Thursday, August 24, 2017

Basic Fun for Retro Gamers - The Stealth Invasion of the Mini-Arcades

In the late 1970s, the handheld electronic game was born with Mattel Auto Race.  More games like Football, Baseball, Basketball and Soccer followed and they were successful. These games ran on a microcontroller and used red LEDs to represent objects.  Companies like Nintendo followed up with the Game & Watch series, which could display much more detailed objects using monochromatic, fixed-pattern LCD displays.  Coleco provided innovation in its mini-arcade games using Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) technology, allowing for color displays that could be viewed in the dark. Milton Bradley introduced the first handheld system with programmable cartridges in 1979 with the Microvision.

The Microvision had the advantage of having individually addressable pixels instead of fixed patterns, but at 16x16 pixels the types of games it could play was extremely limited.  The Game and Watch series and later, cheaper handhelds like the Tiger Electronics' games survived long after Milton Bradley and Coleco got out of the gaming market.  1989's Game Boy, with its 160x144 resolution screen, programmable microprocessor, PPU and APU and 16KB of RAM made the fixed-screen LCD games obsolete.  When the Atari Lynx introduced color and backlighting later that year, not even the color VFD units could compete.  But we are not here to talk about the programmable consoles today, today we are going to take a look at more modern, fixed LCD games released by a company called The Bridge Direct under its Basic Fun brand label.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Coming Full Circle : Comparing the IBM Model F and M Keyboards

When I started this blog in 2010, the first thing that came to my mind to write about was my love of the IBM Model M keyboard.  From those humble beginnings I then decided to talk about other retro computer and video game topics.  But before there was the IBM Model M keyboard, there was the IBM Model F keyboard.  Back in 2010, I did not have a full appreciation of the many advantages of the Model F.  Now I have acquired both of the major models and would like to talk about them here.  Given that this is officially my 360th blog entry, I would say that I have come full circle.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Mandela Effect - The Nerdly Version

There exists a phenomenon called false memory.  These are memories which a person sincerely believes are true yet can objectively be shown to be false.  A colloquial name for this is the "Mandela effect", so named because many people in the late 1980s and into the 1990s believed that Nelson Mandela was dead.  Given that he was imprisoned by the South African government from 1962 to 1990, people could be forgiven in the pre-Internet days that he was dead.  In the context of suppressed memory cases, usually involving child sexual abuse, the theory is very controversial.  However, I am not going down that road.

Instead I am going to pull some false memories from elements of popular culture which I have found interesting.  James Rolfe did an excellent video in his Angry Video Game Nerd series satirizing the supposed "Berenstain Bears Conspiracy" :  The conspiracy alleges that there has been a concerted effort to change the authorship of the Berenstain Bears books from "Berenstein" to "Berenstain."  After all, doesn't everybody remember the "Berenstein Bears"?  I remember the books and the shows being referred to as the "Berenstein Bears" and used that label to refer to them myself.  I would suggest that the mistakes lies in three factors.  First, "Berenstein" and "Berenstain" are very similar words.  Second, "Berenstein" is a more common surname than "Berenstain"  Third and perhaps most important, "Berenstein" is easier to say that "Berenstain."

So from my own experiences, let me describe two instances where I probably am the subject of false memories.  Originally I was going to describe three memories, but I forgot what the third memory was!  For the first two examples I will explain the origins of the memory and try to explain how I may have acquired the memory falsely.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Unusual Famicom Saving Methods

In the United States and Europe, if you wanted to save a game on your NES, you generally had two options.  If the game supported password saves, you had to write down the password (accurately) and enter it back when you wanted to play the game again.  Some games had rather lengthy passwords, and if you confused a 0 for a O or a 1 for an l, your password would be unusable.  A relatively few NES games also had battery backup saves where the contents of a RAM chip inside the cartridge would be saved with a coin-style battery when the power was shut off.  Early games required the problematic "hold reset as you turn the power off" method, and if the battery ran out replacing it was no easy task in the early days.  Japanese Famicom players had a few more options, and as these can be rather obscure to westerners, I would like to talk about them here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Famicom Expansion Audio Overview

The Famicom was constructed with a feature which was not available to the NES.  The Famicom always sent its internal audio to the cartridge port.  For most games, the audio was sent back to the system without modification.   26 (of 1,054) licensed Famicom games contained hardware that could produce additional music and mix it in with the internal audio.  In this article, let's take a look at the methods that were used and the games that used them.