NEC PC-8801MA2

I was a little hesitant about this one at first. I couldn’t tell if I had a few bad disks or if there was something wrong with a drive or the controller, but I’m growing a little more confident that the disks were at fault and the computer is fine.

This is another Yahoo Auctions purchase. The system itself is in fantastic shape, but it came with a yellowed keyboard, which I replaced with a much nicer looking one as soon as I could. Here is the system in its current state.

This evolution of the PC-8801 series keyboard is very interesting. It has some new keys that the PC-8801mkII didn’t have, most notably the PC key. We’ll see how that key is used later. But even more eye-popping, NEC decided to translate almost every key into Japanese.

It’s another Z80-based machine, but this one has a switch allowing it to run at either 4MHz or 8MHz. For games that I’ve seen thus far, they should all run at 4MHz, but I suppose applications would benefit from the 8MHz switch. It also comes with 192KB of RAM, two high-density floppy drives that can also operate on double-density disks, and a large kanji ROM for facilitating Japanese text. It’s quite a sophisticated 8-bit machine.

When I turn it on, it displays its graphic mode in large green letters and then has one of two options. The first is booting directly to internal BASIC on ROM, and the other is booting from floppy disk.

If we boot to BASIC, we are greeted with the “How many files?” prompt. Enter the number of files you think you will need to keep open simultaneously and proceed. I find that zero works well enough for most situations, certainly this one. Here I’ve booted into the monitor and pressed the “Help” key, which brings up this command screen.

I ran the memory test with the “tm” command. It provided a series of alarming garbage to populate the screen, but then it became kind of colorful and comforting as it seemed to pass through the test without issue.

If you choose to boot from disk, you should insert them before turning on the machine, because if you don’t it will eventually time out and ask you to put the disks in the drive. I’ve booted a couple of games I had lying around at the time – Nintendo Golf and Haja no Fuuin. The picture on the left is from the golf game.

So how do we tell the computer whether to boot from disk or ROM? Unlike previous versions of the PC-8801 series, you set it in a function similar to a modern PC’s BIOS. This is pretty interesting to me. When you want to access the BIOS, turn on the system while holding down the “PC” key on the keyboard. It offers four screens of configuration options and even responds to the help key, displaying a different help screen for each configuration screen.

One thing I haven’t quite figured out about this system is the lack of joystick port. I’ve seen someone on Yahoo Auctions plug a joystick into the mouse port, but I don’t think that’s correct. None of the ports on the back support a standard joystick. I know for PC-98 series machines, joysticks come in the form of piggyback-ready keyboard controllers, perhaps the same is true of the PC-8801 series, but I’ve never seen one!

Shogun – A Word Processor for my X1

As I mention from time to time, I enjoy checking out and using productivity apps on my old machines. I recently joined Mercari and I found this little treasure nobody wanted.

It’s Shogun, a word processor for the Sharp X1 Turbo Z. Yes, you need to go all the way to the Z model, because it comes on high-density floppy disks. Actually, the disk claims it’s for X1 Turbo, so it was probably released on double-density floppy disks, as well.

When you boot up, you are greeted by this beautiful opening screen. I had to get an animation of it!

But once you get down to business, the glamour of the fancy title screen fades away quickly and you are greeted by a blindingly white screen.

I’ll need to go back and take some better screenshots sometime. They looked pretty good on my phone, but uploading to full size they are quite blurry. For now, here are my low-quality captures of my text-typing adventures. The images kind of tell the story as I go, if you can read them First in English:

Then a Japanese entry tutorial. Figuring out how to enter Japanese was a bit counter-intuitive, because they re-purposed the kana key on the keyboard. So I had to tell the menu to use full-width entry, then to use Japanese by pressing the kana key on the keyboard, which normally only allows you to type in using direct Japanese symbols, which is an outdated method of text entry. The software is smart enough to use romaji entry, so might as well take advantage of that, for sure!

And one more type-up in pure Japanese. It was nowhere near as smooth to type as it is in modern Windows, but I could get the hang of it a bit.

And that’s my run with Shogun!

Additional Software – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 5 of 5

This final branch of the demo disk is probably the most interesting to me. I love games, but I’m also really interested in 8-bit productivity applications. This highlights some of the productivity apps available for this system.

First up is Graphic Editor. It’s a ineloquent version of Photoshop, but then again, Photoshop 1 was also an ineloquent version of Photoshop! Actually I can’t judge its eloquency, but the demonstration was definitely over the top! This reminds me of an “examples of bad photoshop jobs” web page. But I think the reason was probably just limitation of technology at the time. It was 1987 on an 8-bit machine, after all!

I mean, okay, most of it can be explained. buildings in the background, sure. Bird in the sky and kayak on the water, only natural. I know I have seen elegant images of pianos on the beach, probably in music videos and the like. I’ll even give it the computer. Perhaps they were trying to make a statement, the computer looks as elegant on a beach as the piano, or perhaps it was just a cheeky placement of their product.; either way is fine. The three Leaning Towers of Pisa, though?! That’s just jumping the couch!

Three!

Next up is some animation software. Now, I don’t know what potential this software has. The demo is certainly unimpressive, but it might have good applications? I mean, it has the NTSC converter/superimpose/VCR output card as an option, it might not be too far a stretch that this could be used in a budget production system to create some simple multimedia animations to go with other video content. But I am not sure you would jump to such a conclusion by seeing this demo.

It establishes the three shapes as objects and seemingly automatically morphs from one object to the next as it goes across the screen. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Third is a demo of FM Teleact/FM Communication, which is a simulation of dialing into a Japanese data service/BBS system. I probably missed out by never doing this when I was a teen. But not only did I not have a modem, I didn’t really even have the concept of computers accessing remote services at the time. I probably would have enjoyed it.

The first screen introduces the software, and the second screen is the main menu when you launch the software, allowing you to connect to or to set up your services. The following three screens are all setup screens, just to show what options were available.

Finally, in the sixth screen, we connect and log in. The seventh screen shows us a menu of services, from which 3 is selected – a bulletin board system. On the eighth screen is a list of options for interacting with the bulletin board, you can manage your profile, engage in free talk, talk about hobbies, travel, and books, etc. The “user” chooses 9, a bulletin board to discuss computers and word processors. Beneath that, a list of posts are displayed. The user opens one and reads some information about advanced features of the FM-77AV20EX and logs out. Probably don’t want to stay connected too long, I imagine getting on these services was quite expensive in Japan in the 80s!

Finally, and this is the most interesting to me, is FM Japanese Sheet, an application similar to a spreadsheet that allows your to enter user-defined columns of data and manipulate the data using a GUI. I really wish I could find a copy of this and try using it!

And this concludes this series on highlights of the FM-77AV20EX system disk. Now to find something to do with my newfound free time!

Audio Software – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 4 of 5

As alluded to in the third article in this series, the machine has a 3-voice FM synthesizer (in addition to a 3-voice PSG synthesizer, for a max of six voices at once). I believe you could squeeze the full functionality of this by simply using the PLAY command in BASIC, but I am sure musicians would generally prefer a music composition software package with a GUI that is more intuitive and visual. Fujitsu’s got you covered!

First is FM Music Editor. Based on my experience with the Sharp X1 music editing software “V.I.P.”, I probably wouldn’t really be able to do much with this software even if it were physically possible, but unlike the X1, the FM-77AV20EX doesn’t actually come with a software package, just demos, both passive and interactive. This demo was passive so it just started playing a song while displaying the music someone else had already composed. Which is good, because I couldn’t make that!

Next up is the sound editor. Again, not a clue what I’m doing. But it is an interactive demo, so I altered some values that caused the little triangle doohickeys to change shape, and that affected the overall sound. But I don’t think it necessarily sounded good!

And that’s actually kind of all for the music composition. The remainder of the software is for non-musicians. The third item in the menu is FM Music World, which I gather to be something of a multimedia encyclopedia of music. You can activate different parts of the world and make an improvised musical performance.

And finally, FM Music Box. It is a late-80s, synthesized music only version of WinAmp. I don’t know if it really kicks the llama’s ass or not, because this also is a non-interactive demo with only one song. I kinda feel they could have offered more so you could get a sense of what interacting with the software was like.

And that wraps up the music software menu branch!

Shanghai II

Taking a breather from the FM-77AV20EX disks to post about Shanghai II. Yes, Shanghai II. Two! I was going to spill into a diatribe about how Activision managed to make a sequel to a 1980s video game based on a thousands-years-old puzzle game, but then I did the research to find out when Shanghai as a puzzle game got its start, only to learn that it began very recently and is basically relegated to the computer world. Well, it would be hell to set up the pieces each time, so I can understand why.

And actually, it’s a relatively good sequel. The tile graphics didn’t change, but they added several different board layouts, and compared to the silent original, this game has a different background tune for each board. Here is the menu to select the screen and the six layouts: Tiger, Scorpion, Monkey, Snake, Panther, Dragon.

Luck was on my side tonight, I managed to win (actually, twice in a row). I played the “monkey” layout because I felt it had fewer free tiles to start with, making it more challenging to win. So here is the progression of how my game went: full set of tiles (144), 75%, 50%, 25%, 12.5%, and last 2 tiles.

And the winner screen of Shanghai II:

Despite the improvements, I wouldn’t have bought this game, already having the original for my Sharp X1 Turbo Z, but I wanted to get a couple of cheap games so I could check that my PC-8801 MA2 system was working well, so I got this one and Relics from the same seller and got them shipped together.

I only noticed this yesterday, but the NEC PC-8801 MA2 doesn’t have a joystick port. This seems really strange to me. I am sure there must have been some solution because every major competitor had joysticks available. But in any event, the original Shanghai on my X1 had three options: joystick, keyboard and mouse. This game had three options, too – NEC mouse, serial mouse, or keyboard. I’d played it with the keyboard until last night, when I decided to try my FM Towns mouse in the NEC mouse port, and it worked a treat! But the X1 mouse was a little unhappy about having its mousepad usurped.

My friend has a PC-98 series game controller, and it plugs into his keyboard port, which provides pass-through to the keyboard so both can be connected at the same time. Perhaps I need something like this, but I’ve never seen such a controller for the PC-8801 series.