A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Retro Computing: Why Bother? Part 3: Basic Systems Overview: 8 Bit Era Machines

(Edit: This is a work in progress so don't consider it complete by any means!)

Well, for our purposes I will be covering the systems I think were notable enough to be mentioned.

Some systems, such as the Japanese computers from Sharp (X1, X68000), NEC (PC 88,98), the late 70s black and white almost no graphics machines (Commodore PET, Tandy TRS 80, Sinclair ZX 80 and 81), or machines that were so niche as to nobody really owning or caring about them (Dragon 32/64, Oric 1, Timex Sinclairs) I will not be bothering to cover.

As this is also going up at Something Awful if any goons there wish to add in info for those machines I will credit them here, or to fill holes where I just don't know or care about the machine.

I will list the machines as such:

Name:  (A general name for the machine line.)
Description: (Rough outline of the machine and picture probably taken from Wikipedia.)
Specs: (Some loose technical specifications.  For RAM I am generally going with what the more mainline machines carried.)
My Experience: (Do I have any experiences with the machine?)
Recommended Model: (Which model of that line I think you should try to get.)
Release Date/Original Price: (When known this will be the year it came out and its US MSRP in that time's money ignoring inflation.)
Notable Games: (What games I think are worth checking out or which were big on the machine.  I am a big arcade, RPG, and turn based strategy guy so my game thoughts might differ from yours.)
Emulation Options: (If you are cheap or want to try before buying here will be an emulator to look at.)
Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: (What they seem to go for a working system on Ebay and how much I would probably pay.  These will generally be 2 different numbers because I am cheap.)

Note that this is not an IN DEPTH LOOK at each machine.  I will do more posts covering the machines I know and love the best, and others will hopefully do the same for the ones they know.

The 8 Bits:  The 8 bit machines were cheap and cheerful for the most part.  I am designating 8 bit machines as ones that had both 8 bit level graphics systems and CPUs.  There were some machines that only had one or the other.  In consoles the Mattel Intellivision was a 16 bit CPU but I mean its graphics were far worse what most 8 bit computers did.  So.. let's just call em 8 bits meaning more era than what its CPU actually was.

Amstrad CPC:
Amstrad CPC 464 and Color Monitor (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description: In the UK the Amstrad was the third place home computer of the 8 bit era.  Coming as an all in one unit including a color or monochrome monitor, it is in between the Spectrum and Commodore 64 as far as gaming capabilities.

Specs: 4mhz Z80 CPU, 64K RAM.  640x200 2 color-160x200 16 color. 27 color palette.  3 channel, 8 octave sound.

My Experience: None.  These machines were really unknown in the US.

Recommended Model:  I would say the CPC128 but they were only sold for a short period of time, and there are some compatibility issues with the Plus line.  So a stock color 464 is your best bet to run the most stuff.

Release Date/Original Price: 1984/684 pounds

Notable Games: No real idea.  The Amstrad didn't have a ton of exclusive games.  Some low effort Spectrum ports that failed to take advantage of the machine, and a number of arcade conversions which usually looked good but failed to have the scrolling and speed of the Commodore 64 efforts.

Emulation Options:  No real experience here either.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay:  Around 120 US without monitor/60 without monitor, 120 with color.

Apple II:

Apple IIe System (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  The computer that can genuinely be said to have started the home computer revolution, the Apple II series was massively popular.  But then as now, Apple charged a massive price premium which hurt it.  Though they did cleverly get the machines in nearly every halfway decent school in the US.

Specs: 1 mhz 6502 series CPU, 64K RAM, 40x40 16 color-560x192 2 color, 16 color palette, 1 channel sound. (II E version)

My Experience:  Like most people in the lower middle class my experiences with the Apple II line was at school.  Nobody had these machines in the home.  Apple's offerings were almost always 3-4 times as expensive as other computers that usually were better.  In general most Apple II games were closer to 5 colors on screen and using composite techniques so even text looks multicolored.

Recommended Model: IIc Plus is the best bet.  It is a sharp looking machine and even has a 4mhz CPU.  But it comes with a 3.5" drive while most programs are on 5 1/4" so you will need a second drive.  The IIc is more a nice looking IIe without the IIe's expansion slots.  Which is why the IIe looks big and fat.  So any one of those 3 would do you nicely.  But.. there is another way.  See me in the 16 bit section!

Release Date/Original Price: 1977/1300 dollars. (Original II)

Notable Games:  Most of the Apple 2's best games appeared in better form on the Atari 8 bit and Commodore 64.  But some games were identical over the 3 formats.  But as a historian many of the earliest Sierra titles appeared on this machine.  So:  Mystery House and Akalabeth are worth playing for this machine alone.  Honestly buy a C64 or an Atari 8 bit and get most of the good games in a better format.

Emulation Options:  AppleWin is always a great emulator, and the Virtual Apple site has games you can play online if you are lazy or slacking at work.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 300 or so for complete systems with monitor/ 200 for the IIe or c, 250 for a IIc plus.

Atari 8 Bits:

Description: Somewhere in between the Apple 2 and the Commodore 64 in power the Atari 8 bits were a special odd duck.  The first machine whose innards were used for a console (the 5200), and in fact it was also used for ANOTHER console that was compatible with the computer line later! (XEGS)  Also the first machine I know of with 4 controller ports (x00 series only).  Its not a must have machine but its a cheap alternative to an Apple II or a C64.  Or you just really like Star Raiders....

Specs: 1.79 mhz 6502 series CPU, 64K RAM, 320x192 with various modes, 256 color palette, 4 voice 3.5 octave sound.

My Experience: This is a machine I didn't get to see till last year.  Thanks to Steve Benway's videos showing the machine I felt like splurging and got myself a setup.  I really enjoy the computer.  Its better in some ways than a C64 as far as disk based speed goes, and its got a decent DOS and a ton of inexpensive cartridge games.

Recommended Model: This is a funny one.  There are THREE series with three distinct looks.  And a minor suite of incompatibilities.  So to run everything you need an x00 series and either the XL or XE.  But in general the XL and XE are better machines unless you dig the 800 looking like a gorgeous 70s uggo tank.  Soo either a 800 for the oldest of software, or either a 800xl or a 130xe.  The xl has 64k ram, the 130 128k. Almost nothing needs 128k of ram outside of a few fan made games.  Pick either of those 2 you want.

Release Date/Original Price: 1979/1000 dollars.

Notable Games:  Many games are the same as on the Apple II or Commodore 64.  On the Atari 8 bits they are usually in between the 2 machines in quality.  But there were some exclusives like Star Raiders and Eastern Front that were quite good.  (Atari 2600 SRaiders is a PALE imitation.)

Emulation Options:  The best emulator is Altirra.  It covers the odd color issues many people seem unaware of.  If you see videos or screencaps of Pac Man with wrong looking color this is why.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 75 for the base unit, sometimes 110 or so with the 1050 floppy drive.  (The good 5 1/4 drives go for 40 or so online.)/60, 85 with 1050 floppy drive.

BBC Micro/Acorn Electron:

The BBC Micro (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description: Made by Acorn in conjunction with a BBC educational series about computers, the BBC Micro was to the UK what the Apple II was to the US.  An expensive machine more used in schools than something folks at home had.  A less powerful home version called the Electron took those duties.  Overall its not a very powerful computer and it really doesn't have much to recommend it outside of UK nostalgia.

Specs: 2 mhz 6502 series CPU, 64K RAM,  640x256 8 colors, 16 color palette, 3 channel 7 octave sound.

My Experience: Another UK computer nobody knew or heard of in the US even though it was apparently released here.

Recommended Model: The BBC B is generally the most compatible though the Master had some improvements and a LOT more RAM.  The B is probably your best bet.

Release Date/Original Price: 1981/335 UK Pounds.

Notable Games: In general most of the games on the system weren't all that notable.  It is considered to have the best version of the original Elite however.  Any UK folks know some great exclusives?

Emulation Options: Another system I never knew about when it was actively produced and another one I simply don't bother with.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: (None currently on ebay!)/ 60 dollars.

Commodore Vic 20:
Commodore Vic 20 (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description: Commodore's follow up to the PET, the Vic 20 was really the first computer for the masses and not the masses as Jack Tramiel (Commodore's BMOC) may have said.  Its more powerful than the PET or the TRS 80 and in some ways could hang with the Apple II or II+ models but it isn't really much more powerful than an Intellivision.   Its the first computer to sell a million machines though.  Its also an ugly looking machine and it is sort of why the Commodore 64's disk drive is so damned slow.

Specs: 1 mhz 6502 series CPU, 5K RAM, 184x176 8 color 16 background/border, 16 color palette, 3 voice 3 octave sound.

My Experience: This is another computer I have never seen in live use.  I knew one kid about 6 years older than me who claimed to have one, and some relatives had a nonworking machine.  But.. I have never seen one used.  Basically it did really well but nearly everyone moved up to the C64 who had one I guess.

Recommended Model: There is only one to the best of my limited research.

Release Date/Original Price: 1981/300 dollars (At this point roughly 100 bucks or so more than an Atari 2600.)

Notable Games: The Vic 20 didn't really have too many exclusives.  A lot of arcade ports and is the original home system of Sword of Fargoal, but that game has a C64 port, a massively superior iOS remake, and its sequel just got successfully Kickstarted.  There is a recent RPG made for it called Realms of Quest that looks pretty good but more because of what its on than anything else.  Its another system mostly for the historian or someone who had one back in the day.

Emulation Options:  Winvice.  A good solid working emulator that covers most of the 8 bit Commodore machines.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: About 100 for the unit, sometimes with tape drive/60 bucks with tape drive, 40 without.

Commodore 64/128:
Commodore 64c variant with aligned monitor and 1541 II floppy drive (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  THE 8 bit computer of the 80s.  Until the NES and Sega Master System showed up in the USA, this was the ultimate 8 bit gaming machine.  Except it was also a full bore computer.  And cheap especially compared to what Apple was charging for a much weaker computer.  One of the highest selling family lines of computers ever with nearly 20 million machines sold over its five variants. (C64, 64c, 128, 128d, SX64)  In the UK it was a solid second after the Sinclair Spectrum as it did cost more than that underpowered thing.  In the US it was really the only computer I knew more than one person ever owning.  The C64's SID chip provided the best 8 bit audio that was built in to any 8 bit game or computer system bar none.  Only an Apple II series add on board called The Mockingboard could match it.  Which cost around what the 64 ran at the time if not more for just the card!

Specs: 1 mhz 6510 CPU, 64K RAM, 160x200-320x200, 16 color palette, 3 channel 8 octave 4 waveform sound.

My Experience:  The first time I saw one was a friend had the original model that was a browner Vic 20 (part of how it was made so fast and cheap.  Lots of recycled bits from the Vic and compatible with a lot of its hardware, holding the C64 back in many ways) but the games and the graphics in Fall 85 were beyond anything my Atari 2600 could do.  And once I saw what the floppy drive could put out?  I had to have one.  It would just take two years and my machine would be the better looking (and more reliable) "c" model.  So many amazing RPGs and strategy games were played on this thing.  While the NES had better action games the C64 had games of depth and detail that the NES couldn't match.

Recommended Model: I recommend the C64c.  Its a sharper looking unit than the ugly old "breadbox" model.  You could also go with the 128 which is an enhanced 64 with a bunch of stuff nobody really used as most publishers just kept to C64 specifications.  If you live in Europe or want the UK games you will need a tape drive and I commend your damned soul.  In the US you need a 1541 drive.  Sometimes games if on the right format will work on the other but will run a little too slow or fast.  I remember pirates brought TONS of UK only software out in the west.

Release Date/Original Price:  1982/600 dollars

Notable Games:  Much like the Apple II and Atari 8 bits, the C64 shared a lot of software with them.  It also shared games those 2 didn't get with the IBM DOS machines, Atari ST, and Amiga. It has the best playing versions of Defender of the Crown, Ultima, Last Ninja, and many more, and some late era UK only games like Creatures & Mayhem in Monsterland don't even look like the same system those earliest 1982 releases are.

Emulation Options:  WinVice.  There is also a plug and play joystick that has a good suite of games on it if you want to hack it up and make an actual C64 out of it.  Because its a full 64 on a chip with pinouts to make it a full machine.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 125 with floppy drive for US systems/75 with floppy drive.

Coleco Adam:

Coleco Adam (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  The Coleco Adam is both awesome and terrible.  On one hand it was a true computer based on a console (The Colecovision) that ran all the original's games making it a good upgrade path.  It also was a complete system in one box.  Just add TV or monitor!  On the other it was stupidly expensive for the time, had reliability issues that make launch X Box 360s look like a Ford Escort compared to the Adam's Pinto, it would erase tape games left in the dual drive when you turned it on, and being an all in one you had to have the Daisy Wheel (ascii text only printer) printer working and on otherwise the whole system would go down. Oh.. and it's failure basically killed Coleco.   A Connecticut toy and electronics company.  I live in CT.  Bugger.

Specs:  3.58 mhz Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, 256x192, 16 color palette, 3 voice 5 octave sound.

My Experience:  There was a friend down the road from me who had one.  His dad was a DJ for the Top 40 Radio station in the area.  His dad was a cool enough bloke and the first person I knew with CDs (like 87).  The machine itself was big but cool and they were fortunate to have a working model.  IT WAS A COMPUTER COLECOVISION.  Sadly his son was kind of a douche who would trade stuff with people then get his mom to get the trade reversed.  Also eventually he would constantly try to get in fights with everyone in the neighborhood and he would lose them all.  Even to me.  It was the only fight I was ever in and I won.  (Mainly because I made it a wrestling match and wasn't actually trying to hurt him.  I had previously thwacked him in the noggin multiple times trying to get it through his skull I wasn't interested in fighting him.  He.. he tried fighting nearly every guy in the area.  I think he lost every single one.  Even to people younger than him.  MUCH younger.)  The computer was cool though.  He sold/traded it to another friend who sadly got rid of it before I could get it off of him.  Was the first system I played Miner 2049er on.  I like the Adam in spite of a pathetic goober having owned it.

Recommended Model: The original model I guess?  There was an expansion version made for the Colecovision console but..  I like the beige/white version over the CVision being black and silver.

Release Date/Original Price: 1983/700 dollars.

Notable Games:  It had great for the time arcade ports as the Colecovision did.  But in modern times most of the library is.. kind of pointless.  I suppose if you count Colecovision titles as Adam ones you can play Cabbage Patch Kids, Smurfs, and Wargames if you are a real early 80s nostalgia type.

Emulation Options: Any good Colecovision emulator really.  I used to use ColEm back in the day.  But again.. the Colecovision and Adam were great "for their time" arcade ports.  Now most arcade classics have legit home arcade perfect ports.  Or MAME.  Also its basically a proto MSX machine and that one had more popularity and versatility.  We will get to that...

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 150 (with 100 dollars or so shipping)/ 200 (including shipping)

Mattel Aquarius:
Mattel Aquarius with Tape Drive (Image Wikimedia Commons)
Description:  Another odd machine from the early 80s.  Mattel whose Intellivision game system was outspeccing and basically being the early 80s X Box to the 2600's Playstation 2 (and generally selling to a similar more sports and multiplayer audience) was supposed to have a computer expansion that had been promised since the machine's release in 1979.  It kind of came out twice but.. not really.  Yet Mattel also teamed up with a small company in Asia and released this machine.  Which was LOWER in ability than the Intellivision and came out while the US videogame industry was collapsing and the computer market was oversaturated with machines, most of which kicked this thing's ass, leading it to be sold in those Job Lot type stores within months of release.

Specs: 3.5 mhz Z80 CPU, 4K RAM, 80x72, 16 color palette, 1 voice sound. (3 voice with expansion)

My Experience: The Aquarius holds a fond place in my heart.  It was my first experience with a computer. My first experience with Astrosmash, AD&D, Burgertime, and Snafu.  My first experience using a control pad.  On a mid 80s rainy Thanksgiving I was over at my aunt and uncle's house with my family.  As I was a good 5 years younger than my cousins, and the fact most of my family was mostly glued to football on TV I had nothing really to do but sit in my youngest cousin's room (said 5 years older than me) and play with the computer on a little black and white TV.  I think I spent a good 4-6 HOURS playing it.  As my mother was an idiot I wasn't supposed to have anything to do with Dungeons and Dragons so there was even a tad of illicitness to playing Tower of Tarmin.  Sadly they lost or sold or broke the thing before I could buy it off them.  I loved the little thing in spite of its suckiness.  Its charming!

Recommended Model: The Computer and Game System bundle which has the base unit with the all but required Expansion Module which contains 2 game controllers, expanded sound, and 2 cartridge ports allowing for a game and a ram pack if you decide to do HAHAHA.  Ok ok let's not get silly here.

Release Date/Original Price: Can't find out much info.  Base unit went for around 100 dollars.  But it was sold for like a single quarter and most people bought the Game System bundle at Job Lot sort of places for less than that.

Notable Games:  None.  As far as I can tell every game was a reduced version of an Intellivision game.

Emulation Options:  Its called the Intellivision Lives! collection packages.  Play the real versions of the super tiny game library!

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay:  150 bucks or so for the bundle/ 60 for the bundle and that's just out of nostalgia and I think the computer is a great looking machine.


Sony "Hit Bit" MSX Computer (Image Wikimedia Commons)
Description:  Similar to the 3DO, the MSX was a computer standard that allowed for multiple hardware manufacturers to make said hardware with a Microsoft Basic and such internal to them all.   It did well in Japan and other parts of the world but was a giant wet fart in North America.

Specs:  3.58 mhz Z80 CPU, 64K RAM, 256x192 16 color - 512x212 16 color - 256x212 - 256 color , 19000+ color palette (Turbo R), 9 channel sound.

My Experience: Another machine I would love to have but never even saw, the original MSX was basically a slightly upgraded Colecovision or Sinclair Spectrum.  They had multiple revisions with better specs though Japan got most of the upgraded machines and Europe and South America did not.  I mostly want one for the Castlevania version exclusive to this machine.

Recommended Model:  If you are a US NTSC type you want a MSX 2+ or Turbo R machine if you want to run the most stuff.  Original MSX machines don't run a lot and it seems compatibility with older stuff is REALLY high in this series.

Release Date/Original Price: 1983/various

Notable Games:  Konami basically owned this machine like a BOSS.  Its the original home of Metal Gear 1&2, Parodius, Snatcher SD, and that Castlevania version I want so bloody badly!  MG 1 and 2 are on some later Metal Gear Solid 3 collections if you want a slightly modified yet translated version however.

Emulation Options:  Blue MSX works really well.  Some fans even made a wee set top box MSX thingie a couple years back but its out of production now.  Also there was a company selling legit roms and emu packages for MSX titles in English but I can't find hide nor hair of them now.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: Around 200 or so for the various MSX 2 standard family systems/ 75 bucks.

Sinclair Spectrum:

Sinclair Spectrum +2 Computer (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  From the wacky mind of Sinclair Research came THE 8 bit computer of the United Kingdom, the ZX Spectrum!  A wee tiny but super cheap computer where basically everything had to be another add on, the chicklet keyed wonder because a thing of beloved nostalgia in the UK to the point Retro Gamer Magazine can't really go an issue without having a couple pages devoted to something about it.  Its where the UK games industry got its start.  Graphics have color clashing when a sprite moves near another one so colors get weird and most sprites are single color to begin with!  Sound is normally god awful making PC Speaker levels of terrible unless you get a later model machine and games that support it.  But they are DAMN good looking PAL machines as far as the hardware goes.

Specs:  3.5 mhz z80 CPU, 16K-48k-128k RAM, 256x192 8 two tone colors, 1 voice 10 octave beeper sound.
My Experience:  Again none.  These machines in a somewhat incompatible form did come over courtesy of Timex, but they bombed out FAST in the US.  And for good reason.  The Spectrum.. kind of sucks.  Its a nostalgia machine for UK kids who grew up with them, or something for historians.

Recommended Model:  The 128K +2 model shown above.  None of the interface nonsense of the earlier machines and it both has a real keyboard and a cassette drive built in.

Release Date/Original Price: 1982/125 UK Pounds

Notable Games:  Hmm.  Like most UK machines it shared a ton of ports with other systems, most of which were best on the Commodore 64.  But it was the home machine of Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, 3d Deathchase, THE FIRST BATMAN VIDEOGAME, and Rare's original releases.

Emulation Options:  I don't really like the Spectrum so no real idea here.  I do recommend a lot of the Retrospec remakes of Spectrum games for your PC.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 30-100 dollars depending on model/ 50 for a complete working +2.  (Mainly since I would need to spend another 50-100 bucks to make it work in NSTC land.)

Tandy Color Computer:

Tandy Color Computer 3 (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  The follow up to the TRS 80 computer line, the Color Computer (CoCo as it is well known as) was Tandy's follow up to that venerable and underpowered machine.  Being 3 models of improving specifications it was sold in Radio Shacks and pretty much nobody had or talked about them outside of a small devoted fanbase who still manage to do amazing things with them.  Plus Tandy had the 1000 line of PC Junior DOS clones it cared more about promoting and that whole being exclusive to Radio Shack where you have questions, they are clueless, and gimme your bloody address for buying a couple batteries or a package of resistors and its no wonder it didn't do so hot but survived for quite some time anyhow.

Specs:  .89 or 1.79 mhz Motorola 68b09e CPU, 4k-128k RAM, 320x200 16 color - 640x400 4 color, 64 color palette, 1 voice 6 bit DAC sound.

My Experience:  Another machine I saw but never owned as most Radio Shacks had them in the 80s but I rarely went into Radio Shacks and by the time I did I had a Commodore 64.  I was jealous seeing some of the Sierra games on it though.  Even if they were generally better on the DOS machines.

Recommended Model:  The Color Computer 3 model.

Release Date/Original Price: 1980/400 US dollars.

Notable Games:  No idea.  Most CoCo titles were ports or knockoffs of other games.  I do know there were a good half dozen or so Ultima clones I would play the hell out of.  But finding information on them is like pulling teeth.  Dungeons of Daggorath is somewhat well regarded too.

Emulation Options:  Need info because like many machines I just don't see a need to bother with them.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay:  80 for a complete CoCo 3 setup/the same.

Tandy 1000/IBM PC Junior/CGA-EGA DOS:
Tandy 1000 HX (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  The computer that shouldn't have but did.  The IBM 5150 PC was built with generally generic parts which lead it to be cloned and making it the king home computer format.  A giant box full of slots for upgrading, deals made with Microsoft for the OS, the failure and death of the CPM OS due to shenanigans and general stupidity, and just blind dumb luck caused this little cruddy machine to become king of the computing world and made both Intel and Microsoft a LOT of money while making IBM and Digital Research (CPM makers) look really really stupid.  The original PC was mostly just monochrome work computer stuff but improved graphics and audio and gameport cards over the years to follow would improve the machine's capabilities to do things other than work.  Because with your 1000-4000 80s dollars machine of COURSE you want to play games and such on it.  Games really drive the computer market as much if not more than killer productivity apps.

In 1983 IBM made a system designed for the home called the PC Junior which had an improved version of the CGA graphics standard that was competitive if not superior to the 8 bit micros of the day and improved sound in a standard that would really be the only good and standardized PC sound until the Ad Lib music card.  While the PC Jr. did not do well, Tandy made a clone of it and this became their 1000 series.  The 1000 series is really THE 80s PC to get for retro gamers.

(Yes the Intel CPUs are 16 bit but given the graphics qualities of the machines till the 386 CPUs and VGA graphics became standard you might as well call DOS machines pre 1989-90 8 bit.)

Specs: XT: 4.77-9.56 mhz Intel 8088-86 CPU, 128k-640k RAM, 320x200 16 color - 640x400 4 color, 16 color palette, 3 voice 1 channel sound.  (AT machines had a 7mhz and up CPU and normally an EGA graphics card which could do 16 colors but was not the same as Tandy/PC Junior 16 color graphics.  The Tandy 1000 series had most machines as XT ones, even with super fast 86 and 88 CPUs.  These are also the ones with Tandy Graphics mode.)

My Experience:  My first real experience with a DOS computer was the same year (Xmas 87) that I got my C64.  My friends up the street got a Franklin DOS PC with DOS 3.33.  The joystick was this awful analog thing that was terrible for Jordan vs Bird & Skate or Die and the graphics were these terrible 4 color CGA non composite (DOS CGA machines with a composite monitor could manage a 16 color hack) graphics usually using either bright green and orange, or a purple and soft blue.  I would later get to mess with a Tandy 1000 series which looked a lot better and had tons of sweet features.  Though the Franklin my friends had was a NICE looking computer.  It just cost like triple what my C64 setup had and looked worse for gaming.  I knew another friend who said he had the same machine as the picture, but he was more an acquaintance I kept from getting greased on the bus in high school than anything else.  He let me borrow his Game Boy for a few weeks though.  Was supposed to sell me his copy of Phantasy Star for 25 bucks in 1992 but didn't show up that day.  I wouldn't get to play it till the early 00s as a result.

Recommended Model: A Tandy 1000 SL/2 is probably your best bet for an early DOS machine.  Just pop in a 5 1/4" drive to go with the 3.5".  The SL had the 5 1/4.  The only issue is they both used low density drives.  If possible put in high density drives and you can run a TON of stuff in its best possible format.  For EGA stuff without a Tandy mode see me in the 16 bit section as we have your back there.  They had hard disk options available as well but you need to look into that yourself.  Multiple drive sizes, bay sizes, and even formats.  I have managed to fit a 1 gig drive into a 486 machine running DOS 6.22 so who knows what you can manage?  The TL series and the RL/HD are also good choices.  Pay attention to specs to get the 1000 that does what you want.  You want to be able to run PC Booter software which was 5 1/4" floppy disks and stuff that doesn't have EGA, MCGA, or VGA graphics modes but does have Tandy graphics.   Or those REALLY old DOS games that just hate faster CPUs.

Release Date/Original Price: 1984/1200 US dollars (Tandy 1000.  Original IBM PC 1981, PC Jr 1983)

Notable Games:  81-88 era DOS was mostly the same stuff as on every other machine though sometimes inferior, other times superior.  If I need to list great DOS games something is wrong and why are you reading this?  (Also see resources entry after the 16 bit list.)

Emulation Options:  DOSBOX baby!  With the right front end and the correct options chosen you can pretty much run everything ever made from 81-97 in a great form, though some composite mode CGA stuff doesn't translate properly.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay:  300/200-300 depending on what comes in the machine.

Texas Instruments TI 99/4:

Texas Instruments TI 99/4.  The Superior 4A has a real keyboard but otherwise looks quite similar.  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Description:  Texas Instruments' entry into the computer market, it was a decent machine with BILL FREAKING COSBY as the spokesperson (Bill Shatner shilled for the Vic 20, Alan Alda the Atari 8 bits).  It was mostly killed because Commodore owned MOS Technologies and could make hardware much cheaper and was thus able to kill the low end computer market and still make a profit.

Specs:  3 mhz 16 bit TI TMS 9900 CPU, 16k-52k RAM, 256x192 16 colors, 3 voice 5 octave 1 noise sound.

My Experience:  I had a pal who got one from a yard sale.  (He got cool stuff at yard sales because his mom was awesome.)  I played a bit of Microsurgeon on it which was kind of rad but.. it didn't leave much of an impression on me.  Wasn't bad though.  I kind of wonder if he still has it, if it works, and how much he would want for it...

Recommended Model:  There is really only one model you want.  The TI 99/4A.  Its a shiny machine and the revised version which came out in 81 for 525 bucks.

Release Date/Original Price:  1979/1500 US dollars with color monitor.

Notable Games:  All I remember playing was Microsurgeon on it.  Also Parsec, and Tunnels of Doom.

Emulation Options:  Another one I haven't bothered with emulation of.  Tunnels of Doom has a fan remake, and a lot of games were either arcade ports or knockoffs.

Average Current Price/Amount I Would Pay: 50 bucks/the same.

Join me next time for GAMES TO PLAY/GAMES I REALLY WANT TO PLAY for these 8 bit machines and after that we can hit the 16 bit era in the same manner.  Thankfully waaay less machines to cover.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Retro Computing: Why Bother? Part 2: Terminology and Technology

Ok kids.  Here is where things get hairy.  Retro Game Computing, just like computing in general, is a bit of a pain.  Unlike game consoles which at their most complicated normally involve just getting an old tv, a game system from wherever the heck you are playing it at, some cartridges (or CDs), and plugging system to wall, controller to system, shoving game in the appropriate spot, and system to TV usually with RCA or RF cables, computers are much more in depth.

(Unless your computer is a portable one, or your console is a full Sega Genesis with CD and either 32x or Master System Converter.)

There are many computer types in the old days, and even more types of connectors and such.

Consider this your primer of terminology so we have an idea where to go.

First off you need to figure out WHERE you are playing your games and WHERE your games are coming from.

See for us English language folks there are really 3 places to be aware of.  North America and Japan which both use the same NTSC television output and have roughly the same power cords and voltages.  (Though it is HIGHLY recommended to get a convertor or voltage regulator if you plan on using Japanese machines in the US for more than an hour at a time.)  However in Europe their voltage and plugs tend to be different and they have the PAL and SECAM TV formats.  (PAL being the big one.)

PAL games don't always work on US computers.  In many cases they will either run too fast (hello Genesis port of Shadow of the Beast!), not work at all, or due to the resolution differences between the two regions, video may be discolored or go beyond the screen.

(In my Amiga days a convertor disk would allow many PAL programs to run on my NTSC Amiga but on my 19" TV set some programs would have 10% or so of the image out of the screen, making Pinball Dreams a bit difficult.  Now with a monitor you can adjust image size and prevent this.)

If you want to know about the joys of getting a UK computer system like the Sinclair Spectrum (which I insist is only beloved in the UK due to Stockholm Syndrome) I highly recommend this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqnIa4rXK_c&list=PLFDCFCDFCF7E7ACDD&index=7&feature=plpp_video

This is something to keep in mind.

But we will be talking about a lot of hardware and connections in this series/thread so we need more terminology.  Some of it I will go into greater depth in my Atari 8 bit coverage.  (If you are a blog follower of mine you will have already seen this.)  Some of it you the reader will add in.

First off.. computer keyboards.  In the 77-97 timeframe I think makes for the age of retro computing (meaning Windows 98 is out even though its a mostly superior version of Win 95 and if anyone is interested in old Wintel era computers I would HIGHLY recommend it over 95..) there were really 3 big formats of keyboard.

(The "standard" keyboard, in this case a PS/2 connector version from the Win 9x era.)

A standard keyboard is most like a typewriter keyboard.  More of the upscale computers used them.  You will find these in IBM clones, Commodore computers, most of the Atari 8 and STs, the Apple machines, and pretty much any machine that was halfway decent.  Some came built into the machine and others were detachable.  Many people STILL swear by the keyboard that came with the original IBM PC from 1981.

(The "membrane" keyboard on an Atari 400.  (Image from Wikimedia Commons))

Membrane keyboards tended to be on the cost reduced home computers made for children and families.  They were cheaper to make and more durable than a proper keyboard.  They also sucked royal ass for typing as you needed to use more pressure than a real keyboard plus no real tactile feedback.  On the upside they were pretty survivable.  Spill a little coffee on your modern Mac keyboard?  You are screwed.  Spill some on this?  Soft cloth.  (And maybe like, turn the machine off and unplug it.  Just in case.)

(The "chicklet" keyboard on a Sinclair Spectrum.  (Image from Wikimedia Commons))

Chicklet keyboards were a half measure between a proper keyboard and a membrane.  More tactile feedback than a membrane, more survivable than a proper keyboard, cheaper than a full keyboard.  But.. its a half measure as I said.  Have you used those older calculators with rubber keys?  Imagine coding on one or writing a college term paper.  Yeah.  They tend to have smaller than normal keys too.  

If you retro game compute those 3 keyboard types will be the ones you see and hear about the most.  Thankfully the proper keyboard won out.  (Though these days we have a wide variety of keyboards doing all sorts of things. So.. its back to square 1 again.)

Also most old computers had non universal game ports and controllers for such.  As this is about GAMING on the old computers I won't really go into detail about the joys of mice or paint tablets or such but they too exist.

In the short run there were 3 main types of controller for games (and a fourth if we count the mouse which ok yes.  Mice too.)


(A pair of digital joysticks using the Atari 9 pin connector.  A genuine 2600 stick and a late Amiga era Konix Speedking (Epyx 500 XJ) with 2 fire buttons.)

Digital sticks were most popular with the true home computers.  Normally having 4-8 way directional control when the stick was pushed in a cardinal direction with 1 fire button, most 80s computers had these as the standard.  While thanks to some companies like Sega we got multi button sticks and pads towards the end of the 80s, most games only know of a single button.  (Which is why so many UK computer platform games have pressing UP on the stick as jump.  Which on the Epyx stick above feels RIGHT, on a Sega Master System Control Pad it does not.)  These digital sticks aren't too great for games that could use analog control like racing or flight simulators, but for action and arcade titles they were pretty good.  When games started requiring more than one fire button hilarious things were done like using the keyboard (which in the case of many C64 games folks would take the computer, unplug it all, put it on the floor, plug it all back in, take off your shoes, and use your foot to hit the space bar!), making dongles for multistick games (great if you have 2 of the exact brand stick the item was made for..), or even things like the Lipstik which was a headset that would give you an extra fire button if you made a noise into it.

(This is why a single handed joystick that looks like a trigger with either a button on the top of the stick or the front, and a suction cup base is a HIGHLY recommended purchase.  One hand can control the stick, the other can manipulate keyboard commands.  One doesn't always have a NUMBER TWO you can give orders to in Star Raiders.  Plus its sort of nasty to stick the Epyx stick in your mouth while playing Ghostbusters because you NEED to be ready to hit that damned BAIT key when Stay Puft shows up.  I can neither confirm nor deny that I do this in spite of having at least 1 of these sort of suction cup sticks.)

There were SOME analog controllers as well such as Paddles and Trackballs. (And Mice of course.)

(A paddle (in this case a TV GAME paddle but a paddle nonetheless.  Note the RCA cable when we get to video! ) and a Track Ball.)

These were used for games that needed analog controls.  Not very popular or well utilized because not as many people had them.  But for the games that took advantage of these more analog devices they played far better than a digital joystick could ever control.  For games like Arkanoid, Missile Command, and Kaboom!, these sorts of controllers made all the difference.

While most of the old computers use the Atari 9 pin interface I have shown above, some require an interface to plug said sticks into (like many of the Spectrum line) unless you want to have to play with the keyboard, others use a "DIN" connector if not their own proprietary connections.

(A NEC Turbostick (yes its a console controller.  But its a good example dammit!) showing off a pair of DIN connectors.)

Of course on the IBM PCs and Apple IIs the main input were Analog joysticks.  Normally having two fire buttons, analog sticks had.. well they do what analog sticks do today.  Except they required calibration by adjusting the X/Y dials on the controller.  For flight games they were excellent.  For precision arcade action they.. were not so good.  Which is why for many people in the days they just used the handy keyboard controls.  (Really easy on most IBM clones as they have those handy arrow keys.)  I do not have a standard analog controller but I do have a Flight Stick type:

(A CH Flightstick (Normal version, not the 4 button and "hat" Pro edition sadly) with late DOS era joystick connector.  Note the throttle dial on one side (that few games ever acknowledged), and the calibration dial on the other.  This stick lead me to victory in many a classic title.  Kilrathi and enemy Battlemechs all fell to this stick's near perfection.)

In the latter DOS days there were digital joypads made and I HIGHLY recommend a Gravis Gamepad or Gamepad Pro if you want to play action and arcade titles on the PC.  

I am sure you all know what a Computer Mouse is.  The only note I will make is that in the days of retro computing 2 button mice were the most common (unless you were a Mac user then enjoy 1), though there were some 3 button jobs available.  Mice were great for RPGs, strategy games, or for later era machines that had games which in earlier years would have had trackball or paddle support.

We can't forget light guns either but for retro computing they were rather rare.  
(Just get a good S Video tube TV set, and a Playstation 1 and 2 with the Guncon 1 and 2.  Its all the light gun glory you REALLY need.  Maybe a Saturn if you are a Virtua Cop sort.)

Of course now that we know how to control our machines to play games on them, we need a manner of feeding games to our new old toys.

(The 4 main storage solutions of the 80s.  (Left to right.) Cassette, 5 1/4" floppy, Cartridge, 3 1/2" floppy.)

(An Atari 1010 Cassette Drive.  My Play button is broken so I have to have the front lid off so I can manually press the button.)

Cassettes were the main purview of the late 70s and to the early 90s if you were in the UK and Europe.  Many tape drives were dedicated with their own proprietary controllers (like the Atari and Commodore), but many were just your run of the mill tape recorders' output cable plugged into the computer.  (Which allows for modern types to use a computer or MP3 player sometimes.)  

These sorts of drives were popular because they were cheap (many people already owned tape recorders in their homes, or at least it was easy to just use your average C 30 or C60 blank tapes).  However they were slow and temperamental, also usually not allowing for large games.  I honestly do NOT recommend cassette drives or any system using one.  While the tapes tend to be pretty durable in comparison with some of the other magnetic media, they are slow, annoying, and sometimes the drive just feels like eating and killing your rare game.  (Like my single side edition of Temple of Apshai.  Bite me Atari 1010.)

Cartridges should really be simple to anyone interested in old gaming.  It is a little plastic box with some metal contacts.  Many old computers had spots in the top or back to plug one in.  The benefit is they were durable as hell, did not require folks to buy additional hardware besides the base computer unit, and at the time hard to pirate.  The downsides are the expense of the cartridge hardware, the lack of being able to save game data, and the price tended to keep the games on these things on the small side.

Now the main media storage device of the retro computer:

The Disk Drive!

(An Atari 1050 5 1/4" drive from the XL series.)  

For North American computer enthusiasts, the humble 5 1/4" disk drive was the alpha and the omega.  Being relatively speedy compared to cassettes, allowing for loading in of assets when required, allowing for easy saving of game data, and allowing for nearly limitless game size depending on how many disks and disk sides the game publisher was willing to splurge for, the 5 1/4" disk was the king of the 80s.  Nearly any computer worth a damn used them in some fashion.  The only problem was the expense of the drive (usually equal to TWICE what the base machine cost), and it being mechanical lead to many drives dying, especially when publishers came up with particularly brutal forms of copy protection on the disk, or end users smacking them around.  (Which sometimes happened when one was trying to quickly eject the disk before Wizardry decided to permanently save your entire party you spent 100s of hours developing as dead and gone for good because you ran into a bad encounter.)  

5 1/4" disks were generally cheap to buy, and a pair of scissors or a hole puncher could turn a single sided disk into a double.  Some machines even had non flipping double sided disk access.  Also in many cases one could buy a second floppy disk and many games (and of course pirating software) would take advantage of the extra disk to keep one from swapping disks every time you moved from Area A to Area B.  (Or any time you tried to talk with someone in Ultima 6 on the Commodore 64.)  5 1/4" disks require a sleeve when not in use as there is a BIG hole where the magnetic surface is exposed to the elements.  These disks are a bit on the fragile side.

Most 5 1/4" disks held around 300 kilobytes of data over both sides, though some had more or less depending on the era of the drive.  (Early Atari 8 bit drives held less than 100 K a side.  Late DOS era 5 1/4 drives had 1.2 megabytes of space.)

(A 3.5" floppy drive from the last days of DOS.  And its friend nearby, a super speedy 8X CDROM.)

In the 16 bit computers and DOS machines around 1991 or so, 3.5" floppy disks took over.  Not requring a paper sleeve to protect the disks and being capable of automatically accessing both sides, the 3.5" disk improved upon the 5 1/4 in nearly every way.  They were smaller, tougher, held around 720K (late DOS was 1.44 megs) and normally loaded faster with write protection being a simple sliding tab as opposed to needing a piece of tape over the notch hole.  In my experience they don't seem to have the durability of their 5 1/4" counterparts in spite of normally being made of sterner stuff.

I don't really need to bring up Hard Disk Drives and CD ROM Drives as we still have them today.  Outside of the later DOS and Macintosh machines, these 2 now common (in the case of CD ROM merely a legacy component as part of the DVD and Blu Ray standards that themselves are slowly dying as we become a high speed web connected and property owning disconnected society..) media storage and playback devices were uncommon if not ABSURDLY expensive.  

The final part of this installment is VIDEO SOLUTIONS.  One needs a way to connect their machine to a video output system so one can like see what is going on.

While some machines had integrated monitors, more did not.  

Going in rough order of worst to best we have:

VHF Screws
  (A VHF switchbox screwed into a 19" TV from 1987.  This is AFTER I dusted it.  It is a very dusty room and a very old TV set.)  

VHF screws were a common sight in the 70s and 80s TV.  You took your RF cable from the computer, plugged it into the switchbox, and then screwed the 2 leads in as shown above.  This was the WORST picture quality possible, with tons of interference.  It can be even worse if you need a VHF to Coaxial convertor.  (Not shown because if your computer is so old you have to do this?  FOR CTHULHU/GODZILLA/THAT ALLICORN PRINCESS HORSIE'S SAKE EMULATE INSTEAD!)  These days on Ebay you can find little plugs that let you take the RF cable and plug it into said plug you stick in the Coaxial spot.

(A Coaxial plug (screw type) and a Coaxial input next to a pair of RCA audio in jacks.)

And hey.. Coaxial (or Cable Ready, if you're nasty)!

See once Cable became common in the US, TVs started to come CABLE READY with the coaxial inputs built right in providing a better picture.  So instead of needing a TV/Game switch you just plugged or screwed the Coaxial right in, providing a better and more reliable picture.  

But for many of these computers, the best output solution at the time was a Composite Monitor!
(RCA Jack styled Composite Monitor connectors)

Composite monitors were sharper, smaller, better TV sets, many of which could even have VCRs play through them at a higher quality.  Things you could not do with most TV sets of the day like horizontal and vertical image adjustment were standard.  The IBM PC CGA even used Composite as a way to get more than 4 colors out of its hideously dismal and laughable on screen palette!

(The party in the back of a Commodore 1084 monitor.  Note the VCR mode button, the RCA style inputs, and the 2 DIN type video connectors next to it.  You also see a couple of the image adjustment dials.)

Different machines used different sorts of connectors to connect to a Composite output.  In many cases you could use the same monitor provided you had the correct cables.  Though some machines in the same family had some that were RF ONLY!   

(Or in the Amiga 500's case you needed to buy a 50 odd dollar dongle to connect to a TV set or certain types of outputs...)

And last but not least is the PC VGA! 
A PC VGA cable.  

(A flat panel but not flat screen SVGA era monitor.  Because the one that came with this machine is smaller and has SD Sailor Moon stickers on the side.  What the hell was WRONG with me in the 90s?)

Super crisp and super sharp, the VGA standard was around for years.  Depending on what monitor and video card your machine has you can cover almost every PC video mode in the retro era.  (Except for Tandy Graphics.  We will get to that in a later post.)

While in many cases one CAN use modern flat screen LCD TVs (and possibly a VCR or DVD player to improve video for some machines), or get improved modern solutions like SVideo dongles for older computers, the above are more or less the main types of video you will be dealing with.

Of course these older monitors and TVs are large, heavy, awkward, and thick, but you can use light guns with them which sort of counts for something.  And ALMOST makes up for the lack of widescreen that almost nothing in that era used anyhow.

But now that we have our concepts.. how the hell do we store some of our stuff?

First off:

Keep your hardware and software out of your basement or attic.

A huge percentage of my 3.5 DOS and Amiga disk collection are dead because of my humid basement.  Try to keep your collection in a low humidity 60-80 degrees F. environment.  

Also dust and clean your stuff properly.  (We will get into that later.)

(My main Atari 8 bit computer storage tub.  Boxed games stacked carefully, loose cartridges in a Zip Loc type baggie (baggies: not just for dank nugz any more!), loose manuals kept flat.)

Plastic storage tubs are a great bet.  You can fit a lot in them depending on size of the tub, and possibly even put in those DO NOT EAT dessicant thingies.  A good way to keep your boxed games safe.  Given how many games are in cardboard boxes this keeps the dust away, the light away, and keeps them from crushing each other.

(My loose Atari 8 bit floppies including ancient as hell disk sleeves.)

For loose 5 1/4" floppies I recommend getting the biggest disk holder you can find.  These things were quite common in the day and do a good job of keeping your loose floppies from being destroyed or damaged.  You can still hurt these disks even with the sleeves on them.  I had some douchebag in Junior High (who was 13 in 6th grade.. making him 15 or 16 when this happened in 8th) rub his hands over the data spot on one of my disks to destroy my copy of Gauntlet even with the sleeve on.  Luckily he being obviously hard of thinking didn't realize all he did was mangle a backup copy.  Keep your disks safe folks!

(My DOS 3.5" mega disk container.  It protected them from everything but the humidity of the downstairs closet.  But for the disks who died I have ebay and "Abandonware" sites to recover the data for games I bought back in the day.)

And there are even more for 3.5" disks as well.  If you don't have the original packaging to keep your games in you should get a specialized case.

For you poor sods with Cassette games you can sometimes use normal Cassette tape storage boxes that were sold at the time and the rest can probably just be binned.

If possible get dust covers for your hardware and if you have access to them, the packing cardboard or plastic that were placed in disk drives for storage.

Next time:

What machines are available?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The (Stuff)-Tech/Macross/Related Stuff Collection Megapost Part 4: Mechwarrior Dark Age

The late 90s were a bad time for Battletech.  FASA died, much of it related to the situation with Harmony Gold.

But.. there was hope.  Jordan Weisman, one of the original creators of Battletech had a new company, Wizkids.  They started producing the first prepainted collectible miniatures game known as Mage Knight Rebellion.  Like most games he had a hand in, it was heavily flawed.  (And it died when a major revision came out that basically made the old figures both underpowered AND illegal in tournament play, something that seems to be the life blood of any collectibles game.  Most people just up and quit.  A hasty patch to bring the old miniatures back into legal play came out but it was too little, too late.)

But it introduced the clicky base system.  This involved almost all the stats of your model being printed right on it's base with a dial you could turn as it took damage, and colors being used to give units universal abilities, the latter of which would become a near de facto rules mechanic in so many games, collectible or not.

Heroclix would be the only game from Wizkids to survive in any fashion, continuing even when the company would be sold to Topps who ended up closing the entire operation down and mostly keeping it as an IP house to license to other companies.  (Currently "Collector Toy" manufacturer NECA is doing the Wizkids properties.  Though the Battletech rights are really messed up, being divided between Topps and Microsoft.  It's hard to keep track of who owns WHAT.)

They announced a Battletech game, to be called Mechwarrior: Dark Age.

Battletech fans were excited but apprehensive.  Would it be a collectible game like Mage Knight?  Would it just be a revision of Battletech?  Would it use the terrible clicky base system?

The former and latter were correct.  The middle was not.

It was doomed from the start.  While a CCG Battletech game had a small level of popularity in the 90s (Magic and the kid show CCGs really seem to be the only games to survive and thrive then and now, though Fantasy Flight Games' LGC format style appears to do ok.) what Battletech players wanted was.. MORE BATTLETECH.  Not a clicky base blind buy collectibles game.

Add in that your average miniatures painter (the online ones anyhow) seem to be elitists and scoff at any prepaint no matter how nice (or that some of us don't have the time, skill, desire, or even in some cases PHYSICAL ABILITY to paint) and being able to just pop out the models from the box and play and we see more problems.

Now the clicky game barely feels like whatever IP it is used with.  Its too "generic".  When I played Heroclix it really felt so abstract that it could have been ANYTHING on the base.  I never felt like Batman was fighting Doctor Doom.  While Mechwarrior Dark Age used proper measuring tape and even had a special heat dial on the base it.. it didn't much feel like Battletech.

I think it was the best of the click base games Wizkids made (with Horrorclix a close second, though it adds in a "Drama Card" type mechanic to add in more of a proper horror feel) but it had issues and also fell prey to much of what killed Mage Knight.  They did a heavy revision that while it didn't totally wipe out the older models, in many ways it did make them less useful.  I admit they sort of had to revise things as the meta game favored everything OTHER than Battlemechs, with degenerate tactics not only winning the day, but driving off the playerbase that did exist.

(Snooty Battletech players mocking the game and the players didn't help either.)

Yet MWDA had yet ANOTHER hurdle to overcome.  A CANON TIME JUMP IN THE STORYLINE.
See at the time the Battletech timeline had moved mostly slowly to the mid to late 3060s.  MWDA shot forward to the 3130s.  Nearly every character from the old timeline was now dead (or soon would be), and there was a technological regression that never really made sense.  (In fact tech got overpowered, making it all sort of pointless.)

See they started an event that is just now finishing up in the normal Battletech game, The Word of Blake Jihad.   While this was something started in storyline beats during the FASA days, the fans couldn't understand how a break off faction from Comstar (basically a mixture of a telecom and the Catholic Church) could cause such a massive war as to send the Inner Sphere back to the point armies were taking industrial class Mechs and using their forestry chainsaws or backhoes as weapons.  A quarter of the Inner Sphere by the end of this Jihad that was mostly glossed over turned into a new faction.

This did not sit well with a fanbase already in many cases irritated by the Clan Invasion which did a similar time jump deal (but only around 20 years and they you know.. kept the same game system!) and totally changed how the story would proceed.

(If some of the reports I hear are true the Jihad and the results of it in the MWDA timeline is REALLY REALLY STUPID.)

But..  let's get on to what I have from MWDA instead of me just writing paragraphs trying not to be a complaining fanboy.

This was the starter set I bought even after getting the normal cheaper one.  I believe I got it at Toys R Us on a fun day myself and some friends basically goofed off all day and drove around the region buying stuff and having a good time.  It had exclusive minis in it?  How could I not?

 This picture here shows the original rule book and the information card showing those color blocks I mentioned above.  The colored dials are from the later expansion units and are infamous for basically killing the game, making artillery units the main game winner.  the ring is a click dial mover for the smaller pieces.  Bad enough in a measuring tape minis game having to pick up your model to turn the base, but the design made these ring turners almost essential!  The bad handwriting paper was my list of what I had whenever I wrote it and is long out of date.  The little plastic pilot card is from the revised edition of the game I mentioned.  The little file card was something used to give the game more fluff and backstory.  See certain mechs were piloted by named characters.  These little file cards had pilot info and mech info in them.  The colored dice at the bottom are the 2 of 1 color, 1 of another faction dice they released back in the day.  I was able to buy the Nova Cat and House Davion loyalist sets, and over the years I found those other two d6s.

Now the main part.  THE MINIS.  To make life easier for me and you the reader, I am gonna show you some mech models, going left to right.  To the best of my knowledge these are all versions of mechs that also exist in normal Battletech.  Go to Sarna net and PgDwn once and you will see links to all the mechs.  You can compare and contrast the Battletech design art to MWDA's for these.  Also note I used my photo editing (such as it is.  I so miss iPhoto on my Macs..) and its "autocorrect" feature which brightens things up.  Some of these models aren't quite so eyepopping in color vibrancy in real life.

 Black Hawk, Black Knight, Centurion, Firestarter

 Cougar, Griffin (Phoenix Refit), Hatchetman, Locust (Phoenix Refit)

 Mad Cat, Mad Cat 2, Marauder II (Phoenix Refit), Mongoose

 Osiris, Rifleman, Spider, Zeus, Vulture 
(Ooops put the last 2 in the wrong order.  V before Z.  Curse my alphabetical failure during photography!)

 And since I had almost forgotten the Catapult we will use it as a close up view of the detail and paint work.  I say they look really nice.  Not perfect but in general better than I could do.  And Wizkids' paint allowed one to easily paint right on top and customize if one wished.

(You can't do this with Wizards of the Coasts' collectible minis.  Paint slides right off of them.)

Yes purists may be mad many mechs have changed looks for whatever reason.  But the Mechwarrior computer games have modifications to the designs, and the two upcoming Free to Play online games both are revamping the looks of them as well, in most cases looking MUCH better than the original 80's designs.

(My Mecharrior Online Catapult.  A1 chassis with nothing but glorious missile bays.)

 And the rest of the mech minis I have from MWDA.  Sadly I don't have any of the Age of Destruction or later miniatures which included 3 legged designs, super heavies that go beyond 100 tons, and even some ridiculous Solaris mechs in silly colors, some of which may be piloted by zombie Mechwarriors.  I AM NOT JOKING THIS IS ACTUALLY A THING THEY RELEASED.

 Because I am lazy this is where all my tanks, helos, and infantry minis are.  Plus more stuff from Scrye (we will get to that.) as well.  I need another of these card boxes to comfortably fit all of it.

This here is a good 95% of my Clan Nova Cat loyalist mini collection.  Like most of my photos you can click to see them bigger.  I basically tried to collect one faction and I like the Nova Cats because they are kind of hippies.  And these models make grey and white WORK as a paint scheme.  Plus unlike most of Warhammer 40K's Space Marine chapters, their colors have some uses for terrain specific camo.

 Around this time they also released some Mechwarrior branded merchandise.  This here is a die cast model kit of the Mad Cat.  They call it the Mad Cat II but its the original classic Mad Cat design.

I am still not sure why I haven't assembled this.  I was planning on repainting it in some color scheme but for the life of me I cannot remember what.  I also never saw these for sale outside of the Internet.

 The back of the box gives us some basic stats of the mech proving its the original Mad Cat, a bit of fluff about the Dark Age setting, and pictures of the 4 mechs released in their pre built versions.  I always sort of intended to get the pre build Mad Cat at the various stores that carried them (including Gamestop IIRC) but they never went down in price.  They merely disappeared.  I would not have minded the Jupiter and Forestry Mod mech for cheap but the Legionnaire?  That is one ugly mech!

 The box has a nice little flap you can flip up and see some of the pieces including the pilot.  I am not sure why the flap shows the normal Battletech Atlas but.. there you go.

 They also released around 25 novels.  I seemed to have stopped with only a handful of them.  I did buy the hardback art book Technology of Destruction though.  And I still have a now out of business Scrye magazine with lots of MWDA in it.

 The art book is pretty nice and wasn't too expensive (unlike the current Battletech art book) though it is really just covering the MWDA era.  Plenty of nice CGI renders of the mechs too.  It even has a fold out map in the middle of that new faction that got control of the center of the Inner Sphere in it.  Which is terrifying to fold out.

 This is a nice picture showing what a big battle could look like.  The big Dropship in the top left corner?  It was actually a thing you could get.  I forget exactly what kind of hoops you had to jump and how ridiculously expensive it was, but you could have a to scale Dropship.  I still sort of want one, but I seriously doubt they are easy to find, or I could get it for under 50 bucks with shipping.

(However a LOT of the Wizkids big items like this can be gotten for a fraction of original price.  Horrorclix' Great Cthulhu, the Halo Scarab, the Mage Knight Castle..)

 And an example of the MWDA content from Scrye.  See it was a magazine that came out in the 90s mostly to capitalize on the Magic boom.  It was a gaming magazine and price guide but it only covered collectible games for the most part.  In some ways it was similar to the Wizard group family of magazines except it wasn't written with childish bathroom humor (even though that was the entire reason for reading Toyfare), and it didn't have the biases the Wizard publications all had in them.  (Their gaming magazine was called Inquest. )  Also my experiences were that people actually took Scrye's price guide as a general bible for collectible games.  Wizard Groups not so much.  

But like many enthusiast magazines the Internet killed them.  (And ebay made a laughing stock out of the Toyfare guide any how.  These days you want to know how much something is worth?  Just get an average of what something sells for there.  Or the average on Amazon.com.  Though the latter has some amazingly inflated prices that nobody seems to actually PAY..)

On the left side is an example of Scrye's price guide, while the ripped out pages (from another issue.  I never really kept Scrye issues.  I just ripped out the pages for the games I played.) on the right are a list of figure stats which would be handy for knowing what to buy and trade for.

While I have been a bit hard on MWDA here I honestly do kind of like the game.  The models are really nice and there are even free rules on the Battletech website (I have the original hardcopy of them) to use them in place of the normal scaled minis.

The problem is the fanbase outright revolted against the game or even using the models.  It didn't matter that BECAUSE of Wizkids and this game that the normal Battletech game was licensed out to Fanpro and then Catalyst.  To the kind of spergy fanboys that seem to flock to Battletech and take it all entirely too seriously this game was an abomination on all levels with no redeeming factors.

And that killed whatever chance it had beyond the Topps sale and closure of Wizkids.

Collectible games need active player communities and an influx of new product.  Battletech fans and Jordan Weisman's usual mistakes with games and game companies ensured this was not going to happen for any length of time.

(Next time, back to Battletech the original!  I have more stuff!  Plus that lovely MERCHANDISING.)


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