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#1 decle OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jan 1, 2018 3:43 AM

Happy New Year Intellivision Brotherhood. :)

Shamelessly jumping on the "Download xyz game..." bandwagon...

2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of probably the worst video game console, ever.  Unfortunately, the Unisonic Champion 2711 is also the Intellivision's little brother and the black sheep of the General Instrument family.  To celebrate this, it seemed appropriate to dust off Li'l Bro and give it a fresh lick of paint.  In addition to Blackjack and Baccarat ported in 2016, versions of the four cartridges originally released by Unisonic will also be included.  Here is a little flavour of the new version:

 



You can find the new ROMs here, over in the programming forum.  Sorry, no carts or boxes, but there are instructions, overlays and boxart:

 

instructions.png   overlay.png

If you like what you see, remember to look back once in a while, as I will be releasing the remaining titles over the next few weeks.


Thanks

decle

 



#2 Intymike OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jan 1, 2018 7:38 AM

Starting it just for the title screen! soooo awesome!



#3 JasonlikesINTV OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 1:09 AM

I love all the music in this. Vince Guaraldi and ragtime.

#4 S1500 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 7:46 AM

Wow, I never heard of the Unisonic console until now.



#5 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 11:29 AM

I spent part of the weekend reading up on the Unisonic Champion's video/sound chip (AY-3-8800, aka the GIC), since that it one of the big differences from the Intellivision.

 

In a nutshell, interesting but limited since it can only do text and playing card symbols.  Kind of neat to learn about from a historical perspective.  I see some design choices they carried over from the GIC to the STIC that the Intellivision uses.



#6 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 11:58 AM

If the Unisonic Champion is the Intellivision's little brother, did anyone built the Intellivision's baby brother?  The Intellivision is pretty close to the General Instrument design for their "Full Range" console while the Unisonic Champion is the "Mid Range".

 

General Instruments did design an "Economy" console as well.  In a nutshell, the console was just the joysticks, rifle, the AY-3-8615 color chip, an RF modulator, and a number of switches and buttons for selecting the games.  Unlike your typical console, the cartridges had the true brains.  The cartridge chips were just pong chips with a slightly modified pinout.

 

I poked around on the Internet a bit but could not find any company that implemented a cartridge-based pong system that used the AY-3-8615.



#7 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 2:04 PM

 
General Instruments did design an "Economy" console as well.  In a nutshell, the console was just the joysticks, rifle, the AY-3-8615 color chip, an RF modulator, and a number of switches and buttons for selecting the games.  Unlike your typical console, the cartridges had the true brains.  The cartridge chips were just pong chips with a slightly modified pinout.
 
I poked around on the Internet a bit but could not find any company that implemented a cartridge-based pong system that used the AY-3-8615.


Ok, it turns out that there were a whole litter of baby brothers and sisters for the Intellivision. Since the Atari and Intellivision were slow to get to Europe and Asia, a number of inter-compatible cartridge Pong systems were popular there. This Italian Wiki page covers some of them.
https://it.m.wikiped...ki/Serie_PC-50x

#8 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 3:16 PM

Yes, the ay-3-8615 just added colour to the ay-3-8600 series of dedicated video games.  That GI pong chip and it's predecessor the ay-3-8500 were very popular.  The ay-3-8615 was in the Magnavox Odyssey 4000, Coleco Telstar Galaxy, and Unisonic Olympian 2600.  It's predecessor, the ay-3-8500 was in the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard pong games and lots of others.  General Instrument might have been responsible for the first video game crash in the 1970s.  No CPU or software, so not much in relation to the Intellivision.   Still, the Unisonic Olympian does look like more fun than the CP1610 powered Unisonic Champion.

 

http://www.pong-story.com/mypongs.htm

 

I played a bit of 5 card draw poker on the Unisonic Champion port.  I quickly bankrupt the computer player and I seem to have gotten a lot of hands with three 4s.  So I don't think it's a very good poker simulator.  And that's not a comment on the port to Intellivision but a comment on the original program.

 

A little off topic but when the General Instrument 1977 and 1978 catalogs are compared, the offering went from one CP1610 programmable Gimini system in 1977 to two in 1978.  The 1977 GI catalog system had an ay-3-8900 stic but it looked more like the Unisonic Champion.  The 1978 catalog had a "mid-range" ay-3-8950 (actually ay-3-8800) based system that was identical to the 1977 ay-3-8900.  The 1978 "full-range" ay-3-8900 stic is what we might recognise as the Intellivision STIC.  So what happened between 1977 and 1978.  Well in 1977 General Instrument engineers met Mattel engineers and they started working on making changes to the Gimini programmable system you see in the 1977 catalog.  That includes the famous ay-3-8914/10 sound processor.  How much input did Mattel engineers have; some of that can be found in the papaintellivision.com documents.


Edited by mr_me, Tue Jan 2, 2018 3:29 PM.


#9 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 2, 2018 4:13 PM

Even Atari/Sears moved from their own Pong implementation to using AY-3-8500 in the Hockey-Pong variant, so if you like there is at least one Atari console that uses chips from a manufacturer otherwise associated with Intellivision. Of course the AY-3-891X sound chip was present in a lot of products, eventually even in the Atari ST if you consider the Yamaha chip to be its successor.



#10 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 1:27 AM

Unfortunately, while those systems do use various GI chips, including the AY-3-8915, none of those systems qualify as baby brothers and sisters to the Intellivision because they don't follow the "Economy" console design of being cartridge based.

 

Perhaps the non-cartridge box pong systems could be considered embryos to the Intellivision?

 

--- techno-babble to follow ---

 

In comparing the 1978 "TV Game Circuits" catalog to the 1978 "Data Catalog" to the 1977 "Data Catalog", there are some interesting differences (as mentioned by mr_me):

  • 8600 family is referred to as "Economy", "Economy", or not mentioned (respective to above catalog order).  This is the cartridge-based pong console.
  • 8950 family is referred to as "Mid Range", "Challenger", or not mentioned* (respectively).  This is the Unisonic Challenger system.
  • 8900 family is referred to as "Full Range", "Deluxe", or mentioned* as the only system (respectively).  This is very close to the Intellivision system.

* I agree with mr_me that the AY-3-8900 was changed between 1977 and 1978 due to the Mattel engineers.  Good catch on that mr_me; I overlooked that completely until you mentioned it.  The 1978 chip is definitely the STIC we know.  The 1977 STIC chip shares features that the real STIC has and features the AY-3-8800/8950 video chip that the Champion has.  However, the 1977 chip seems much closer in design to the STIC than the 8800/8950.  The 1977 chip has external GROM with the same 2KB size as the Intellivision and the 1977 chip has the same 240 tile positions on the screen (the 8800/8950 video chip is internal ROM only, only has 64 hardcoded shapes it can display).  However, the 1977 chip does not show support for GRAM (same as the 8800/8950) and mentions it has unspecified sound capabilities (the 8800/8950 also can produce 3 tones).  Overlappingly, the 1977 datasheet shows example card game graphics that look very similar to the 8800/8950 (though not identical) but also shows other game graphics that are simply impossible on the 8800/8950.  Lastly, the 1977 chip is listed as having 6 colors plus black and white which sounds similar to the STIC's primary colors but the 1977 chip is missing the 8 pastel colors but has more colors than the 4 hardcoded colors of the 8800/8950.

 

Interestingly, some the 8950 family reference designs show using an optional AY-3-8910 sound chip instead or or in addition to the sound the 8800/8950 video chip can do



#11 Gernot OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 6:38 AM

Yeah, awesome music, awesome artwork.

 

But unfortunately Li'l Bro don't likes to play Blackjack with me, it won't go over the title screen.

 

I'm using JZIntv, standard exec and grom, it crashes as soon as i press any button and quits with no error message "exited by user request".

 

The other two "Family Fun" and "Poker" work fine (as it seems, i didn't played but they enter the program).

 

What was your idea to take "Linus"? i'm my big sisters li'l bro and she used to compare me to him, 'cause i always left a track of dirt behind me apart from that i couldn't be seperated from my "safty blanket" (cool), how could you know this?

snoopy-linus-linus-peanuts.jpg


Edited by Gernot, Wed Jan 3, 2018 7:06 AM.


#12 decle OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 8:00 AM

But unfortunately Li'l Bro don't likes to play Blackjack with me, it won't go over the title screen.

 
Apologies, and thanks for highlighting that, it was my bad.  Last minute bug fix, that broke things.  I have uploaded new versions of all three ROMs in the programming forum.
 

Starting it just for the title screen! soooo awesome!

 

I love all the music in this. Vince Guaraldi and ragtime.

 

Yeah, awesome music, awesome artwork.


Thanks guys. You might have noticed that the title screen has six voices, but the ragtime tune during game play only has two. This is because my music engine needs a significant overhaul and time beat me.  However, in the new archives I have uploaded you will find two versions of each ROM.  The new one, with ECS in the name, will play 5 voices during game play if the ECS is enabled (without the ECS, the tune sounds a bit weird, which is why I initially limited things to two voices - the final voice is dedicated to the Unisonic beeper).  And for those that like the ragtime I have also included a musoPlayer.rom which will play just the in game tune with 5 voices at full volume.
 
All the rag time tunes are converted using MusoCheat from MIDI arrangements by Warren Trachtman.
 

What was your idea to take "Linus"?


Close, but it is not Linus ;)


Edited by decle, Wed Jan 3, 2018 8:56 AM.


#13 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 10:05 AM

Lathe26 is right, the 1977 stic looks to be more or less the same as the 1978 stic. Changes are mostly external to the stic chip like going from 12-bit ram to 16/14-bit ram allowing for more colours or addressing more tile/object patterns. My copy of the 1977 catalog is blurry and hard to read. The introduction of the "mid-range" chip in 1978 is odd because it looks like it was meant for the card games shown in the 1977 catalog. It was like, just as Mattel asked GI in 1977 for something better, someone went to GI and said we are only interested in the card games and GI made a chip for them.

#14 Gernot OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 5:11 PM

ok, he's a hybrid.

 

i hope you don't mind if i link some of the quite rare informations about this system,

 

http://www.ccjvq.com/slydc/

 

(that isn't you decle who's hosting this site?)

 

When buttons (pressed once and releases after) still was switches (switches permanently from state A to B).

2711book.jpg

At least the controllers are cordless, that's quite something but limits it to this two (three) buttons if you used only a single channel.

Many cordless toys worked this way back then, to steer a car you had to drive backwards, forward it goes straight, backward it turns.

You had a switch on the bottom of the car to lock the steering.

 

Note: "Game Cable" even if it means something complete different, the antenna cord.

 

when i look at this layout (and the usual useless naming of every little tidbit) i found it interesting that this "console" (as far as it's the right term for this) has no joysticks

(i expected it). A console without joysticks? Not many games will be possible to play if you can only answer Yes/No.

Interesting is also the very large reset button (looks like a safety pedal, kick it when in danger) which is also on the controller - just in case of accident.

But hey you can reset the console from the controller, that's quite unique.

 

Besides the idea isn't that stupid, how many times you wished you wouldn't had to move to reset the intellivision?

I remember well that it annoyed me to press after nearto every game "reset" on the console.

But if you have only two buttons, the reset button is more like a third button, it looks a bit better with three.

 

Further i find the description of the controller very interesting, it's not player 1/2 it's LEFT TEAM / RIGHT TEAM, you play this machine intentionally as a team, as it looks.

One teammate is using "Yes", one is using "No" and the third teammate (3 makes a team), waits patiently to press the reset button (in case of accident).

Imagine up to 6 (!) players could play with this console.

 

If you snoop the description in posted above you will find a couple of unreleased games.

Further the original instruction booklets, which are extraordinary in size for the sort of game.

 

mr_me:

you must be a outraging poker player, at least miles better as "Jimmy the Greek".

 

"Jimmy says: Playing against the magic brain (!) of Tournament 2711 (it's the same machine before they changed the name to "champion") is a real challange for even the MOST EXPERIENCED player! Here's your chance to beat Jimmy the Greek at his own game".

 

jimmy2.jpg

 

 

Champion 2711, "the magic brain" i'm impressed.

 

43% of the "switches" are reset buttons!

 

(how the heck, do they have generated the system names? the numbers are completely random i feel when i look at these old systems. 2711, but it sounds quite good spelled

"twentyseven eleven" - "when seven becomes eleven").

 

Fortunately and really fortunately Mattel stayed away from a large number for the Intellivision Master Component.

 

i.e. "Intellivision 1929".


Edited by Gernot, Wed Jan 3, 2018 5:54 PM.


#15 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 5:31 PM

That is slydc's site.



#16 bikeguychicago OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 9, 2018 10:51 AM

It's interesting that Lil' Bro had smaller fonts than its big brother.



#17 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 9, 2018 12:57 PM

I don't think it's smaller, but definitely thinner than the standard intellivision font. What you are looking at are Intellivision ports of the unisonic champion rom code. The Intellivision can't bitmap much of the screen so the graphics are Intellivision 20x12 tile graphics.

Edited by mr_me, Tue Jan 9, 2018 12:58 PM.


#18 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jan 9, 2018 1:49 PM

Yeah, decle had to slightly shift the characters left or right slightly to adapt the Champion's graphics to line up with the Intellivision's tiles. Thus, the spacing between them are slightly different.

Luckily for decle, the Champion's video chip (GIC) has exactly 64 characters/symbols in its ROM (4 of which are likely repeats). Thus, there is just enough GRAM in the Intellivision to hold them all. Also, the GIC is also tile-based (no surprise) and it is close enough the STIC's tile arrangement (see attached images).

I will say that I am impressed by decle's work on what has to be a labor of love.

page_7_082.png

page_7_083.png

#19 decle OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:42 PM

Hey guys,

First up, I have added Li'l Bro ii versions of the final two games released by Unisonic.  As before, you can download the ROMs, box art and instructions over in the programming forum, here:

lilBroArithmeticPrimer.gif
 
Surely though, a 40th birthday is worthy of more celebration than a rehash of four card game cartridges and the worst version of Math Fun ever?
 
bg.png
 
Well, let's wait and see... ;)
 
The rest of this is defintely only for those that do not suffer from TL;DR...
 

What was your idea to take "Linus"?


I was actually aiming for Linus' little brother, Rerun Van Pelt (it seemed appropriate). However, being a Peanuts lightweight I think I might have accidentally picked an image of Linus for the box art.  Ahh well.
 

Wow, I never heard of the Unisonic console until now.

 
Given the discussion of the Champion I thought a brief run down of why it is considered the Intellivision's little brother and why it is so rubbish might be helpful for those that are unfamiliar with the machine.

 

The Unisonic Champion is a microprocessor based cartridge system that shares the rather unusual CP-1610 CPU and 10bit ROMs with the Intellivision.

 

the Unisonic Champion is the "Mid Range".

 

As Lathe26 and mr_me highlight, like the Intellivision, the Unisonic Champion is based on a General Instrument reference design, in this case the Gimini Mid-Range system:

 

datasheet.png

 

Like the Gimini Deluxe design that underpins the Intellivision, the graphics chip in the Mid-Range system, the Graphics Interface Chip (GIC), is the heart of the design and controls everything, including the CPU.

 

Whilst the Intellivision's graphics chip (the STIC) is quirky and a bit flawed, as a general purpose graphics chip the GIC is a total disaster of a design.  Now you might be thinking this is a bit harsh, as the GIC is clearly aimed at card video games.  However, the various GI datasheets list 15 distinct cartridge titles, none of which are card games; and Unisonic marketed the Champion as 'fully programmable for unlimited family fun'.  Therefore, both GI and Unisonic clearly hoped the GIC could be used more generally, and both were deluded.

 

The GIC has one, tile based video mode, which splits the screen into two areas, as shown below.  On the left it is 6x12 characters, on the right 13x6 tiles.  Each line is split in memory with rows in the left column occupying addresses $00-$47 and the right $48-$95.  This makes implementing horizontal games that don't naturally fit into this split screen format hard.

 

modeMame.png   MAME
 
modeInty.png   Li'l Bro

 

There are no sprites or MOBs, and the font is limited, with only 64 uppercase characters and minimal graphics, none of which can be redefined.

 

It's interesting that Lil' Bro had smaller fonts than its big brother.

 

As has been noted, the font is 5x7 pixels, effectively 6x8 pixels once you add a 1 pixel border to prevent letters hitting each other.  On the right hand side the 5x7 font fits into double height characters that are 9x16.  So, the overall resolution (if you can call it that) is 153x96.  In Li'l Bro all 6x8 characters are centred in an 8x8 Intellivision card, so the font is correct, but the spacing is not quite right (too widely spaced on the left, too closely on the right, as you can see below).  You will also notice that some of the characters differ between MAME and Li'l Bro.  Li'l Bro takes its font from the AY-3-8800 die shot dump by Sean Riddle, I think the MAME implementation may pre-date this.

 

fontMame.png   MAME
 
fontInty.png   Li'l Bro

 

Although it looks to be a colour system, the Champion is really monochrome.  The overall background has to be green and foreground white.  The only exception to this are the background colours of the double height card symbols.  These can only be drawn on the right side of the screen.  Effectively every character has a specific background colour that cannot be changed by the programmer.

 

Therefore, the only characters that can be displayed consistently across the full effective 19x6 character screen is one of 59 white upper case alpha-numeric text characters on a green background.

 

Everyone knows the CP-1610 is s-l-o-w, and the Intellivision's STIC annoyingly steals about 10% of the CPU time.  However, the GIC in the Champion shuts the CP-1610 down for 75% of the time while it draws the whole screen.  As a consequence the Unisonic Champion is really slow (about 25,000 intructions/sec).

 

The system only has 256 bytes of 8bit RAM and no 16bit RAM.  Of the 256 bytes, 151 are dedicated to the GIC leaving 105 bytes for other uses.  However, the bigger problem is the lack of 16bit RAM, which partly breaks the CP-1610 subroutine mechanism, as it is not easy to store and retrieve subroutine return addresses to an 8 bit stack.  As a consequence, reusable functions carry a  greater time and memory overhead.

 

It is probably not possible to add 16 bit RAM to the system in a cartridge, or make games bigger than 4K without using bankswitching. This is because it looks as though pins AD13-AD15 of the CP-1610 are tied to ground on the motherboard!  This limits the address space to 8K and precludes the use of 16bit RAM or ROMs on a cartridge.  Like the Intellivision much of the bottom 4K of the address space contains the GIC and EXEC, making it unavailable for games.  Bizarrely, the shorted CPU signals do seem to be routed to the cartridge port, presumably just to taunt developers. ;)

 

shorted.png

 

Somewhere down the line the AY-3-8910 programmable sound generator (PSG) in the system diagram above was removed from the Gimini reference design, as can be seen below.  This was probably done to save cost and means that Unisonic Champion sound is supplied by a single channel beeper within the GIC with three, really annoying tones.

 

tvCircuits.png

 

A side effect of removing the PSG, was that the controller inputs probably had to be rethought.  The resulting design uses very limited hardware and led to each player only having two buttons, YES and NO, nothing else.  No joystick, no action / fire buttons, nothing.  Although there is a Reset button on each controller, this is directly connected to the GIC's reset line, and therefore, cannot be read by a program or repurposed.

 

At least the controllers are cordless, that's quite something but limits it to this two (three) buttons if you used only a single channel.

 

Although some images might suggest that these controllers are wireless, this is not correct, as can be seen here:

 

wires.png

 

To describe this lot as crippling is a significant understatement.  Unsurprisingly the Unisonic Champion was a commercial failure and, as a consequence, it is rarer than hen's teeth today. The very few that were made were sold in the US and Japan.

If you want to know more, the Unisonic Champion FAQ, Paul Robson's 2013 Retrochallenge pages, JoeZ's copies of the GI datasheets and this forum thread are great places to look.



Cheers

decle


Edited by decle, Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:02 PM.


#20 Lathe26 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:16 PM

Thanks for all the great info and hard work on this, decle.

However, the GIC in the Champion shuts the CP-1610 down for 75% of the time while it draws the whole screen.  As a consequence the Unisonic Champion is really slow (about 25,000 intructions/sec).

I saw the 75% in the 8800 datasheet. I had hoped it was a misprint, but my heart-of-hearts knew it was probably true.

This is because it looks as though pins AD13-AD15 of the CP-1610 are tied to ground on the motherboard!  This limits the address space to 8K and precludes the use of 16bit RAM or ROMs on a cartridge.  ... Bizarrely, the shorted CPU signals do seem to be routed to the cartridge port, presumably just to taunt developers. ;)

As a developer, I think I just died a little inside. They routed the signals but grounded them anyways... It almost feels like a mutilation of an already crippled console. Was the hardware designer angry at a boss or the whole company? Who hurt them as a child?

All joking aside, thanks again. This has all been greatly fascinating.

#21 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:24 PM

Perhaps it was a bet among engineers?

 

-"$50 on that you ground all those signals!"

-"The bet is on, just wait and see!"



#22 Gernot OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:57 AM

 

Although some images might suggest that these controllers are wireless, this is not correct, as can be seen here:

 

i'm impressed ;)

 

sort of highest level operating system, you need only two buttons to control it.

 

btw, i would like to know the tunes you used for li'l bro (muso cheat player).

because i liked to place them together, naming them after the game or simply 2711-# doesn't suits them well.

 

muso.gif






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