Friday, September 3, 2021

Lag Testing on a Budget

Keeping input and display latency to a minimum is very important when playing any kind of vintage video game which relies to some extent on reflexes.  There are some methods which can test display lag of any display, like the Time Sleuth or the Leo Bodnar Display Lag Testers.  Other methods may require running the same software on two consoles at the same time or connecting one console to two displays via splitters and adapters.  Testing controller latency often requires wiring up an LED or shooting video of a screen and button pressing at a very high frame rate.  These methods tend to be expensive, but what if we consider an approach that is likely to be inexpensive and perhaps cost you nothing?

Is there a Doctor in the Game Console? - The Venus Turbo Doctor 6M

Taiwan may or may not have been the birthplace of commercial video game piracy, but it certainly has a strong claim to have been its nursery.  When video games skyrocketed in popularity in Southeastern Asia with the Famicom, it seemed as through the entire island of Taiwan wanted to cash in on the efforts of the Japanese.  Taiwan was the first source of unlicensed Famicom clones and pirate cartridges.  But cartridges were expensive to make, even for Taiwan fabs and the larger games were not very profitable to clone.  Then Nintendo handed the pirates a gift, the Famicom Disk System, and as it turned out the gift kept on giving.  While copying FDS games was child's play for the organized pirates, they saw in the FDS an opportunity to pirate to go beyond games originally released on disk. They created RAM cartridges, hardware devices that worked with the Famicom and the Disk System to permit cartridge games put on disk to work.  In this blog entry, I will describe my personal experiences with one such device, the Venus Turbo Game Doctor 6M.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Nintendo, Sega and the World Outside Japan and North America - Accommodating Non-English Speakers

Early on, most video games did not need to be translated because the amount of text used in these games was very limited.  Some games, like RPGs, were an exception but by and large most games from the pre-crash era used English when they needed to convey information in the written form.  Even games made by Japanese companies, unless the game was for a Japanese game like Go, Mahjong or Shogi, English was the norm for the simple text messages.  

When console games were large enough to hold a significant amount of text and able totell a story, then for the games that were developed in Japan most or all of the game would tend to use Japanese text.  When these games were released in North America the Japanese text would be translated into English, generally with some simplification for 8-bit and 16-bit console titles.  But when tongues other than English had to be accommodated, things got interesting.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Custom Game Boy Design - Revitalizing Broken or Hard to See Portable Systems

It is a fact that the original Game Boy, its four widely available successors and its contemporary competitors had many excellent games but some truly awful screens by modern standards.  Handheld screen technology has advanced extraordinarily far since the rose-tinted glass days of 1989.  Today modding kits are available to fix or "upgrade" these machines with replacement screens, so let me discuss my own experiences with one.  

Friday, August 13, 2021

Digital Joysticks and the Apple II

The Apple II had thousands of games released during its long life-span, and from its first game, Breakout (later known as "Brick Out" and "Little Brick Out"), many of them used analog controllers like paddles and joysticks.  Other home computers and consoles used digital joysticks, which were often better for single-screen games than analog devices.  During the Apple II's commercial life, there were a few attempts to bring digital joystick support to the computer.  When it became a retro-computing machine, there have been a few more homebrew hardware efforts to bring digital input to older games.  This article will give an overview of attempts both old and new.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Bad Keyboard Switch Designs & Quirky Keys of the Past

Having good switches in today's keyboards is taken for granted.  Except for laptops, any computer can be blessed by a keyboard with mechanical switches or good rubber dome switches.  In the old days of computing this was not always the case.  There were many fine keyswitch designs back in the day, IBM buckling spring, Alps switches, leaf spring switches, hall effect, beam spring, magnetic reed.  But this blog post is not about them.  The 70s and 80s also had many bad keyswitch designs too, so let's identify some of them and where they reared their ugly heads.

Additionally, some keyboard had keys which functioned unusually given the keyboards of today.  We'll take a look at some of those as well.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Keeping the Upscale and Capture Pure - The RGB2HDMI and Digital PC Video Standards

When IBM was designing video display adapters for its IBM PC, it treated video quality as important.  While the world of displays was in 1980 essentially analog, IBM chose to use digital outputs for its IBM Monochrome Display and Printer Adapter and Color Graphics Adapter.  Later it continued to use a digital TTL interface for the IBM PCjr.'s built in video and its Enhanced Graphics Adapters.  Competitors and copycats, like the Hercules Graphics Card and the Tandy 1000's built-in video, also copied IBM's usage of the DE-9 port carrying digital color signals.  While some of the color cards had composite color video support, serious business usage demanded the use of a monitor which could accept those digital signals for the highest possible picture quality possible.  

By 1987, the limitations of the digital interface, with each color primary requiring a separate collection of wires, was too limiting for IBM's Video Graphics Array.  The connector was changed and the colors were output over an analog interface, which only required one pin per color primary.  The VGA analog video standard remained the principal way by which PCs connected their displays for over fifteen years.  By the time the digital DVI connector became popular enough to replace VGA, the older pre-VGA standards had been long consigned to the realm of retro-computing.  

Today the modern display device tends to eschew any display standard older than DVI, with most only having HDMI and DisplayPort inputs.  The digital standards of old used special CRTs, which have become expensive and often require repair or restoration due to age.  Those of us who enjoy working on retro computers are faced with having to "settle" for composite video, having to fork out large amounts of money and space for the special digital CRTs displays or use rather particular capture cards to see what was intended.  The RGB2HDMI is one really good solution for these issues, let's take a look at it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Lag : Consoles, Emulators, FPGAs

When playing classic video games on non-original hardware, one should always be conscious for the amount of extra lag that method may offer over the original hardware.  Along with accuracy, latency is one of the most important tangible benefits (versus of using original hardware and display technology (CRTs) over emulators and current display technology (LCDs).  Latency has always existed in some form, and in this article I will give an overview on how latency has evolved over time.  

Additionally, the use of FPGA chips to simulate original hardware has become increasingly popular over the past five years.  FPGAs can offer the benefit of lower latency compared to traditional software based emulation and can offer a high degree of accuracy by using relatively inexpensive hardware.  FPGAs are not without their singular issues, and in this article I will go over some of the issues with using FPGAs as a replacement for original hardware.