumulator.
To signify absolute addresses, the two bytes of the address are placed in little-endian format following the opcode. If we write 'ldy $F023'—indicating we wish to load the contents of memory location $F023 into the Y register, then DASM will put the bytes $AC, $23, $F0 into our binary. And the 6502 when executing will retrieve the $AC, recognize it as a 'ldy' instruction which requires a two-byte address—and then fetches the address from the next two bytes, giving $F023—and THEN retrieving the contents of that memory location and transferring it into the y register.
As you can see, this division of 16-bit addresses into low and high byte pairs essentially divides the memory map into 256 'pages' of 256 bytes each. The very first page (with the high-byte equal to 0) is known as 'zero-page', and this is treated a bit differently to the rest of memory. To optimize the space required for our binary, the 6502 designers decided that they would include a special version of memory addressing where, if the access was to zero page (and thus the high byte of the memory address is 0), then you could use a different opcode for the instruction and only include the low-byte of the address in the binary. This form of addressing is known as zero-page addressing.
As with our above example, if we were accessing memory location $80 (which is the same as $0080—remember, leading zeroes are superfluous when writing numbers), then we *COULD* have an absolute access to this location (with the bytes $AC, $80, $00—interpreted in a similar fashion as described above). But DASM is smart—and it knows that when we are accessing zero-page addresses, it uses the more efficient (both smaller code-size and faster execution) form of the instruction, and instead places the following in our binary . . . $A4, $80. The 6502 recognizes the opcode $A4 as a 'ldy' instruction (as was the $AC) but in this case only one byte is retrieved to form the low byte of the address, and the high byte is assumed to be 0.
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 access—and zero page addresses are those in the range $0000 to $00FF inclusive.
The session discussing Initialization introduced an efficient way of clearing memory in a loop, using a register to run through 256 bytes, and storing 0 to the memory location formed by adding the contents of the x register to a fixed memory address. These addressing modes (using the X or Y register to add to a fixed memory address, giving a final address for access) are known as 'Absolute,X' and 'Absolute,Y' and 'Zero Page,X' and 'Zero Page,Y'. It is probably a good idea now to track down a good 6502 book
ldx #1 lda $23,x ; load accumulator with contents of location 36 (=$24) ldy $23,x ; load Y register with contents of location %100100 ldy #2 ldx $23,y ; load X register with contents of location $25 lda $23,y ; load accumulator with contents of location $25
That last line is interesting—an example of the non-orthogonality of our instruction set. All of the above examples deal with zero-page addresses (that is, the high byte of the address is 0). Theoretically, these instructions don't need to include the high-byte in the address parameters in the binary. However, there is no 'zero page,y' load for the accumulator! There is a zero page,x one, though. Its a bit bizarre :)
So DASM will assemble 'ldx $23,y' to a zero page,y instruction—2 bytes long—but it will assemble 'lda $23,y' to an absolute,y instruction—3 bytes long. Such is life.
These zero page indexed instructions have a catch—the final address is always always always a zero page address. So in the following example. . .
ldy #1 lda $FF,y
Since (as we just discussed) this is an absolute indexed instruction, the accumulator is loaded with the contents of memory location $100. However, the following. . .
ldy #1 ldx $FF,y
Since this will assemble to a zero page indexed instruction, the final address is always zero-page (the high byte is set to 0 after the index register is added)—so we will actually be accessing the contents of memory location 0 (!!). That is, the address is formed by adding the y register and the address ($FF+1 = $100) and dropping the high-byte. Something to be very aware of!
Absolute indexed addressing modes are handy for loading values from data tables in ROM. They allow us to use an index register to step (for example) the line number in a kernel, and use the same register to access playfield values from tables. Consider this (mockup) code. . .
ldx #0 ; line # Display lda MyPF0,x ; load a value from the data table "MyPF0" sta PF0 lda MyPF1,x ; use table "MyPF1" sta PF1 lda MyPF2,x ; use table "MyPF2" sta PF2 sta WSYNC inx cpx #192 bne Display ; other stuff here jmp StartOfFrame MyPF0 .byte 1,2,3,4,5,6 ;...etc 192 bytes of data here, giving data for PF0 MyPF1 .byte 234,24,1,23,41,2; PF 1 data (should be 192 bytes long) MyPF2 .byte 64,244,31,73,43,2,0,0; PF 2 data (should be 192 bytes long)
The above code fragment uses tables of data in our ROM. These tables contain the values which should be written to the playfield registers for each scanline. The x register increments once for each scanline, and our absolute,x load for each playfield register will load consecutive values from the appropriate tables.
Then, creating pretty graphics becomes simply a matter of putting the right values into those tables MyPF0, MyPF1, and MyPF2. This is where building tools to convert from images to data tables becomes extremely useful! We'll cover more of this way of doing things when we complete our sessions on asymmetrical playfields. The plan is to use a tool to create these data tables, and simplify our kernel by using data tables to display just about any asymmetrical image we want!
Soon we'll cover the remaining 6502 addressing modes, and also discuss the 6502's stack.
Other Assembly Language Tutorials
Session 19: Addressing Modes
This book was written in English, not computerese. It's written for Atari users, not for professional programmers (though they might find it useful).
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 6502 Instruction Set broken down into 6 groups.
Nice, simple instruction set in little boxes (not made out of ticky-tacky).
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.
An easy-to-read page from The Second Book Of Machine Language.
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.
By John Pickens. Updated by Bruce Clark.
Below are direct links to the most important pages.
Goes over each of the internal registers and their use.
Gives a summary of whole instruction set.
Describes each of the 6502 memory addressing modes.
Describes the complete instruction set in detail.
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.
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.
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 programming specs (HTML version).
Links to useful information, tools, source code, and documentation.
Atari 2600 programming site based on Garon's "The Dig," which is now dead.
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.
Adapted information and charts related to Atari 2600 music and sound.
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.
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.
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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.