Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's Fri-Fri-Friday! There's a whole, long, wonderful weekend ahead of you, just waiting to be filled with just as wonderful retrocomputing activities.

And we've got a few of them today. As always, we're looking left and right of pure 8-bit machines, and as a quick note in advance for the many new subscribers to our little magazine: If there's no topic for you here, you'll surely find a lot in our archive.

Without further ado, have fun with issue #24!

Don't Miss

Build Your Own MEGA65

Build A MEGA65 on a Nexys A7 FPGA
Source: https://mega65.org/

Quality has its costs. If it’s not money, then it’s time. And the MEGA65 has been a few years in the making. And it also costs a lot of money. The first batch is sold out, the second won't be delivered until 2022, so there will be no early Christmas present for yourself, if you didn't make it onto the order list.

But there is a solution. And Steven Combs is the savior in need. Again. A couple of weeks ago Steven already published an article on how to emulate the MEGA65 on a Mac reasonably reliably. Now Steven goes one step further.

In his current article he builds a MEGA65 clone based on the Nexys A7-100T FPGA Trainer Board. A clone of the clone. 👯👯

The thing still costs a whopping 270 US thalers, but of course you can't just bring the MEGA65's electronic innards to digital life. FPGAs seem to be slowly becoming the last bastion for the survival of our beloved 8- and 16-bit systems. But anyway, if you have always been interested in the MEGA65, with the Nexys FPGA you have the chance to build one yourself.

Have fun with tinkering.

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An Upgrade For The Girlfriend

Update The Girlfriend
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Somewhere in the basement or attic, that one box is still lurking around. The smell of nostalgia ... well, maybe more the smell of mothballs and dry wood, but who cares. 😆 The smell of nostalgia and ... an Amiga 500. Can you still remember the smell of the machine? (I can.)

Then you shouldn't hesitate any longer, because the "old girlfriend" can be given a new lease of life with all kinds of help, and Benjamin Blundell has not only done just that, he has captured the entire process in words and pictures.

And the old girl can be given quite a run for her money. In addition to the obligatory cleaning of the case, Ben provides her with a modern CPU replacement, the floppy drive is replaced with an emulator, the memory is extended, and otherwise Ben gives you the full rundown of all the makeup tips for the old, new girlfriend. 💄

In addition to the article, Benjamin has also uploaded the accompanying video to YouTube. Thanks for that.

Honestly, isn't it time to finally open that box now? 🤷‍♂️

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Virtual Amiga

Virtual Amiga
Source: https://dirkwhoffmann.github.io/

Prof. Dr. Dirk W. Hoffmann is awesome. The first time I stumbled across him, was when I tried his C64 emulator VirtualC64. The special thing about Dirk's software is, that it not only emulates the target correctly, but also gives you the ability to view registers, memory and flags in real time.

Now our protagonist puts one more on top: vAmiga

The same concept, but this time for the second successful machine from Commodore. The Amiga. The beta release 1.1 was published in September already. The whole thing is still in flux. But first tests make an absolutely solid impression.

And of course, with UAE and other excellent emulators, there is enough software available to bring the girlfriend back to life purely virtually. But Dirk's concept is especially to lower the barrier to entry as tidily as possible with as few settings as necessary. And that has clearly succeeded.

Unfortunately, both emulators are only available for the Mac, but if you're reading this on your beloved Apple machine right now, the trip to Dirks page is well worth it.

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Brand New C64 RPG

Brand New C64 RPG
Source: https://sarahjaneavory.wordpress.com/

Do you know the Briley Witch Chronicles by Sarah Jane Avory? If so, you'll be happy to know that Sarah has just released the next RPG for the C64 to go with the books.

If you don't know Sarah yet, are able to read, and/or own a C64, chances are you've just found some new media to consume in your scarce spare time.

RPG's for the C64 are not exactly a dime a dozen now. Much less ones that were produced with great attention to detail and extraordinary storytelling. The game follows the plot of Sarah's books, and can easily be played with a 1-button joystick.

A good 16 hours of gameplay for the price of 2 cups of coffee. I think more than fair, if you fancy playing an RPG on the old Commodore.

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Ahead of the Wave


A Browser Bases MSX Emulator
Source: https://webmsx.org/

MSX machines have been somewhat underrepresented in our magazine so far. In issue #09 we had a modern incarnation of an MSX2 compatible machine in it, but apart from that, MSX has hardly been a topic so far.

And unjustifiably so, actually. This week we learned, that the many MSX variants were not only very successful in Asia, but especially our friends in South America, (noteworthy Argentina and Brazil) had and still have a lot of fun with the architecture.

Anyway, rebuilding a MSX as described in issue #09 is certainly tempting. But you might still have your old machine lying around somewhere. At least a cleaning and re-capping will be necessary after such a long time. If you don't have time for that, but still want to have some white letters on a blue background, then the project by Paulo Peccin might be interesting for you.

WebMSX is one of the numerous MSX emulators, but it runs in the browser independent of the operating system. It's always fascinating to see that top notch technology of the 80s can be emulated in a browser today. What's special about Paulo's project is, that he makes all the source code available on github, so that - given time and interest - you can also build your own customized version of the emulator. Or just understand how it works.

Exciting project, not only for MSX friends.

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Wireless Apple 1 for $3

Woohoooo! A lover of wood, silicone and plastic put a whopping 400,000 US dollars on the table of an auction house to buy one of the few remaining Apple-1s.

Those who have, can. It is begrudged.

If you don't have 400k rolled up in the coffee can in your kitchen cupboard, but are still interested in this iconic machine, then here's a project for you that is definitely worth the time and financial effort.

Hrvoje Čavrak has already published this project 4 years ago. It allows you to emulate an Apple-1 on an ESP8266 for a mere $3 hardware cost.

The cool thing about the project is, the whole thing is completely wireless! Hrvoje actually generates an analog video signal that can be received by your TV set using a piece of cable as an antenna. 😳 

You get the connection to the device via WIFI and Telnet, an integrated TFTP server allows you to upload software.

It could hardly be any cooler. What a project. Thanks Hrvoje.

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The 555 Timer
Source: https://unsplash.com/

There are only a few devices in which it is not installed. The 555 timer. Developed in 1970 by Hans Camenzind, several billion of this IC have been built, whole books on circuits with the 555 have been published, and the net is full of articles and videos on how it works.

But when Ken Shirriff takes on a topic, it takes on a whole new quality. If you know Ken, you know that he's got a blog dedicated to vintage computers and the reverse engineering of old ICs. And that with an expertise and a level of detail that some of his articles could pass as a master thesis.

If you've ever gotten your feet wet building your own electronics, you've certainly used the 555 before. Ken's article on this IC provides an understanding of how the little device actually works. 

Worth reading, under all circumstances.

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2D Sidescrolling Engine

OpenBOR - Side Scrolling Engine
Source: https://www.chronocrash.com/

With the current release of Damon V. Caskey we put a complete change of topic on the parquet. Away from hardware, towards software. And away from vintage towards the modern, but without losing sight of the beloved PixelArt, sprites and typical scroller games.

If retro-style games are your thing, and you are currently working on one yourself, then Damon's project OpenBOR might be something for you.

OpenBOR is a royalty free sprite-based side scrolling gaming engine. In development since 2003, the project has reached a level of maturity that makes it unique in the 2D side-scroller space.

With ChronoCrash there is a lively community around the project, a wiki, a forum, a Discord server and lots of fellow developers, who are happy to help with your own projects.

Thanks to the engine you can quickly achieve results without a high entry barrier. You end up with a product that is hardly inferior to former triple-A titles. Exactly your topic, then you can't avoid OpenBOR.

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B8 Fantasy Computer

BASIC8 - A Fantasy Computer
Source: https://paladin-t.github.io/

In issue #11 we went into detail about the fantasy console Pico-8 as well as the opensource project TIC-80. Both fantastic and absolutely complete development environments for retro-style games and demos.

But the two projects are far from the only ones that promise retro programming fun in a complete package. Tony Wang has his own development on the Steam store, and as always with commercial products, we're not sponsored, just impressed with feature set and overall performance.

Similar to Pico-8 and TIC-80, BASIC8 allows you to build games and demos in a short amount of time. The difference: instead of Lua or a similar dialect, a modern version of Basic is used here. Integrated tools for creating sprites, tiles, maps and sound effects are similar to those of the competition.

The results of one's own work can be packaged and distributed on the Mac, Windows, Linux or in the browser. So nothing stands in the way of your financial world domination. 

If you prefer Basic over Lua, this project could be a worthwhile alternative to Pico-8 or TIC-80. Decide for yourself. 

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BBS - They’re Alive!

BBS - They Are Alive
Source: https://xibalba.l33t.codes

BBS & 2021  - two words that simply do not correspond to each other. Right? Wrong!

Bulletin Boards are alive. In friggin’ 2021. Don’t believe me?

Try the following in your terminal: 'ssh ssh://new@xibalba.l33t.codes:44511'

It will not work properly until you use a supported terminal emulator like VTX, SyncTERM, NetRunner or iTerm on a Mac, but just a quick test in your terminal will immediately transport you back 30 years. That ANSI artwork, the contents, the feeling …

Bryan Ashby obviously feels the same. A few years ago he started working on EnigmaBBS, his very own node.js based BBS software.

Due to the fact that it’s node, it runs on nearly every system. The installation is easy and straightforward, the configuration is not. But if you want to become part of that still existing, like-underground-feeling-community, then EnigmaBBS will be your starting point.

I could not be happier that I found this. Weekend? Planned.

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FPGA Howto

FPGA Howto
Source: https://youtu.be/lLg1AgA2Xoo

You are familiar with software development. You also plugged together a number of circuits on breadboards. You might even have built your own 8-bit CPU or a complete 8-bit computer like Ben Eaters’. But you never really touched FPGAs? Verilog and VHDL never caught your attention?

Then it’s time to change that. FPGAs are awesome. Not only can you create your very own custom circuits using a descriptive language, you can build whole systems, your own CPU, a full RISC-V architecture.

There are plenty of good learning resources available on YouTube. But Shawn Hymel sticks out. His high quality videos are worth watching every minute. A few days ago Shawn startet a new series about FPGA development. Currently there’s just one video. But more are on the way already. 

Thinking about a new topic to learn in 2022? FPGA development is definitely worth it, and this video helps you to find out, whether this is something for you.

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Sixty Clone C64

Sixty Clone C64
Source: https://youtu.be/gjFS1Tx_MGs

Mitchell Dayton is a Commodore guy. And an excellent one. As an expert on C64 rebuilding and restoration, he has a whole bunch of super interesting videos on his channel.

But his latest video is something special. The board he christened SixtyClone C64 is a completely new reincarnation of the original.

If Commodore and especially the C64 are exactly your thing, then you can't avoid this video.

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Paper Mario & Genetic Algorithms

Paper Mario & Genetic Algorithms
Source: https://youtu.be/ywMoHnMpjfo

Paper Mario in its various variations is already 20 years old by now. But in combination with genetic algorithms (no, no ML here), reverse engineering of the physics engine as well as a frame-by-frame simulation of the game Tas Malleo comes up with a really exciting project.

The automatic generation of optimal flight paths for Mario as a paper airplane.

The video is less about the game or a speedrun, and more about how to use genetic algorithms to solve the complex control problem behind this approach. Super interesting if you've already looked into ML playing games.

Have fun.

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8-Bit Christmas

8-Bit Christmas
Source: https://youtu.be/kTiqw1xk9Lk

Our last video tip is as little to be taken seriously as the film behind it. Certainly neither a blockbuster, nor an Oscar winner, and just as little something for the demanding film lover.

But 8-Bit Christmas is at least one thing. Funny. Fresh Movie Trailers has put the trailer for the upcoming movie online, and without giving too much away, it's about the release of the NES in the 80s.

Clearly a matter of taste. Please no complaints, in the worst case it's just 3 minutes of wasted lifetime. 😜

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The last weeks have been great. We are especially happy about many new subscribers from South America, especially Brazil and Argentina. Thank you for your trust!

We hope that one or the other topic in the current issue has met your taste. We go to great lengths to put together a series of topics each week that will satisfy all of our readers. This is not always easy, so we are happy to receive help. If you have any suggestions or criticism, please feel free to contact us. You can reply directly to this email, or use our suggest feature on the site.

And if you want to support us, share this email with friends, family, colleagues, your boss, the board of directors, the supervisory board, the state or federal government. We'll happily take care of the rest. 😎

Hopefully you can now fill the time until the next issue well. Don't panic, there are only 7 days. Seize them. Build something. And speak about it.

Take Care

Jan & Bastian

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