One thing I’ve noticed with web hosting is that while the price never changes once you take out a server, neither do the specs. It’s been a few years now and I can get a quicker server with twice the disk space for less money so the site has been moved yet again. That means loads of room for the ever growing PC Zone archive. Everything should be as it was although it will take a while for the DNS to move over to the new IP. As ever please let me know if you spot anything that is missing or not working.
There has been a glaring Apple Macintosh shaped hole in my collection for years now. I’ve always been put off taking the plunge by the ever dwindling amount of space, coupled with my complete lack of knowledge of everything Macintosh. The latest Ebay voucher proved too tempting though so I’m starting the new year with a new toy, an Apple iBook G3.
This thing would have cost around $1500 back in 2001 (price being a large factor in my Apple dislike), but to be fair it’s holding up remarkably well after all these years so maybe that price tag was somewhat justified. With a clock speed of 500 Mhz, it’s a bit more modern than I strictly needed but the price was right. This particular model has a bonus in the form of 2 USB ports, the plan here being that I won’t have to track down ADB joysticks, mice, etc and can instead plug in hardware I already have.
The first games I wanted to get working were of course Macintosh specific Origin titles in the shape of Super Wing Commander (otherwise only available on the 3DO), and Lairware’s extremely nice looking Ultima 3 port which I’ve wanted to try ever since first seeing screenshots of it a decade or two back. Before I have a proper look at either of them, I thought I’d do a short post on what was involved in getting the machine set up.
First off, you’ll need somewhere to download the software from. There are several sites to choose from and I went with http://macintoshrepository.org for no particular reason other than topping the list in Google. The first job was downgrading my Macintosh operating system. The sweet spot for running old games appears to be MAC OS 9, this laptop came with 10 installed but would have originally run OS9 when new. I downloaded 9.2.1, burned it to a CD which you have to boot to and then install everything to the hard disk. The process is quick and simple – installation takes about 5-10 minutes. I did originally try OS9.1 but it refused to boot up and apparently didn’t support my particular hardware (predating it slightly).
I started with Super Wing Commander which was absolutely flying by at entirely uncontrollable speeds when first installed. I was wondering if I’d bought the wrong machine at this point. I tried various slow down tools with some degree of success but in the end, I’m not using any of them. When first installing the game from CD, you are given a menu of options one of which includes whether to use Apple Quickdraw for displaying the graphics. When selecting the slowest, most compatible option the game ran straight out of the box at the right speed, no CPU throttling required.
Getting it working with a joystick was trickier. I’ve got an old Saitek X52 Pro which wasn’t working in the game without the addition of a tool called “USB Overdrive”. Once installed, this allows you to map controls to the joystick axis and assign keyboard presses to the buttons. It’s clunky but appears to work correctly once you go through mapping everything. My only real complaint with the 3DO version of the game was that it didn’t have true analog controls, instead having a small number of movement bands as preset speeds. I was hoping this wouldn’t be replicated on the Macintosh but unfortunately it appears that it is. The game is running well at 640×480 resolution anyway and I’m looking forward to revisiting it.
If Ultima is more your bag, then I can happily say that Lairware Ultima 3 ran correctly without any tinkering being required. It was a similar story for Wing Commander 3 and 4 which might actually run a little smoother than their PC equivalents. Super Wing Commander has proved to be the exception rather than the rule with just about everything else I’ve thrown at this running straight off the bat.
That’s basically all there was to it. I’ve done a couple of these fixing up old machines posts before now but this has to be the shortest. The Mac is modern enough to make life simple so maybe all those Apple fans did know something after all. The battery on my laptop is all but useless after all these years – a replacement on Ebay was all of £10 so that is already in the post. The Mac also uses a proprietary port for a monitor connection and would originally have come with a VGA cable to convert it into something people couple actually use. I’ve got my eye on an auction for a cable that I think will work but Apple being Apple, they have used a whole range of proprietary display connectors over the years so I won’t know for sure until I try it.
A regular PC USB Keyboard/Mouse will indeed just plug straight in and work without any grief. I’ll look at hooking this up to a CRT with a proper keyboard and mouse when I have the required cable. Even without that I can see myself using this a ton as a portable gaming rig when I get the battery sorted out. A lot of my old DOS and Win 95/98 favourites made it onto the Macintosh and I’m really curious to have a look at some of them again in this format.
A number of DOS games were improved for this platform. For instance, I tried Dark Forces which runs in 640×480 here on the Mac and Prince of Persia has spruced up cartoon graphics. It isn’t all good though. I have a number of games on dual format Windows/Mac CD’s. One of these is the excellent adventure game The Dark Eye which was always a little tricky to run on PC. That is actually worse here as it apparently won’t run correctly on anything except System 7. I expect some of the really early Mac games may cause problems also but for the most part everything I’ve tried has run fine without any tinkering being required.
It’s early days but using a Mac for the first time has been something of a revelation. Setting this up was way, way easier than an equivalent Windows 98/DOS dual boot machine and copying software to it a piece of cake using either burned CD’s or a USB stick. Given that 486’s and Pentiums are reaching a point (in the UK at least) where the price of entry is getting fairly stupid, a Macintosh may actually be a good route of entry to gaming of this era. It can cover both DOS and the Windows era and G3’s are readily available at very low prices. Of course, plenty of games didn’t make it over to the Mac so it’s not perfect but there are some exclusives to the platform making up for it. The bottom line is I should have bought one of these years back. I’ll be taking a proper look at all the Mac ports of Origin games in due course so expect some playthroughs on here sooner or later. It’s about time I gave Shroud Of The Avatar a go however so that may be first.
A couple of days ago, my webserver failed catastrophically and I’ve spent tonight trying to get everything working again on a new server. I used to be diligent about taking backups but the last one I had was from back in January, meaning that everything from this year has been lost. That isn’t quite as bad as it sounds at first. I have made sure to keep all the PC Zone scans which have been the main content this year. I have copies of Vecalabeth and the Ultima Patcher with the source code for both, and the scan of the Underworld 3 Design Docs.
Most of this years posts are on the internet archive so I’ve recreated all of those. These are a quick bodge job and I may go back and tidy them up. What has been lost in that process are most of the images and all the comments. Not ideal but it is what it is. There may still be a chance to recover my old server but my provider isn’t being too forthcoming with information and it’s probably not going to happen so we plough on from here. The lesson from this, which I already knew even if I didn’t actually do it, is to take regular backups! An old backup is a whole lot better than no backup at least.
I can’t say I’ve tested it properly yet but just about everything seems to be working now. One exception is the contact form so if you spot anything else I need to fix best leave a comment for now.
A couple of weekends back, I had possibly the most nostalgic day I’m ever likely to have clearing some of my old stuff from my parents house. We moved into that house when I was about 5 years old and the oversized loft has been something of a dumping ground ever since. Despite moving out years back, I’ve never got round to sorting out all my stuff as there was never any pressing need. My Dad is planning on moving himself this year though so it all needs to be cleared. The biggest find were all my childhood comics of which there are hundreds (now sold off on Ebay). I also discovered a Sinclair Programs magazine from February 1985 containing loads of ZX Spectrum game listings. Anyone above a certain age will probably remember magazines like this where you were expected to type in the code for each game from the pages. These would frequently have errors leading to much frustration in trying to figure out why it didn’t work. This process provided an early insight into programming for lots of kids like myself and you will find plenty of developers who started out from type ins. The most obvious example from an Origin standpoint being Chris Roberts whose Kong type-in game appeared some years back on this blog.
If you had asked me before I found this, I’d have said that I remembered typing in games from numerous magazines as a kid. The fact is that every game that I can vaguely remember is included in this one magazine. There are some reviews in there as well but the majority of the pages are code listings for a score of games.
Of personal note is this back page with an advert for the keyboard that I got to replace the ever unreliable rubber keyboard of my Spectrum. Given the cut out part of the page, this must be the very advert that we bought it from all those years back.
At any rate with all this nostalgia in the air I thought I’d keep it going by doing something I’ve not tried in 30 years, typing in some game listings. There are several of these games I can recall well enough to know that I played them but the details are patchy. I’ll go for a relatively short one first which impressed me with its graphics at the time with something of a city landscape drawn with lots of lines and dots. I was no doubt easily impressed back then so we’ll see what it looks like now.
The process of typing this in is a whole lot easier than on the original 16K or 48K ZX Spectrum. For those that haven’t ever used one, there were various types of “shift” mode for every key meaning it could type in all the basic commands like PRINT and LOAD with one keypress. This was in fact the only way that it would accept BASIC commands so you needed to learn where all these keywords were and couldn’t just type the word in. This system was also on the ZX81 which had a keyboard that was far more board than it was key being a flat immovable piece of plastic. Reducing typing probably made sense in those circumstances. It also saved memory as I understand by just storing a reference to the basic command rather than the whole word in the program listing. Again on the ZX81 with a frankly ludicrous 1K of RAM by default, probably a good idea.
The 128K spectrum improved matters by actually allowing you to type in the commands. This is the machine I own these days but I’m cheating here and typing it on an emulator first just so I don’t have to save to tape every time I want to test it.
Cheating or not, typing in the program is quite a lengthy procedure, a lot more than I expected. The Spectrum can’t always keep up with my typing and misses out characters. Everything has to be exact and I ended up having to proofread through much of the code after I’d typed it in. To make debugging somewhat easier I decided to type out relevant lines and test as I went along rather than going in strictly line number order. I had at least a couple of dozen typos of my own to sort out before I got this working. Everything in the magazine was correct at least so I didn’t have to fix any existing errors.
One point to note is that the program redefines some of the character graphics by poking new ones into memory so that the ufos, trees, etc.. in the game can be represented by these tiles. Where a letter is underlined in the text, it means I have to swap the spectrum to graphics mode, enter the letter, then swap out again to continue typing. This took a little figuring out and doesn’t appear to be mentioned anywhere in the magazine.
To get the program to an actual Spectrum, I save it to a virtual cassette in the emulator, then use a utility to convert the tzx file to a wav which I emailed to my phone. I’ve got one of those car audio cassette adaptors for this purpose which plugs into the headphone jack and I can then just play it into the Speccy as if it was a cassette. If you ever want to use one of these things by the way, just slide the cassette into the open deck as above, don’t try to load the cassette conventionally as it will slice off the cable within a few uses.
So what does the game look like after all that. Graphically, it isn’t bad actually for a type in. Most of the code deals with drawing the city using lots of draw/plot commands. This takes some time on the Z80 in BASIC. The game plays like the spaceship sequences in Ultima 1 if anything except with two UFOs at a time instead of the one. I have to move a cursor around trying to blast them before they destroy the city. Everything moves in character jumps so it’s not smooth or fast but for a type-in, it’s ok. After an hour of typing, you will probably be bored with it within a couple of minutes mind you.
I got a watered down version of the experience here but reliving this little piece of the 80’s, it’s kind of hard to believe this was ever a thing. The reward for the effort is incredibly minimal but I did learn/relearn a bit about Spectrum BASIC in the process. Who knows, I may not have got into programming myself if it wasn’t for this particular magazine so it must be at least partly to blame for my career since. It would be hard to imagine a kid having the patience these days. For anyone curious enough to try this out, the tzx is available here.
After a severe lack of Origin in recent posts, I probably ought to consider renaming this site but there is no way I can be bothered to create a new banner. So instead, I’ll get back on topic and finally have a proper playthrough of Wing Commander 2 on FM Towns next week.