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Reg Hardware Retro Week Logo Those were the days, my friend. And, indeed, we thought they'd never end, as we hopped, skipped and blooped our way through Jet Set Willy's mansion, traded between distant worlds in Elite and yet still found time to hack up our own arcade clones in any of a dozen variations of the Basic …

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Z80

In keeping with being taken back to my childhood, I'd just like to say I had the colour screen for my CPC464 so nur-nur-nur-nurrr.

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Yes I had the same CPC464 with the Green Screen, which if you looked at it for too long and looked away, everything was in purple! I'm sure that wasn't good for my eyes.

I remember feeling disappointed at the time because they had BBC's at school and that was what I wanted, but still managed to code a few games and a text editor on it.

Now if I remember correctly, I had a right problem trying to get a printer to connect to it, because it had a 7bit centronics printer port, which was annoying because you couldn't get a compatible cable, you had to get a daughter board to convert it to be compatible with printers! I right nightmare.

Oh now I think of it, when I went to work in an office on Work Experience, they had a CPC6128 running Mini Office (remember that?) and that was the early 90's!

My friend had the CPC664 which came with the 3in disk drive and colour screen.

Now who remembers copying tapes using a double tape desk, (no never did that of course, not me!).

I wonder how many kids today would wait 25 minutes for a game to load, tape drives there the ultimate definition of patients!

Oh those were the days......

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CPC6128 for me

with colour screen. Couldn't be doing with all that tape malarky. I got all the gadgets too like lightpen, mouse, and the CD ROM reader thingy that (I think) Codemasters produced.

I modded it a lot too with switches to for hard reset, enabled/disable the ROM banks and I even got a 5MB hard disk running on it.

Finally, I tried to get a Z80H (8MHz!) to work in it but fried something and it never worked again :-(

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CPC printer cables etc.

I managed to find a CPC-specific Centronics printer cable for my 6128 (colour!) back in the day. Still got the machine in the attic - my daughters have been asking me to show it to them, so I might dig it out before its 30th birthday (along with the Amiga 600, Mac IIsi and IBM PS/2 N33SX laptop also in said attic).

I'd like to see if any of the disc contents are still readable, though I suspect I'll need to replace the rubber band in the disc drive mechanism. SuperCalc under CP/M FTW!

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Pint

Oh yeah...

I cut my coding teeth on the 464, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my childhood. No buzzwords, no three-letter acronyms, no frameworks, just you and the machine, with Locomotive BASIC to help us talk to each other... simple, fun games that relied on gameplay to keep you coming back, not hours of content and looking/sounding like a movie - kept me going until I graduated to the AtariST in 1990.

Like Jeff Minter said - the men in suits took the fun out of it all.

Those were the days? Oh yes, I'll drink to that!

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Pint

Re: Oh yeah...

Yay for other Amstrad users! ^_^

CPC6128 user myself, with a COLOUR screen. Those were the days, when a game was £9.99 for a new release (or if you wanted to save yourself a multiloading headache, £14.99 for the disk version). The budget ranges like Hit Squad and the ever cheap and cheerful Codemasters releases with Fantasy World Dizzy, Magicland Dizzy and Dizzy in the Shamelessly Shoehorned Into What Would Otherwise Be A Crappy Puzzle Game Adventure.

The joys of Read Error B and its more evil cousin Read Error A. These no good punk kids don't appreciate what makes a good game these days....

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@RyokuMas Re: Oh yeah...

Yep.. Me to. Went from a CPC 464 (Christmas '84) to an Atari ST (Summer '88).

I learned to program in BASIC on the 464, but never made the leap to assembler until the ST. I think it was that the assembler for the CPC was on a cartridge, and thus more expensive than my limited budget could afford.

(And now I've got the music from Thing On A Spring in my head. ARRGGH!)

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Ahh great memories

I also had a CPC464 with green screen monitor. Previous to that I'd had an Atari 65XE which failed, followed by another which failed, then a ZX Spectrum +3 for a week which also failed, so within a year we'd upgraded to the CPC (I think it was an ex-demo model).

I remember having so much fun with the good old CPC playing some of the great Codemasters budget games (Fruit Machine possibly being my favourite, never did get into Dizzy) or some of the Mastertronic stuff (Way of the Exploding Fist - okay I know Melbourne House, but I had the budget Ricochet version).

Eventually I started tinkering about with programming in Basic (I remember the manual being pretty good) and doing more serious things on it such as playing with Mini Office II printing to a Brother thermal printer, later a Star LC10 printer), a music program called EMU, a graphics package (can't remember the name of it) and a Datel Lightpen (with the aid of a MP-1 modulator).

Later on I upgraded to a CPC664 which was amazing (still with a green screen monitor though unless I used a combination of the modulator and monitor to power the disk drive - my dad didn't upgrade the modulator) and I spent many hours playing around with Logo (so when we started doing Logo in Maths lessons at secondary school I was way ahead of the others in the class drawing pretty pictures while the rest of the kids were struggling to draw lines and boxes).

I'll always fondly remember my CPC, and being jealous of a friend who had a CPC6128, I had some great fun with it before I eventually upgraded to an Atari ST.

Rob

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Re: CPC printer cables etc.

I wish my daughters were so enthusiastic, I got an old Speccy running the other day which I bought a couple of years ago off eBay, sadly the keyboard doesn't work otherwise I'd have fired up some of the classics (Jet Set Willy, Jetpack etc). At least my middle daughter seems interested in a Raspberry Pi so I'm hoping she'll do more than just play "Rainbow Dressup" games on the internet.

I remember getting a centronics cable for my CPC 464 (later putting it on the CPC 664) and also reading an article about how to build a cable to attach a 3.5" floppy drive to the CPC, sadly not on the CPC464 :-(

Rob

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Happy

Re: Oh yeah...

I used to buy most of my games from a little record store (sadly long defunct and sorely missed) called "Strawberry Fields". Firebird/Silverbird, Code Masters, Mastertronic, Aligata and a whole slew of other labels, £1.99 a pop (or £2.99 for the more expensive ones). Good times.

And now the tunes from Dizzy (Code Masters) and Biospheres (Firebird) are competing for my headspace...

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Re: CPC printer cables etc.

You can still get replacement keyboard matrices. Some people have had new production runs done.

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Anonymous Coward

errata

Errors in the Jupiter Ace section....

"That appealed to an emerging group of programming nerds, but for the bigger gang of schoolkids keen to hack micros, it was a language they spoke."

Wasn't?

"Even the Spectrum, which the two hard just completed."

Had?

Very nice look back at such a great time - there was so much happening back then it was a priviledge to have lived through it.

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FAIL

Re: errata

Indeed, there are so many errors in 'The Register' articles these days, I wonder if they should invest in a Proof Reader.

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DJV
Unhappy

Re: errata

Apparently the much missed and long gone Moderatrix, Ms Bee, used to do a lot of the proof reading. El Reg obviously need someone new to whip them into (grammatical) shape!

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Re: errata

There's actually a "Send corrections" link at the bottom of every article now. It appeared a few weeks ago I think. I have used it a bit.

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Anonymous Coward

"...Acorn Series 1 - which had been designed by Sophie Wilson"

No, I think you'll find the System 1 was designed by Roger Wilson. The fact that Roger Wilson is now Sophie Wilson doesn't change the fact that Sophie Wilson was Roger Wilson in 1979.

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Re: "...Acorn Series 1 - which had been designed by Sophie Wilson"

Well, now we're getting deep into trans* semantics.

There are several points you could consider to be the moment at which a person assigned male at birth becomes female. Obvious ones are: Completion of surgery; Beginning of surgery; Beginning of RLE; Hormone treatment kicking in; Beginning of hormone treatment; First time was addressed as "miss"; First time presenting as chosen gender; First time realised was transsexual; First time asked the question "Why can't I do X?". And almost anything in between.

Irrespective of whichever moment an individual trans* person chooses as definitive, and how they choose to handle events either side of it -- by treating their boy-self and their girl-self as two completely separate people, by retroactively claiming that things done by their boy-self were actually done by their girl-self, or whatever -- it's *their* choice, and not respecting it makes you sound passive-aggressive and antagonistic.

Also, because everyone is different, everyone's experience is different. Which means that what is right for one person may not be right for another.

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Re: "...Acorn Series 1 - which had been designed by Sophie Wilson"

Supposong you're complaining primarily about tense, would you accept 'was designed by Sophie Wilson'? Citing people by their current names is quite normal, e.g. 'Elton John was born in 1947'.

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Linux

Dragon 32

Ah the 6809E, what a dream to program for (proper 16bit index registers) compared to the 6502 and you could software over-clock it too but you would lose video sync in certain graphics modes.

Reg ed, can we have a tears of nostalgia image just for this feature ?

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Re: Dragon 32

Not all of them overclocked sucessfully. I remeber games with instructions to delete the relevent poke command if you didn't have one of the overspecced 6809s that could handle the extra speed.

I also recall reading that the poke stood a chance of damaging the SAM chip, since it wasn't really intended to be poked.

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Re: Dragon 32

And no truth in the rumour that the Dragon 32 came with a Welsh keyboard with two 'L' keys

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Re: Dragon 32

Did you ever make the mistake of using the speed-up poke and then save to tape? You couldn't load the program back in, even with the speed up poke applied. The solution was to use another speed up poke that overclocked things even further. Tape load would work, but you'd lose all display, even text mode. Thankfully you could hit the reset button and get everything back to normal.

Incidentally, Microdeal was run from a building just down the road from where I lived, and I went on to work for Jenny Pope in one of her later ventures.

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Unhappy

Lessons to be learned

We had a ZX81 and using it was such a trauma that it nearly put me off computers for life. I guess it was less the membrane keyboard itself and more the multiple keys for various characters. Still, the price appealed to many wishing to get their offspring interested in computing and generated enough cash for the much improved Spectrum: enough memory to do something without having to drop into assembler and a usable keyboard; colour was the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, we never upgraded. Indeed, while all around us were playing fun games in colour, one bright spark at school even wrote a game for the Spectrum, we didn't get a colour system until the end of the decade and then only CGA. Sigh, just to goes to show how important some degree of "shiny shiny" and immediate gratification is for getting kids interesting in programming.

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Oric 1 - some inaccuracies

The Oric had some annoying bugs. For example you had to turn keyboard scanning off for printing or risk corrupted output. These were fixed in its successor, the Oric Atmos (not the Stratos), which also had a proper keyboard. An enterprising young oik with a cassette tape and an EPROM programmer could, for example, wander in to a branch of Dixons, save an Atmos ROM to tape, burn new EPROMs from this tape image and upgrade a 1 to Atmos software spec.

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DJV
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Re: Oric 1 - some inaccuracies

Yeah, I upgraded my old ROM Basic 1 PET to Basic 4 using the same method!

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Re: Oric 1 - some inaccuracies

Ahh... now you tell me!

Could never work out why my printer dropped characters when it was plugged into the Oric, but worked fine with my Atom.

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Coat

The Atom was more a system 3

albeit with totally different video. But a system 1 had no video and no qwerty keyboard at all.

Best machine ever made, the Atom.

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Re: The Atom was more a system 3

I'm not sure the "best machine ever made" would have socketed chips hanging upside down on the motherboard, working their way loose with every key press :)

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Re: The Atom was more a system 3

I think the only chip that only really worked loose in my Atom was the 6847 video controller.

The standard Atom produced a monochrome output, but the second version of the colour-encoder card required pulling the 6847, plugging the colour-encoder into its socket on a 40pin header, and plugging the 6847 into the colour-encoder card. The whole rather heavy assembly then hung upside-down from the motherboard held only by the 40 pin DIP socket.

The header had quite chunky pins that buggered the socket a bit, so when you said 'sod this - I'm going back to black and white' after watching the colour encoder fall out numerous times, the main board socket never held the 6847 as tightly again!

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Re: The Atom was more a system 3

Oh, yes. Same thing used to happen with Beebs and sideways RAM boards. When you decide that E00DFS has fallen over and corrupted one disk too many for your liking and hoik out the sideways RAM board, this usually happens:

BBC Computer

Acorn DFS

Language?

And you end up having to stick BASIC in the adjacent socket, because the one it came from can no longer make sound contact with a normal IC pin.

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What about...

OK, not a home machine, but the HP85. Designed and built by their calculator division, so had native BCD support in the 8bit CPU and all implemented in 6V logic (5V is a difficult concept to someone who thinks in terms of batteries).

Lovely implementation of BASIC, which lots of expansion capabilities via plugin ROMs. Ours had matrix support, printer/plotter ROM, and...

32K of memory and 32K of main ROM plus 6 plugin ROMs at 8K each.

Did they ever actually ship a New Brain? I thought it died before reaching production.

I really fancied the box running Forth, much more fun to tinker with. The Linux of the 80s.

I got a copy of Forth for the Excidy Sorcerer from one of the lectures at my 6th form college and a rich mate parents had bought him the Sorcerer. I remember writing Space Invaders on it, complete with generating the characters by re programming the character generator. Do think I'd have managed it in BASIC.

Why no PET though?

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Vic
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Yes, I'm a packrat

I still own four of the machines in this article.

Atom

Dragon32

Jupiter Ace

ZX81

The Dragon taught me a lesson about how poorly-tested commercial products could be. Whilst USR0 worked, it was clear that no-one had ever tried writing code that used USR1..9, because they all executed USR0 instead[1] :-(

Vic.

[1] You could get them to work - but you had to call them "USR01" to "USR09". Buggy interpreter...

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Harsh on the ZX80

Which was indeed a pretty awful computer to use but looked better than the ZX81 IMO* - bright and clean and properly futuristic.

*MO being influenced greatly by nostalgia for my stolen ZX80, of course.

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Megaphone

???

and where is the Commodore plus/4 ???? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_Plus/4

it seems I need to dig it out from the garage and have a bit of retro gaming:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercenary_(video_game)

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Re: ???

ahhh, the good old +4..

in a way it was sort of vapourware... its original design specs were chopped down and features removed because the commodore marketing department didn’t want it to interfere with the lucrative c64 sales...

i picked one up from dixons for £40 as a clearance item about 4 months after it originally went on sale... with no marketing or advertising, i don’t think anyone knew it existed !!

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Gimp

CPC464

Discontinued in 1990 but a revamped model was launched at the same time as well as a revamped 6128.

Named the 464 Plus and 6128 Plus both machines sold relatively well for 8 bits in a 16 bit era, but both were somewhat overshadowed by the abject failure of the GX4000 console.

The Plus range had some great hardware features. 4096 colours, hardware sprites and DMA sounds which meant it could run games like the spiffy Prehistorik 2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoWHkuI-REQ

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Megaphone

Sam Coupe

Shame there is no Sam Coupe included. The last gasp of the 8 bit micro. Might have been a success if MGT hadn't spent most of the time shooting themselves in the foot with both barrels.

By the time the machine was properly working everyone had lost interest. Shame really as I was following the whole saga on the pages of the weekly New Computer Express. They had loads of good coverage until it went so horribly wrong.

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Re: Sam Coupe

I remember seeing stacks of these for sale at a computer fair in London in 1991, and thinking at the time what a waste of effort it seemed in the (then) 16-bit era. There were stacks of Z88s as well, I was sorely tempted...

Speaking of computer fairs, when did the PCW fairs end? I even rang the offices back in about 1989 to find out when & where the next one would be, and they had no idea what I was talking about.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sam Coupe

Although it's still supported even today - with interesting hardware still available...

Check out www.samcoupe.com amongst others.

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Re: Sam Coupe

The thing about the Sam was that the price was good and the capabilites were also good for the price. It could have found itself a niche as a low cost home computer. The compatibility with Spectrum 48k software opened it up to a large user base who were keen up upgrade.

But the launch was so badly cocked up that it flopped. Delay after delay, bugs, no Spectrum compatibility at launch. It was all rather "Sinclair" with the first 8,000 customers having to have replacement ROM's shipped to them.

Then it was found that any Speccy games that used certain types of speed loaders would also fail so they had to produce a dongle to overcome that.

Late, horribly bugged and surrounded by poor publicity it was no surprise that after initial promising sales the entire thing became a joke.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sam Coupe

Wasn't so bad if you had a Spectrum with the PlusD interface and upgraded to SAM.... snap your game on the Spectrum and just load and run on SAM fairly easily :)

Quite a few 128K only games where gotten to work thanks to some clever coders.

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Re: Sam Coupe

You can still get a Z88 from rakewell.com. I've been tempted because they really are excellent devices for writing stuff on.

As for the PCW show.. I think these ended around 1990 give or take a couple of years. Of course, PCW is gone to magazine heaven now along with BYTE which I still miss.

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Re: Sam Coupe

As a Sam owner and someone who has written software for it (no, nothing notable; my best effort) I think its problems were more about the spec than the launch.

There's no hardware scrolling and if you wanted to scroll the high quality display in its entirety it'd take four frames. So most of the then-current style of action and platform games are straight out unless you want to render them in the Spectrum graphics mode or the Timex-style Spectrum graphics mode but with separate attributes for each 8x1 block. Cue a slew of puzzle games.

With respect to the expected sales point re: the Spectrum, the paging scheme is entirely different from the 128k Spectrum so there's no way to run 128k games at all. That's in addition to the timing differences that make many Spectrum games fail to load (the Spectrum tape interface being essentially a 1-bit ADC that the CPU polls in carefully timed loops); and they declined to licence or otherwise replicate the Sinclair ROM so you're not getting even the Spectrum compatibility it can do out of the box.

Within a year of launch, prices were something like £200 for the Sam, £300 for the Atari ST. So at that point you're not even looking at good value for money, especially once software catalogues are factored in.

MGT were hobbled from the start by development budgets, I think. If you compare and contrast to the Atari Lynx of the same year, that had a quarter of the RAM but a faster CPU, a scaling blitter, a dedicated fixed point maths unit and a built-in LCD screen, for only about £130 — and that was before console manufacturers were in the habit of subsidising the hardware with future software sales.

Subjectively speaking though? I loved the little thing, and used it through to at least 1995. Both it and another I bought are likely still where I left them when I eventually went to university.

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I love this article

Brought back great memories. I'm glad you mentioned the Oric, my first computer.

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Unhappy

Bah!

I'd love to join in this misty eyed nostalgia as I do enjoy these articles but back in the early '80s I wasn't considered to be good enough at maths to get near computers at school. An introduction to computing based on which maths set you were in now seems incredibly short sighted. As a result I successfully avoided computers for about 20 years believing them to be the devil's work. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Well I probably am on this site...

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Re: Bah!

Could be the case again.

Currently everyone does ICT, which is like learning to drive a car.

Perhaps a subset of that class could be taken on to perform Computer Science, on those new Raspberry Pis.

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Re: Bah!

I'm probably describing the experience of quite a lot of people on this site when I say that things worked the other way around for me: having access to computers from a young age is probably what put me into the top set for maths at school.

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Cab
Linux

Left out again.

My poor Acorn Electron, not even the traditional after thought remark in the BBC roundup. Well damn you and your mode 7 we didn't need it anyway (much), and one channel of sound is enough for anyone, stereo is just showing off <sob!>. Penguin for Percy Penguin.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Left out again.

I feel your pain. I had an Electron too.

C.

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