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

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 Blu-ray.com 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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk 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 : http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthread.php?7796-GUIDE-Telling-apart-good-Genesis-1s-and-Genesis-2s-from-bad-ones, I have created this table identifying the distinguishing features of all models of the Sega 16-bit console where such information is known :