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.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Of Bytes and Borders

There is more to the screen than those pixels or tiles which a graphics programmer had the ability to manipulate into graphical images.  In many vintage consoles and home computers, their display hardware could sometimes display color outside the active display area.  In this blog post we will review some of these devices, try to identify the size of the borders and any special purposes to which they may have been put.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Screen Persistence and the GBA - LCD Abuse

The Game Boy Advance has a TFT LCD screen, and in its last variants, the screen was backlit.  TFT screens offer faster pixel response times over earlier passive matrix technology.  The GBA TFT LCD screen was improved over the earlier screens used for the Game Boy Color, but developers took advantage of the response time of these screens on occasion to make for interesting effects.  Let's take a look.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Quatermass and the Pit Blu-ray Review

The serial format, breaking down a story over multiple, distinct parts, has a very long history.  Silent film serials were followed by sound film serials, and up and until the 1950s the genre had fulfilled a need for audiences to be entertained in a weekly format.  Television's introduction led to the downfall of serials from Republic Films and other studios that specialized in narratives punctuated by cliffhangers.  The format did not generally translate well to television, where people expected a program to begin and end in one viewing.  In the 1950s there was no real ability for an average TV viewer to record programming to watch at a later time, you either saw the program or you hoped for a repeat.  This suited television broadcasters, who wanted viewers to experience a new story every week.

That was the evolution in the U.S., but the U.K. was not yet ready to abandon the classic serial format.  The British Broadcasting Corporation, a publicly-funded TV network, had to fill the same number of hours in a day but with fewer resources that its American commercial televison network counterparts.  The serial format had its advantages in cost, sets, costumes, production personnel and actors could be reused for several weeks at a cost significantly less than having to mount brand-new productions every week.  Serials were broadcast alongside series not only by the BBC but also the ITV affiliates for a solid three-decade period.  Here I am going to offer my thoughts on one of the best of the serials ever produced from this period, Quatermass and the Pit as presented in its November 2018 Blu-ray release. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Three High-Quality 1080p Game Boy "Consolizing" Solutions Compared

For some reasons, probably strange, many people like to play Game Boy or Game Boy Color games outside their portable confines.  One reason is that the games are good but the original screens for these devices are terrible to look at by modern standards.  Nintendo has on certain occasions tried to satisfy the need to play portable games as though they were home console games, but those solutions are old.  Pure software emulation can easily take the GB to 1080p and beyond, but software is wholly divorced from original hardware.  There are software emulators with dumping cartridge slots like the RetroN 5 and Retro Freak, but they are only 720p solutions.  A promising new mod called the GBA Consolizer is an FPGA-based upscaling solution for the Game Boy Advance but is limited to 720p output.  There was a mod called the HDMYBoy a few years ago but it never got beyond a few prototype units.  For this blog article, I will focus on hardware-based solutions which I have some ability to experience personally and can deliver a 1080p experience.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Mega EverDrive X7 - Almost Everything You'd Want in a Flash Cart

Mega EverDrive X7, courtesy of
 A long time ago, over six years in fact, I purchased my first Krikzz product.  This was the Mega EverDrive (v1), then by far the most capable flash cartridge ever released.  I wrote about it here.  Recently I have had the opportunity to acquire its successor, the Mega EverDrive X7.  Let's revisit the use of flash carts on the Genesis/Mega Drive with the X7.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sega CD - The Other CD Expansion

The Sega CD is treated like the unwanted step-child of the CD expansions.  Early CD systems and expansions before the PlayStation were not the breakthrough product their manufacturers hoped they would be.  They did not deliver the substantially superior gaming experiences they promised and were generally considered too expensive for what they did deliver.  And what they delivered was often unimpressive, ports of cartridge games with enhanced audio and superfluous cutscenes, FMV games which relied on route memorization, PC game ports that had no business being run on hardware that did not have a hard drive, a keyboard or a desk with which to use a mouse and interactive entertainment software which was barely interactive and not entertaining.  Today we are going to take a look at the Sega CD, its hardware, its quirks and ultimately the games that make it worth considering as a device on which to play games rather than to put on a collector's shelf.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Proper Analog Retro Video Capture with the Datapath E1/E1s

Capturing analog video can be a difficult task.  Analog video follows rather imprecise standards and is increasingly being discarded in today's world where 100% digital video solutions like HDMI and DisplayPort rule.  Capturing a digital signal is often simply a matter of buying a capture card/box and plugging everything in.  But capturing audio signals, at least those signals that do not conform to the "broadcast standards of 525/625i", is not quite so easy.  But while there exist inexpensive devices that can handle low quality composite and medium quality s-video sources, what about high-end analog sources like component video, 15KHz RGB and 31KHz VGA signals?  Moreover, are any of them compatible with 240p signals put out by retro consoles and home computers?  While there are affordable devices that can sort of handle these signals like the Startech USB3HDCAP, the results are often second rate.  But what if there was a device that you can acquire for similar cost and provide truly first-rate capture?  Interested?  Well if you are, read on to discover the power and the caveats of the Datapath VisionRGB E1 and E1s.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Obscure Ultima, Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash

Back in Ye Olden Days, I knew nothing of blogs and was content to post materials on forums and newsgroups and the like.  I contributed a few writings to GameFAQs back before the days when it was purchased by GameSpot.  The only actual FAQ for a video game I ever contributed that described how to beat a game was for the VIC-20 game Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash.  When GameFAQs took over, I removed all my content from that site.  Now, having finally been able to play the game on original hardware, I think it is time to revive the old FAQ.  Moreover, no longer limited to plain, monochrome text, I can do more now that I have my own blog and the ability to add images, color text and link video.  Let's take a trip into a rarely visited part of the Ultima Universe.

Monday, January 7, 2019

IBM PCjr. Upgrades Part 2

When I first received my IBM PCjr. back in 2013, I was able to discuss most of the readily-available upgrades for the system that existed at that time.  Now, almost six years later, we have some new upgrades available.  Let's see what modern conveniences can do for a 35-year old computer system

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Meet Commodore's VIC(-20), the Friendly Computer

When Commodore made the PET-2001, they made a computer that found some success in the market, especially in Europe.  The PET turned into a series, but it was an all-in-one PC that came with a monochrome monitor and was rather an expensive product.  Commodore wanted to expand to more of a mass-market, and they designed the Commodore VIC-20, the first personal computer to sell for less than $300.  The VIC was very successful when it was released in 1981, becoming the first computer to sell over one million systems.  Its low price and feature set (color graphics, 4-channel sound) helped it to outsell its competitors.  But it days in the limelight were short-lived due to the arrival of its successor, the Commodore 64.  Having acquired a VIC-20, let's take a look at some of the practical issues with using it.