Sharp X1 D 3″ Disk Lot

Some of the hardest things to find are Sharp X1 D disks. If you’re not familiar, the X1 D uses 3″ disks, as opposed to 3.5″ disks. Physically quite different and totally incompatible. Even as blanks they’re rare and usually expensive. I found these on Mercari, and even after talking the guy down 25%, I still wouldn’t say I got a great deal on these or anything, but there were many (a lot of 19) and I hope to get most of my money back by selling my duplicates and some blanks.

The breakdown was 8 blanks or copies and 11 original game disks. The first relief was that there didn’t appear to be any scratches or mold on them. That’s a good start. The second step was actually testing them.

It was a bit of a daunting task, but I tested all disks in one night, including taking photographs of all games and other processing, finishing at about 4am! The originals all work, including the main system disk, which was a giant relief. A couple of the copies didn’t work initially, but upon testing a few times and deciding it was best to format them, they are all working fine now.

As for the blanks, I formatted each one and wrote the simplest of programs to test saving, loading, and deleting from each disk. No problems.

The system disk is probably the most valuable and I already have a copy, so its successful operation is key to getting a good chunk of my money back. I wrote a simple program and ran the system demo, and used the above utility (called “Utility”) to duplicate the system disk, in an effort to test it as best I could. The sleeve was from my own copy, this one didn’t come with one.

Next up in order of interest was Xevious. Not that interesting because I already have it. It was the first game I got for my X1 D. But this copy also works. It’s a solid port of a decently fun game, making good use of the X1’s graphics.

And then in no particular order, I tested the remaining nine games. Two of the games are in a series called “Meruhen” (Japanese take on the German “Märchen”, or fairy tales), which I believe eventually spawned a fairly popular game, called Meruhen Maze. It’s easy and not inaccurate to say it’s for kids, but it’s really rather well done, with crisp, colorful graphics and unique gameplay.

Here is Meruhen Part I, which involves a sheep herder trying to corral her sheep into her gate, and a series of animal siblings where you play a slightly nervous sibling trying to get your share of food.

And here’s Part II, this one includes three games. The first one you play a pig who is trying to grow plants that turn into butterflies. Other animals are trying to take the flowers, so you have to douse them in water so they run away. The second game you try to throw bananas at monkeys carrying numbers, so that the numbers you hit add up to a multiple of 10. And finally, you play a rabbit running through a forest to find someone that the pig wants to talk to, first by finding something that the requested animal wants to eat, then finding the target animal. It’s all very cute.

Tired of fairy tales? Good news is we’re now onto the more typical games, but I gotta say this guy has good taste, there are a lot of gems in here that I’ve never heard of before. Here’s one translated as “The Bank”, but the Japanese reads “bank robbery”, and it’s really quite a satisfyingly violent game. You have to shoot the bad guys three or four times, or else their mutilated bodies reform and you have to shoot them again. Later, different kinds of enemies come out, like a robber-driven car or an exploding-barrel tosser. This game seems to have gotten an English release, as well, called Machinegun Joe vs. The Mafia.

One game I was curious about was Donkey Kong 3: The Great Counterattack. Donkey Kong 3 was a game from back in the day that just didn’t make a huge impression on me. But this version does. The arcade classic takes place in a greenhouse, but this version takes place in a variety of outdoor scenes. Although the X1 is far more graphically capable, it looks like these images were made using a CGA palette, with the fuller palette only being used on the surrounding text and the characters.

Another one in the lot was Enma Daio (Judge of the Afterlife). You play a character opening up graves and… passing judgement? Or grabbing things to throw at your enemies, who, much like your own character, are quite cute. I had a pretty tough time trying to figure this game out, though. The title screen (which isn’t much of a title screen) leads me to think there’s more to this game, but I haven’t gotten out of the graveyard.

There were a pair of disks called Game Pack II and Game Pack III, each containing two games. I guess these are similar to the Mastertronic 2 on 1 releases in days of old.

Game Pack II has Gang Man, where you play a gangster driving a car and shooting out the window at other gangsters who are shooting back at you out of the windows of their cars. It’s pretty difficult, even from level one, the other gangsters often get me within a couple of seconds, but it’s noteworthy for its big car graphics that maneuver fairly smoothly around the screen, and the short bonus clock ratchets up the intensity. The other game is Power Fail, where you try to repair a power grid that the “bad old man” comes along and breaks. You can use two tools, a set of pliers to repair the grid, or a hammer to bop the bad old man on the head so he can’t move for a while.

And Game Pack III comes with a theme – animal games. The first one is Kaeru Shooter, or Frog Shooter, and the other is Za Spider, or The Spider. Kaeru Shooter has a 3D perspective but the graphics and gameplay are pretty simple. You see something, you shoot it. The Spider looked like it was going to be a Tempest style game at first, but it turned out to be more similar in gameplay to Centipede.

Flight Simulator I thought for sure was going to be an immediate “sell it” game for me, because I find flight simulators to be dreadfully boring. But this was pretty light on the “simulation”, and pretty heavy on the “things to shoot”, but it managed to strike a different enough balance that it didn’t feel like a standard space shooter. It’s pretty fun, so I’ll keep it for now. Similar to Jelda, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Pretty cool aesthetics, and one of few games to come with a real cover and instructions.

And finally, there was Maharito the Magician. It a witch-on-a-broom twist to a horizontal shooter game. A little unexpectedly, in my opinion, instead of zapping someone with a magic beam or a fireball, you hurl hammers at your enemies.

By 4am I was getting a bit tired, but it was a good experience and I found a lot of treasures in this lot. Looking forward to playing some more!

Sharp X1 Floppy Drives

This has been an active week for my X1 systems. First, I picked up a set of two external floppy drives. There was a disk stuck in one of them, and it wouldn’t come out by conventional methods. Upon opening it, I saw that drive head was in the down position and wouldn’t come up either by the drive lever or gentle force. So I began the very technical task of poking my finger at various things, and eventually found whatever it was waiting for and it sprang back up.

After closing the drive back up, I found the jumpers (on the bottom of the drive, but semi-conveniently accessible through a special compartment under the enclosure) and set the IDs to 1 and 2 so I could connect them to my X1 D with single floppy drive. First I tried the until-recently embattled drive, by using the excavated disk. Boom, BASIC loaded. Sweet! The second drive also worked without issue.

A few days later, I got another X1 D. That one had two floppy drives, but my own X1 D was in (slightly) better condition. I removed one of the drives and placed it in my own X1 D so now I have a dual-drive system. Beauty! I used the dual-drive setup to copy the system disk, which of course can be done on a single-drive system, but goes much smoother and faster with two. I may never actually use the second drive again, though.

Getting back to the external drives, I was having a conversation with the seller through Yahoo’s transaction messaging system. I told him that the drives worked great and he told me he had some extra copied disks that were used with the system, and that he would send them to me free of charge if I wanted them. Sure! This was quite a few more than I bargained for, though, I think there must be about 100! Might have to find a discrete way to offload some of them to someone else who may use them.

I also finalized (for now!) the location of the external drives. They are on my X1 Turbo Z, which has the internal drives disabled so I can use my HxC. Re-enabling them requires opening up the system each time, so I don’t change often. But now with these external drives, it’s a breeze!

I set the IDs of the external drives back to 0 and 1. Drive 0 is connected to the system, and drive 1 is connected to the rear of drive 0. The HxC is also set to units 0 and 1, and it is connected to the rear of drive 1. When powered off, the external drives still pass through to the HxC, so I don’t have to futz with the IDs. If I power on the external drives, though, it will obviously cause a conflict, so if I want to use them, the only thing I have to do is unplug the USB power to the HxC. This is sooo slick, even better than I’d imagined!

The photo came out a little dark, but if you look carefully near the bottom, you’ll see the two external drives under the FM-8, with the HxC drive emulator sitting between them.

The only shortcoming is that the internal drives are 2HD/2DD while the external ones are 2DD only. But I think all of the logic is controlled by the internal controller, so I someday may try putting the 2HD drives into the external enclosures.

Laser Planet

After finally getting an X1 tape drive, I can now play Laser Planet! I bought it a few months ago on Mercari even though I couldn’t immediately use it, because it was a good deal.

However, one doesn’t simply play Laser Planet. It requires dB-BASIC in order to run. So you load dB-BASIC first and then you change the tape and load Laser Planet.

I don’t generally expect a lot from BASIC games because I tend to assume it’s too slow to push graphics around in an exciting way, but this game manages to pull it off well. I suppose that’s the advantage of the programmable character generator, it isn’t pushing graphics around so much as it’s pushing characters around, which BASIC can do pretty well.

The object is to bomb targets to make the lase beams disappear, allowing you to proceed to the next target. Bomb all the targets and land your spacecraft to claim victory! I think. I haven’t beat level one yet.

Sharp CZ-8RL1

The X1 series of computer has a proprietary CMT (tape player) port, and the tape players are also kind of special, and they are prone to failure. So if you see a working one on Yahoo for auction, you shouldn’t be surprised to see it get up to about 40000 yen.

But I found one in a bulk-lot auction, and I saw the potential to get it quite a bit cheaper. So I bought the whole lot for about 30000 yen and am now in the process of seeing how much I’ll be able to get back by selling unneeded items. The tape drive was untested, but fortunately, it works!

So after having Mario Bros. Special for about a year or so, I was finally able to play it. Well, that’s not entirely true, I’ve been playing it all along as a disk image via the HxC floppy emulator, but using the original was a first!

The tape drive is a little unique in that the controls are digital. Unlike most tape players, you don’t really push the buttons “in”, it’s more like clicking the buttons like a VCR. It gives it a more technologically sophisticated feeling. The machine can also receive instructions about what to do from the programs, so many games rewind themselves after loading, while Mario Bros. Special just ejects, and Pro Wrestling automatically queues to the correct loading position of the tape, which I suppose saves time.

HxC on Sharp X1

There’s a good chance you know this device already. It’s a floppy disk emulator. Here’s how it is supposed to work: you take a well-organized, homogeneous group of disk image files, tell the software to bulk-convert the images to .HFE format, move them to a SD card, plug the SD card into the emulator device, and plug the device into the computer. And in theory it is pretty much that simple. Here’s an idea of what it looks like:

First is the hardware kit:

And then connected to a computer, loading a game (first directory, then file, then using the disk image):

It keeps track of the current drive (it supports up to two drives simultaneously), the current operation (R)ead or (W)rite, the current track, the total number of tracks, and the side of the disk being accessed (0 or 1). Here it is in action, loading Galaga from system bootup.

And there you have it, Galaga is ready to go!

But here’s my story about prepping a batch of X1 images to work on the HxC emulator. Learn from my mistake; don’t do it the way I did it the first time!

A while ago, I had images for about 180 games to process, some with multiple disks, for my Sharp X1 Turbo Z. I was given a mish-mash of .2D and .D88 files to work through. As D88 is a supported format by the HxC conversion software, I was able to conveniently bulk-convert to HFE, everything worked ultra-smooth with those files. Cool!

.2D, on the other hand, was a nightmare. The only converter from .2D to .D88 that I could locate was an ancient command-line tool that Windows 10 won’t even touch. I set up Windows XP on my machine via VirtualBox, but that was where the tedium began. I had to rename files to meet 8.3 standards and manually make a batch file that processes each file independently (no batch mode on the converter). Then move everything back to the non-virtual machine and convert *those* files and, in some cases, merge them with the files that were already in .D88 format, and usually rename them back to long filename standards.

But I powered through it. It was like 100 games that were in .2D format and it wasn’t worth asking for help regarding a better way to do it, and waiting for answers.

A few months later, I found a much bigger collection, about 900 images! And it was again a mish-mash of the two formats. I had a lot more motivation to ask for help this time!

The creator of the HxC floppy emulator is very helpful and active on his Facebook group. He answered me within a couple of hours, asked for an example .2D file, and showed me that I could set up the converter software to treat .2D files as raw files, by setting the correct disk parameters.

Unfortunately, even with this solution, I still can’t bulk-convert in one big batch, because the software doesn’t handle raw images and prepared format images simultaneously. But it did save me the whole process of renaming, moving to virtual machine, creating the batch file, moving back to the host machine, and reverting the names. So although it was about five times the number of images, I finished in less total time!

If you find yourself in this situation, here are the steps you need to follow to use .2D files as raw. First window, click “Batch converter”. Second window, check “Treat input files as RAW files.” Third window contains the parameters you need to set for the conversion to work correctly. Now when you select a directory of .2D files to bulk-convert, it should output an identical directory structure with .HFE files!

As some games or collections have a mixture of .2D and .D88 files, the most confusing step is to separate those and convert separately, then putting them back in the same directory once they’re in .HFE format. It’s also a good idea to use your favorite file rename utility so you don’t have massively long filenames, because the device screen can only display 16 characters at a time. My recommendation (although this is a fair bit more manual) is to make a directory with the game name, but inside the directory simply call the files disk1.hfe, disk2.hfe, etc.