Outputting to the screen
First, be aware of the MSDOS memory layout
Outputting in Textmode (80x25)
Right after the start of your program you are in mode 3, that is 80x25 in 16 colors.
See the Video Modes List
So, to show something on the screen, you would need to set a segment register to 0xB800, then write values into this segment.
The following three snippets showcase how to draw a red smiley in three different ways. All example snippets are meant to be standalone programs, starting with the first instruction and nothing before it. The target coordinate (40,12) is about the middle of the screen. We need a multiplier 2 since one char needs two bytes in memory (char and color is a byte each). The high byte 0x04 means red (4) on black (0) while the 0x01 is the first ASCII char - a smiley.
push 0xb800 pop ds mov bx,(80*12+40)*2 mov ax, 0x0401 mov [bx],ax ret
push 0xb800 pop es mov di,(80*12+40)*2 mov ax, 0x0401 stosw ret
push ss push 0xb800 pop ss mov sp,(80*12+40)*2 mov ax, 0x0401 push ax pop ss int 0x20
You might notice that the push <word> + pop seg_reg combination is always the same and occupies four bytes alltogether. If correct alignment is not important to you and you really just want any pointer to the screen, there is another way to get a valid one:
les bx,[si] nop stosb
That's also four bytes, but it already has the
stosb opcode (for putting something onto the screen) integrated and even one slot free for another one-byte-instruction. It works because
SI initially points to the start of our code, and
stosb has the hexadecimal representation of
0AAh. After the first command, the segment register
ES contains the value
0AB90h. If you repeatedly write something to the screen with
stosb you will eventually reach the
0B800 segment and chars will appear on the screen. With a careful selection of the free one-byte-opcode you can also reintroduce some alignment. This works also with the
Outputting in mode 13h (320x200)
The videomemory for mode 13h is located at segment 0xA000, so you need to assign this value to a segment register. Also, after the start of your program you are normally still in textmode, so you need to switch to the videomode. The following snippet does both:
mov al,0x13 int 0x10 ; AH = 0 means : set video mode to AL = 0x13 (320 x 200 pixels in 256 colors) push 0xA000 ; put value on the stack pop es ; pop the stack into segment register ES
You're free to use any of the segment register / opcode combinations to write to the screen
- ES / stosb
- DS / mov
- SS / push
Let's add some code that actually draws something on the screen, the following program occupies 23 bytes and draws a fullscreen XOR texture
mov al,0x13 int 0x10 push 0xa000 pop es X: cwd ; "clear" DX (if AH < 0x7F) mov ax,di ; get screen position into AX mov bx,320 ; get screen width into BX div bx ; divide, to get row and column xor ax,dx ; the famous XOR pattern and al,32+8 ; a more interesting variation of it stosb ; finally, draw to the screen jmp short X ; rinse and repeat
Note that there is a different way of preparing the segment register, instead of :
push 0xa000 pop es
you can also do :
mov ah,0xA0 mov es,ax
both variations occupy 4 bytes, but the latter is executable on processor architectures where push <word> is not available.
Now let's optimize on the snippet. First, we can adapt the "LES" trick from the textmode section. We just exchange
push 0xa000 pop es
to save two bytes. This works because BX is 0x0000 at start and thus, accesses the region before our code, which is called Program Segment Prefix. The two bytes that are put into the segment register ES are bytes 2 and 3 = "Segment of the first byte beyond the memory allocated to the program" which is usually 0x9FFF. That is just off by one to our desired 0xA000. Unfortunately that means a 16 pixel offset, so if screen alignment means something to you, you can't use this optimization. Also, said two bytes are not always 0x9FFF, for example if resident programs are above the "memory allocated to the program" (FreeDos) their content is overwritten if we take their base as our video memory base.
Second, we can use an alternative way of putting pixels to the screen, subfunction AH = 0x0C of int 0x10. Also, instead of constructing row and column from the screen pointer, we can use some interesting properties of the screenwidth regarding logical operations. This results in the following 16 byte program:
cwd ; "clear" DX for perfect alignment mov al,0x13 X: int 0x10 ; set video mode AND draw pixel inc cx ; increment column mov ax,cx ; get column in AH xor al,ah ; the famous XOR pattern mov ah,0x0C ; set subfunction "set pixel" for int 0x10 and al,32+8 ; a more interesting variation of it jmp short X ; rinse and repeat
The first optimization is the double usage of the same "int 0x10" as setting the videomode and drawing the pixel. The subfunction AH = 0x0C expects row and column in DX and CX. Since the screenwidth is 320, which is 5 * 64, we can ignore the row and just works with the column, if we use logical operations and just use bit 0-6 of the result. The subfunction AH = 0x0C allows for unbounded column values in CX (up to 65535) and correctly "wraps" it internally without an error.
The major drawback of the "subfunction AH = 0x0C" approach is performance loss. While DosBox and many emulators perform just fine, real hardware will draw much much slower based on the Video BIOS.
Creating sounds with MIDI requires a bit more preparation, but once you're familiar with it, it's even simpler than PC Speaker sound, because you basically don't have to create the sound, you just have to trigger it. For the start, you have to know, that there is a lot of different instruments and a defined way of communication. Imagine the MIDI interface like a keyboard, you tell it which button/key you want to press, which knob to twist, and sometimes, how hard.
Let's start of with a simple example, playing a single note on the piano :
mov al, 3Fh ; set UART mode - command mov dx, 331h ; MIDI Control Port out dx, al ; send ! dec dx ; MIDI Data Port ( = 330h ) mov al, 90h ; send note on channel ZERO - command out dx, al ; send ! mov al, 56h ; data byte 1 : KEY = 56h out dx, al ; send ! mov al, 67h ; data byte 2 : VOLUME = 67h out dx, al ; send ! ret ; quit
In short: you turn your keyboard on (switching to UART mode), then press a KEY with a certain VOLUME on channel ZERO, then exit. Besides switching to UART mode, all this communication uses the port
330h. This example will work on DosBox but not on Windows XP NTVDM: for still unclear reasons, the NTVDM emulation delays the note until it receives a second one. The simplest way of at least hearing something is to repeatedly play notes, like in the following example :
mov al, 3Fh ; set UART mode - command mov dx, 331h ; MIDI Control Port out dx, al ; send ! dec dx ; MIDI Data Port ( = 330h ) main: mov al, 90h ; send note on channel 0 - command out dx, al ; send ! mov al, 56h ; data byte 1 : KEY = 56h out dx, al ; send ! mov al, 67h ; data byte 2 : VOLUME = 67h out dx, al ; send ! _wait: mov al, [fs:0x46c] ; read timer test al, 3 ; skip 3 values jnz _wait ; inc byte [fs:0x46c] ; inc manually to prevent retrigger in al, 0x60 ; check for ESC dec al ; jnz main ; no? repeat ret ; quit
This is the previous example, enriched with synchronizing against the timer and checking for the ESC key. It works on both DosBox and Windows XP NTVDM and plays a note on the Piano repeatedly.
While hitting one key repeatedly is not really interesting in general, it can produce decent results when doing it with the right instrument activated, like it was done with the "French Horn" in Timelord (by Baudsurfer). Appart from just changing the instrument, let's also optimize a little bit on the size :
org 100h start: mov si,data ; init pointer for outsb mov dx,330h ; change to data port mov cl,5 ; play our music data rep outsb ; (see below at "data" label) inc dx ; switch to control port outsb ; change to mode "UART" _wait: mov al,[fs:0x46c] ; read timer value test al,1 ; check parity jnz _wait ; wait ... inc byte [fs:0x46c] ; increment manually to not retrigger in al,0x60 ; check for ... dec al ; ... ESC key jnz start ; otherwise : repeat dec dx ; switch to data port again outsb ; stop all ... outsb ; ... notes played ... outsb ; ... on channel 3 data: db 0c3h ; change instrument on channel 3 ; (is also "RET" for program quit) db 60 ; to "French Horn" db 93h ; play note on channel 3 db 35 ; deep "b" = note number 35 db 110 ; play with volume = 110 db 3fh ; change mode to "UART" db 0b3h ; control change on channel 3 db 123 ; Channel Mode Message "All Notes Off"
This is the previous example, with changed instrument, structuring the MIDI data into a data section, optimizing the output with the usage of
outsb instead of
out dx,al, and finalizing the program with a special command to turn All Notes Off. This is necessary for all instruments which don't stop by themself. In all the previous examples, we sent the "NOTE ON" command (
9Xh), but not the according "NOTE OFF" command (
8Xh). Also, the note is now played on channel
03h, since the commandbyte for changing an instrument on channel 3 is
0C3h which is also
RET and can be reused. If this looks complicated at first, always remember, it's just sending defined commands to a single port.
Now, that you're aware that there are different channels (overall: 16) to play notes on, how would you like a channel
09h specifically for 'Drums' ? The following example plays a track of drum notes repeatedly, while further optimizing for size :
org 100h aas ; 3fh = "set UART mode" cwd ; 99h = "play note on drum channel" command db 42,38,42,35 ; the drum notes (kick, snare, hihat) mov dx,0x331 ; MIDI Control Port outsb ; send "set UART mode" dec dx ; switch to MIDI data port outsb ; send "play note on drum channel" command main: mov al,[fs:0x46c] ; read timer test al,3 jnz main ; skip 3 values inc byte [fs:0x46c] ; inc manually to prevent retrigger inc bx ; increment note counter and bl,3 ; truncate to 4 notes mov al,[bx+si] ; read the drumnote (see above) out dx,al ; send the drum mov al,127 ; set volume to maximum out dx,al ; send volume in al,0x60 ; check for ESC dec al ; jnz main ; no? repeat ret ; otherwise quit
In contrast to the previous example, the data section is now at the start. That means, it's executed as code! This is dangerous of course, but also saves bytes on assigning the
DATA offset to
SI initially two times, it is fixed and further reading from the drumdata is done with
[BX+SI]. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, don't use that kind of "executing data" optimization!". In this special case
CWD do no harm and the drum notes
42,38,42,35 are carefully crafted and arranged to resemble the instruction
SUB AH,[232Ah] which does no harm either.
With all the above you should now be able to follow the next snippet Descent OST, a small framework for procedural MIDI sound generation in 64 bytes :
; "Descent OST", a 62 byte MIDI music player for MSDOS ; created by HellMood/DESiRE (C)2015 ; this is the extracted music routine used in "Descent" ; it is a procedural MIDI algorithm which sticks a ; subroutine to the DOS timer (interrupt 0x1C) ; the registered routine is called ~18.2 times per second ; developed for use with "NASM", ; see http://sourceforge.net/projects/nasm/files/ %define rhythmPattern 0b11 ; with "rhythmPattern", you define how often a note is played ; generally, higher values and values containing many "ones" ; in binary representation, will result in faster play ; for example "0b11" will play every 4th note %define baseInstrument 9 ; defines the number of the first instrument used. ; see http://www.midi.org/techspecs/gm1sound.php for a full list ; keep in mind, that there are only a few instrument blocks ; whose sounds stop after a while. You won't get good results ; from strings etc. just a mess of overlayed sounds %define numInstruments 7 ; defines how many instrument are used. keep in mind, that "rhythm- ; Pattern" has influence on the picked instrument. the instruments ; from 9 to 9+7 are called "chromatic percussion" %define noteStep 5 ; defines the basic difference from on note to the next. recommended ; values here are (mainly) 3,4 and 5 for music theoretic reasons ; but feel free to play around =) %define noteRange 12 ; after adding the noteStep, the note value is "mod"ded with ; the "noteRange". 12 means octave, which results in very harmonic ; scales %define noteSpread 3 ; the third step spreads the notes over the tonal spectrum, you may ; want to keep "noteSpread" * "noteRange" round about 30-60. %define baseNote 40 ; the general tone height of everything. some instruments don't play ; arbitrary deep notes correctly, and too high notes cause ear bleeding ; adjust with care ;) ; WARNING : after exiting the program, the timer interrupt is still active ; i strongly recommend to reboot or restart DOSBOX! ; ADVISE : Yes, there are music- and math-related things going on here ; if you're not into music theory, cycle of fifth, and the like, it maybe ; better to just play around with the parameters, rather then understanding them ; just change stuff slowly, and eventually you will get "there" ; wherever that is ;) org 0x100 xchg cx,ax ; set our second counter to zero mov dx,music mov ax,0x251C ; mode "0x25" , "0x1C" = change address of timer interrupt int 0x21 ; see http://mprolab.teipir.gr/vivlio80X86/dosints.pdf S: in ax,0x60 ; wait for "ESC" press, then exit dec al ; music plays on anyway, this is just for jnz S ; keeping the music exactly as in "Descent" ret ; return to prompt music: inc bx ; increment our first counter (starts at zero) test bl,byte rhythmPattern ; play a note every 4th time tick jnz nomusic ; otherwise do nothing mov dx,0x331 mov al,0x3F out dx,al dec dx mov al,0xC0 ; change instrument on channel 0... out dx,al mov ax,bx aam byte numInstruments add al,byte baseInstrument ; ...to this instrument out dx,al mov al,0x90 ; play note on channel 0 ... out dx,al add cl,byte noteStep mov al,cl aam byte noteRange imul ax,noteSpread add al,baseNote ; ... play THIS note out dx,al neg al ; (play deeper notes louder = add bass) add al,127+39 ; ... play it THAT loud out dx,al nomusic: iret
Producing sound with PC speakers is incredibly easy. Basically, you set a system timer to a desired frequency, then connect this timer to the speaker. The PC Speaker Article from OSDEV Wiki has the details about it. A very optimized and dirty variant of producing sound with the speaker is this 12 byte snippet (sound routine from the tiny intro "darkweb"):
hlt ; sync to timer1 inc bx ; increment our counter mov ax,bx ; work with a copy or al,0x4B ; melody pattern + 2 LSB for speaker link out 0x42,al ; set new countdown for timer2 (two passes) out 0x61,al ; link timer2 to PC speaker (2 LSBs are 1) jmp si ; rinse and repeat
Instead of sending low and high byte of our divisor directly in succession, we do it the "two path" way. That reduces the amount of possible frequencies to 255, which is still good enough for some rough sounds. Linking the timer to the PC speaker might not be obvious : Normally you would read the value of port 0x61, set the two least significant bits to TRUE and write the value again. You can save on all of this, if you just send the "two path" value which you just used for the timer if that value has the two least significant bits already set (or al,0x4B does this). Be aware that port 0x61 does many things apart from just connecting the timer to the speaker. A useful resource for ports in general is the Bochs Ports List, for port 0x61 it displays:
0061 w KB controller port B (ISA, EISA) (PS/2 port A is at 0092)
system control port for compatibility with 8255
bit 7 (1= IRQ 0 reset )
bit 6-4 reserved
bit 3 = 1 channel check enable
bit 2 = 1 parity check enable
bit 1 = 1 speaker data enable
bit 0 = 1 timer 2 gate to speaker enable
So if you experience strange things with highly optimized pc speaker output, revert to the safe way. The described way works with real hardware and DosBox. Unfortunately, both Orcacle Virtual Box with MsDos 6.22 and Windows XP NTVDM seem not to properly emulate PC speakers (Investigation and citation needed here!)
One of the smallest possible PC speaker sound generation might be this 8 byte snippet :
dec ax ; AX initially 0000h -> AL = 0xFF out 42h,al ; change divisor of timer2 to 0xFFFF out 42h,al ; resulting in a very low frequency out 61h,al ; 2 LSBs are set, connect timer to speaker ret ; quit
An example for a tiny intro that uses PC speaker music is SpeaCore
Another one is Express Train 125 which uses COVOX for sound generation.