The Centurbo 2 Reappraised
Demos and things that go well with the CT2..
Now as all of you are aware, I've got a CT60. Most of you will be screaming
for me to stop going on about it at this point. So I will! Instead, I'm
going to bore you with a different accelerator, c'mon, why aren't you happy!
I've also got another accelerated Falcon. This has an earlier system
booster, also made by Rodolphe Czuba, the Centurbo 2. Some of you may recall
it was made back at the end of the last millenium in two batches. This 50mhz
cpu and dsp accelerator with fastram is rather underrated in my view, and
has been overshadowed by the more universally adopted CT60 in more recent
times. Some of you will indeed own one of these!
I originally wrote up the CT2 in a big and enthusiastic report, back in
Maggie 28. At the time, I described the long and painful journey to get it
to work. It seems that this particular install was a pig to fit, even for
seasoned professionals! I also pointed out the very high backward
compatibility from the standard machine, much better than expected. I even
hopefully speculated about the nice things that could come from it. Now were
our dreams fulfilled?
The CT2 is quite a useful step up from a standard F030. As well as the
aforementioned cpu and dsp ramp-up, there is also a 25mhz bus boost, which
makes a new range of extra screen modes feasible, and giving a general
desktop performance which is actually superior to my 20mhz bus CT60. If the
CT2 is teamed up with a good dsp Jpeg depacker such as the Aniplayer or
Brainstorm routines, it is breathing hard on the sort of performances that
a CT60 turns in. Of course, the '060 machine leaves the CT2 in the dust,
when it comes to things involving really heavy duty processing.
It's not as is there was a total lack of interest from the scene community.
Two of our top coders, Evil and Earx both own one, and even developed with
it. But to put it into context for the time it came out in the late
nineties, a large part of the Atari Falcon scene was frothing at the mouth
about the temerity of some coders starting to make 14mb only demos, so
accelerators were not wildly popular with much of the scene community back
In spite of this turbulent beginning, almost by accident, a substantial
number of demos have been released over the years, where a CT2 proves to be
helpful in enhancing the overall quality. We feel that some of these may
well be worth a closer look, if you don't already know about them of course.
'Don't Break the Oath' (DHS - 2001)
This is still considered to be the definitive CT2 demo, developed with that
accelerator specifically in mind. It is almost the only demo which isn't
'accidentally' CT2 enhanced as well. Special features included mp2 streaming
audio support, using the dsp as a dedicated audio processor and relying on
the boosted cpu entirely for the 3D engine. It does run on standard
hardware, but there is a deliberate 'low detail' mode provided, to keep the
framerate up, and emphasise the difference in 'ride' quality from the CT2.
It was produced at the height of the "Pure Falcon good, anything else bad!"
debate, and can be seen as a deliberate statement of intent to support the
higher end, whether some people liked it or not! It hasn't been followed up
by DHS, as they have transferred the coding expertise to both higher (CT60)
and lower end (ST) productions.
'Wait' (TOYS - 2001)
This was produced at the same time as 'Don't Break the Oath'. It was
considered by doomsayers as a part of the breaking wave of accelerator
grabbing demos in 2001 that would kill the scene. On closer inspection, it
doesn't quite need the full grunt of a CT2, as it uses the old trick of
vertical resolution doubling, and with a subsequent version providing
optimisation, a standard machine could do it well enough. However, any form
of acceleration goes down nicely here.
It uses the same mp2 audio streaming trick as before, and features a very
busy 3D world. Again, it has not been followed up so far, but that is down
to the generally slow and reclusive nature of the coders.
Various demos by Earx (1999 - Present)
Another CT2 fan was Earx. He's got one of the first revision A batch, and
started to cater for it as early as his 1999 release, "Alive". This featured
a special high detail mode for accelerators.
He followed up with the epic 'Delta' in 2003, and the sharp and breezy 'Out'
demo in 2004. Both of these had a high detail mode present, but I've not
been able to spot the difference from the standard versions. Earx provides
for the accelerator, but has been developing his coding skills in the
direction of the dsp, which is the best way to get a star performance from
an unexpanded Falcy.
Lately, he's been turning towards the CT60, although some of his early work
on there, like the Virtual light machine, and a 4ktro called 'scape' are
able to run on the CT2, in a fairly slow fashion.
Various demos and intros by Deez (2000 - 2003)
Deez is a definite supporter of the higher end Falcon, as he's shunned
coding a standard machine for years. Indeed, it was him, and the combined
talents of Mind Design that were responsible for the first releases for the
CT2. The 'Hardcore' demo promised a lot when it was shown at the Siliventure
2000, it could have been one of the great contenders, but it stayed buggy as
hell, with about half the runtime it should have had, and hugely fussy over
monitor types. Deez has managed to complete a few more intro's, such as one
released at the STNICCC 10th anniversary, and various things for various
diskmags which tend to favour a decent accelerator, but he never quite got
to the heights of 'Don't Break the Oath'.
He has since been more active on the CT60, with the first intro's for that,
and a bigger demo awaits its moment.
'Echos' (Various Swedes - 2003)
This was a co-production by DHS, Deez, and Thomas of New Beat. A 96ktro,
mainly intended to showcase the new 'Ace' synthtracker. It was an accidental
accelerator hog, mainly because the Ace replay routines were major cpu
grabbers and made running this on a standard machine pretty slow. I believe
it was developed on an Afterburner '040, but the CT2 was the optimum
platform for smooth running.
'Place to Be Part 5' (Mid-nineties!)
This is an old invitro, which is worth a second look. It features some
complex modelled 3D objects, which tend to chug on the standard Falcy, but
are much better off with a CT2. So this was an intro which was made before
the CT2 was even thought of!
'Revertant' remix (Cobra/Mikro - 1999/2003)
The original Revertant was a step too far, no, several steps too far for the
base Falcy. In its original form, the standard Falcy managed to achieve a
frame rate of OVER a second per frame in places! It was a slideshow, but at
the same time, a strangely beautiful one!
It came down to Mikro, to look in detail at making it run in a more
accelerator friendly fashion, and the addition of mp2 soundtrack, and
various other optimisations made it a more appealing prospect if you have
accelerated hardware. It is better on the CT2, but still not silky in its
smoothness to be honest. This was one which I briefly tried on a CT60 and
RGB screen, and it seems to me that this is really an '040/060 demo at
heart!? Well at least the opening bit that I ran before it hung gave me that
'Moai' (Mystic Bytes/Satantronic - 2004)
This is a heavily 3D intro, with a mixed dsp/cpu 3D engine at its core. It
turns out to be perfectly matched to the CT2, although the coders may not
have realised it at the time? It is likely that the next advanced dsp demo,
which best exploits the properties of the CT2 may well come from this
'Beams' (tSCc - 2005)
And we have another accidental star on the CT2! Beams has been showcased as
a masterpiece of cramming onto a basic Falcon. And indeed it works
wonderfully. What the makers may not have realised, is that the non-dsp
boosted cyberpunk world of Beams works even better with an accelerator, and
I'd say that the CT2 is just about perfect for it! Beams is a damn fine
showcase of a demo, whatever flavour of Falcon it runs on.
'Episode 666' 4ktro (DHS - 2005)
Do you spot a recurring theme yet about lucky accidents? Bet it makes you
wonder what I do with my Falcons?! This is a CT60 intro which works on '030
based machines as well. I'd say it even runs half-decently on the CT2. It is
choppy rather than slow, but gives a pretty good idea of what you get on the
CT60. A chat with Evil reveals that something like 1000 polygons are being
pushed around, and the '030 tends to choke at that point!
A miscellaneous interlude..
There are some other things which are really meant for other machines, but
which also run okay on the CT2. For example, I gave the SDL port of
Wolfenstein for Mint a go on it. This was initially as a safey precaution
before trying it on the CT60. Even on a CT2, Wolfenstein is playable, if not
perfectly smooth. It is still better than 'Lasers and Men' on the Falcon!
Also the lower resolution 180 x 100 version of the Quake engine which Gildor
also ported last summer, seemed to go half-decently as well on the CT2.
These examples seem to prove that the CT2 shouldn't be ignored completely,
even when the priority is for making new and exciting things for the CT60.
And could there be more to come? Well maybe, as Mikro was talking about
doing a killer DSP demo, before moving onto the CT60. If it uses a similar
3D engine to the 'Moai' intro, then the extra speed afforded by the CT2
could make that the optimal platform to view it on?
With the right sort of 3D engine, with both cpu and dsp pulling together,
the CT2 could well offer a reasonable competition for the earlier CT60 demos
and provide a high level of complexity, if you make allowances for things
like screen doubling modes ;-)
Yes, this is an obscurely presented challenge, to someone like Mikro, to see
how hard he can push things!
CiH, for Alive Mag, April '04.