What you'll learn

NES programming assembly

This course is a complete immersion into the world of the Nintendo Entertainment System. We will learn how to program games for the NES using 6502 assembly while exploring the building blocks of computer architecture. The rudimentary hardware of the NES is a perfect sandbox for us to learn important concepts of low-level programming.

mos 6502 cpu

At the end of the course, you'll have a working knowledge of 6502 assembly language, a comprehensive understanding of the NES hardware, and a toy homebrew game project that we'll code together from scratch. We'll start with small examples and proceed to glue everything together in a final project that demonstrates how a simple NES game works.

The tools you'll need

We'll use a simple code editor, an assembler called CA65, and a NES emulator called FCEUX. All these tools are cross-platform, so you'll be able to follow along on either Windows, macOS, or Linux!

operating system

Is this course for you?

nes game development

This is a self-contained course with no formal prerequisites. However, you will probably get the most out of it if you already know the basics of coding (if-else, loops, functions).

If you like retro game development and want to learn more about computer architecture and low-level programming, then this course is definitely for you!

About the instructor

gustavo pezzi

Gustavo Pezzi is a university lecturer in London, UK. He has won multiple education awards as a teacher and is also the founder of pikuma.com.

Gustavo teaches fundamentals of computer science and mathematics; his academic path includes institutions such as Pittsburg State University, City University of London, and University of Oxford.

teaching certification
higher education academy
pgclt teaching certification
bpp university award

Course content

25 hours total length 23 Chapters Last updated August 2022
  • Motivations & Learning Outcomes
  • How to Take This Course
  • The NES in the History of Game Consoles
  • The Early Years of Nintendo
  • NES Hardware (Console)
  • NES Hardware (Cartridge)
  • Opening the NES Cabinet
  • Quiz: NES Hardware
  • Binary Numbers
  • Hexadecimal Numbers
  • Quiz: Binary & Hexadecimal
  • 6502 Pinout
  • 6502 Registers
  • 6502 Status Flags
  • Quiz: 6502 CPU
  • The Assembler Flow
  • Popular 6502 Instructions
  • The CA65 Assembler
  • Installing CA65 on Windows
  • Installing CA65 on macOS
  • Installing CA65 on Linux
  • Quiz: Assembler
  • iNES Header
  • Our First Assembly Code
  • Assembler & Linker
  • The FCEUX Emulator
  • Exercise: Our First Assembly Bug
  • Addressing Modes
  • Instruction Set
  • Exercise: 6502 Warmup Exercises
  • CPU Memory Map
  • Clearing RAM Addresses
  • NES Graphics & the PPU
  • NTSC, PAL, & VBlank
  • PPU Memory Map
  • Color Palette
  • NES Initialization Code
  • Include Files
  • PPU Address Latch
  • Unnamed Labels & Subroutines
  • Quiz: Picture Frame & VBlank
  • CHR-ROM Tiles
  • Loading Nametable Tiles
  • Loading Attributes
  • Dynamic CA65 Macros
  • RAM Variables
  • Pointers
  • Loading Full Nametables
  • Quiz: Pattern Tables & Nametables
  • Displaying Text
  • NES Sprites
  • Hello Mario
  • OAM Decay
  • Hiding Sprites
  • Sprite Flickering
  • Exercise: Hello Goomba
  • NES Controller Architecture
  • Joypad Input Routine
  • Checking Button Presses
  • Moving Sprites using the Joypad
  • Quiz: Controller Input
  • Integer & Fractional Position
  • Velocity & Acceleration
  • Signed Velocity
  • Animation Frames
  • Quiz: Subpixel Movement
  • Generating Random Values
  • Bitshift Operations
  • Random Enemy Position
  • Exercise: Random Values
  • Nametable Mirroring
  • Horizontal & Vertical Scrolling
  • Swapping Nametables
  • Loading Background Dynamically
  • Dynamic Scrolling
  • Drawing Column of Tiles Off-Screen
  • Loading Attributes Off-Screen
  • Quiz: Background Scrolling
  • Scroll Split Screen
  • Different Split Screen Techniques
  • Sprite-0 Hit
  • Separating Game Logic & NMI
  • Saving Registers in the Stack
  • Buffering
  • Quiz: Split Screen
  • Array of Actors
  • Adding & Removing Actors
  • A Routine to Add Actors
  • Looping Array of Actors
  • Rendering Actors
  • Updating Actor Position
  • One Missile Per Button Press
  • Removing Actors
  • Relative vs. Absolute Jumps
  • Spawning Submarines
  • Spawning Airplanes
  • Quiz: Managing Game Objects
  • Random Numbers & LFSR
  • 8-bit LFSR Example
  • Random Airplane Position
  • Random Submarine Position
  • Quiz: Random Numbers
  • Sprite Collision Check
  • Missile-Airplane Collision
  • Point Inside Bounding Box
  • Simulating BCD Increment
  • A Routine to Increment Score
  • Buffering Background Changes
  • Incrementing Score on Enemy Hit
  • CHR Bank Switching
  • Game State Enumeration
  • Adding a Title Screen
  • Displaying Menu Items
  • Quiz: CHR Bank Switching
  • Encoding & Compression
  • LRE Compression
  • Block Encoding
  • Quiz: Data Encoding & Compression
  • The APU
  • NES Audio
  • FamiStudio Tracker
  • NES Sound Engines
  • FamiStudio Sound Engine
  • Writing a Custom Sound Engine
  • Evolution of Famicom Audio
  • Quiz: NES Audio & the APU
  • Polishing our Game Code
  • Developing NES Games in C
  • Conclusion & Next Steps

How is this course different?

The 6502 processor is an extremely important part of computing history, powering many popular game consoles and microcomputers of the past, like the NES, the Commodore 64, the Apple II, and even the Tamagotchi.

nes programming tutorial

Differently than other online resources about retro game programming, this course is not simply a documentation of assembly mnemonics that only experienced developers can digest. This course tries to be as beginner-friendly as possible, giving you the chance to learn assembly in a fun way.

nes programming tutorial

Trying to understand how modern computers work under the hood can be overwhelming. The small architecture of the NES is our chance to take a step back and look at the fundamental building blocks of computing. So, if you want to really learn how digital machines work and finally lose your fear of the expression "assembly programming", then get ready and buckle up! We are about to go on a super cool nerd trip together.

What students are saying

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Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown
"Deeply Informative, Interesting, and Fun! This is an excellent course that takes you through all the steps of programming a game on the NES; all the way from overviewing the actual circuitry of the console itself and getting basic colours appearing on-screen, right up to creating music and polishing away bugs. I had so much fun on this course and I'm really looking forward to making all kinds of things on the venerable NES system now!"
06 Nov 2022
David Montes
"Amazing instructor! Gustavo is a top-notch instructor and each lesson is done so well with helpful graphics that really help you understand the material. Can't recommend this course enough!"
16 Oct 2022
"Amazing! Incrível! Excelente didática e conteúdo muito bem organizado."
13 Oct 2022
Bård Ildgruben
Bård Ildgruben
"Finally a 6502 programming course for the NES!

I have been looking for a course like this for years, and I am so happy that Gustavo made this. I took his assembly course on 6502 assembly programming for the Atari 2600 a few years ago and was very happy with it. This course is even better.

Gustavo is a great teacher and he explains complex topics in a very easy to understand way.

I highly recommend this course."
26 Sep 2022
Jason Robles
"Get this RIGHT NOW! (if you're interested in NES programming).

I was skeptical at first (a great first line to say, I know), but this guy knows what he's doing. After aimlessly reading NESDev and asking for help, I thought I could never understand the NES. This guy is a lifesaver!"
24 Sep 2022

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