Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hey-hey... I did it!


Phase One of operation "Gamer Nirvana" is complete.  It's a three-step process that looks something like this:

Step One: Collect the Hardware
Step Two: Make the Hardware Work
Step Three: Collect Sundry Tools for the Sake of Rampant Software Piracy *cough* I Mean Preservation of Historic Retro Games

(No, none of these steps involve "???" or "Profit", that meme is about as dead as the cultural relevance of the TV show that birthed it, South Park.)

Now that I've lately added an Atari STe and a Philips CDi to my console collection, that's pretty much it.  Every noteworthy American gaming platform is now in my possession, and I'll only have to use emulators for arcade (including Neo Geo) hardware.  (I do love me some arcade gaming, but the PC that I use for MAME is capable of component output to a CRT, so frankly it looks great as it is.  And plus, I finally pulled the trigger on a Neo Geo X with a couple of USB joysticks, which work brilliantly with MAME as well.  I'm all set in the arcade gaming department.)

Of course there are still a few obscure pieces left that I don't have, but these are primitive machines ranging from the utterly terrible (Timex Sinclair 1000, basically a glorified calculator) to the outright dangerous (Coleco ADAM, which is known to give off an EMP capable of erasing disks and tapes).  Still, I consider them targets of opportunity: I would never actively seek to add a Mattel Aquarius or a monochrome TRS-80 or even a Commodore PET to my collection, but I ever found one cheap at a garage sale or a flea market, I'd probably pounce on it right quick.  On the other hand, there are some pieces of utterly worthless trash (like the Tiger Game.com and R-Zone) which I've seen before and passed on, because they're horrible and I don't even want them taking up space in a tiny corner of my life somewhere.

Anyway, this formally initiates Phase Two: making all the hardware work.  Bringing each console or computer up to a basic level of functionality and ensuring that each one is capable of playing games.  This also means making sure that I have at least two controllers for each console.  For the most part, though, the game consoles are entirely plug and play.  And I finished maxing out all of my x86 PCs long ago.  So really, all of the work in this department must be done entirely in the area of non-x86/Dos/Windows computers.  And, now that I think about it, both of  my retro Macintoshes are in fine working shape too.  I recently put a new floppy drive into my Atari ST, so that works now.  So... I guess I'd better go down the list and figure out what's left.

Apple: I have an Apple IIe, a IIc, and a IIgs, and they all work fine.  Just last week I was lucky enough to find an extra 5.25" floppy drive and a pair of external 3.5" drives (which are mainly for use with the IIgs) for about five bucks each at Goodwill.  So without even thinking about it, I unwittingly completed this platform, with the possible exception of an RGB monitor for my IIgs.  But I'm not in a hurry to add more monitors to my collection when TV output works fine.  Oh, but all of the analog joysticks I have for my Apple II's are crappy third-party joysticks.  So I would still like to find a couple of nice high-quality Kraft or Apple joysticks.

Tandy: Three generations here too: I have the Tandy CoCo 1, 2, and 3.  And I have a tape-drive for this computer, but not a disk-drive.  The disk-drives are rare and very hard to find (they're the same as those used for the older TRS-80 machines).

Atari 8-Bit: I have the 800 and the XE130 in this series, which is enough to cover just about the entire library of Atari 8-bit software.  And as with the Tandy machines, I have a tape-drive but not a disk-drive yet.  Disk-drives are easier to find for Atari 8-bit, though, so this is only a matter of time.

Commodore 8-Bit: The situation here is opposite to that of my Tandy and Atari machines: here, I have two very nice working disk-drives, but no tape-drive (and there is a lot of C64 and VIC-20 software out there on cassette tape).

Apart from missing drives, though, all of these machines work fine, and I have joysticks aplenty for each.  Also, they're all pretty much meant to output their video signals to a composite monitor, so an ordinary TV works fine for the display in all cases.

More obscure are the TI-99/4A and the Timex Sinclair 2068.  The former isn't much of a gaming machine anyway -- the only thing worth playing on the TI-99 is its phenomenally accurate Donkey Kong port, and I have that on cartridge.  It's highly unlikely that I'll ever find a floppy drive (or any other peripherals) for this machine.  So, while it's otherwise perfectly functional, it's kind of a paperweight.  But at least I have a few games on it that work: the Sinclair computer (which is a clone of the famous British computer, the ZX Spectrum) is utterly useless without a Spectrum compatibility cartridge.  But this is almost a moot point, because I'm collecting American video gaming hardware, and the Spectrum library is almost entirely British, so it's technically outside the bounds I've set for myself in this collecting endeavor.

And that brings us into the 16-bit era, the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga.  I've made sure to obtain both an early and a late model of each machine (ST, STe, A500, A1200), for the sake of maximum compatibility with a relatively long-lived platform's software library.  Now the Atari ST is easy: ST floppy disks are somewhat compatible with PC floppy drives, in that a PC floppy drive can write ST floppies no problem.  So I've been able to test my ST machines and know that they work.  And memory wise, both of my machines are maxed out, the ST with 1 meg and the STe with 4 megs.  Just about any game I can find on the internet will work.

The Amiga presents a different situation, since it uses a proprietary floppy format that isn't compatible with PC hardware.  There's no simple, easy way to write Amgia floppy disks using anything other than an Amiga.  So I need to go through a very complicated process involving a Compact Flash adapter to see if I can't boot my Amiga 1200 from the flash card.  From there, I can run games off the flash card for the A1200, or, for older games, write them to floppy and play them on the A500.  But in either case, I'll still somewhat handicapped, since the A500 shipped with only half a meg of ram, and the A1200 with only two megs, both about half what you need to run most of the games meant for these computers.  That puts me in a pickle.

Now I need to find some ram expansion cards for two old computers, and in both cases they're kind of rare and often kind of expensive.  Also, a CD-ROM drive for the A1200 would also be a cool thing to have, for the sake of playing Amiga "CD32" games.  So basically, that's what it comes down too:

1) Decent Apple IIe joysticks.
2) Floppy drives for Tandy CoCo, Atari 8-bit, and possibly TI-99
3) Tape drive for Commodore 8-bit
4) Operating system disks for some of the aforementioned 8-bit computers
5) Ram expansion cards for A500 and A1200
6) CD drive for A1200

When it's all neatly summarized like that, it doesn't seem like so very much to collect.  Phase Two is shaping up to be the shortest phase in this whole process.

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