Resurrected Entertainment

Archive for the 'Retro' category

Windows 98 Game Machine

May 12, 2014

Windows 98I have been wanting to build a Windows 98 retrobox machine for a long time, since running Windows 98 games in a virtual machine with hardware acceleration that works is next to impossible, and although I know of and have downloaded games from services like Steam and, they don’t solve the problem of how to install other Windows 98 software that I am interested in using. I also enjoy the visual nuances produced by 3DFX chipsets and drivers which are not emulated by either service.

The trick is in selecting the right hardware for maximum compatibility and performance. As a starting point, I have chosen the following pieces of hardware to assemble a basic machine:

  • Asus P4B Motherboard with 512 MB of RAM
  • SoundBlaster 128 PCI
  • Radeon 9600 Pro PCI with 128 MB of VRAM
  • DFE 538-TX PCI Network Card
  • SD Card to IDE Interface Board

The last item may need a bit of explaining. Basically, I don’t want to deal in hard drives anymore; I want a technology which I can use to easily backup and recover software images for some of the older machines I maintain. I also want something a little less noisy and faster than a typical hard drive used the in early 2000-2006 period for Windows 98 installations. After some research, I have ordered a unit or two off of eBay a few weeks ago for just a few dollars. I want to use just one or two to trial the hardware, since I have never used these boards before and I don’t know what their limitations are. I have been using the board now for a few weeks and it seems to be performing nicely. I really enjoy the ability to remove the “drive”, shove it into an SD card reader, add a few files which would have been otherwise tedious to download via the platform’s ancient Firefox installation (I am using the latest for the Window 98SE platform, which is version 2.0.12 I think).

A warning around RAM and Windows 98SE installations. I began this process with 1 GB of RAM and throughout the process of getting my benchmark games up and running and the platform driver installations ironed out, I was plagued by mysterious problems like random crashes, screen freezing, DirectX audio issues, and out of memory errors. The out of memory errors happened less frequently, unfortunately, which made debugging the issue rather difficult, since it appeared that my sound card drivers were the source of the problems and not the onboard memory. In the end, it was due to the amount of memory I had installed on that motherboard several months ago. Once I removed the “extra” 512 MB of RAM, things just started working flawlessly. I have done a bit of research and it seems that certain hardware and software problems within the OS can trigger these issues, but it is still possible to enjoy 1 GB of memory on some installations and OS configurations, even though the operating system may not use it. In general, if you have a Window ME installation available, then use that as it seems to be a more robust Windows 98 era platform.

The games I have tested so far are Deus Ex and System Shock 2; there are issues surrounding the latter within my new installation, which I will get into in a later post.

Give your NES an Audio Upgrade

January 2, 2014

I learned a little while ago from a friend of mine that the North American version of the NES is somewhat crippled in the audio department, when compared against its Japanese counterpart. The NES hardware supports five channel audio and the hardware did not permit companies to add additional sound channels. The reasons for doing are unclear but is most likely attributed to the limitations placed on North American developers in an effort to regulate the quality of the NES games being produced; in Japan, for example, the game companies were not limited to simple hardware mappers, they were allowed to add additional hardware into their NES cartridge designs. One example of this is the VRC6 chip created by Konami and used in the Japanese version of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

If you are using the PowerPak, then you can perform a simple hardware mod which allows you to tap these additional music channels. Most of the work is simply removing the casing, hardware shielding, and cartridge harness. The last step is to solder a 47-ohm resistor to pins 3 and 9 on the underside of the board. I wanted to assemble a more complete walkthrough than what can be found on the Internet for those who are not use to doing this sort of thing.

First, you see the interference shield.

Step One

Remove it, and then remove the screws securing it to the base.

Step Two

Flip the assembly over so that the expansion connector is face-up. You will see two cables which need to be detached to remove the second interference shield. Be gentle when removing the cables and don’t pull the connectors out by the wires; the large plug pulled out easily by simply using my fingers, the smaller cable looks like the connector is snapped into place, but it’s simply a friction mount and can be removed with needle nose pliers by gently pulling and rocking the connector.

Step Three

Step Four

Once the shield if removed, you will see the main board and all of its components; stop and admire the beauty of this machine and smell the history. Ahhh. Now, flip the board back over and remove the last two screws for the cartridge harness. The harness slides under the cartridge slot and should be gently removed as components on the other side of the board may be damaged by your fingers if you are not careful.

Step Five

Reorient the board as shown and locate the connector pins.

Step Six

Carefully solder the 47-ohm resistor to pins 3 and 9 of the expansion bus, reassemble and you’re done.

Step Seven

Police Quest 3

January 16, 2013

“Cannot initialize audio hardware”

If you get an error message like the one above in Police Quest 3, or in some other Sierra games, then it may be due to your processor being a little too fast for its own good. On my retro box, the Pentium class processor was executing things a little too quickly, so much so that the game could not initialize the sound hardware properly. The solution was to slow it down by disabling the hardware turbo mode or running software like “PENTSLOW.EXE” which disables advanced processor features and makes the processor run more like an i486.

Super Snapshot V5 and 64HDD

November 12, 2011

Just a note to say that 64HDD and the version of BASIC stored on the Super Snapshot V5 do not play well together. It should also be noted that my host machine is a 2.4 GHz CPU running DOS with no EMM386 drivers loaded; I am also not running the latest version of 64HDD. The symptom I was experiencing had to do with trying to load a D64 image, or more specifically trying to execute the following command:

LOAD “*”, 10, 1

The 64HDD software would beep a couple of times, and then the C64 would simply hang. It most likely has nothing to do with the specific command and everything to do with the timing between the virtualized drive and the C64 machine. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you where exactly the problem lies in either, since I am unable to debug the problem any further.

Public Service Announcement

January 7, 2010

Once Upon Atari…

September 13, 2009

I recently watched a documentary series produced and distributed by Scott West Productions. It is hosted by Howard Scott Warshaw, who is perhaps best known for the game Yars Revenge. The content of the DVD is a series of interviews with a few of the major players at Atari during the golden years. Most of the discussions centered around the popular talent, work environment, their rather low opinion of marketing, burn out, and a number of other typical questions they probably get asked numerous times per year. It’s an enjoyable series and one which should not be missed by fans.

Interviewees: Carla Meninsky, Jum Huether, Nolan Bushnell, Tod Frye, George Kiss, Jerome Domurat, Rob Fulop, Larry Kaplan, Bob Polaro, Alan Murphy, Eric Manghise, Rob Zdybel, Suki Lee, and Dave Staugas.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed

December 21, 2008

I started playing this game last week but it had been sitting around on my Xbox 360 for about a month before I had a chance to play it (my wife and I had been deep into Fallout 3 and had little time for anything else). I have to say that I am impressed so far. The fine people at Capcom and GRIN have put their collective heads together and created a new experience around a classic title.

The training rooms are perhaps the most significant departure from the original. While the new visual look and great audio soundtracks do not change the gameplay experience, the training exercises are designed to enhance the game with a public ranking system and add a competitive edge for those who would not be completely satisfied by Bionic Commando’s mission based levels.

For those who like item and monster records in their games, and I am one of those people, this game adds that feature to a genre which has traditionally shied away from such features. GRIN has also revised how you hack the enemies communication systems. Instead of simply selecting the “hack” option and then waiting to see if you have been detected, Rearmed starts a mini-game where you need to direct a ball to various target spaces in a cubic grid.

However, the most important feature the GRIN team has added is to ensure that it feels like Bionic Commando. I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think about the remake.

Core Memory

December 19, 2008
Core Memory

Core Memory

Just finished another classic computing book entitled Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers (ISBN: 0811854426), written by John Alderman and photographed by Mark Richards. While I did enjoy the photography much better in this book than in Digital Retro, I found both the context of the photographs and the text provided somewhat lacking in substance. Although I did find the photographs to be colorful, I do not find so many pictures of wire bundles and wiring trunks to be especially interesting. While it is interesting the see the complexity in wiring for one or two of these machines, it would have been more intriguing to see various parts of the machines, and to have those parts labeled.

I have not had the pleasure of using one of these machines, let alone putting them together. I can readily identify electronic components, but without providing context for the photograph, it’s just a jumble of wires or components with no discernible purpose- however pretty they may appear on camera. It would also have been a great opportunity to provide more technical details on the machine, sample machine code or instruction sets, screen shots or running software (assuming the machine could even be turned on), and what not. It would have been fascinating to have a detailed list of primary technical components and their functions for each machine. Since some of these machines occupied so much territory, it would also have been informative to have a common layout diagram with a typical installation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book and all of the machines are photographed very well, but I think it would have been better to have smaller spreads and more annotated pictures.

Digital Retro

December 13, 2008

I just finished reading the book Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer, written by Gordon Laing (ISBN-10: 078214330X). Each machine in the book gets a four page spread, showing different angles of the various pieces making up the computer. I must admit that I did not find the images particularly engaging for the most part. They were excellent photographs, no doubt about it, but I don’t think showing the back/sides/top of a monitor and keyboard is the best way to go about creating a visual history that will resonate with your intended audience. I would have been more engaged to read about the various quirks, pour over screenshots of popular software titles and the operating systems of choice, working code from the most popular programming languages for the platform, and even get a close look at the internals (for the inquisitive types who weren’t afraid to void their warranties).

Pictures of the units themselves abound, but most are of poor quality, so a well lit photograph goes a long way to documenting what these computers looked like. However, once you have taken a photo of the front and back, there really isn’t much left of the exterior that is interesting (not including the few machines which actually took advantage of the third dimension and had features on the sides of the unit). With all of the pictures, it left little room for text, and the text contained little more than a summary one could pull off a Wikipedia page. To be fair, the summaries are concise and some columns are filled with interesting tidbits. My favorite is on the last page within the section which documents the NeXT Cube. The page is almost completely filled by the monitor for the system, but there is an excellent piece of information which describes how Steve Jobs acquired the Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) division of Lucasfilm. Basically, George Lucas was in a bind after an expensive divorce and need to raise about $30 million dollars in capital. After a few failed attempts from other buyers, Lucas eventually accepted Steve’s low-ball figure of $10 million. Needless to say, ILM eventually payed back huge dividends since they eventually released the enormously successful film Toy Story, which grossed over $362 million worldwide. ILM produced a number of large films and when you top all of that off with a lucrative IPO, Mr. Jobs is sitting on a mountain of money which probably has its own zip code. 

I find the book to be a excellent coffee table reference and the columns do make for a quick and easy reference, but I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it went the extra mile and showed me things most books never touch upon.

Development Hell, Part II

July 4, 2008

Ok, so after creating a proper boot disk on a Mac computer, which would have been a pain in the neck if I didn’t have Windows XP installed in VMWare Fusion, and moving the BIOS reflashing software and image onto the diskette, I slapped the diskette into the floppy drive and fired up the machine. Nothing happens as the system refused to boot using the diskette. The 3 1/2″ drive was the “B:” drive and, of course, this particular BIOS doesn’t recognize the “B:” drive as a candidate drive in the boot sequence. Normally, I would have just used the “Swap Drives” option in the BIOS, but if you’ve read the last post, you’ll know my BIOS seems to have a bad case of Alzheimer’s. With my back against the wall, I knew the only option was to tear my carefully installed ribbon cables apart, and after the customary floppy drive error due to misaligned cable, I was ready to begin the process again. Knowing I was nearing my goal, I hurriedly rebooted and began flashing the EPROM with all haste. After following a few poorly worded prompts and trying to digest the jumbled documentation, the process was complete at last. Content with the success of the operation, I rebooted the machine and waited for the uncorrupted BIOS to work its magic. Exhausted and more than a little frustrated at having to reconfigure the BIOS for the twentieth time, I was treated to a marvelous sight:

“CMOS Checksum error – Defaults loaded.”