Starcade

starcade

STARCADE – 1983

Broadcast in the early eighties, this TV game show went where no show had tried going before and astarcade2t the same time, setting the template for shows that would follow. Created by James Caruso and Mavis Arthur and produced by JM Productions, the show pit contestants against one another, playing arcade video games such as Pacman, Congo Bongo and Cliff hanger.
It was originally aired on WTBS in 1982 to 1983, before spending it’s third year in syndication until it was cancelled. In total 133 episodes where made, with 4 pilots. Each episode would showcase one of the latest arcade games of the time. Two players or teams would compete in three rounds, each round began with a game related question. The player to buzz in first with the right answer could pick from five arcade games.  The age of the contestants could vary from 14 to 44. Regardless of their age, applicants to the show went through a screening (auditioning) process, evaluating their gaming skills as well as how they performed in front of the camera. Players who got through were matched with their opponents based on their scores achieved during the trails.

Geoff Edwards

Geoff Edwards host of Starcade until its cancellation.

The show was hosted by Mark Richards for a total of 23 shows, until being replaced by Geoff Edwards. Who continued to host the program until it ended. Edwards a veteran to television, held a good reputation hosting well known games shows. While initially Edwards did not share any interest in video games, this later changed during the course of the show. It is reputed that between takes Edwards could be caught playing Elevator Action.

I discovered Starcade while paging through youtube on the xbox. I had no idea what the show was about but soon found myself relaxing in front of the TV late one evening, watching some kids rocking very

funny hair styles play Pacman and Moon Patrol. As a teenager of the 90’s, I grew up when there were plenty of shows featuring video games. The one that springs to mind most of course is “GamesMaster” with Sir Patrick Moore as the all knowing cyborg master. Watching Starcade it was interesting to see the grandaddy of these shows. As a massive fan of old school video games, it was also interesting to watch contestants playing these arcade games when they where brand new.

Admittedly the show is dated; the clothes and funny moustaches might cause us to giggle. If you can get passed those minor things, the show is still worth watching if for nothing more than nerdy nostalgia. By my second episode I was rooting for the players and racking my brain during the questions. Mame fans – take note, as there are plenty of games featured on the show worth seeking out to run via emulation. Many I had never heard of moonpatroland found myself wanting for the Mame emulator on my classic xbox.

If you discovered that you like the show, the producers of Starcade have their own website www.starcade.tv where you can find 61 episodes of the original show ready for streaming to your PC, laptop or tablet for your viewing pleasure, how nice is that? They also have an online shop, selling DVDs, posters and t-shirt. The DVD holds five episodes as  examples of the show. Why they do not offer the whole show isn’t known, the most likely reason could be legal restrictions.
Another unique feature of the site is the contestants page, which contains a listing of all those who participated in the show. Acting as a sort of “where are they now” you can click on an individual contestant to read about their experience on the show and what they are doing now. From the old to the young, contestants on Starcade could range from six to sixty. Which just goes to show the appeal video games have on people from all walks of life. I honestly can not think of another show that catches up with former contestants, perhaps it is the mutual bond gamers share? I find it very touching to think that a group of dots on a screen, that might resemble a rocket or a plumber can bring people together.
The official site is worth visiting by anyone interested in learning more about Starcade,  if you have 10 minutes get yourself on there for a browse!

Before I finish, I could not go without leaving you with the original theme tune from the show, so here is the  “Starcade theme” in all it’s glory. With thanks to the starcade.tv website for making this clip available.

Keep on geeking!

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Mac Plus Repair – The Continuing Saga

reviving an Apple Macintosh Plus

The Story So far

mac_thumbSo, for what seems now like an eternity, I have been working on the old Macintosh Plus. I certainly feel like I’ve been through a war with this computer to say the least. Any of you following my blog with know I have spent some time restoring this classic computer. At the beginning of last year, the display died, leading me to fault-find the analog board and replace component after component, finally getting the beast to power up, only to have the floppy drive start jamming up. It really has been a labour of love and not one I should care to repeat any time soon.


No time to shake your floppy disk

After 25+ years, the lubricant inside the floppy drive of the Plus has seen better days, now resembling a dried goo. So, time to take the floppy drive apart. Now if you have a Plus and you have read horror stories about people messing up their drives, it is probably because they didn’t do it properly. It actually isn’t that hard, so long as you take your time and pay attention to what you are doing. Before you start, a good idea is to consult the tutorial on the 68kmla forum which does a pretty good job of showing you how to service an 800k floppy drive. Again, pay attention to what is says. There are springs inside the drive, which if pulled to far, will loosen their tension and result in your drive being permanently buggered.

Cleaning drive

Cleaning the gunk out the drive, what fun!

So after taking the drive apart, I used silicon grease to lubricate all the areas that needed doing. I really thought at this point that everything was going pretty well, which is usually when disaster strikes! When I rebuilt the floppy drive, I couldn’t help but notice the whole mechanism felt stiff and not smooth at all. Stripping it down once more, I reapplied more grease and still the whole mechanism felt like it was grating. It couldn’t be grit or dirt as I had cleaned the whole thing out, so that left me thinking perhaps it was the lubricant I was using. I had bought silicon grease after reading someone one the 68kmla forum recommending it. Removing as much as I could with an alcohol swap, I used some wet lubricant, designed for bicycle chains. I’ve used this on a front door lock which was sticking and boy did it work. A year on and the lock still works super smooth.
If it worked for the lock, I was hoping it would work for the floppy drive. Sure enough dropping a few dabs, the drive ran back and forth much smoother then before. With this promising start, I reapplied fresh lubricant to all the needed areas and reassembled the drive. Unlike my first attempt the Plus did not lock up while trying to eject a disk, it ejected it each and every time I inserted a floppy. Time for a big sigh of relief right?

Spitting out a floppy

Spitting out a floppy

What no power?

After rebuilding the system and leaving the lid of, I tried firing up the Plus to test it before closing the lid. Anyone who works on their own computer, will tell you never to put the lid on until your completely sure, without a doubt that the damn thing is working, for the exact reason I am about to describe.
Thinking nothing could go wrong, I flicked on the power switch and the Plus did not power up, instead it made a slight fizzle and then nothing. Unlike previous fizzles, this one was like the CRT discharging, which was odd. Turning it off and wearing protective gloves, I wiggled the lead linking the analog and logic board together and tried again. Still nothing from the Plus. This was getting frustrating. Why was it not booting? I hit the side of the analog board and suddenly the Plus fired up, which meant a dry joint.

MVC-007F

Getting the drive to eject was easier then it looked

Reflowing some of the caps and joints that I thought looked suspicious, I managed to get the Plus working once more. I still suspect a component to be the guilty party, but I wont know that until I’ve used the Plus further.

For now however, the old beast appears to be working.

Thanks has to go Prof. Thomas H. Lee for his amazing PDF guide (which I will be doing a blog about very soon), Thrashbarg for his overwhelming help when problems far exceeded my electrical knowledge, and finally all the guys on the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army Forums.

For now, keep on geeking!
Today’s blog was written on a Classic Macintosh


Micro Amiga One Birthday treat!

amiga_boing

 

This is sort of a belated blog, written back in February. It has been sitting on the NC100 waiting to be uploaded. Sadly ill health, bad weather and life in general took their toll. So here finally is the belated birthday blog of 2013!! Ho ho ho…wait that’s not right!

A recent addition to my collection of computers, is a very shiny Au1, better known as a Micro AmigaOne. A totally unexpected but welcome birthday gift from my father. After a few weeks of playing around with the machine, I have to say I’m very impressed with the latest offering of the Workbench operation system. OS4.2 retains a certain similarity with 3.1 and 3.9, while at the same time it evident some thoughts has been put in to this release.  The Au1 is a giant leap from my classic 68k Amiga, having never used a PPC system before. I have to say my first impressions are very positive. On the one hand everything feels just as it does when I’m using my Amiga 1200, but then you have programs such as OWB, which offer as close to a modern day browsing experience as you can find on any Amiga, which is leagues apart from Ibrowse on the old 68k 1200.

One thing is for sure, I’ll be spending some time getting myself familiar with this new computer as well as Workbench / OS4 or what ever you want to call it.

I know one thing for certain, I’m looking forward to seeing what games are available on the PPC Amiga. As well as if they actually make use of the 750mhz cpu and ATI radeon video card. It is certainly a step up from my Picasso II in the A3000.

Written on an Amstrad NC100


Revisiting Halo on the Xbox

original xbox

Over the past week I found myself playing more on my original Xbox then on my PS3 and 360 combined. Why you might be asking? Well the simple answer is Halo and my partners younger brother coming to visit. More the gamer then I ever will be, I thought he would scoff at my suggestion of playing on an original xbox. As it turned out, he had never played Halo and was curious what all the fuss was about. Thus we began our epic multi-player co-op campaign.

If your reading this and wonder what the heck is Halo, I can only recommend you seek out a copy and play it on a 360. If you dont own a 360, the original Xbox sells for nothing these days and is a worth addition to gamers collections. The console might be 10 years old, but the games are still good and worth playing.

halo_ce_dowOn loading up Halo with its classic opening suite, it’s easy to see why it blew gamers away and why Microsoft used it to launch their first console. Hard to believe that originally the designers of Halo had intended the game to be a top down shooter for the PC and Mac! This is one occasion we really do need to thank Microsoft. Where it not for them, we probably would not have the killer FPS we all love today.

Playing Halo, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well the game holds up 12 years on from it’s launch. The graphics still look sharp and environments feel immersive and organic. Two player on Halo sets a standard which I can only hope other game designers have adopted since. The co-operative mode of Halo allows two players to not only play side by side and if your friend is not around. You can continue where you left off and play the game in single player mode. Using the same save point for the single player and two player modes of play simply blew me over. I spent the past week playing Halo with my partners brother and managed to finish the game over two days. Roughly a days worth of playing if you combined it all together.

After completing the game, it took about 30 minutes before Halo 2 ended up in the Xbox. All I can say about that is holy cow! I thought the original Halo was pushing the console to it’s limits, clearly I was mistaken. Some how Bungie squeezed out even more from the Xbox and made a sequel that is not only as good as the original, but improves upon the graphics and game play.

Hitting the Covenant where it hurts

 Master Chief, hitting the Covenant where it hurts

Closing thoughts

The PS3 and Xbox 360 are already facing the inevitable passage of time and the rapidly approaching dawn of their replacements, be it the PS4 or Xbox 720. Here are ByteMyVdu there will always be a special place for the under dog, the forgotten piece of hardware most people throw away and forget about. The Xbox may not be as memorable as say the Super Nintendo or Megadrive is to many people, but it remains a console worthy in any gamers collection. While the original xbox might be a bulky looking thing, with about as much aesthetic appeal as a toaster, it has still managed to out lived it’s rivals. The Playstation 2 has not aged well and the Nintendo Gamecube survives thanks mainly due to a faithful following of Nintendo fans, who have to own anything and everything branded Nintendo. The original Xbox doesn’t survive on looks, but thanks to the hardware inside and the quality of games which where produced for it.


Pimp My Pismo, a ride into G4 territory

XLR8-Label

It’s no secret that I hold a special regard for the G3 Powerbook 2000 edition, otherwise known by its codename “Pismo.”

I’ve owned several laptops over the years, some have been passed on for others to use, while I’ve kept hold of some that hold a certain sentimental quality. It’s silly perhaps to hold such emotions for what is essentially a tool, but we humans do it all the time with inanimate objects, be it cars, boats, buildings or computers. Just as a petrol head will drool over their pride and joy, as a tech head, I share the same emotional attachment to the computers I’ve grown up around or simply collected out of admiration for its design or construction, the Pismo is such a computer. I was never  able to afford one from new, but that did not stop me from admiring it. Compared to my clunky P3 450mhz Advent laptop, the sleek lines of the Pismo where something straight out of a Science fiction movie.

When I finally was able to own one, the Pismo was already 8 years old, which in computer terms is an eternity. VGA has been and gone, DVD has gone from top dog, to battling against BluRay. A lot of PBcloseupthings happen in 10 years, so how on earth can a device so old, still be of any use today? Well it all depends on your perspective and what you expect to get from your device. Know the restrictions of the tool your using and don’t get angry when it doesn’t do something beyond that. In 2008, my stock Pismo had 512mb ram, a G3 400mhz CPU and Airport (wifi), which back in 2000 was a pretty desirable setup and capable of tackling most things thrown at it. In 2008 it was less then ideal, but through rose tinted glasses I used the laptop, ignoring its short commings. One of the reasons was the keyboard, typing on one of these machines is a dream. I find the layout one of the easiest I have ever encountered on a portable device. Even my new HP DV9 laptop with its full size keyboard and num pad, does not compare to the ergonomic feel the Pismo keyboard has to offer. Sadly, even this did not stop the eventual move to a faster platform.

So my Pismo was lent out to a friend, then after a year, it found its way back to me, eventually ending up down the side of my bed. That was until last year, when I began writing this blog. One afternoon while laid on my bed resting, I looked down the side, bored and trying to find something to do, I saw the Pismo. I had all but forgotten about it being down there. Lifting it out and setting it on my lap, I plugged in the charger and tried firing it up. With a reassuring BONG, the laptop fired up and soon I was in OS X10.3. I spent the remainder of that evening typing out an article for my blog with a smile on my face, feeling like I had been reunited with an old friend. I was even pleased when I found that even while a little clunky, I was able to upload my blog to WordPress using the Pismo. This led me to rethink my views of the Pismo and how useful it was to keep around. Would Youtube and Facebook be out of the question? Actually, yes and no. Both will run on a G3 400mhz processor, all be it slowly. So what about upgrading the CPU? Back in its heyday, the Pismo had several CPU upgrades available and not just those offered by Apple. Daystar, a third party company known for manufacturing Apple accessories, had developed G4 500/550mhz “XLR8” accelerator cards for the G3 Powerbook.

A quick look on line revealed these cards where now out of production and very scarce to find on auction sites such as Ebay. What about buying a Pismo with a faster CPU such as a G3 500Mhz? The chances where certainly higher than landing an accelerator by Daystar, and also probably cheaper.

A few days of searching online left me with several possible candidates. One of them a Year 2000 Powerbook, which did not look anything special until you looked at the description, which mentioned “G4 Powerbook”. This is where paying attention and reading really does pay off, children. At first glance the listing looked to be for a non-working Powerbook listed for 99p. Closer inspection of the actually photo and description hinted at another story. That the laptop had possibly been upgraded with a Daystar G4 daughter card of which there are two. More evidence that this might be true was from the “XLR8” badge, attached just under the screen of the laptop. So I decided to take a gamble and go for it. If it turned out to be a broke G3 Pismo, at least I would have some spares. In the end I paid £20 for this Pismo, someone else had obviously spotted what I had.

Eventually the laptop arrived in the post and I eagerly unpacked it. The Pismo was in remarkably good conG4-Daughtercarddition, the only damage being just behind the mouse button, possibly the thinnest part of the upper case, which had a crack running up the centre. Popping off the keyboard, I was relieved to see the shield covering the daughter card was present and firmly screwed in place. Removing the panel, I couldn’t help a smile. In front of me was none other then Daystars crème de la crème G4 550mhz daughter card with 1mb cache, this card used to retail for as much as $399 back when it was on sale.

I gently removed it from the laptop with all the slowness of the Roadrunner eluding Wile E.  Coyote. Once I had it installed in old faithful, I pressed the power button. Eep nothing! Quickly taking the card out, giving it a clean and reseating. I tried once more…BONG!! Ok now I really was smiling. I’d not only upgraded from a stock G3 400, but, with the existing ram on this new card combined with my own, I had enough SDRAM to make 1Gb of ram. OS X booted with surprising speed, a quick check of “About the Mac” revealed I had indeed a G4 550Mhz CPU installed. To quote a famous Mechanoid, my smug mode was most certainly engaged!Aboutthismac

With the added memory and extra speed, the Pismo runs fantasticly. In addition I recently discovered the TenFourFox browser, aimed at old Beige PPC and G3/4 Apple computers. While Apple might say these computers are now obsolete, there is a day hard demographic of users who would say other wise. The TenFourFox browser is optimised to run specifically on older systems and visibly out performs Firefox and Safari, which up until not so long back, were the only options available.

So if you still own an old Apple computer, what ever you do don’t bin it! Donate it to someone in need a good machine. A PPC running system 9 or a G3/4 system still has it’s uses for word processing, desktop publishing, retrieving email and light surfing. Heck you can watch DVD’s on some of them without a problem.

As for the Daystar G4 550, I cannot speak for what it must have been like using one back in 2004-5 when they where new to the scene. Using one now in 2013, I think is just common sense. The speed benefits make the laptop very useable and able to handle web pages better then with the stock G3 400mhz CPU. Daystar really did do a good job on this product, it’s just a pity it was so damned expensive in its heyday. Given the problems Apple were having with Motorola at the time, who were stuck at the 500mhz barrier, struggling to get G4 chips to run stable at 500 /550mhz speeds. It’s no wonder those few chips that where stable, where sold at a premium.


Lincolnshire Amiga Group 31st Meeting, repair, repair and game

Saturday saw yet another congregation of the Lincolnshire Amiga Group, 11 people where able to make it this time round, which isn’t a shabby turn out at all.

Image

“Nothing says Amiga more then Monkey Island”

While my girlfriend took along her trusty A600 for a session of point & click adventuring, I’d brought along my Amiga 3000 still needing attention and my micro AmigaOne with freshly installed 512mb SDRAM. This time around it finally seemed to be working, unlike last time, when the ram I bought produced errors while surfing the net. Just as I had been warned, the Au1 is a picky little bugger when it comes to ram. Hopefully this time I’ve found a stick of SDRAM that will work. While sitting beside my GF who was enjoying a game of Monkey Island II, I realised after all the time spent setting up the Au1 so that it was working with all the right apps, had completely neglecting the subject of games. This left me sitting at LAG without a game to play. Luckily I had packed my A1200 which had one or two games on the HDD, “UFO: Enemy unknown” being one of them and also one of my favourite Amiga games. Ok I might keep getting wiped out by the Aliens, but there’s something about the isometric game which I find very appealing. I’ve tried playing other newer incarnations of the game, but frankly nothing beats the original for me.

One of the reason I had took along the A3000 was in the hope Gaz would be able to give it a looking over. The man knows a heck of a lot more than I do about the A3000, not surprising when I’ve hardly had one more than two years. In anticipation of meeting up with him, I had printed out the pin configurations for the A3k. My plan was to return the A3000 to its stock settings and then slowly add hardware a piece at a time. Getting it to even boot would be a result, given it would turn on and display nothing at all, except a blank screen!

The last time the A3k had worked, was prior to installing an A3640 processor card and a brand new ZoRAM 128mb card. After installing the two cards, the power supply in my aging A3000 finally decided it had enough and decided to pop, perhaps taking offence to being asked to power more demanding hardware. A bright spark and puff of smoke and the PSU was toast, leaving me with a major problem. Where Imagethe heck was I meant to find a replacement? I couldn’t really phone Commodore for technical support. Fortunately I was in luck, some boffin had worked out how to use a modern ATX power supply in an A3000 and A4000. Glancing at the how-to, it was unlike any project I had taken on before. Now I will take on most things for the hell of it, but playing about with the guts of 240v power supplies and transformers just makes my spider sense tingle.  Thoroughly convinced I was going to electrocute myself or fry my Amiga. I spoke to Gaz, who was more than willing to help me rewire a PSU at the next LAG. In the mean time I found a mini ATX psu, the sort found in Compaq and Dell compact office computers. By all counts, it looked like it would fit inside my existing A3k PSU casing, which would keep the Amiga looking original.

After a lot of help from Gaz, the new PSU was up and working, with only a few wires left for me to tidy up, the more hazardous work having been done already. Installing the new PSU in the A3k, I was actually rather nervous, the explosive memory of the old PSU was still in my mind. So I donned a set of insulated gloves before switching the A3k on. With a whir of the fan and a blink of the front LED the Amiga powered on. Except it wasn’t booting from the hard disk drive or posting an image on the screen. Something was up and this time it wasn’t the power supply.

Now we fast forward to LAG 31, remember I wasn’t playing games? Right well instead of a romp of Monkey Island 2, I decided more fun would be had taking the A3000 apart, because that just how rock and roll I am!

Dragging Gaz away from his machine and sitting him in front of the A3000, I explained what I’d done so far and my plan with the jumpers. The print out really wasn’t needed, as he poked his head in the Amiga and adjusted most of the jumpers from memory. See? I told you he knew more about the A3k then I did, any doubters should get to the back of the class.

Switching on the machine I held my breath, a few moments passed then finally the screen came to life! Hurray! My Amiga was alive! It had narrowly dodged becoming a glorified paper weight on the shelf. One after the other we slowly installed the zorro cards until the machine was up and working with my Picasso II video card, X-surf network adaptor and 128mb ZoRAM memory expansion. The new psu was handling everything that was thrown at it, in addition the inside of the Amiga looked no different to any other A3000, aside from a few shrink wrapped wires. Overall I think this mod / repair scores an awesome on my fix-o-meter!

A big thank you has to go out to Gaz for all his help, Rockape for the A3640 and several guys on the Amiga.org forum, who kindly pointed me in the direction of the jumper settings for the A3000 motherboard.

(Written on an Macintosh Plus with 4mb ram & 500mb Hard disk.)