Sunday, May 21, 2023

Completing the B/X D&D Rules - The Cook/Marsh Expert Set

The post-1980 version of "Classic" or "Basic" Dungeons and Dragons was very popular and had a rather lengthy life for a role playing game (1981-1996).  In 1981 TSR published a new revision of the Basic Set with its Rulebook edited by Tom Moldvay which had mostly rewritten, revised and reorganized the Rulebook  previously edited by J. Eric Holmes for the 1977 Basic Set.  Moldvay's Basic Rulebook's excellence in laying down the rules was as such that they went almost completely unchanged for the next fifteen years.  I have previously covered its ruleset in detail.

But what lied beyond the levels 1-3 covered in the Basic Set?  During the rather lengthy reign of the Holmes Basic Set, the official answer was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  The Holmes Basic Rules were a simplified version of the Original Dungeons and Dragons game for new players. Once the players learned what a role playing game was with a few tabletop sessions, it was time to progress to the "full game".  Original Dungeons and Dragons covered the higher levels but that game was becoming increasingly forgotten with each passing year.  AD&D was a more expensive game to play with the three hardcover rulebooks and required converting characters to the advanced system and adapting to new mechanics.  In part in order to keep players interested in D&D rather than to explore non-TSR games and in part to placate OD&D co-creator Dave Arneson's demands for royalties, TSR decided to expand the Basic Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. 

Accompanying the new Basic Set from Moldvay was a new Expert Set with a Rulebook edited by David Cook with Steve Marsh.  These covered character levels 4-14 and were intended to allow player characters to explore wilderness areas, fight on the seas and the skies and of course added new spells, monsters and magic items.  In this blog entry we will examine the influence of these rules and how they cemented the B/X series as one of the most popular rulesets that have inspired present day Old School Renaissance games.  

Nibbling Around the Sound Blaster's Lunch - Digital Sound in DOS Games without a Sound Blaster

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster line of cards became the de facto DOS sound card standard in the early 1990s and carried through that dominance until the last DOS games.  The Sound Blaster offered many useful features in a single card, an FM synthesizer, a gameport, MIDI functionality but most uniquely a digital sound processor designed to process digital audio input and output with minimal CPU intervention.  Gamers saw the value in this "all-in-one" card and bought lots of Sound Blaster cards,  which required game developers to support the card and giving Creative a huge lead in the market.  Creative was naturally very protective of its technology, which was full of quirks and obscure hardware behaviors.  Eventually sound chips from other manufacturers like MediaVision, Crystal Semiconductor, Electronic Speech Systems and Yamaha were available which promised some level of direct Sound Blaster compatibility.  

Not everyone could use a Sound Blaster.  For some PC gamers, the cost of the cards was out of reach to them.  Systems with weird busses like Microchannel have few sound card options and those that are available are rare.  Laptops usually did not come with ISA expansion and PCMCIA sound cards are also rare.  Some systems just do not have enough slots for a sound card once more essential needs, like a hard drive, are added to the system.  In this case a parallel port sound solution may be your only option.  Finally there were people disgusted with Creative's monopolistic practices and refused to support the Sound Blaster ecosystem.  In this article we will give an overview of digital sound solutions which offered no hardware Sound Blaster compatibility.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Random Computer and Video Game Musings

Sometimes I have something to say but the topic is not worthy of a full blog post.  In this case I have gathered four topics which I believe are interesting but not necessarily related and put them into this consolidated blog post.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Portable Document Saving Companion - The Epson WorkForce ES-300W

Many institutions, government offices, courthouses, hospitals, still store their records as paper documents.  Making copies of those papers can get expensive, the copies may not be immediately available and the the available copier may not be very good. Paper copies require more paper, which means harvesting semi-renewable resources. Scanning documents can be fast, cheap and easier to handle compared to reams of paper. Scanners used to be anything but portable, but technology has improved to the extent that you can buy a portable scanner and expect it to make reasonable scans.  Almost three years ago I bought a portable scanner, the Epson ES-300W, so in today's blog article I will share my experiences with the scanner, identify its strengths and weaknesses and provide a review for it.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

IBM PCjr. Compatibility & PC Software

The IBM PCjr. had many faults, one of which were the compromises IBM imposed on the machine to limit its PC compatibility.  By the time the PCjr. was released and in people's homes and offices, there was over two years of software developed with only the IBM PC and IBM PC/XT in mind.  For a too-brief period of time, PCjr. compatibility was an important focus, especially as some companies updated their software to become PCjr. compatibile.  Then once the PCjr. was discontinued, PCjr. compatibility pretty much fell by the waist-side not too long afterward.  In this article we will identify the issues which held the PCjr. back and what needs to be done to show that a piece of software is truly PCjr. compatible.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Nintendo Handheld Console AC Adapter and Battery Chargers Guide

One of Nintendo's greatest strengths with its handheld consoles were their battery life.  Nintendo did not necessarily pursue the most advanced technology that could be packed into a portable gaming device but balanced performance, features, screen type with their drain on the battery technology of the time.  In the beginning, its consoles ran on disposable batteries or via AC to DC adapters.  As time progress and battery charging technology became sufficiently compact, Nintendo started making consoles with batteries built into them.  But in today's blog article I will go over all the official ways Nintendo devised and products Nintendo sold to power its portable gaming consoles.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

IBM Composite Artifact Color Games and Related Topics

Top - Direct Colors Old CGA & New CGA
Bottom - High Resolution Artifact Colors Old CGA & New CGA

Back in 2013 I gave an overview of composite color usage on the IBM PC platform.  I included a list of all games I knew about or could find which supported composite color graphics.  Now, 10 years later, new information has made that list less than inaccurate and less than fully inclusive.  Let's talk about these games and give a new, more accurate list.  I will also talk about other topics related to CGA and color in more detail below.  

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Saga of the Color Brown in the Early Years of the PC

top left: RGB monitor without intensity bit, bottom left: RGBI monitor without brown correction, top right: RGBI monitor with 33% brown reduction (IBM 5153), bottom right: RGBI monitor with 50% brown reduction (EGA/VGA/Tandy)

In 1980-81 IBM developed a graphics card for its new IBM PC called the Color/Graphics Adapter.  This card was designed to display 16 colors on a compatible CRT monitor via a 9-pin digital video port.  IBM defined the colors in its Technical Reference Manual using a 4-bit binary code.  The CGA could also display colors with a composite video connector on the card.  It is the evolution of the display of one of those colors, color 6, commonly but yet simplistically referred to as brown, that we are interested in today.