Thoughts on Armchair Arcade's New Online TRS-80 Emulator!

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Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006

I am quite excited to see Armchair Arcade’s new TRS-80 Emulator page! My very first personal computer experiences were on the TRS-80, and I’ve had great difficulty in the past getting the available TRS-80 emulators to work. Plus, I’ve largely forgotten how to use the TRS-80 command line.

This emulator, provided by George Phillips and Peter Phillips, appears to be very accurate, and the convenience of “one-click-loading” of the games makes for a very enjoyable experience. I am not only able to finally play some of the classic games again, I can now use the emulator for demonstrating to my friends what it was like to “compute” and game back in the day!

Unfortunately, the sound capabilities of the machine could not be emulated via Javascript, because the sounds were a large part of some of these games’ charm. However, when I first started using the TRS-80, it wasn’t hooked up to produce sound either, so soundless games were not unusual or “unrealistic” for the time. In fact, I’m not sure that it was even known that the TRS-80 could produce sound in the beginning!

Even without sound, I think some of you will see that, considering the limited graphics capabilities of the hardware, some surprisingly playable and dynamic games were created for the system. It's surprising how much "life" and charm they were able to get out such limitations!

“Eliminator” is a straight-up Defender clone with excellent (for the platform) graphics, sounds, and gameplay. Eliminator was released for several 8-bit computer platforms, but I think that the TRS-80 version was the only one that was a Defender clone; other platforms (like the Atari 8-bit) got an entirely different game. Perhaps it was a licensing/legal issue. But anyhow, despite the blocky monochrome graphics, I think “Eliminator” was a much more fun and accurate “Defender” than the actual “Defender” released on the Atari 2600! Needless to say, this was one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) TRS-80 games.

And look at the graphics of “Rear Guard!” With simple, low-res blocks, the programmers were able to achieve parallax scrolling and some very inventive, animated enemy sprites! It looks exciting!

For those of you who have noticed that Shawn Delahunty's "Retro-Zap" is comparatively slower than the "professional" machine language games provided, keep in mind that "Retro-Zap" is a much more elaborate game than the first TRS-80 "action" game that I played: "Star Wars." In "Star Wars," you moved your "X-wing" fighter, which was represented by the letter "X," slowly around a "trench," which was represented by a very basic non-animated box outline. You were slowly chased by the letter "H," which represented the Tie Fighters, until the "exhaust port" appeared, which was represented by a period. You had to slowly align your "X" next to the "." and tap the fire key. It was very simple and slow, and there's no way anyone playing it today wouldn't be bored, but it was exciting stuff to me back then.

There’s much more I can say on these games, but the main thing I hope to get across is the “WOW” factor of these games at the time. And when I say “WOW,” I don’t mean “World of Warcraft.” Seeing the TRS-80 do these things was something like seeing “Skyrim” graphics on an old Pentium III setup! And keep in mind that the on the original platform, there were sounds, too! The first time I heard digitized speech in a “Big Five” game, I was floored! What kind of arcane powers were used to get speech out of a computer?!?!?!

You can’t impress me like that anymore with today’s technology. With all the cross-platform development going on, no single platform appears to be pushed to its limits, much less beyond those limits. You’re not going to see so-called “mind-blowing” audio-visuals unless you pay for the hardware upgrades needed to get those capabilities. Yes, you can see great production values in these XBox/PS3 games, but you already know going in that these machines are capable of these feats. It’s expected.

I’m sure most of you had similar “wow” experiences on your respective platforms. The machine can’t do stuff like that, BUT IT JUST DID IT! Holy cow!!!!

For those of you who never used a TRS-80, this emulator gives an excellent taste of what it was like to game on that system. This is where it all began for me. This is where I got my first taste of computer gaming, my first taste of computer programming, and my first taste of a whole new world of possibilities.

Shawn Delahunty
Shawn Delahunty's picture
Joined: 08/01/2011
Thanks Rob.

Thanks Rob--I really appreciate your plugging the new website emulation/gaming page. I know that there are about 3-4 other sites on the web which host Peter's emulator, but I'm of the opinion that the more exposure to some retro-system goodness, the better. Truthfully, I don't how many people will mess with the TRS-80 emulator page, but I hope that the folks who DO take the time to check it out will at least find it interesting.

(For anybody who wonders what I'm talking about, CLICK HERE.)

I'd be interested to get some page-hit statistics on that page, maybe with a visitor counter or something. I'll have to dig at the website admin stuff a little bit and see if there's something I can get working...

As a programmer, I have to agree with you--not many modern systems are being "pushed to the limits". Some of this is a result of the sheer complexity of the hardware comprising the systems--it takes a LOT longer for all of the system-specific tricks and hacks and tweaks to be "discovered". For instance, it's only been in the last 1-2 years that the PS3 Cell architecture has really started being utilized anywhere near it's full capability. (I know that there are folks who will argue it was happening much sooner, but I've got too much evidence to the contrary; anecdotal and otherwise.)

I think some of it too, is the "consumer expectation" which has been cultivated in PC-based gaming--the press and industry have pushed & banked on the idea that, "if you wait 12 months, the hardware will be SOO much better"... so no one (well, very few) attempts the difficult and sometime hideously convoluted effort required to tweak a piece of hardware. That feeling of amazement and marvel used to happen a lot more often when the hardware was much more limited. Maybe some of this is growing blase and jaded over time, but I don't think so.

It's really only in the demoscene that I see the mindset of "fast and small, ISN'T FAST AND SMALL ENOUGH!" And truthfully, it's only in the demoscene arena that I still find myself going, "Holy CRAP! How in the heck did they manage to do THAT?!?"


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