FM16π

This is actually my second FM16π, that is supposed to be a “pi” symbol but it looks pretty much like a table in some fonts. This one came along and offered some obvious benefits over my first, so I decided to bite the bullet on it and sell my first one to cover some of the costs.

First benefit, it comes with this handsome, dedicated briefcase with the logo in white on the bottom right.

Everything fits snugly inside, including the special printer, the second benefit over my first one. It’s kind of a novelty, so I am not sure if I will keep the printer or not, but given the perfect fit in the briefcase, it sort of seems like those two items should be kept or sold together. I took them both out and the system powered on without issue, the printer readied itself for printing.

And the third benefit I knew about when making the purchase is that the FM16π itself is much cleaner. Here’s its glamour session:

And the printer’s:

And there was also one hidden benefit over my original system. Either this is a slightly different model with more memory, or it has had a memory upgrade performed, I would guess up to 512KB, whereas my first FM16π probably had 256KB. I’m just guesstimating by the reported free memory when launching F-BASIC86, it’s about 230KB greater than before. I’m sure I’ll never put it to use.

It is a CP/M-86 based system, and in addition to BASIC it comes with a menu program, a terminal program, and JW (I think this is short for J-Word). Either my installation is incomplete (on both of the FM16π systems that I’ve used), or commands and capabilities of this implementation of CP/M-86 are different, because I haven’t been able to execute many commands successfully. The menu system offers some system setup options, so you can do things like change the date outside of the command prompt. Actually, I don’t even know if you can change it from the command prompt.

J-Word is a menu-driven text editor? Word processor? I’m not sure which category it falls into yet. The menu commands are plenty, but they don’t really seem to be much about formatting, so I guess it’s probably a text editor. In any event, it’s the program in my possession most ready to start printing, so I fired it up and set the printer to task.

Results were not fantastic, but using 30-year-old printing ribbon doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially since it was opened and installed. I can read most of it. I tried changing the settings, both in software and hardware. The menu allows you to choose a 16-or 24-pin kanji printer, defaulting to 24 but setting it to 16 only produced those black squares, so that clearly wasn’t the answer. The printer has a dial for light or heavy printing, and the final image is set to the two extremes, neither of which addressed the problem of splotches of completely missing print. So now I have to decide whether to open one of the two spare ribbons it came with to see if it works or not.

Sharp MZ-80K2

I’ve had my eye on one of these Sharp machines with the integrated monitor for as long as I’ve been perusing Yahoo Auctions. They come in a variety of models and they’re all really quite striking. They vary in price but they’re not necessarily that expensive, but I’ve always avoided buying them because they’re just so gargantuan. See:

So as you can see, my resolve was broken, I finally got one. I’m a sucker for a bargain and this was the cheapest I’ve ever seen one priced, and shipping was included. In addition to big, it’s also heavy, as expected; I estimate it’s a good 15kg.

The MZ-80K series comes in three colors – red, green, and brown – brown being my third choice by a long shot, but bargain hunters can’t always be choosers. Now that I have it here, though, I can see why some would choose brown. It’s a pretty handsome-looking machine.

The seller included a short laundry list of minor problems but so far none of them have actually happened on my watch. In fact, it seems to be working quite well, with the only noticeable problem being that the tape deck controls are kinda stiff. I sometimes have to press play, rewind, or fast forward a couple of times for it to trigger. No big deal. It came with three tapes: BASIC (essential!), Poker (playable! but with a terrible fortune telling app on the back), and Montage (where you try to remember the details of the face of a criminal and the answer the police-computer’s questions about it in an attempt to recreate the face, which is really boring, yet it seems someone actually sold this game).

The keyboard works, the tapes all work, but something isn’t quite right… oh! That’s right. The monitor is black and white but it’s supposed to be green. That must be why I can’t catch a break in the poker game. How do I enable green mode… aha! Here we are.

There we go. The Poker game requires the green overlay to be installed in order to function properly, I guess. Mine has a small crack but that doesn’t seem to matter.

The BASIC tape included a little note about turning on auto-repeat for several keys, most notably the space bar, cursor keys, and backspace key. Also clear/home, but I’m not clear on the benefit of that. The command must be typed every time you start BASIC, as it only changes the setting in memory. Set to 0 to turn auto-repeat on, set to 1 to turn it off (counter-intuitively).

The MZ-80 is a very close cousin the MZ-700, so in addition to the cassettes I received, I also have my existing MZ-700 library to test. Not everything works, not by a long shot, but it can load some games, both BASIC and machine language games. The best-working games so far are Pac-Man and Zombie Panic, which are unfortunately almost the same game.

Unfortunately, the controls are awkward. As I mentioned, the MZ-80 is a series, and in the series, K means “kit”, at least, 50% of the time (once). So the MZ-80K was sold as a DIY-kit for you to assemble. The MZ-80K2 was not sold as a kit, but rather a low-end version of the MZ-80B, and resembles the MZ-80K in a lot of ways, including the keyboard.

The keyboard is quaint and although I’ve seen a variety of states of the K-class keyboard, I’d say the plastic covers have done a nice job of preserving the keys on my keyboard. I like the aesthetic. *Using* it, on the other hand, is not superb. The keyboard really struggles if you type too fast, so you have to slow down. If you have two keys down at the same time, it almost certainly won’t pick up the second one (excepting the shift key, of course). And the layout is not at all standard, although it does follow QWERTY order.

The result is that the game keys are often laid out terribly. Pac-Man keys are all on the same row, with N・comma・forward-slash・first blue key controlling left, right, up, and down, respectively. I mean, you can probably get used to this, but it’s not very natural. And another quirk, if you don’t press S to start, the game will automatically start for you after the mini demo. This doesn’t happen on the MZ-700.

Zombie Panic seems a little more straightforward, because it uses the cursor keys. But wait! It’s the Commodore 64-style cursor keys! So going down or right use the cursor keys, but going up and left use shift plus cursor keys! Again, you can probably get used to this, and this game is in BASIC so it could probably be fixed fairly trivially, but it’s basically the same game as Pac-Man with much lower production value, so it’s probably not worthwhile.

HuCAL is probably the most compatible software from my MZ-700 library, but that’s probably because timing isn’t critical in a spreadsheet program like it is in a game.

Other games like Galaxian will load and attempt to play, and if you are familiar with the MZ-700 version, you will see that it looks pretty similar but with incorrect characters, and the incorrect characters somehow seem to amount to collision so you can’t move when the game starts, you just die immediately.

And still other games just won’t load. They’ll get to the end of the tape and still think they’re loading, or will have frozen. So despite their similarities, they’re clearly different enough to have spotty compatibility.

Sega SC-3000

This machine has, for better or for worse, replaced my SG-1000 II with keyboard attachment SK-1100. I reasoned that the integrated keyboard would make it much more convenient to use the programming cartridges, and the composite video output capability of the SC-3000 (compared to RF only output of the SG-1000 II) would make it easier to use, both in terms of connecting and easier on the eyes while in operation.

I have actually bought two of these machines. The first one had a spotty keyboard, all keys would work but some, especially ins/del, needed to be pressed *really* hard to be input. The second one also had an imperfect keyboard, but it was much better than the first. I swapped out the keyboards so I could keep the more attractive case of the first SC-3000. Even still, I have to admit, the typing experience on the SK-1100 was much better (the owner of that machine took phenomenal care of his systems).

Taking the keyboards apart is fairly obnoxious, with their 15 screws and tiny posts for the rubber keys to attach to, and weird square tab indents to hold the top rear portion in place. After reassembling, they don’t quite feel the same; the functionality is fine but it seems a little creaky. I think the plastic top doesn’t sit as well as it used to. Maybe it’s just my own poor skill. In any event, my recommendation is to get one in great condition with working keyboard so you don’t have to mess with it!

I finally bought the composite video cable adapter after a few weeks of messing with it over RF. The double-headed design is clever, it seems it works in the SC-3000, SG-1000 Mark 3, Master System, and the MegaDrive/Genesis, including the last revision with its oddball connector. The composite video output is definitely simpler and doesn’t require tuning, but it oddly seems lower video output quality than the RF. It was a really cheap cable, so perhaps that’s the reason why.

Enough of the cheap shotting, though. It’s easy to pick on rubber chiclet keyboards and old video output, but this system’s got heart, too.

Like its predecessor, it has no built-in BASIC ROM, so you have to plug in a cartridge for it to do anything. This more than anything gives it a console feeling despite appearances, similar to the Commodore MAX Machine. Many Sharp machines also didn’t include a language ROM, but they did include a monitor so you could interact with the machine without loading anything.

The selection of BASIC cartridges is surprisingly varied; I know of five for this system. They vary depending on number of available commands and cartridge-supplied memory. The one I have is the most advanced that I know of, using BASIC level III B and containing 32KB of RAM, which gives you plenty of room to write programs. And the system comes with audio in/out ports on the back for saving your programs to cassette.

And besides BASIC, of course, there are a lot of games. Some of these are probably familiar to many, it includes a solid version of Congo Bongo, and this port of Lode Runner runs really smoothly. The third may be a Japan-only game, at least I’d never heard of it before, called Hustle Chumy. I’m not yet clear what you’re supposed to do in the game. I get to the top of the stage and nothing really happens, so I probably need to somehow manipulate the ladder covers earlier in the level.

The SC-3000 is completely compatible with the cartridges made for the SG-1000 II, and I’ve actually picked up quite a few games along the way. There are probably a good four or five in here that I’ve yet to even test.

The one other shortcoming of this system compared to the SG-1000 II is that it doesn’t come with the convenient side hooks on the system to hold the gamepads in place. In fact, while it has two joystick ports, it doesn’t even seem to have dedicated game controllers of any sort. And the joystick ports have moved from the back (which is okay, that’s not such a great solution for controllers with such short cables, anyway), opting instead for the Commodore-style joystick port placement, where both are on the same side. The games all work with the keyboard, so I guess that’s what you were expected to use. For the time being, I’ve kept my SG-1000 II controllers.

Fujitsu FM‐NEW7

I bought and didn’t even write a blog post about the Fujitsu FM-7, and I’ve already traded it in for an FM-NEW7. Now, I wasn’t there thinking, “God, I’ve just GOT to get the latest and greatest version of this machine!” when I switched to the NEW7. In fact, they’re practically the same machine. It was a chance happening of a good deal on Mercari, an untested FM-NEW7, which was in better condition than my (then) current, somewhat-yellowed FM-7.

When I got it, it didn’t work. It powered on and came up to a blank screen with a flashing cursor that basically reacted to nothing, but I did notice that if I held “break” while powering on, it stayed in 80-column mode instead of its usual shift to 40-column mode, so I felt it was still being as responsive as it could; it was probably a simple problem.

Well, I’ve got this FM-7 that works, let’s see if I can transfer chips from the FM-7 to the FM-NEW7 and fix it. The machines shared only two socketed chips, but lo-and-behold, one of them fixed it! A kind donation of a working BASIC ROM from Curt later, and I had a working FM-NEW7 and a working FM-7 to sell.

Starting with the FM-7 and continuing all the way up to FM77AV, Fujitsu’s FM series provided the most amazingly convenient access to expansion cards. In the case of FM-7 and FM-NEW7, just take off the raised lid and plop them in. Pretty neat! I’ve got no expansion cards, however.

And I kept the cover from my old FM-7. So at first it looks like just an FM-7, so if a thief sees it they’ll think, “I don’t want this old crap.” but secretly it’s the FM-NEW7!

The quality of the cover is very good but I’m not sure what was intended by the length of the hang. They seemed to clearly want to provide access to the power plug so you don’t have to unplug that. That makes sense, and directly below the power plug are the reset button and the cassette DIN jack, so you don’t have to unplug the cassette either, good thinking. But then the CRT DIN jacks are both mostly covered. Do they not want me to leave those plugged in? I mean, the cover will go on even with them plugged in, but it’s as if they wanted to cover them. Anyway, I leave the cover off when I’m using it (of course), and when I’m not using it, I unplug everything and put it in my storage cabinet, anyway, so no big deal.

If you’ll notice, there is no joystick port. And keyboard-as-a-joystick implementation on these machines is a bit odd. The keyboard doesn’t have a means to detect when a key is released, it only sees that a key is being pressed. So when you play a game and you want to stop moving in a certain direction, you have to press another key. That key can be another direction, or a neutral key designated as a way to stop. This almost always pans out as using the number pad as a joystick, with four or eight directional movement surrounding the 5 key, with 5 being used to stop. This is very unusual and not so easy to get used to.

Besides that, though, the FM-(NEW)7 is a stellar gaming machine. With its high-res graphics mode and crisp digital RGB output, the games look beautiful, certainly on par with the Sharp X1. Here are a few examples:

Mario Bros. Special, which is available on many Japanese 8-bit platforms:

Lydia, a graphical adventure with some action scenes (I didn’t play long, I’m not sure exactly of the flow of the game). Very notable for coming on four tapes and having 3D glasses, not that I can see 3D:

Front Line, an action battle game:

BlackHoll 2 (I assume this is supposed to say BlackHole 2) a pair of space shooter games:

And last but not lea… wait, least. Definitely least. Shogi. It gets an honorable mention because of the stellar box art, which was probably 98% of the budget:

Sharp PC-3100S

In addition to the X1 and the MZ series of computers, Sharp had another line of 8-bit computers. This would have been released around the time of the NEC PC-8001, and could probably be considered its peer, but did not achieve a fraction of the notoriety that the PC-8001 did. Information on this system appears scant.

Kudos to the Japanese couriers for the way they treat packages. One of the stickers on each box reads “do not crush box; putting heavy items on this box is forbidden.” Indeed, they arrived in good shape, for being approximately 40-year-old cardboard boxes. I opened up the boxes and laid out the components.

The machine and matching monitor are in amazing condition! This is all pre-cleaning but the worst thing I can see was done intentionally – the tape to hold the function-keys guide in place. But now the big test… does it work? If either one of these pieces doesn’t work, I’m up a creek, at least for a while, because I would need to bug someone to make me a custom cable for either the monitor or the system to be able to test them separately.

But luckily, they fired right up! I breathe a sigh of relief every time I see these ancient beasts still beat their electronic hearts. Okay, I see we are dumped into BASIC, as is customary for most of these computers, although now that I think about it, both the MZ and X1 series don’t, so I was pretty pleased that the PC series does, as I wouldn’t be able to do much without it. BASIC, though, I can do something with. Or can I? The most basic of BASIC commands, PRINT, is recognized but doesn’t do what one would expect it to.

First, when you make an error, the PC-3100S *really* wants you to stop and think about what you’ve done. It beeps three times, displays your error at the bottom, and doesn’t give you your cursor back! Never seen anything like it. As far as I can tell, you have two options for proceeding, up-arrow to get your line back and fix it, or CL to erase the line and start over. DISP seems to work the same as PRINT in standard BASIC. Perhaps in this BASIC, PRINT is for interacting with a printer? This is far from the only difference in BASIC. From the one and only source of informationI could find about this system, which also isn’t terribly detailed, this BASIC is similar to Sharp’s pocket computer BASIC. So that might be a source of information, too.

Let’s take a closer look at the aesthetics and connections of this machine. First is the main system itself. It has a decidedly unique keyboard. The first thing I noticed quickly was that there is no shift key. You instead go from mode to mode using the dedicated keys. You start in alphanumeric mode, and you can switch to katakana mode or punctuation mode. And although it’s not a mode per se, you can also enter another set of characters and graphic symbols by holding down control. Parts of this system resemble the MZ-700, although the MZ-700 does also have a shift key. The directional arrow keys surrounding the home key is also unusual. But really, aside from having a QWERTY layout, they made this different in almost every way.

And the monitor. You can adjust the viewing angle and the height by pivoting or sliding it along the rails on the side. That’s pretty cool! It’s also much lighter than most, I guess because it’s monochrome and doesn’t need all of the extra electronics to process and generate color. And another first for me, there’s no plug for the video source of any sort, you screw in three wires for video, sync, and ground. I’m not sure if mixing these would produce disastrous results or not, but I’m certainly glad they left the cable attached!

I do believe there is a problem with the system. It largely appears to work, but the way it stores code and displays it seems problematic. I’m trying to figure out the pattern and will post more soon, but I think there’s probably something wrong with a RAM chip. There are many other quirks, which may just be standard system behavior or may be glitches. This system is so unlike anything I’ve used before, I’m not able to clearly determine.