Thursday, December 29, 2022

Accelerating your Tandy 1000s

The Tandy 1000s have unique graphics hardware and sound hardware that was supported for a long time.  The number of Tandy 1000s was so large that many games from prestige publishers released after 1984 would have support for Tandy 16-color graphics and/or Tandy 3-voice sound.  While there were other graphics solutions which provided 16-color full screen graphics at a resolution of 320x200 pixels, only the Tandy 1000 series had any significant support in games.  Additionally, the Adlib and other expansion sound cards did not get PC gaming support until September of 1988.  During the lifespan of the Tandy 1000s, the system speeds were generally keeping pace with games, but by the end of the 1980s the 1000 line was not getting any faster, but games and applications were becoming increasingly demanding.  In this article let's talk about the benefits and drawbacks of installing CPU accelerators in your Tandy 1000s.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Drive your Neo Geo Pocket Color to its Limits - The NeoPocket GameDrive

The Neo Geo Pocket Color may not have been a success against the Game Boy Color, but it did put up a fight against Nintendo's mighty handheld system.  It had several innovative features for the time, a battery backed clock, a micro-switched 8-way thumbstick and hardware that was not held back by the need to maintain backwards compatibility with a large existing monochrome library.  Unfortunately the NGPC only had 90 games released across all regions, so the library is a bit thin.  Moreover it can be very expensive to buy many of the best games, some NGPC carts get real pricey.  Enter the subject of today's blog post, the NeoPocket GameDrive Flash Cart.

Friday, December 2, 2022

So Many Floppies! - Late DOS/Early Windows Era Installations

The CD-ROM format continually promised to make floppy disks obsolete.  First introduced in a usable form in 1986, the CD-ROM's 650MiB capacity was enormous when 1.2MiB 5.25" floppies were largest available removable media at the time and hard drives maxed out at around 50 MiB.  While CD-ROMs were standard equipment on current PCs by 1995 and the principal method for software installation by that year, the PCs reliance on floppy disks for operating system installation lasted for much longer than anyone anticipated.  How long you ask?  Let's find out.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Re-Modding a Game Boy

One day, while browsing through a local collectibles store, I came across some Game Boys.  I saw that two of these Game Boys were unusual and decided to bring one home to play with.  With this Game Boy I was able to fill a small but nagging hole in my handheld console collection.  So in today's blog post, I will discuss an unusual Game Boy to find in the wild and what I did to fix and improve it.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Atari 400 - An Atari 2600 on Steroids and More

The Atari 400 and Atari 800 were released by Atari in late 1979 as a follow up to the successful Atari Video Computer System (VCS).  Unlike the VCS, the 400 and 800 came with keyboards as well as more powerful hardware and more RAM.  Having recently acquired an Atari 400, let me talk about some of the issues I have encountered with it.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Apple II Sound Cards & Gaming - A Niche Precursor to PC-Compatible Sound Cards

The Apple II was distinctive when it was released because it was the first microcomputer and the only one of the "1977 Trinity" of consumer-friendly computers (TRS-80 and Commodore PET being the other two) to come with any kind of audio capabilities built in.  Those capabilities were primitive, a speaker that could be clicked in software by the CPU.  Other computers followed with sound chips built in like the Atari 400 and 800, the TI 99/4 & 4A, the Commodore VIC-20 and 64 and so on.  But the Apple II was more flexible than any of its 8-bit competitors in having expansion slots to allow for less expensive and less bulky expansion options.  Eventually games began to look at some of those expansion capabilities, and in this article we will talk about how they explored them in terms of sound. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Doctor Who on VHS - Exclusive Content

The BBC has been releasing Doctor Who stories on home media since 1983.  VHS was the home video format to become truly successful, everything from the classic series that was available was released for that format over a twenty year period.  Then DVDs consigned VHS to history and everything was re-released over a sixteen year period (11 if you factor in the special editions).  But while the DVDs were generally superior to the VHS releases in just about every way, there were a few instances where VHS had exclusive versions or content that would not be released on DVD.  This blog entry will attempt to break down the major differences between the VHS and DVD ranges.  

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Media and Console Longevity - Lengthy Support for Cartridges and Discs from Certain Consoles

Some consoles, even some of the most popular ones, can only have their games played on those consoles within that "family" of consoles.  Other games, through backwards compatibility, can be played on a more advanced family of consoles.  Some game had hardware made to play them for an exceptionally long period of time.  Today we will explore some of the console systems whose games' medial were given an exceptionally long (about 10 years) official lifespan.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Turn your DVD Player onn. - A Review of the $25 Wal-mart Wonder

DVD and DVD players were once considered necessities for gracious living.  The technology has been around for over 25 years now and remains the lowest common denominator of delivering film and television in a permanent (non-streaming) form to the masses.  Although the venerable disc format has been eclipsed by Blu-ray and more recently 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, some of us still find value in our DVD libraries, especially for those discs which have content unique to them or can only be put on a Blu-ray as an upscale.  And sometimes you need just a DVD player.  Wal-mart has a house brand called onn. which manufactures an inexpensive DVD player.  Last year I found I needed a DVD player to play discs on my CRT, having rediscovered the benefits of watching certain discs on a CRT, and saw that the onn. DVD Player was only $25 and decided to take a chance on it.  In this blog entry, I will relate how I discovered some rather pleasant surprises with this player with you.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Sears (Atari) Tele-games Pong vs Magavox Odyssey 100 - Battle of the First Pong Consoles

Debuting in the fall of 1975, the Sears release of Atari's home version of Pong was a big success for that holiday season.  Owning a first-generation video game console like Atari Pong had been something of a dream of mine for quite a while.  The importance of Atari's first Home Pong console cannot be understated and much has been written about it.  I recently acquired a Sears Telegames Pong and wanted to talk about the machine and its significance in this blog article.  I also obtained a competitor to Sears/Atari's Pong, the Magnavox Odyssey 100, and wish to compare the two here.  

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Godzilla Series Japanese Film U.S. Non-Theatrical Releases

In the prior blog entry, I worked to document the titles, credits and logos affixed to the theatrical releases of the Godzilla series.  Not all those films were given a wide theatrical release and as the blog entry covering theatrical releases was rather long, I decided to talk about the films which did not have theatrical releases in this entry.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Godzilla Series Japanese Film U.S. Theatrical Releases

Godzilla was first introduced to the wider world through the medium of the cinema.  Western theater audiences were exposed to Godzilla and other Japanese sci-fi films on a fairly regular basis during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Godzilla's theatrical releases have garnered particular attention, the series is still going after almost seventy years.  A theatrical release of a foreign film in the US is a particular mark of distinction and prestige, and many people believe it is important to try and preserve these films as close to the way they were exhibited as possible.  The Godzilla franchise is one of the most successful in history but during its films theatrical runs would the greatest number of people see the film at one time.  

Some of Godzilla's theatrical releases are well-known and readily available, but most have fallen into obscurity.  Even in the VHS era when theatrical releases were more available, there was usually something missing or altered such as credits and title screens.  In this blog article I will identify what you would have seen in terms of credits and titles if you saw these films in a US theater during their wide release theatrical runs.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Last Gasp of the Intellivision Amico

Back in 2019, I wrote a blog article about the Intellivision Amico and predicted that there were significant hurdles which it would have to overcome if it was going to succeed in the marketplace.  Nearly three years later, the company behind the Amico, Intellivision Entertainment's, prospects of releasing anything other than a Chapter 7 or 11 Bankruptcy petition are looking exceedingly remote.  Millions of dollars in public and private investment were poured into Intellivision Entertainment and thousands of preorders with $100 deposits were placed for the console and thousands of RFID tag game boxes were sold.  All that money is probably gone now with almost nothing to show for it.  Formerly once rabid fans of the Amico have turned, one by one, against the company with bitterness previously reserved for the Amico's "haters".  Preorder backers are waiting increasingly long for the company to process cancellation requests.  Staff have been let go in order to cut costs, but Intellivision owes a lot of money to a lot of people, no consoles manufactured and increasingly fewer opportunities to find funding for its console.

But let's turn the clock back just a bit, back just to last year.  In 2021, the Amico was still a possibility, Tommy Tallarico was still the CEO, still willing to give lengthy interviews to anyone willing to listen and still able to contribute post after post to the AtariAge Forums.  Amico cheerleaders like Atari Creep, Retro Bro, SmashJT and Saggy Melonz were still touting the Amico and bashing the haters with tireless enthusiasm on YouTube.  Tommy was making the rounds with the console and the games that were sufficiently developed to show off to the general public.  I was present at one of those events, but while one could not have predicted with certainty, now it highly probable that it may have been the last.  In this blog article, I will relate my personal experiences at the last Amico demonstration of 2021 and then discuss why that potential is likely never to come to pass.  

Friday, July 1, 2022

Mass Storage and the Apple II - Conquering the Final Frontier

When we think about storage devices and the Apple II, everyone's first thought is usually the same, the 5.25" floppy disk.  Maybe the more historically informed of us may think of cassette tape or 3.5" disks or even the Apple Hard Disk 20SC, but those devices come a distant second to the mainstay of Apple II program and data storage, the 5.25" floppy disk.  When one is introduced to the Apple II, one must at least understand how floppies work on the basic level.  But what can you do when you want to go beyond the standard floppy disk to explore faster, higher capacity storage solutions.  If all software of any note was originally released on copy protected floppy disks, why bother looking for something else?  And if you want to explore, what will you need?  In this blog entry, I will try to answer these questions.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Successors: Evolution of Monochrome Handhelds after the Game Boy

When the Nintendo Game Boy was released in April/July, 1989 (Japan/North America), there was nothing like it on the market.  The Game Boy was the first programmable handheld system with sufficient capabilities to play games that were similar to the home consoles of its day.  The Game Boy was intended to be an inexpensive device, so it used a monochrome reflective green screen rather than a difficult-to-manufacture and power hungry backlit color screen like its main competitors, the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear, NEC Turbo Express and later the Sega Nomad.  Although the Game Boy definitively ruled over the color competing systems, dominating the market until its successor, the Game Boy Color, was released in October/November of 1998, that does not mean it was the only monochrome handheld game console on the market.  Early in its lifetime it had competitors from Taiwan which tried to take away some of its market with little success.  Later, more established companies tried to get on the monochrome bandwagon, only to find that lightning does not necessarily strike twice.  Recently, as retro style gameplay experiences have found a market in the age of the Nintendo Switch, we have seen at least one or two companies try their hand at a monochrome handheld.  In this article we will trace the evolution of the consoles that tried to compete with the Game Boy or invoke its success.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Modern Unfriendliness of 8-bit Keyboard Layouts

Keyboards today have a standard layout.  All keyboards are based off the 104-key standard layout from the mid-1990s, and before that the IBM Model M 101 key layout.  But back before the IBM PC line introduced the 101 and brought uniformity to the home computer world, things were not standard at all.  Every home computer manufacturer had its ideas about what keys should be on the keyboard and where they should be.  This tends to cause some annoyances for emulating those computers, especially when the program relies on certain keys being in certain places.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

List of PCjr. and Tandy Exclusive Enhanced Games

The IBM PC computing platform supported gaming from the beginning, but at first its graphical and sound capabilities were not that much more advanced than an Apple II's. Other inexpensive home computers of the day (Atari 800, Commodore 64, TI-99/4A) could run rings around the IBM PC in the video and audio departments. IBM sought to improve its PC line's graphics and sound in an affordable system which became the PCjr., but that was a flop.  Tandy cloned the graphics and sound of the PCjr. and put it into a much more PC-compatible system, the Tandy 1000.  Between the two, the exclusive PCjr./Tandy graphics and sound hardware received wide support from game developers in the mid and late 1980s.  In this article, I will attempt to give a definitive list of games which have "better" graphica or sound on a PCjr. or Tandy 1000 due to this support or have unique video and audio support even if the game can utilize EGA, VGA, Adlib, Game Blaster or Sound Blaster or MT-32.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Mastering the Sega Master System

The Sega Master System was Sega's first major attempt to market and sell a home video game console overseas.  Its Japanese predecessors, the SG-1000, the SC-3000, the SG-1000 II, and the Mark III, were not very successful compared to Nintendo's Famicom and similarly the US release of the Master System was not very successful against Nintendo's NES.  In the European market did Sega sell more consoles than Nintendo, thanks to Nintendo's fractured distribution system and Sega's placing the Master System as a budget console.  Sega also did extraordinarily well in Brazil whereas Nintendo floundered.  In this blog entry we will go over the various issues with the Master System and why you would want one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Baldur's Gate Version, Release and Demo History

Baldur's Gate is one of my most favorite games and has a surprisingly complex patching, release  and demo history.  I have written this blog article to help enlighten people on the version and patches available for the original game, significant physical releases and localization changes and finally the three demos of the game which were sold at some point.  I will not discuss any unofficial patches (such as the Baldurdash and Dudleyville fixpacks), engine conversions (such as BG1Tutu or Baldur's Gate Trilogy) or Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Combat & Complexity in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

When Gary Gygax was transforming Original Dungeons and Dragons into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, one of the core components of the rules he focused on were the combat rules.  Combat was rather sketchily defined in OD&D, and that is being kind.  His priorities for the Advanced system were that combat was to have a sufficient rule structure so that one game of AD&D would play more or less the same as the next.  This was at a time when campaigns often had 35th level fighters and 26th level balrogs in the same party!  But perhaps Gygax was a little too overzealous in laying down rule after rule to govern every conceivable aspect of combat he had encountered to that time.  In this blog article we will explore some of the more obtuse rules and see how they worked in print, what may have happened in practice and how the 2nd Edition of the Rules tried to address issues with the 1st Edition.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Official Nintendo Player's Guide - Review of the First US-Based NES Game Guide

When the NES was just starting out in 1985 and 1986, there really was not a whole lot of information available about the games for the system other than TV and magazine ads and the manuals, advertisements and posters included with the games.  At the beginning of 1987, Nintendo began publishing a subscription newsletter called the Nintendo Fun Club.  Priced at $2.50 an issue and continually improving for its seven issues before Nintendo expanded the magazine to become Nintendo Power, it was one way by which Nintendo could connect with its ever-growing audience of fans and game players.  The magazine began by offering tips and previews for the latest games, but the early issues were fairly limited in their ability to provide a comprehensive look into more than one game per issue.  So Nintendo advertised a special book in its later issues of the Fun Club, The Official Nintendo Player's Guide, copyright 1987.  In this blog post I will take a look at it and its significance to Nintendo's history.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Removed or Changed References to J.R.R. Tolkien and His Works in D&D

When Dungeons and Dragons was first released, it made no secret of its many literary influences.  Authors which helped inspire the game included Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance.  One author which stood above all others in the fantasy writer canon was J.R.R. Tolkien, whose work, The Lord of the Rings, had a popularity unmatched by any other fantasy author at that time and arguably since.  

Even though Gary Gygax, the author of Chainmail (1971) and co-author of Dungeons and Dragons (1974), was not the greatest fan of Tolkien's work, he had no compunction about including certain of Tolkien's creations in his published work.  The most notable was the inclusion of Hobbits as playable troop types characters whose characteristics were described in the above-mentioned works.  Other Tolkien creations, like Balrogs and Ents, also featured in the games.  Their inclusion continued in the five D&D Supplements and the D&D Basic Set published from 1975 to 1977.  

While D&D was a small niche hobby publication, this unapproved borrowing did not attract notice, but as the popularity of D&D increased it started receiving mainstream attention.  Sometime in mid-to-late 1977 TSR, the publishers of D&D, received a letter from representatives of Tolkien Enterprises (which held the film rights) demanding they cease using Tolkien's literary creations in their products.  TSR then complied with the demand by trying to rename every instance of a Tolkien-derived name from their products and reprinting them.  But some references were thought too blatant to just handle with a name change, so the balrog and several references to Tolkien got cut from the texts.  This blog entry will try to identify every change in these works.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons, Chainmail & Outdoor Survival - The Intersection of Wargame, Boardgame and the RPG Ur-Text

When one reads the Three Little Brown Booklets (3LBB) which constituted the first publication of the Original Dungeons and Dragons rules, several issues become apparent.  The first issue is that they are a product of their time, written by people who were charting a course into something new and whose potential they had yet to fully grasp.  The second thing is that the authors were not masters of explication, with assumptions made of the reader which turned out to be unwarranted in many instances.  The third is that the original release of D&D does not stray far from its wargaming roots, indeed the first booklet says it requires a copy of Chainmail to play. 

In this blog article, we will examine how much of a requirement this turned out to be and how the Chainmail rules could have and likely may have been incorporated into early D&D combat and other procedures.  At the end we will also consider how well Outdoor Survival, also mentioned as required for play in the 3LBBs, is incorporated into D&D.  Hopefully one can impart some of the challenges in trying to understand a ruleset from almost fifty years ago and how interpretation informed by experience is vital to understanding the development of the Role Playing Game.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes) Basic Set - Beginnings of the Friendly RPG

Cover to Holmes Basic Book by David C. Sutherland III

The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, released by TSR in 1977, was the first time a table top role playing game tried to break into the mainstream.  Although role playing was already a few years old at this point, it was not an approachable game for the novice even by the standards of its day.  Role Playing had evolved from wargaming and was still somewhat confined to that crowd after Original Dungeons & Dragons had been released.  One admirer of the D&D game was a physician and neurologist named John Eric Holmes.  He approached TSR and offered to consolidate the existing ruleset into something more approachable for new and younger players.  Gary Gygax accepted his assistance, as Gygax was developing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in order to move away from the unstructured nature of OD&D but realized the benefit of having a less complicated game to introduce new players into the concept of role playing games.  

Holmes compiled a manuscript which turned into a 48-page booklet, which was put in a colorful box with a module or supplementary dungeon building material and a set of polyhedron dice which was released in 1977 as the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set.  Intended to be only an introductory product to help players understand how to play and run an RPG, it proved to be very popular and spawned many successors.  For several years it was one of TSR's most popular products, selling upwards of 12,000 copies per month by 1980.  But is it playable today when those successors are as easy to find and buy?  Let's take a look on how Holmes' distilled OD&D and presented it as a game in comparison with the later versions of the Basic Set.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Dark Shadows - The Complete Original Series Review

Dark Shadows is a landmark of classic television, introducing the concept of a supernatural, gothic horror soap opera to daytime television.  The series ran for 1,225 22-minute episodes from 1966-1971.  While I could wax on all day about the history of Dark Shadows and its significance, and have in the past, there are other sites on the internet which can do that in a more knowledgeable manner.  Today I am hear to talk about the epitome of Dark Shadows, the Complete Original Series boxset (DS:COS) and offer my review of it.