Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

A somewhat quieter week ends, fascinatingly enough, with another Friday. It does not have any color, but we grant you a 100% discount anyways. 😜

We don't have any big bombshells to offer in this issue, but we do have a few fine gems that would otherwise get lost in the hubbub.

We start with an Amiga emulator for the browser and Haskell (yep) for the design of retro hardware. We have something for friends of the beautiful MSX machines on board, and we dedicate ourselves once more to the topic of FPGAs.

In addition, there are a number of additional exciting posts and videos, and we hope, there is something in this issue for you.

Enjoy issue #26.

Don't Miss

vAmiga in the Browser

Few retro systems that are still alive today, receive as much love as the Commodore Amiga. And rightfully so, as the machine was not only Commodore's drumbeat after the C64 and C128. The graphics- but especially the sound-capabilities of the girlfriend gave the machine excellent sales figures in the mid to late 80s.

Who still owns a 500 or one of its successors, can fall back on a whole series of modernizations, and quite a number of real fans actually use the Amiga platform as a daily driver today.

In issue #24 we introduced the emulator vAmiga by Prof. Dr. Dirk W. Hoffmann. Now Christian Corti has taken care of the source, adapted it for the compile target WASM, and ported vAmiga to current browsers.

vAmiga v0.7 runs in pretty much every modern browser with WASM support and is surprisingly fast. Kickstart and the Extension ROM are of course not included.

But who doesn't have the two binaries lying around somewhere in the filesystem? 🧐 After setting those up, nothing stands between you and lot’s of fun. Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, Turrican ... and everything without software installation.

The project is worth a test in any case.

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Hardware Design with Clash

Retrocomputing with Clash
Source: https://leanpub.com/

If you're serious about retrocomputing, sooner or later you'll have to design your own hardware. At least if retrocomputing is to be found before retrogaming in your very own compendium of priorities.

And there are a lot of options. You can easily start with simulators like LogiSim and Digital. You can quickly get to hardware description languages like Verilog and VHDL or you can spend your time stripping cables (that are always cut too short) and breadboards that sometimes have connectivity problems.

Sooner or later you will end up with FPGAs, which can be a lot of fun but also come with numerous challenges. But how satisfying is it, to actually see your own hardware design or your very own 8-bit CPU architecture in action on such a piece of hardware coaxed to the TV? Priceless. 🏆

But for those who don't like Verilog and friends, and for those who have always stuck their nose into purely functional languages, there is now a new option.

Haskell. (Yep, that Haskell). 😉

Gergő Érdi just introduced his new book Retrocomputing with Clash a few days ago. And even if it sounds strange at first, a functional language like Haskell is just an excellent choice for digital hardware design.

The book comes with a pay-what-you-want price, but sets back your bank account by at least $39.99.

If you've ever looked into alternatives such as Chisel, you'll have some serious fun with Clash.

Great book. Even more awesome project.

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Wander Textadventure
Source: https://unsplash.com/

The HN find of the week is a real pearl of retro gaming. Those who liked the adventure games of Lucas and Co. at the end of the 80s, were in a direct line of semi-ancestors to those, who spent their time with text adventures years before. 

Anthony Hope doesn't seem to be one of the former, but he has just finished a real world adventure regarding one of the first text adventures from that time. And what can I say, he literally played through the whole thing ... in the real world. 

We all are rewarded, because as a result Wander is available again for modern systems. In collaboration with the author of the original - Peter Langston - and the help of Jason Dyer and a few others, the game has come back to life on Mac, Linux, Windows as well as DOS.

Text adventures play in a different league. But if you liked the genre, you should definitely take a detour to this project.

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Android Retro Fun

Mobile Retro Fun
Source: https://www.markspace.com/

This week's last news is aimed more at gaming fans of a slightly more advanced age with a preference for Android devices. 

Argon promises gaming fun with titles for the ColecoVision, Intellivision, NES, Vectrex, Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and the Lynx. 

The project from the team behind Mark/Space has a beta version of the Multi-emu-lator™ in the Google Play Store and promises, in addition to the ability to get your own ROMs running, the option to choose from a wider library of classics and homebrew games.

Retrogaming without having to buy new hardware ... sounds like free lunch. Due to the lack of a test device, we have unfortunately not been able to verify this yet, but since the download of the beta is free of charge, there is not much in the way between you and a little AppStore download-and-check-that-thing-adventure™.

The Android version will soon be followed by ports for the Amazon Firestick, the Raspberry PI and the Chromebook. In any case, we are following the project with great interest, because Space Wars on the Vectrex is priceless.

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Ahead of the Wave

MSX on a Raspberry

BlueberryMSX 2.0 Plus
Source: https://github.com/matheusjgsantos/

A MSX machine for free? No problem in 2021 thanks to the many emulators available. BlueMSX by Meeso Kim is one of the standout candidates, and the software has received ports for Android, the Nintendo Wii the Xbox and the Mac.

Matheus José Geraldini dos Santos wasn't satisfied. He really wanted to have a version for the Raspberry Pi 4/400, and has been struggling for several months with the quite funny task of getting rid of all DispmanX dependencies of the project, as well as raising the SDL version from 1.2 to 2.0.

With the help of the GPIO slot board from Retro Games Store there is nothing standing in the way of species-appropriate keeping of the emulator in conjunction with cartridges.

The open source project is called BlueberryMSX 2.0 Plus and can be found on github.

Give the MSX some love. 

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Handling Ancient Formats

Ancient File Format Handling
Source: https://unsplash.com/

Media preservation is a problem. Formats and hardware that were still current and available yesterday, may have completely disappeared from the face of this planet tomorrow.

Sounds strange, but that's the way it is. (Tell my 8 years old me about VHS tapes …)

And if you ever tried to scratch that one game from the early 80s off a 5.25 inch floppy disk, you might fail, because of the ancient compression format used by the ingenious developers of the time to save exactly 12 expensive bytes on the disk.

Twilio Engineer Teemu Suutari has taken on this problem, and re-implemented a really large set of these algorithms in modern C++17. In doing so, he has run his implementation against a large set of test archives and makes his project available under a BSD license.

His project ancient is real gold dust, that you will definitely need sooner or later.

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Fortune Telling

Fortune Telling
Source: https://the-null-log.org/

The Super Mario Brothers are always welcome guests in our magazine. This time, however, it's not directly about one of them trying to save Princess Peach. 👸

Rather, it's about the Fortune Telling mini-game in the Gameboy Color variant Super Mario Bros. Deluxe

Alfredo Gallegos is a true fan, as he reverse engineered the game in his blog post and subsequently implemented it as a Ruby port for the web.

His article is a worthwhile example of reverse engineering and traces Alfredo's path to the goal in very much detail.

And even if the goal is rather the way, the final result in form of the Ruby source on github is not less interesting. And if you feel like it, you can directly test your luck on a Heroku instance of the game.

We wish you luck. 🍀

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The Sound of 16 Bit

The Sound of 16 Bit
Source: https://youtu.be/roBkg-iPrbw

Do you remember ProTracker on the Amiga? For me personally the first experience with a tracker at the beginning of the 90s. And what fun to mix my own, sometimes quite bizarre tracks based on existing samples and patterns from the still very young techno scene.

Anyway, Stuart Brown has worked out the history of this somewhat quite monumetal software in detail. And what you will learn is quite interesting. ProTracker is only one of many forks, which were based on a commercially unsuccessful original version of a German programmer ...

But I don't want to give way too much about the video. A quality production with nostalgia guarantee.

Enjoy the tunes.

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C64 on a Powerbank

C64 on a Powerbank
Source: https://youtu.be/U5nrWfLmqR0

A completely different topic was recently addressed by Jan Beta. The power supply of the C64.

Is it possible to power the breadbin via USB with the help of a powerbank? What possibilities ... imagine a C64 in a car, powered via USB from one of the rear displays. The kids have to play with something useful, if you don't want to hear the obligatory 'Are we there yet?' every 5 minutes, right? 👹

If and how the whole thing can work, Jan reveals in his current video, which is definitely in the 5-star league. Thanks for that!

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FPGAs Intro Part 3

FPGAs Intro Part 3
Source: https://youtu.be/A4VfBoP4Hdk

Since we already talked about Clash and Haskell for retro hardware design above, the latest video from Shawn Hymel comes at the right time.

We arrived at part 3 of his Introduction to FPGAs series, and if you haven't already seen the first two parts in one of our recent issues, this series is highly recommended. 

Shawn uses the toolchain wrapper apio and starts with the design of the first static circuit. Exciting. Educational. Worthwhile.

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Create a CPU in an FPGA

Create a CPU in an FPGA
Source: https://youtu.be/HJSv292UBDk

One step further in FPGA CPU design is Philip Lett. His video series consisting of 7 parts is aimed at anyone, who has ever gotten their feet wet with breadboard designs and first FPGA experiments.

Philipp starts with part 1 and takes us through all the details of designing and implementing a simple 8-bit CPU on an FPGA.

Speed and level of detail are not comparable to classic Ben Eater videos. But if you already know the basics, this video series is a welcome change.

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You can tell it's coming to the end of the year. The number of daily sunshine hours, the outside temperature and the number of Black Friday emails in the inbox all point to it.

No reason to mope, but rather to finally implement long dormant projects with fresh energy and drive. If you are already working on one, and it would make an interesting story for one of our future issues, please let us know. We are always happy about new content.

And if 8bitnews has become a regular part of your Friday, share your dopamine kick with others and forward this issue. We're still recruiting readers, and we're not giving up until retrocomputing is declared a general cultural asset.

Have fun with the weekend. Create something. And as always: speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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