Just the signal, not the noise

Happy New Year 8bit'ers!

We hope you had a good start into the new year! If the end of the year is good for a few things, then for time with the family, a few kilograms on the hips and lots of releases of retro technology in the form of hardware and software.

And there were quite a few of them the last 2 weeks. After the New Years break we're back at it again, and since there are a lot of things to tell, we'll keep it a bit shorter than usual today.

Content is king.

Enjoy browsing through the first 8bitnews of 2022 - Issue #31.


6502 Fantasy Console

Minicube64 - A 6502 Fantasy Console
Imagesource: https://aeriform.itch.io/

My significant other sometimes claims, that I have more fantasy console projects on my agenda than underpants in my closet. I just counted. Not true. (It was close, though 😁)

Now I'm adding one more, and one that makes my heart skip a beat. Minicube64 comes with a similar feature set to other fantasy consoles, but one detail makes this thing truly unique. You program in 6502 Assembly!

Michael Christophersson and his venture ΛERIF°RM are responsible for the project. The 6502 also offers any beginner a relaxed introduction to Assembly. But with Minicube64 you have the graphical output right there and can package and share your final result independent from any operating system.

What a great start into 2022! 🚀

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AmigaOS 3.2.1

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Release
Imagesource: https://www.hyperion-entertainment.com/

AmigaOS 3.2 is what is commonly called a real milestone, and is probably the best operating system for the 68k platform. Hyperion Entertainment CVBA has done a great job here, and if you own an Amiga, you can't get around the current version of the operating system.

A few days before Christmas the patch release 3.2.1 came out and Jones gives us an overview of all the important details.

You didn't have time to deal with AmigaOS 3.2 until now? Take some time, it's more than worth it.

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PixelVision Fantasy Console

PixelVision8 - Fantasy Console
Imagesource: https://pixelvision8.github.io/

Damn. I need to order underpants. 🩲

Jesse Freeman adds one more to the collection of fantasy consoles, and I can't let my better half be right. 

PixelVision8 is neither dewy-eyed nor extremely new. To be exact, Jesse has been building the project for more than 6 years. But the current state is impressive, and even though I'm a self-confessed fan of PICO-8 and Tic-80, projects like PixelVision8 should get a lot more attention.

The next GameJam is coming. This time maybe with PV8? Check it out. 

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VICE 3.6

VICE Release V3.6
Imagesource: https://csdb.dk/

I don't think much needs to be said about VICE. The Swiss Army knife of Commodore emulators goes into the next round. Also over the holidays the VICE dev Team has published a new release.

VICE 3.6 comes with a lot of bugfixes, but according to first rumors it also brings in new ones. If you haven't seen the release, have a look at the current version 3.6.

And if you don't know VICE ... in a time long before the dawn of time, we once had computers that you turned on, were up and running in 3 seconds, never needed OS updates, and whose shell came with a built-in, easy-to-learn programming language. 😉

Long gone.

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Back to Assembly?

Machine Learning on a Commodore 64
Imagesource: http://visual6502.org/

The topic that Swen Kalski raises here, could easily trigger a controversy on HN that I would definitely like to follow.

As a proof of concept, Swen has implemented an ML approach in Assembly on a C64, and even if it is hard to believe at a clock speed of 1MHz, the runtime behavior of his regression implementation is absolutely acceptable. 

The point Swen now makes in his article, however, will divide minds. Swen's argument - in summary - is: With the many abstraction layers in modern operating systems, libraries and runtimes we slow down modern CPU's so dramatically, that we could have gigantic speed advantages with pure assembly implementations instead.

Swen digresses here and there into quite controversial theories, but I don't want to give away too much. His article hits a good point, and I agree with it at least partially. On the other hand, in my opinion, it is unfortunately absolutely illusory to develop modern software with all the capabilities, UX and UI of today, still completely in Assembly.

But how and if this dog bites its tail, you best find out for yourself. 🐕

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C64 Command Line Interface
Imagesource: https://github.com/chironb/

When the C64 is lacking one thing, it's a modern command line interface. I mean, the thing comes with a shell - kind of. But the BASIC prompt was not enough for Chiron Bramberger, because especially drive and file management, starting programs in memory, viewing RAM and starting Turbo Macro Pro can be easily done in his shell.

ChiCLI is a stroke of genius and even if Bash and Z-Shell play in a completely different league, this tool is a real enrichment for the little Commodore.

I wonder if the whole thing wouldn't fit in perfectly with Gregorio Naçu's C64 OS? 🧐

Definitely check it out!

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Built To Last

Built To Last - A Computer for 50 Years
Imagesource: https://www.datagubbe.se/

Imagine: A computer that could last 50 years and work efficiently. An interesting thought, especially since in 2022 the Commodore64, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum but also other 8-bit machines will become 40 years old.

I don't think anyone would have thought back then, that 40 years later hardware and software releases for these machines would be as normal as the next friggin' iOS update.

Carl Svensson muses on the same topic, but has a different iron in the fire. For him, it's the Amiga 1200 released 10 years after the C64, and in his absolutely worthwhile article, Carl not only addresses the philosophical question itself. 

The very practical challenges of a 50 year old computer stand in the foreground, as well as the daily-driver-capabilities of the machine. 

Not only for Amiga fans, and something we should at least think about in times of diminishing resources, chip shortage and upheavals in this world.

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3D AGI Graphics

Isometric 3D Pixel Engine
Imagesource: https://twitter.com/mausmoto

The last news of the day is just a stunner. See for yourself here.

Goes a low res pixel graphic into the bar and meets an isometric renderer.

Just awesome what the Japanese coder mausimus released here as a sneak preview over Christmas. Interest was accordingly high, and I'm curious if we'll see a usable engine and corresponding games soon.

What immediately comes to mind, is a C64 remake of Maniac Mansion ... but who's asking me. 🤐

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FPGA Heaven

FPGA Heaven
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

If you like to play with FPGA's, then you probably know Will Green already. He was responsible for the FPGA Christmas calendar in our Christmas issue and among other things he is also an old acquaintance in our magazine.

Should you be looking for fresh FPGA projects or just resources to learn, we have the perfect starting point for you: Will's Project F is his personal tech blog, where he has published a significant number of FPGA-related articles since April 2020.

Great resource! Thanks Will. Looking for a new topic for 22? Then check it out.

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Fantasy CPU

e-4917 - Fantasy CPU
Imagesource: https://www.maartenhus.nl/

Since Ben Eater has freed the inner workings of a CPU from the myth and made it accessible to the masses, there has been an incredible amount of projects in this area. 

But even before that, interested people have built their own CPU's, in hardware but also in software. Maarten Hus has a very special treat for us.

The virtual CPU called e-4917 actually comes from Prof. Richard Buckland and were part of his 2008 lectures at UNSW.

But Maarten has now put the thing in software, and brought the emulation piece by piece into the browser.

Caution: unfortunately unusable on mobile devices, but so well done, that you should definitely check it out on the desktop. Also for old 8-bit hares.

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J1 Forth CPU

J1 Forth CPU
Imagesource: https://excamera.com/

And a similar project by James Bowman. Similar in so far, that it is a CPU. 😁

However, the J1 Forth CPU has two major advantages. First, you can get it to run directly on a modern FPGA, and second, the instruction set is so similar to Forth that programs written in Forth can be run extremely efficiently.

The 16-bit CPU is so simple that it could hardly be simpler, but still delivers an impressive functionality.

Forth and FPGA's were not on your todo list for the coming year? Maybe this project will change your mind.

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Ancient Analogue Computers

Ancient Analogue Computers
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/IgF3OX8nT0w

We like to go off-topic here and there, but to be accurate, several hundred year old analog calculators definitely count as retro computers, right? 😝

Veritasium aka Derek Muller released a video on the subject just before Christmas. And in his usual primetime quality, Derek goes into the details of a number of absolutely stunning antique calculating machines and their history. 20 minutes and 12 seconds that are anything but wasted.

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Scope Clock

Scope Clock
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/50XL37kJ3ME

You know what a Nixie Clock is? Then you will love the Scope Clock. Unfortunately in a price range a bit outside of what I personally would spend on gadgets, but on the cool-tech-scale™ right at the top.

Scope Clock is a hardware clock implementation, that uses a cathode ray tube as a display.

Techmoan ordered the thing, and takes a closer look at it in his video. It quickly turns out that the thing can do more than just display the time ... who would have thought that. 🧐

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Prince JS

Prince Of Persia in the Browser
Imagesource: https://princejs.com/

As a child of the 70s, Prince of Persia has a very special place in my heart. When it was released in 1989, I was barely grown out of running around the Christmas tree with the drum (at least from todays perspective). But especially the character animations as well as the gameplay have left a lasting impression since then.

Apparently also with Oliver Klemenz. At least he worked almost the whole last year on a JS version of the game. And he was successful! 

Over at princejs.com you can chase the prince through the corridors on desktop but also on mobile devices. What a fun. And if you dig around on Oliver's GitHub, you'll also find ... Lemmings!

Thanks Oliver! Great Christmas present. 

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Zork on PICO-8

StatusLine - Zork on PICO-8
Imagesource: https://christopherdrum.itch.io/

Zork was a milestone for text adventures. Released in 1977 for the PDP-10, it left a lasting mark on the genre and was one of the forefathers of more modern point-and-click adventures - such as the later Lucasgames titles we all love so much.

Nevertheless, it's still fun to play Zork today, and that's now possible on PICO-8

Sounds weird, but true it is. Christopher Drum has delivered just that with his latest project StatusLine.

Totally bonkers, but lovely.

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ISS Docking Simulator

ISS Docking Simulator
Imagesource: https://iss-sim.spacex.com/

Who didn't want to be an astronaut as a kid? Well, I mean after fireman and policeman. For me, astronaut always came first, but then a few things in my life just came between me and the ESA and what can I say ... today I at least dock a SpaceX transporter to the ISS from time to time 👨🏻‍🚀.

The simulator from SpaceX is anything but new, but somehow it landed on my plate again around Christmas, and as an absolute space nerd, the thing had to be included in our recommendations here as well.

The ISS Docking Simulator runs in every modern browser. And don't be mistaken, the whole thing is much more difficult than it might seem, and it doesn't even involve real orbital mechanics.

Challenge accepted.

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What a package. In the last 2 weeks a lot has accumulated. So did ideas for 8bitnews and our future. In the coming weeks we will introduce some small changes and hope to meet your taste even better. But more about that, when the time comes.

For today, we both hope you enjoyed the current issue, and as always, please feel free to share it with friends of cultivated retro technology. Maybe as a belated Christmas present?

You'll find us in your inbox again in exactly one week from now. Until then. Build something. And speak about it.

Happy New Year!

Jan & Bastian

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