Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

We have done it again. Somehow we bent space and time and made it so that today is Friday! 🕰

There haven’t been any big bangs during the last days, nevertheless, as always we came across a number of topics, that we’d like to share with you. A mix that is as colorful as a pack of Skittles and hopefully the one or the other topic resonates with your personal taste.

We tackle a cool Soviet-Era project, a campaign dedicated to 40 years of the ZX Spectrum, Prince of Persia, PONG’s predecessor, the infamous ColecoVision and much more.

In contrast to what you might expect, we keep Halloween out of issue #22.

Ok, this one: 🎃 Enough.


Don't Miss

Building a ColecoVision in 2021

ColecoVision - 2021 Rebuild
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Anomie

Get out the soldering iron and solder. We're building a video game console. We're gonna build a ColecoVision.

In 1982, Coleco introduced the device to the North American market. The second-generation console was meant to get closer to arcade video games than the Atari 2600 and 5200. And so the ColecoVision was the first videogame console to bring Nintendo's Donkey Kong into domestic living rooms.

Between 1982 and 1984, about 140 games hit the market, but the console disappeared after Coleco withdrew from the console market in 1985.

However - A blogger named Leaded Solder hasn't let that stop him from relaunching the console in 2021. In a series of blogposts, we get to look over the colleague's shoulder. The start of the series can be found here at Part 1 and currently we have arrived at Part 4

Honestly, the blog is not a real guide with all the details on how to build the console. But following the author's journey is just fun. At least if you have an interest in hardware tinkering.

Have fun. And be careful with the soldering iron. 🚒

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Project SPHINX

Project SPHINX
Source: MDM

There are developments that are revolutionary and far ahead of their time, but still never see the light of day. One of these developments was Project SPHINX by Russian developer Dmitry Azrikan.

Already in 1986 he developed a complex system for home automation, digital entertaining, communication, telecommuting, and even telemedicine at the VNIITE Design Institute in Saint Petersburg, which - from today's point of view corresponds exactly to the multimedia devices we use in our modern life. Especially cool is the idea of WIFI at a time when wired local area networks were still a rarity.

Author Riccardo Bianchini sheds light on the details of this development behind the iron curtain. And once again it becomes clear that creativity and inventiveness are not governed by political systems and ideologies.

An article worth reading on a piece of design and technology history in a class of its own.

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40 Years ZX Spectrum - The Film

The Rubber Keyed Wonder - 40 Years Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Source: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1195082866/

We look and evaluate very carefully when it comes to including commercial products or even campaigns in our magazine. But this campaign by Nicola Caulfield & Anthony Caulfield is definitely one of those we don't want to hide from you.

For a good reason.

Nicolas and Anthonys kickstarter project The Rubber Keyed Wonder - 40 years of the ZX Spectrum aims to produce a film that explores the significance of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and its role in video game and microcomputing history.

And 40 years of Spectrum is - we think - definitely a very good occasion for such a film. 🍿

Nicola and Anthony are neither newcomers nor amateurs when it comes to retrogaming, retrocomputing and corresponding video productions.

The campaign has almost reached its goal, so we are looking forward to the film. Maybe something for you, and you might want to support the project.

We are very much looking forward to the result!

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Atari XL/XE Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia - ATARI XL / XE Version
Source: https://unsplash.com/

When Prince of Persia was released in 1989, it was one of the first games I personally played on a PC. Apart from the really limited CGA graphics palette, the gameplay of the game was quite attractive and subsequently devoured a lot of life 😑.

But success for the game was not long in coming, even outside my parental living room. The game became an all-time favorite of many gamers, and to date a total of 15 different flavors of the series have been released on at least as many systems.

But what was painfully missing until now, was a port for the Atari XL/XE.

The wait is finally over, and from now on you can calmly turn to the second half of your life after this final event: Prince of Persia for Atari XL/XE.

Paolo from https://www.vintageisthenewold.com has taken the game apart from front to back, and prepared it with all relevant information in his short article for Vintage New Old. Besides a video there is information about the developers as well as minimum requirements of the game.

At that time it was especially the realistic character animations that made the game so attractive. Today it's hard to understand, but if you play the game, you'll quickly be back at the end of the 80s.

Treat yourself to a trip back in time.

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The PONG Predecessor

The Thing before PONG
Source: Reddit

First commercially available video game = PONG. True statement, right?

Ha, nope. 😳

Actually, everything - and PONG in particular - started with Computer Space. However, this really first video game, introduced in October 1971, never became a success.

However, its history is no less interesting. Especially because Nolan Bushnell and his team left the company after the system's flop, founded ATARI and launched PONG only a year later.

But Computer Space had something special. Noah Wardrip-Fruin reviewed the history of the system for The MIT PRESS Reader and summarized everything in a detailed article.

Reading a bit outside the mainstream but definitely with historical significance.

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The Jonathan Computer

Jonathan - The APPLE That Never Was
Source: Hartmut Esslinger & frog(design) team

And another piece of history. And an equally almost unknown one. In 1984, when Apple's market share was just around 15%, the search was on for new concepts that would be innovative on the one hand, but on the other hand could top the profits from the sale of the Macintosh II. 

The Jonathan Concept is anything but widely known. But the idea of a modular design with support for Apple II, Mac, UNIX and DOS software sounds quite tempting.

But as we know from history, such a computer never existed. Nevertheless, the article by author Nicola D'Agostino is absolutely worth reading.

At least you can tease some of the current Apple disciples with little known history. (I wonder if in 30 years we will ever write an article about the 'notch' ... 🙄)

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Ahead of the Wave


Source: https://surma.dev/

A few weeks ago in issue #14 we spoke about an important PixelArt topic - Dithering. If your color palette is reduced, you do not get around it. But dithering is a complex topic and there can be worlds between one and the same image, depending on how well you use which dither algorithm.

Googler and advocate Das Surma has tackled the topic already in the first half of this year, and we unfortunately found his page only now.

But what an article 😯 ... Just like Das' blog (and as you would expect from a Google employee): high quality, extremely detailed as well as researched in depth and well executed.

If there are things you've always wanted to know about dithering, you can't avoid this piece. And regardless of that, Das' blog is a goldmine for any hacker.

Don't miss it!

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Cassette Storage

Cassette Storage
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Let's stay on the subject of hardware. Have you ever heard of Differential Manchester Encoding? No?

This method from signal processing was and is used in many ways, but it plays an important role especially if you want to store digital signals in analog form on a medium like a cassette.

Yes, there used to be these things that had a long magnetic tape in them, and some people used a pencil to manually rewind them. 😂 

Unknown author Zack from https://zeninstruments.blogspot.com/ recently delved into this very topic. His goal was to add storage in the form of audio cassettes to a retro computer he built himself. 

The article competently goes into the technical details of the operation, and anyone who has had anything to do with signal processing will enjoy it. The topic is new to you? Never mind. Either way, the article is worth every minute of reading time.

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PS 3 Teardown

Playstation 3 Teardown
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Remember the headlines when Sony released the PS3 in 2006 and 2007? The console's Cell processor was so far ahead of its time, that there were projects to build a supercomputer out of a few hundred of these consoles.

On the other hand, the Cell was so cumbersome to program, that Sony went back to a more traditional system architecture with the PS4.

And architecture is exactly the keyword here. It is precisely the architecture of the PS3 that is really interesting. Rodrigo Copetti apparently felt the same way, and decided to analyze and document the entire system from the ground up. 15 years later.

The resulting article is as long as it is informative. And admittedly, the PS3 isn't really a retro system.

But technical content that is so well researched and prepared is rare to find. Decide for yourself if the topic is something for you.

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Interview with Alan Kay

Be careful, Smalltalk ahead - literally. Do you know Alan Kay. I bet you do. This gentleman worked at companies like Apple, Atari, Disney, Xerox PARC, Hewlett Packard an others and not only did he shape the industry, he defined, how we interact with computers nowadays.

Alan Kay built user interfaces in the age of the ARPANET, received the Turing Award in 2003, was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Computer History Museum. What a mouth full.

All for reasons.

Objected oriented programming, graphical user interfaces but especially Smalltalk the language would not be - or would be at least very much different.

This gentleman shaped the digital world we live in today. And he started doing so way back in the 70s. The rather long interview with Alan - done by Devon Zuegel - is a super interesting read, if you are interested in computer history.

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Bare Metal C64 on a Raspi

Bare Metal C64 on a RasPi
Source: https://youtu.be/ODg0W-yWdUA

Imagine a bare metal fork of VICE - the emulator. Also imagine, that 'bare metal' means, there is no operating system between the emulator and the systems CPU. Now imagine, that the system is a Raspberry PI and you arrive at: BMC64.

Bare metal emulators have a number of advantages. Especially when it comes to speed and accuracy. They are still emulators, but I’d say: Best in class.

The Retro Shack picked up the topic and the 18 minutes and 38 seconds you will spend while watching the video will make you order a RasPi. Promised.

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Retro Chip Tester

Retro Chip Tester
Source: https://youtu.be/D8gNRMAa2g8

Noel from Noels Retro Lab did it again. He tested a tester. A chip tester. So why does this concern you? I don’t know. 🤷‍♂️ But in case you enjoy playing with 5V logic chips, breadboards and stuff as much as we do, than I am quite sure, it happened more than just once, that the magic smoke found the way out of a chip, way before the delivery guy pressed it into your mailbox.

Instead of wasting hours and hours while trying to debug your system, you could easily just use a chip tester.

This is the third testing device that Noel tests. So let’s test, whether his test of the tester has something to … testify. 👏

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Fixing an Atari 5200

Fixing an ATARI 5200
Source: https://youtu.be/01sAY6L6PQk

ctrl.alt.rees is known to you, right? This gentleman regularly posts new retro-related content on his Youtube channel. And he is IMO definitely worth a subscription. So you do not have to rely on us, whenever he releases new content.

This time he plays with something rare (and I am really jealous.) The Atari 5200 which was sold for only about a year and only in the Northern Americas.

The console oftentimes has had a problem, and you can witness an attempt to fix that, when you watch the video.

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Best Math Explainers

Best Math Explainers
Source: https://youtu.be/F3Qixy-r_rQ

Every sufficiently complex piece of math looks like magic to the ordinary observer. That is why we need more people like 3Blue1Brown.

In his latest (and our off topic) video he summarizes the results of an interesting challenge. The task was to explain a certain mathematical relationship or problem in a simple and understandable way.

The 4 best approaches are presented in the current video. And as always, it's a pure joy and super relaxing to watch. 

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Another end. Another chance to say a big Thank You! to all of our readers. We’ve seen tremendous success during the last 4 month since the start of our magazine. We have a constantly growing reader base and the feedback so far is very positive.

Our motivation is unbroken, and we will not stop, until the world recognizes, that 8-bit systems are … just superior. Wanna help us on the way? Then please do not hesitate to share this issue with everyone you know. You make lot’s of friends in your company, when you just forward it to the mail alias all@... 😂. Your call.

That being said, also feel free to contact us any time. We respond to every email and you can reply to this very message or mail us directly. We are grateful for every hint, project, article or video you wanna share with us and the rest of the 8-bit world.

So long, enjoy the geekend. 2 wonderful days to be filled with retro-activity. Build something. Speak about it.


Jan & Bastian

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