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.

Xevious

This is probably the most interesting game from a media perspective. It’s Xevious for my Sharp X1 D, which means it’s one of those newfangled 3″disks. I’d never seen one before. It’s kind of interesting. Thicker than a 3.5″ disk, open slot for reading media like a 5.25″ disk. Not exactly sure of its capacity at the moment.

It was bought untested, and since it’s my first disk for this computer, the drive is also untested, and that’s an uncomfortable combination. And to be sure, things did not go great at first. My first attempt yielded the following sequence:

This is complete failure, it didn’t even recognize the boot sector. But for some reason, with vintage computers, if you try the same thing repeatedly, sometimes you get different results. They may still not be good results, but they may be different. Attempt 2:

It’s not really any more beautiful, and the end result was the same, but it did find something and tried to boot the game. That’s definitely a step in the right direction. Attempt 3:

That fourth screen was a little unnerving, and the disk repeatedly went back and forth from beginning to end of disk, but it did eventually load. Basically successful! I tried one more time and it worked about 70% faster, so I figure this is a victory. I think the disk drive or disk just needed to stretch its legs a little bit after so much disuse.

Too bad I’m not very good at this game. Oh well! It was fun watching it come to life.

Shanghai

Growing up in America, I thought Mahjong was a game of picking up matching tiles. I had OS/2 and it included a game called Mahjong which was exactly that. But in Japan, Mahjong is very different, a complicated game of strategy often centered around covert gambling that I don’t even remotely understand. In Japan, what we call Mahjong, they call Shanghai, and is often played with Mahjong tiles.

This game is simple and the only sound effect it produces is a beep, hardly fitting of the machine’s multimedia capabilities. But actually, it is designed for the Turbo series. It probably works on older machines, too, but it uses two features that the Turbo series has to offer: high-res graphics mode and the mouse.

High-res graphics are not unusual for the Turbo series. But this is a shining example of how different it is. On a tile, there are a variety of objects and pictures: numbers 1 to 9 in various formats, directions (North, South, East, West), trees (orchid, bamboo, plum, chrysanthemum), etc. The high-res graphics mode offers such a crisper image that makes them much easier on the eyes.

Mouse support, on the other hand, that’s rare! The graphics tool and music composer that were included with the X1 Turbo Z both use it, but as for games, this is the only one I’ve run across so far that has mouse support. It can also be played with the joystick or keyboard, but the mouse is o much more natural for this kind of game.

Shanghai appears to be a game of mere chance and persistence, but actually there is a bit of strategy involved, too. For example, usually you have to pick up identical tiles, but the four trees and the four seasons can be matched amongst themselves, so it pays to leave those until you need to play them, so you know which ones will be most beneficial. Or if there are three of a tile free, making sure you pick the tile that will allow access to a new tile, or get you closer to a tile that you want to access. Still, there are definitely unwinnable rounds, because two matching tiles can be stacked upon one another at the end.

Here is a progression of the board as I go down from 100% to 75% to 50% to 25% to 12.5%.

And finally the winning screen. I didn’t actually win tonight’s game, I got stuck at 12.5%, but I’d won and taken a picture of it before, so there it is, the reward for my persistence.

Don’t think of it as a spoiler, it looks much nicer in person! Give it a (few) tries!

Sharp X1-D

Since I began vintage computing, I had two rules:
1. Don’t get two machines with the same function.
2. Don’t get more than you can comfortably store.

Well in one single move, I broke both rules.

This is the most recent addition, the Sharp X1-D. The D is, I assume, for disk, as opposed to tape, and it has a built-in floppy drive. The machine is an older, less-capable version of my Sharp X1 Turbo Z (the black machine shown sitting above the X1-D in the picture above). It has nothing to offer that the Z cannot do, and the Z can do so much more, and has the ability to do it better. This machine I got for looks alone.

The main unit and keyboard have a shiny metal appearance and a nice color scheme to it. The main unit is in excellent condition. The keyboard has some yellowing on the number pad and the cable is frayed and unreliable and needs to be replaced, although it can be made to work as-is.

This is another as-is, untested machine. First thing I did was just plug in the unit and turn on the power. The power indicator and floppy drive both lit up, and the floppy drive light quickly went off when it discovered no media. So far, so good.

Next I hooked up the keyboard and digital RGB to verify that it was actually functioning. I got the welcoming IPL screen and was able to access the timer programmer without issue. After saving the timer, the timer indicator on the main unit lit up.

Not only does this system offer no advantage over the X1 Turbo Z, but it also has a 3″ floppy drive (not 3.5″) and the media for that is not easy to find at all. Original games pop up once in a while on Yahoo Auctions, but they’re not cheap. Fortunately, for the time being, I can use my HxC floppy emulator. I tasked it with loading BASIC and a game and everything appears happy.

The only question now is where to put it. Until this machine arrived, I was able to store everything on the desks intended for vintage computing and inside a single cabinet with some adjustable shelves. But now I’ve overstepped that limit. For now I’ve stuck it up on top of the cabinet, but this is a non-ideal solution. And in the next two or three days, I am expecting one more large system! I’ve got to get this figured out.

Jelda II

I am not big on cockpit-view flight games of any kind, but this game has a very pleasant aesthetic and I enjoyed it a bit just to see how the scenes changed throughout the game. As expected, it’s a bit sluggish as it’s trying to render even these simple graphics, it is how I remember every flight sim of the day. But it has a certain charm. Not a bad way to have spent thirty minutes. Don’t think I’ll be rushing back to it, but I won’t say I’ll never try it again.