Ice Warriors

A tale of two MZ-700s. The game Ice Warriors was developed for the MZ-700 in Europe, but I have an MZ-700 for the Japanese market. The systems are compatible, having the same hardware configuration. The only differences are on the keyboard and in the character ROM. But sometimes that’s critical!

I picked this up on the cheap from eBay, even shipping to Japan was not very expensive. However, when I tried to load it from the monitor, it didn’t find any data. Is the format of the tape somehow inherently incompatible? Is the tape bad? I tried both sides, but nothing.

Then one day, I stumbled upon some information: programs written in BASIC are saved with a different identifier and not picked up by the monitor’s loader. Now that I think about it, it makes sense, since the MZ-700 has no built-in BASIC. So I tried loading BASIC, switched the tape, then loaded Ice Warriors. And it found the program! And then READ ERROR!

But I’m not going to be deterred at this point. I tried a few more times with no success, so I tried the back side. It also produced a load error, but the second time it worked! I can play Ice Warriors!

Well, the title screen looks pretty good, if you assume the text is actual Japanese. The problem is, it’s not. The difference between the character ROMs is affecting the ability to play the game. What that is actually trying to say is:

ICE WARRIORS
of VALTEC
Copyright Solo Software
Please wait whilst game is set up.

Or at least, I would bet money that is what it’s supposed to say. It’s what I expect it is saying based on the length of each word, repeated characters, commonly used verbiage with old games, and process of elimination.

But I still refused to give up after I got this far. I slowly worked through the cryptogram to create a character and get into the game, even going so far as to have one battle, which was also messed up due to the character ROM differences, but that’s okay. I felt very satisfied getting this far! And those beautiful graphics were worth my several hours of effort over the past year or so.

HuCAL

I picked up this MZ-700 application. I enjoy poking around with them, just to see what productivity was really like back then. The most productivity I can recall doing back in my childhood was using Magic Desk I on the Commodore 128. It was basically a typewriter emulator, so doing more sophisticated things like this spreadsheet application is a pretty new experience for me.

It loaded (on the fourth time) and I was up and running. I could figure out some of the basics, such as entering text, entering numbers, inserting and deleting rows and columns, adjusting column width, and entering the expression editor to perform simple mathematical calculations. The one thing I really would like to figure out but couldn’t is how to perform calculations by cell reference (for example, in Excel, navigating to C1 and entering “=A1+B1” would add the values of A1 and B1 and put it in cell C1). I can’t seem to find any syntax for it online, and in fact, I can’t seem to find much about this program at all! So it’s more a curiosity.

Pac-Man

This is my copy of Pac-Man for the Sharp MZ-700. It is a Japanese release, but I got it on eBay, not Yahoo Auctions, from a US seller. Probably a bit cheaper than it would have been locally. The box was in pretty dirty condition when I got it, and am pleased with how nicely it turned out after a cleaning.

As I mentioned on my MZ-700 page, the computer does not have a graphics mode by default. So how do the games look? Blocky! But the system still got major releases like Pac-Man and Galaxian. And serious effort was put into the playability of the games. They are a lot of fun. From the high-score data that won’t get saved to the unique “coffee break” scene that mimics the cut-scenes in the arcade, this port is a fantastically unique port of Pac-Man.

One thing, and to me this is so ridiculous it’s awesome, is the chomping sound. It is so deep and bass-y. To really drive it home, the computer has an internal speaker, and the controls are on the keyboard, so you can feel the vibrations of the sound through your hands. What an experience!

I took the time to record the gameplay, so why don’t you watch it?

By the way, I said there was no graphics mode by default. There was a (rare and expensive, of course) peripheral that provided a PCG (programmable character generator) which allows a replacement 256 character set with per-pixel color to be loaded. This is the same feature that drove the Sharp X1’s arcade game ports to be so realistic. Pac-Man is one of the games programmed to take advantage of it, it is on the reverse side of the tape.

Sharp MZ-700

Another machine I bought on a whim. Never heard of it before buying it, but found the design aesthetics to be beautiful. It was a tested-working item and in nearly immaculate condition, but as Japanese vintage computers go, it was not terribly expensive. The seller included a hand-written note when he shipped it. To date, this is the only time I’ve experienced that.

The MZ-700 is pretty unique not only in design, but also unexpected built-in features. The flagship submodel was the MZ-731, which includes a built-in cassette recorder and a color plotter-printer. That’s quite an impressive ready-to-roll solution for its time.

I received it and connected it through composite video through the RCA jack. Speaker is internal. Fired right up, as expected. The MZ-700 does not have BASIC on ROM, so you boot straight into a monitor. The most typical course of action is to press “L” and then press play on the cassette recorder.

In Japan, not only is selling copied software prohibited, but some everyday users make it a point to report auctions that do so. In addition, they’ll report auctions that even include such software, even if it’s clearly not the main focus of the auction. To a point, I can understand, but this can leave many people without any means to use the machine.

So while this system wasn’t sold with any software, I was very glad that the seller included two copies of BASIC (S-BASIC and HuBASIC), and a compilation of about eight games on a single tape as an undisclosed bonus.

It’s also lovely on the inside. Such a modular machine with easily removable components. You don’t have to open the case to remove the tape drive or printer.

Another really unique thing about this machine is that there is no graphics mode. Games make use of system character glyphs, letters and numbers, and large blocks. When I think of that style of game, I think of the rinky-dink games like Ladder or ASCII-Invaders or what-not. But these games are quite well done. One example is Yellow Balloon, a game where your balloon soars ever upward, avoiding obstacles that will pop your balloon while shooting to the side to rack up points. For all its primitiveness, it’s a colorful and graphically pleasing game.