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RCA Studio II GOLD MINE! An interview with the Studio 2 Production Manager!

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Thanks to some assistance from Andy Modla, I've successfully converted the remaining two arcade games, Chase and Mines, into binaries that work in his emulator.

 

Oddly Mines does not seem to have a title screen like the other arcade games do - it goes straight into gameplay and doesn't recognize the coin button. Neat little game though - your ships fly around trying to blow the other up, either by shooting them or by laying down mines and having them fly into it. You can lay a mine behind you or blow up one of your bullets to lay a minefield.

 

Chase is a tag game using the Mines ships, it seems to alternate who is it every so often. It does have a single player mode where the computer comes after you, which is kind of neat.

 

I haven't had a huge amount of success converting other files so far as a few of them have come out as oddball lengths, but I'll keep trying. I can say with some certainty that the "Color demo" is a VIP formatted file, though that doesn't necessarily preclude it from also being the Studio III demo program. The "unidentified" tape appears to be fred2, but I haven't yet gotten a working binary out of it.

Chase (1-2 Players).wav.arc

mines.wav.raw.arc

Edited by ubersaurus
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Awesome work on the Test Cart, ED - no wonder it needs a beefed up power supply with all those extra chips... I assume it switches back and forth between the on board ROM and those on the cart to compare them...

 

 

The bad news is that it won't work in the multicart the way the code and hardware interact. It may be possible to modify the code so that the Tester 1 code appears to run in the multicart. It could go through the steps the way it does in the Emma 02 emulator, but it would not actually check your Studio II hardware.

 

For the multicart: perhaps you missed the post above, but by patching 4 bytes, you can get the tester to run on the multicart.

 

These are the patches needed, assuming the test cart starts @ 0x0400

0x0417 0x43 --> 0x07

0x041F 0x42 --> 0x06

0x0422 0x40 --> 0x04

0x0601 0x41 --> 0x05

 

I've attached a patched binary of the test cart that runs on the multicart - it runs all the tests, but gives an error for the roms, depending on whether these are mapped to the cartridge or to the onboard chips... So it doesn't check the full hardware, but the ram and keyboard tests should work...

 

FliP

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Hello,


@FliP...


I did not see your previous post about the test cart running in the multicart. Thank you for pointing it out.


I haven't looked through the test cart code yet, but I think it would be possible to suppress the "errors" while running tester1 in the multicart.


While tester1 is checking the Studio II ROMs I believe it does something like this:


Read 0000H (System ROM memory location 1)

Read 4000H (Test cart ROM memory location 1)

Compare, if good continue

If bad, set a flag and continue


Then do the same for 0001H/4001H, and so on, right through the system and internal Game ROMs.


When the tests are over, display 1,2,3 and/or 4 depending on which ROMs failed.


If I can identify the flag byte, and where it's tested, I could force a "pass" so the "OK" is displayed. Of course your other modifications would still be required.


Just a thought.




@Marcel...

Great work! The coin-op games run fine.



ED

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Hi, I have a working Soundic Victory MPT-02 boxed... I wish to AV mod this but I'm not able to find any info on the net... anyone here know how make this mod?

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Hi, I have a working Soundic Victory MPT-02 boxed... I wish to AV mod this but I'm not able to find any info on the net... anyone here know how make this mod?

PM Sent! :)

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Thanks to the incredible and diligent help from Andy Modla, etxmato and ekeefe, practically all the digitized RCA data tapes from Hagley Museum and Library have been successfully converted back into binary programs. In addition to VIP games and programs, highlights include a later, seemingly final arcade build of Mines, several demos (though so far no Studio III democart), and a number of Studio II prototype roms, though for the most part those seem similar to the final builds.

 

I've reached out to Hagley to get the final 11 or so tapes digitized, and to get the OK to have all the converted files distributed more broadly.

 

Also saw TCNJ posted on social media about splicing together some of their broken RCA data tapes. Talking with the curator there, most of their tapes seem to be early FRED programs and VIP stuff.

Edited by ubersaurus
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That's exciting news! I look forward to trying these out. Did you ever find an arcade version of Bowling? Do we know of any arcade games other than Swords, Chase, Mines, and Bowling?

 

Which tapes wouldn't process correctly? Do you know the cause of the issues?

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That's exciting news! I look forward to trying these out. Did you ever find an arcade version of Bowling? Do we know of any arcade games other than Swords, Chase, Mines, and Bowling?

 

Which tapes wouldn't process correctly? Do you know the cause of the issues?

Yep, found a few tapes with Computer Bowling on them (some with Byte differences but seemingly still play the same), one with Chase, one with Swords, and two versions of Mines (one seems to be a WIP Cosmac Computer build). All but the later version of Mines are included with the current official Emma 02 release, alongside the Cosmac Game Computer bowling/tag program. As far as I could tell from documentation those were the only four arcade games RCA made.

 

As for the remaining tapes that have been troublesome, Marcel could speak to those more. My understanding is that a couple of them are corrupted, and others are FRED programs both he and I have been unable to convert successfully. There's some cool stuff in the files that have come through okay though - notably the Studio III demos and a prototype of the built in Studio II games that include some extra programs that weren't included in the retail units. They should all be available sooner than later!

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Hard to say what the exact cause is that some tapes don't convert correctly. When I try to load them into my beta Emma 02 version which includes FRED load functionality they give parity errors. I have put this down to bad quality/old tapes but it is also possible that my tape load code isn't 100% correct. The FRED is the first 1802 machine I have come across that uses a dedicated tape load chip. All others use the 1802 to decide on the timing. For Emma 02 that means I had to include code to decode the wave forms whereas for other machines the 1802 code would handle all that.

 

Two files I could not load:

Secret Number, actually the first 10-20 bytes gave errors, the rest I got loaded. When I look at the file, the start of the wave looks corrupted.

Unidentified, I got about 80 bytes loaded correctly which matched up with a game that was already converted so I 'parked' it

 

I now see I also didn't convert 'New Studio 2-5 Game Set' I don't remember why that didn't work first time will need to check again.

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I'd rather place this information here, specifically for the fans of Studio II instead of Marketplace (if it not the good place, please let me know and don't hesitate to erase this post): I have a loose Hanimex MPT-02 system (with Grand Pack loose) to trade (I'll take photos in the next few days if someone interested). And I am looking for another Studio III clone like:

Apollo 80

Mustang 9016
Sheen M-1200
Toshiba Visicom COM-100
Trevi M-1200
Victory
or, why not, other items from other systems could interested me like intellivision synthesizer, astro bomber for Epoch Game Pocket computer, etc.
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Hard to say what the exact cause is that some tapes don't convert correctly. When I try to load them into my beta Emma 02 version which includes FRED load functionality they give parity errors. I have put this down to bad quality/old tapes but it is also possible that my tape load code isn't 100% correct. The FRED is the first 1802 machine I have come across that uses a dedicated tape load chip. All others use the 1802 to decide on the timing. For Emma 02 that means I had to include code to decode the wave forms whereas for other machines the 1802 code would handle all that.

 

Two files I could not load:

Secret Number, actually the first 10-20 bytes gave errors, the rest I got loaded. When I look at the file, the start of the wave looks corrupted.

Unidentified, I got about 80 bytes loaded correctly which matched up with a game that was already converted so I 'parked' it

 

I now see I also didn't convert 'New Studio 2-5 Game Set' I don't remember why that didn't work first time will need to check again.

 

Is the original recording for "Secret Number" available anywhere?

 

Do we know what it's supposed to be? I found a couple of candidates in the Cosmac VIP manual.

 

https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_rcacosmacCManual1978_6956559

 

Hi-Lo on page 56:

"This program uses the CHIP-8 IN- TERPRETER at 0000-01 FF. You have 10 chances to guess the value of a random number between 00 and 99 selected by the program. The number at the right of the screen shows the number of the guess you are using. Enter a two digit number and the computer tells you if you are high or low. Press any key to erase this number and then, try again. If you have failed after ten guesses, press any key and the number will be shown. If you are good you will never need more than seven guesses. If you are not so good, alter the program to allow more guesses by changing location 0292 from 4E0A to 4E99."

Deduce on page 62:

"This program uses the CHIP-8 IN- TERPRETER at 0000-01FF. This game is an old favorite, described as BAGELS in David Ahl's "101 Computer Games"; "What to Do After You Hit Return", p. 10 and 11 (People's Computer Com- pany); and many other places. The computer is thinking of a secret three-digit number. You should determine this secret number in a minimum of turns, indicated in lower right corner. Enter your guess - using any number 0-9. Each digit will be examined in the same way. For example, the digit in the first location is checked to see if it is the same as in the secret number. If it is, it receives a score of 2; if not, but does occur elsewhere in number, it receives a score of 1; and if not at all, a score of 0. The computer then gives you the total score below your guess as a clue. A score of 6 indicates that you have determined the secret number."

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I've got the recording for all three unconverted files (while I know Hagley plans on posting them online, they haven't yet). If anyone wants to take a stab at them I can pass them along.

 

I'm planning a visit up there soon, so if I find any materials that may help describe what the game is I'll pass them along. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a variant of Deduce though - that's a game that they had going back to System 00, and it's listed as a FRED 1 and FRED 2 program on Andy's github listing.

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Is the original recording for "Secret Number" available anywhere?

 

Do we know what it's supposed to be? I found a couple of candidates in the Cosmac VIP manual.

 

https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_rcacosmacCManual1978_6956559

 

Hi-Lo on page 56:

"This program uses the CHIP-8 IN- TERPRETER at 0000-01 FF. You have 10 chances to guess the value of a random number between 00 and 99 selected by the program. The number at the right of the screen shows the number of the guess you are using. Enter a two digit number and the computer tells you if you are high or low. Press any key to erase this number and then, try again. If you have failed after ten guesses, press any key and the number will be shown. If you are good you will never need more than seven guesses. If you are not so good, alter the program to allow more guesses by changing location 0292 from 4E0A to 4E99."

Deduce on page 62:

"This program uses the CHIP-8 IN- TERPRETER at 0000-01FF. This game is an old favorite, described as BAGELS in David Ahl's "101 Computer Games"; "What to Do After You Hit Return", p. 10 and 11 (People's Computer Com- pany); and many other places. The computer is thinking of a secret three-digit number. You should determine this secret number in a minimum of turns, indicated in lower right corner. Enter your guess - using any number 0-9. Each digit will be examined in the same way. For example, the digit in the first location is checked to see if it is the same as in the secret number. If it is, it receives a score of 2; if not, but does occur elsewhere in number, it receives a score of 1; and if not at all, a score of 0. The computer then gives you the total score below your guess as a clue. A score of 6 indicates that you have determined the secret number."

Thanks to Marcel's efforts to successfully get Secret Number working, I can confirm that it appears to be a prototype version of Fun with Numbers (which is pretty similar to Bagels). The big difference I've noticed is that it only gives you 10 turns to solve the secret number instead of 20 as the released version apparently does. It also reverses the 1p and 2p modes access button on the keypad. Interestingly there's another Studio II prototype of Fun with Numbers simply called Numbers that also seems slightly different. I couldn't tell you which came first, though.

 

I did receive the last batch of Hagley wav files today too - now everything from there has been digitally archived!

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For that matter, if the "clones" really were licensed Studio III systems, does that mean someone at RCA made small modifications to existing games? I'm mainly thinking of Casino/Blackjack where the built-in version on e.g. the M1200 and perhaps the other clones too, allows the player to place much higher bets than the earlier cartridge version. It reminds me of the difference you mention with number of guesses in different versions of nearly the same program, probably not rocket science to reprogram but someone's gotta do it and for a reason.

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I know for sure Andy Modla went back to Blackjack for the Studio iii version, and I think it makes sense that they would have made a few WIP builds of the games to tweak until they were satisfied.

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I spent a chunk of my Saturday visiting Hagley Museum and the Sarnoff Collection at TCNJ. Aside from getting to handle several FRED prototypes, I can confirm a few other neat facts about those and the coin arcade:

 

The coin arcade was indeed going to use "carts" ala the Neo Geo to swap games. They might not have had shells like the mvs games but the idea of having the game on a board you plugged into the main board was there.

 

Two of the arcade games were done by late 74, with the other two still in development. The memo didn't specify which. Nevertheless I think this confirms they only had four arcade games ever designed, though they recognized they could support this arcade system for years. The control panel was even going to be modular so you could swap it out for a different game that had different control needs!

 

Also the whole reason for doing the arcade system? Weisbecker had been aiming to make a commercial product using the FRED computer design and believed that would happen once they could reduce it to microchips; the two chip iteration (the 1801) was newly completed and he felt that an arcade machine would be the logical place to start for a commercial product, since you aren't limited to consumer-level pricing.

 

On FRED, I did find instructions for a whole slew of games - I would gather that around 25 unique games and programs were developed for the hardware's various iterations, including 18 of those for the "FRED 1" units and a few more for the more feature complete FRED 2. A good number of these have been found on cassettes at Hagley and TCNJ, and include a space shooting game against the computer, a bowling game, tic tac toe, a driving obstacle game called Spot Speedway, and a weird little AI demo using a simplified chess game called Hexapawn. Any of these that don't turn up on cassettes, Hagley does still seem to retain the source code (at least for the FRED 1 games). Incidentally, while pulling out stuff for me to look at, TCNJ's curator found even more tapes! They're now up to an even 100, though all but these new ones have been successfully digitized.

 

Also amazing: there was a FRED demonstration program written circa 1973 to ostensibly see if any of these units could be sold as commercial products to prospective vendors. In it, the program says you could hook the machine into a phone line to get sports scores and analysis, check prices at stores, or even shop without leaving your home! Weisbecker and his team basically predicted price checks and Amazon 25 years early.

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Thanks again to everyone working to get these programs archived. It's always neat to see how games evolved during the development process, and between the tapes and source code, we'll definitely see a lot of this from the Studio II family.

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For that matter, if the "clones" really were licensed Studio III systems, does that mean someone at RCA made small modifications to existing games? I'm mainly thinking of Casino/Blackjack where the built-in version on e.g. the M1200 and perhaps the other clones too, allows the player to place much higher bets than the earlier cartridge version. It reminds me of the difference you mention with number of guesses in different versions of nearly the same program, probably not rocket science to reprogram but someone's gotta do it and for a reason.

 

When it comes to cartridges released on both Studio II and Studio III, I believe that every one that's been dumped has been identical. Obviously that doesn't guarantee that any that haven't been dumped from multiple regions are the same.

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Wish there was a bigger production of the multi cart

 

The multicart hardware itself is still available... Don't think i've posted anything to the contrary? The only thing I don't have is shells/boxes: you'll have to provide your own, but it comes with stickers for the shell and a little manual...

 

FliP

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