Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

A kind of uneventful week is hopefully going to turn into a true retrocomputing beauty named Friday.

Let us help a little with a number of fine topics that we found during the last days. Should you still own an Apple IIgs, then we have 3 cookies for you in this issue.

Besides that we cover a number of topics related to game consoles like the Magnavox and NES, a very cool and free of charge lecture of computer architecture and a number of other topics that should make it easy to get into the weekend.

We hope you enjoy issue #18 and without wasting more words on the intro …


Don't Miss

All BYTEs in one Room

BYTE Magazine
Source: https://vintageapple.org/

Sweet bitter nostalgia … back in the 80s when the Internet was not available to the public yet, and did not even have that name, it was kind of hard to stay up to date with micro- and homecomputing. The pace of releases of new hardware, software and games was insane.

So you had to rely on the group of the privileged … computer journalists. 👨‍💻

These ladies and gentleman were allowed to play with all this digital candy all day. What a dream job! I personally still remember my heart rate and dopamine levels when I bought my desired magazine at the newsstand every two weeks. And woe betide me if it wasn't there.

Plenty of magazines flooded the market over the years, but at least one stood out: The BYTE Magazine. 

Between June 1975 and and October 1998 there have been a whopping 287 issues often with more than 200 pages. And all that goodness can be found online here.

The Team behind vintageapple.org provides each and every issue as a PDF, but currently their servers seem to be affected by a popular rank at HN 🤷‍♂️.

Most but not all issues can also be found on the archive in the meantime.

Grab some hot milk and cookies, a great afternoon is ahead. 🍪

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Pixel Upscaling

Pixel Upscaling
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Fun story that really happened: In 2011 while working for a client, one of the designers approached the developer catacombs and complained about our realization of one of his designs. Specifically - he was not happy with the appearance of a 1 pixel wide black line. He wanted us to make it thinner. 🧐

His solution: „Simply make it half a pixel wide!

After each of those present had tried to give an explanation, but the young man still didn't start to question his beliefs, it was my job to kindly but firmly compliment him out of the room. No one had booked the 'entertainment package' that day. 🥳

Ever since the first appearance of HiDPI displays it is hard to imagine the time, when resolutions like 320x200 or even less were up to date. Nevertheless restrictions can be a great booster of creativity, and there is a ginormous amount of 8-bit artwork out there, that makes so much out of so little. And that is what makes a retro gamers heart beat faster.

So it is an interesting question whether old games run in an emulator should be scaled up.

There are different upscaling algorithms and Nicole Branagan known as @nicole_express took an in-depth look at the question in her latest article.

As always super informative and entertaining. Even without half pixels …

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Web Browser for the APPLE IIgs

A Browser for the Apple IIgs
Source: https://speccie.uk/

There are some 3 fundamental rules in life:

1. Never attempt to play Poker with someone named 'Doc'.

2. Never eat in a restaurant called 'Mother’s'.

3. Never try to access the World Wide Web on an Apple IIgs.

Wait … 3 is not even possible, because the IIgs was released in September 1986! So what are we talking about?

Sit down. An individual who’s identity could not be fully revealed, but who is a descendant of H.T. Wyse seems to have too much spare time. And this person successfully implemented a simple but working web browser for this lovely machine - webber.

Of course you can only open pages without any CSS and Javascript, and you have to connect your Apple to the interwebs somehow, but it works.

And since the majority of the daily tasks of an average person could still be done on an old 8-bit machine (as we will see down below): Why not?

The IIgs has a MOS 65C816 at it’s heart, a 16-bit descendant of the 6502. Imagine how much fun it must be, to implement the HTTP protocol and a DOM renderer in 65XX assembly. 😵‍💫

Well done. Really well done Sir.

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Flappy Mac

Flappy Mac
Source: https://metalbabble.wordpress.com/

We stay with the Mac for the next one. Jarrod, known as @gruz on Twitter recently released another jewel for the 68k line of these machines. It is really interesting, how especially very simple game concepts can be so addictive.

Remember 'Flappy Bird'? Say Hello to: Flappy Mac.

The concept is exactly the same, there are 1-bit and 8-bit graphics modes and the gameplay is just that - pure fun.

Enjoy a round or 200, and don’t crash your Mac!💥 

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Ahead of the Wave

Digital Design & Computer Architecture

Digital Design & Computer Architecture - Full Course
Source: https://unsplash.com/

During the last 1 1/2 years retrocomputing has experienced an extreme boost. People simply had more time and let’s face it, one day 8-bit and 16-bit hardware will rule the world again. Who needs RISC-V when you can have SAP? 😬

But back to business: Did you think of implementing your own CPU lately? Would you like to go beyond of what Ben Eater and others did? Then you might have to up your CPU architecture game a little bit.

And guess what, the ETH Zurich and especially Prof. Onur Mutlu decided to release the full Digital Design & Computer Architecture lecture of 2020 and 2021 on Youtube!

This is a big one. In this playlist you gonna find 32 videos between 1 1/2 and 3 hours of length.

But be careful, there is really a lot to consume. You can skip the first two videos, they are just an introduction. But from #03 on Prof. Mutlu tackles the really meaty stuff.

There are very, very few high quality lectures available online free of charge. This is one of them. Your turf? Then you should not miss it.

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Gamedev for NES

Game Development for the NES
Source: https://www.patreon.com/posts/56724847

We spoke about the relation between restrictions and creativity already above. And compared to nowadays game consoles the NES was extremely restricted. The more fun it is to develop software for that neat box full of plastic and silicon.

A developer going by the name Kasumi does so, and attempts to implement at least a few levels of Spelunky 2. The original game was released in 2009 and can not be called 'retro', but implementing the successor on the NES is at least an activity that sounds like a serious retro challenge.

In his post Kasumi speaks about all the details of the implementation. And even though it is hard to decide, whether this back-port from the Nintendo Switch to the NES can be considered a down- or an upgrade, there are a number of serious downscaling challenges, that came up during the development.

Quite an interesting read. Whether you develop retro games or not, there is plenty to learn.

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Magnavox Multi Game Cart

Magnavox Multigame Cartridge
Source: https://twitter.com/8bitsinbasement

Despite the fact, that at the beginning of the 80s the Atari 2600 ruled the game console market, there have been a number of competitors.

One of these was the Philips C52, also known as Magnavox Odyssey 2 and released under different names worldwide. The Magnavox was actually quite successful. At the end of 1983 more than 1 million units were sold in the US alone.

The console was driven by an Intel 8048 8-bit CPU running at 5.37 MHz, had a screen resolution of 160x200, 16 colors and a noise generator driven by an Intel 8244/8245 custom IC.

There has been a huge supply of games, and each one had to be purchased as a ROM cartridge, one game per cart. Of course.

But Peter, also known as 8bitsinthebasement thought, he could do better. He wanted a multi game cartridge and even without any in-depth knowledge regarding the topic, he decided to just wing it.

His approach is quite an enjoyable read and in addition you get a YouTube video where he details the console.

Still have a Magnavox in the attic? Go and get it, this one is for you.

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Texteditor in Assembly

Texteditor Written In Assembly
Source: https://twitter.com/mach_kernel

And a last one regarding the Apple IIgs for today. One of the most fundamental pieces of software that you need on a computer, is an editor. No matter what, just an editor and an assembler make a system really independent from cross-assemblers.

However, implementing an editor is easier said than done. Ask David Stancu. He did it. And he did it on an Apple IIgs.

What a feat. David decided to implement mrbuffer purely in assembly. There are other options, but he actually wanted the MOS 65618 to run in real 16-bit mode, and ditched the idea of C compilers for the 6502 compatibility mode.

In this article David goes into all the gory details of the memory map, video RAM, character display and the necessary architecture for an editor.

A very nice read for everyone, who still enjoys some 65xx assembly.

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Bitblitting Explained
Source: https://youtu.be/-6g1tD66QBA

Bit blitting is the process of combining two or more bitmaps using boolean operations. This technique became popular with the Amiga home computer series, and the 'Blitter' dubbed chip enabled a number of hardware accelerated graphics effects, that were simply not possible on older 8-bit systems - at least not in hardware.

Computerphile a sister project of Numberphile recently looked at the mechanisms behind bitblitting. And even though the technique is not used anymore in modern day graphics hardware, it is quite an interesting topic to get into. Enjoy the video.

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Oscilloscope Music

Oscilloscope Music
Source: https://youtu.be/4gibcRfp4zA

When you connect two microphones to an oscilloscope, one controlling the X- and the other controlling the Y-axis of the displayed signal, you can create images just using sound.

And surprisingly, very complex images can be displayed. So it is rather less surprising that there is an entire community dedicated to this topic.

Destin Sandlin aka @smartereveryday took a deeper look and is your guide in this beautiful audio-visual journey. I have barely seen him freak out. In this video he does.


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N64 History

Nintendo 64 - History
Source: https://youtu.be/4AELIX81i9Y

The N64 was not the most successful console that Nintendo released. But with a diabolical plan to optimize profits, the company has decided to make more than a few of these devices after all. 👹

If you like the console or not, it was a game changer and Ian Thorpe - @historicalnerd on Twitter - decided to get into the details and produced a video about the N64’s history. He just released it on YouTube and you find it here.

High quality content that is just a joy to watch. 

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Long Running ATARI ST

Long Running ATARI ST
Source: https://youtu.be/6LxPEz9x2fs

One of the advantages of old 8- and 16-bit machines of the 80s was, that you just switched them on and they were ready. And most 16-bit machines like the Amiga and Atari ST ran most of their games without loading an operating system beforehand.

So using these machines for serious tasks other than gaming came with the advantage of very short startup times.

Victor Bart found an extraordinary example of an Atari ST  which was used to manage a campsite in Holland using a self-written program. Nothing special so far. But: The Atari is in use ever since. The 80s. Today!

That is as cool as unbelievable, but convince yourself in the short and a little unusual video.

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That was quite a mix again. Since our little magazine has seen quite a decent growth since the start, it is an interesting challenge every week, to compile the topics such, that there is something for everyone.

Therefore we are more than happy, if you want to help us out and point us towards topics you like, a project you work on or just something cool you found in the net. You can contact us via email or use our ‚Suggest‘ feature on the site anonymously.

Reading is silver. Sharing is gold. If you enjoy 8bitnews, please help us to spread the word. Every minute spent with retrocomputing is not wasted on any other meaningless activity. 😜 Help us to make the world a better place, and convince more people of the inevitable superiority of 8- and 16-bit machines by sharing a link to 8bitnews.io.

Enjoy the weekend. Work on something. And speak about it - preferably with us!

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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