Tag Archive: 8-bit

Seattle retro gaming scene

I recently found out that we are getting our very own Seattle Retro Gaming Expo in Seattle.  This is great news since the Portland one is alright but is kind of a long drive for my personal level of interest and commitment.  In the process of spreading the word about this new expo, I was made aware of many other pockets of retro nerd-dom around the city.

Of course there is the Pink Gorilla in two separate locations if you want to purchase home games but digging further into the scene, I now heard of several other actual arcades that I intend to check out at some point:

Shorty’s is a bar in Belltown that has about 16 pinball tables and 13 arcade games currently including pac-man, robotron, guitar hero and many more.

Full Tilt Ice Cream in White Centre or Columbia City apparently has some 80’s arcade games but they don’t specify which ones or how many on their site.

Red Star pizza in West Seattle looks darned tasty and apparently has few arcade games as well.

The Seattle Pinball Museum Project in the International District is good if you like, pinball.  Last I heard was that it was $5-7 for unlimited play.

There’s the NW Pinball and Gameroom show which is an event, not a place.  They have unlimited play with admission, tournaments, sales, and more(pinball as well as classic arcade).

For an extra drive, if you are in Tacoma there is the B & I which has a HUGE arcade with lots of retro games although it is not particularly well maintained.  It’s really huge though, I’m not kidding.  I haven’t counted the games there but I would estimate that they have at least 75 of them.  I rarely have seen a crowd there either.

Last but not least, in a category all it’s own, there is The Airlock in Kirkland where you can place battletech in full sized Tesla gaming pods for a rock bottom price.

My final assembled XT-IDE 8-bit ISA card

Once I started messing with my IBM PC XT, I realized that there were things I had taken for granted all along since my first PC compatible system was a 386.  I didn’t realize that IDE uses a 16-bit bus and it would take some trickery to use an IDE device in an older 8-bit system like the XT.  I searched around and found that there were in fact 8-bit ISA controllers but they were expensive and rare.  Finding one these days would be a stroke of luck or a dent in the pocket book.  I was about to design my own when I came across the XT-IDE project.  The XT-IDE project is an open source venture where a group of people designed exactly what I needed with fairly common off-the-shelf parts.  I had my friend James to burn the code onto the eeprom for me  because I have no way to put something on a 360K floppy disc but aside from that, the project primarily consists of easy through-hole soldering.

Front side of the unpopulated XT-IDE PCB

I ordered my board the other day from Andrew Lynch who can be found lurking in this huge forum thread.  It was $14 including shipping which I felt was more than fair considering the quality of the board.  It’s a very professional dual-sided PCB with a full solder mask and silkscreen.  It would take me far too much time to attempt to replicate this at home.  It’s also nice that it has all of the settings printed VERY clearly on the board and the url for www.vintage-computer.com so I won’t forget where I found this project.

The bill of materials looks a little daunting at first but it’s really not a huge project.  The list below references Jameco part numbers.  There are a few non-critical items and some others that you can pillage from other ISA cards such as an L-bracket, pan screws and shorting blocks (jumpers).  I’m personally going to skip using most of the sockets since I’m fairly confident with my soldering skills and dual-wipe sockets tend to add another point of failure.

1               XT-IDE PCB (get this from Andrew lynch)
10   25523 	CAP,MONO,.1uF,50V,20%
1    1945428 	CAP,RADIAL,47uF,35V
2    45129 	IC,74HCT688
1    46316 	IC,74LS04
1    46607 	IC,74LS138
1    47466 	IC,74LS32
1    287144 	IC,74F245,DIP-20
3    282642 	IC,74F573,DIP-20
1    74827     	Atmel EEPROM IC, 28C64
2    112214 	SOCKET,IC,14PIN,DUAL WIPE
6    112248 	SOCKET,IC,DUAL WIPE,20PIN
1    112272 	SOCKET,IC,DUAL WIPE,28PIN
1    526205 	SOCKET,IC,16 PIN,390261-4
1    690662 	RES,CF,150 OHM,1/4 WATT,5%
6    691104 	RES,CF,10K OHM,1/4 WATT,5%
2    857080 	MOLDED SIP,9PIN,BUSSED,10K,2%
1    333949 	LED,GREEN,572NM,T-1 3/4
1    1939562 	SWITCH,DIP,SPST,8-POS,16-PIN
1    53604 	HEADER,RT MALE,2RW,40 CONT
1    109568 	HEADER,.1 ST MALE,2RW,16PIN
1    109576     HEADER,.1 ST MALE,1RW,3PIN
2    2094389 	SCREW,PAN HEAD,PPN4-40X1/4
1    N/A        Keystone 9202 ISA bracket with 2 PCB mounting tabs.

Once I had all of the parts together, it was time to check out the build instructions.  This project is a VERY easy build.  All of the IC’s are labeled on the PCB, all of the caps are identical except one which is labeled and called out and all of the resistors are the same aside from the one that goes with the LED.  There are only two gotchas that I can think of.  First off, before you solder in the 40 pin IDE connector, you should pull the key pin out from the connector.  Grab an IDE cable and line it up with your connector, you will see which one is the key pin fairly quickly.  Secondly, the default dip switch setting is correct on the back side of the PCB but incorrect in the build instructions.  Set it to 01110111 as stated on the back of the card.  If you need to set this to a different setting, you will need to re-flash the firmware on the eeprom for some reason.  The default seems to work fine however so no big deal.

The original NCL MFM controller that came in my PC XT

Overall this project has cost me about $30.  I’ve learned some new stuff and I can now use my IBM PC XT with a modern IDE hard drive.  My next step will be to try to use the system with a compact flash card.  Now I can install MS-DOS 6.22 and hopefully Xenix at some point without disrupting the original MS-DOS 3.2 file system.

I was at the thrift store the other day and scored a copy of Disney’s Black Cauldron game made by Sierra On-line in their glory days of text/mouse based adventure games. When I first got an IBM compatible system back in the 90’s, the Sierra games were by far my favorites.  They were always consistent, always fun and sometimes a challenge to get running properly which was also fun.  This particular game was released in 1985 although this particular copy was printed and sold in 1989.  According to the box, the system requirements are very very low.  It requires 256k of ram, vga, ega, cga or hercules graphics and a keyboard.  Mouse or joystick optional.

I opened up the packaging and was pleasantly surprised to find both the 5.25″ floppies and the 3.5″ floppy.  There were several other goodies inside as well including the manual, the tenth anniversary Sierra catalog and the original Prodigy Network trial offer which brings back many fond memories.  Another prize buried in this box was a hint guide that someone painstakingly downloaded via dial up and printed on a dot matrix printer.

Using a little forensics, it’s obvious to me that this game was played a lot but taken care of meticulously.  The computer it was used was probably late 80’s technology based on the fact the previous user obviously used the 5.25″ disks and most likely played the game straight off of the disk.  There is a characteristic fingerprint/smudge at the top of disk 1 but not on disk two.  I’m guessing the owner played through the game as far as they could get which took them a while.  They probably never made it to disk 2 on their own.  That’s when they resorted to printing the hint guide.  They played through the rest of the game, cheating with the hint guide to beat it in the matter of a couple hours.  After they beat it, they put the game away for 20 years and someone finally donated it to the thrift store.  All of this only leaves one question in mind: Will this game actually work on my PC XT after sitting in a box for 20 years?

Well much to my pleasure, it decided to work!  I put in disk 1 and ran the install script:

install c:

The 30 year old floppy drive sprang to life and copied the disk to the hard drive.  Disk 2 went just as well.  The installer left me in the c:\sierra directory and told me to type:


This is obviously an updated version of the game since the older Sierra games had much cruder install scripts.  Anyhow, I started the game up.  Obnoxious 8-bit PC speaker music came blasting out.  Sad that the IBM’s didn’t even have sound as good as the C64.  I turned the music off with F2 and could then study the glorious 8-bit graphics.  This must have been an amazing game in it’s day.  As far as the sierra line up, I would say the graphics are similar to Space Quest 1, Kings Quest 1, etc.  The game play is much different however.  This game is geared toward younger players so it requires no typing at all.  Instead you use the F-keys to DO, LOOK, USE, etc.  It’s a good concept that Sierra didn’t fully develop until the days of King’s Quest 5, Space Quest 4, etc.

I tend to like both styles of the Sierra games for different reasons.  I plan to play this one through at some point and see what it has to offer.  Go check out Abandonia for much more information, screen shots and a download for the Black Cauldron.

IBM PC XT, now with VGA video

My XT booting up with a 16-bit ISA VGA card

Last time I talked about my PC XT, I didn’t know if it actually worked properly because it had a CGA or similar old video card in it and I don’t have a monitor that supports that standard.  Thanks to some helpful friends, I gathered up 3 separate ISA VGA cards to try out in the system.  There was just one catch…  The IBM PC XT has an 8-bit data bus and all of the video cards I had were 16-bit.  One of my friends helpfully explained to me that some 16-bit VGA cards will work in 8-bit mode.  I was a bit skeptical but I figured that this guy knew what he was talking about since he cut his teeth on an XT.  The list of candidate cards follows:

WDC WD90C31A – I received this card from rkdavis from all the way across the country.  Thanks RK, unfortunately I’ve looked up this card and found that it doesn’t support any 8-bit mode.  All of the jumpers on the card pertain to refresh rates and other trivial settings. This card survived a flood in the basement of a pizza restaurant apparently so I was really rooting for it to work after I was able to clean it up with Simple Green and a toothbrush but alas, it will end up in another project.

Oak Technology 1570SX(OAK 77) – This is a card that I obtained from REPC, a Seattle area computer recycler.  This card was floating around in a HUGE bin of other ISA, PCI and AGP cards that were all being sold as-is for $1/ea.  I thought it was a fair gamble.  Unfortunately after looking up this card, I was also disappointed that it could not be jumpered for 8-bit mode either.

Headland Video Seven HT209/D – The final card that I tried was a Headland Technology 650-0436-03 r.2.  The page that I linked to is not an exact match for this card but apparently the layout is slightly standardized because I flipped SW1-7 and SW1-8 to the open position and it fired right up in glorious color on my flat panel display.  This card was provided by my friend James who has had the card in his closet for years with no real use for it.  It’s also available on eBay from a bunch of ripoff artists for $75-$150.  Granted it WAS a very expensive card when it was new but so what?  This card is worth $20 on the right day to the right buyer IMO.  Whatever the case, this is the one 16-bit ISA card out of my three that will work in 8-bit mode so I’m very happy.

So next, after I have a working card, the system booted up.  I watched in disbelief as it painstakingly counted all 640 kilobytes of memory individually.  Next, even more amazingly, the 20MB Seagate MFM hard drive proved to still be functional since MS-DOS 3.2 booted up.  DOS 3.2 is missing a few of my favorite programs such as edit.exe but it’s a good, solid version unlike the piece of crap better know as MS-DOS 4.01.  The AST clock/ram/controller board miraculously still works as well although it does not appear to be Y2K compliant.  It seems like DOS is ok with a 4-byte date but the AST card keeps jumbling it up when you try to set it to a date in the current millennium.

My next project with this system will be to come up with a method of transferring data to and from this system since my MacBook Pro does not seem to be equipped with a 360Kb 5.25″ floppy drive nor does anything else in my house.  Once I find a way to transfer this data, I’ll have to decide what that data should be.  Decisions, decisions.

I want to give a shout out to Stason for his AWESOME collection of data on old video cards such as these.  Without his page, I would still be caught up in a quagmire of experimentation and trial but most of all ERROR.

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