PC-6001 Demo Tape

This is NEC’s official demonstration tape for the PC-6001, which offers the user a glimpse into what is possible with their new computer.

It begins with a simple program that loads from tape in about five seconds, called “color”. It just shows off how many colors your computer can display (eight, although BASIC can only access them in terrible ways), and shows a couple of simple images that make use of these colors. The second picture shows that this cheap computer is just as capable as all of the expensive computers you can’t afford, as long as you sink a small fortune into expansions and peripherals. Motivating!

The second program shows some graphic capabilities. You can make graphs and charts and propel your career forward. If I recall correctly, the fifth image in this batch is from the third program, which shows off the audio capabilities of the machine, which are primitive, but still certainly add to the ambiance of a game.

Up last is probably the most interesting program on the tape, which shows a series of squares being drawn in different colors, rotated slightly and drawn over the existing squares, in series until the overall shape looks increasingly like a colorful circle.

I think there were more programs on the second side, I forget. I actually took these photos a few months ago. Anyway, I think this is a sufficient sample to get the idea.

One thing to remember is that NEC wanted to show users the machines capabilities, but actually the machine is *far* more capable than what you see here. You may recall the PC-6001 port of Eggy I posted about recently, it does a far superior job of showing the machine’s true power. Commodore had the same situation. Their demo disk showed so little of what the computer could do. To really push the limits of the machines, you have to get it into the hands of serious game developers, musicians, and even business software developers. These demo tapes and disks are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, since I took these pictures, I have acquired a PC-6001mk2. The difference is unreal. Quadruple the memory, far more sophisticated graphic modes and capabilities, vastly improved audio. The difference is really comparable to going from a VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 (which is not to say the machines themselves are quite comparable to the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, but the difference realized is about as big). Hard to believe they slapped on the same model number and just referred it as a new version, when it offered so much more.

Fujitsu Oasys 30-SX401

I’ve always had a distant interest in Japanese word processors, but I had pretty much made up my mind not to get one. They’re big and bulky and it’s taking up a considerable amount of floor space in my room.

“Wait!”, you say. “You said you weren’t going to get one.” Well, here’s that story:

Back on Mercari. I saw an advertisement for a word processor. Not going to buy it, in fact, at 5000 yen, it’s a little expensive for what it is. But I do enjoy looking at them. Looked at the first three images, the system, a closeup shot of the model number, closeup shot of the keyboard.

Fourth image was a closeup of a model number, too, but it said NEC, not Fujitsu. What’s this? Fifth image, it’s an NEC data recorder AND a PC-6001mk2! Now that price seems totally reasonable! But the item title and description didn’t even mention these items. I had a few back-and-forth messages with the seller and he confirmed that the NEC items were included and he lowered the price down to 3500 yen, including shipping. What a fortuitous find!

The NEC will wait for another post, another day; this is about the Oasys. So I am happy to have the NEC and I feel my penance for that steal I got for the NEC is to find a good next home for the Oasys. First thing’s first, let’s see if I can sell it.

If I’m going to sell it, I have to get some photographs. So here is a quick look at the main system.

The next step was to power it on first and see if it works. This was moderately intimidating because I expected it was going to have a nasty degauss after not being used for 20+ years (imagine holding a sneeze for that long) and a big racket from the printer that has probably lost all of its lubrication. And that’s all fine, but there’s also the possibility that the whole thing is going to explode and burst into flames, and for that first second or two, you don’t know which you are hearing. But I did it. I turned it on and… nothing. I searched around to see if there was a secondary power switch somewhere, but nothing.

So I ignored it for a bit and opened up the PC-6001mk2, and suddenly three minutes later, the Oasys springs to life. Its white screen brightens up and reveals its demands: give me floppy disks.

Yeah, pal. Where am I going to find Oasys 30-SX401 floppy disks? That’s a wild goose chase if I ever… oh here are some. Right on Mercari. They’re not as much of a bargain as the machines I had just bought, but at about 1200 yen, it seemed the right next step. Since it can’t seem to find the hard drive, or the floppy drive belts might already be bad, or there may be gunk on the disks, I don’t assume everything will magically work just by having the floppy disks, but at least the next owner won’t have to search them down.

But to my surprise, actually, these floppy disks 100% fixed the problem. I plopped the disk in the “system” drive, and like five seconds later it displayed its opening screen. There is no hard drive, it just wanted the floppy disks so it could boot! Already, I’m quite taken by the unique appearance of the black and white, high-res monitor. I quickly tested out the keyboard and poked around a couple of the simple options that were included. I also found a useful menu with system utilities.

After I confirmed that things were basically working, I took on a bit more rigorous challenge – using the main system applications. I tested out the word processor, the spreadsheet program, the graphic generation program, and the address book application. A big part of the learning curve is the keyboard. Japanese text entry works quite a bit differently than it does on a modern PC. In fact, it’s even a bit confusing to get into English text entry. But I plodded on and created the following:

I also opened it up to check on the state of the battery. It wasn’t saving the date, so I was sure the battery was dead, but the fear is that it is spilling battery-guts all over the motherboard and its on its last legs. But the system all checked out clean. I’ll have to replace the battery at some point but it is okay for the time being.

There is a bit more expandability than I’d imagined. There are two card slots (not sure if they are actually PCMCIA or not, but at least along those lines). The side of the keyboard has two ports – one for a mouse and the other for a number pad extension. And in the back there are ports for an external printer, a “kaisen” (circuit? line?), a modem, and a paper feeder.

And I managed to find a game buried deep in the getting started menu. It’s a simple game where you guide a ship through a maze by typing key combinations that allow the ship to climb or descend. It’s tremendously exciting.

So I am now kind of happy with this system and I am not sure I want to sell it. And as for that NEC PC-6001mk2? It works, too!

Sharp X68000 Expert

Now I will take the opportunity to post about my X68000 Expert itself. As I mentioned in my previous post, which details the various stops along the way of getting an X68000, this was a serviced and guaranteed working system, meaning it was not cheap. But these are such problem-prone machines I wanted to have the best chance possible of continued operation.

The machine is in very good, but not perfect, cosmetic condition. All cosmetic flaws are easily overlooked by focusing on the unique and elegant design. There’s just nothing like this, past or present, and probably not in the future, either.

The official peripherals are also quite unique. There are many keys on this system that you won’t find on most other machines, and I’m not just talking about the Japanese entry keys. There are option keys and XF keys and other keys, many of which I still haven’t figured out the use for. I’ll need to spend some more time exploring this system, for sure. There are also a lot of keys that have status LEDs directly on the keys, which can make for a cool effect.

The mouse, too, is very clever. It has a mouse mode and a trackball mode. To switch into trackball mode, turn it over so the ball rolls to the top of the mouse’s body, and lock it in place by sliding the selector on the bottom from M to T. Then remove the cap from the top of the mouse. To put it back in mouse mode, just reverse the process. There are also two left buttons and two right buttons, one set on the top and one set on the sides. The mouse body can also be rotated 90 degrees, which I assume is for trackball mode should you want your buttons on the side instead of in front of the ball.

The underlying OS is called Human68k and certainly resembles DOS, although it appears to be different under the hood.

And much like MS-DOS has Windows, Human68k has SX-Window. It is not really multi-taking, just provides a simple GUI for common tasks. In a way, it reminds me more of GEOS for the Commodore 64. This is a basic version that is designed primarily to launch Gradius, but you can do things like copy files, make folders, set up the system timer, make notes, etc.

The software bundled with the system also includes a word processor, which, as far as I can tell, is called 日本語ワードプロセッサ, which translates to “Japanese Word Processor.” Clever name, fellas. It might be a bit under-featured for its time, but I guess the only thing I can compare it to is Word Perfect for DOS, which I suppose was ahead of its time, so perhaps this was the average? It’s a GUI-based WYSIWYG word processor, except I don’t think the WYSIWYG is 100%. Maybe 80-90%. Anyway, here it is, processing words.

The OS and productivity applications are interesting to me, but this system is about games, games, and more games! The X68000 is legendary for games. Famously, Capcom did their contemporary arcade game development on these machines, so the X68000 home versions might be identical to the coin-op version. Other companies also made stellar games because this system packs a serious graphics punch.

Here are some popular games in action: Gradius and Daimakai Mura (Ghouls n’ Ghosts, one of Capcom’s releases). As this isn’t a game introduction, I’m not going to explain much here, just a bit of showing off graphics. But look at the detail in the background of Daimakai Mura, it’s so meticulous!

Getting an X68000 Expert (the hard way)

This post turned out very differently from my intention. I just wanted to introduce the X68000 hardware that I currently have. But that will happen later. Once I started typing this out, I realized I wanted to find out one thing – the bottom line. So while I don’t usually talk about exact prices on this blog, this is an exception.

Last summer, I went back to the US to visit my family and friends. One stop on the list of places to go was my friend Chris’s house. I had been sending him pieces to get his own X68000 system, but they had only passed through my hands in transit, I’d never even plugged the system in. Of course, I had interest, but I didn’t pursue it. So when I visited his house, I saw the whole setup, and boy was it impressive.

When I got back home, I had the general sense I was going to get one, myself, but no solid plan. Then one day I saw an auction on Yahoo ending in about two hours. It was an X68000 Pro sitting at 10000 yen with very little time remaining. Operating condition was unknown. I took a risk and got it for 15000 yen. When I received it, I could only confirm that it displayed video, because I had no mouse, keyboard, or software (well, my X1 mouse actually works with it, and the mouse can conjure up a software keyboard, so I was technically just in need of software). This began a convoluted journey to where I am now.

So the next step in the rabbit hole was getting a mouse and keyboard and some games. I found another X68000 (first generation) that also was in unknown operating condition. It was a little more expensive, but it came with a mouse and keyboard, so for 22000, that is considered a pretty decent deal on this usually expensive system.

The X68000 didn’t work, but the mouse and keyboard were fine. They were gray and my Pro was black, so it was a bit of a mismatch, but it got the job done. I also picked up Shanghai at Beep in Akihabara so I could test if it loaded or not. Basically, the X68000 Pro worked fine, but one of my disk drives put scratches in disks. I cleaned it and it got better, but still put minor scratches in disks.

To prevent further damage to disks, I used my HxC emulator. It doesn’t support a lot of games, though, so I kinda hobbled by on whatever it would load for a while. There were some fun games, like Pac-Mania, Dig-Dug, and Columns (a personal favorite from my past), but most major titles for this system like Akumajo Dracula and Daimakai Mura (Castlevania and Ghouls n’ Ghosts in the western world, respectively) didn’t work.

Eventually I picked up a third machine – another X68000 first gen. It was the ying to my yang, a gray system with a black keyboard and mouse! This was expensive at 50000 yen, but it basically worked. As a bonus, it even came with an X68000 Expert box. One drive didn’t work at all, but non-working first gen to the rescue! I put one of the drives from the non-working X68000 first gen into the new one. Bingo! A fully working system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support the HxC emulator at all and I just couldn’t come to grips with buying the usually expensive software.

So I started selling stuff off. I sold off the broken first gen and the working first gen, superfluous keyboards, mice, and even the X68000 Expert box. I was able to recover most of the money I’d spent, and had a working Pro with matching black keyboard and mouse, and the only limitation was the disk scratching drive, which I avoided by only playing on the HxC emulator.

Then suddenly I happened to luck into good deals on two large batches of games. Suddenly I had 41 original titles on my hands. Using them on the X68000 Pro with it’s scratch-prone drive was problematic, though. Had I known this one was coming, I wouldn’t have sold that working first gen.

Fourth time’s the charm? I bought my most expensive X68000 to date – a fully maintained and working X68000 Expert, guaranteed to work for five days after delivery. It cost a whopping 62000 yen. But I’ve always got some plan brewing in the back of my mind. It came with an extra mouse, a keyboard adapter and PS/2 keyboard, manuals, and a pretty nice joycard. The mouse was a bit broken, but it’s still fairly valuable. The keyboard adapters are pretty valuable. The joycard is nice but I can sell another one and keep this as a small upgrade. And most importantly, I can sell the X68000 Pro. To transition to this machine will not be so expensive

It’s been working super smoothly, and even if I give it a bad disk, the drives themselves are not negatively impacted and don’t need to be disassembled and re-adjusted. It just works. Peace of mind. Almost all of the original games work. So this is the X68000 hardware I currently own. If all goes well, I don’t need to buy another one!

So how much have I put into this system and how much have I received back? Let’s see them numbers:
I bought:
15000 – X68000 Pro
22000 – X68000 first gen (gray, with gray keyboard and mouse)
50000 – X68000 first gen (gray, with black keyboard and mouse and Expert box)
62000 – X68000 Expert (black, with broken mouse, keyboard adapter, and controller)
149000 – Total

I sold:
7500 – X68000 first gen (broken)
43500 – X68000 first gen (working)
31500 – X68000 Pro
14000 – gray keyboard
7500 – gray mouse
5300 – keyboard adapter
6300 – black mouse (broken)
2400 – joycard
3400 – X68000 Expert Box (came with my second first-gen)
121400 – Total

Of course, Yahoo wants their cut. Minus 8.8% to leave me with 110,000. It puts the cost of my X68000 system, including keyboard and mouse, right around 39000 yen. In working order, these systems fetch between about 30000 and 150000 (depending on model and physical condition), so I’d say I didn’t do too bad.

Sega SG-1000 II

There’s this guy that repeatedly posts wonderful items to Mercari at really low prices. For example, 4000 yen for a Commodore MAX Machine. Tape games for fairly uncommon systems at 500 yen each. The items are almost always snapped up in less than a minute. I always try to get in on this action, but it’s long gone before I have a chance.

And then, last Friday, I managed to snag something! I wasn’t even 100% sure what it was, and it didn’t turn out to be an amazing deal or anything. It’s all okay, I just wanted to win something from the guy! Still, this is an incredibly mint system. It’s a Sega SG-1000 II. More of a game console than a computer, but expanded to have computing capabilities, similar in concept to a Coleco Adam. It came incredibly well packaged, everything must have been carefully stored and very well taken care of. I believe the word “pristine” applies here.

It came with both controllers, two versions of BASIC, and a handful of games, too. Most of the games are not widely known, but there is one huge title – Zaxxon. Makes sense as that is a Sega game, too. Of the games I’ve tried so far, there seems to be a fairly good standard of quality. I’ll review a couple in greater detail in future posts.

I was told that the keyboard does not work, and indeed it did not when I first connected it. Clean the keyboard edge connector? But as immaculate as this machine is from the outside, how could it possibly be so dirty inside that it can’t receive input from the keyboard? But cleaning the connector was too easy, so I did it anyway. And then the keyboard started working! The keyboard connects by a little removable plate in the front left of the system. It’s probably the least elegant thing about this system.

The standard video output is limited to RF. Wow. I haven’t used RF in maybe 30 years? My option for connecting RF is limited to my two PC-TV series monitors. I didn’t find the process all that straightforward. In the US, I set my Atari 2600 to channel 3, my TV to channel 3, and magic happened. With this TV monitor, though, I had to go through quite a process to tune it to understand the signal. To be honest, I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, but I got it very usable for the time being.

I poked around a bit with BASIC. 40-column text over RF can be highly unreadable, so it is critical to choose the right color scheme. Usually, a bold color on black background seems to work decently. The first picture here, black on blue, is also pretty readable, but I don’t think my receiver was tuned properly at this point because it seems the default background color should be green.

As I mentioned, there are two versions of BASIC. One is BASIC Level II-B, which is what I used in the first three pictures. If I understand correctly, it just uses the system RAM, allowing only 2KB for your program! The other cartridge, used in the last picture, is BASIC SK-III, which comes with 32KB of RAM and supplies extra commands to the system.

So how are the games? Well, the three that I’ve tried are pretty fun. I’ll speak more about them later, but here are some sample screen shots from Monaco GP (picture 1), Zippy Race (pictures 2 and 3), and Zaxxon (pictures 4 and 5). For a fairly rudimentary system, the games seem quite well done. Monaco GP is a street car racing game. Zippy Race is a motorcycle race that, most interestingly to me, has you race in two different perspectives. And of course Zaxxon is a true classic. Fantastic!