Fujitsu FM-77AV20EX

How’t that for a model name? Rolls right off the tongue, right? I have to mentally prepare myself a bit to say it. But it’s quite a sophisticated machine. FM-77AV is one of few Japanese 8-bit computers to support hardware scrolling, so in theory it should have some of the best-playing games. Unfortunately, I have very few games to test it with at this point.

I got this as a fairly standard auction on Yahoo Auctions from yugen2plus, a reputable seller, fully tested and working. It was a low-risk, high-cost purchase.

It is a pretty grand machine, though. It features a handsome black case and keyboard. One nice thing about the keyboard is that the cable is completely removable and replaceable with a standard S-video cable. In fact, mine had already been replaced with an exceptionally long S-video cable, which came in handy.

It comes with BASIC on ROM, which means even without games you can poke around on the system a bit.

But frustratingly, it has a separate, disk-loaded version of BASIC that you need if you want to access your floppy disks from BASIC. This means you can’t even format a disk unless you track down the disk version of BASIC, which has proven hard to find. Not impossible, though!

It also has a 6809 CPU, which I’ve heard referred to as the most powerful 8-bit CPU available. Earlier models had the choice of one or two drives, but by the time we got to the 77AV20 models, all systems came with two 3.5″ 320KB floppy disk drives. Stock RAM is 128KB, video RAM at 96KB, capable of displaying 4096 colors at 320×200.

Someday I would like to upgrade to the even more powerful FM-77AV40EX, but for now I will be satisfied with this!

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.

Sony HB-F1XD

This machine is one of Sony’s MSX2 models. It features an attractive black and gray case with red accents and many LEDs and a couple of gadgety-looking slide controls to make it look cool. And indeed, it does look cool! I really like the style. The built-in floppy drive is a very nice touch, too.

It was purchased as a tested-working system, so it was no surprise that it booted right up. MSX 2 and MSX have BASIC on ROM, so I could begin using the system immediately.

I only have one game that is specific to MSX 2 – an RPG called Last Armageddon. I chose it because of its bizarre visuals. All of these photos are from the intro.

Of course, there is a big difference in image quality between MSX and MSX2. It is higher resolution and has a larger color palette. It also has analog RGB output, which grants a large increase in clarity. This is tremendously helpful in reading kanji, as the characters are too much of a blur for me to read over composite. Still, the Sharp X1 Turbo Z is much much clearer.

I enjoy the MSX2 quite a bit more than my first MSX machine. Although the MSX had a keyboard and a cassette port for loading tape-based games, cartridges got a much bigger push, and you just connect a joystick and start playing the games, so it really felt more like using a console than a computer. Of course, that was just my experience based on what was cheaply and easily available to me at the time; MSX is a fully capable computing platform, too, but these disk games with all their swapping and having a game that requires keyboard interaction really gives me a more solid computing experience.