A Radio Shack Color Computer Lover's Best Friend?

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Bill Loguidice's picture

Thexder for the Color Computer 3 (Sierra On-Line)Thexder for the Color Computer 3 (Sierra On-Line)As fans of Tandy's venerable and mostly underappreciated Radio Shack Color Computer (CoCo) line of computers know, finding much information on the Web about their beloved system line - particularly in regards to games - is a tough proposition. As opposed to the more popular home computers that were the CoCo's contemporary competition, like the Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 (C-64), it seems that much of the focus these days on the systems is more from a hacking/programming perspective (thanks to the ability to use the powerful "OS-9" operating system) than from a gaming standpoint. This also is no doubt due to the simple fact that the early CoCo machines - the Color Computer 1 and Color Computer 2 - weren't particularly conducive to great gaming, with a rather garish 4 color pallet for most games and single channel sound (though there was limited support for speech/sound expansion cartridges and of course the usual programming tricks to get more out of the stock system). While the backwards compatible Color Computer 3 had mostly rectified the situation by becoming a "super 8-bit" (faster processor, more memory, more colors), with performance similar to the early Apple IIgs and Atari ST computer lines in many cases (though still single channel sound!), it was never a premiere entertainment platform.

With this in mind, we here at Armchair Arcade feel it's important to point out good resources when the opportunity presents itself. While we've used the "Tandy (TRS-80) Color Computer Games" Website for our own reference before, L. Curtis Boyle, the site's proprietor, wrote in today to not only mention that (and coming updates and upgrades), but also to point out some interesting factoids and the latest happenings in the CoCo scene.

In reference to Matt's review of The Dungeons of Daggorath, L. points out a few other "innovative" titles for the CoCo, including Grabber, which was a maze game that switched between two mazes at will, Photon, a strategy/arcade game by Sundog, Phantom Slayer, a real-time pseudo 3D shooter (L. also has an interview up with the author on his main site, so check that out as well), and Varloc, which is like a 3D Archon (board game/arcade hybrid).

L. also mentions that he's working with some gentlemen in Australia (a CoCo haven of sorts back in the 80's) to port some unique Dragon 32/64 (a partially compatible competitive system that had little impact in the US but was somewhat popular in Europe and elsewhere) titles to the CoCo, amounting to perhaps a dozen "new" games. He also mentions what he refers to as "backports" of the popular Sierra adventure games (I think only Leisure Suite Larry I and King's Quest III, the latter of which I own, was actually officially released), including:

Goldrush
Black Cauldron
Manhunter 1
Manhunter 2
Kings Quest 1
Kings Quest 2
Kings Quest 4
Police Quest 1
Space Quest 1
Space Quest 2

L. also mentions another site, this one from Steve Bjork, to check out: http://coco.etechwds.com/

Thanks to L. for the tips and heads-up!

Comments

yakumo9275
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Not sure about official

Not sure about official releases (we only knew of larry1 +kq3). But I guess either (GR/KQ4/MH1/MH2) must have existed for the coco as these are 'v3' games which required a much rejigged interpreter than the v2 games used.

now you can convert v3 graphics into v2 but that still leaves game scripts... Id be interested to know if these are just converted or a v3 interpreter really existed.

When writing Sarien, we never found a v3 coco game (doesnt mean one does not exist tho!).

-- Stu --

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adamantyr
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My brother had a Color

My brother had a Color Computer 2 and 3, still does, in fact, which I played a lot of games on. I especially enjoyed "Koronis Rift" and "Rescue on Fractalus" for the machine; they were higher quality versions of the games from the other platforms it was released on. Other than sound, probably the one area it didn't excel in particularly.

In fact, sound was probably the weak spot on Thexder as well. Unlike other ports at the time, there wasn't much other than simple sound effects. And I think they couldn't squeeze the complete game into the cartridge; I remember it having 5 levels, but I think the disk-based version had 16.

Unfortunately, the CoCo3 was a great system that came out a few years too late. It was competing with 16-bit systems and the Commodore 64 at its zenith of popularity. As my link contribution, there's an excellent site with forums for users at http://www.coco3.com. That's where I snagged a copy of Gates of Delirium from, in fact.

lcurtisboyle (not verified)
Not quite true... the games

Not quite true... the games that have been ported are v2, and KQ4 was released in both formats (v2 and v4), so the Coco versions are using the older v2. Guillame Major is the person who did the ports, and the forums at coco3.com have some details of his progress as he went along.
As far as sound goes, some programmers did manage to get great sound out of it, but not many Tandy games did. Jeremy spiller with Zenix, Chet Simpson with Gold Runner 2000 or Digger II, Nick Marentes with PacMan or Gate Crasher, are just a few that did good with sound. Even Grabber, that I mentioned earlier, is running a 2 part soundtrack throughout the game, and that was on a Coco 1/2 with 32K RAM. Sea Dragon had little clips of multi-voice music, and even some speech thrown in.
And, of course, Sock Master (John Kowalski) actually got a 4 voice MOD player to work (both 6809 and 6309 versions) that show what sound could be done...

yakumo9275
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KQ4 was the first agi v3

KQ4 was the first agi v3 game. So I would be very surprised if they made it in the old v2 format _just_ for the coco. Even the IIgs had a 'v3' version.

Sound really was good on the Tandy, with its extra voices over the PC. A real 4chan mod player on the tandy with its hardware voices woild have rocked :) Tandy CoCos were popularish in Australia. We even had a local celeb sell knock offs, the Dick Smith VZ series, which I think were like 99% compat with the CoCo.

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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Sound was good on the Tandy

Sound was good on the Tandy 1000 series, with three channels of sound, just like the IBM PCjr it was originally cloning. The CoCo series, without expansion cartridges, had one channel sound as standard for the life of the systems.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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yakumo9275
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Right i was confusing the

Right i was confusing the 1000 with the model1/3

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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Well, the Model 1, 3 and 4

Well, the Model 1, 3 and 4 were a different line than the CoCo's and 1000's. The Model 1 was of course first (and was one of the first complete personal computers, released in 1977, along with the Apple II and Commodore PET) and was eventually followed by the all-in-one Model 3 (since the Model I was not RF compliant). The Model 4 was the last model in the series, not counting the 4P, which was a transportable version. The Model x series was monochrome and had no sound to speak of (later models would have a beeper), other than hooking an amplifier to one of the cassette cable connectors, which did not have universal game support. Also, since the original Model 1 wasn't properly shielded, you could place an AM radio next to it to get sound from the interference that it produced.

The Color Computer line started in 1980 with the Color Computer and eventually became the Color Computer 2, with a different case, more memory and an extended version of BASIC. (they also released the MC-10, which was an ill-advised cut down version of the original Color Computer and wasn't particularly compatible) The Color Computer 3, which was nearly 100% backwards compatible, wasn't released until 1986, and finally made the CoCo line competitive (at least graphically and processor-wise) with any other 8-bit computer and in many ways, some of the early 16-bit and 32-bit systems.

The Tandy 1000 was released in 1984, and was envisioned as a PCjr clone. When the PCjr tanked soon after, Tandy shifted their focus to make their system more PC compatible over time. Of course the Tandy 1000 line became a standard unto itself, with EGA-like graphics and 3 channel sound. Eventually of course Tandy themselves dropped the "Tandy" compatibility and eventually became a pure PC clone and then getting out of the computer business directly entirely.

Those were the main desktop lines. They of course also dabbled in business-centric and CP/M systems, like the Tandy Model II. Then there were the famous portables and pocket computers.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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lcurtisboyle (not verified)
It should also be mentioned

It should also be mentioned the CPU differences between the model ranges. The Model 1, 3, 4 and 4P used the Zilog Z80 at various speeds, the Coco series all used the Motorola 6809 at 2 different speeds (except the MC-10 which used a Motorola 6309), and the Tandy's used Intel chips (8088, 8086, 80186 for the Tandy 2000, etc.).
Graphics also varied widely between them, as well as sound. The Model 1/3/4 has 6 block graphics characters, and depending whether your computer was 64 or 80 columns, you could get 128 (or 160) x 72 (I think... Bill, is that correct?) and 1 bit sound out of the cassette port or built in speaker on later models.
The Coco 1/2 used the same 6847 VDG chip, which allowed 32x16 uppercase only text (or lowercase if you had a Coco2B with the 6847-T1 chip) up to 128x192x4 or 256x192x2 color graphics from fixed color sets. One could fake artifacted colors out of the 256x192x2 mode (similiar to the Apple II+), which most NTSC games did. The Coco 3 did up to 80x28 text and 320x225x16 or 640x225x4 graphics, with a 64 color palette to choose from (two different color sets: RGB (2 bits per color gun) or composite/tv (16 colors, 4 levels of intensity each, depending on which monitor type you had hooked up. Ironically, you could hook all 3 up (RGB, composite, TV) at once, but the color sets would be violently different, and everything was mirrored). The sound for all Coco's was a 6 bit DAC, allowing 64 volume/voltage settings, and single voice (except through software tricks), unless you added an Orchestra-90 card (2 channel, 8 bit DAC) or a Sound/Speech card (speech chip and 3 voice mono hardware sound).
The Tandy 1000+ series either had 3rd party cards (on later models), or a clone of the IBM PCJr style graphics, which allowed 320x200x16, instead of CGA's 320x200x4. It also had a 3 voice sound chip, and later models could add cards for whatever (Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, etc.).

Bill Loguidice
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Not 100% sure, but I think a

Not 100% sure, but I think a common graphics resolution was 128x48 for the Model x line.

Also, isn't it true that the Tandy graphics mode is not quite as good as EGA? I don't think the common Tandy graphics/PCjr resolutions quite max out the same as standard EGA does. In any case, if a game didn't specifically support Tandy graphics and sound, games defaulted to CGA mode and PC speaker for compatibility. Luckily, the Tandy standard was well supported for some time.

It's a shame the CoCo 3 wasn't fitted with an onboard Sound/Speech card and the 256 color mode was removed (or hidden as to be unfindable today). Tandy fearing the CoCo 3 would be too much competition for their own Tandy 1000 is eerily similar to how Apple castrated the Apple IIgs along the way so as not to be overly competitive for their Macintosh line.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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lcurtisboyle (not verified)
Yes, the Tandy graphics mode

Yes, the Tandy graphics mode was 320x200x16 color, but I believe a fixed palette. There was no 640x350 option like EGA had, either... and EGA had a 64 bit palette (actually, color wise, the Coco 3 and EGA had the EXACT same palette to work from).

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