So it’s been a little quite on BMV, but as always that doesn’t mean I’m not tinkering away in the background. In fact since the Manchester Expo, I have been busy playing X-Files which I bought while at the event. Originally for the PSone, the game plays almost like an episode from the show. In fact many fans consider the events in the game canon. Especially as the story for the game was written by X-Files very own Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Filmed using Virtual Cinema technology, the game is presented in full motion video.
As my original PSone is somewhere in the attic, I’ve been playing the game on my Ps2. Because the PS2 emulates the PSone, it doesn’t always manage to do it right, X-files is one such game it struggles to run. The cursor along with game icon’s appear distorted. This isn’t much of an issue for the most part, but becomes annoying during the games shootout scenes. Where finding the right spot to shoot a villain can be hit and miss, leading me to reload at least half a dozen times before I passed the stage. Even after that, the game is still very playable and worth a look if you are a fan of FMV games or the X-Files TV show.
In truth, I think it is because I am a fan, that I’ve been so forgiving on the game for it’s bad shootout mechanics. This game was released in 1998 and for the day it was cutting edge stuff. I still have the PC version which I bought when it came out. I don’t recall the shootout’s being as hard on the PC as they are on the Playstation. Perhaps this is because you are using a keyboard and mouse on the PC, as opposed to a joypad.
I remember finishing this game in the 90’s, but for the life of me I dont remember how it ends. For that matter, I don’t remember a lot of the scenes in the game. So for the most part it has been like playing the game for the first time all over again. So here’s a tip boys and girls, if you have a game you really like, wait 16 years and then play it again!! I’m getting my moneys worth twice!
Recently my friend Mark decided to bestow upon me his entire BBC Micro collection.
- 1x Model B
- 1x BBC Master 128
- 1x Acorn Electron
- 2x Boxes of unidentifiable brick a brack
- 1x Apple Macintosh Plus (eh?)
Originally I was meant to be getting just the Macintosh Plus, as I’d been having issues with my own and having a spare is never a bad thing. Instead he gave me all of the above, much to the annoyance of my partner. So for the past week or two, I’ve been working through the boxes and switching on the machines to see what works and what doesn’t. Sadly the Electron or Elk as I’ve learned they are called, didn’t power on. A quick test of the PSU revealed it was working fine, so the problem must lay with the micro itself. Having spoken to one or two people on the Stairway to hell forums, it could just be that the ULA chip needs re-seating. It turns out certain models of Elk can be a little temperamental.
In a unique turn of events, ByteMyVdu received it’s very first freebie last week, straight from the nice chaps at TechShack. I had been reading for some time on Amibay about the UIDE interface. A device which updates the 80’s micro computer, allowing you to connect an IDE storage device to your Spectrum +2 or Spectrum +3. Most people seem to choose compact flash, the Spectrums equivalent to modern SSD! It’s small, has low power consumption and best of all isn’t very expensive. If you consider that the entire Spectrum library takes up less then 1.5Gb, you could buy an inexpensive 2Gb CF card and never had to use a tape ever again! Better still your Spectrum +2 will load many of the same files as your average Spectrum emulator, loading snapshots in at around 6 seconds. I guess that puts an end to the tea run while the game is loading!
Soon I will be writing an article dedicated to the UIDE, how to install it in your Spectrum, any pitfalls your might encounter and finally how good it is for playing games. Has the ‘Datacorder’ finally met it’s match? We’ll find out!
Until next time….keep on geeking!
In the past I have covered the Raspberry Pi only briefly, so I thought it was about time that I finally wrote a piece on this tiny computer which everyone seems to be buzzing about. For the next few blogs, I shall cover the history of the computer from inception to production and finally, what I make of it. Is it all hype? Or do we really have something that promises to get young brains thinking and finally tinkering?
A Brief History of Pi
The concept for the Raspberry Pi was thought up by Eben Upton back in 2006. As Director of studies in computer science at Cambridge university, Upton noticed a decline in computer science skills while he was lecturing and working in admissions. This begged the question why? Past applicants who had grown up using and programming on computers such as the BBC, Spectrum, Commodore 64’s and Amiga, displayed a much better grasp of computers, than the Windows generation that now succeeded it. This new generation of computer users where not pushed to code like those who had grown up with 8 bit and 16bit computers. Figures showing a marked drop in applicants, backed up his theory that schools where not doing enough the educate pupils in programming. Which caused him to form the “Raspberry Pi Foundation“. As the Foundation’s trustee, Eben Upton enlisted the help of teachers, academics and computer enthusiasts to devise a computer to inspire children.
In August 2006, fifty Alpha boards where produced, larger than the final design to accommodate debug headers. Some of these boards where used for demonstration purposes, showing the Pi abilities to run an LXDE desktop on Debian, Quake 3 at 1080P and playback of high definition MPEG-4 over HDMI.
By 29th February 2012 the first batch of boards went on sale, the two official retail outlets in the UK, Premier Farnell and RS Components where overwhelmed with orders, so much that they caused servers to stall.
Growing up in the 80s I remember taking books from the library with my best friend and spending evenings coding games. We might never have learned exactly what we where doing, but we did learn to recognise an “IF RUN” statement and what would happen if you changed a value in the code that related to health or ammo. In the 80s it wasn’t uncommon to find computer magazines like Zap64 & CRASH encouraging you to modify code within a game to give you extra life or to skip a level. It was all part of the fun, once you started with one game, you’d try messing with another to see if you could alter stats.
By the time the 90s had come around, games written in BASIC where becoming harder to find, tho platforms such as the Amiga, offered Amos and HiBasic as languages you could learn to code your own games. Slowly as the IBM Compatible PC crept in to homes as the new home computer, the time of Public Domain libraries was slowly coming to a close. The Sony Playstation was the sought after console of the mid nineties, along with such platforms as the Nintendo Gameboy which had arrived in 89 and was still going strong. For a younger generation games were now something you played not created. I don’t ever recall seeing software for making games for the PSone yourself, nor for the Gameboy. This trend would carry on through with the Playstation 2, Game Cube and Xbox.
REPAIRING THE BBC MICRO
For the past few months I have been trying to nail down an annoying fault which has developed in the BMV’s BBC micro. Because of my health and the weather, I have not been able to look at it as much as i might have liked. However last weekend, I was able to get my nose inside the micro to take a look. One suggestion given to me was to reduce the Beebs memory to 16k. By means of switching a jumper on the motherboard. This would determine whether or not the fault was indeed ram related. Disable half the beebs memory i found the beeb to be almost useless with the software i had, all except Wordwise. Which is one of the roms built in to the micro and also the software I use to write blogs for BMV.
Running a memory test I had typed out in BASIC. The test came back fine, reporting no errors at all. Which would indicate the fault is with one of the ram modules in the upper 16k of the beebs memory.
For the time being while the beeb is fixed. The Nomad will be taking over, which is ok. As the Nomad can run the same software as the BBC through emulation.
When I heard the Magna center in Sheffield was holding ‘Games Britannia: Replayed’ I knew it was going to be something special. Arriving a little before 3pm on the Saturday, I walked in to the main hall and was instantly at home.
In one corner was a collection of BBC’s micro’s mostly model B’s from what i could make out. I later discover they had been used for a Beeb class room, teaching school children to program. Mix amongst the Beebs a crowd was now gathered, it didn’t take long to discovered why. In the center of the crowd was Eben Upton and his wife Liz speaking about the Raspberry Pi. Both of whom I later found to be very approachable and pleasent.
Pitched as the modern day Beeb, the Raspberry Pi is well worth taking note of. Standing to put you back £25, this all in one computer is powerful enough to surf the net, watch movies, do school work, play games and even use as a tv multimedia center like an AppleTV. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the Pi is a pretty versatile computer. Especially when you take in to consideration its size, 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm. Not much bigger then a mobile phone.
Being introduced to the Upton’s by a friend of mine, who also happens to be the guy behind the Raspberry Pi logo. I have to confess I did not know until later, who I was being introduced to. Both where warm and happy to chat. It was interesting to hear the various questions people had been asking them about the Pi. Such as “How do I hook it up?”
Questions like these to me, highlight a growing ignorance some people suffer when it comes to technology. Beginning with OSX, Apple computers have become one of the least complicated systems to operate. The user has to carry out only the most minimal of maintanence. In order to keep the computer running properly. The majority of the work being carried out in the background by the computer.
Could it be that this aim to improve productivity and reduce how hands on the user is with their computers up keep. Has led to a generation of people, who think using a computer is as complicated as operating their DVD player. If we rewind to the beginning of the 80’s. People where buying the newly released Sinclair ZX Spectrum in kit form, as a means to keep costs down. With an instruction manual and soldering iron, they would spend weekends building their newly aquired computers. Today this sort of activity is unheard of, which in my opinion is a pity. Speaking from experience, there’s a lot to be said for building a computer system from scratch.
I can honestly say I have never been surrounded by so many consoles. The sheer number and variety was overwhelming. NES, Snes, Saturn, Dreamcast, VCS, A500, CD32, C64, C128, Spectrum, yes there was A LOT! My first console to try was an old Vectrex, this iconic console still has a strong following even today. Having seen how much these babies sell for online, I was amazed it was simply sitting there in a dark corner, silently inviting passers by to play with its bright vector graphics.
You can read about consoles all you like, but nothing beats sitting in front of that vivid screen and using the antiquated controllers to blast incoming missiles, as the hail down to flatten your cities. The Vectrex was everything I had read it to be and then some. For an old console, I was quite content to let the show pass me by, while I blasted away with my missile defense system.
I was truly in heaven, however don’t be fooled. It was not all seen through roses tinted glasses. Indeed several of the consoles I tried, sported very unique spins on the common joystick. Something we all take for granted, but which took money, time and research to evolve in to what it is today. It strikes me as no surprise that the VCS 2600 was so popular. The single button, 8 axis controller was simple to use and easy to operate. Unlike several controllers I attempted to game with while at the event. I found Donkey Kong on the CBS ColecoVision to be something of a challenge to play at first, compared to the copy I have on my VCS 2600, which is a doddle to play.
Back in the fledgling years of the gaming industry, everyone was scrambling to get their units in to families homes. Be that with addictive software titles, impressive graphics or down to earth cheapness! A strategy which was used by many at the time and still employed today. This battle for a piece of the action, led companies to try all manner of tactics to lure in buyers. One of which was the joystick, incorporating multiple function buttons in to the base, must have seemed like a one up, from the humble Atari joystick. However most of these offerings, sufferers from being chunky or awkward to operate. In the end, the dear old 2600 joystick would out lived them all.
Settling and old score
Back in the mid 80’s my parents picked me up a Texas TI-99 at a jumble sale. It was the first computer I’d ever owned. Sadly it hadn’t come with any software, which eventually led to it being shoved in a closet. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to play on a working example of the TI-99, just to see what I was missing out on. Many a night had I spent messing on my second hand computer with no games, it wasn’t because I was sad or desperate for a computer, only a year later I found myself with a shiny new C64. The TI-99 with its black keyboard and shiny metal case was a thing of wonder to my 8 year old eyes. Opening the door to a whole new exciting world. Playing on my best friends Spectrum +2, I had seen what computers where capable off and I wanted in.
Playing Parsec on the TI-99 was a dream come true and I truly had a blast playing on it. Having read about Parsec in a issue of Retrogamer, I was pleased to find it was everything I had read. The unit I played on was fitted with the add-on voice synthesizer, which comes in to its own when playing Parsec, giving you a female voice reporting the next wave of enemy ships. It was truly unusual to hear such a human sounding voice, emanating from an 8 bit computer. The TI-99 maybe have to be added to my wishlist of old computers.
Meeting an old friend
Wandering the main hall, what did I come across next, but an Amiga 1200, which someone had left trying to load ‘The NewZealand Story’. An A500 game on a A1200, oh dear, oh dear. By sheer coincidance, I know from first hand experience, that this game does not favour some A1200’s running 3.1 rom’s. Even with relokick, it freezes during the loading process. Whom ever had left the A1200 loading, must have been unaware of this.
As I sat there, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of coming to Replayed, have dozens of machines to choose from and sit in front of yet another Amiga. As it happened, my choice of location could not have been better. When a young couple stopped to admire the Amiga and ask me if NewZealand story was working. Being in my element, I explained what was wrong. Which then led them to ask if I was working at the event, I said no and went on to explain my history with Amiga computers and the Lincolnshire Amiga group. As it turned out, the woman’s father had introduced her to Amiga’s at an early age and NewZealand story was her favourite game. Which made the taunting disfunctional copy on the A1200 a real pity. Informing her of Amiga Forever, an Amiga emulator you can run on a modern computer. I pointed out that getting to play her favourite childhood games wasn’t beyond possibility.
Shareware…erm Indie Games!
During my roam around the hall, I found a stall showing off indie games. The two games I tried where of a surprisingly good standard for homebrew games. While support extends for only Windows at present. The rep promised they where working on supporting both Mac and Linux platforms. Paying for software on Linux perhaps goes against the Linux open source ethos. So its to be seen how this takes off.
I’ll end now with photos from the event.
While you might be forgiven for thinking the blogger of ByteMyVDU has nicked the complimentary soap and done a runner, the truth is, I’ve been burning the midnight oil and tinkering with old technology or as my family calls it “tat”.
First on the agenda was the Amstrad NC100. It proved to be less a headache then I had expected, which resulted in last weeks blog being written on the 90’s notepad computer. In a later blog, I intend to do a more thorough break down of the system, as I only skimmed the surface, neglecting to cover the most important subject “file transfers”. How does one get files from the NC100 to, say, a home computer running Windows 7 or Vista? All shall be revealed.
In the mean time, I’d like the cover my recent adventures in to the 8Bit world of the BBC micro computer. “Retrogamer #101” did a section on this iconic computer which was pretty ironic, given how I’ve been playing around with said machine in only the past few weeks. Speaking as a Spectrum and C64 user, I always saw the Beeb as a school computer. If you owned one at home, that was just SAD! But how wrong I would have been. Okay, the Speccy and C64 held the gaming crown. A quick look over the library of BBC games will reveal no “Batman – Caped Crusader”, “Chase HQ” or “Jack The Nipper”. It is the BBC however, whom we have to thank for “Elite” which gave birth to a whole new game genre. This blog however isn’t to bash the poor Beeb for not being a gaming system, but to highlight it’s strengths.
For productivity, the BBC holds it’s own and shines through as a big boys computer, making the other micros seem almost toy-like. Now, I grew up with a C64, my best friend had the Plus 2 Spectrum and then later the Amiga 500+. We were spoiled for choice. While I was at school I didn’t start using a computer for home work until owning the Amiga. The thought of using my C64 for anything else then games, never entered my mind. It was probably because it wasn’t a feature those machines where promoted for. I have since used a Spectrum +2 with a printer, both an dot matrix and LS-120.
Saving and loading from tape was a laborious activity and not something I enjoyed, even as a test back in 2007 to see if it could be done. So as a kid back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, I think it’s safe to say, I’d not have bothered 😛 I was a gamer, not an uber nerd like the kid from Wargames!
In my next issue, I’ll cover more on the BBC micro and what I’m doing with “Wordwise-Plus” and why I’m getting excited over a serial cable!
So about a month ago I was toying about with the Beebem on the Nomad. A great emulator and well worth installing if your running Linux and happen to have a soft spot for retro gaming. However as is often the case with me, my thoughts drifted to the acquisition of a real BBC Micro, specifically a model B. Mainly because it was the model B, which I remember using at school and for some reason I always made sure I was sitting with this particular series. I honestly have no idea where this affinity with the “B” comes from.
So with that thought well lodged in my mind, I posted a “wanted” on the Amibay website, asking if anyone
had an old Beeb gathering dust in a closet, which they’d be willing to give a new home. After several weeks and no resp
onse what so ever. I concluded it had been a good idea, but people where holding tightly on to their micro’s and I really did not have the funds to buy one from Ebay. If you consider a monitor, floppy drive, Model B bought all together or separate, the postage alone is worth crying over.
Then the unexpected happened, I hadn’t been on Amibay for several days and was surprised to find I had an email waiting for me when I logged in at the beginning of this week. A very polite message asking me if I was still looking for a BBC Micro and if I was, I could have one, with monitor, floppy. All for the price of postage and a couple of beers. Yes you did read that right, I’m not pulling your leg. There still exists generous people on the T’interweb!
As one might imagine, I took my time typing out a reply at around 30 letters a seconds! No sooner had I sent my reply. I received a response, saying the Beeb was still available and mine pending funds to cover the postage and consumption of fermented vegetable products. So without further ado, money was sent as soon as I had it to send. Now all I have to do is wait until next week, when hopefully the courier will be gracing me with a new addition to the vintage collection.
Finally have the last ingredients for making the retrobrite formula, originally I had intended to test the process out on a defunct A1200, but now my candidate shall be an aging Gameboy. Which sadly has succumbed to the effects of yellowing plastics. Watch this space for news on how I get on.