FM Towns UX20

I bought this machine at a pretty bargain price because it was shown to power up, but not display anything. It went for about 25-30% of the typical final price (with free shipping!) because nobody, including me, wants an FM Towns with an integrated monitor that doesn’t work. But I decided to take a risk, because I had a sneaking suspicion that there was a low-tech fix.

When I received it, sure enough, it powered on but didn’t display anything. That’s when I jumped into action to test my hand at “repairing” it. My strategy was to put my index finger on those brightness and contrast knobs and push them *up*. The assumption that this was actually the problem was unfounded, I had no evidence based on the auction, but was willing to take the risk at that price.

Just because a suspicion is unfounded doesn’t mean it isn’t correct. Fortune smiled upon me, this monitor is still beautiful!

I threw Bubble Bobble at it because I think the bright and vibrant colors and their contrast on the black screen really make the compact Trinitron monitor shine. The loading screen is also cute.

Amaranth III

I’ve always been a fan of computer RPGs. When I started getting into Japanese vintage computers, I would make a point of getting an RPG or two for every major system. Problem is, RPGs consume a lot of time, if they’re any good. So I end up just adding to a queue of RPGs that I have tested once to ensure they work, then never get around to finishing (or sometimes even starting)

One major exception sticks out, and that’s Amaranth III for FM Towns. Owing to its vibrant graphics and its varied soundtrack, it was a quick hook. The combat system is somewhat innovative and there are many still frames of beautiful artwork. I’m moving slowly because there are many new words in the game that I usually take the time to look up, but I’ve made substantial progress.

You start out assuming the roles of two deities -Rian and Deen – laying low in the inn of a small town. Deen seems to thrive on attention from the local mortals, so she has set up a dream-reading booth in the city, where she proves to be quite popular.

They catch news of a nearby fair where nemuri-byo, a state of sleep from which one doesn’t wake, is claiming victim after victim. Deen thinks she has the power to stop it by entering the dream and freeing the dreamer. They buy tickets at the train station to go to the fair, but she had raised the ire of a powerful enemy that comes in by hijacked train to attack her.

Deen and Rian defeat the enemy’s foot soldiers and escape with their lives but have to find a way to sneak out of the town now because the more powerful enemies have commandeered the train station. They decide to sneak out as stowaways on a trade ship.

On the ship, they are eventually discovered to the annoyance of the ship’s captain, but they prove themselves useful by helping the crew to defeat a band of attacking pirates. The pirate ship captain presents himself as the first boss, but it’s not quite in the realm of the main story line, sort of a tutorial boss, I feel.

After defeating the captain, you discover two hostages, a woman and a girl. We learn that the girl has nemuri-byo, but the woman is her protector and forbids Deen from trying to enter the girl’s dream to help. So as soon as the woman goes to sleep, that’s exactly what Deen does. Deen and Rian enter the dream as in-dream characters and their first real adventure begins!

One fun thing about this game so far is the animation of the spell effects. Healing spells are pretty simple, but check out the fire and ice spell animations.

Towns OS HDD Installation

Something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I didn’t realize I already possessed everything I needed to do so. I have installed Towns OS 2.1 (for FM Towns) on an external SCSI hard disk drive.

First, and I’ll preface this by saying I didn’t have to and have not yet tried creating partitions, but I’ll at least point you in the right direction until I do it myself. From the settings menu (設定) in image 1, choose partitions (区画設定).

Image 2 is the parition manager. You can perform the following actions: delete the partition (click the number) rename a partition or create a new partition (click the name field), choose the file system (click the current file system), choose the boot partition (click the checkbox), and resize the partition (click the current size). Press execute (実行) when you are finished. Press cancel (取消) to back out.

Of course, you edit your partitions at your own peril, data loss will occur if you delete or resize a partition. In fact, it might wipe the data off your smart phone and desktop computer just to spite you.

Now for the meaty stuff. My hard drive already had partitions, so what I needed to do was get the OS to see them. This was really like back when I was just learning how to use a PC. I didn’t read the manual and I didn’t use Google, I just looked around from directory to directory until I found things that looked potentially helpful. Found a setup utility and its drive assignment menu, then a tool on the CD that installed the OS onto the drive.

First order of business was dropping to a command prompt and running “setup.exe” from the “exe” directory (you can also do this from the Towns Menu, I later discovered, but perhaps I’ll add that info later). It should take you to the screen in image 3 . The first option in the list is where drive letter assignment is performed. Press enter to see the current configuration. If it is your first time adding a hard drive and you have two floppy drives, it should look like image 4.

Using the up/down arrow keys, go down to the first available drive, which is probably going to be D if this is your first hard drive. Press enter to activate the action menu, and use the left/right arrow keys to choose the second option – hard disk drive as in image 5. Press enter and it will ask you for a device number 0-4. This may depend on your SCSI settings but I used 0. Press enter and your new drive should be registered in the D row. Repeat this process for every partition you want to access. Mine had three so in image 7, there are now three partitions registered as drives D, E, and F. When you have finished, use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom option, which is “finish”, as in image 8 and press enter.

You are now back at the main menu screen. The settings have been prepared but are not yet saved. Use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom, which is “finish”, as in image 9 and press enter. It will ask you if you want to write the configuration, choose the first option as in image 10, press enter and you will be returned to the command prompt. To get back to the Towns OS menu, first return to the root directory and type “tmenu”, as in the final image.

If I recall correctly, you have to reboot for the drives to show up. Going under the assumption that there’s nothing on your hard drive, you’ll need to boot from CD again. If you boot to Towns OS 2.1 L51, click on “tools” (the top-right wrench-like icon in image 1), which will open a window that has a “HD install” icon as seen in image 2. Double-click to start.

All of the menus displayed in images 3-8 contain two action buttons: 実行(execute) or 取消 (cancel) (actually, image 3 button two is 終了 (end), but it’s essentially the same in this situation). Feel free to cancel anytime you might want to go back if you’re not confident you’ve made the correct decision.

Depending on your available free memory, it may offer you the choice of installing Towns OS 2.1 or Windows 3.1 as in image 3. You need setup disks to install Windows 3.1, so if you can track those down, it sure might be interesting to see if you can dual-boot the system or other unique configuration ideas, but for now let’s just pursue Towns OS 2.1 installation.

Image 4 asks you if you want to perform a new installation (top option) or an upgrade (bottom option). If you don’t need to worry about the data on the partition, we might as well give your Towns a fresh start, so I go with the new installation when possible. Choose and press execute.

At image 5 we choose the location (partition) you wish to install on. That should probably be drive D, which we already set up via the setup.exe utility above. Click on the bottom option and then ensure D is selected, then press execute.

We can customize our installation with the menu on image 6. The defaults are probably fine, but I chose to install everything because I like to explore what options it comes with, and it’s not as if I’ll be storing tons of data on this system, so I might as well fill up that hard drive with what I can. Press execute.

Image 7 confirms the details of our installation and informs us that our drive will be formatted, press execute. Image 8 tells us that formatting the drive means losing all data on the drive. Wait, what?! Oh, we already knew that. Press execute.

Now it’s all up to FM Towns for a while, and if yours is a 386-16MHz like mine, it is indeed rather a while, perhaps 15 minutes. We’re in no hurry. Sit down and watch the progress bar move.

“Woah, hang on a minutes there, I have a question!” you say. Why did the color scheme change between 33% and 90%? And why did 1.5 days pass? I thought you said it was about 15 minutes! Actually, I retook all of these photos on the day I wrote this blog entry. I forgot to take an early-progress installation photo so you get the original version of that. My battery doesn’t work so the clock resets sometimes.

Now for post-installation setup. In images 1 and 2, it asks many details about your configuration over two pages. Basically, you can ignore these. It is mostly about peripherals, expansion cards, fonts, and text entry. If you want, you can set your monitor on the second page. It’s not that there aren’t *any* other useful settings, but that’s not the purpose of this post. All of this is configurable later, so there’s no need to worry about leaving something behind. Click execute. Image 3 tells you that the settings will take effect after restarting, confirm. Image 4 tells you that the installation was successful, confirm.

You’re done! Remove your CD and restart from your fresh-out-of-’92-or-so Towns OS installation.

Replacement FM Towns 2F

I’ve been spending more time on alternatives to Yahoo Auctions these days. Right now, there is a small window of opportunity for buyers using the PayPay Flea Market application. Because this is a new channel for selling off your old stuff, they are running a free-shipping promotion to improve brand recognition and increase the number of items for sale.

It’s not easy-pickings, but the combination of allure for sellers and the relatively unpopulated state of PayPay Flea Market means that you can sometimes find some interesting stuff for low prices. Persistence is the key, I search multiple times per day to try to be among the first to find the real treasures.

For example, I found this FM Towns. It is a 2F, so I already have this exact machine, but the one I found was in amazing shape. It came with the original box, the first time I’ve ever seen one.

And the machine itself is as if it had never been touched. Look at this thing!

It was untested, but it has been working perfectly, making it a total bargain. I can’t imagine what it would fetch with a standard auction format, but I was able to talk the seller down from 15000 yen to 12000 yen (with free shipping) and bought it on the spot.

Unfortunately, as unique as it is, it is not practical for my to keep the box. I’d like to, but I know it would just end up in the closet, never being looked at. So I have put my old FM Towns 2F into this box and have it ready to be listed on Yahoo Auctions tomorrow. The new machine itself I will keep!

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!