Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

We don’t know why, but once in a while (a very short while) it turns out to be Friday! And Friday is usually the day before Retro-Saturday™ and Retro-Sunday™.

So what could be a better preparation for the weekend than a lot of retro-style 8-bit news?

We can’t think of any, therefore let’s open the box and dive into old school adventures and text adventure games, a new FPGA based 6502 variant, SuperMario64 on your iPhone, a new release of the Foenix team and more, and more …

As always we hope you enjoy issue #20.

Don't Miss

SCUMM VM Turns 20

SCUMM VM Turns 20
Source: https://www.lucasfilm.com/

Just before the end of the 80s, the C64 had cemented its rock-solid place in living- and children's rooms around the world. The quality of games was constantly increasing, and the majority of representatives were horizontal or vertical scrollers - platformers and shooters. However, friends of the cultivated text adventure also got their money's worth, if thhey did not expect elaborated graphic design.

But that all changed in 1987 with the release of Maniac Mansion. Tremendous. Even today, it is hard to imagine how Ron Gilbert, David Fox, Carl Mey et.al. were able to squeeze so much adventure into so little memory and CPU cycles. Their trick was SCUMM - the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion.

SCUMM is actually a simple language, which can be used to convert human-readable commands into byte-sized tokens, that then would be read by an interpreter that presented the game to the player.

Lucasfilm Games and later LucasArts based all subsequent adventure games on this virtual machine, which was initially extended by Aric Wilmunder and Chip Morningstar and later by a whole army of developers. But the basic principle remained the same.

20 years ago at least 46 people decided to build an independent open source SCUMM virtual machine - ScummVM.

Happy Birthday!

ScummVM has come a long way, and besides the original Adventures by LucasArts, an enormous number of games from other publishers are supported today. For those who love Lucas Adventures, the ScummVM is a perfect replacement and you can enjoy these games still today .

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The 100MHz 6502

The 6502 was and is simply everywhere. This CPU is around for 46 years now, and still gets so much love, that it is no wonder, projects like MEGA65 and others create lots of attention.

The compatible successor W65C02S from Western Design Center is still in production today and can be clocked to at least 14 MHz. Can it go any faster?

It can!

Jürgen Müller from the lovely city of Hamburg has taken an FPGA design of the 6502 by Arlet Ottens, Ed Spittles and David Banks and put it on a Spartan-6 FPGA with 64 kByte on-chip RAM. This way Jürgen created a PIN-out compatible chip to the 65C02.

The CPU, which he named 65F02, supports up to 16 programmable memory maps and is therefore directly applicable to a whole range of old chess computers. But also the Apple ][ and the Commodore PET/CBM up to the 8032 can be operated with this little wonder of digital technology.

Other computers like especially the C64 are pending, questionable if there will ever be a corresponding version, but - who knows?

Awesome work Jürgen!

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DitherPaint Release

DitherPaint Release
Source: https://pixelmaker04.itch.io/

The graphical capabilities of many systems of the late 70s and early 80s were naturally very limited. Much more creativity - away from billions of polygons, shaders and texture maps - was required to create something stunning.

And what kind of pull-ups did developers and designers make back then, to bring us users into exciting and adventurous worlds.

But PixelArt plays a big role again today! Many retrogame concepts are based on the idea of reduced resolution and color palette, and many consoles - such as the pico8 fantasy console reviewed in issue #11 - benefit from this retro vibe.

Jacob Bullock - known on Twitter as PixelMaker04 - is striking in the same vein. A few days ago, he unveiled the first official release of DitherPaint81 - a graphic design tool for the ZX Spectrum.

The predecessor DitherPaint99 was aimed at the TI99/4A. The current version runs on Sinclair ZX81 /Timex 1000 computers.

The idea of DitherPaint is already obvious from the name, but this video shows the program in action, should you still wonder.

Fancy a little PixelArt? What are you waiting for?

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SuperMario64 on iOS

SuperMario64 on iOS
Source: https://unsplash.com/

As a serious SuperMario64 fan you surely know the port of the game for Linux and Windows called sm64-port.

This implementation is not quite new, but considering the release date of the Nintendo64 it is still a youngster.

But now Christian Kosman has set out to port the source code to iOS and Apple hardware. And voilà: sm64ex-ios.

Seems, Christian was successful.

Of course you have to have the game assets. Who of us doesn't own the original N64 Mario ROM? 🤔 And of course there will never be an official Appstore release. But with a little bit of effort, XCode, Python and access to a Mac, you can have the game up and running on your iPhone relatively quickly.

And for those who want to see the whole thing beforehand, Christian has a demo video on Reddit.

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Your Very Own Text Adventure

Adventure Development Environment
Source: https://adventuron.io/

The magic and level of immersion of a well-done text adventure can be overwhelming. Text adventures of the late 70s and later variants with bitmap graphics enjoyed great popularity then as now and paved the way for more modern point & click adventures like the ones by LucasArts mentioned above.

With the BASIC interpreters available in classic 8-bit machines it was possible, to create your own text adventure with relatively little effort. But imagine you had a modern, browser-based tool with which you could build your very own text adventure in 2021 and publish it on itch.io!

That is exactly what Chris Ainsley and the wonderful folks of @LearnAdventuron thought, and created Adventuron. A game creation environment for text based adventure games. In. Your. Browser!

You are introduced to the easy-to-learn scripting language with the help of a tutorial. In no time you will find yourself in your very own text adventure and can release your gem for mobile devices, desktop systems but also classic computers.

Have a little too much free time? Here is your solution. 😏

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Foenix A2560K Available

Foenix A2560K Available
Source: https://c256foenix.com/

We already spoke about the Foenix Retro Computer series by Stefany Allaire in issue #17 of our magazine.

These machines are the dream of every retrocomputing fan who likes the 16- and 32-bit classics of the late 80s and early 90s, and loves to program down at the metal with Assembly and C.

Now Stefany has introduced the next child of the family. The Foenix A2560K comes with an integrated keyboard and visually reminds more of the 8-bit machines of the early 80s.

But the innards of this box are more than impressive. The CPU is a MC68040V with 25 MHz, a VICKY III for video output, and several Chiptune chips for audio output like SID, OPL3 and PSG are on board. The whole thing is completed with a 3.5'' floppy drive and a lot of ports, which open up a whole universe of possibilities for this machine.

The first batch is already sold out, but you can place an order for 2021. As always, we are not sponsored, just impressed.

Take a look yourself.

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Ahead of the Wave

TI Calculator Magic

Calculator Magic
Source: https://unsplash.com/

The microcomputer revolution didn't just happen in the living room. During the 90s and early 2000s there were also Texas Instruments and other vendors with their lines of Z80 based graphing calculators!

Sounds boring? Quite the opposite. Even though these calculators have only comparatively small displays, the Z80 CPU as a base - clocked at 8 to 10MHz - is enough to get games, emulators and whole mini-operating systems up and running.

George Hilliard was and is one of the cool kids who knows exactly how this works. And in this wonderful article he talks about the Gameboy emulator for the TI-84 Plus, the Ash shell, KnightOS, and a whole bunch of other stuff that a mere mortal wouldn't think a calculator could do.

Exciting reading.

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Breadboard Simulation

Breadboard Simulation
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Not only since Ben Eater and his YouTube series many of us like to play around with 5V logic chips on breadboards. In fact, we are currently building a breadboard based project that will hopefully see the light of day later this year.

But if you don't have breadboards available, or you are missing exactly the chip you need, simulators can help.

Well known is for example LogiSim in its countless versions or the great Digital by Helmut Neemann. Both are very capable logic and circuit simulators written in Java.

Lesser known is the Breadboard Simulator. The Windows software by @gatecatte can also be run on Linux or MacOS using Wine, and may be an interesting alternative.

So if you always wanted to play with electronics on breadboards without having to buy electronics and breadboards, this program might be a possible solution.

Give it a try.

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Apple ][ Composite Artifact Color

Apple ][ Composite Artifact Color
Source: https://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/

When in 1977 the Apple ][ started to establish the age of microcomputers, it was the first machine that - assuming an NTSC version - could display in color.

But the really interesting thing is, that the composite signal of the machine actually used a hack, which exploits low level technical color artifacts, which were normally supposed to be suppressed on old CRT monitors.

The Great Hierophant - whose identity unfortunately remains a mystery - has dedicated himself to the topic in detail and written an article about the technical background and engineering ingenuity.

Anyone who has ever dealt with the generation of more modern VGA or HDMI signals will be amazed by the creativity of the engineers of that era. 

A great article, absolutely worth every minute of reading time.

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Video Game Typefaces

Video Game Typefaces
Source: https://youtu.be/C5NiAoT3xsY

Way too often they are simply hidden by the brain - typefaces, fonts. There are so many of them, but only a few represent real icons and appear everywhere in print media.

But what about digital fonts? The news channel vox took a closer look at the most famous 8-bit arcade game font and its history. The video is as professionally produced as expected, and in 8 minutes and 11 seconds you will become a lot richer in knowledge about iconic font design.

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Russian Arcade Games

Russian Arcade Games
Source: https://youtu.be/bsAShNzaj6s

This gold nugget is already a bit older. But since we always like to report about hardware and software from Back-Then-Behind-the-Iron-Curtain™, we think it's absolutely worth checking out, if you're into Russian digital technology and arcade games.

The great ladies and gents from @hacksterio have been to a maker faire in Moscow in 2019, and checked out the Soviet Arcade Machine Museum alongside the fair.

The video is absolutely worth watching, and the level of inventiveness behind these machines is just wonderful. 

Enjoy the video.

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Ben Eater: Why FB Was Down

Ben Eater: Why Facebook was down
Source: https://youtu.be/-wMU8vmfaYo

Facebook was down. Twice. And you might be thinking something along the lines of … 'I could not care less'. Well, good point.

But what makes it interesting, is the story behind it. How did it happen, that one of the biggest social networks went down completely and for so long? And what does this mean for us?

To our surprise Ben Eater picked up this topic and just released an interesting video to give you all the facts.

To be honest, if it was not Ben, we would not have included this one. But his tour through the DNS protocol and how it works is super interesting. And Ben is so much 8-bit, so …

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Newtons Fractal

Newtons Fractal
Source: https://youtu.be/-RdOwhmqP5s

And our last one for today is as off-topic as beautiful. Grant Sanderson better known as 3blue1brown is always a guarantee-in-person for a number of things: entertainment, new knowledge and eye candy.

In his latest video he digs into Newton’s Fractal. A topic that is purely of mathematical origin but results in stunning fractal visuals.

Whether you like the channel or not (however that might be) give the video a chance. You won’t regret it.

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Recently we received a small number of complaints along the lines of: '…but THAT is a 16-bit machine…'. Yep. We admit it. But we were teached to go with the times and not stick to the very same thing for the whole live. You know, it’s probably just around 75 years. And it would not have been very convenient to call our magazine 8bitand16bitand32bitandwhatnotnews.io. So we stuck with just the 8. We hope that’s fine for the remaining 99.98% percent of you. 🤓

Anyway. If there is something you don't like about our little magazine, we take every serious email ... seriously.

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There are 7 long days to go. Carry it with composure. Create something. Speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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