Audio Software – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 4 of 5

As alluded to in the third article in this series, the machine has a 3-voice FM synthesizer (in addition to a 3-voice PSG synthesizer, for a max of six voices at once). I believe you could squeeze the full functionality of this by simply using the PLAY command in BASIC, but I am sure musicians would generally prefer a music composition software package with a GUI that is more intuitive and visual. Fujitsu’s got you covered!

First is FM Music Editor. Based on my experience with the Sharp X1 music editing software “V.I.P.”, I probably wouldn’t really be able to do much with this software even if it were physically possible, but unlike the X1, the FM-77AV20EX doesn’t actually come with a software package, just demos, both passive and interactive. This demo was passive so it just started playing a song while displaying the music someone else had already composed. Which is good, because I couldn’t make that!

Next up is the sound editor. Again, not a clue what I’m doing. But it is an interactive demo, so I altered some values that caused the little triangle doohickeys to change shape, and that affected the overall sound. But I don’t think it necessarily sounded good!

And that’s actually kind of all for the music composition. The remainder of the software is for non-musicians. The third item in the menu is FM Music World, which I gather to be something of a multimedia encyclopedia of music. You can activate different parts of the world and make an improvised musical performance.

And finally, FM Music Box. It is a late-80s, synthesized music only version of WinAmp. I don’t know if it really kicks the llama’s ass or not, because this also is a non-interactive demo with only one song. I kinda feel they could have offered more so you could get a sense of what interacting with the software was like.

And that wraps up the music software menu branch!

Shanghai II

Taking a breather from the FM-77AV20EX disks to post about Shanghai II. Yes, Shanghai II. Two! I was going to spill into a diatribe about how Activision managed to make a sequel to a 1980s video game based on a thousands-years-old puzzle game, but then I did the research to find out when Shanghai as a puzzle game got its start, only to learn that it began very recently and is basically relegated to the computer world. Well, it would be hell to set up the pieces each time, so I can understand why.

And actually, it’s a relatively good sequel. The tile graphics didn’t change, but they added several different board layouts, and compared to the silent original, this game has a different background tune for each board. Here is the menu to select the screen and the six layouts: Tiger, Scorpion, Monkey, Snake, Panther, Dragon.

Luck was on my side tonight, I managed to win (actually, twice in a row). I played the “monkey” layout because I felt it had fewer free tiles to start with, making it more challenging to win. So here is the progression of how my game went: full set of tiles (144), 75%, 50%, 25%, 12.5%, and last 2 tiles.

And the winner screen of Shanghai II:

Despite the improvements, I wouldn’t have bought this game, already having the original for my Sharp X1 Turbo Z, but I wanted to get a couple of cheap games so I could check that my PC-8801 MA2 system was working well, so I got this one and Relics from the same seller and got them shipped together.

I only noticed this yesterday, but the NEC PC-8801 MA2 doesn’t have a joystick port. This seems really strange to me. I am sure there must have been some solution because every major competitor had joysticks available. But in any event, the original Shanghai on my X1 had three options: joystick, keyboard and mouse. This game had three options, too – NEC mouse, serial mouse, or keyboard. I’d played it with the keyboard until last night, when I decided to try my FM Towns mouse in the NEC mouse port, and it worked a treat! But the X1 mouse was a little unhappy about having its mousepad usurped.

My friend has a PC-98 series game controller, and it plugs into his keyboard port, which provides pass-through to the keyboard so both can be connected at the same time. Perhaps I need something like this, but I’ve never seen such a controller for the PC-8801 series.

System Features – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 3 of 5

This begins sort of the core content of the disk. You’ve been warned not to flush your floppy disks down the toilet and you’ve become a master typist, now it’s time to see what makes this computer special! On today’s menu, we have:
– 4096-color generator mode comparison
– 4096 color chart
– FM sound synthesizer
– System specs
– Optional devices

First the color mode test. A scenic picture with an FM-77AV20EX “photoshopped” in place. More on this in article 5. The progression goes from 8 colors to 64 colors to 512 colors and finally 4096 colors.

Look at that, 4096 colors. In 1987, I was still limited to 16 colors on my Commodore 64 or 128 (I forget when I actually upgraded). Look, I’m not knocking Commodore by a long shot, I have such a history with it. But this is 4096 colors! It has the same amount of RAM as the C128, so how does it squeeze out those extra colors? Blunt force. There’s a solid 96KB of video memory. I really should check into whether there was any sort of demo scene or art scene active from this era, because I’m certain it could be pushed much further than this picture shows.

Next is the color chart. Same concept, same progression.

It kind of looks less impressive shown this way, but we have seen a couple of examples already of how this can be used to good effect.

Third from this list is the FM sound synthesizer. It seems that the FM-77 got its name from the fact that there are 77 instrument samples, and this demo highlights seven of them. The text is just a brief explanation of the utility.

I really ought to record some audio here, not because any single piece of music is that impressive sounding, but to give an idea of how clear the sound comes through. And again, I now want to search down more compositions.

Well, that concludes the exciting, multimedia portion of this menu branch. But we have a bit more content, continuing with the system specs:

It’s straightforward enough you probably don’t need much Japanese to figure it out. The CPU is a 6809 and it also has a 6809 for a “sub-CPU”. I’m not sure offhand what a sub-CPU means. I don’t think it’s exactly dual-processor, but perhaps delegates secondary tasks or something? The main RAM can be upgraded to 192KB, and it also has a 128KB kanji ROM.

Finally, optional devices. It’s broken down into three categories – audio, visual, and communications.

Audio:

1. Music Stereo Box – provides up to 8 FM voices at the same time through stereo channels (standard is 3). It provides an MML sequencer (music macro language) that allows for midi synchronization.
2. MIDI add-on – adds MIDI connectivity addressable through the BASIC PLAY command so no additional expensive software is necessary, but some programs are supported.
3. Voice synthesizer – add Japanese voice to your applications or reports.
4. Voice recognition – issue 64 different voice commands, and to customize your own command set.

Video:

1. Video digitizer card – real-time digitization of video images from TV or VCR. It converts them to 4096 color images in realtime (1/60 of a second) and dumps it to video RAM.
2. Video card – converts analog RGB signal to NTSC video signal. This can also be used to superimpose video signal and create videos for recording to a VCR.
3. Handy Image Scanner card – digitize materials and save them to disk.
4. NTSC adapter – Connect a TV or VCR to your FM-77AV20EX

Communication:

1. 300/1200 baud modems – two different modems that allow you to dial into data services and networks.

Keyboard Practice – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 2 of 5

This is the keyboard practice branch of the menu. It is divided into three sections: alphabet, kana entry, and complex entry including kanji. Keyboard entry should not be so exciting, but I learned some good information here.

First is alphabetic entry. We can see that upon completion of a typing task, it tells us how long it took and how many mistakes we made. Don’t judge, I was typing in the dark to get a good picture! My most common mistake was my hands being shifted one column over from the home keys.

Next is kana entry. On a Japanese keyboard, even to this day, there is a hiragana (or sometimes katakana) character printed on almost every key. One keypress adds or alters one character.

It is a crude system to enter every possible sound made in Japanese. By the kana alone, you can enter an entire text document, and in fact people used to do it that way. Nowadays, very few people use this method, but it’s still available in today’s OSes.

Finally, the most interesting to me, is complex entry. Honestly, I didn’t think 8-bit computers had the capacity to operate this way.

I’ll spare details here, because it will probably get its own entry later. But this system is not so different from the much more modern, convenient IME entry. If you press ctrl-A, you switch to this newer method, and ctrl-S puts you back into kana entry. Actually, either method is capable of complex entry, but the newer method will be much more comfortable to people who didn’t use Japanese computers until after the 90s.

Disk Information and System Time – Introduction to FM-77AV20EX disk – 1 of 5

I have gone through every feature of my FM-77AV20EX system introduction disk. It is too much information for one post, I feel. So I am breaking it up into five, one for each menu branch. As the first one is the shortest, it will also serve as the introduction. It is also the most boring and least interactive, so if it feels dry, wait for the third, fourth, and fifth articles! I will particularly like the second, but that’s my specific quirk about Japanese text entry.

These screens below are loaded in sequence upon booting the disk, they are similar to a Windows loading screen or something along those lines. The third image mentions that the machine is equipped with a Japanese language card, which allows for the input and display of complex Japanese writing. This is covered a bit more in article 2, and will probably eventually get its own article.

This is the first menu, each one opening up to its own submenu. In order:
– Preparing to use the AV20EX
– Keyboard practice
– Features of the AV20EX
– Introduction to audio software
– Introduction to other software

The first menu item just talks about handling floppy disks, the merits of backing up floppy disks, and allows you to set the date and time in a fancy-schmancy GUI.

First the advice about handling floppy disks:

Solid advice: Don’t put your floppy drives in extreme heat or high humidity or dusty places. Don’t put heavy things on the floppy. Don’t eat the floppy. Don’t open the shutter and touch the floppy. It says most of those things.

But one piece of advice that is quite important is about compatibility with previous models. The FM-77AV20EX comes with 3.5″ 2DD (640KB) floppy drives. The FM-77 and FM-77AV came with 3.5″ 2D (320KB) floppy drives. It says that disks made for these older systems will work on the new one, but once you write data onto a 2D floppy disk, there’s a chance you can’t use that disk on the old systems again. I suppose you could format and use it again, but it doesn’t mention that.

Next: Copy that floppy! But only this time.

In the event your disk explodes, grows legs and runs away, etc. you want it to be a *copy* of your system disk, not the originals you’ll have to hunt down on Yahoo Auctions 30 years later, right? So copy those disks and use those copies. I did.

And finally, let’s set that system time!

Well, it sure does look nice and is extra informative when you compare it to MS-DOS’s “Current date is 6/15/88/Please enter new date.” But it does take a lot longer to load.