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.

Ouji Binbin no Monogatari

Story of Prince Binbin. Binbin has a couple of translations, neither of which especially make sense in context of the game so far, so you can figure out the title however you want.

This seems like a good Dragon Quest-style RPG, though. It has all the typical elements of a solid RPG, from (slightly) customizable stats that grow as your character levels up, upgradeable equipment, and an open world with a good assortment of fantasy creatures.

I haven’t progressed a whole lot yet, but here is a quick look at the game so far. You start out in this castle, but the king and queen won’t talk to you until you finish their quest, saving the princess. If you leave the castle, you can’t get back in, which led to me restarting the game. There’s a person who gives you 100 credits and, at least on my first attempt, the game proved very difficult without them!

Once you leave the castle, you may want to save at the Save Store, but a word of caution: you can only save one game. This means if you start a new character, your old character will be erased!

One thing a bit brutal about the game is that you will meet enemies above your level even very near the opening area. You can often run away from them, but one hit from a strong enemy can leave you in a bad way.

The characters are quite varied and often have interesting names and designs. There is a kidney bean (it’s not a slime!) and a pile of dookie, but my personal favorite is the rock-bird-snake, which I feel bears a strong resemblance to Uma.

The nearest town is not far at all, but it took me quite a long time to get there, because I went every wrong direction first, dying multiple times in the process. Protip: someone in the castle tells you which way to go.

The town has the kinds of things you might expect in an RPG of this nature: townsfolk with helpful advice, townsfolk who waste your time, a place to sleep, a place to buy equipment and that sort of thing.

The game uses quite a bit of humor. For example, one enemy – Middle-aged Reggae Man – has an attack where he rubs his body against you. It doesn’t do any damage, but it apparently smells bad. The weapons and armor vendor in the first town starts off by trying to sell you souvenirs from the Philippines, until he remembers that was his old job. And, well, the big pile of dookie.

Eventually you die, and this guy brings you back to life. This is really strange because sometimes he is the one that kills you (either him or his blue twin brother).

Unfortunately, before I knew what would happen, I started a new character so I could get a picture of the castle, and when I did, I lost my progress so far. But I am anxious to try again!

Anti-piracy Appeal

I went to load a game on my Sharp X1 Turbo Z, but I was greeted by this horse:

The kanji character in yellow and red means “prohibited”, and it doesn’t allow me to continue from this screen, so I think it’s probably an anti-piracy mechanism.

I’ve named her Uma, the Copy-Protection horse, and I’ve grown kind of fond of her, but unfortunately I can’t remember which game caused her to appear.

Commodore MAX Machine

When I think about my Japanese vintage computer collection, I tend to think of the FM-77 (which I no longer have) as my first system, and the Sony HB-F1XD as the one I’ve had longest. But neither of those are true. My first computer in this collection is the MAX Machine. It doesn’t come to mind first because I tend to group Commodore separately. And admittedly it doesn’t get used much, because it does nothing that my Commodore 128 can’t do. But it’s still an interesting piece of computing history!

It shares some important technology with the Commodore 64. The CPU is the same 6510 that pushes the C64. It also has a VIC-II chip that is essentially the same as (but actually not compatible with) the one in the C64. And every MAX Machine packs a 6581 SID chip.

How is it different? Well, let’s start with appearance. Before the familiar brownish-grayish C64s were released, the MAX Machine came with this, in my opinion, beautiful-looking silver and black machine with red accents. Where it starts to fall apart is the keyboard. It’s a full keyboard, but it’s a membrane keyboard. For a little back-and-forth between menus and such, it’s not that bad, but I don’t think you’d want to do much serious programming on it.

Not that you could, because the machine only had 2KB of memory instead of the 64KB of the C64. The only two programming languages I’m aware of for the MAX Machine are Mini BASIC and MAX BASIC. Mini BASIC only had about 512 bytes (bytes!) of BASIC memory. MAX BASIC, on the other hand, has an additional 2KB of memory on the cartridge itself, so it can load BASIC into the machine’s memory and have a whopping 2047 bytes of BASIC memory for itself.

If you notice above, the program output is not as expected. I think this is probably not a bug in the programming language, but perhaps indicates bad RAM, either on the cartridge or in the machine. Other games don’t seem to have any problems, though.

Many of the ports are the same as a C64. It can support a datassette, the joystick ports are the same (and actually have a better arrangement, one on each side) and the PSU is the same. The AV port does not exist, so the MAX Machine could originally only display over RF. One big difference is the existence of a dedicated audio port, which happened to be stereo. This is tremendously useful for a hack to get composite video coming out of the MAX Machine.

What about software? Well, it’s pretty limited. There were only a handful of cartridges available, and I believe all were made by HAL Laboratories specifically for Commodore. Many of these games had previously been released for the VIC-1001/VIC-20, and many were also made available on the C64, either exact replicas or improved versions. Many of you will probably recognize this one by picture alone.

But if not, it’s Avenger. The next one, though, looks quite a bit different from its C64 version, and the music is different, too.

Well, *that* one is sure off-center. But you probably recognized it as Kickman, anyway. In addition to BASIC programming, there were two music creation programs and Visible Solar System available, so productivity (of sorts) and education were also possible on these machines.

And there were a handful of games that I don’t believe were released on the C64. For example, Bowling and Slalom.

Although these games weren’t released for the C64, they *are* compatible. MAX Machine cartridges plug right into a C64 or C128 and load fine.

Another influence the MAX had on the C64 is that the C64 implemented what is called MAX mode. The intention was for compatibility with these games, but your favorite fastloader/freezer/replay etc tool for the C64 probably plants itself firmly in MAX mode to operate without impacting the C64’s memory, and to be able to operate independently from the other program you are running.

The box was also totally different from the C64’s many boxes. It follows the machine’s black and silver theme with a heavy helping of blue.

By the way, all of my software in this post was launched from a MultiMAX cartridge, designed by Rob Blake and Michal Pleban and this particular one was made by Sven here in Tokyo. The MultiMAX has all known software for the MAX Machine, including alternate versions, and if it actually still runs on a MAX Machine, the updated C64 versions. Pretty slick and convenient!

I do have some of the original cartridges, but they’re hard to find!

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.