FTL - a Fast Tiny Life program by Dave Mitchell

FTL is a very small (5K) version of John Horton Conway's LIFE that runs in medium resolution CGA mode, giving a 200 by 200 cell universe (which has dead edges). It will run on CGA's, EGA's, VGA's, MCGA's and anything else which can pretend to be a CGA.

As well as being small, it's also quite fast. The code has been carefully optimised so that values are kept in registers where possible. Special features include:

  1. ability to set a breakpoint at which FTL will stop (useful when you know that something interesting starts to happen at a particular generation.
  2. magnified view of 13 by 13 area around the current cell (useful when setting up a complex pattern)
  3. cut and paste commands which let rectangular portions of the board be stored in or restored from one of two buffers
  4. rotate and reflect commands to manipulate stored patterns
  5. save and load commands which let buffer contents be saved to or loaded from a file
  6. built-in help via F1

The screen looks like this:


  Tick:    3      shows that 3 generations have elapsed since
                  this pattern was started.

  Limit:  15      says that if FTL is set to run freely (by
                  pressing G for Go), it will stop with a beep
                  at tick 15.

  X=103 Y= 106    indicates the position of the current cell
                  which is near the middle of the universe
                  (the top left corner is 0,0). You can see
                  this cell highlighted as a small yellow dot.

  Box(1) 50* 67   indicates the current size of the cut/paste
                  buffer. The "1" symbol shows the current box
                  and orientation (see the Manipulate command).

Detail mode is initially on, which means that the Detail area will show a magnified version of the area around the current cell. When detail mode is on, FTL takes longer to cycle a generation (typically 50% longer). It can be useful to set up a pattern with Detail on (them pesky pixels is jus too durn fuzzy on my battered ole CGA!), then toggle it off before pressing G (go). This leaves the detail box showing the starting pattern - somehow when interesting things start to happen I've usually forgotten how they started.

Pressing F1 at any time will display the help about commands (over the top of the universe).


The commands, all single keystrokes, are:

    space     sets cells on/off
    A         adjusts board centre
    B         cycles background
    C         cuts and stores a box
    D         toggles detail on/off
    G         go - run cycles freely (Esc stops)
    L         loads box from file
    K         sets a breakpoint
    M         manipulate box (reflect/rotate it)
    P         pastes a stored box
    Q         quits to DOS
    S         saves box to file
    T         advances one tick or cycle
    Z         zeros the board
    1         selects box buffer 1
    2         selects box buffer 2
    +         toggles palette

The following keys all move the current position (or a box corner during CUT):

    Left       left one
    Right      right one
    C-Left     left ten
    Shift-Tab  left ten
    C-Right    right ten
    Tab        right ten
    Up         up one
    Down       down one
    PgUp       up ten
    PgDn       down ten
    Home       start of line (X=0)
    End        end of line (X=199)

Pressing shift and either Up, Down, Left or Right cursor keys causes the same effect as pressing space, then the cursor key. This lets you "paint" a horizontal or vertical line very quickly

Note that while FTL is running freely, most of these commands can be used without causing FTL to stop - thus you can scroll around with detail mode on while FTL is actually running.

The Adjust Command

This lets you move the current pattern about within the universe. What it does is make the spot at the current position the new centre of the board (the centre is cell 100,100). Cells that move off the board are lost, and any new cells are left empty.

Thus if the current position is 98,101, then pressing "A" will move the current pattern two cells to the right and one cell upward. Since the current position is not altered, repeated pressing of the "A" key will continue to move the pattern right and up.

The main purpose of this command is to allow you to follow interesting patterns that would otherwise flow off the edge. Note that if the current position is some distance from the centre this command can have a drastic effect!

Cut, Paste, Save, Load, Manipulate (and 1 and 2)

These commands all operate on buffers, which logically sit between the FTL board and the disk. Cut and Paste move cells between the board and a buffer, while Save and Load move cells between a buffer and the disk. Thus to save a particular configuration you must first Cut it into a buffer, then Save the buffer to disk. Similarly to get a pattern from the disk onto the board you must first Load it into a buffer and then Paste the buffer onto the board.

This may seem like extra work, but it has some real benefits. For example, if there's a nice pattern in a buffer you can quickly paste copies all over the board using just the cursor keys and the P key. You can also use a buffer to save parts of the board for later restoration without having to bother saving it to disk.

Note that there are two independent buffers, so you can have two patterns stored away simultaneously. The "1" and "2" commands select which buffer is currently used for cut, paste, save, load and manipulate commands.

FTL saved buffers have a simple format:

   2 byte (in normal Intel binary format) holding
          the box width (x)
   2 byte holding the box depth (y)
   (x*y) bits (rounded up to a byte) in row
          major order.

Thus the 4 by 3 pattern:

        o  o

would be stored as:


When cutting, a red box shows the area being cut. You can adjust the active corner (which starts off as the bottom right corner) using the cursor keys. The "/" key toggles the active corner between bottom right and top left, which lets you move the cutting box where you like. You can also clear the boxed area by pressing Del.

Pasting takes the current cell as the top left corner of the box. Make sure you move the current position so that there's room for the whole box before you paste, since FTL truncates at the right and bottom boundaries.

The Manipulate command lets you rotate and reflect a stored box, using the cursor keys. The small icon after the word "Box" at the top right shows the current buffer and its orientation. The starting position is "1".

Supplied Files

The FTL package contains three files:

  1. the program, FTL.COM
  2. its source code, FTL.ASM
  3. the documentation, FTL.HTM - this file
  4. a sample colony, FTL.BOX

The sample colony is 50 by 67 cells in size and contains:

So to try out FTL:

    FTL         - run FTL
    L           - load the buffer ...
    FTL.BOX     - with the sample colony
    P           - paste the sample colony at the centre
    G           - start it running

or you could just:

    FTL FTL.BOX - run FTL, loading the buffer with the sample colony
    P           - paste the sample colony at the centre
    G           - start it running

Have fun!