Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Mockingboard 4c - Adding Sound Card Functionality to the Apple IIc

Among the Apple II models, the IIc is undoubtedly the restricted of the bunch. The system integrated just about every necessity for mid-1980s computing, a built in disk drive, serial ports for printing and telecommunications, an external drive and a joystick/mouse port. The Apple II line has been previously well-appreciated for its expandability, with each of the three predecessor models having multiple general-purpose expansion slots. For the compact IIc, there was no capability to upgrade the system internally at first, later IIcs permitted an internal memory expansion. This meant that software that did not use a built in peripheral had to be updated to support similar peripherals which had to be accessed in other ways. Today we are going to look at a product that tried to go a different route and try to answer whether it succeeded!

Monday, November 20, 2023

Dai Yakyuu! - The 8-bit Explosion of Japanese Baseball Video Games

Baseball & Famista '94

Baseball (Yakyuu) has had a long history in Japan. Imported from the United States before World War II, Japan built leagues and fielded players that have maintained the popularity of the sport more or less ever since. When video games became accessible to the Japanese in the late 1970s, they tried to mimic a wide range of human competitive activities, not unlike American consoles. Judging by the Famicom's game library, baseball would have been the most popular sport played in Japan by far. Dozens of baseball games were released during the decade of the Famicom's active commercial development, let's take a look at some games and some trends in these titles.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Doctor Who DVD and Blu-ray Frame Rate & Resolution Issues

Doctor Who has had a very lengthy history on optical media.  From the first release of The Five Doctors in 1999 to Series 13 2022 Specials, many, many discs have been stamped of Doctor Who-related content. Not all discs have been error free, and some errors have come down to more subtle issues than a missing shot or misspelt credit.  Frame rate and resolution issues tend to plague the line, and these will be the focus of this blog entry.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

TMNT and Other Strangeness - Revival of the Mutant Animal RPG

On October 31 of this year (2023) Palladium Books announced a Kickstarter for a new edition of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-based role playing game "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness". The Kickstarter campaign was well-timed and shrewdly presented, tapping on a vein of nostalgia that spans at least three generations. The campaign hit a home run, reaching a fairly-modest $250,000 funding goal in four hours and has almost tripled that fundraising as of this writing. Let's take a look at what the original RPG was like and what we might expect from a new revision of the campaign setting.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Unofficial Enhanced NESs - Continuing On where Nintendo Left Off

As we all know, Nintendo introduced the Famicom in 1983, ported it to the west as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 and after the last licensed games were released in 1993-94 Nintendo retired the system. But that does not mean that the hardware underlying the system was dead, the hardware was widely cloned and cartridges were still being made for it. Some companies decided develop the hardware further by adding new capabilities, such as new graphics modes and more sound channels, to work with games that would look less primitive than those that could only take advantage of 1983-era chip designs. Let's take a look at some of these approaches in this blog article.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

PCE 2.4g vs. PC Engine Mini Controller - Battle of the New PC Engine Controllers

The PC Engine has had something of a reemergence in the past few years. In 2019 Konami announced the PC Engine Mini and TurboGrafx-16 Mini consoles and miraculously released it in 2020. Also in 2020 8bitdo released their PCE 2.4g Wireless Gamepads and Analogue announced the availability of the Analogue Duo, an FPGA console designed to play the original HuCard and CD games. Having acquired both a controller which was sold for the PC Engine Mini console and the 8bitdo PCE 2.4g controller, I can give an opinion on their strengths and weaknesses.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Is that a Cricket I Hear? - Contemporary Sound Options for the Apple IIc

The "c" in the Apple IIc stood for compact. The Apple IIc was designed to be the epitome of the Apple II series, providing the options most people used in a realistically portable form factor but sacrificing the internal expansion slots which made the predecessor models in the Apple II line so popular. While sound cards like the Mockingboard were not the most popular of expansion cards, about three dozen games and music programs supported them. As there was nowhere to plug in a Mockingboard into a IIc, that left the IIc with only the internal speaker for audio output. But at least two sound products were made specifically for the Apple IIc, and I will take a look at one of them, the Cricket, in this blog article.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Attack of the PETSCII Robots - Review of a New Action Strategy DOS Game

Attack of the PETSCII Robots MS-DOS Version Cover (Partial, Courtesy of 8-bit Guy)

Back in 2018, David Murray, better known as The 8-Bit Guy on YouTube, released a newly developed game for the DOS-compatible PC called Planet X3. I eventually bought a copy and reviewed it. In more recent years he has designed a new game, Attack of the PETSCII Robots, which was released in 2021 for Commodore computers. The game has since then been widely ported to many home computer and console platforms, including MS-DOS earlier this year. I decided to buy the MS-DOS port, and after trying it out I will give my review here.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

NuXT 2.0 Motherboard - A New 8088 Motherboard for your DIY PC Clone

In the recent past I have discussed the Book 8088 and the Hand 386, which are newly made vintage computing systems.  I concluded that those products, although not uninteresting were rather flawed.  The Book 8088 was by far the more disappointing of the two devices.  I have also been made aware of a project which tries to fulfill a similar niche, the NuXT motherboard. The NuXT is an 8088-based motherboard you can buy brand new and can really fill that IBM PC-clone hole in your vintage collection. While I do not own one of these, I have read and seen enough about it to give my thoughts on whether this product would be right for you.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Avengers Series 4-6 Blu-ray Upgrade

In a recent blog post, I discussed "upgrading" the videotaped half of The Avengers from Region 1 DVDs to Region 2 DVDs. The TLDR version of that entry was that the upgrade was worth it. Now I have obtained the Region B Blu-rays of Series 4-6, I intend to offer my thoughts on them versus the Region 1 DVDs as a sequel of sorts to the prior blog entries.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Would you Like a Book 8088? Or How About a Hand 386?

Fairly recently (May, 2023) there has been made available for sale a retro-themed laptop called the Book 8088.  The Book 8088 is a real PC running a fair amount of vintage hardware and was made in China by a company called DZT.  Additionally this company has also made a portable PC called the Hand 386.  However, the Book 8088 is also the subject of controversy and reviews have been mixed on both products.  Although I do not own either and have no intention to buy either I have researched and viewed enough YouTube reviews of the device to offer some relevant insights on these devices.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Avengers Seasons 1-3 DVD Upgrade

Being an American fan of the quintessential British TV show The Avengers has not always been easy.  The Avengers, that 1960s crime drama/spy series with British secret agent John Steed and a host of assistants tends to be overshadowed by a certain superhero group sharing the same name.  Getting the series in America has been afflicted by times of plenty followed by long periods of drought.  In this blog let me talk about the first half of the series and the ideal means to watch it today.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Apple IIc - Epitome of the Apple II Experience?

In 1984 Apple Computer released the fourth computer to its Apple II line, the Apple IIc, A2M4000.  The Apple IIc was a "compact" version of the Apple IIe with many expansions built-in.  It was released alongside the Macintosh and despite the hype the market did not respond in the way Apple had hoped.  Nonetheless they still sold about 400,000 systems from 1984-1988.  In 2023 these systems can still be purchased for $150-200, so let's take a look to see what makes them special.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Saving a Simon

Simon was one of the first popular electronic games.  Invented by Ralph Baer and put on the market by Milton Bradley in 1978, Simon sold well for year after year.  Its simple gameplay of remember the randomized sequence of colors not only challenged the short-term memory of its players but their ability to recall sequences quickly.  These devices sold so many units that obtaining a vintage unit with its three switches and three buttons is not hard to find and will not break the bank.  Recently I had acquired a "vintage" Simon and could see that it was in need of repair, so I decided to document the steps I took to repair it.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Tandy Video vs. EGA - Battle of the 16-colors Graphic Adapters

When the PC was first released in 1981, IBM designed the Color/Graphics Adapter (CGA) card, a card that could display 16 colors on a special high quality RGBI monitor through a digital output.  While CGA could only display all those 16 colors on the screen at the same time in text modes absent trickery, IBM's 16-color digital RGBI video display standard proved quite durable.  IBM used the same color standard in its IBM PCjr. video graphics adapter in 1983 and returned to the standard the next year in the form of its Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA).  When Tandy released its Tandy 1000, which was designed as a clone of the PCjr., it included the graphical capabilities of the PCjr and would later expand on them.  The Tandy Graphics Adapter (TGA) really popularized 16-color full screen graphics but by the late 1980s most games would support Tandy and EGA graphics.  So which is better?  In this blog article we will attempt to answer this question.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Variations of Mouse Trap

And Now for Something Completely Different, for the 500th published entry on this blog, I am going beyond the typical fare of video game and vintage computer content to focus on another type of gaming, board games.  And in this blog entry, I am going to talk about the evolution of the mechanics of the 1963 game Mouse Trap, first published by Ideal.  Mouse Trap is famous for its Rube Goldberg-inspired mouse trap which dominates the game.  The design has endured more or less intact for sixty years and its combination of simplicity and silly design has appealed to multiple generations of children.  I am aware there are a few other games that use the Mouse Trap name and descend from Habsro or Milton Bradley, but these do not use the traditional Mouse Trap mechanics and will not be covered here.  No game with such longevity has survived into the present day without changes, so in this blog entry I will identify three distinct editions of the game and describe their differences.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Tandy 1000 Chip Replacements

The Tandy 1000s, especially the older ones, are rather reliable as non-IBM manufactured PCs go.  They tend to continue working year after year.  But inevitably they will fail, and something they cannot be easily fixed because a chip went bad.  Tandy was good enough to socket major chips in most of its machines (DIP and PLCC) and frequently reused chips from machine to machine.  Tandy sometimes would use off the shelf chips, sometimes custom chips and sometimes programmable logic.  In this blog article I will identify the major chips each system uses in order to help people find suitable replacements, if possible.  

Official and Unofficial Variants of the Atari 2600 VCS

The Atari 2600 went through many variations over its long lifespan.  Officially Atari authorized a dozen or so variations of the console, and tolerated several more when the 2600 mattered.  Most only differ cosmetically, but the sheer number of "official variants" for an early console is quite the achievement.  Today we will identify them and discuss what makes them unique. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Rethinking the Video Game Generations and Handheld Video Games

Generations of video games have been defined in reference to home video game consoles which were released over time and their capabilities.  While I have some views on that subject, in today's blog I wish to talk about generations of handheld video games.  Handheld video games have always lagged behind their home console brethren due to their need to work within smaller sizes and smaller power sources.  In this blog video I will trace the hardware developments in the handheld world and categorize them into eras and technologies which make sense.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Turbo EverDrive Pro + EDFX - A Match Made in Heaven?

Courtesy of Krikzz and Wikipedia

One of Krikzz' earliest flash carts was the Turbo EverDrive for the Turbo Grafx 16 and PC Engine.  His Turbo EverDrive v1 and v2 only supported HuCards.  Eventually competition came in the form of TerraOnion and their Super SD System 3 and later Super HD System 3 PRO, which supported TurboGrafx/PC Engine CD images.  Most people who keep track of the flash cart and optical drive emulator world assumed sooner or later that Krikzz would release a device that would support CD images. While recent events affecting his country may have caused delay Krikzz' CD-ROM simulating device, the Turbo EverDrive Pro, is finally here and I will review it.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Kneale Watcher, Reader & Listener

Nigel Kneale (1922-2006) was a British/Manx author whose influence on science fiction, supernatural fiction and television drama cannot be understated.  Kneale wrote many scripts, screenplays and stories that would have a formative influence in English drama.  While Kneale is best known for his Quatermass stories, his work is much more varied than those relating to Professor Bernard Quatermass.  He has a fairly vast body of work that still exists, although due to the nearsighted preservation practices of the BBC and ITV affiliates of the 1940s-1970s, many of his contributions to TV drama do not survive, at least in their original form.  The man wrote books, TV plays, film scripts and radio dramas.  The purpose of this article is to identify what of his "genre work" still exists, what has been released and the best versions available to acquire.  While books have been written about Kneale's career, impact on modern genre fantasy and his works, here we will let the author speak for himself directly to his audience.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Tandy 1000 EX and Tandy 1000 HX - The All-in-One Tandys

The Tandy 1000 EX was released in mid-1986 ($799) and the Tandy 1000 HX released in mid-1987 ($699) .  They were Tandy's "entry-level" PC-compatible models, containing everything you need to run PC and MS-DOS software in a fully self-contained unit by means of the built-in keyboard.  The Tandy 1000 SX ($1,199) was released alongside the EX and the Tandy 1000 TX ($1,199) accompanied the HX.  Due to their low cost and despite their increasingly unimpressive specifications, they still sold very, very well.  Lets talk about their abilities, their upgrades and their differences.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Random Computer and Video Game Musings

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

Monday, May 15, 2023

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2023

IBM PCjr. Compatibility & PC Software

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

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Nintendo Handheld Console AC Adapter and Battery Chargers Guide

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

Sunday, March 26, 2023

IBM Composite Artifact Color Games and Related Topics

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

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

Friday, March 3, 2023

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Tandy 1000 Gray and Peach Label Releases

When Tandy released its Tandy 1000 computer in November, 1984, it needed software to tell that would demonstrate the system's PC compatibility and its enhanced features.  Tandy had been both a software developer as well as publisher for its TRS-80 computers and its Color Computer, but those were computers that Tandy had brought into the world.  For the Tandy 1000, Tandy was entering into a market already established by IBM and already had a very large number of software developers publishing for that platform.  As the Tandy 1000 maintained a large degree of PCjr. compatibility and was essentially PC compatible, there was already a significant number of titles which could take advantage of the enhanced graphics and sound derived from the PCjr.  Companies like Sierra On-line and Spinnaker Software had invested heavily in PCjr. software and were eager to find additional avenues to sell their games, even more so once IBM announced it was discontinuing the PCjr. in March, 1985.  Tandy was happy to make publishing deals if they released Tandy 1000 specific versions of their games.  Let's look at those versions.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

CGA and "Intended", "Incidental" and "Just Plain Wrong" Graphics

When IBM released its Color/Graphics Adapter card as one of the two display adapters supported by the IBM PC Model 5150 when it launched in August of 1981, it offered two video output options, RGB video and composite video. RGB video offered much sharper text and purer colors than composite video but required expensive and special monitors. Composite video would work with any color monitor or TV and had the unique ability to offer more colors via artifact color. The CGA output both types of video at the same time. In a sense every game that supports CGA supports both RGB and Composite color, but that does not mean that every game will look the way the graphics artists intended the game to look. In this article we will discuss some examples of the "Intended" look versus the "Incidental" look of CGA gaming graphics. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

The X-Station Optical Drive Emulator : The Key to the Sony PlayStation's Library

The Sony PlayStation (PSX)'s impact on console gaming cannot be understated.  It was extremely successful, defining its generation of consoles.  It was the first truly successful gaming console to rely on optical discs.  It popularized removable memory card storage, which permitted progress or configuration data to be saved for virtually every game.  The controller design also saw improvements in the form of dual shoulder buttons for each side and later the dual shock analog sticks.  The movement to CDs allowed more games to be published, the US PlayStation library alone amounts to approximately 1,500 distinct games.  Exploring the vastness of the PlayStation library on an original PlayStation has now been made relatively easy thanks to the rise of Optical Drive Emulators (ODEs).  In today's blog post I am going to talk about the X-Station ODE, a modification which opens your PSX to the vastness of PSX gaming.