I loved them.
I had a Mitsubishi version. Penguin adventure, Nemisis, Nemesis II, Knitemare, Knitemare II, Salamander - which I got as a runner up prize in C&VG. I wanted the Yamaha CX(?) though for the keyboard. Great days.
MSX: three initials that struck fear into the heart of Britain’s nascent home computer industry. The Japanese were coming, and the UK’s technology pioneers were anxious about what that might mean. Far Eastern firms like Sony, JVC, Sanyo and Pioneer had put paid to Britain’s mass-market hi-fi makers, and others had killed the …
"The platform Spectravideo came up with, and which was later refined by Nishi and his Japanese hardware partners, comprised the popular buy ageing 8-bit Z80A processor clocked to fractionally less than 3.6GHz."
3.6Ghz in the 1980's?? almost Twenty years before its time, and in some cases latter.
I've only managed to overclock a C2D to under 3Ghz for a while before giving it up as a bad idea and fell back to 2.13Ghz.
Cameras have traditionally been German or Swiss here - with many German makes marketed as Swiss post 1945 for reasons of actually wanting to sell some.
At the low low end, they were American and at the "enthusiast" end, well, a good friend of mine still makes her own pinhole cameras and takes some remarkable pictures.
http://slowlight.net/ - see for yourself.
Er, yes indeed.
Loads of UK makers of both cameras and lenses from the turn of the 20th century and earlier; names like the Houghton Butcher, Wray, Ross were common and Micro Precision was making military cameras through the second world war - and press cameras in 4*5 after it. My Micro Precision Press still gets regular use sixty years after it was made... and let us not forget that sole survivor of the UK's celluloid/silver film industry: Ilford.
I love articles like this on the Reg.
I have a well loved Panasonic MSX 2 at home on my desk, mainly for the ability to play the original Metal Gear games. I think it was one of the few that was actually sold in the UK as it comes with a UK plug and works without a stepdown.
It is one of my most prized possessions, not because of its rarity but because of its unassuming charm.
Can we have more articles like this please El Reg?
They have done a number of look backs at old stuff im too young to know about over the years, quite often when some iconic bit of gear or software reaches a 10, 20 or 30 year birthday - I think its time they created a dedicated "old stuff covered in cobwebs" section on the site so that we can find them all easily!
Could call it, "El Reg's shed" or "Take me up the loft hatch!"
I have a well loved Panasonic MSX 2 at home on my desk, mainly for the ability to play the original Metal Gear games.
Heh, the only reason I even know about the MSX computers is precisely because of Metal Gear! Somewhere among my backups I have an MSX2 emulator which I originally got only to play the first two Metal Gear games (somehow, I got hold of a fan translated version of Metal Gear 2!) but I later started monkeying around with MSX-BASIC itself. It was definitely impressive what these computers were able to do, taking into account they're from the late 80's!
Hell yes, it's amazing what Konami and a large ROM cassette could do with that crappy TI graphics thing (on an 8-pixel wide strip, chose two colours, no more!) and the Z80.
"Penguin Adventure II" and "Nemesis" ... back then I thought the graphics were amazing.
I remember seeing adverts for MSX and my father may have printed those Haymarket magazines, we printed a lot of their titles at the time. I think they marketed themselves poorly in the UK because I thought they were business machines and had no idea there were games available for them. In the UK home computer market of the time you needed to be able to compete with Sinclair & Commodore for number of games available or you were dead in the water.
D4 Enterprises are probably the best company to do emulation stuff for anybody. The fact that they did this in the way they did really just shows that they know what they are doing.
(The Wii Neo Geo is spot on compared to any of the rest. The odd game an extremely minor glitch (Other than it being stuck at 50hz without using something like Triforce).
The X68000 was brilliant for games at the time it was in use in Japan.
Like for Ghouls and Ghosts (Arcade).
The best ports were X68000>PC Engine>Megadrive
(Think most of the games the X68000 has that are multiplatform are by far and away the best home versions).
same here, only I flew the flag for amigas. i just remember seeing an A500 demo in dixons probably about 1986/7 and my head exploded. kiddie pester power and one arrived a good while later.
i think my parents skipped a mortgage payment or two for it - AND a monitor. none of this TV modulator rubbish ;)
i used to just look at it and go "wow" with the imagined possibilities.
nothing out there these days gives me that buzz anymore. or am i just a broken down cynical old man now? ;)
"same here, only I flew the flag for amigas. i just remember seeing an A500 demo in dixons probably about 1986/7 and my head exploded. kiddie pester power and one arrived a good while later."
"nothing out there these days gives me that buzz anymore. or am i just a broken down cynical old man now? ;)"
Well, here's the thing.. I remember seeing the Amiga demo and being amazed. Then, some nutter actually managed to port the Amiga demo *to run on an 8-bit Atari*. That amazed.
Now? I see two big issues that curb my enthusiasm.
1) Some technologies advance so fast that it's just hard to be amazed every time something comes out. I mean, look at 3D graphics -- if I had a reasonably recent 3D graphics card (I don't, but for sake of argument..), it could churn out video in real time that it took a movie effects company long time on a rack of computers to do 5 or 10 years ago. When photo realistic realtime 3D is possible, it's hard to be amazed by slightly higher framerate or slightly more realistic realtime 3D.
2) Uniformity. In the 1980s, systems varied greatly in capability, in form factor, in the types of OSes on them, and so on. Now? I had a professor in college say Microsoft has set back computer science at least 10 years, and I believe it. PCs kept getting faster all along, but interesting design developments (new form factors, new architectural designs, and so on) that a company would have gone ahead and run with in a market like in the 1980s, in the 1990s or 2000s they didn't because they insisted it had to run Windows or else. Luckily this is now going by the wayside, and hopefully not by just replacing dull PCs with dull tablets.
Ahhhh happy days. I had the Mitsubishi MLF-80. Much of my early teenage years were wasted thanks to my Parodius cartridge. There were very few companies publishing carts, luckily Konami was one of them. I also had a light pen attachment, which needed both cart slots, but was a thing of joy and wonder.
And in response to an earlier post, yes, Metal Gear Solid did start on MSX, although it was MSX-2.
They were tempting as gaming consoles on paper when announced but it was just a serial screwup from then on.
In an age when every new pc shipped a minimum of 6months late they were more than a year late.
.then when they did ship the price was outrageously uncompetitive
..when they got remaindered down to decent prices MSX was obsolete and there were newer toys to buy.
And then the same thing happened with MSX-2!
It's a miracle any sold over here. I don't remember ever being asked to write anything for MSX either.
I was 9 when I was given me first computer, an MSX assembled by Brazilian company Gradiente. Really loved the thing – though at my teens, disillusioned with the platform's fall, I had the temerity of selling it over. Talk about mistakes of youth...
One thing I wish would come back, is the luggable, keyboard-integrated form factor of those machines. I would love to have a top-notch x86-64 machine that I could just just grab from my car, put it on a table on a friend's house / college laboratory, connect to the mains and a spare monitor and get working.
Alas, it's all bulky desktops or not-quite-top-notch notebooks today...
>Alas, it's all bulky desktops or not-quite-top-notch notebooks today...
There are 'net-tops' (i.e, PCs about the size of a Mac Mini) and the recent Intel reference platform for similar things... get some glue, some straps and some foam rubber and you might not be far off the thing you want.
From deepest Siberia, an Amstrad CPC clone with MSX compatibility:.
It's utterly bizarre. From what I can gather, the people who made it liked the technical abilities of the CPC but couldn't get any software. For some reason MSX software was more easily available in Russia (all pirated obv) so they made it MSX compatible as well. They also stuck an MSX keyboard on it.
Obviously this was all unofficial like all of the Russian computer clones.
I remember seeing MSX in the magazines of the 80s, and I've been wondering when a mention would come along on El Reg, with all this 30yr nostalgia.
Never even realised MS was behind it, now I've found out that little gem I'm (as someone resistant to their massive monopoly and dubious practices, despite being a happy Win user!) even more glad it all failed :)
But as a spotty teenager oik I was more than happy with my Speccy, and friends with their C-64s and BBC-Bs. We saw no appeal in the higher priced MSX whatsoever. Where were the blockbuster games titles? We knew it had no chance. A bit like that 3DO console (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3DO_Interactive_Multiplayer) that was "going to be massive" according to a bloke in a shop who we knew, but we knew it was doomed too, LOL
Product floggers : If it doesn't have hugely compelling features, at a great price point, there's no mass appeal and you can forget it.
The 8088 was not an 8 bit microprocessor.
The 8088 and 8086 had a 16 bit architecture - 16 bit registers, arithmetic, addressing etc.
The 8088 did have an 8 bit external interface, the 8086 had a 16 bit external interface.
They both had a nasty, badly designed architecture and the 8088 in paticular was dog slow for its generation.
What is sobering as engineers to realise is that of the first generation of sixteen bit processors: 68K, 8086, Z8000, 32K the 8086 was by far the worst yet by far the most successful.
Whaaaattt? The Nimbus PC186 was way ahead of 'real' PCs of the time. The graphics were great, as was the sound.
I assume that you were working in education. The problem was that not many people actually wrote software that exploited its capabilities, because the aforementioned graphics and sound were proprietary. Well, except for (ahem) yours truly, who knocked out some stunning (oh yes) titles such as Crystal Rain Forest, Space Mission Mada and Toby at the Seaside :-) written 100% in 80186 assembly and making full use of RM's superb sub-bios API to drive the graphics and sound.
The next Nimbus (the 286) was just a PC.
At the time a friend described the 8086/8088 as 2 8080's badly stitched together and in many ways it literally was just that and as flaky as it sounds.
Saddening to think there were so many interesting and architecturally superior CPUs around at the time, all killed by Intels ability to throw a couple of billion transistors at the job of hiding the true horror of the x86 design. There are no x86 CPUs any longer, just a lot of silicon emulating them.
I remember being excited as could be xmas morning 85 when I got my first computer - the Toshiba HX-10. I must have spent literally years on that thing, either playing games (or typing them in).
I remember hating DATA statements with a passion. Large chunks of seemingly incomprehensible numbers where one digit wrong would wreck the show.
Social studies type question to ponder - how many kids (I was 6 when I got the machine) - so say 6 - 12 year olds would spend be willing to spend hours typing in a computer program to play a basic (in most senses of the word) game? And when it didn't work right, spend more hours going back through line by line trying to pinpoint the error. And then find out that it's not working due to a printing error in the book and you have no idea what the correct value should be?
When I got my spectrum +2A, I sold the MSX. Got a call a couple of hours later that it wouldn't load any of the cassette games. Went over there, tried for an hour to get something to load - fiddled with the volume control on the recorder, tried different games - nothing would work. Gave them the money back, bought it home and it worked immediately. I always figured it wanted to come home ;)
It's still up in the loft and continued to be used until the keyboard membrane stopped working on so many of the keys that it became impossible to use - the keys just wouldn't register.
Ah, for the days of LOAD"CAS:",R - just leave the ,R off so it doesn't automatically run, then go find the line that sets "available funds" or similar and set it to 99999999 :)
And now I can download pretty much everything that was ever written for it in far less than a minute over t'internet.
Sorry for the length of the post. I do tend to ramble on these trips down memory lane.
Beer - a toast to a machine that kept me entertained for more of my childhood than was probably healthy, but loved every second of it :)
"And then find out that it's not working due to a printing error in the book and you have no idea what the correct value should be?"
This. Much later did I realize that, had those editors not been clueless brats they would have included error-detection and possibly correction codes.
To be fair, books about arcane things like coding theory were hard to come by, but I'm sure there must have been articles on this in IEEE Computer or CACM, which did arrive in the mailboxes even in Yurop.
"Much later did I realize that, had those editors not been clueless brats they would have included error-detection and possibly correction codes." - one of the Acorn magazines (Acorn User?) included some sort of checking method to see if you made any typos. As a sufferer of dyscalculia, this was in itself a deterrent against making errors, what with a column of scary-looking hex beside each line of code...
But Acorn User also produced a barcode scanner for the BBC, and printed their programmes as barcodes as well as listings that could be scanned in, complete with checksumming.
They had special yellow pages in the middle of the magazine so that you could find them easily.
Ah, yes, page after page of hex-dumps of machine code and/or data to POKE into RAM.
Your Computer was particularly prone to listings like this. Initially these were printed without any form of checking. Eventually they had the bright idea of including a simple check-sum after every 32 hex characters, and also produced a small BASIC program for each platform to check this checksum and POKE in the hex. Unfortunately the initial version of this program they listed for the ZX Spectrum, although appearing to run fine, didn't write the hex into memory properly due to a subtle off-by-one error!
The mid-late eighties (85-87) was wild. Old clunky eight bit hardware won't do any longer. The BBC Micro became in 1981, and just four short years later the Amiga made its debut, along with the Atari ST. We'd transitioned from an eight bit world to a 16/32 bit world. Perhaps more importantly we'd transitioned from hardware with limited addressing capabilities (in the order of 64K direct) to hardware with much more generous amounts of memory on board. The Acorn Archimedes, the first true 32 bit machine, arrived in '87. So wanting to promote the bigger better MSX take-two for Christmas '87 seems a bit... um... well, look at the competition. Sure, these bigger better machines weren't cheap (and as an owner of an Archimedes, I know they were amazingly expensive) but what they were in comparison to the cheap kit was not something that could be answered by looking at hardware specs. I got a lot out of my Beeb. I briefly owned a Speccy which I used to play games, and in the end I gave it to a friend who used it to play games until he got an Amiga. My Beeb was used for coding, and lots of fun with Econet. As for the Archimedes, I'm still with RISC OS today, albeit on something very different and raspberry-flavoured.
tl;dr: Just look at the dates mentioned here and then do some research. The MSX was going to come and blow away the dross of the scattered home computer market. Only, by the time it arrived, the home computer market (still scattered!) blew them away. We'd moved on. And how. T'was a good idea though, software compatibility, and and idea that would be revisited in style with the birth of the PC market, which was also starting to make waves in the same time frame.
What a nostalgic article. I think my fingers still remember how to pass first few levels of Zanac :)
In USSR, which for some reason had quite a few Yamaha MSX classes set up in schools, MSX story didn't completely end in 1990. About that time I was expelled from school (too much heavy music and too many away trips for Dynamo Moscow I guess) and my computers teacher convinced Moscow Institute of Digital Machines to employ a 17 years old hacker in a lab, which was developing soviet gaming and schools computers ("not worse than theirs" as the Party instructed :) ).
In the next few years we ported MSX standard, with minor changes due to the limits of the available hardware, to 8080 chips based new gaming computer PK8002. Unfortunately it went only in a limited production just before the soviet collapse, which rendered the whole industry irrelevant there. Various bits and pieces were also used in a popular gaming PC Vector from Moldova and PK8020's basic and MicroDOS which was installed in tens of thousands schools in USSR.
My "unofficial" part of work was porting games from MSX to those soviet computers, mostly Konami's, for which factories and shops paid very well, and that's where my MSX-emulation skills as well as a worn copy of the Red Book were very useful.
Good old days...
But you missed out the MSX 2+.
In my opinion, the reason it all went wrong in the UK was that programmers here never figured out you could put multiple sprites on top of each other in order to make a multicoloured sprite. They must have taken one look at the specs and assumed it was just another Spectrum. A load of sloppy Speccie conversions followed, in some cases even with the stripey loading screen lines. And those of us who were used to Konami's quality as a bench mark couldn't believe what a load of crap the British software was.
Anyway, happy days. I still remember the glow of the LEDs on my VG-8235. The feel of the keyboard on my NMS-8280. Proper, decent, stylish computers with decent cursor keys. Sniff.
It wasn't that the coders didn't work out they could layer sprites. It was the economics of it meant that the MSX received straight Spectrum ports.
Games would be coded for the Spectrum and then versions made for the other Z80 machines.
The CPC version of R-Type is a good example. It was converted from the Spectrum in just 2 weeks by one person with no concessions at all to the extra hardware capability. It took until 2012 for some people to code a proper version of the game. Just look at the difference:
Original version - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5mijRjvDkc
2012 remake - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHH1V-zOlZk
That's the problem. Software houses going to the least effort possible to get a game onto a system.
I'm currently toying with some PDP-11 code, and these article have set me wondering - what could have happened if the LSI-11 (PDP-11 as a single-chip CPU) had arrived a couple of years earlier and the Altair 8080 had used it instead, and CP/M had been written for the Altair 11, and 1970s hobbyist computers of the time had been PDP-11 based, and progressing to the early 1980s with a ZX-11, Spectrum-11, Amstrad CPC-11, etc. Would today's coders be crippled with the x86 model of programming instead of a neat orthogonal flat Rn register set?
As much as I love the PDP-11 as an architecture, it would still have run out of steam in the late '80s. The problem was the memory model, and the mixed-endian nature of the system.
Without further architectural evolution (which was the VAX-11 in 1978), the PDP-11 was limited to 64KB processes (unless you used overlays) mapped into an overall 22-bit (4MB) maximum address space.
Don't get me wrong. It was a magic architecture, and because of the orthogonality of the ISA, I used to be able to decode PDP-11 machine code directly from octal dumps on paper. But it was a '70s architecture, not an '80s one.
The '80s should have belonged to Motorola 68000, NS16032 or 32032 (a very nice instruction set), or possibly ARM, running UNIX derivatives.
Just imagine if the IBM PC had had a 68000 with enough of a cut-down UNIX back in 1982. As soon as hard-disks became available (PC-XT time scales), we would have had multi-tasking full UNIX systems on the desktop, a bit like the AT&T 3B1.
PDP-11s survive (even to the current day and into the future according to a recent El-Reg article) because they are fine industrial controllers for systems that do not need large amounts of code to perform their function.
Of course, I was referring to non-I&D PDP-11, which I think that the LSI-11 was. I think that the J-11 and F-11 may have been separate I&D machines, but that only allows you to double the process address space, and even then, with serious limitations (64KB text space and 64KB data).
Not sure that the 801 ROMP was really intended for PC machines. It was originally intended to be the CPU for a dedicated word-processor, but was picked up by the Advanced Workstation Team in IBM Austin to fill a niche as a technical workstation for education and engineering use. It was most successful as a CATIA workstation, either on it's own, or as a front-end to a mainframe using Distributed Services. It always had weak floating point performance until the advanced floating point processor was available late in it's life. It was an important stepping stone to the RS/6000, p Series and Power systems, and the PowerPC processor, though.
Although the 6150 was originally marketed as a 6150 RT PC, it was never a PC per se. There is folk-law that suggests that it was going to be used as a PC, but looking at the reason why the 5150 was rushed out of the door as a quick-and-dirty temporary solution to stop the likes of Apple and various Z80 CP/M systems from dominating the market, it would never have been ready in the timescales required. That's why IBM used off-the-shelf components and a ready made OS and Basic for the system.
With so much attention to Japanese companies, why no mention of NEC and its 9801 models. From the early 80s, this series completely dominated the Japanese PC market, and probably accounts for Japan's later weakness in the global computer business. I guess I'm missing something. But I know who Matsuda Seiko is.
MSX was my 1st computer and while other kids where playing games i was making little basic programs.
Everything i discovered i did on my own, just experimenting. No books, nothing.
Just alot of friends with similar interest and huge phonebills from calling each other for hours and talking about new stuff we found out.
I must've taken my machine over to friends houses countless times in what was then the predecessors of lan parties, except that there was no lan or any other kind of networking. Just sitting next to each other doing cool stuff.
And then i grew up, had a family, and now think back with nostalgia to those years which, if i could them all over again, i would.
The smiley can't begin to convey the host of emotions i feel every time if think of those years.
finished an entire track with a Yamaha CX5 connected to a couple of synths and a drum machine.
Epic sequencing power by 80s standards. You could add and remove notes anywhere in the track.
What you couldn't do was play from anywhere in the track.
So you had to listen from the start to hear an edit at the end.
Just as nobody keeps fond memories of a 486 running Win95.
It's not only a matter of time. These old machines were fascinating, because we were struggling with the limited but fully available hardware. It was magic. It was programming. It was a lot of fun.
I still remember my first program written at school on a Thomson MO5 (standard school equipment in France, 1988 or so...) I was like 7. It was drawing a scrolling night sky.
I fondly remember the Wednesday afternoons on Amiga 500 at friend place.
I fondly remember my Atari 1040 at home and the arguments about which platform was the best =D.
Then I had a PC... pretty boring in comparison... then a Mac.... Then PC's again... I don't miss any of them.
> Get the latest Scientific American in snail-mail (quite a few were lost in transit, but that's another matter)
> Flip to "Computer Recreations"
> Mandelbrot Sets Explained with formulas and pretty pictures.
> Can't wait for school to finish, if only the girls weren't so distracting.
> Get home
> Fire up that Sony machine
> Fiddle around to get something working, only getting 20% of the math
> A FORM appears on the screen. One pixel every 5 seconds.
> It doesn't look right...
> But at least there is something!
We had the SV328 - that was a nice machine, and I knew it was somehow related to MSX but never knew the details until now and it explains why there was no software of note (in New Zealand at least).
My mate had a C64 and after a few rounds of Summer Games at this place I would go back and feverishly type out my own version, being sure to remove all the spaces in the MS Basic source so it would fit in the 60KB (80KB less about 18 for ROM).
30 years later I'm still doing the same thing, just with more horsepower, bigger sprites and I get to keep the spaces. Go figure.
My first computer ever was the Canon MSX which I bought along with my friend when we were visiting London. He had money, I did not. He bought Pascal and Assembler too. I wrote an assembly code, hand converted to opcode and fed to the memory using debug command. With this code, I made my copy of Pascal and Assembler tape. Piracy, I give you that. But still, my first useful code.
"Far Eastern firms like Sony, JVC, Sanyo and Pioneer had put paid to Britain’s mass-market hi-fi makers..."
I'd agree with three of those names....Sony, JVC and Pioneer...but SANYO???? They made a few pieces of kit that might be best called "audio" but they were never truly "hi-fi"....
Better choices might have been the likes of Rotel, Technics and Akai who ONLY made hi-fi kit :-)
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