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Hardware Questions for the Creator of the Colecovision?


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#26 Hannacek OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:36 PM

If the first version sold worked, why were some ten revisions of the motherboard made over three years? Some of the reason is availability of parts, but I'm wondering what more there is to it.

 

 

Multiple revisions is the industry standard for this type of consumer electronic device. Just look at any computer or video game console of the time (or modern electronics). One would assume the later revisions are more reliable, and they found ways to better make the pcb. But most of it is probably accommodating cheaper parts. 



#27 ten-four OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:36 PM

Hi AguyinarRPG.

 

I think the man you refer to is Steve Margison.

 

He was one of the early developers for the system, which was actually designed by a company near Chicago, IL.

 

He said to ColecoVision.dk in 2009 that he also was the lead software engineer on a number of the games, and Cosmic Avenger was the first game.

 

:)



#28 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:49 PM

 

Multiple revisions is the industry standard for this type of consumer electronic device. Just look at any computer or video game console of the time (or modern electronics). One would assume the later revisions are more reliable, and they found ways to better make the pcb. But most of it is probably accommodating cheaper parts. 

I'd be more interested in atypical revisions. For instance, the 7800 had a major revision to allow it to play the new Dark Chambers cart, but it made some older games not playable. I seem to remember some console needing a revision to be able to use a new type of controller, which I thought might have been the ColecoVision.



#29 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:12 PM

My guess would be because they didn't sell well enough to justify more games.  Sort of like what happened with the Intellivoice.  People didn't want to buy extra add-ons.

The Intellivoice games sold okay, not much less than night stalker or deadly discs, which came out about the same time.  Like Hannacek said, programmers and publishers want their games to be best sellers; and that becomes more difficult when selling to only a subset of the install base.  Still, the question might be better for the software people at coleco rather than a hardware guy.  He might be wondering the same thing.

 

It's too bad the roller/spinner didn't make it into production.  I remember the first time I saw a coleco vision in person, I immediately thought "what happened to the roller/spinner?".  Had it been part of the system from the start it would have been more likely to be used by programmers.  That's a good question to ask, although I expect the answer was to cut costs.


Edited by mr_me, Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:26 PM.


#30 AguyinarRPG OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:37 PM

I think the man you refer to is Steve Margison.

Nope! This man has never given a interview before. His name is findable but I didn't initially know that he was the hardware designer for the Colecovision, I just thought he was one of many engineers.



#31 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:40 PM

From an interview with Harry Fox (Spectravideo), plus the known long development time of the Spectravideo design, how it was shown around a lot of companies (mainly in Japan) by Nishi from ASCII Corporation, well before the actual MSX standard was formed.  Spectravideo released most of the titles they developed for the Spectravideo for the Colecovision as well, plus also bringing out the Colecovision adapter (which has Colecovision branding on it - there had to be some discussion).

So really was there any design leakage either way or at least any more information on timelines would be fantastic.

There is a rumor (and only a rumor) of Spectravideo selling an early design to Colecovision to assist with memory timing issues they were having.  This could be completely false, or even around the other way, but it would be nice to get some more information closer to the source.

Plus the even more mysterious why the SG-1000 hardware is even closer to the Colecovision design.

The Spectravideo coleco vision adapter has no coleco branding on the packaging from what I've seen. The normal coleco vision start screen has been replaced, there is no mention of coleco and has a 1983 copyright to spectravideo. It looks like they didn't license the coleco bios but who knows. It's a good question to ask.

Edited by mr_me, Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:41 PM.


#32 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:15 PM

Why were the parts chosen for the design chosen?

What sort of limitations and features did marketing have/want/impose on the system?

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the hardware as seen at the time?

Was there any one killer feature that did not make it into the system?

Why did they axe the roller knob on the standard controllers?

Why was the console black instead of grey?

 

..if I think of any more I'll add them in.



#33 NIAD OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 6:08 PM

Hi AguyinarRPG.
 
I think the man you refer to is Steve Margison.
 
He was one of the early developers for the system, which was actually designed by a company near Chicago, IL.
 
He said to ColecoVision.dk in 2009 that he also was the lead software engineer on a number of the games, and Cosmic Avenger was the first game.
 
:)

That company near Chicago, IL is indeed Nuvatec.

#34 Swami OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 23, 2018 7:15 PM

This question may have some practical value:

 

Will a PC serial port surge protector like this protect the mux controller ICs from getting fried by electrostatic discharge and the like?

 

https://www.amazon.c...514996868&psc=1



#35 Electric Adventures OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 27, 2018 1:31 AM

Sorry missed this question, I will see if I can track it down again.  There is a MSX history book currently being assembled and think the main person in charge of that has a proper copy of the interview with Harry Fox that has mention of their interaction with Coleco.

Do you have said interview so I can check the context of it? This is something I'm interested in more generally even if I don't think the hardware designer can answer the question. A friend of mine has talked to, and plans to again, Arnold Greenberg so it would be good to get some context on that front.



#36 Ikrananka OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 27, 2018 8:41 AM

A friend of mine has talked to, and plans to again, Arnold Greenberg so it would be good to get some context on that front.

 

Could you ask your friend that when he meets Arnold Greenberg again if Arnold has any recollection, or is willing to divulge, the total number of ColecoVision units produced/sold including those distributed by CBS Electronics outside of North America.  This has been a rather contentious issue in the past and nowhere can be found, after 1983, where Coleco publicly states units produced/sold (not even in their annual reports).


Edited by Ikrananka, Mon Aug 27, 2018 8:41 AM.


#37 Nebulon ONLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 27, 2018 2:47 PM

I have a question:

 

What does he think of the SEGA SG-1000?

 

And what does he think of the idea that SEGA may have used the same parts as the ColecoVision due to their familiarity with programming for it (like Zaxxon for example? ... assuming SEGA did the programming for that console port).

 

Finally, any tips on repairing the directional contacts in the Super Action Controllers? (He may not have worked on these, so that question could be a dud).



#38 NIAD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 27, 2018 6:44 PM

And what does he think of the idea that SEGA may have used the same parts as the ColecoVision due to their familiarity with programming for it (like Zaxxon for example? ... assuming SEGA did the programming for that console port).

Sega (of Japan or America) did not program Zaxxon or any other Sega arcade game for the ColecoVision. Coleco licensed these Sega titles and either had their In-House programmers and artists develop the games by playing the actual arcade versions seeing as no source code was ever provided OR Coleco outsourced the development to one of numerous companies.

 

Sega eventually did develop and release one title for the ColecoVision which is Up 'N Down. I am not sure if they had their own development team for this or they outsourced it without doing some research.


Edited by NIAD, Mon Aug 27, 2018 6:45 PM.


#39 youki OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:56 AM

Sega (of Japan or America) did not program Zaxxon or any other Sega arcade game for the ColecoVision. Coleco licensed these Sega titles and either had their In-House programmers and artists develop the games by playing the actual arcade versions seeing as no source code was ever provided OR Coleco outsourced the development to one of numerous companies.

 

Sega eventually did develop and release one title for the ColecoVision which is Up 'N Down. I am not sure if they had their own development team for this or they outsourced it without doing some research.

 

I think he was speaking about the port of Zaxxon on SG1000.  Does Sega took inspiration of Colecovision Zaxxon version to create the SG 1000 port ?

 

imho , i don't think they would need to do that. 



#40 mr_me OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:14 AM

 
I think he was speaking about the port of Zaxxon on SG1000.  Does Sega took inspiration of Colecovision Zaxxon version to create the SG 1000 port ?
 
imho , i don't think they would need to do that. 

The scrolling in Sega's version is rougher than coleco's zaxxon.

Did coleco outsource any programming to japanese companies?

Edited by mr_me, Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:15 AM.


#41 Pixelboy ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:53 AM

The scrolling in Sega's version is rougher than coleco's zaxxon.


Actually, it's the exact same, because it's tile-based scrolling, and tile-based scrolling always works in increments of 8 pixels on the ColecoVision (and the SG-1000). If it seems "smoother" on the ColecoVision version, it's because the scrolling is done slightly faster. If you look at top-down games like Bump 'n Jump or Spy Hunter, when your car is going at full speed, the scrolling seems smoother than when the car moves at a lower speed, but that's only because your eyes and brain have time to analyze the differences between the screen-refresh frames. The faster the scrolling, the blurrier it becomes, and your brain interprets the blurriness as "smooth scrolling". But it's always scrolling done in increments of 8 pixels, no matter the scrolling speed.

 

Did coleco outsource any programming to japanese companies?


I would tend to say no in general, but that's actually an interesting question. If you look at certain games that were released near the end of the commercial life of the ColecoVision, like Antarctic Adventure and Monkey Academy, they seem to be MSX ports, and looking at the MSX library, there are several MSX titles that seem like they were ported from the ColecoVision to the MSX (Alcazar, Rock 'n Bolt, Sewer Sam, Aquattack, to name a few) because they look exactly the same as the corresponding ColecoVision versions. So I'm thinking that, in that 1983/84 period, an exchange of game software was subtly beginning to form between Japan and America. Who did the ports of games like Antarctic Adventure and Monkey Academy to the ColecoVision, if they are indeed MSX ports, that is the real question.

#42 JBerel ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2018 9:47 AM

I still want to know why the awful puck game disc thing. In my section of the world, everybody talked about how much they hated the intellivision controls, so when coleco's controllers went that way everybody was really disappointed. There were so many aftermarket modifications that it was clear folks generally hated them. As soon as I got a plastic stick attachment to screw on top of it I was good. Until then I was using the Atari stick wherever possible. It defied reason them marketing it as an arcade quality game system and no joystick remotely similar to the arcade.  



#43 AAB OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:08 PM

Would love to know whether they ever considered using a more powerful graphics processor than the relatively off-the-shelf TI processor with only 16 colors / 1 color per sprite.



#44 tschak909 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:48 PM

There weren't that many to choose from, honestly. Most of the other off the shelf solutions for "game systems" were really crap.

 

-Thom



#45 tschak909 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:52 PM

and from a hardware designer's perspective, the 9918 makes things ____REALLY____ easy, because you hang the video DRAM right off the 9918, AND it will deal with its own refresh. So you only have to concern yourself at that point with:

 

* A CPU

* Parallel I/O or Serial I/O (for controllers)

* Program RAM

* Sound Chip.

 

As limiting as the 9918 was in terms of performance and features, it was exceptionally easy for a system designer to fold into a schematic, which is why it was used all over the place where companies didn't have the resources to spin their own video chip silicon.

 

(Nintendo was the odd man out, as they had favorable ties to Ricoh, for much of their semiconductor work, and Ricoh had a crack team of chip designers who could extend existing designs with ridiculously fast turn-around, so the 9918 was copied, and extended to make the PPU. Yes, speculation, but very sound speculation.)

 

-Thom



#46 AAB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:19 AM

Thank you for the color, Thom.  I'm still curious whether it was ever considered to contract out (or hire the means to develop internally) any custom silicon.  Without an exclusive license (which I doubt TI gave them), using off the shelf chips is a not the most sound choice from a business perspective, as competitors can easily copy (although with 20/20 hindsight, that didn't turn out to be how the market played).  There were better custom/proprietary chips out there, and other players in the market who had the means to engineer their own ICs.  Would love to know whether my childhood console system was ever contemplated to be something even better than what it was.



#47 AguyinarRPG OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 30, 2018 9:07 AM

Just as to put one of the most asked questions as an updated, here's the answer about the wheel on the early Colecovision controllers:

 

"The serrated wheel was for controlling objects on the screen. we patented it and it is the same fundamental item as in a mouse wheel."

 

I think it was patented later as part of the Super Action controller, which I don't know how it functions. It's probably the same as it would have on the Colecovision.



#48 nick3092 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Sep 30, 2018 12:03 PM

Just as to put one of the most asked questions as an updated, here's the answer about the wheel on the early Colecovision controllers:
 
"The serrated wheel was for controlling objects on the screen. we patented it and it is the same fundamental item as in a mouse wheel."
 
I think it was patented later as part of the Super Action controller, which I don't know how it functions. It's probably the same as it would have on the Colecovision.


The wheel on the SAC has two magnets 180 degrees apart, and on the PCB there are two reed switches perpendicular to the wheel. Presumably the Coleco determines which way it's spinning by which switch closes first, and uses the open/close time between the two to calculate speed.

#49 jfcarbel OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Oct 4, 2018 11:41 AM

I always like to hear more personal stories as well from folks like these.  What interesting stories can you tell about the development of the Colecovision?  Anything happen that turned out to be unexpected?  What are your fondest memories at Coleco? What did you do after you left?

What are you most proud of from your time at Coleco?






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