Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

On a Friday in 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail on his first voyage to discover the New World. This Friday, we're setting sail ⛵️ to do the exact opposite and rediscover the old world.

It's 8bitnews time. This time, we have a whole array of nice little things in our digital luggage. As always, there's fresh hardware, software, a bit for DIY enthusiasts, and of course, something to play. We should be charging for this 🤑.

But since we haven't been doing that so far, we hope you enjoy Issue #89.

[PS: Issue #90 will take a bit longer to arrive, details on that in the outro.]


FPGA based N64

FPGA based Nintendo64
Imagesource: NINTENDO

Now that's what I call a bombshell. Just a few days ago, Analogue announced an FPGA-based release of the Nintendo64, and not even 48 hours later, here it is. 🥰

But… wait a minute – not from Analogue! 💥

An unknown Australian tweeting as @UFp64 was a bit faster, presenting the very project he'd been working on for 5 years, the one that Analogue would've loved to have. Talk about a low blow, ouch.

UltraFP64 is indeed a fully functional implementation of all the necessary hardware components of the N64 in an FPGA. Whether the feature set announced by Analogue is fully replicated isn't entirely clear. At the very least, it's uncertain whether cartridges from all regions are supported seamlessly. However, if we base our judgment on the current state of the project, considering the effort over 5 years(!), the projection indicates that a genuine alternative to the real hardware might soon be available.

At the moment, there's no information on the whenhow, or if at all of an actual release, but we're intrigued. Perhaps... just maybe, we might see a collaboration, and this impressive piece of FPGA PCB donning a sleek, polished Analogue plastic casing.

We're eager to find out.

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New Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Imagesource: NINTENDO

Probably no internal game franchise has been ridden as hard as Nintendo's Super Mario. The sheer number of different titles for countless hardware platforms in 2D and 3D have almost always been a license to print money. 💴

And for those who grew up with the 2-dimensional variants on the NES and Gameboy, and never really warmed up to the 3D monstrosities, perhaps they've secretly hoped for a new Super Mario in just 2 dimensions.

Would that be a step backward? It certainly depends on one's perspective, but age-old concepts that have been a guaranteed success for a long time don't necessarily have to be forcibly updated with new technologies. After all, you can put lipstick on a pig... but no matter how much lipstick and powder you use, a pig remains a pig. 💄🐷

It seems this realization has also dawned internally at Nintendo. After 11 years of a 2-dimensional hiatus, we can look forward to a new Mario title that doesn't venture into the third dimension.

For Super Matrio Bros. Wonder, the Japanese game forge has brought onboard a number of well-known figures (or more likely locked them into a bunch of cubicles 👹): Takashi Tezuka, Shiro Mouri, Koichi Hayashida, Masanobu Sato, and Koji Kondo will surely be familiar to those who wait for the end of a game's credits (and also stay seated in the cinema until the curtain drops).

The title will first be released for the Switch, and a whopping 2,000 suggestions for gameplay innovations contribute to what Nintendo calls the Wonder Effect.

The anticipation is real.

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SmartyKit Update

smartykit Update
Imagesource: https://smartykit.io/

It's been a while (well, in the retrocomputing universe, it was actually just yesterday) since we reported on SmartyKit in Issue #45. The DIY Apple-I Replica is a brilliant project not just for every fan of the fruity company. The kit introduces low-level computer concepts as exemplarily as Ben Eater's 8-bit video series and is suitable not only for old pros but especially for curious kids.

Creator Sergey Panarin, tweeting as @spanarin, has been anything but idle since the release. In addition to the 2 kits, which allow one the pleasure of piecing together all the necessary parts of the small computer on breadboards, Sergey also has a single board version as a PCB in stock... well... he had. It's currently not available. 😔

However, that's not a problem at all, because his team and he have recently made all the necessary Gerber files available on GitHub.

For those who find the kit versions in white and black dress a bit too pricey, the SBC version offers the same fun, without having to sell your own grandmother to the devil. Perhaps it's also a great idea for a Christmas gift... not for the grandmother, but maybe for friends, family, or the beloved retrocomputing newsletter operator of your choice... ahem. 😇

PS: If you want to see the thing in action, here's the relevant video.

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Homebrew Game Console

Homebrew Game Console
Imagesource: Image by catalyststuff on Freepik

Building your own DIY homebrew computer is, at the very least, a testament to two things: First: You know your stuff and understand the basics of computing technology. (Congrats! 💐) Second: You're retired and have the time required to get the thing into a state where it does something truly meaningful and does it reliably.

Is Sérgio Vieira aka @IntRegister retired? No clue. Maybe he hit the lottery, has rich parents, inherited wealth – I'm envious! 😜

The Homebrew that Sérgio is credited for is, unlike many other boxes on GitHub, quite special. At its heart, a Z80 CPU sets the pace, a self-built double buffer graphics system allows for rendering of backgrounds, sprites, and supports the dynamic swapping of tiles in real-time. Bam!

An ATMega644 then produces the video signal while the machine runs the code in its 128kB RAM – btw, only 56 of those 128 are actually usable for your own programs. A bit tight in there. 😵‍💫

A great project for those who... okay, let's skip that. So, if you happen to be among the privileged – enjoy, send a postcard.

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New BBS Webclient

BBS Web Client
Imagesource: Image by starline on Freepik

Want to feel really old? 👴 Then Andreas aka netzherpes has just the thing for you. Presenting:

Ta-da! A BBS Webclient!

Did it work? You're welcome. 😜 Those were the days when a 56K modem was among the fastest tools an average Joe could use to transfer data. When you sometimes waited days(!) for the somewhat illegal download of floppy disk images of the game of your dreams, paid off phone bills to your parents for years afterward, and the world was simply a better place... Ah, nostalgia. 🫠

But back to the project. BBS systems are still around in significant numbers. Interestingly, there's also new and current BBS software. But a pain point has always been getting the respective terminal in the right configuration to run on the exact system you're currently sitting in front of. And that's exactly what the WebClient solves. Open the browser, enter the address, and feel content.

Speaking of feeling content: The pre-configured hackerforce BBS is now accessible not on 2323 but on 2324. Did someone experience too much traffic?

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Visual Breadbin Diagnostics

Visual Breadbin Diagnostics
Imagesource: Image by macrovector on Freepik

I feel deep admiration, even reverence, for those who, with a few simple tools for measuring voltage, current, resistance, and clock frequency, can breathe life back into aged, non-functional microelectronics in neat, yellowish plastic cases.

Not that it's black magic… but it certainly requires the convergence of some very specific genetic markers that make someone enjoy doing it. 😘

Often the target of such open-heart surgeries on electronics are Commodore machines – particularly the Commodore 64. Why? Because this machine was the most successful home computer of all time, and up to this day, not only have many devices withstood the test of time, but their initial owners, more than 40 years later, want to indulge in the pleasure they once loved so much. That's a good thing.

All the more helpful then, when someone like the unknown creator going by the handle Derbian Games assists in getting a sluggish breadbin back on its feet. It's not like these devices just die when they break. On the contrary, they often exhibit very odd behavior. Interestingly, this behavior often hints at the actual problem.

So, what makes more sense than associating screenshots of the respective error situations directly with potential culprits? (Maybe the first mulled wine tonight, but that's a different topic…)

Does all of this sound logical to you? Then check out Pictorial64. Every rescued C64 is a good C64.

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Cobol on Wheelchair

COBOL on a Wheelchair
Imagesource: marianne bos @ Unsplash

I have no idea what a broom tastes like. But I have a strong inner suspicion that it would go down a lot better with 300ml of ketchup. 🧹

What's the occasion for this feast?

The most wickedly brilliant retro computing project I've seen in a long time. A Polish developer, publishing his work as azac, pondered whether one could give web frameworks like Rails (which, at 20 years old, almost deserves the retro tag), Django & Friends a run for their money. And he's doing it with COBOL! 🤯

Cobol on Wheelchair is not a joke. No, really, it's not. He's dead serious… and he's actually succeeding. A bit of setup, and shortly after, you're serving dynamically generated HTML – not exactly following the MVC paradigm since models are missing in the current version, but that doesn't dampen the fun.

All that's missing now is a small asset pipeline, then delivering Hotwire / Turbo to the client, and voilà, you've got the most modern SPA feeling based on a... 64-year-old language.

I'll go get some ketchup. 🍅

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6502 Superoptimizer

6502 Superoptimizer
Imagesource: Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

Programming in Assembly for any processor architecture in 2023 means that you're either totally nuts, have too much free time on your hands, or are working on something that requires squeezing out every last nanosecond of performance… for #reasons.

Aside from that, it can also be genuinely fun. Especially if you're dealing with an ISA that you not only like but can also directly recall the hexadecimal representation of most mnemonics from the cerebellum.

In any case – nothing is so good that it can't be optimized further. So, it's entirely reasonable to consider whether specific, frequently recurring sequences of assembly instructions could be replaced with more optimal alternatives. A lovely sub-discipline of the widely admired task of compiler construction. 🙄

Ryan Russell aka RussellSprouts seems to have a soft spot for this topic. At least he did almost 6 years ago when he introduced his project 6502 Enumerator to the general public. The tool isn't something everyone needs every day. However, if you're involved in the aforementioned activity (the manual assembly thing), you might find this tool to be a valuable asset.

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8008 SBC

8008 Single Board Computer
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/oFVjI7945CU

In 1972, Intel made history with the 8008. In 2023, Dr. Scott M. Baker, whose home base is here, built upon the success of the CPU by creating a modern Single Board Computer around it. Why not?

With so many Z80 and MOS6502-based SBCs we encounter on the web daily, it's a pleasure to see a completely different approach.

In his video, Dr. Baker presents the machine in detail. And even though the SBC seems to consist of two boards at first glance, the actual claim is indeed accurate.

Not primetime material, but an interesting excursion into Intel's 8-bit world. And since the CPU was also produced until 1983, it marks a lovely anniversary. 💐

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Imagesource: https://youtu.be/MRpFqz5dOPA

Flashback to 1982: Roger Badertscher, along with a rebellious Atari gang, took an ambitious plan and left Atari in the rearview. Enter Mindset - not just your run-of-the-mill PC, but one that dared to outshine IBM's PC in style and pizzazz.

Beyond its flamboyant facade, Mindset boasted possibly the first-ever graphics accelerator, making pixels pop at speeds IBM's CGA could only dream of. Rumor has it Mindset could've taken the place of the Atari ST if not for Jack Tramiel's vendetta against Commodore. But what is especially interesting about the machine, is its main use case. Curious?

Brad aka @TechTimeTravel took the opportunity and dedicated a video to the machine and its history. It's been a year ago already, but it's a good thing he did because both the hardware and the company didn't end up too well. A hard crash landing in the 1986-87 timeline.

Ah, the rollercoaster of tech lore!

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Frogger Remake

Imagesource: https://rmjoejoe.itch.io/

Who doesn't remember Frogger? There are few classics like the KONAMI title that have seared themselves into the collective memory of an entire generation as much as they did on the CRTs of video game cabinets.

Are you a Frogger fan? Also, an Amiga owner at the same time? Then there's the best news for you in a long time. The classic has been faithfully ported in a 1:1 ratio, meticulously crafted in 68k assembler to reflect the original's Z80 essence. And the result can be found for a fair name-your-own-price™ on itch.io

For those unfamiliar, Frogger is both a solo and duo challenge: navigate your amphibian across busy roads and treacherous rivers, with an occasional appearance by a lady frog for added excitement. The minimal requirement? Just an Amiga 500 with 512Kb RAM. Enjoy authentic artwork, nostalgic gameplay, and even remastered tunes.

Thanks go to the otherwise hard-to-find creators RMJ & JoeJoe.

Happy hopping! 🐸🕹

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Internet Artifacts

Internet Artifacts
Imagesource: https://neal.fun/

There can't be an edition without an off-topic topic. No! And the topic of this edition is dangerous. Especially if nostalgia and depression lie very close to each other for you.

Neal.Fun, actually known as Neal Agarwal and tweeting as @nealagarwal, has not only indulged in nostalgia but also conducted thorough historical research.

His current project, Internet Artifacts, is not just a museum. It's a journey back in time to the beginnings of what has become a daily part of life for most of us today – the Internet.

Neal has unearthed a few gems that might make some laugh or bring tears to their eyes. Somehow, the web used to be a better, more colorful, and more free place than it is today. But let's be optimistic. Someday, someone will look back at the 2020s and say: Remember back in the good old days...

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Was there something for you in there? We certainly hope so, because producing Issue #89 was a real joy for us.

Issue #90 will take a bit longer to arrive, probably not landing in your inbox until December 1st. The reason behind this is our need to focus on our day jobs & other commitments, especially to ensure the future of 8bitnews.

If you want or can help... we can send you a Bitcoin address 🤭... otherwise, every new subscriber helps us. So feel free to forward this issue to friends, and our signup process will take care of the rest.

We'll see you in at most 4 weeks. Until then - build something and talk about it.

Stay positive!
Jan & Bastian

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