Assembly Language Programming

Lesson 1: Bits!

By Robert M (adapted by Duane Alan Hahn, a.k.a. Random Terrain)

RT Eyes Tip Jar

Page Table of Contents

Original Lesson

This course assumes no prior knowledge of computer programming. While the examples given in the course are targeted at the 650X family of processors, the ideas presented will apply to assembly language programming and often programming in general.


Please feel free to posts comments or questions into the Lesson threads. If you wish to ask a private question don't hesitate to send me a PM.






Materials Needed

The assembler we will be using for this course is DASM. We won't need the assembler for the first several sessions, I will provide links for downloading and installing DASM. DASM is available for DOS, Windows (in a DOS window), Amiga, and Macintosh (OS-9 or OS-X). So the development tools will be available on many platforms.






The Most Important Thing You Need to Know about Computers

Imagine you have a black box with a single light bulb sticking out of it. Sometimes the light is on, sometimes it is off. Please answer these questions:

  1. What does it mean when the light is on?
  2. What does it mean when the light is off?


Until you can answer these questions, programming computers will never quite make sense. Everything else we do in this course will be built on this radical idea. Please take a moment to consider these questions. There are no wrong answers, its just a mental exercise to broaden your mind.







The key points that you need to take away from this exercise are:

  1. The light is either on or off, there are only 2 possible conditions for the light. The light represents a single digital bit.
  2. The two states of the bit can represent ANY TWO OPPOSING conditions:
  3. 1 or 0

    YES or NO

    "The Player is alive" or "The player is Dead"

    "The Fire button is pressed" or "The fire button is not pressed"

  4. All information in a digital computer at its lowest level is composed of bits. There is no piece of information smaller than a single bit.



So how does this relate back to the questions I asked above?

  1. What does it mean when the light is on?
  2. It means what ever you the programmer want it to mean is true.

  3. What does it mean when the light is off?
  4. The opposing condition for the meaning you give to the bit is true.


By common convention. the values 1 and 0 are used to represent the states of bits. One usually means on, yes, or true. Zero usually means off, no, or false. Notice that I said "by convention" and "usually". You could just as well use "A" and "B" or "Zip" and "Zap", but this makes it hard to talk with others about bits, so we will use 1 and 0 in this class.


This is the great secret of all computers and computer programming in general. When you program in assembly language, you have complete control/responsibility Razz to provide the meaning of the values of the bits that make up your program. If you want a bit to mean "The Dragon is awake" when it is 1 and "The dragon is asleep" when it is zero, that is fine. Just understand that the meaning you give to the bit is completely your own invention and when the user pulls out cartridge with your program and puts another one in, that program will apply a completely different meaning to the EXACT SAME BIT.




Other Assembly Language Tutorials

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






Next Lesson >






Lesson Links

Lesson 1: Bits!

Lesson 2: Enumeration

Lesson 3: Codes

Lesson 4: Binary Counting

Lesson 5: Binary Math

Lesson 6: Binary Logic

Lesson 7: State Machines





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.



Atari 2600 BASIC

If assembly language is too hard for you, try batari Basic. It's a BASIC-like language for creating Atari 2600 games. It's the faster, easier way to make Atari 2600 games.

Try 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