Friday, December 22, 2017

Parallel & Serial Sound Card Emulation Options for your Vintage PC

In the beginning the Intel 8088 and 8086 CPUs only implemented, Real Mode, where a program had total control over all aspects of a system.  Real Mode's main issue, other than it was limited to 1MB of RAM, was that multitasking was almost impossible to accomplish.  Then the 286 CPU implemented a Protected Mode and allowed the CPU to address 16MB in that Mode, but few applications used it because DOS required Real Mode. Finally, the 386 CPU implemented a far more usable Protected Mode and a Virtual 8086 Mode (V86).  V86 Mode allowed the CPU to run multiple instances of Real Mode where each program would be given access to up to 1MB of RAM for their own purposes without overwriting another program's data.  To each program running in V86 Mode, it would appear to it as though it had full control over the PC.

As a byproduct of V86 Mode, Expanded Memory, which had been implemented with expansion cards on 8088 & 286 machines, could be emulated with Expanded Memory Managers (EMS).  The most popular EMS was EMS386, which came with MS-DOS 5.0 and later.  There were other EMS softwares like QEMM and JEMM.  EMS also allowed a user to trap writes to memory locations and I/O ports.  Sound cards invariably wrote to I/O ports on a PC to make sound.  Eventually it was discovered that this port trapping capability could be used to emulate sound cards.  Software drivers of recent and ancient vintage have been being this feature, or implementing their own, to emulate sound cards and chips for systems that may not or cannot use them.  Let's take a look at some of these devices and methods.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Analogue Nt Mini : Browsing the Core Store Pt 2, AV and Future Predictions

In what is likely to be the penultimate article in my Analogue Nt Mini series for some time I intend to devote some time to a few of the more interesting cores remaining in the system, then discuss the video output from the NES.  Finally, I will offer my predictions for the future.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Atari Flashback 2 - The Only Flashback Worth Anything

While browsing in one of my local thrift stores, I encountered an item I had been wanting for a long time, the Atari Flashback 2.  This mini-console with its built in games had interested me ever since it first game out.  Even though I already had a light-sixer 2600 and a Harmony Cartridge, I still wanted one of these.  The box was marked at $24.99, but the seal seemed to be still intact, so the purchase was a no-brainer for me.  In this blog post, let me describe the system, its capabilities and talk about its included games and its legacy.  This review may be 12 years too late, but I could not let this opportunity pass without comment.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Analogue Nt Mini - Vs. System Support

Originally I was going to post a conclusion to my Analogue Nt series, but then I had an epiphany that was too long to attach to one of the prior posts.  Yesterday I was thinking about the Nintendo Vs. System and lack of comprehensive hacks available for the games that were released for that system.  I wondered if it was possible, given the Nt Mini's extraordinary capabilities, to get the pure Vs. System ROMs running on the system through its Flashcart functionality.  About six hours of testing later, I think can present a solution that can get many of these games working now.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Analogue Nt Mini - Browsing the Core Store

In part one of my Analogue Nt Mini series, I focused on the impressions I had of the hardware and the menu from the "official" standpoint.  In the second part, I focused on the most notable feature of the Nt Mini's jailbreak firmware, the NES Flash Cart capability.  In this part, I will discuss the other area in which the Nt Mini's jailbreak firmware is very impressive, Cores recreating other video game consoles.  The Nt Mini can recreate the hardware of many classic (and not so classic) 8-bit consoles like the Atari 2600, Sega Master System and the Game Boy by loading a Core into the FPGA.  Let's talk about what happens when you want to run games with one of these cores.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Analogue Nt Mini - Jailbreak Firmware as a NES Flashcart and Dumper

In the first part of my series on the Analogue Nt Mini, I gave my thoughts on my first impressions of the device.  In this article, I will continue by diving into the features of the firmware that allow you to play NES games on your Nt Mini.  The jailbreak software adds many features to your Nt Mini, but here we will concentrate solely on the NES features.  Features related to other systems will be covered in another blog entry or two.

The Analogue Nt Mini - First Impressions

Last Thursday my Analogue Nt Mini finally arrived.  I had discussed this FPGA-based console from afar when it was first released early in the year, but had no opportunity to review one first-hand at the time.  I ordered my Nt Mini during the second run of pre-orders.  Analogue planned to ship the second batch in September, but late shipping from the factory and a surprise customs inspection later, it ended up shipping the Nt Mini in late October.  Having paid full price for an Nt Mini, $449, plus $37 in shipping, I intend to do a complete and thorough review of all the device's capabilities.  Let me start by giving my first impressions of this high end recreation of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Shenzhen Solitaire - A Review of 2017's New Commercial DOS Game

I have a confession to make.  Until last month, I have never backed a kickstarter project.  I have talked about kickstarter projects on at least one prior occasion on this blog, but I was speaking from afar.  The usual excuses apply, the good reward tiers cost too much, the project carried considerable risk or the product offered just was not sufficiently personally compelling to persuade me to part with my hard-earned money.  Last month came a game which seemed like a good choice for a kickstarter project, Shenzhen Solitaire.  This is a new PC-compatible DOS game for the year 2017.  The price was only $10, the game had already been written and was going to be delivered on a floppy disk, so I was sold.  (Really living on the edge here in terms of crowdfunding risk here :) It was delivered to me yesterday, so let's review the game.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Analogue Super Nt - The Day After Preview

If 2016 was the Year of the HDMI NES, with the release or pre-order availability of high quality NES HDMI devices such as the NES Classic Mini, Analogue Nt Mini and the RetroUSB AVS, then 2017 is the Year of the HDMI SNES, with the release of the SNES Classic Mini and now pre-order availability of the Analogue Super Nt.  The Super Nt was announced yesterday and I would like to gather all the available information about it here after 24 hours have passed to allow for information from multiple sources to be made available online.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NES Clones Reversed Duty Cycles - Why you should Reject them

Clones of the Famicom have been around since the mid-1980s, but clones of the Nintendo Entertainment System were very rare until Nintendo's patents expired in 2005.  Since then, clones have become quite common, all advertising such features as improved cartridge insertion mechanisms, lower cost (compared to the official NES top loader), x-in-1s with Genesis or SNES hardware and more recently built-in HDMI support.  However, the hardware in many of these clone consoles is fatally flawed and will not give a genuine experience.  The flaw comes in the reproduction of the NES's audio in the form of reversed duty cycles.  In this blog post, I will explain why this is an issue, how to detect it and why you should not buy second-rate clone consoles.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Rise of Interlacing in Video Game Consoles

Until the Genesis and the SNES, all video game consoles used 240p resolutions.  However, in the quest to gain greater graphical detail without severely impacting performance, game programmers began to use interlaced video modes in the fourth and fifth generation of video game consoles.  Then in the sixth generation, interlacing was the norm and progressive scan was the option.  By the seventh generation, HD gaming was the norm and interlaced graphics usage was more or less here to stay.  Let's explore the issues surrounding interlaced video game graphics here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

From Adventure to Zelda - Influences and Common Themes

When Atari released Adventure in 1980, most players had never seen anything like it before.  Seven years later when Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda, again it seemed that most players had never seen anything like it before.  But when you start to compare the two games, there are many common design elements in both.  In this blog entry, we will take a look at them.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flawed, Risky and Dangerous Devices for your Retro Consoles and PCs

Most of us appreciate it when enterprising entrepeneurs go out of their way to make new products for us to enjoy on our vintage consoles.  However, they don't always get it right.  Some products can be positively dangerous to your consoles, others are not obviously dangerous but have the potential to decrease your console's lifespan.  In this blog entry I will discuss modern products that are fundamentally flawed, risky to use or just plain dangerous.

He's making list, checking it twice,
Gonna find out whose naughty and nice...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Basic Fun for Retro Gamers - The Stealth Invasion of the Mini-Arcades

In the late 1970s, the handheld electronic game was born with Mattel Auto Race.  More games like Football, Baseball, Basketball and Soccer followed and they were successful. These games ran on a microcontroller and used red LEDs to represent objects.  Companies like Nintendo followed up with the Game & Watch series, which could display much more detailed objects using monochromatic, fixed-pattern LCD displays.  Coleco provided innovation in its mini-arcade games using Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) technology, allowing for color displays that could be viewed in the dark. Milton Bradley introduced the first handheld system with programmable cartridges in 1979 with the Microvision.

The Microvision had the advantage of having individually addressable pixels instead of fixed patterns, but at 16x16 pixels the types of games it could play was extremely limited.  The Game and Watch series and later, cheaper handhelds like the Tiger Electronics' games survived long after Milton Bradley and Coleco got out of the gaming market.  1989's Game Boy, with its 160x144 resolution screen, programmable microprocessor, PPU and APU and 16KB of RAM made the fixed-screen LCD games obsolete.  When the Atari Lynx introduced color and backlighting later that year, not even the color VFD units could compete.  But we are not here to talk about the programmable consoles today, today we are going to take a look at more modern, fixed LCD games released by a company called The Bridge Direct under its Basic Fun brand label.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Coming Full Circle : Comparing the IBM Model F and M Keyboards

When I started this blog in 2010, the first thing that came to my mind to write about was my love of the IBM Model M keyboard.  From those humble beginnings I then decided to talk about other retro computer and video game topics.  But before there was the IBM Model M keyboard, there was the IBM Model F keyboard.  Back in 2010, I did not have a full appreciation of the many advantages of the Model F.  Now I have acquired both of the major models and would like to talk about them here.  Given that this is officially my 360th blog entry, I would say that I have come full circle.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Mandela Effect - The Nerdly Version

There exists a phenomenon called false memory.  These are memories which a person sincerely believes are true yet can objectively be shown to be false.  A colloquial name for this is the "Mandela effect", so named because many people in the late 1980s and into the 1990s believed that Nelson Mandela was dead.  Given that he was imprisoned by the South African government from 1962 to 1990, people could be forgiven in the pre-Internet days that he was dead.  In the context of suppressed memory cases, usually involving child sexual abuse, the theory is very controversial.  However, I am not going down that road.

Instead I am going to pull some false memories from elements of popular culture which I have found interesting.  James Rolfe did an excellent video in his Angry Video Game Nerd series satirizing the supposed "Berenstain Bears Conspiracy" :  The conspiracy alleges that there has been a concerted effort to change the authorship of the Berenstain Bears books from "Berenstein" to "Berenstain."  After all, doesn't everybody remember the "Berenstein Bears"?  I remember the books and the shows being referred to as the "Berenstein Bears" and used that label to refer to them myself.  I would suggest that the mistakes lies in three factors.  First, "Berenstein" and "Berenstain" are very similar words.  Second, "Berenstein" is a more common surname than "Berenstain"  Third and perhaps most important, "Berenstein" is easier to say that "Berenstain."

So from my own experiences, let me describe two instances where I probably am the subject of false memories.  Originally I was going to describe three memories, but I forgot what the third memory was!  [Update : I finally recalled what it was!]  For the three examples I will explain the origins of the memory and try to explain how I may have acquired the memory falsely.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Unusual Famicom Saving Methods

In the United States and Europe, if you wanted to save a game on your NES, you generally had two options.  If the game supported password saves, you had to write down the password (accurately) and enter it back when you wanted to play the game again.  Some games had rather lengthy passwords, and if you confused a 0 for a O or a 1 for an l, your password would be unusable.  A relatively few NES games also had battery backup saves where the contents of a RAM chip inside the cartridge would be saved with a coin-style battery when the power was shut off.  Early games required the problematic "hold reset as you turn the power off" method, and if the battery ran out replacing it was no easy task in the early days.  Japanese Famicom players had a few more options, and as these can be rather obscure to westerners, I would like to talk about them here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Famicom Expansion Audio Overview

The Famicom was constructed with a feature which was not available to the NES.  The Famicom always sent its internal audio to the cartridge port.  For most games, the audio was sent back to the system without modification.   26 (of 1,054) licensed Famicom games contained hardware that could produce additional music and mix it in with the internal audio.  In this article, let's take a look at the methods that were used and the games that used them.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Obscure Tandy 1000 Models

When I have talked about the Tandy 1000s in the past, and I know it has been a while, I have focused my discussions on the Tandys that were available to purchase by members of the public at Radio Shack stores.  If you walked into a Radio Shack store in the 1980s and had $1,000 to spend, you could walk out with an IBM PC compatible computer.  The 1000 line was cheap, fully functional as PC clones and played games as well as or better than machines that cost many times their price.  But Radio Shack was not the only source from which you could obtain a 1000, and the 1000 hardware was also available to institutional buyers.  So in this blog entry I am going to pull together every scrap of information I can find on the rarest, most obscure Tandy 1000s in existence.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Discoveries about the IBM Music Feature and Roland Sound Canvas

I have previously discussed both of these sound device families previous blog entries.  The Yamaha IMFC and FB-01 is discussed here : and the Roland Sound Canvas first generation modules here :  Rather than burying the information in those entries, I would like to add additional new information here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Early Video Game Content Advisories - Who Needs Ratings Systems?

Prior to the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board in 1994 there was no comprehensive content ratings systems for computer and video games in the U.S.  However, that did not mean that video games never provided warnings to potential purchasers and their parents or spouses.  Here let us explore the attempts to advise the public of adult-oriented content prior to and outside the eventual dominance of the ESRB.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Turbo EverDrive 2.x and the PC Engine - The Affordable NEC Experience

 Over two years ago, a friend of mine kindly let me borrow a Turbo Duo and a Turbo EverDrive.  I wrote about the experience here :  I had to give it back (and the Framemeister which came with it), not without a good deal of sadness.  I vowed that I would find a way to play NEC Turbo games again on real hardware/  Now, I have acquired an affordable, upgradeable solution.  Let me talk about it and about plans for future upgrades.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

SNES "Port"pouri

Space Invaders and the Super Game Boy

Super Game Boy Mode
Arcade Mode

Space Invaders was released for the Game Boy in 1994.  It indicated that it supported the Super Game Boy.  It did so in a unique way, when you selected the Arcade Mode, it launched a slightly cut-down version of the SNES Space Invaders port which had been previously only been released in Japan.  The only thing missing from the game as run transferred from the Super Game Boy and the game that was released on cartridge in Japan in 1994 and the U.S. in 1997 is the VS mode.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Official Variations of the Nintendo 8-bit NES/Famicom Console Hardware

Nintendo tried to get its 8-bit system into homes across the world.  It was most successful in Japan, the United States and Canada.  But it also distributed its hardware in many other countries, usually with the assistance of a local distributor.  Some of these systems are rather rare, but have been documented to exist.  In this blog post let I will attempt to identify every officially licensed variation of the 8-bit hardware Nintendo ever released.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Ownership of and Issues with the ColecoVision Trademark

Courtesy of Wikipedia

A few blog entries ago, I described the current state of the ColecoVision.  In that blog entry, I identified Coleco Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of Dormitus Brands and previously River West Brands as the claimant of the trademark to the ColecoVision name.  Given certain recent interactions between Coleco Holdings and certain ColecoVision homebrew developers, I believe it is worth exploring Coleco Holdings' trademark claims in some detail.

First, let me begin by summarizing the recent news which has caused interest in this topic, then go on to describe how a trademark is registered and finally the law and facts surrounding the ColecoVision trademark.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

NES and Famicom Controller Compatibility Issues and AV Famicom Microphone Mod

Prior to the NES, most controllers had a joystick and one or two buttons.  The Atari joystick was wired in parallel, where one wire corresponded to one button, and pressing a direction or a button completed a circuit with the common (ground wire).  The program would read these button presses in parallel, where reading from a single memory location would give the state of each of the five buttons at one time.

Nintendo's controllers were to come with a D-pad and four buttons.  These were originally hard-wired in the Famicom but would have required at least nine wires if wired by the traditional parallel standard.  Moreover, if they wanted to use other kinds of peripherals, they may have found that difficult.  To cut down on wires, Nintendo decided to use a serial method for reading buttons.  This also allowed for more varied expansion, as will be discussed below.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Guard to HD Nirvana : HDMI Licensing

The HDMI connector and cables are ubiquitous today for all high definition digital video devices.  The DVI port is essentially deprecated, DisplayPort has not really caught on at all outside PC Monitors and Thunderbolt is seldom used outside of Apple products.  All consumer HDTVs can be counted on having at least one or two HDMI inputs, and some even have an HDMI output for passing audio through to an audio receiver.

The HDMI connector is a consumer's dream, it just plugs in.  The connector is keyed and robust, you are unlikely to break any pins on an insertion.  The fit is snug enough that you don't need to fiddle with screws and cables can be hotswapped.  The connector and cable are thin enough to be mounted horizontally or vertically.  The cable carries audio and video, so it is as simple as you can get to hook up AV equipment.  Cables are cheap if you know where to shop, Monoprice built much of its business model on affordable HDMI cables.  Frequently, the HDMI connector is the only way to obtain HD input to your TV or monitor (apart from the digital TV/cable tuner using the coaxial screw, but the High Definition picture produced by this method usually leaves much to be desired).  HDMI is great but it is not free.  Let's take a look at the costs associated with HDMI and how some individuals and smaller, hobbyist and enthusiast-oriented retrogaming entities try to get around paying those costs.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rise From Your Grave : The Game Boy Interface

The Game Boy Player (GBP) is a genuine Game Boy Advance (GBA) console that attaches to a Nintendo GameCube (NGC),  It allows you to play Game Boy (DMG/MGB), Game Boy Color (GBC/CGB) and GBA games.  The device fit on one of the expansion ports on the underside of the NGC and could be screwed into it for a permanent attachment.  It was a very popular purchase, essentially the Super Game Boy 1/2 (SGB) two generations later.  Unfortunately, the GBP does not boot or do anything without the Official Boot Disc (OBD) that came with the system.  While the GBP is frequently sold with a NGC, the disc was often lost.  Burning a replacement disc involves finding an image, modding the NGC with a modchip to bypass its copy protection.  Relatively few people have the skill or the inclination to do that.  However, there is an alternative solution these days, and it is a magnificent one.  In this blog entry, I am going to describe my experiences with the Game Boy Interface (GBI) software.

Friday, May 26, 2017

HDMI Solutions for the NES - Mid 2017 Edition

If you want to play NES or Famicom games on a modern TV or monitor with a digital HDMI input, there are many options available.  In fact, there are far more options for the NES than any other console which did not natively have an HDMI connection.  In this blog article I will give a brief overview of the features and drawbacks of each method.  Going by cost and roughly analogous quotations from The Legend of Zelda, let's begin :

Monday, May 8, 2017

20th Century PC Game Remakes, Remasters, Sequels and Successors

The home computer has produced many, many classic and groundbreaking games.  Some games have been sufficiently successful to spawn a series, others have just been held to be a pinnacle in their own right without sequels.  Eventually, interest in many games and series that were once popular tends to wane and commercially many of these series were seen to have no future.  Occasionally, however, a long dormant game or series can be reactivated with a new sequel.  Since 2010, there have been quite a few new games released for the PC that are late sequels, remasters or spiritual successors of older classic PC games.  It is still somewhat rare for PC games to get remade, but those that do should be identified.  However, it is especially impressive for a game to be revived after ten years or more without a commercial release (budget re-releases don't count), so I am going to focus on those games.

In this blog article, I will try to identify games that were released during the twentieth century I will not be covering late ports or fan mods, otherwise the blog article may include too many games to manage.  Several games have been successfully ported to mobile devices, but tracking down ports is too much to manage with my ten-year rule.  I just don't have the time to track down every re-release of Dragon's Lair, Defender of the Crown or The Oregon Trail, games that always seem to be ported or rehashed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reducing Disks on Later PC Game Releases - What is Lost

PC games were often re-released.  Even though they may be older, a budget-friendly price can attract a surprising number of buyers.  To keep the costs down, often games are released in smaller boxes, sometimes paper manuals turned into electronic manuals.  It is not unknown for a game to be released on fewer discs/disks than it was released on originally, without being put onto a higher capacity storage medium.  In this blog entry, I will discuss several famous examples where this occurred and what the effect of the disk/disc reduction was.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Evolution of King's Quest (I AGI)

The original King's Quest had a long history of releases for the IBM PC and compatible platforms. The game was originally developed for the enhanced graphics and sound of the IBM PCjr.  The PCjr. was hyped to the max and many media publications were predicting that IBM's consumer-focused machine would quickly dominate the home market when it was announced in November of 1983.  Sierra Online was facing a troubling future and made good on a deal to publish an ambitious and revolutionary game for IBM's machine.

IBM bankrolled much of King's Quest's development, but the game would not be available at launch.
However, by the time King's Quest was released in May of 1984, the market had shown that it was not about to become IBM's playground.  The PCjr. was overpriced cost twice as much as the Commodore 64 with a disk drive and did not offer much to the consumer that the C64 could not.  The Apple IIe and //c computers were also strong competitors at the same price, offering a huge library of software.  The PCjr struggled with compatibility with several popular IBM PC programs and included a keyboard that was laughable for trying to get real work done with it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Realistic Portavision - Portable Television in the 1980s

About a week or two ago on this blog, I may have foreshadowed that I had acquired a new electronic item worth talking about.  Portable televisions have always been of interest to me.  Since TVs became mainstream in the 1950s, marketers have always tried to find ways to make TVs smaller and able to be used in more and more places across the globe.  My little acquisition represents the peak of its technology for its time, so let's look at it in greater detail.

The system in question is called the Realistic Portavision.  Its most notable feature is that it is a fully portable color CRT TV.  A sticker on the back of the unit stated it was manufactured in November of 1985.  During the 1980s, portable TVs were not particularly rare.  Many kitchens and campers featured one.  But these TVs were typically black and white TVs.  Black and white TVs were much cheaper to manufacture, required fewer components to make them work and consumed less energy. Black and white TVs in portable sizes were quite common by the mid-1970s and were manufactured throughout the 1980s.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Amazing Technology in the Nintendo Game Boy

Truly nothing like the Game Boy had ever been seen before by the general public when it was released in 1989.  Handheld gaming prior to that was confined to simple, single hand-held games like the Coleco mini-Arcades, the Nintendo Game and Watch series and the ubiquitous Tiger Electronics Hand-helds.  These were simple games that were driven by pre-programmed microcontroller chips and drove an LCD display that was only capable of displaying a series of fixed patterns.  Although the patterns could have a high level of detail, the limitations of the display severely limited the complexity and longevity of these games.

The Game Boy's best-known predecessor, the Milton Bradley Microsivion, used a 16x16 display.  The Microvision was not very successful and its games were put on pre-programmed microcontrollers that plugged into the main unit.  These microcontrollers operated at a very low speed of 100KHz, and provided only 64 bytes of RAM and 1-2KB of ROM for a game.  The low resolution of the display also placed severe limitations on the games that could be made for this system.  The Epoch Game Pocket Computer was released in Japan in 1984 and used a 75x64 resolution display, but it was not very successful and only had five games released for it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Giving the Studios the Bird : Fan Reconstructions of their Preferred Versions of Classic Films

In the past several years, there has been an increasing proliferation of the fan re-edit and the fan reconstruction of classic films.  One of the chief reasons for this was the Star Wars Special Editions.  But fan reconstructions have gone far beyond a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  Read on to discover another community increasingly devoted to reconstruction.  But before we get there, let us set the stage during the long winter of our discontent :

The Story Behind the Star Wars Special Editions and Despecialized Editions

Back in 1997, fourteen years after Return of the Jedi, George Lucas decided to reedit the original trilogy to reflect how he believed the films should be presented and enjoyed given the advances in technology between 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1997.  At first, these Special Editions (SEs) were met with some interest and were released on VHS and Laserdisc.  Given that the untouched versions (now known as George's Original Untouched Trilogy or GOUT) of these films were also available at that time on VHS and Laserdisc and the Internet was just becoming a part of everyday life, complaints were fairly muted at the time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Your Meme for Today - Portable Console Gaming Over Time

2017 :

Courtesy of Nintendo
2002 :

Courtesy of neogaf forum
1987 :

Friday, March 24, 2017

Old Coleco or New Coleco : Nostalgia or Nothing

ColecoVision Video Game System (courtesy of wikipedia)
The Connecticut Leather Company, popularly known by its moniker Coleco, certainly had an interesting role in the history of video games.  It started by making dedicated game consoles in the Pong-era which were marketed as the Telstar series.  They also made a line of well-received hand-held conversions of arcade games, the mini-Arcades.  Finally, they turned their hands to marketing a game console, the ColecoVision, and a home computer, the Adam.  But when the video game crash wiped out all the consoles of the 2nd generation of video games, they were left to selling Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and other toys to survive for a time.  The costly failures of their video game ventures brought them to liquidation by the end of the 1980s.

In 2005, the Coleco brand was reintroduced to the general public by West River Holdings (WRH), a company that revitalizes older trademarks.  Companies like WRH look for trademarks which have been dormant for some time but had been previously been associated by the public with a successful product or service.  These trademarks could simply discontinued by the user of the mark or abandoned when the owner went out of business.  WRH typically forms an LLC to manage and promote each trademark it acquires.  In Coleco's case, it was Coleco Holdings, LLC.  In 2016, WRH and its brands were purchased by Dormitus Brands, another trademark holding company.

For the remainder of this article, where it is necessary to distinguish the two, I will refer to the original Coleco, the company that was sold in the late 1980s as the "old Coleco".  The WRH incarnation will be referred to as the "new Coleco".  Let's discuss the legacy of the old Coleco vs. the new Coleco.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Practical Issues with a Tandy 1400 LT Laptop Comptuer

Recently I acquired a Tandy 1400 LT Laptop computer, so as tradition seems to demand, I will talk about my impressions of the machine, tips on how to use it and mistakes to avoid.  The Tandy 1400 LT is Tandy's first IBM PC compatible laptop.  As the 1400 LT is so very much a mostly-improved clone of the IBM PC Convertible, it makes sense to compare the two products.

In April of 1986, IBM released the first PC compatible that could conceivably be called a laptop, the IBM PC Convertible Model 5140.  In 1988, Tandy released its own version of the PC laptop, the Tandy 1400 LT.  The Tandy machine had many notable improvements over the IBM machine :

Sunday, March 12, 2017

First World Problems : Finding a Good Movie Theater Screen

Here is a problem : You live in an area where there are a almost a dozen movie theaters showing first run films within a 25-mile radius of your house but you are almost an hour away away from a major city.  You want to see a large budget, action and spectacle heavy film.  This means you want to see it on a big screen with a powerful sound system.  The same screen may not be necessary for an intimate drama or a raunchy comedy, but when it comes to action, bigger is usually better.

The biggest films, especially action/adventure films, tend to be shown on more than one screen, at least on opening weekend.  Today, many of the big films are converted to 3-D, even though most were not shot with 3-D in mind.  In the theaters around me, there will be separate screens devoted to the 2-D version and the 3-D version.  A couple of theaters near me have a giant screen.  Showcase Cinemas and AMC refers to their giant screen as IMAX (licensing the trademark) and Regal Cinemas calls their screen RPX.  These will always show the 3-D version of the film.  In the upcoming years, there may be a battle between the two chains and their competing 4D technologies, (Showcase uses MX4D, Regal uses 4DX) but that is the subject of another blog entry.

I saw Kong : Skull Island on the local-ish Showcase Cinema's IMAX screen.  Some commentators have derisively called these screens "LIEMAX" because they are smaller than a true IMAX screen.  While there are dedicated IMAX theaters in my state with the enormous screen, they are much further away than the local IMAX.

The local IMAX gives a very good presentation compared to non-IMAX sized-screens.  I saw Star Wars Rogue One in the 2-D version at the Regal Cinemas theater and was very disappointed with the size of the screen.  Not only was it small, it was noticeably offset from the center of the room.  I have a suspicion that these shoebox theaters may only be using 2K projectors, the industry standard is to use 4K projectors.  The movie deserved better.

The problem is these cinema chains only show the 3-D version of the films.  If you want to see a 2-D version of the film, you are often left with small screens and small theaters that just don't do the action on-screen justice in this day and age.  While the 3-D conversion of Kong was without major flaws, the glasses I had to wear were uncomfortable and tended to fog up around the bridge of the nose.   You simply cannot take off the glasses and expect to enjoy what is on the screen, it will appear blurry thanks to the dual projection of the 3-D images.

I find that 3-D does not particularly add much to a film that was not shot with 3-D in mind.  On the other hand, when the film was shot with 3-D in mind and projected on a huge screen, as was the case with Gravity, the experience is incredible.  Moreover, a 3-D conversion does not reflect the director's intent unless the director supervised the process. There are also 4D conversions of films that add moving seats and other tactile sensory perceptions, but that kind of gimmickry only reflects the studio's intent, not the director's.

While I am on the subject, Showcase Cinemas has a dizzying array of theater options.  Depending on the theater, you could have choices of a 2-D screen, a 3-D screen, a Lux Level option for each ( with food service), an IMAX 3-D screen, an MX4D screen (motion seats and sensory effects) or an XPLUS screen (featuring Dolby Atmos sound).  There are also a few SuperLux theaters that seem more focused on comfort and food than a pure or traditional moviegoing experience.  Offering a comprehensive experience with a restaurant, bar, comfy seating and in-movie service does seem to be the trend in upscale movie theaters.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The 1541 Ultimate II+ Flash Cart - Running Carts and Disks Images on the C64

My friend Cloudshatze generously ordered me an 1541 Ultimate II+ Flash Cart (U2+).  The 1541 Ultimate flash cart series has been around for quite a few years, but the U2+ is the latest iteration of the device.  It was released in December, 2016.  In this blog entry I will give information about it and my experiences with it.

Cartridge Bankswitching Outside the NES

Bankswitching in cartridge based games is most famous on the NES, especially its Japanese version, the Famicom.  The NES, Famicom and their unofficial clones were popular in many parts of the world, but the inherent limitations of its 8-bit CPU required software developers to devise ever more complicated systems to increase the amount of memory the system could address.

But the NES did not invent bankswitching.  Most, but not all, 8-bit home consoles, home computers and handheld systems had cartridges with extra hardware to allow the system to address more memory.  In this article I will trace the evolution of that hardware outside the NES and give links to sites and documents where the user can find more technical information.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Commodore 64 Saga Part II - Disk Drives and Disk Images

In Part I of this series, I covered some of the basic functionality of the Commodore 64 and my trials and tribulations in getting mine to work properly.  In Part 2 I will talk disk drives and disk images.

Before I can talk about the Ultimate-1541, I need to discuss the Commodore 1541 Disk Drive and how the C64 deals with floppy disks, the other major storage medium for NTSC C64 users.  The Commodore 1541 Disk Drive is an external 5.25" floppy disk drive which connects to the C64 via the 6-pin serial port.  The 1541 had its own power supply and its own 6502 CPU, 16KB of ROM and 2KB of RAM, it was essentially a computer of its own.  The disks used were standard double density disks, but the drive was a single sided drive like the drives for the contemporary Apple and Atari home computers.  The IBM PC used single sided drives for the first year of its existence.  Like the Atari drives, you turn on your drive first, then the computer.

Unusual Film Formats on Blu-ray

Blu-ray disc may not have been as successful as DVDs, but its capabilities have allowed it to embrace and do some justice to unusual film formats.  Let's discuss some of them.  For screenshots, I will refer the reader to the article with the appropriate links (when available), which has excellent, multiple full-HD screenshots for most of the films I will be discussing here.  All Blu-ray covers are taken from or with one exception noted below.

My Commodore 64 Saga Part I : Initial Observations, Restoration and Repair Attempts

A couple of years ago, I had traded my Atari 800 for a Commodore 64.  The C64 was a breadbin model and while it had a power supply, it did not come with a disk drive or any software other than a single cartridge.  When I took it home, I noticed that the keyboard was extremely stiff with some of the keys on the left side barely registering to keypresses.

Friday, February 3, 2017

EverDrive GBA X5 - The Ultimate GBA Flashcart

In July of 2016, Krikzz finally released his long anticipated EverDrive flash cart for the Game Boy Advance.  He called it the EverDrive GBA X5 and sells it for $99.99 on his site and through his authorized vendors.  I bought mine on his annual Black Friday sale for 20% off, so it ended up costing me $87.00, shipping to the USA (from Ukraine) included.

The "X5" in the name represents a new branding of his product lines.  His new products will be released with an X3, X5 and X7 designation.  Each designation indicates the feature support of the flash cart relative to a desired feature set for flash carts.  The designation is not tied to the products released for any particular console.  For example, the Mega EverDrive X7 has save state support whereas the X5 and X3 do not.  Furthermore, the MegaEverDrive X7 and X5 support saving games without resetting the console whereas the X3 requires pressing reset to save or you lose your save games.  Krikzz has not officially used the X designation for his products except those released for the GBA and Sega Genesis.  There is no such thing as a GBA X7 or X3 and Krikzz has no current plans to make any other GBA flash carts.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Metroid Classic NES Series vs. Metroid in Metroid: Zero Mission - Not the Same

When Metroid: Zero Mission for the Game Boy Advance was released on February 9, 2004, it was no secret that the original Metroid was included as an unlockable extra.  Several months later on October 26, 2004 Metroid was released along with seven other NES games for the GBA in the Classic NES Series.  People complained that buying the standalone version of Metroid was of little, if any value given that Zero Mission also contained the game and was not significantly more expensive.  However, that turns out not to be the case.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Challenger for the Sound Card Crown : The Pro Audio Spectrum 16

In 1991, Creative Labs was prospering quite well with its Sound Blaster card.  Its enhanced features and reasonable price had knocked the Adlib off the hill.  But a company called Mediavision released the Pro Audio Spectrum card in May of that year.  The Pro Audio Spectrum was not only Adlib compatible but had a second Adlib FM sound chip for stereo music.  It also had a joystick port and MIDI interface, but it supported higher digital playback and recording rates (8-bit 44.1KHz in stereo) compared to the Sound Blaster.  It also required fewer jumpers to select hardware resources.  It was shielded to block electrical noise and hard drive motors that can interfere with the audio output.  It listened to the bus to emulate a PC Speaker.  Creative caught up with the Sound Blaster Pro in November of 1991, essentially duplicating most of the new features of the PAS but retaining the increasingly-important compatibility with the original Sound Blaster.  The Sound Blaster Pro was not shielded and was totally via jumpers.

The PAS did not have any Sound Blaster compatibility, it was only compatible with an Adlib card.  While it sold decently, it was not enough to be a Sound Blaster-killer.  In fact, Mediavision also released a card called the Thunder Board which was Sound Blaster 1.5/DSP v2.00 compatible and could be installed alongside a PAS to support digital Sound Blaster audio.

Today it is not easy to find and usually very expensive when one shows up on the secondary market.  The Sound Blaster Pro (1.0) can essentially do almost everything a PAS can.  While the SB Pro 1.0 is not cheap, it is more common and commands a lower price than the original PAS.  But it was Mediavision's next big card that proved to be Creative Labs' most significant challenge in the sound card market space.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Classic Systems - The True Framerate

Classic color NTSC uses a frame rate of 59.94  However, classic video game consoles and home computers never adhered strictly to the NTSC standard.  Here are the exact frame rates as I have been able to find :

NES & SNES : 60.0988
GB, GBC & GBA : 59.7275
SGB : 61.1679
SGB2 : 60.0988

Apple II, Atari 2600, Colecovision, IBM CGA, PCjr., Tandy 1000, EGA @ 200, MSX, SMS & Genesis : 59.9275
Commodore 64 = 59.862

Hercules Graphics : 50.050048
IBM VGA : 70.086303
IBM VGA 640x480 : 59.940475

Gamecube & Wii : 60.00222p/59.88814i

Sunday, January 8, 2017

YouTube Playthrough and Demonstration Series

This Christmas, I got a capture device.  The device in question is an I-O Data GV-USB2.  It can accept composite or s-video input and has stereo sound inputs.  The manual is in Japanese but the drivers are in English.

One of the reasons why I acquired this device is because I found a disturbing lack of video game footage captured from real hardware on YouTube.  While there are plenty of playthroughs or longplays of various games, many of these are from emulators.  Footage directly captured from consoles tends to be older and is reduced to 30 frames per second.  The heyday of 480i/30 frames per second was the Playstation 2 era.  Before the Playstation 2 and the Dreamcast, it was not often used and almost never used by the SNES or Genesis.  They used 240p and ran at 60fps.  So did many vintage computers from Apple, TI, Commodore and Atari.  Even 320x200 256 color VGA graphics is just double-scanned 240p.

As many people know, 240p is a hack of 480i.  TV tubes were designed to display 480 interlaced lines 60 times per second (in NTSC countries).  The odd lines of an image would be displayed, followed by the even lines of an image and your eyes would see fluid motion.  30 times per second the TV would be drawing odd lines and 30 times per second the TV would be drawing even lines. 240p works by telling the TV to odd lines always, 60 times per second. Because the even lines are never being drawn, there is a space between the lines which can be noticed at times as scanlines.  The console or computer is sending a complete frame for the TV to draw on the odd lines.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sega Genesis - Is the Stinker really that bad?

Official Sega Genesis and Mega Drive consoles vary quite a bit in terms of their built-in sound quality.  When I was looking to acquire a Genesis several years ago, I read that the conventional wisdom was that the original Model 1 was the one to get because it had the best sound quality and did not have the TMSS copy protection scheme.

The original Model 1 is the one with the headphone jack and mono line audio output.  I did not know at the time that there were Model 1s with the High Definition Graphics text and Model 1s without the High Definitions Graphics above the cartridge slot.  The one I acquired did not have the High Definition "HDG" text. Sometime thereafter, I found out that the non-HDG Model 1s had such terrible sound quality compared to HDG Model 1s that they have been given the nickname "the Stinker."  Faced with this reputation, I quickly bought myself an HDG Model 1.  I believed that all HDG consoles would not have TMSS, but the one I got did.

Model 1 of the Sega 16-bit console had several motherboard revisions, as had its successor the Model 2.  Using the information here :, I have created this table identifying the distinguishing features of all models of the Sega 16-bit console where such information is known :