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-^CrossBow^-

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Blog Entries posted by -^CrossBow^-

  1. -^CrossBow^-
    This might require its own thread but I actually was working on an NTSC 7800 that was eating my lunch most of the weekend. It was sent in for just a basic composite mod installed into it. When I used the diagnostic roms everything was fine with this 7800. But then not long after I got the composite board installed and tested it again, I noticed some odd flashing lines of colors across the screen. It seemed to do this badly on Dungeon Stalker and Ballblazer. In the case of both games, it would flicker around with the color like this for anywhere from a few minutes to about 10min and then just abruptly lock up or got to a black screen?! It was also doing it through the RF when I put everything back in stock condition and reinstalled the original components I had removed. I replaced every single one of the main ICs without any luck starting with the Maria as it wasn't doing this in 2600 games. I did try to install my cap off the A15 line in a similar fashion as my other video I did about this,  but that didn't change anything either. You know what removed 90% of the flickering color bars on the screen and stopped it from locking up?
     
    The freaking crystal! (Y1) I removed the one in it and replaced it from one of my 2 parts donor 7800 boards. The first one I popped in the flashing colors were only occasional on the game ballblazer but didn't happen at all with dungeon stalker or any other games I tried. And more importantly, it didn't lock up either and BB and Dungeon Stalker both ran for several hours before I finally shut them off. I did try other crystals to see if I could get the slight flicker to go away completely but that only took it back to the way it was. So obviously something in the crystal I installed from the other 7800 seem to mesh better with this 7800. I also replaced every single one of the 3904s starting with Q3 and Q4 as both of those were installed. In fact this 7800 was kinda strange. Seem to use a later revision board, had C64 for the extra timing circuit on it, but was missing the rest of the ICs you usually find in that circuit? It also had all of the caps and resistors installed, whereas most of them show some removed at the factory by clipping them out or just not being installed in the first place. It also was using Sony 10ns speed RAM in it but no resistor installed on the bottom RAM chip as I normally see with most of the Sony RAMs. (BTW replacing RAM didn't do anything and in fact just gave me a black screen).
     
    So all I can say is that timing on the 7800 doesn't have much room for tolerance it seems and that all of the components we find installed into the consoles was done so at the factory in what seems like a case by case basis? 
     
    BTW when I put it all back together and replaced all the RF shielding, the flickering seemed to go away completely at that point? I'm still not 100% sure it is 'fixed' but it is a strange issue for sure and one I hadn't yet come across.
     
     
  2. -^CrossBow^-
    Had a pre-modded 7800 sent to me with a UAV that had good s-video but was producing some ugly jail bars in composite. But it was ONLY doing this on 2600 games. I at first suspected something in the wiring of the UAV or the UAV itself and first redid all of that and replaced the UAV. No change. It was then I started to look at things more closely and noticed that this '84 main board all socketed chip board appeared to have a TIA I'd not seen before. The company branding on it is IMP and it had a mid year 1988 date stamp on it indicating it was not likely original to the 7800 to begin with. Since I was able to disconnect the TIA color signal and get crystal clear black n white with the jail bars, I knew it had to be in the color signal. And since the UAV is tapping that signal straight from pin#9 off the TIA there was really only one culprit. I had another semi working 7800 with a more normal looking AMI branded TIA on it. Pulled that and put it into the socket on this troublesome 7800. Sure enough the jail bars are gone! I'm guessing this is a late revision TIA and it likely a CMOS part as it doesn't seem to heat up like most TIA chips do and it just feels a bit different. In any event...stay the hell away from these TIAs in and think about replacing them if you find them in your 2600s or 7800s. Especially if you plan to use composite upgrades or a UAV as it does produce jail bars. I also noticed that color trimmer has to be adjusted but a full 180 between the two chips. So there are some obvious internal differences in how they are designed and made. I've attached some pics to show what I was getting and between the two TIA chips.
     
    Here is the section about halfway on the edge of the ColorMatch screen on the Colorbar generator program. You can see the jail bars on the slightly different hue of green on the lower half. Upper half is fine.

     
    Here is the green purity screen with the bad TIA. Again, you can see the jail bars and while this is on green, they are present on all colors pretty much.

     
    Here is the colorbar screen from the bad TIA IMP branded chip. Again you will see that most of the colors exhibit noticed jail bars on them. It is quite distracting and unusual to see from a UAV board.

     
    Here is the actual IMP branded TIA chip that was causing the headaches above:

     
     
    Now here is the colormatch screen edge with the good AMI branded TIA chip.

     
    Here is the green purity screen with the good working TIA. Quite a difference here.

     
    Here is the colorbar screen on the AMI TIA. While there is still come color bleeding and other artifacts normal with composite on an LCD, you will see that the colors don't have the jail bars as they did with the other TIA chip.

     
    And of course, this is what the common AMI branded TIA looks like in most 7800s I've encountered:

     
    So if you have nasty jail bars from your composite video out signal, you might look at the TIA as the possible cause.
     
    Ivory Tower Collections
     
  3. -^CrossBow^-
    Did a really quick little project last night. I'd been kicking this around in my head but decided to try it finally last night. The M.O.D.E. or Multi-Optical-Disc-Emulator from TerraOnion has a nifty set of additional pins along one side of it for adding in additional features. Among them are the ability to add in a wire for adding a physical reset button or button to simulate a Disc Swap process etc. One of the extra pins is for wiring in an additional LED in the system somewhere that is directly tied to the small SMD access LED on the M.O.D.E.'s PCB itself. Because this LED isn't usually visible with all inside the case of the console it makes sense that they would provide such a pin. I'm sure it was intended for an additional LED but I decided to instead change the actual power on LED on my Dreamcast to act as the access LED. This way, it still serves as a power on indicator when you see it blinking with 'disc' access activity taking place. 
     
    The way I did this wasn't difficult at all. I simply removed the power LED from the controller board. Reformed the + lead on the LED to be 90 degrees pointing toward the back of the DC when reinstalled. From that reformed lead, I soldered on about a foot of wire to it. That wire in turn would connect to the LED pin on the M.O.D.E.. I then soldered the power LED back in place on the controller board only soldering in the - or ground lead in place. This way, when the system is powered on and in use, the + voltage to feed the LED and light it up will come from the M.O.D.E. during disc access activity indications. Again this isn't difficult at all and I did add shrink tubing off my + lead and soldered wire to ensure no shorts would occur around the controller board. But here is an edited video example I took off my phone showing how it looks.
     
     
  4. -^CrossBow^-
    Not a video to share this time, although in hindsight I should have made one as a quick tech video. But recently I decided I would get some replacement filter caps for use in standard wall wart power supplies like those used with our Atari, Sega, etc. consoles from back in the day. As I have quite a few of them on hand and wanted to test them out I decided to start with a few Sega Genesis power supplies. I decided to look at three different supplies last night. I first checked the voltages from all of them and they were all pretty normal. One reading about 14v, a model 2 supply reading 13.5, another model 1 reading about 13.8v. Nothing out of the ordinary from such old transformer supplies that don't have a load on them. Still, they are all well over 20 years old so I figured why not.
     
    Now, many of the sega power supplies require a small 4mm hex bit to open them up and that was the case with one of the model 1 supplies I had. I didn't have this tool so I ordered it online. The other two I had actually required a small #5 security torx bit similar to what is used on TurboGrafx and PC engine systems. But that bit I had on hand and with that I was ready to crack them open and get to work.
     
    The first model 1 PSU is one I've been using for a few years on my workbench as a go to PSU for several systems. I've created adapters so that I can use it with several other classic consoles I work on so I don't have to keep a bunch of different ones on hand at the ready. So it has gotten quite a bit of use over the past few years. It required the small 4mm hex bit I had to order. No issues once I got it opened up. Looked okay and had that ages electronics smell but nothing out of the ordinary. Removed the old large 3300µf at 16v capacitor. It seemed to be in good shape still with no evidence of bulging or leaking. Still it is over 20 years old and would hurt to change it out. Did that and working just dandy!
     
    Then I looked at the second one and this one is where I first discovered that the 4mm hex nut driver I'd gotten wouldn't work and I needed to use my #5 security torx instead. Opened it up and it noticed it seemed to be glued shut as the two halves wouldn't separate as easily as the last one had. Interesting..worked on it a bit and was able to get it to come loose on one side. It was right about when I started to grab for a small flat blade screw driver help pry open along the sides that the smell hit me... 
     
    If you aren't aware, the old electrolyte used in these older caps smells very much like fish and has an oily consistency to it. And it is very distinctive and not at all like a normal electronics type smell. This wasn't a good sign as that smell would indicate that I was about to discover something nasty inside. Once I got the two halves of the PSU case apart, the smell really hit me and I could see it. A shiny surface on the top of the small PCB around some of the diodes on the PSU and where the output wires are soldered in. I removed the PSU assembly from the case housing and this is what it looked like on top.

     
    Now it is hard to see, but you can make out the shiny look on the PCB and also where it is a darker color. But the large filter cap looks okay physically right?

     
    Well not quite because once I removed it you can see near the negative lead of the cap, where it has stained the PCB from electrolyte that has been leaking from the capacitor over the years. Also hard to make out but the bottom of the cap itself was also coated in the oily residue of the leaking electrolyte. Now this doesn't seem like a big deal right? Just clean that off and put in a new cap and your good to go? Well, the bottom side of the PCB where the traces are, has a very different story to tell and shows you the results of what leaking electrolyte does on a PCB over time.

     
    Here you can see where there is a mottled almost moldy look the left half of the bottom of the PCB here. Well, that is where the cap was and where the electrolyte over time has seeped onto the bottom of the PCB and started to corrode the upper layers of the PCB masking and copper traces under neath. This is essentially cancer on a PCB slowly eating away at the board. If this had been something with much smaller traces to components, it would likely be a lost cause or at least require quite a bit of small and time consuming trace repair work. Luckily the traces on most PSUs like this are large and thick. So how do you clean this up? I took my electrical grade 99.9% alcohol cleaning solvent and a toothbrush and went to work to clean and neutralize the electrolyte. In the process of this, the top green layer coating started to flake off exposing the copper traces underneath it since the electrolyte had so badly ate into it. There were also dark patches on the copper itself underneath. This required me to also use my fiberglass pen to remove the remaining layer protecting the traces to fully expose them and also remove the corrosion. This is what it looked like after cleaning and removing most of the corrosion.

     
    Still a few dark patches left behind that has pitted into the copper traces but it shouldn't get any worse than it is now since it is cleaned up. So what now? Well I installed the new replacement filter cap and the used lots of flux and solder to apply a new layer across the traces to protect the copper underneath going forward. This was following up by a lot more cleaning with both a PCB board spray cleaner and lots more high grade alcohol. I then left it out overnight exposed to fully dry out before testing and reassembly.

     
    The third PSU was for a model 2 genesis and also required the #5torx security bit to open it. It was like the first PSU in that the capacitor in it wasn't leaking and everything appeared to be fine inside. Just replaced that cap the same way as the first, buttoned it back up and it works just fine. 
     
    But the moral of this is that just because a power supply works, doesn't mean that everything inside it is okay and good to go. That second PSU with the leaking cap would have eventually died on me as the traces would have continued to corrode and eventually sever from the rest of the circuit and possible start to lift from the PCB itself. This means that with this wonderful discovery, I need to now try and open up all other PSUs that I'm able to open up easily and inspect them for similar cleaning and possible repairs.
     
  5. -^CrossBow^-
    In this 3 video series, I go over the basics and understanding of the Roland MT-200 sound module. It is an excellent multifunction sound module that can act as both a sequencer and sound module. This means that in addition to being a very nice general MIDI and Sound Canvas sound module, it also has the ability to record MIDI songs from the MIDI in port and save them to diskette to be played back in a standalone fashion later, making it a MIDI Jukebox as well!

    The first video goes over the basic overview of the module itself in what it is, what it can do, how to access the hidden diagnostic functions, and their uses.







    In the second video I go over the advanced diagnostic functions in how to set the internal date and time along with how to use the diskette drive functions.





    In the third and final video in this series, I go over the basic hardware needed to connect the MT-200 for use on a modern day computer. I also cover how to get the software drivers along with how to configure ScummVM and DosBOX for using an external MIDI device. Finally I demo how I have my MT-200 connected to my modern day Windows 10 PC along with my Roland MT-32 connected through MIDI Pass-thru. I then demo how I use the two modules in DosBOX on the game Space Quest 1 (VGA Remake). The audio is heavily compressed on this part as Geforce Experience software compresses the audio to mad levels for streaming. But you get the idea on how it works all the same.




    Thank you for viewing these as it has been a lot of fun learning about this wonderful sound module and understanding its uses and secrets! Enjoy!
  6. -^CrossBow^-
    As some might know by now, I've got an MT-200 that I picked up over a month ago now. Really cool little device from Roland that was originally intended for use in teaching music. But these devices have the ability to play back midi files through built in disk drives that use IBM formatted 3.5 inch disks. They can also be used as sound modules and with modern day computers can still be made to be used with ScummVM and Dosbox for classic gaming. Anyway I was getting frustrated with my disks seeming to work one day and then a week later suddenly given me read errors. So I read up on using one of these cheap Gotek floppy emulators into mine. But information on actually making one work with my MT-200 wasn't to be found. I did find Gotek's pre-configured to work with devices like my Roland MT-200 and its variants on eBay, but at $80 + shipping that seemed crazy to me. So I bought a generic Gotek with the intention of figuring out how to make it work in my Roland MT-200.

    I was quite successful and it turned out to be MUCH easier than I thought it would be. I did a video last week on the process of which jumpers are needed, the installation, and the software I found to make it all work in my Roland MT-200. I now share this knowledge in my recently released YT video so that you don't have to pay those crazy prices on eBay either and can hopefully find this useful:


  7. -^CrossBow^-
    I am only a hobbyist and NOT an electrical engineer. As such I'm sure my terminology and explanations of things will be off or perhaps completely wrong. As such, please let me know in comments on such mistakes as it helps me and all others who might view this video to learn.

    With that, this is my basic intro to my BK 1474 O'scope that I got some time ago and some ways it can be used. This video is only meant for fun and not as instructional as most of my other videos are. Enjoy!



  8. -^CrossBow^-
    Been doing a few composite AV mods on client intellivisions. Though I would video the process I go through for doing a capacitor replacement. I'm working on trying to get the videos down to be more watchable in smaller amounts of time but perhaps too much compression on time is used in this video?
     
    Big special thanks to Adan Toledo for his permission to feature some of his music from the CollectorVision homebrew release of Sydney Hunter & the Sacred Tribe for the Intellivision!
     
    - Order your official OSTs for Sydney Hunter and Mecha 8 from Adan himself here: http://adan.eu5.net/europe.html
    - Order your copy of Sydney Hunter & the Sacred Tribe plus other homebrews from CollectorVision here: http://collectorvision.com/
     
    Comments always welcome and much appreciated!
     

  9. -^CrossBow^-
    Replaced the original 7805 regulators from my atari 5200 recently and installed a pair of DC/DC switching converters in their place. In this video I show the power measurements from the original 7805 and from the DC/DC converters. Next up with be the Intellivision once I get additional parts in.


  10. -^CrossBow^-
    I've been working with DC to DC buck converters lately on a few of my classic consoles. Here is a detailed video of the process wherein I change out the 7805 voltage regulator on my SMS with a Traco Power DC/DC +5 converter. I show some numbers using my Kill-a-Watt before and after to give an idea on the differences. With the SMS the differences weren't nearly as much as they were with my 7800 that I did this mod to as well. But I didn't video that one and kinda wished I had now. I also explain at the end where I did try this with my Sega Genesis but exhibited some audio interference from the use of the converters and ultimately removed them and put the 7805's back in for that system.

    Still might get others interested to discuss and try on their own. I would be interested to know your results if you should try this modification on your classic consoles.


  11. -^CrossBow^-
    So the other night I tackled a hardware upgrade that I had seen mentioned in a youtube video that seemed really interesting. It was a video where a another retro gamer and hardware modder was showing his latest modification using a Yamaha 3438 discreet synth chip to produce the music and sounds in place of the stock Yamaha 2612 that came with the model 1 genesis units. The advantage of doing this was that the 3438 was essentially pin compatible but featured a true 8-bit DAC within it and better overall stereo separation and some improved instrumentation. In fact I've heard that the yamaha 3438 was used in Sega's arcade machines BITD. The video had music samples at the end to demonstrate the enhanced audio and clarity and it was pretty amazing! You also have to realize that wile the 3438 is essentially pin campatible, it does use different timings and logic from the 2612 that prevent it from being a drop in replacement. So to make it work you have to piggy back it off the 2612 in a way that the 2612 handles the timing and logic of the music passing it to the 3438 to produce the actual music and sound. Also the model 2 Genesis and variants from that, use the 3438 synth embedded in the logic of the all in one Sega ASIC that came about in these machines. So technically, the model 2 and above variants should have the benefits of the 3438 already, but due to very poor audio amp and mixing circuits in those variants of the genesis...it sounds worse than the 2612s used in the original model 1 HDG Genesis systems.

    So we fast forward about a year from my viewing all of this and I decide to give this a try for myself on my AV modded Genesis 1. I purchased the 3438 (A pair of them actually since you can always get two for twice the price...), the resistors and caps needed to perform the mod. And near as I can tell, I was successful in doing this on my Genesis va3. I've been making quite a few sound sample recordings of my own directly from my gensis's RCA ports I added to it. The audio is really clear on many of the instruments and especially noticeable on drums. But, there were also quite a few games that took advantage of the semi flawed original 2612's architecture to make the games sound the way they did that is lost in the process. For me the biggest change is that some instruments now come out way stronger and too loud compared to the other voices on many songs. In many cases this actually sounds better but in others it sounds off because those voices weren't as noticeable before and hence might have had odd audio tricks they were using that blended well originally, but now stand out way too much.

    The two games I've tested so far that have had the largest negative impact with this mod, has been with some music from Steets of Rage 2 and several tracks from Gunstar Heroes. However, the SOR2 tracks that seem affected by the changes, do NOT appear to actually play in the game themselves? I hadn't noticed this before because the audio was essentially the same. Now that I know what tracks sound off (Because you can really tell when you hear them), it was interesting to me that I never actually heard them in a play through of the game itself? I assume these music tracks were unused tracks and perhaps this is the reason for them sounding off. I don't know. I will try and get the SOR2 tracks I did and the Gunstar Heroes tracks upped to youtube when I can hopefully tonight.

    In the meantime, most tracks sound pretty amazing and it is more interesting to think what might have happened had the Genesis been released with this synth driving it. I think the audio comparisons between the Genesis and SNES would have been...a bit more balanced and less critical of the Genesis all the time in reviews BITD.

    Take a listen for yourself and see:

    Theme from Toejam and Earl 2 on the Genesis through the 3438 synth:



    Here is a song that sounds better than it did originally but the main bass note is a different instrument so it sounds perhaps a bit off: Also from Toejam and Earl 2 on the Genesis through the 3438.


    And then you have a great example of how much clearer the drums and stereo separation is with this wonderous Synth. This is from the unreleased game ResQ - Level 5 music composed by the great Matt Furniss. (I think he knew how to make a Genesis play FM music better than anyone!)
  12. -^CrossBow^-
    Just did a capacitor replacement on my Atari Lynx model 2 this weekend. One of my two units was suffering from some nasty audio clipping, distortion and overall low volume. The camera was on a lower quality shooting mode and I did realize until I was done with the filming. I apologize for that but you can still make out enough to get see the overall process and results afterwards.
     

     
  13. -^CrossBow^-
    Some of you might not have known this, but without a doubt, Wing Commander is one of if not my favorite PC game of all time. I guess the simple reason behind this is the fact that it was the first computer game I played that really put me in the shoes of the character completely. I felt like I was the one in that cockpit blowing away the bad guys to save mankind and restore peace. Cliched...yes. But the music, sounds, and graphics were so blended together perfectly that I've not felt the same with any other games since. Below is my complete review of this excellent space fighting sim from the masters of the once great Origin Systems and Chris Roberts. Enjoy...
     
    Title = Wing Commander
    Platform = Multiple (IBM PC version reviewed)
    Genre = Space Fighter Sim
    Released = 1990
    Players = 1
    ---------------------
     
    "Star-date 2654.122 - 15, April 2654:
    Only been about 3 months now that I have been stationed onboard the Tiger's Claw. Seems much longer than that. Yesterday was a good day for me. That is, I didn't bite it on the end of a Kitty dart. Man, the flight deck chief was sure pissed about those busted cannons on my Raptor. Perhaps he wouldn't have been nearly as upset if I hadn't managed to get both neutron guns destroyed. I guess those must cost the Terran Confederation a bundle a piece to produce. Well, after yesterdays nearly botched patrol run, I think the price of two neutron cannons makes up for the price of my life. After all, ships are replaceable, good pilots are not. Sometimes the upper echelon of ranks forgets that. Oh well, can't dwell on that now...I have to get my report from yesterdays patrol flight written up to justify my actions. Someday this whole war will be over and I can go home back to Proxima. Okay... so on my damage report I have one wasted acceleration absorber, one rather nicely well done electrical system. I can't forget those two lovely sparking metal hollow pylons that used to be my neutron cannons. And I think the left ion drive was leaking coolant. Oh! Can't forget the garbled flight recorder, which is the whole reason I am having to do this stupid report. And... Damn! The Klaxons are going off again. I better finish this up later and get to the briefing room. I hope Col. Halcyon has a milk run for me this time after the fireworks I went through yesterday..."
    - From the "Diary of 1st Lieutenant Todd Marshall "Maniac"
     
    The above excerpt was inspired and created from none other than one of the greatest all time games ever made for the PC system. That game is none other than Wing Commander. In Wing Commander you take on the role of Christopher Blair the new young rookie aboard the Tiger's Claw. In truth the first and second games let you choose your own last name and call sign. In the later games, only your call sign can be changed. Wing Commander is a space/combat/opera tour de force that at the time the game was made, took graphics and sound to a place they hadn't been before in the IBM world. Wing Commander is all about the war against the cat like alien race known as the Kilrathi. The Kilrathi are a warrior race and seek only complete and total control of the known explored universe. Earth which lies in the Sol system is of course a tasty target for these ill-tempered kitties. Wing Command specifically starts the game off at a time when the war isn't going so swell for the humans. And that is what we try to change as our character in the game. To save Earth from the impending invasion of the Kilrathi. The plot for Wing Commander certainly isn't a new one. But the game did take this plot and expand and add to it in a way that no other game had before its' time.
          Wing Commander plays primarily from a first person view from the cockpit of your fighter. However, the game includes other modes of camera views so that you can view the action and pilot from a third person behind the ship view. Also in the game the player has the ability to actually look left, right and behind from within the cockpit. This was really something, which added to the realism of the game. From the cockpit we play and fight and communicate to both our wingman and enemies. Yes, that is correct, Wing Commander marks as the first game I can think of to give the player the ability to taunt the enemy during combat and really ruffle the fur of a Kilrathi pilot during a dogfight. In Wing Commander we play out various missions, which are very linear in order. However, the success or failure of a mission determines the overall mission path the player takes and eventually leads to one of two possible endings. If we aren't fighting it out with fur balls in the cockpits, then we are chatting and getting more plot story progression or helpful advice from our wingmen and peers. At the beginning of the game and after each mission, you start off in the pilot lounge. Here you can get the latest gossip from the barkeep or swap stories and advice from other pilots on board the Tiger's Claw. Many times what the elder pilots have to say can mean the difference between life and sucking vacuum in the game. Once done with the chatter you progress to the briefing room to actually get your next mission briefing and start the mission.
     
    The graphics in Wing Commander may seem very simplistic and perhaps even ugly to the new player of today's 3D accelerated cards and fancy bump mapped textured polys. But rest assured that while Wing Commander may be seventeen years old, it still holds its own pretty well. For starters the game play in the cockpit is first person but flight and combat take place in a virtual 3D space environment. This means that enemies can be literally behind and slightly above you in the game...or that you can dive and come up and fire on the belly of the enemy ships. The amazing part of this is how well the 3D effect is actually accomplished! The geniuses behind Wing Commander, Origin, actually made small-scale models of all the ships in the game and then ray traced them graphically into the game. This means that the actual ships themselves are only 2D sprites on the screen, but the game will change their appearance during play to actually appear as if they are 3D. Which means you can see a ship from various angles simply by flying around it. This transition of graphics is super smooth and the images of the ships themselves will suddenly change from one view to another. But the effect still looks very convincing and the models themselves are still fairly highly detailed and realistic looking. Another excellent realistic point to the graphics in Wing Commander is that, throughout the game you fly in a variety of different ships.
          As you fly each ship the cockpit will take on a new and drastically different appearance than the other ships. This gives each ship their own weakness and strengths in an area I hadn't ever seen demonstrated before in a game. Specifically, since the cockpit of each ship looks different so too is the area of visibility from inside each ship. This lends an area of reality that I don't think I've seen replicated as well except on the sequals. So a ship that may not have much armor or shields tends to be the fastest, more manuevrable, and gives the best visibility. Whereas a larger ship with more armor, guns, and shields, will have less visibility, speed and manuerability due to the extra size of the ship, gun placements, and armor. Also the graphics for the left, right, and back views change as well to match. The only static graphic in the game is the pilot's seat. Truly, it was a step above and beyond in computer game graphics in the early 90s. The graphics inside the Claw between missions where you hang out with the crew and talk are a bit less impressive. For instance there is a very cartoon like look to the people aboard the Tiger's Claw. Even during the mission briefing screens, the graphics look very much like Saturday morning. However, there are a few places in the game where actual motion capturing was done and makes the animation of the people or cut scenes in the game look very impressive. Take the scramble scene after each briefing as a prime example. Also the animation of the pilot as he puts on his helmet and cockpit canopy comes down just before you launch was simply jaw dropping at the time. Even today as I go back and fire up my rusty Pentium 200 legacy gaming machine, I find a very pleasing look to the graphics of Wing Commander. Rest assured they are impressive for a game of the early 90s era and I still think hold up pretty well today.
     
    The difficulty in Wing Commander is pretty well balanced. The game starts off with fairly laid back standard patrol run missions with just a few light Kilrathi fighers to take out to help you get used to the controls. But as you progress in the game, the missions can become exceedingly difficult ,almost to the point of insanity! I can't tell you how many times I would blurt out a colorful 4 letter expletive when my Drayman 'sport would get iced. Or how much abuse my mouse would get with my repeating banging on the desk fits when flak burst from a nasty Ralari jumping in from nowhere suddenly takes me out. Yes, Wing Commander has its love and hate moments. But that is what I really love about the game and makes me keep playing. The missions themselves are nice in that there are several varieties of missions you may get. The most basic and common mission types are patrol runs. These have you fly out to several Nav points and clean up any bad kitties you find there. Or if you find something too large to handle, like a Cap ship... you afterburner your butt back to the Claw. Some of the most exciting missions are strike missions where you and your wingman join up with a destroyer or other wingmen to play seek and destroy with a Kilrathi cruiser. But then some of the most boring and difficult missions are escort missions. Most of these entail flying to a rendezvous Nav point and meeting some transport or helpless destroyer that is near death to escort them out system to another jump point or back to the Claw. There will always be Kilrathi ships waiting in ambush somewhere along the way to take out the ships. And this is where they become most difficult. As an already damaged destroyer or transport needs only a few missiles or well placed gunshots to take it down, and that would mean failure of the mission. Not to mention that just flying to the various Nav points during your missions can be a real exercise in flight skill as you may often fly through asteroid belts or even zones of space that are filled with Kilrathi mines. Still the missions are addicting and even the escort runs keep you coming back for more when you fail them the first time.
     
          The control in Wing Commander is very tight. The game makes use of several control schemes for playing the game. You will always need the keyboard to execute a few things such as your communications to your wingmen or for changing views & weapons in game. In addition actual control of your ship can be done with the keyboard, mouse, or a good analog joystick. I actually played the game my first time through using mouse and keyboard combo. And while difficult to fly with a mouse at first...it soon became second nature and quite intuitive. It may seem difficult to use both keyboard and joystick or mouse at once, but rest assured the keys make sense and aren't difficult to find during combat. For instance to change guns you press "G". To select the next Nav point you press "N". To talk to wingmen or harass the kitties in space you press "C". Also the controls are great in that ships respond instantly to commands and do not lag. Controlling with the keyboard is the least desirable method as the keyboard is a digital control device, which means little to no small adjustments while flying. Also each ship you fly in Wing Commander behaves differently depending on the main role of the ship your flying; Like the Hornet, which is a fast & agile close support recon fighter. Or the big and burley Raptor, which boasts some great firepower and armour but lacks speed and agility. All in all the controls for Wing Commander really fit well with a simple to remember keyboard scheme that isn't overly complicated and provides tight and responsive controls when flying your fighter in space.
     
    "Boom! Bizzt! Crackle! Pop!" No, these are not the sounds coming from my bowl of Rice Krispies. It is the sound coming from my cockpit since I have lost most of the instruments! For anybody with an old school original SoundBlaster, Adlib, or the ultimate, the MT-32/LAPC-1 audio cards, Origin did an absolutely fantastic job with the sound and music in Wing Commander. You know the first time you start this game it will be an experience to behold since the first thing on the screen is a picture of Earth with the silhouette of an orchestra in the foreground. A conductor stands proudly and taps on his stand. Then the Origin fanfare music bursts to life and the orchestra fades away to a flying Origin logo that ends with a display of fireworks! No I am not making this up, this is how the game actually begins. This intro for just the Origin logo alone tells you that you are about to witness something new and exciting. Then the sound of laser blaster fire can be heard along with the sound of metal being hit and then finally a "Boom!" A enemy Kilrathi Drathi (Pancake ship) is turned into a collection of debris on screen. Followed by the flying in of the Wing Commander logo and then the music. Ahh...the music! Yes Wing Commander still stands today as my favorite main title song of any game I have every played. The master himself known as George Sanger A.K.A. the Fatman composed the music. George is also responsible for the soundtrack of many other great games such as Loom, 7th Guest, Thin Ice etc. The music changes in the course of your mission as events unfold. The music can often tell you when you have lost a wingman or when the mission has just turned South for the worst. Or the brass fanfare as you take out the last enemy ship and bring a mission to a successful close. There is music in the bar as you talk with your ship mates and the scramble music still pumps me up and readies me for action! The music used in the final cinematic and awards ceremonies still sends chills down my spine! It is unlike the music of most games today. It simply has to be heard to be believed. The music is not the only wonderful sound to come from this game. The sound effects themselves are worthy of many awards and accolades. There is a different sound for each gun type. Explosions will sound bigger and bolder when capital ships are taken out. Even the sound of my armor being stripped away from enemy gunfire lets me know that my last moments won't be dull on my ears. The sound is so complete in this game in fact, that on the save game screen (An awesome touch if I say so myself) there is the sound of dripping water into a bucket from an overhead leaky cooling line. There isn't any speech in the game as that would come later in Wing Commander II. But the sounds that are present sound very realistic and well done. The only sound that is weak compared to the rest, is the sound of the missile launches themselves. It sounds as if someone just puckered their lips and blew air out from their mouths. But I quickly overlook this when that satisfying *Boom!* erupts the ship in front of me and turns it into kitty bits.
     
          Wing Commander... I really can't say enough about this game but I do have to draw this review to a close. This game has a huge replay factor. While the missions won't change unless you do fail or succeed, Origin added lots of other touches to keep you coming back. For starters there is the multiple mission path. Basically if you fail most of the missions in a given sector, then the game will progress towards the bad ending path of the game. However, you can amend this with doing well on most of the missions in the next sector which takes you back towards the path of the good ending. Figuring out which are the best paths to take for the most number of missions is a real challenge. It is possible to average about 20-24 missions for a complete game. The real aces can finish this game in a short 18 missions. Also the in game cut scenes every so often will change depending on your performance throughout the game. Perhaps the biggest replay factor for me in the game is the fact that while the missions are handed out in a very linear way, how you actually fly the missions is not. For instance, the game usually will put the easier foes to encounter towards the beginning of the mission and save the real fur flying fests for the later Nav points or while heading back to the Tiger's Claw. Knowing this, you can semi cheat by going to the last Nav points first and take out the bigger opposition waiting there while you still have most of your missiles and armor left. This is especially handy during escort missions. I've found that the ship your escorting will fly the Nav points in order regardless of whether you do or not. This is handy as it allows you to fly ahead to the later Nav points, taking out the enemy and ambushing the ambushers while the ship your escorting is safely traveling through non infested nav points. This is just one of many little tricks I have found while playing through this game and finding as many ways as possible to complete mission objectives. The game rewards you for good piloting through award ceremonies and the kill board. After each mission good or bad your commanding officer Col. Halcyon will debrief you the highlights or mistakes of your mission flown. On certain key critical missions, outstanding performance can lead to pretty nifty award ceremonies where the Colonel will personally pin a medal for your bravery and excellence. There is no two-player mode in Wing Commander but this isn't needed as Wing Commander is supposed to be more of a space opera than anything, and so it is a story told through your eyes and actions. So there we have it... Great graphics, great control options, great sound and a damn blast to play make Wing Commander one of my favorite games ever to grace the PC scene. Finding this game today will be quite tricky as Wing Commander has a fanbase all its own. You can probably pick the game up for a decent price on Ebay. But be advised that even if you do find a copy of the game, you need an older computer to play it that you can turn the speed down on. Wing Commander was designed during the height of the 286 and lower 386 era. That said, anything faster than a 486 SX33 is really too fast to make this game playable. There is software available to slow down the CPU processes for today's higher end PCs. But you might check the BIOS on your old PC and see if you can turn off the cache options. Especially the level 2 cache as turning if off will creep the math to a halt on the cpu and allow Wing Commander to be playable without the use of slow down programs. On my old P200, turning off the L2 cache takes it to a 286-30mhz speed demon. Also note that most copies of Wing Commander were sold in the 5 1/4 inch high-density disk format and the game needed a full 640k of memory and loves about 2 megs of expanded memory if you have it. Be careful to leave plenty of room on the hard drive as this beast of a game does way in at some 12 or so megabytes once installed. If you're lucky and should happen to find a copy of Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga, then you should immediately put it in the post and sent it to me! Sierously, Wing Commander is one heck of a game and if you haven't ever played the series, you should find a way to play the first one. Wing Commander is the one game that finally made my Amiga loving friends finally break down and admit that PC gaming was not only catching up to the Amiga but had finally surpassed it.
          ---------------------
    Graphics = 9 (The ships lack some detail and are pixellated up close, But otherwise the is a visual feast! )
    Sound = 10 (Music is excellent, Sound is excellent, just excellent!)
    Controls = 8 (Controls are tight and responsive, but keyboard combo with joystick or mouse might be combersome to some)
    Challenge = 9 (Starts of slow and laid back at first, but can be satisfyingly frstrating on the later levels)
    Replay = 9 (Varied missions offer a nice mix, and the ability to play them as you want is great!)
     
    Overall -^CB^- grade = 9 (One of the best PC games of the early 90s ever!)
     
  14. -^CrossBow^-
    Another of my older reviews, one of my first in fact. Again originally and still posted over at Jose Q's Emuviews website, this review was more of a comparison between the arcade and 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man. It was to demonstrate how close the 7800 port of this game is to its arcade parent. The 7800 version is considered to be one of the best ports of the arcade brought to a home console. I've updated the review in a few places but it appears largely as it was when originally posted.
     
    Title = Ms. Pac-Man
    Platform = Atari 7800 ProSystem
    Genre = Maze Runner
    Released = 1984
    Players = 1 - 2
    ---------------------
    This little pink bowed wonder has managed to get herself ported to just about every console and system ever made. And while the arcade is still the best and cannot replaced, there is a conversion done to a home console that does justice to this classic coin op. The Atari 7800 ProSystem’s version of Ms. Pac-Man once again shows just how close Atari could have come to taking back the market if not for bad timing and poor marketing. This review is not meant to be a review on the game itself. Rather, this review will measure how well the 7800 conversion is to the arcade original. So sit down, relax, get a cool drink and let’s get to it.
     
    I have to admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the 7800 version at all when I first heard about there being a Ms. Pac-Man for the ProSystem. After all, the specs on the cart itself didn’t appear to be all that different from the 2600 version. So I was truly amazed at what I saw when I first fired up my 7800 and saw the title screen. Yes! A true blinking light marquee displaying the names of the ghosts as they wonder in from the lower right followed at the end by the lady of the hour herself. The title screen is worth mentioning because Atari actually recreated the title screen faithfully. I mean, instead of plain “Ms. Pac-Man” in text, they actually put in the fancy logo from the cabinet in there. Pretty cool to see and was a complete surprise to me. The graphics in Ms. Pac-Man are okay but certainly not anything that taxes the 7800’s Maria chip to any real depth. However, Atari has recreated the mazes accurately to the arcade such that the colors and layout are pretty much dead on. The fruits and bonuses are present and even bounce as they should, they even appear to follow the same patterns as the arcade. The only problem fans of the arcade will have with the graphics are that the overall perspective of the game is “squashed” from the arcade in order to fit the mazes for standard TV resolutions. Also perhaps due to the same squashing effect, the ghosts appear a little on the rotund side. There is also noticeable jagged effect to graphics. This is really noticeable on the maze boundaries. But the intermissions have been included as they should be. All the mazes appear to be in the 7800 version and even do the randomizing after the last one has been completed.



    The sound is one area I was actually quite impressed about. The 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man does not use any special chips to create the sound just standard 2600 TIA. So I was more than impressed when I actually heard the starting theme accurately played when I began the game! Even the background siren noise is present. The sounds are a tad off compared to the original but still the fact they are all there is interesting. Even the “Gulp” when eating the fruit is here!
     
    The control in the 7800 version still can’t replace the original stick of the arcade but the Proline joysticks do well in this arena. I imagine any good controllers that can SELF CENTER would be fine for this game. I use the prolines that came with my 7800 and do okay. But then I’m not very good at the original to begin with. My recommendation is to use a controller your most comfortable with. I do however; have a few problems in the way of the control. To me it seems as though the 7800 version lags a tad in response. Sometimes I will want to go up and Ms. Pac-Man has other ideas and instead takes the next available up and not the one I wanted. But then again, my controllers are original with my 7800 so they may be a bit worn. I also feel that this version of Ms. Pac-Man will be found to be easier than the arcade. For one the play speed is upped for Ms. Pac-Man but the ghosts seem to start off slower than the arcade. Also with the screen being squashed it is easier to see the whole playfield at once and watch all the ghosts. There are some differences in the gameplay, the biggest being that the ghosts do not follow the same exact patterns as they do in the arcade. In addition, though I never paid that much attention while playing, I've read the biggest change is that the ghosts in the 7800 version will reverse direction at any time, rather than when a certain number of dots have been eaten or so much time gone by…etc. Again, I can't notice this since I'm too busy trying to stay alive to count how many dots I've eaten or how many seconds have gone by but this could make it more difficult to line up the ghosts for the power pills to finish them off as well as predicting where the ghosts will go when.



    Overall the 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man would make a fine addition for anyone to add to their 7800 library, especially if they are fans of the Pac-Man games. All the elements of the arcade classic have been recreated in true fashion for the 7800 console. The mazes, fruit, sound, intermissions, and even the blinking marquee for the title screen are all present. For most game players and collectors, this is as close as you can get to the arcade version to play at home on your Atari. As a first for me, I am going to provide screenshots of the 7800 version next to the arcade of the same scenes to better compare the two with visually.
    ---------------------
    Graphics = 7 (Everything is present but some colors are a bit too pastel and the ghosts still lack detail)
    Sound = 9 (For TIA sound it is great! Everything is present effects wise though a bit off from the arcade)
    Controls = 7 (Control is good for the most part, but it seems to lag and get caught on some walls)
    Challenge = 8 (Starts off with you faster than them, then once getting past a few mazes it evens out very well)
    Replay = 9 (This is Ms. Pac-Man, you always want to come back and get another maze further than before!)
     
    Overall -^CB^- grade = 8 (Another solid 7800 arcade port faithfully brought home!)
  15. -^CrossBow^-
    Another of my older reviews hosted from Jose Q's Emuviews website. This time I delve into the one game that made me want an Intelly in the first place! Had I known that a game like Microsurgeon existed originally back in the day, I might have wanted the Intellivision much earlier in my life than the late 90s...hehe.
     
    Title = Microsurgeon
    Platform = Intellivision
    Genre = ?Shooter/Simulation?
    Released = 1982
    Players = 1
    ---------------------
    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to go inside your own body and see first hand what is usually only visible in microscopes? Fantastic Voyage was a 1960's movie based on this very concept in that a prominent man suffers from an inoperable head trauma. Several games in the early 80's have tried to recreate the feel of this movie including one made by 20th Century Fox for the Atari 2600 VCS named after the above mentioned movie. The problem is that while the 2600 game is a good shooter in it's own right; it just doesn't capture the feel of being inside a human body trying to fight off foreign invaders. Thankfully one game does. And astonishingly it isn't an Atari game but one for a competitor system known as the Intellivision made by Mattel Electronics. That game is known as Microsurgeon programmed and published by the masters at Imagic.
     
    While Microsurgeon isn't really like the movie Fantastic Voyage, there are many similarities in the game. Instead of controlling a small submarine piloted by some inept scientists playing doctor, we actually pilot a small robot. Also in the movie the main goal for the scientists was to zap away some dead tissue in the brain of the man they were in to save his life. In Microsurgeon you have more than dead tissue in the brain to worry about. In fact there are tumors in the brain that have to be zapped, in the lungs there are tar deposits which must be destroyed, the entire body suffers from clogged veins and arteries due to cholesterol and infection in the organs. In short when you start up a game of Microsurgeon you could be given a patient that has problems in just about every major organ in their body. Piloting the robot around destroying the infections, clogs, tumors and other maladies is the ultimate challenge and goal of the game. To accomplish this task your robot is given the ability of not using a laser beam or any other fancy ray but instead, your robot is able to administer shots of antibiotics, aspirin, and even waves of ultrasound to eliminate the bodily invaders. Luckily the game really lets you explore the body since you basically don't have any onscreen enemies that harm your robot directly other than time and an energy reserve that you're given.



    The graphics in Microsurgeon aren't exactly a Di Vinci masterpiece, but they get the job done extremely well. The game basically plays from a 3rd person perspective in that you are constantly looking at your robot "blip" on a large map of the patient's body. It basically looks like one of those pictures from you biology book in high school showing a cutaway of the human body with the arteries, bones, organs, etc exposed. Picture that you and get a good idea of what the playfield looks like in Microsurgeon. The graphics are blocky and the colors are everywhere. But the details that Imagic put in make up for this. Basically there is an eyeball and the pupil will dilate and contract. In the brain there are little sparks showing neuron synaptic action going on. Also many of the organs in the screen are easily identified such as the lungs and heart area. However, it must also be stated that many of the areas in the game representing the organs of the body are difficult to tell the difference between as they look nothing like the pictures in out science books. I still have a difficult time discerning when I leave the Intestines and the Kidney s begin. To assist in this the game has a separate Patient Status screen you can refer to for information on your current location, the patient's status in the various parts of the body, and your current energy reserve level. This screen proves to be very useful for both knowing when you enter a particular part of the body and for letting you know where your help is needed most. The enemies you destroy representing the infections, pain, and other problems in the body look cheesy except for the graphics used for the tumors. Basically most of the stuff either looks like dark spots on the organs as in the tar deposits or like small bugs, which are used to represent the infections and pain traveling in the body. Imagic could have kept the little moving legs off of these items and instead used green blobs for infections and maybe a rogue spark traveling around to represent pain. The sounds in the game are nothing spectacular but they are what I would call clean and useful sounds. Basically there is zero music anywhere in the game, which makes sense, since your operating on a body using a robot as your scalpel. Sounds are therefore, mainly ambient. Some of the nice touches to the sound include things such as the sound of rushing air whenever you're in the lungs. The sound actually grows louder and then fades out to simulate the patient's breathing. Also as you near the heart and actually go into the heart the sound of the thumping gets louder and louder, and then it too will fade out as you pilot your robot away from the heart. There is one sound that while useful is also annoying. This is the sound of the heart monitor in the background that is constantly pinging. This sound lets you know when you have to get moving on the more serious parts of the body as the patient can flat line on you. The closer the patient is to perishing the faster the ping will become. There are also sound effects for when you administer you shots and explosion sounds when you destroy tumors, bacteria, or deposits in the body.



    Intellivision games are notorious for having only so-so control. This usually isn't any fault of the game but actually the design of the Intellivision disc pad controllers. Thankfully Microsurgeon actually benefits from this awkward control scheme in that it allow a person playing to have much better control over their shots and direction. This is important because the longer you take to navigate and the more shots you use to knock out tumors...etc takes up precious energy needed to heal the patient. Also finite control will be required to navigate the many twists and turns of the arteries and veins you use as your expressways to the organs. Your robot moves much quicker will less energy taken up when traveling through the blood stream. Shots are administered by first selecting which shot you want to shoot. Using the Intellivision's keypad accomplishes this easy enough. The keypad is also used for switching between the patient status screen and your inside body view screen. Control for the most part is very presise and fluid. However, sometimes your robot seems to get stuck on the edges of the blood vessels. Minor annoyance but it does occur.
     
    Microsurgeon really is a game that no Intellivision fan should be without. Imagic demonstrates once again their excellence in games with the solid game play, useful sounds, and tasteful detailed graphics in their games. If you ever feel the need to wander around a human body and kick the crap outta bodily foreign invaders, then Microsurgeon is the prescription this doctor prescribes.
    ---------------------
    Graphics = 8 (You're inside a body and....you can tell!)
    Sound = 6 (Sound is very sparce, but what is there does what it needs to)
    Controls = 9 (This game was made for the Intelly controller!)
    Challenge = 9 (The easy level is too easy but anything afterwards is a very good challenge)
    Replay = 9 (Game plays different each time and the more difficult levels will keep you coming back)
     
    Overall -^CB^- grade = 8 (One of the Intellivision's Best titles!)
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