Tag Archives: Sinclair

Developing For Vintage Hardware

It was a hectic but very productive week here at 16-BIT Shock HQ. Progress on the development of Project MSG continues tenaciously. While I’m not in a position to give a solid release date, it won’t be too far away.

Given the retro leanings of the project, there has been interest by some members of the homebrew community. I’ve been asked if there is a possibility for the game to be ported over to certain vintage systems. While neither myself or my development partner can commit to any additional platforms, right way. After all, Android support is by far the most requested platform for obvious reasons.

I also have a burgeoning interest in HTML5 development lately. Whether Project MSG is suited for this remains unclear – time will tell. 

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Sega’s Mega Drive boasts one of the finest exterior designs for a game console

Nevertheless, developing for vintage hardware is an intriguing prospect that personally find exciting. The Sega Mega Drive / Genesis is the first potential candidate on the list. An amazing 16-bit console that possesses, near ideal specifications for the results that I want. I will need to brush up on my 68000 assembly, perhaps even some Z80 skills will come in handy. Once a proud owner of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, learned enough Z80 assembly to code a Joust clone. But that was a very long time ago and I’m certainly a bit rusty now.

Speaking of the ZX Spectrum, that would make both a good & bad contender for a Project MSG port. It would be quite possible with tight, efficient coding. However, the little 8-bitter is rather weak in some areas. Particularly in the sound department, especially if we’re referring to the 16K/48K variants of the microcomputer. The Spectrum 128 on the other hand, apart from increased RAM also came equipped with the AY-3-8912, a 3-channel audio chip. Capable of producing superior music and sound effects to it’s forerunner.

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The ZX Spectrum was the true king of the 80’s

In all seriousness though, developing for a 16-bit system such as the Mega Drive or a close counterpart such as the Commodore Amiga, would be ideal. Although they both sport similar processors, they’re entirely different beasts to work on. Specifically in the way the two machines handle graphics, distinctively. The Amiga is well known for it’s graphical prowess and blitter, incredibly advanced for the period. Sega’s Mega Drive on the other hand seems rather anemic in the video display processor (VDP) department. With only 64K of video ram and far smaller colour count to the Amiga, yet breezier in the movement of sprites and 2D planes.

Of course there are several other computers and consoles that could come under consideration. While I’ve never owned one of these, MSX & 2/2+ have fascinated me to some degree. As a huge Compile fan, I loved how Aleste 1 & 2 and Aleste Gaiden turned out on the MSX2. A significantly capable machine that just seems to punch above it’s weight, resulting in output similar to that of Sega’s Master System.

Some food for thought, plenty of great machines of yore to ponder upon. Many of which still retain a huge following to this very day. Hopefully it won’t be long whereby I can lend my support to one or two of these systems.

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Looking Good

Nowadays we tend to refer to software as app(s) or application(s). Ditto for games or game software. Since I like to keep things retro, I will stick to software since it’s always been a perfectly good description.

My first home computer was an 8-bit microcomputer known as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. Yes, back in the early to mid 80’s computers would often be called micros or microcomputers. Later on PC or personal computer became the more popular term due to the rise of the IBM PC and compatible variants in the market.

The ZX Spectrum was a great little machine but rather primitive, especially by today’s standards. Nevertheless it’s renowned for it’s huge game library with some timeless classics. But I’m not writing this post to reminiscence about any specific games for this computer. Instead I’m writing this to point out the care that publishers took at packaging their software. Particularly the sleeve artwork.

GreenBeret_ZXSpectrum
The starts were aligned…the badass sleeve art represented the actual game very well

Most of the software on the ZX Spectrum came on cassette tape, it was a cost-effective method that ensured that original games were cheap at retail. In many cases only a tenth of the price of a diskette based game for the PC or any of the 16-bit computers gradually appearing, during that period. It was not surprising the Spectrum was extremely popular among teenage boys who had only very limited pocket money to spend on games.

Publishers were well aware of this and were smart when commissioning artwork that would make it’s way on the cover of each game. Arcade ports were massively popular back in those days. Such action-heavy titles required artwork that would fit the bill. Fortunately, the quality of artwork was of a very high standard. Very little or no computer graphics were used.

Yes, those are airbrushed breasts…don’t fap

While awesome game cover art is still produced these days. I feel there is an over-reliance on CG-art and game logos are becoming bland, boring even. The examples shown here, both are stunningly illustrated with insanely cool logos. Compare these fine covers to most of the current gen games sitting on stores shelves and you will see the difference.