Retrocomputing

Present Day


I own a few computers and gaming consoles that were wildly popular for those growing up in the late 1970s through 1980s, mostly from Commodore but also Atari and Tandy. They were my roots that set me on this course as an information services professional. Today, machine emulation provides near-perfect operation of those computers, with an even greater effort in recreating look-and-feel with scanlines and other screen artifacts. But more importantly, modern cross-development tools that allow for some serious low-level programming on those machines that simply did not exist back then — making the things we always dreamed were possible with those computers now within our reach.

The other reality retrocomputing provides is the feeling of pure joy first discovered with personal computing — that is, when you can find the time to re-immerse yourself into that era’s engineering. I hope you find this page as a friendly portal to take you back, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

My Projects

November 2010: Sprite Invaders is a variant of an arcade video game classic for VIC 20. Click here to play or download.

October 2010: Break-Out! is a clone of the Atari home video game classic for VIC 20. Click here to download.

March 2010: Berzerk MMX is a clone of an arcade classic for VIC 20. Read about it and download or play online.

November 2009: Omega Fury is an arcade-style space-shooter for VIC 20. Read about it and download, or watch and play online.

September 2009: Quikman+ is a clone of an arcade classic for VIC 20. Read about it and download, or watch and play online.  Play the latest sensation: Google Pac-Man.

Christmas 2008: My Arcade 2008 is a DVD-ROM using my custom ClanLib front-end to play as an arcade-in-a-box using the latest DOSBox, MAME, MESS, Stella, UAE, and VICE emulators of that time.  Runs on Linux and Windows.  Its ISO can be downloaded here.

Christmas 2006: Time-2-Play is a live CD-ROM using Puppy Linux and my custom SDL front-end to play as an arcade-in-a-box on low end machines.  Its ISO can be downloaded here.  Works great on modern machines that boot this as a virtual guest, i.e.,

qemu-kvm -sdl -vga cirrus -soundhw es1370 -m 256 -cdrom time2play.iso

Christmas 2004: CD-ROM with the latest MAME, MESS, and VICE emulators of that time.  Its ISO can be downloaded here.

Online Resources

I have found these links as excellent resources for my retrocomputing endeavors. Feel free to use my blog search above for additional commentary:


My History

C=It was January 1982 when I was talking with a high school buddy, Michael Milligan, about my inclinations to purchase the new Tandy Color Computer for $400. The year prior, I had touched a few TRS-80 computers in another high school computer lab, and I was immediately impressed by its sophistication. Our high school lab was outfitted with three Wang microcomputers with cassette tape drives, costing around $5000 each. Clearly, my part-time Burger King pay would only allow me to consider this “home” version. I convinced myself that what it lacked with its chicklet-style keyboard would certainly be made up with its wonderful color and sound capabilities.

Commodore VIC 20But my buddy informed me about an electronics show he had attended and it showcased a home computer “VIC” for only $300. And it boasted 5kb of RAM instead of 4kb standard in its competitors. He suggested that I could go see one first-hand at the Apex shopping center for myself.

So, I made the trip that Saturday with curious wonderment. There it was, sitting on display with its stylish white case and full-stroke keyboard — and what were those graphics on its keycaps anyways? And then there was this take-a-way flyer with William Shatner boldly proclaiming, “Why buy just a video game?” With that kind of endorsement, I was immediately hooked.

brochureThe weeks that followed, I went out hunting for every brochure I could get my hands on. Strange, no “computer” store had any information — only our one local retail outlet in Apex.  So I went on saving my money, mostly resisting urges to go to the arcade, but it was going to take several months before I could save enough.  Fortunately for me, my mother took an interest in my enthusiasm for computers and made an unprecedented gesture — she handed me $200 and said it was a birthday present.  Wow, I thought, feeling a bit guilty but also realizing this would be the means of obtaining something I truly desired.  I would have to make this work and not disappoint anyone.

datasetteFortunately, it was summer-time and my hours at Burger King increased.  I was able to quickly save $80 for a much-needed Commodore Datasette drive and an TDK cassette tape.  Until then, I was frustrated by typing in a BASIC program and watch it “disappear” after powering off this almighty computer.  Oddly enough, I never in my wildest dreams considered that the programs I would save then would survive over 20-years later — including the computer — and allow me to share them to the world via the Internet.

As the months and years followed, I could not be more pleased to see other retail outlets picking up the Commodore line, such as Child World, Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby, Sears, and especially Toys ‘R Us.  They carried everything with every visit there feeling like Christmas.  I loved the shopping experience of pulling a ticket to go pay & claim your new prize.

With the video game buzz going strong at the time, I had to learn more.  I bought the Commodore joystick — even though we had an Atari 2600 and their joysticks were compatible — and an Omega Race game cartridge.  Wow!!  My Commodore VIC 20 computer can do smooth animation with hi-res graphics?!!  But how?  All of my BASIC programs relied upon the built-in character graphics, blinking as they ran ever so slowly. I devoured all the information in the first issue of Commodore’s Power Play magazine, and could not wait to get my hands on the infamous Programmer’s Reference Guide.

It was then when I ran into this sophomore at my high school named Darren Lee.  A great kid that got me exposed to this thing called “machine language”.  He handed me this tinymon utility that allowed for “easy” memory editing in hexadecimal.  That process did not take with me so well, but he was right that learning machine language was the key to successful game programming.  I only became convinced of that fact after investing $50 in Commodore’s VICMON cartridge and typing in their sample machine language routine.  And then there was simply no comparison in terms of size and speed with an equivalent BASIC program matched against it.  It did not take me long after to begin integrating machine language subroutines to help accelerate my ailing BASIC games.

I remained “brand-loyal” to the Commodore line.  I sneered at the expensive Commodore 64, preferring to go with the more economical, more colorful, and more powerful programming environment (better BASIC and built-in machine language monitor) in the Commodore 16.  But that did not last very long, because the Commodore 128 was released shortly afterwards, and I had to get one in June 1985.  That machine renewed my invested interest in 8-bit computers for the next three years.

It was June 1988 when I was at the crossroads of going to 16-bit computing, with either the surging IBM PC clones or invest again in Commodore with its Amiga line.  I made the better choice and invested several thousands of dollars in Amiga 2000 with two additional megabytes of RAM and a 47 megabyte SCSI hard disk drive.  Another three years and I upgraded to full 32-bit computing in Amiga 3000.  It was on Amiga where I truly learned how to program in C, using a professional SAS C compiler.

And just as Commodore was collapsing in 1994, I was at another crossroad — this time it was the start of the Internet age — and my choice was to either switch over to the expensive Power Macintosh line or upgrade to the tower version in the Amiga 3000T.  It may have seem stubborn at the time, but I remained with Amiga and went crazy buying a Picasso video board and 18-megabytes of RAM — because its multitasking allowed me to run classic Macintosh software such as Microsoft Word and a Netscape browser at the same time keeping my valuable software library.

I never regretted my decisions to remain loyal to Commodore, because it was not until November 1997 that I invested in a Gateway Pentium II computer running Microsoft Windows ’98 — I learned more in the Commodore community and still saved thousands of dollars by avoiding all the crap Apple and Microsoft had been peddling for the prior 15 years. And besides, by that time the PC could also run this curious operating system called Linux …



Atari 7800

Cartridge List

ace of aces crossbow galaga one-on-one
asteroids dark chambers hat trick pole position ii
bmx air master dig dug joust realsports baseball
centipede (+1) donkey kong karateka robotron: 2084
choplifter fight night motorpsycho touchdown football
crack’ed food fight ms. pac-man xevious

 


Commodore VIC 20

Cartridge List

3k ram avenger (+2) home babysitter pinball spectacular (nib) sargon chess ii
8k ram (+2) choplifter jungle hunt poker sea wolf (cib)
16k ram (+2) cosmic cruncher (+2) jupiter lander (+2) q*bert shamus
amok dig dug mission impossible quick brown fox speed / bingo math (cib) +1
aggressor gorf (+3) mole attack radar rat race super alien (cib)
alien hes mon moon patrol raid on fort knox (+1) super expander (+1)
atlantis hes writer omega race (+2) road race vicmodem

… and one cartridge (+1) to rule them all.

Commodore 64 / 128

Cartridge List

128k ram (C128) frogmaster lazarian omega race (cib) speed / bingo math
avenger hes mon 64 le mans pac-man star trek
battlezone jack attack lode runner pinball spectacular super expander (cib)
blueprint jungle hunt minnesota fats radar rat race super smash
epyx fast load jupiter lander ms. pac-man sea wolf tooth invaders
frogger kickman (cib) music machine simon’s basic (cib) write now!

… and one cartridge to rule them all.

TI-99/4a

Cartridge List

a-maze-ing computer math games vi parsec ti invaders
alpiner football personal record keeping ti-writer
blackjack and poker household budget management speech synthesizer tombstone city
car wars hunt the wumpus the attack video games 1
chisholm trail munchman ti extended basic

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