Sunday, June 8, 2014

One Issue of PCjr. Magazine

Front Cover - The guy in the photo is shown at the beginning of the Dow Jones article, I think his expression is a double-take after seeing the prices for the service
In February of 1984, PCjr. Magazine was first published to highlight the new PCjr.  This magazine was published by Ziff-Davis, which had previously began PC Magazine in February/March, 1982, soon after the IBM PC's debut.  A friend of mine sent me a copy of PCjr. Magazine, Volume One, Number Eight.  I found the magazine easy to read and wanted to share some highlights of the issue.

This volume was dated for September, 1984, roughly seven months after the first customers had received their PCjr.s. (PCjr. was an "Early Bird Certificate" special for Christmas 1983).  It would cease publication by October of that same year, as reported in InfoWorld (which I consider something akin to the Annals of Computers).  The last issue was released in November, so only two more issues followed this one.  As the magazine is not available online, I would like to share some of the insights contained therein.  This magazine is extremely important because it reviews King's Quest in the issue. I will start with comments on specific ads and features which I find interesting by page number, and then make some general comments.

Fold-out Cover : Advertisement for the Tecmar jr Captain, a neat add-on sidecar with a parallel port, RTC and 128KB of RAM, expandable to 512KB.  Essentially all the good IBM sidecar upgrades rolled into one.  Tecmar also got the back cover.

Back Cover - Tecmar's Ad probably cost as much to print as it would have been to rent that ship.
Page 1 : WordPerfect, now available in jr. version.  WordPerfect was the successor of WordStar as the standard word processor for many, many computer users.

Page 10 : Impulse's Jr. Partner sidecar, similar to the jr Captain.  This advertisement implies that the sidecar can be upgraded using standard DRAM chips, all the way to 512KB.  It also advertises a bi-directional parallel port with a 16-bit timer.

Page 14 : AST's ad, "COMING SOON, New Products for PCjr."  AST made great stuff for the PC, but apparently decided not to follow through on their ad for the PCjr.

Page 15 : "Screen Play" Column.  He reviews Star Fleet I : The War Begins and Wizardry : Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.  Star Fleet is a descendant of the text-based Star Trek game of the 1970s.  The author begins with a mock conversation between Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, but Uhura's name is consistently misspelled "Uhuru".  He appreciated both games, but almost treated Wizardry like a new game, even though it had been a fixture of the Apple II computer for three years by that point.  (He did acknowledge that it had been popular on the Apple II for a while.)  He did not appreciate the merciless difficulty of Wizardry.  Apparently, the version of Star Fleet reviewed required Cartridge BASIC, as the system requirements indicate that version 2.0 would not.  Considering that Star Fleet was almost an entirely text-based game, this raises an eyebrow.

Page 17 : Microsoft's PCjr. Booster ad.  This sidecar included 128KB and a Microsoft Bus mouse.  The Booster sidecar's mouse offered an alternative to the serial mouse, and the PCjr. only had one general purpose serial port.

Page 18 : Atarisoft's games are featured in this ad.  Atari had released ports of several of its arcade licenses to the PC, and most of its games worked on the PCjr.  The games featured in the ad were Gremlins, Crystal Castles, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., Track and Field, Typo Attack.  Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Jungle Hunt, Battlezone, Donkey Kong, Centipede and Pole Position were also mentioned in the ad as still being available.  Only Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Donkey Kong, Moon Patrol and Typo Attack were listed as being available for the PCjr.  It appears that the later Atarisoft titles almost certainly added PCjr. compatibility.  Typo Attack was indicated as being released for the IBM PC/PCjr. and the Commodore VIC-20, but the latter version has been acknowledged to be vaporware, so I would suggest that the former is as well.  The game only appears to have been released for the Atari 8-bit computers.  Of the other games described in the main text, Atarisoft only released Gremlins for any platform, and it appears to work with the PCjr.

Promises, promises...
Page 19 : An article profiling Broderbund.  It identifies games like Alien Rain and Captain Goodnight. It also mentions famous games like Choplifter and Lode Runner.  Broderbund's contributions to the PCjr. were very limited.

Page 30 : Legacy Technologies's Ad.  Legacy marketed a line of expansions that sat on top of the PCjr. and allowed for a second floppy drive or a fixed disk drive.  Legacy's products also supported a unique L-bus expansion slot system.

Necessities come at a price
Page 33 : Ad for an obscure game called StarShip Valiant, which runs on the PC, XT and jr.  Also, in the next issue there will be reviews for Imagic's Touchdown Football and Sierra's Championship Boxing.

Page 35 : Feature evaluating and reviewing educational software and games.  Among the titles reviewed include IBM's Adventures in Math, which has graphics that look like those from the DOS port of Might and Magic, and the first version of Math Blaster!, which would enjoy a moderate notoriety in later years.

Page 47 : Photo of an IBM 5153 monitor on a jr., something IBM did not recommend.  The weight of the monitor would cause diskette drive errors due to the stress points placed on the case.  The 4863 can be put on top of a PCjr, without encountering this problem.

Page 51 : Ad for jr Connection, a software and hardware dealer.  Among the games there are several of Infocom's titles, Funtastic's Snack Attack II, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2.0, Orion's PC-Man and Sirtech's Wizardry.

Page 52 : Ad for Key Tronic's KB5151jr. keyboard.  The layout is like an early version of the first Northgate Omnikey keyboards, and  it uses capacitive keyboard switches, not the rubber domes of the IBM PCjr. keyboards.  There are separate function keys, arrow keys and a numeric keypad, and an attached keyboard cord.  $225.00.

Page 58 : Review of the Microsoft Booster sidecar.  Among the more interesting notes is a program that will move Cartridge BASIC into the expansion RAM, improving performance.  Newer versions of Flight Simulator (2.1+) can also use the mouse for controlling many of the program's features.

Page 66 : Review of King's Quest.  The reviewer describes the game as "the best use of graphics of any game yet developed for the PCjr."  He also notes that while the game makes use of the full graphics and sound capabilities of the jr. and was developed for it, a PC compatible version was already available.  He was impressed with the three dimensional aspect of the graphics.  However, he observes that the audio component is "barely adequate at best", failing to take much advantage of the "four-voice [sic] chip".

Is this for King's Quest or Pitfall II?
The reviewer praises the challenges for being "fun and fair".  Apparently he had not tried to guess the gnome's name.  He also notes that previous Sierra titles were more arbitrary and capricious with puzzle solutions.  He notes the procedure for creating a save disk and the replayability due to the scoring system and multiple puzzle solutions.  He really liked the game.

Page 72 : Advertisement for GATO

Page 77 : "Revue of Reviews", a feature recapping the reviews of the previous seven issues.  Among the games and educational software that had been previously reviewed were Facemaker, Fraction Fever, Juggles Butterfly, Type Attack, Adventure in Serenia, Casino Games, Conquest, Crossfire, Demon's Forge, Digger, Enchanter, Flight Simulator 2.0, Forbidden Quest, GATO, Infidel, Jury Trial, Micro Surgeon, Mine Shaft, Mouser, Murder by the Dozen, Sorcerer, Space Decathlon, Strategy Games, The Stud Poker Parlor, Styx, Tiao Ch'i (Chinese Checkers), and Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.  They reviewed the Legacy II in August, 1984.  They also reviewed the book Hands-On BASIC for the IBM PCjr. in that same month.

Page 88 : Short descriptions of products for the PCjr.  Includes the Rapport Drive Two Enhancement Package (later Racore), the jr-87 (allows an 8087 math coprocessor to be installed) and the jr extender (another 2nd drive + memory enhancement)

That is all the page annotations I found of interest.  I note that double-cartridge version of Lotus 1-2-3 had not been mentioned, so I would guess it hadn't been released yet.  VisiCalc and Microsoft Multiplan had been released for the jr. or could be run on it.  All the photos of the PCjr. in the magazine show the chicklet keyboard, which IBM recalled and replaced in July.  Apparently the magazine and the vendors had not appreciated the urgency of eliminating that unwelcome image from their artwork.  This is one area in which all companies concerned should have taken more aggressive action to shed the poor PCjr. image with its useless chicklet keyboard.

Most of the games reviewed in the magazine had no special (Wizardry, Enchanter, Juggles Butterfly) or marginal (Crossfire, Mine Shaft) PCjr. support.  Adventure in Serenia was released very early for the IBM PC, and according to an IBM brochure I have, it was not updated for the PCjr.  The only box I have seen for it is the old clam-shell style IBM used for early PC software, not the later large "cassette tape" boxes.  There was a later obscure re-release of the game for the PCjr. under the title Wizard and the Princess, but I doubt it would have been available at launch.  "Casino Games" may or may not have been the IBM title, the game is attributed to the generic "PC Software Corporation"

The magazine reviewed three games from Windmill Software, one of the earliest companies to focus exclusively on the PC platform.  The PC versions of these games tweak the CGA far too much to be playable on a PCjr., so special versions must have been marketed.  There is cover artwork for Styx on MobyGames indicating that it was for the IBM PCjr.  It is unknown if there are any enhancements for the PCjr. versions of these games, but nothing I read leads me to believe otherwise.

Of the canonical eight cartridge games, the magazine had reviewed four of them.  The reviewers probably like those games more than I do.  I like the other four cartridge games comparatively better.

GATO does not appear to have any PCjr. enhancements, but apparently there was a later version which added 16-color support for Tandy 1000s.  This required 256KB, whereas IBM PCs with CGA and PCjr.s only required 128KB, so no 16-color graphics for PCjr. users.  Demon's Forge received a PC port well before Mastertronic's 1987 release, so perhaps the PCjr. has official 16-color support.  I have a hacked version of the hard drive hack which restores 16-color support for all Tandy 1000s and the PCjr.  Apparently this version was released by Boone Software, which did re-release the Apple II version under its brand.

Hardware-wise, it is amazing how quickly other companies reacted to plug the gaps in IBM's machine.  More than one option was available for adding a second floppy drive and many memory expansions were available.  A better keyboard was available as was a math-coprocessor adapter, and you could even add a hard drive if you were prepared to spend a lot of money.

The magazine implies that Hands-On BASIC for the IBM PCjr., published by IBM did not come with the computer, I have verified that it did..  The BASIC reference manual presumably came with Cartridge BASIC, which was a separate purchase.  The only other substantial documentation included with the system would have been the Guide to Operations.  The DOS manual came with DOS 2.1 for the PCjr., purchased separately.  The Technical Reference and the Hardware Maintenance and Service Manuals were also released separately.

7 comments:

notagain001 said...

any chance u can review a tandy 1000 or coco magazine or coco3 computer

Great Hierophant said...

I was playing around with Tandy CoCo emulators yesterday, mostly for the Sierra stuff. Everything that Sierra put out is much better on a Tandy 1000.

For Windows CoCo emulators, I recommend xroar to emulate a CoCo 1 or 2 and Vcc for the CoCo 3.

notagain001 said...

i know coco3 has a huge following. why is that?

how does coco3 compare with c64?

according to wikipedia a coco3 can give you a GUI with coco write that is comparable to mac

i owned a tandy 1000. i miss it. i'm thinking of getting one but the ones on ebay are so yellow and dirty :(

Gato Randolph said...

This blog is great, I’ve been reading it for several months and the specificity is legendary. You have the rare combination of obsession or passion for this material, and a concise logical writing style that is a joy to read. Much of this material I’ve never seen before. Thank you! The IBM PCjr was the first real computer I experienced, my IBMer father purchased it in the September 1985 employee discount sale. I have fond memories of King’s Quest and other 16 color games compared to my friends’ CGA, the obvious slowness of the internal 300 baud modem, and upgrading the PCjr throughout the years. Finally bought my own clone 80286 with VGA and Game Blaster, and never looked back except for when the nostalgia hits and this blog is a satisfying and positive remembrance of things past.

Servo said...

"Adventure in Serenia was released very early for the IBM PC, and according to a brochure I have, it was not updated for the PCjr."

Sierra did indeed release a PCjr version which used the Wizard and the Princess title! I managed to snag a copy, here's a picture.

"There is cover artwork for Styx on MobyGames indicating that it was for the IBM PCjr. It is unknown if there are any enhancements for the PCjr."

The PCjr version of Styx looks and plays identical to the PC version, but it makes use of the 3 voice sound.

Great Hierophant said...

Servo, that is awesome!

Titus Groan said...

Kings Quest!