Saturday, March 28, 2020

MiSTer - The MAME of FPGA Simulation Projects

MiSTer Fully Assembled (courtesy of MiSTer Github Wiki)
Why bother pricey FPGA simulation when there are so many excellent software emulators lying around?  The answer can be boiled down into one word : lag.  Lag is the most intractable problem with emulation and the most insidious.  Everything else, accuracy, ease of use, authenticity, a software emulator can accomplish.  But doing all that without added latency is a huge challenge and one which oftentimes cannot be met without some very expensive hardware.

An FPGA console is a modestly priced solution to lag.  FPGAs simulate original hardware at the logic level and can simulate multiple processes in parallel.  A software emulator must recreate a system alien to the hardware on which it is running and is essentially limited to processing multiple hardware events serially.  The most popular FPGA solution not made by Analogue is based on the DE-10 Nano FPGA development board.  This board is the key to the MiSTer project, a group of cores which simulate various video game consoles, computer systems and certain arcade machines under a common framework.  In this blog entry (or entries), I will dive into the world of MiSTer and discuss the aspects I like and dislike.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Product Review : Retro-bit's Metal Storm NES Re-release

Reproductions of NES games are nothing new, people have been making them and selling them illegally for years.  Recently the retro gaming market has shown such strength and durability that legitimate companies have felt there was sufficient interest in making new copies of original games.  These games would come packaged as "Anniversary Editions" or "Collector's Editions" and come in packaging and with extras that would easily eclipse the original game's.  This of course requires contacting the rights holder and negotiating for permission to release more copies of their game.  Recently, the relatively uncommon but well-regarded NES game Metal Storm received a release from retro-bit and I had the chance for it to come into my possession, so let me use this blog entry to review the game and explain why I had the opportunity to briefly handle it.

I have often in conversation referred to retro-bit as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Retro-Gaming Apocalypse", one of four well-known companies (Hyperkin, atgames and Gamerz-Tek) that have consistently released garbage retro video game products over the years.  They are hardly alone among lousy retro gaming product makers, but they are the most prominent.  Hyperkin can put out a decent controller, so I guess it has graduated, just barely, from the "Horsemen".  Can retro-bit do the same with its release of Metal Storm?  Let's find out.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Gotek Floppy Drive Emulator in the IBM PC World

The Gotek floppy drive emulator is a simple, cheap and little device that, as its name says, emulates a floppy drive.  There are many varieties of these devices and they usually come with a USB port on the front of the unit and a 34-pin header + 4-pin power header on the back.  While originally intended to replace disk drives in industrial, sewing and musical equipment, they can be used with standard PC floppy controllers.  However, as they come they are at best diamonds in the rough, so in this blog entry I will describe how to make these devices more useful for vintage IBM PCs and compatibles.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Brief History of Godzilla on Home Media

Before home video tape and disc formats was available, the only way to see a motion picture was in the theater during its first run or through a reissue.  Later, when television became available films would be available for broadcast but TVs were expensive in the 1950s, color TV was expensive until the mid 1960s, and studios typically did not make their prestigious library titles available at first (with occasional exceptions) because they still viewed themselves in competition with television.

Godzilla movies have been released on home video for a very long time, longer than many people may realize.  With the release of the Criterion Showa set on Blu-ray, we will finally have had a release of every Godzilla film on HD disc.  Here in this blog article I will give a brief overview of the franchise's release history on all home video formats, both popular and obscure.  I am concentrating on what was available in the English-language market, with which is what I am the most familiar.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Game Boy Interface Revisited

A few years ago, I discussed a piece of homebrew software called Game Boy Interface (GBI).  GBI was written and is maintained by a GameCube enthusiast who goes by the handle Extrems.  Extrems intended to replace the official Game Boy Player (GBP) Start-Up disc for the GameCube which, when combined with the attachment that is fitted underneath your GameCube, allows you to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges using genuine GBA hardware.  Before GBI, if you did not have the official disc, your GBP attachment was useless.  GBI quickly made the official disc essentially obsolete, but the software has been radically revised since I first profiled it.  Let's return and see what's changed and I will give my own personal take on how I like to use the software.  This will not be a fully comprehensive guide because there are features geared toward hardware I do not own and uses I do not put GBI, but if you are new to GBI you may find something here instructive.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Nintendo's 8-bit Obsession with Golf

Golf is popular in most parts of the world with any concentration of wealth.  It is rather popular in Japan, at least for those who can afford to play it.  Green fees and club memberships are extremely pricey in Japan, so it may not be any surprise that many people who enjoy the game may have to turn to less expensive alternatives to get 18 holes in.  Most video game systems have a golf game, or something intended to resemble golf, released for them.  When Nintendo was releasing early titles for its Famicom, a golf game was a natural addition to its sports library.  But Nintendo kept revisiting the sport with its 8-bit systems, so let's explore how its implementation of golf evolved throughout the 8-bit lifespan.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Intellivision Amico - Can a "Family Friendly" Console Succeed?

The Intellivision Amico in Metallic Pearl, courtesy of Intellivision Entertainment
Who remembers the Intellivision today?  Some readers with a sense of history will remember the console as the first console to seriously compete with Atari 2600 before the video game crash of 1983-84.  A few may even have had one when they were younger, have one in their collection or played one at some point in their lives.  To the general public, also-ran pre-crash consoles like the Intellivision barely register in its memory.  Intellivision is posed to make a comeback with the Amico console, a console built with the laudable goal of getting families to play video games together.  But it is a very different market that Intellivision is trying to make a splash compared to ten years ago, never mind forty.  Can the Amico become a success when it is scheduled to launch next year?  Let's explore its prospects in this article.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Planet X3 - Review of a New Real Time Strategy Game for the IBM PC

Title Screen VGA
Retro video game homebrew is an ever maturing market.  Talented coders spend a ton of hours getting their games into a playable state and bugfixed, small teams combine their talents to handle differing workloads (graphics, sound, programming) and the result is hopefully a video game that will sell enough copies to make it worth all the effort.  Homebrew software has become popular with console platforms like the NES, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Intellivision and Sega Genesis.  Homebrew software for personal computers has not quite taken off as the more popular consoles.  Nonetheless there are talented individuals making homebrew software for the IBM PC compatible  MS-DOS platform.  Today I am going to review the latest homebrew game for the IBM PC and compatibles, 8-bit Guy's Planet X3, identify its strengths and weaknesses, determine how well it met its design goals and postulate on its role in the evolution of PC homebrew.