Bill Loguidice's blog

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Atari Flashback 4 Review: An Armchair Arcade Exclusive Video Review

In this video, I take an exclusive early look at the Atari Flashback 4 from AtGames, which will be released in the US in time for the holidays. This is part 1. Part 2, which will be released a week or so after, will feature more live footage to get an even better sense of the quality of the system and its capabilities. Look for part 1 of 2 of Armchair Arcade's next exclusive video review, coming soon, on several new Sega-related products from AtGames, which will also be released in time for the US holiday season.

Download the video here.

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Making My Collection Usable - Part I - The Classic Computers (photos)

As mentioned previously, I've been re-thinking my collecting activities, including selling off the non-working and duplicate portions of my collection, which presently consists of over 430 videogame and computer systems and countless thousands of related software, accessories, and literature. Naturally, part of that reasoning was "thinning the herd" after all these years, because - even though I am thankful to have a relatively generous amount of space for these types of activities - it has long since reached the point where I well and truly have too much to handle. Why has this become an issue? There's simply too much stuff, there's no time to use it (that would need to be my full-time job), and, when I do want to use it, it takes up most of my available time just setting something up, only to have to break it down and put it back on the shelf again. It's innefficient, and frankly, no fun anymore.

With that in mind, in addition to the thinning - which will take a very, very long time of course in a collection I've been cultivating for over 30 years now - I've been plotting how I can make better use of what I have. Like I said, I am thankful to have a relatively generous amount of space. I have a large basement area, with about half unfinished, which is used for storage, and the other, finished half, consisting of an office room, hallway, workout area, and den area. The main floors of our house contain our active systems, including the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Co-Star, various computers and handhelds, etc., but they are not an option for me to make use of for classic items, other than on an occasional basis. That just leaves the basement, which is, of course, fine, but also limits my flexibility.

Anyway, even though each area of the basement is brimming with stuff and each section serves a specific purpose, either on a permanent or temporary basis, I decided that my best course of action is to pull out the truly must-have-accessible systems from the hundreds available and make them accessible at a moment's notice. This was not easy to do, as I have a genuine passion for each and every system I own, but the bottom line is is that some systems are more interesting, more "useful," or I simply have a critical mass of items for them that they can't be ignored. I decided I'd tackle that task with my classic computers first, followed by my classic videogame systems at a later date. I cleared space on my big L-shaped computer desk in the office area and proceeded to select the systems that met my criteria and would fit on the desk (I'll have some flexibility when I set up the classic videogame consoles to make a little use of the den area as well).

While I have many different models in most of the specific computer series I selected, I tried to choose the one model in my collection that would give me the most bang-for-the-buck. This in and of itself was not easy, as there's rarely a "most perfect" choice when it comes to choosing the ideal model in a series, which in this case also involved being a good fit for the available space. The systems I chose were as follows: TI-99/4a, Apple IIgs, Atari 600XL, Atari Falcon, Commodore Amiga 2000HD, and Commodore 128DCR, with a special appearance by the Radio Shack Color Computer series, which I'll explain at the end. So yeah, as hard as it was, no Sinclair Spectrum, BBC, IBM PCjr, Coleco Adam, Imagination Machine, MSX, Interact, Exidy, etc., etc., items, even though I'd love to have those out and ready to go as much as the others.

My initial goal - which I was able to accomplish - was to set up a basic system configuration for each and make sure it was working properly. I actually had a slightly different mix of specific systems, but, after testing, found some things didn't function as expected or didn't work at all. Over time, I'll add to each system I've set up (and address the other stuff that's not working) until each and every one is set up properly with their respective disk drives, flash cards, transfer cables, etc., to be fully usable with all of the stuff I have available. At the very least, with these minimum configurations, they're ready to go for most quick usage scenarios. I also decided it was important not to have any of them plugged in full-time, so everything gets hooked up and powered up on demand. This is actually simple and will not delay my usage in any way. In fact, the way I have the various monitors and TV's set up, I can hook up other systems as needed without too much fuss, which is another bonus. Anyway, here are the photos and additional explanation:

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Hover Force in 3D for the Intellivision using $5 glasses! (video)

Yes, the 1986 Intellivision game, Hover Force, can now be played while viewing it in its original 3D, just by using a simple Crayola toy. Check out the video overview and the links below for more details!

Click here for the original AtariAge forum topic discussing the discovery.
Click here for the full YouTube video for Hover Force for Intellivision.
Click here for the Hover Force Wikipedia page.
Click here to purchase the Crayola 3D Chalk with glasses from Amazon (just one of many options to get the required glasses).

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More on Avalon Hill Computer Games on Heath/Zenith platforms

I had some time to further test Telengard (which I discussed here the other day), B-1 Nuclear Bomber, Computer Football Strategy, and Computer Stocks & Bonds, which, as far as I can tell, and seems to be confirmed by the "Heath/Zenith Games" insert included with all of these boxed games, were the only H-8 H/Z-89 Z-90 H/Z-100 ports from Avalon Hill. As was stated, these games require CP/M-85 and MBASIC to work on my Z-100, which is an all-in-one model. They're all single density disks. All of the games worked, and I was able to make backups of each, though some disks did have errors, which as far as I can tell did not affect running the games or were necessarily present in the copies. It probably helps that these were more or less one or two program BASIC files.

One thing I should point out is that Avalon Hill games are notorious for having catalogs and manuals with staples that become rusty, even when the box is sealed. That was present in my sealed copies. I put any of the documentation with rusty staples in their own zip loc bags for safety, so hopefully that will solve that particular issue going forward.

Of the four games, the only game with multi-platform instructions that specifically mentioned and included the Heath/Zenith platform(s) was Computer Stocks and Bonds, otherwise, every other game just included the aforementioned insert, with the previously mentioned incorrect instructions for running Telengard. So, outside of Computer Stocks & Bonds, you basically had to use the generic instructions for keyboard commands and otherwise wing it.

On a side note, Avalon Hill specialized in supporting many, many platforms with single games right up to the mid-80s through a combination of games written in BASIC and the use of cassette tapes, the former making ports easy and the latter allowing multi-platforms on each side of the tape (six or more platforms on one tape was not uncommon). Naturally, with a disk, at best you could have two formats, one on each side, but all of these Heath/Zenith-based games just had the one platform. In looking at the instructions for B-1 Nuclear Bomber, which again, didn't even mention the Heath/Zenith version it was included with, the game was on Atari 8-bit, Apple II, C-64, TI-99/4 and 4a, TRS-80 Model I/III, IBM PC, and Timex/Sinclair (oddly enough, no PET or Vic-20, which were two Avalon Hill favorites). Every version was assumed on the same tape except for the IBM PC version, which mentioned being on a disk.

The Heath/Zenith versions of these games are mostly unremarkable, with rudimentary text-based graphics, with the occasional line or symbols that vaguely represented what they were intended to be. Crude, but functional, and again, the only CP/M support that I know of that Avalon Hill ever directly provided.

Here are some rough photos of the screens for each of the games just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

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Avalon Hill's Telengard for Z-90 or H/Z-100 with CP/M-85 and MBASIC: A casual tale of making it work in photos and videos

Telengard (Z-90/H/Z-100 version)Telengard (Z-90/H/Z-100 version)This right-after-the-fact casual blog posting will be about the rarest known version of Telengard, one that has not previously been documented in otherwise exhaustive historical accounts, so bear with me a bit as I set the scene... Since I lack any real electrical engineering skills, I recently sold off the non-working portions of my Otrona and Heathkit collections. Both collections went to fellow collectors who should be able to get the various systems working. While it was difficult to part with even those non-working portions of my 430+ system videogame and computer collection, this will give me more room and time to focus on all of the items that do work, and at least shows that psychologically I'll be able to part with more redundant and/or non-working portions of my collection going forward. One item in those groupings that I didn't sell off was my Zenith Z-100 all-in-one, which is the pre-assembled version of the Heathkit H-100, able to run Heathkit-branded versions of CP/M and MS-DOS thanks to its dual processors. As you may or may not recall, I was trying to get my low profile (same system, no built-in monitor) to run way back when. Long story short, among many other hurdles and much fact finding, and after acquiring an unnecessary replacement power supply and a necessary replacement disk controller board, it had a memory error on boot-up. So, I sold it along with various other Heathkit items. However, when I was going through my saga of acquiring those replacement parts, I was able to acquire a working all-in-one version, the Z-100. Now, I obviously love old technology, but truth be told, I was most interested in running the aforementioned rare versions of the official Avalon Hill games on the system. Interestingly, these ports run on the Heathkit/Zenith Z-90 or H/Z-100, as long as they're running CP/M-85 and MBASIC. Now, I did not have a copy of CP/M-85, but I was able to acquire a replacement set (among other disks) from a gentleman who provides that service for a modest fee. Unfortunately, the Avalon Hill games require MBASIC, which was NOT included by default with the Heathkit/Zenith systems apparently. Luckily, a gentleman from the SEBHC mailing list was able to come through with a copy for me. Here is what went down, told casually, as it happened a little while ago, complete with equally casual photos and videos (by the way, check out Matt Barton's old interview with the late great author of Telengard, Daniel M. Lawrence, here):

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OUYA videogame console Kickstarter madness: What am I missing here?

I'm a big fan of Kickstarter and have personally backed over a dozen projects to date. I'm also a big fan of technology, particularly videogame and computer stuff, and practically gobble up anything new that I can. So why I am not caught up in OUYA videogame console frenzy? It has over $3 million in pledges in a little over 24 hours from over 25,000 backers, so it's already a success, and this will all surely continue to tick up dramatically and impressively over its remaining 28 days of open pledges, perhaps even breaking the Kickstarter record along the way. Clearly then, I'm in the minority when it comes to figuring out the appeal, so let's break it down.

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My next book project... A Radio Shack Color Computer (CoCo) history book!

I'm happy to say that as work winds down on my forthcoming book, My PlayStation Vita, I won't be idle for long, making a long overdue return to my classic videogame and computer roots. For my eighth book, I have agreed to co-author a Radio Shack Color Computer (CoCo) history with Boisy G. Pitre, who is a former Microware engineer who worked on OS-9-related technologies in the 1990s, and is well known within the modern day CoCo community.

Boisy has already conducted a good deal of research and lined up interviews with several notable individuals, but we could always use more authoritative information and resources as supplements, so if you have access to anything or anyone you might think of interest, please let us know either via email or in the comments. The more help we get, the greater chance we'll meet our goal of making this book entertaining for both general technology enthusiasts who love a good story, as well as all of the past and present fans of Radio Shack's longest lived series of computers. Thanks for the support!

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Thoughts on Google's Big Reveals

Hot on the heels of yesterday's striking Vizio Co-Star announcement - a proper Google TV device for $99 that also happens to incorporate the excellent OnLive streaming game service - was Google's big I/O event today. There were several major reveals, including the nifty features of the next version of the Android operating system, Jellybean; the Nexus 7 7" tablet; the Google Nexus Q, a streaming media device that's made in the USA; and Project Glass, Google's upcoming augmented reality glasses. Let's take each one of these in order:

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Microsoft's Surface Tablets - We'll love it if the plan comes together

Microsoft SurfaceMicrosoft SurfaceAs we're all all too aware, the tablet market has been dominated by Apple since the April 2010 introduction of the first iPad. While there have been several quality Android tablets released to compete since, outside of pure budget plays like the Kindle Fire that all but ignore the presence of its operating system, they've failed to make much of an impact with the masses. Other tablets like HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook suffered from corporate indifference with the former and corporate incompetence with the latter. What this has all led to is a competitive vacuum that Microsoft seems poised to fill with their surprisingly well-kept-secret announcement event yesterday.

While we were expecting a Microsoft-branded tablet to leverage its well regarded Xbox branding, instead Microsoft recycled the Surface table name (which is now PixelSense) for its two-pronged tablet attack. Surprisingly, for Microsoft of recent vintage outside of its Xbox stuff, the unveiling was spectacular and sure-footed. Not only did Microsoft pull an Apple with the secrecy and subsequent excitement surrounding the event, they clearly pulled together an A team of designers and engineers to manufacture tablets that even Cupertino's famed group would surely be proud to call their own, right down to the clever cover designs.

They say if you want something done right, do it yourself, and Microsoft clearly has taken that to heart, joining Apple in controlling the entire tablet eco-system, and, unlike HP or RIM, seemingly doing so with conviction. Obviously Microsoft will still let just about anyone else create Windows 8 tablets and hybrids, but the bar has been raised to the point where any type of half-hearted effort will look foolish in comparison and destined for failure.

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E3 2012 - Most Significant Happenings from Nintendo's Wii U Showing

After giving my impressions of Sony's and Microsoft's respective efforts at e3, it's time to turn to Nintendo. Since tomorrow is Nintendo's stated day to focus on 3DS stuff, today it was pretty much all Wii U. I think there was a lot there to keep the Nintendo faithful happy, but I think overall there's still some work to be done for those who felt burned by the Wii or who didn't respond to the 3DS. Regardless, here is my impression of what I thought the highlights were:

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