King’s Quest V

This is one of the more modern titles that I will be likely to include on my site. It was made in 1990, comes on a CD, and is even (poorly) voice-acted. There is also a non-voiced version, but this is for the FM Towns so of course they’re going to go as multimedia as possible. I played this on DOS back in the mid-90s when I got my first PC-compatible. But the FM Towns version is different in that it is fully voiced in Japanese.

You play King Graham of Daventry, who loses his castle to an evil wizard. You wander around the land, trying to reverse the spell to return your castle and your family. You are joined by Cedric the Owl, a character that I really wanted to like because I thought it was cute, but is annoying throughout the game. Very little in this game is done by directly pursuing a goal, but instead finding items, using those items in the correct way, and unlocking different interactions that help to progress your game.

Foul fowl aside, the game is really as I remember it. It is such eye-candy. The 2-D artwork and music work together to make a beautiful and rich fantasy environment. It is the first game that I can recall that showed me how the PC was going to be superior in terms of graphics to the Commodore 64 (although of course I would eventually come to prefer the C64 again later in life, anyway). But just look at these shots from the introduction:

There was a period in time where computers had incredible introductions but just couldn’t deliver the same level of graphics in the actual gameplay, but this game does not fall in that category; it is beautiful throughout. Here is a bit from the early scenes of the game, as he makes his way into town:

There are a variety of ways Graham can get himself into trouble, even by doing innocuous-seeming things like walking into an inn. Nothing to do but load your last save game and try something different.

The landscapes created for each page are so varied and detailed that just wandering around the land itself is satisfying:

I never actually finished this game in DOS, I got stuck somewhere probably near the end. I seem to remember my score was nearly 300/300, but I fell short. I hope to finish it this time!

Zeliard

This is a pretty top-notch X1 Turbo Z game! It has vibrant and beautiful artwork and displays over the 24KHz video mode if your monitor supports it. The menu selection cursor moves smoothly and the entire screen scrolls more smoothly than most on this system. Here are some photos from the pre-introduction.

The introduction is filled with nice artwork. They really put some effort into this, and it shows. It appears that the amulet the princess wears in the introduction is cursed and turns her to stone. The story begins here.

The sound is quite impressive, too! It uses the FM synthesis for the soundtrack, and unlike some other RPGs I’d played on this system before, this soundtrack is complex and varied. Sound effects are also nicely done. It even includes some digitized speech scattered throughout the game.

Some digitized speech appears in the introduction. Umm. It’s early digitized speech, so I can totally cut it some slack, but… this timing. If you watch the below video, just as the video is about to end, the text says “She had a smile like the sun and a voice than rang like a bell throughout the land.” And then she speaks, and… well… just watch the video.

Like a bell!

That said, they use the digitized speech to good effect elsewhere, for example when the demon speaks. Legitimately, that should stay, it sounds really good!

The gameplay is a bit like Castlevania II, you walk around towns and dungeons in a 2D platform world. As opposed to Castlevania II, though, there are some proper establishments in this game, including magic shops, weapon shops, banks, churches, and fortune tellers. Use the bank to save money you don’t need, because if you die you lose all the money you are carrying. Visit the fortune teller to save your game. Each business owner has their own distinct personality.

And then there are the dungeons. The controls for combat are straightforward and work pretty well. The game automatically makes you slash upward if there is an enemy above, and you can also slash down if you are goinng to fall onto an enemy. You can even squash enemies with hovering platforms in some locations.

X68000 Complications

I have had an X68000 on my radar for some time, but hesitated to buy one because they are notoriously expensive and failure-prone machines. Maintenance and/or repair are a must, and I’m ill-equipped to do it myself. But I took a risk. I bought one on Yahoo Auctions for a very reasonable price, untested, not very coveted model (X68000 Pro), no keyboard or mouse, and a little scratched up. Between the low ending price and a 10% off coupon I had, I didn’t have to pay much at all.

And I got it, plugged it in, and *boom*, it just worked. Kind of. It powered on and showed me the “feed me a disk” screen, which is where I had to give up on the first night. Oh, also, I suppose it was technically incorrect to say there is no keyboard. It has this softkeyboard you can bring up with the right mouse button. Seems to work both in the opening screen and the OS.

The next day, I went to BEEP in Akihabara and found a disk to test, also on the cheap, because it had mold. I cleaned off the big mold and put it in the drive and tested it. The drive put two scratches around the edge of the disk and refused to load it. Sadistic. 🙁

So I took it apart and cleaned out the drive and chassis. It was by far the dustiest computer I’ve ever worked on! While I had it open, I took it apart enough to check for battery leakage. Seems okay in that department.

I cleaned both drive heads and swapped them for good measure. Powered it back on and it was able to successfully load my disk!

And that’s where the problems began. While initially it powered on fine and reliably perhaps a dozen times, after finally reassembling the whole thing and closing the case for the last time (haha), it didn’t power on. A few power cycles later and I saw a little flicker, and then it turned on. And the whole next day, that’s how it was. It wouldn’t power on immediately, although it did work okay once it eventually decided to power on.

Anyway, even if this is not my final machine, I need a keyboard and mouse, so I perused Yahoo Auctions again. Keyboards and mice are expensive for this machine. 12000-25000 yen for various keyboards and 5000-10000 yen for mice. But then I noticed an entire system, X68000 plus mouse and keyboard, for only 15000 yen, ending in about an hour. Indeed, I was able to win the auction for less than the price of some keyboards alone. And it brought hope that the X68000 would just magically work.

Finally arrives and indeed, it did work! For about 30 minutes. Then the video wigged out and now it doesn’t work at all. But the machine itself is such a masterpiece of computer design. It is such a unique piece, I have decided to hold onto it for a bit and then get it repaired.

In the meantime, I am using the X68000 Pro, which is hobbling along a little bit better than two days before, with the original X68000 mouse and keyboard. My next step is to see if I can get the HxC floppy emulator communicating with the machine so I don’t have to worry about buying expensive games and risking disk damage. But soon, I think that gray tower is going to be a fantastic addition to my collection!

NEC PC-8801MA2

I was a little hesitant about this one at first. I couldn’t tell if I had a few bad disks or if there was something wrong with a drive or the controller, but I’m growing a little more confident that the disks were at fault and the computer is fine.

This is another Yahoo Auctions purchase. The system itself is in fantastic shape, but it came with a yellowed keyboard, which I replaced with a much nicer looking one as soon as I could. Here is the system in its current state.

This evolution of the PC-8801 series keyboard is very interesting. It has some new keys that the PC-8801mkII didn’t have, most notably the PC key. We’ll see how that key is used later. But even more eye-popping, NEC decided to translate almost every key into Japanese.

It’s another Z80-based machine, but this one has a switch allowing it to run at either 4MHz or 8MHz. For games that I’ve seen thus far, they should all run at 4MHz, but I suppose applications would benefit from the 8MHz switch. It also comes with 192KB of RAM, two high-density floppy drives that can also operate on double-density disks, and a large kanji ROM for facilitating Japanese text. It’s quite a sophisticated 8-bit machine.

When I turn it on, it displays its graphic mode in large green letters and then has one of two options. The first is booting directly to internal BASIC on ROM, and the other is booting from floppy disk.

If we boot to BASIC, we are greeted with the “How many files?” prompt. Enter the number of files you think you will need to keep open simultaneously and proceed. I find that zero works well enough for most situations, certainly this one. Here I’ve booted into the monitor and pressed the “Help” key, which brings up this command screen.

I ran the memory test with the “tm” command. It provided a series of alarming garbage to populate the screen, but then it became kind of colorful and comforting as it seemed to pass through the test without issue.

If you choose to boot from disk, you should insert them before turning on the machine, because if you don’t it will eventually time out and ask you to put the disks in the drive. I’ve booted a couple of games I had lying around at the time – Nintendo Golf and Haja no Fuuin. The picture on the left is from the golf game.

So how do we tell the computer whether to boot from disk or ROM? Unlike previous versions of the PC-8801 series, you set it in a function similar to a modern PC’s BIOS. This is pretty interesting to me. When you want to access the BIOS, turn on the system while holding down the “PC” key on the keyboard. It offers four screens of configuration options and even responds to the help key, displaying a different help screen for each configuration screen.

One thing I haven’t quite figured out about this system is the lack of joystick port. I’ve seen someone on Yahoo Auctions plug a joystick into the mouse port, but I don’t think that’s correct. None of the ports on the back support a standard joystick. I know for PC-98 series machines, joysticks come in the form of piggyback-ready keyboard controllers, perhaps the same is true of the PC-8801 series, but I’ve never seen one!

Shogun – A Word Processor for my X1

As I mention from time to time, I enjoy checking out and using productivity apps on my old machines. I recently joined Mercari and I found this little treasure nobody wanted.

It’s Shogun, a word processor for the Sharp X1 Turbo Z. Yes, you need to go all the way to the Z model, because it comes on high-density floppy disks. Actually, the disk claims it’s for X1 Turbo, so it was probably released on double-density floppy disks, as well.

When you boot up, you are greeted by this beautiful opening screen. I had to get an animation of it!

But once you get down to business, the glamour of the fancy title screen fades away quickly and you are greeted by a blindingly white screen.

I’ll need to go back and take some better screenshots sometime. They looked pretty good on my phone, but uploading to full size they are quite blurry. For now, here are my low-quality captures of my text-typing adventures. The images kind of tell the story as I go, if you can read them First in English:

Then a Japanese entry tutorial. Figuring out how to enter Japanese was a bit counter-intuitive, because they re-purposed the kana key on the keyboard. So I had to tell the menu to use full-width entry, then to use Japanese by pressing the kana key on the keyboard, which normally only allows you to type in using direct Japanese symbols, which is an outdated method of text entry. The software is smart enough to use romaji entry, so might as well take advantage of that, for sure!

And one more type-up in pure Japanese. It was nowhere near as smooth to type as it is in modern Windows, but I could get the hang of it a bit.

And that’s my run with Shogun!