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 20000 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.

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!