Resurrected Entertainment

The XGS Micro Edition from Nurve Networks

April 16, 2007

XGS MEI was ecstatic to finally receive my XGS system in the mail. I pitied the poor programmers who would never experience the thrill of writing software for small devices. Now that I’ve had my XGS system for a couple of weeks now, I find the device rather difficult to program. Not because the programming is too hard, although it is quite a challenge. Unfortunately, It’s difficult to write software for all the wrong reasons: bundled software and documentation.

The Integrated Development Environment (IDE) which is bundled with the system routinely has problems connecting with the XGS Micro Edition (ME) through Windows. Windows says the parallel port is mapped to LPT1 (0x3F8), but XGS thinks it’s on LPT2 (0x2F8). I have to fiddle with the port scanning every time I go to use the IDE. The software has no syntax highlighting, which makes writing assembly code so much easier on the eyes. C’mon guys, syntax highlighting is a basic requirement for any programming editor used today. Writing assembly code is tedious enough without the added frustration of dealing with problems that arise from bleary eyed programmers. Finally, you are unable to debug your code using the XGS ME console and the IDE which shipped with the product. Debugging is possible with an SX Key Programmer (purchased separately), but what I don’t understand is why they didn’t build this feature into the XGS ME when it was designed. Let’s not forget that the device already has an SX programmer built-in , but it just doesn’t have the features of a full SX Key Programmer. The only thing worse than a missing syntax highlighter is a missing debugger. It’s been a long time since I had to trace through a program using a piece of paper and a pencil and I can’t say that I’ve missed it. Bottom line: Writing assembly code is tedious (learning the internals of the system and interacting with it is the interesting part), writing assembly code with no syntax highlighting is even more so, and trying to locate a problem in your software with no debugger available is akin to finding a needle in a haystack (ie: no fun). I will probably end up using an editor such as VIM to write the code and the SX Key Programmer software to compile and debug – it’s just a shame they can’t be the same tool.

The next hurdle is documentation. The physical form of the book entitled Programming the SX-Microcontroller doesn’t come with the system but is provided as an eBook. To be fair, the web site does tell you it’s an eBook copy, which is fine but the copyright on the electronic document doesn’t allow you to print it. I don’t know about you, but I hate reading large books while sitting at my computer desk. It’s uncomfortable, and difficult to browse and reference while trying to write software. Most portable eReaders are not particularly usable, and the ones that do a decent job are too expensive. Assuming it’s a pleasure to read the documents bundled on the CD with an eReader, I just don’t want to spend several hundred dollars to comfortably read a book I already own. Since most of the books provided are out of print now, there should have been an accompanying license which allows you to make your own copy. Even LaMothe’s book, The Black Art of Video Game Console Design, doesn’t go into enough useful detail on the intricacies of XGS ME programming. I found this a little odd since it is featured prominently on the front and back cover of the book.

Finally, I would really like to know what’s going on over at XGameStation web site. For the past couple of months, the site has routinely been down. In fact the down time is so regular, it’s almost like the web site is being hosted on an employee’s machine within Nerve Networks, and that machine gets shut off every night after six. It’s frustrating to try and get at the example software or browse the forum when I’m trying to get a piece of code working, which is usually during the evening since I don’t have the luxury of working on the XGS during the day.

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