A small bit of unusual Atari ST/Commodore Amiga history regarding 3.5" disks

Bill Loguidice's picture

Remember back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when games used to come on cassette, publishers such as Avalon Hill would pack on as many as a half dozen or more different platform versions of one game onto the front and back of one cassette? And how in the age of the 5.25" disk, the front and back of a disk were sometimes sold with, for instance, an Atari 8-bit version on one side and a Commodore 64 version on another? This became a lost art with the rise of the 3.5" disk, as there was only one side and no way to split formats; it wouldn't be until optical media rose to prominence that we would again see multiple platforms on one disc (usually Windows and Mac). Or was it a lost art on 3.5" disk? I was unaware until about a year or so ago that multiple platforms on a 3.5" was not only possible, but was actually used in a commercial product by at least one company, Rainbird, who developed a seemingly impossible dual format Atari ST/Commodore Amiga disk for their game, Starglider II. As luck would have it, I recently won a dual format Starglider II to go along with the standard, single platform releases I already have in the series. Of course, according to its Wikipedia entry, releasing Starglider II in this format made the game extremely unreliable so the technique was abandoned, but it's still of significant historical interest as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps some time after it comes I'll attempt to load it on each of the systems and see what happens!

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Calibrator
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They also used it...

...on "Carrier Command" (PC & Amiga dual format).

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Carrier Command - PC/Amiga
Calibrator wrote:

...on "Carrier Command" (PC & Amiga dual format).

take care,
Calibrator

Interesting. It's a shame that the Wikipedia entry or Moby Games doesn't provide any info on that. The only benefit to the technique I would think was if the two platforms could share resources, like modern day PC's and Mac's can.

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Mark Vergeer
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PC & MSX 3.5" 720Kb disks

And there are some hybrid PC/MSX 3.5" floppies as well! They where mostly shareware disks and stuff you'd get at trade-msx gatherings. In the Netherlands and Brazil there where quite a few people programming both on PC as on MSX. There's even a few ports of the same software on both PC and MSX. Most of it is non-commercial shareware and quite a niche. There's some demo disks among them.

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Bill Loguidice
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PC/MSX
Mark Vergeer wrote:

And there are some hybrid PC/MSX 3.5" floppies as well!

Do you happen to know any? I'm more curious from the "why" standpoint. You would think it would be just as effective to put a single disk for each system in the box and sell it multi-platform like that. Of course the downside is you can just give the real disk(s) to your friend(s) who own a different platform from you, as opposed to multi on one disk, which limits it (in theory) to one owner.

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Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
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Mark Vergeer
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BasiCode

They where mostly shareware disks and stuff you'd get at trade-msx gatherings. In the Netherlands and Brazil there where quite a few people programming both on PC as on MSX. There's even a few ports of the same software on both PC and MSX. Most of it is non-commercial shareware and quite a niche. There's some demo disks among them.

In the Netherlands we used something called 'BasiCode', which sort of functioned as a multi platform dev api and allowed basic software to run on many machines. It was used in Germany as well. It consisted of a special program that was loaded into the home computer allowing it to load and run the 'BasiCode' programs. They used to broadcast the 'BasiCode' programs on one of our national radio stations and you could tape the programs and load them into various computers. This all changed with the introduction of floppy disks and some people have been doing the same on multi format disks for a while.

I took this from the Dutch Wiki on it and translated it for you:

Basicode was een project met als doel een universele programmeertaal voor hobbycomputers te maken. De taal was afgeleid van de programmeertaal BASIC. =
Basiccode was a project with the purpose of creating a universal programming language for home-computers. The language was derived from the programming language BASIC.

Oorsprong
In de jaren '80 had elke homecomputer zijn eigen BASIC dialect. De programma's waren niet zonder meer onderling uitwisselbaar. Om dit probleem te verhelpen, had men ontwikkeld Basicode, een soort Esperanto voor homecomputers.
=
In the 80's each home computer had it's own BASIC-dialect. The programs weren't exchangeable. To remedy this program 'BASIC-code' was developed - a kind of Esperanto for home computers.

In 1980 werd BasiCode door de Nederlandse Omroep Stichting in het radioprogramma Hobbyscoop tot het leven geroepen. =
in 1980 Basic Code was created for the radio program 'Hobbyscope' which was broadcasted by the Dutch PBS - called NOS (Netherlands Broadcasting Service).

Voor veel homecomputers kwam een programma beschikbaar die BasiCode kon lezen en verwerken. De programma's werden als geluidbestand aan het eind van het radioprogramma Hobbyscoop uitgezonden en klonken als cirkelzaaggeluiden. Bekende woorden voor elke uitzendingen waren: "drie seconden na nu...". =
For many home computers special BasiCode interpreter software was created allowing those to run the BasiCode software. At the end of the show 'HobbyScope' one program would be broadcasted filling the ether with those nasty fax-like sounds. Famous words at the end introducing the broadcast where: "start after three seconds ..."

Ook de TROS deed een tijd aan Basicode. Zij namen Basicode 3 onder de loep, een uitgebreidere versie dan Basicode 2. = Also the TROS (another Dutch PBS) was using BasiCode, they where in fact using version 3.

Werking
Basicode maakte gebruikt van standaard subroutines. Deze subroutines werden specifiek per computer geschreven, zodat het algemene programma deze kon oproepen zonder systeemspecifieke parameters.
=
BasiCode uses standard subroutines that where called upon. The subroutines where specifically written for each computer allowing the BasiCode program to call upon them without using system specific calls from within the program code.

Evolutions of BasiCode:
* Basicode 1
* Basicode 2
* Basicode 3 / 3C -> became very popular in the GDR.

And after some searching a more complete English Language Wiki going into more detail - even the data format used. Anyways the BasiCode program inspired quite a few home developers to keep on creating multi platform software. Looking back on it - my first steps into the world of computers were accompanied by BasiCode - I guess that's why I love emulation/virtualisation. I still love to see code running independently from the platform it was written on. I was doing a lot of ports outside of the rather limiting BasiCode environment. I loved to see all those machine specific instructions and worked out ways to get my program running even faster or use more clever programming structures. I guess that is where my love for diversity comes from. And in the past I just loved those multi platform video game magazines - or just read several specific ones like Zzap64, Crash and Computer & Video Games - and compared those games and how they looked & sounded on the various machines.

Another English article on BasiCode - BasiCode an example of Dutch computer folklore
A German website on BasiCode - BasiCode Software für alle
A Yahoo egroup focusing on BasiCode - Yahoo BasiCode

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Rob Daviau
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WOW! Great intetresting

WOW! Great intetresting topic there Bill, haven't thought about it in a while but yeah that was cool having multiple formats. I remeber back in the Amiga days I got a few coverdisks that were apparently ST/Amiga compatiple, of course I didn't really care as I was a total Amiga head back then thinking ST sucked (even though I had not actually used an ST LOL! Of course now I would love to see the ST version, it truly was pretty cool they could do that.

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Matt Barton
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This is a great topic! I do

This is a great topic! I do remember seeing some of those disks with the multiple versions on the other side...I'm wanting to say I even saw the SG II disk you mentioned, but that could be faulty memory.

I'm sure it's been done with CDs or DVDs as well; even some of my movies have different versions on the other side (WS or FS, for instance). I guess this sort of thing wouldn't work with game consoles, of course, since the developers wouldn't want you to buy a disc with the 360 version on one side and the PS3 or Wii on the other. :)

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Bill Loguidice
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Multiformat media
Matt Barton wrote:

This is a great topic! I do remember seeing some of those disks with the multiple versions on the other side...I'm wanting to say I even saw the SG II disk you mentioned, but that could be faulty memory.

I'm sure it's been done with CDs or DVDs as well; even some of my movies have different versions on the other side (WS or FS, for instance). I guess this sort of thing wouldn't work with game consoles, of course, since the developers wouldn't want you to buy a disc with the 360 version on one side and the PS3 or Wii on the other. :)

That's the thing with these 3.5" disks, there is no other side. That's the point, you need a very special writing and mastering technique to make this work on a single side, and it sounds like in the case of Starglider II it certainly didn't work well enough to be worth pursuing.

It IS curious though as you correctly point out why there are not any dual-sided DVDs for consoles. It's probably so sales are maximized. For instance, if you had a PS2 version on one side and a Wii version on the other, you'd be targeting the same basic audience (today). It's much more productive to say sell to the PS2 owner today and then hope that that person upgrades to a Wii and then buys it again. Of course, the main issue is probably one of shelving. Modern videogame shelves are stocked by system - there is no intermixing. In theory PS2 owners wouldn't be looking in the Wii software and vice-versa, so the reality is there is no particular benefit, particularly since manufacturing costs would be increased slightly (perhaps even over including two discs).

Probably the most interesting non-game double side disc was the HD-DVD/DVD combo, with the HD-DVD version of the movie on one side and the regular DVD version on the other side. I have a few titles like that. I believe they're working on trying to figure out how to do that with BluRays. Right now the best they do is when you buy the BluRay version they throw the regular DVD version on a separate disk in with it. Technically there's a third and fourth format on there as well at times, as there's a digital copy for Windows Media protected devices and Apple iTunes devices.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I could be off my rocker

I could be off my rocker here, but aren't some 3.5" disks "double sided?" I know I've seen that one some of the labels. Obviously, they only go in the drive one way, but couldn't both sides of the disk still be accessed?

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Bill Loguidice
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Semantics
Matt Barton wrote:

I could be off my rocker here, but aren't some 3.5" disks "double sided?" I know I've seen that one some of the labels. Obviously, they only go in the drive one way, but couldn't both sides of the disk still be accessed?

Sure, there's "double sided, double density" and what-not, but I don't believe there's a way to independently control each "side" since you're still accessing the disk the one way from the one side. I'd love to hear someone provide a true technical explanation, but I think being double sided had more to do with capacity than any ability to write to one side or the other, as writing like that was what the drive and disk just did and didn't really know anything about "sides".

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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