Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

2 weeks have passed. It's Friday. You're reading the (more or less) historic Issue #64 of our magazine, and we're happy to have found content again for this quite special number that will sweeten the coming weekend or even the days beyond - hopefully for you, too.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who keep bringing new content to our attention - thank you! You rock. 🤘

In this issue, as always, you'll find an extremely colorful mix of video, audio, coding and gaming topics, and as always, we hope there's something for your taste.

Without further ado, enjoy Issue #64.



Discmaster - Retro Library
Imagesource: Stable Diffusion

The unfortunately unknown authors behind Discmaster made some waves in the last two weeks. With the help of their meta-search engine on top of archive.org they provide CD-ROM and disk images as well as separate files that have been published sometime, somewhere, somehow.

As a result one can search through a whopping 11.6 terabyte collection of pretty much everything, that comes to mind, if one more or less consciously experienced and perceived the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

There are a lot of hidden treasures to be found, you just have to search for them. Lost pictures, texts, executables can be found as well as ZIP files, videos, fonts or audio files.

An invaluable resource for all those who gave away their collection of floppies in a fit of madness, threw them away or left them in a wet basement. For everyone else, a fun trip down memory lane.

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MEGA65 Adventures

MEGA65 Text Adventures
Imagesource: Stable Diffusion

Dan Sanderson is one of the lucky ones, who can call a MEGA65 his own. And thankfully he is also one of those, who regularly write and publish the results of his experiments.

In his current article he dedicates himself to the adventure genre for the machine. Besides one of the more recent productions Hybernated he has taken a detailed look at quite a number of well-known games, that are much, much older. These include, of course, Infocom's Z-Machine adventures, Ozmoo - a Z-Machine alternative, Inform 6 & 7, Dialog, and adventure games written in BASIC.

Text adventures still have a special fascination, and this is not only true, if you play them on a MEGA65. But especially the fact that the underlying game engines can be experienced in this millennium, and games - sometimes dating back to the 70s - can be brought back to life, is pure joy.

If you're up for the MEGA65 adventure, but couldn't get hold of one of the machines, Steven Comb's article is very much recommended. There he gets the MEGA65 Bitstream running directly on a Nexys4 FPGA. 

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Fasttracker2 in the Browser

Fasttracker2 in the Browser
Imagesource: https://www.a1k0n.net/

Anything but new but no less interesting is the following piece of software, which we came across last week: The .xm Player in Javascript allows to play Fasttracker2 files directly in the browser.

Fasttracker2 for DOS certainly didn't make as much waves as the various ProTracker versions for the Amiga platform, but it wasn't inferior to the 68k version in many ways. Quite the contrary, the .xm format is a multi-channel extension of the .mod format and came - like so many other things - from the demo scene.

This project of Andy Sloane serves not only the historical purpose of preserving old formats. It converts the equally historical bytes of old .xm files directly into wavelike vibrations of air molecules - in the browser. Ingenious! 🎶

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Hardware Fantasy Console?

ClockworkPI Fantasy Console
Imagesource: https://www.clockworkpi.com/

The definition of a Fantasy Console probably looks a bit different for everyone. In the actual sense, it seems to be the custom and perfect instruction set, the implementation of the graphical representation, the sound capabilities ... but ultimately it is about a quasi non-existent binary format of an executable, which is brought to virtual life by an interpreter on any host machine. 

There are quite a few examples of this, and we have presented some of the most interesting ones in past issues.

The Chinese Clockwork Team has a different opinion, but the result is quite interesting: Their new project uConsole is the latest hardware project and follows the Gameshell and the DevTerm. The spec reads exciting, and the selectable base cores of the uConsole range from various ARM64 cores to a RISC-V CPU.

The thing then becomes a game console with the help of a quasi arbitrary emulator according to the owner's taste. But to turn it into a real Fantasy Console, you need a bit more ... imagination.

Anyway: The hardware seems interesting. It's probably less suitable as a Christmas present, since Clockwork is currently collecting the preorders and will only go into production afterwards.

But if you are looking for a new gaming platform with a RISC-V core or an ARM64 derivative in the form factor of a mobile console, you might find what you are looking for. As always, we're not sponsored, just curious.

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Z80 Protected Mode

Z80 Protected Mode
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

One of the most important features of modern CPUs is what's called the Protected Mode. And as luck would have it, the intersection of the Z80 features and the protected mode is exactly … nil. The thing doesn’t have it. 🤷‍♂️

So how does the title of this article make any sense? Let's see.

With great power comes great responsibility. Anyone who gets their own assembly code running on more or less popular 8-bit CPUs of the past, knows that in principle, they can do anything because they are allowed to. This includes especially access to the whole address space, and therefore comes with a whole set of very special problems, which some would call a security problem. (For others, it's more like the ONLY true way to push binary mnemonic representations through a CPU.)

The straitjacket called Protected Mode solves exactly this problem by enforcing very clear limits for all processes, which honestly makes perfect sense, as long as it is completely transparent to the programmer. Unfortunately, this is not possible with the Z80. Or is it?

Through Hackaday Author Jenny List we first became aware of Andy Hu's project. With the help of a few cheap ICs, the aged Z80 is actually taught a working protected mode, and the linked video of the actual author gives all the details.

Clever and interesting approach. Something to learn here.

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FPGA Dev Boards List

FPGA Development Boards List
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Christmas is almost upon us. 😱 And what could be better than picking out great Christmas gifts for your loved ones?

That's right! Having a good excuse to finally spend some of the filthy lucre on yourself again, without having to have a guilty conscience.

In level 1 - of course - a whole range of old machines come into question, which typically can be found in more or less intact condition on well-known auction platforms. On level 2 a potential home brew and the related purchase of parts is waiting. But on level 3 it gets really exciting: The simulation of the own 8-bit creation with a custom ISA on a FPGA.

But which hardware comes into question here? How much does the fun thing cost? And how much money is left to buy modern, display-proven communication devices of certain brands for your own offspring? 

Jeff Johnson skillfully answers this probably most important question of all in his Comprehensive list of FPGA development boards.

Sorted by type, manufacturer or interface you get an overview very quickly. At the same moment you learn, that for the most exciting devices probably the 10 coming Christmas celebrations will not be sufficient even in accumulation ... but let’s not speak about money.

Have fun searching and finding.

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Moleman 2

Moleman 2
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/iRkZcTg1JWU

Some software technology wouldn't exist, if it weren't for the demo scene. Born in the 80s as an 8-bit playground for creatives, the scene has changed over time and partially adapted to more modern technology. Nevertheless, even today fresh demos are still being developed for classic 8 and 16-bit systems, that regularly make jaws drop.

Demoscene - The Art of Algorithms is a YouTube-only production by Moleman and a wonderful documentation of the demo scene in Hungary.

The interviews are super interesting and what is shown, motivates to do your own experiments. Not short one, there is real content here!

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Another 6502 SBC

6502 Single Board Computer
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/7Sufp7Ob3DI

There are quite some 6502 based single board computers, that can be found online. Anders Nielsen has decided to built an equally beautiful example of such a SBC, but comes from a slightly different corner: Sustainability & Reuse. 👏

Is it possible to build a functional and usable general purpose computer from old parts despite supply chain issues? Of course! The result is not only cheap, it's surprising what you can achieve with almost 50 year old technology - provided you have the right peripherals. Details about the hardware are presented by Anders in his short video.

His Hackaday project instead fully documents his build, and besides VGA output, USB input and lots of GPIO pins, Anders also mounts a wireless transceiver, to be able to supply the flash with new software over the air.

Complete, competent and relaxed presentation. Great project.

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The NES Loading Seam

The NES Loading Seam
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/wfrNnwJrujw

Did you ever notice the rendering problem on the right side of the screen in Mario Brothers 3 on the NES? No? No problem. It's probably the eyes ... we're not getting any younger, are we? 🤓

In fact, the described phenomenon has an interesting technical background, and goes by the name of: Loading Seam.

RetroGamesMechanics Explained dives into the depths of NES nametables and video RAM to explain what happened.

Not necessarily knowledge that will help you in your next job interview, but definitely interesting and explained in a relaxed manner. Definitely worth the time.

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C64 Pico

C64 Pico
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/hgLhGpbC6E4

What happens when you combine a RaspberryPi Pico with the emulator MCUME?

You end up with an extremely small device, which is able to emulate a whole series of our beloved 8-bit machines of the 80s. Couple that with a fancy custom case, add a micro keyboard and a SPI display and you have the smallest C64 you can build. Or even a ZX81, or Spectrum, an Atari 800, the VIC-20, the Atari 2600, 5200 or a ColecoVision. Your choice.

The project of Nick Silvestro is not brand new, but the video on the subject just surfaced on the video platform of our choice.

Fancy some tinkering?

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

In the last issue we took up the topic of raycasting on the C64. In this issue DrMortalWombat adds one more on top. 

His current game Minotrace seems to be based on at least a fast raycasting implementation, but we can't say for sure.

The player finds himself in a Wolfenstein-like dungeon and has limited time to find the exit. No enemies, no weapons. The gameplay is very simple, but this is, what guarantees fun for quite a while. But more impressive is the fact that Minotrace runs on a stock C64. And it runs more than just smoothly. 

Try it out for yourself. 😳

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And that was it again. At this point, we run out of words and letters, and #64 comes to a well-deserved end.

If you have potential content for the next issue, feel free to contact us by email - just reply to this message, or use the Suggest form on our page.

And if you have ambitions for the title of Employee of the Month, feel free to forward this issue to friends, family or colleagues. Every new reader is more than welcome.

See you in two weeks. Build something. And speak about it.


Jan & Bastian

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