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Day 1 - Beginning NES Assembly

Mike Huber

Published: 2005-Jul-21; Updated: 2010-Dec-18

About NES Assembly

Oh, my, GOD! You are actually planning to learn to program the NES in assembly? Well, if you really want to, this hopefully will help. Maybe you've read my ongoing series about GameBoy Advanced Assembly. In my GBA assembly tutorial, it says that you should know GBA programming in C first, before you attempt assembly. I'd say the same about NES assembly, except there aren't any good C compilers targetting the NES's CPU. So I'm just going to say now, either know GBA assembly or Intel x86 assembly BEFORE you attempt to write code for the NES as coding for the NES is a little more difficult than either of the others mentioned.

We will be using NESASM.exe as our assembler. Get it here! and unzip it to C: esasm or whereever you want. Good. It also contains serveral other programs we will be using. But before we get coding, we need to know about our little old (REALLY old) friend the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

About The NES

The NES is a complicated piece of 8bit machinery. That's right, the NES is an 8bit system if you didn't know already. The NES uses a customised Motorola 6502 processor more similar to the Intel x86 chips than to the ARM series. The NES was released some time before I was born, so I have no idea when (late 70's maybe) (I'm 15).

For it's picture processing needs, the NES has a PPU (Picture Processing Unit) chip that we program indirectly through memory registers similar to how the GBA works, but still quite different.

In the world of sprites, the NES does have hardware sprites, but not have nearly the same extent of features that the GBA does for it's sprites.

It's really hard to explain without some code, so how 'bout we learn 6502 assembly!?!

NES Assembly Langauge

The first of all the CPU registers, on the NES the 3 we are concerned about are:

- the Accumulator, all math operations implicitly use this register.
- an index register, used for indexing memory addressings.
- an indes register, used for indexing memory addressings.

Note that all 3 registers can be loaded with numbers or values from memory. The uses listed above are just their special abitities like register super powers. :) There are a few others, but as so far we don't need to know about them.

The instruction we will learn first is LDk , where k is one of the 3 registers listed above. So here's some code to demonstrate:

lda #$50 ; loads A with 50 in hex. ldx #$60 ; loads X with 60 in hex. ldy #$70 ; loads Y with 70 in hex.

Note that these are, in fact, 8bit registers. You may be wondering what the #$ means. The # symbol means immediate value, as in the number is just a number and not an address in memory to load from. The $ symbol means the number is in hexadecimal. If the $ was a % then the number would be taken as a binary number. If there was no $ or % then it would be a decimal number. Examples:

lda #%00100011 ; loads A with a binary number. ldx #50 ; loads X with 50 in decimal. ldy #$50 ; loads Y with 50 in hex.

I hope this is clear, if not, email me.

Memory Address Addressing

For a number to be interpreted as a memory address by the assembler, all that needs to be done is to leave off the #. Now also keep in mind that addresses are usually represented as 16bit hex numbers, so to load a register with a value from memory, we would do this:

lda $2002 ; load A with the value at memory location 2002 hex. ldx 2002 ; load X with the value at memory location 2002 decimal. ldy 2002 ; load Y with value at location 2002 decimal.

Not too difficult, eh?

Now for the next instruction you need to know.

Storing Values In Memory

The next instruction we will learn is STk, where k is one of the 3 registers. The store instruction cannot to my knowledge take a immediate value as a parameter/operand. I'll let some code examples explain:

sta $2004 ; stores A in memory location 2004 hex. sty $2002 ; stores Y in memory location 2002 hex. stx $FF ; stores X in memory location 00FF hex.

Note that addresses are usually represented as hex numbers. If you use a 2 digit number in a store instruction, it is interpreted as 00xx where xx is the 2 digit number you used.

Also note that what we've done so far is called Direct Addressing, were we just give the actual address we want to put something into.

This Day In Review

Today we learn't the 2 instructions that will make up 50% of our code. A good achievement, don't you think?

Until Next Time,
-Mike H a.k.a GbaGuy