I started serious programming (at around age 14) on the Pet. First in BASIC, but once I found out you could break into a machine language monitor by wiring up a NMI button (we called it the two-button salute), there began my machine coding. In HEX, directly. Didn't even have a relocator at the beginning. It was a year before I could buy the expansion rom to add disassembly and relocation features to the machine language monitor.
Ultimately I wrote an assmbler too. I don't think I have any of that code any more, it's been lost in time. Kinda makes me sad.
The PETs 8-bit IEEE-488 bus was pretty awesome. The PET had a 1 MHz 6502. The external floppy drive also had a 1 MHz 6502 in it, and you could reprogram it. So one of my many projects was to speed up the data transfer between the two by synchronizing the processors with a series of handshakes and then pushing or pulling the sector data without any further handshakes (using processor timing).
My friend did the same thing for the C64's serial interface (which didn't even have a uart) and sold a product called '1514 Flash!' that sped up the serial interface. Basically a little messing around at the beginning of each transfer to get the two sides synchronized within 1 clock cycle of each other and then pushing/pulling bits as fast as the little cpus would go without any further handshaking. The clocks would stay synchronized long enough to copy a whole sector.
Other projects on the PET... it had a character generator rom which I replaced with a static ram. so when I powered it up I had to load a copy of the original rom into the ram blindly (because the display was total garbage due to it being an uninitialized ram).
The PET had built-in CRT screen but the key was that the data input for the screen was actually a TTL input! So I could pop the wire off the connector and use it like a digital oscilloscope to probe various TTL-based projects (as well as the PET's motherboard itself).
Another project...the character generator rom had something called quarter-block graphics. Basically 16 characters that had all 16 combinations of four quarter-blocks (2x2), so you could (I think) 320x200 graphics on it. I spent many hours optimizing the machine code to generate a pixel pusher.
I got so good at writing editors from scratch, once when I went to computer camp and forgot to bring the tape I rewrote the text editor in machine code in less than an hour.
Met Richard Garriott at that camp too, we were both on staff. He was working on (I think) Ultima II at the time (on an Apple II I think) and had an awesome ram disk for storing code temporarily while he was working on it. Once his computer stopped responding and after unsuccessfully trying to resurrect it he finally gave up and power cycled it, losing his work in the ram disk. It turned out he had accidentally disconnected the keyboard and the computer was actually fine. Oh well! Richard taught a class at that camp on human-interface parsing... basically had people write a dungeon game where you typed in what you wanted to do in English. Primitive of course, but the kids had a blast.
I wrote a centipede game in machine code, incredibly fast and awesome (the last level the centipede was invisible and only blinked into existence for a second or two every few seconds), and submitted it to Cursor magazine. They rejected it because they thought I had stolen it from someone :-(. The only thing I ever tried to get published, rejected because the code was *too* good!
The 6502 had two awesome indirect EA modes. (TABLE,X) and (ADDR),Y, along with the standard modes.
Decimal mode wasn't as interesting, I wound up not using it for display conversion at all.
The 6522 I/O chip was an incredibly powerful chip for its time, with multiple timers and timer-driven events. It had a few bugs, too.
I remember all the unsupported machine codes the 6502 had. It was a hardwired cpu so all instruction codes did *something* (even if it was mostly to just crash the cpu). LDAX was my favorite. Mostly, though, the hidden codes were not very useful.
The list goes on. Twas an awesome time, a time before PCs took over the world.