Hallmark’s Sega Genesis Ornament

I have never been much of a Christmas ornament guy (my wife has more of them than we have trees for) but the other day I found one that I just couldn’t pass up. My friend Smokemonster let us all know on Twitter that Hallmark’s Sega Genesis ornament was marked down to just under $6 from its initial $30 price tag:

The ornament arrived yesterday and it’s glorious. They based it off the American version of the version 1 console, the one I got in 1989 that has been the centerpiece of my YouTube set since I got into this business. Unlike the original it includes two controllers but of course in this implementation they are not functional.

But what is functional is the little power switch that works just like the original. When the included batteries are inserted, flicking the power switch lights up its red power indicator and it then plays some digitized sounds from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game including the iconic “SEGGGAAAA” and a minute or two of music from the game.

The speaker, as you can hear in this YouTube Short I posted this morning, is incredibly loud for a little thing like this. Smokemonster tells me that an earlier SNES ornament is also quite the noisemaker.

Retroarch & Emulators on Retail Xbox Consoles Including Series S & Series X

Xbox consoles, even some of the older ones, make great emulation devices. In the past getting emulators onto a game console would require circumventing DRM controls but lately things have become a bit easier.

My project this weekend was getting Retroarch installed on my Xbox Series X. The good news is that the process was so easy I spent more time playing than configuring!

This process initially required setting the console into developer mode but this new method allows any retail console to work without modification or mode switching. I found this guide at MakeTechEasier.com to be pretty helpful. If you’re somebody who needs a little more of a visual step-by-step ETA Prime has a great tutorial that you can find here.

The Xbox Series consoles have pretty powerful CPUs that can handle emulation of nearly every supported core that Retroarch offers. That includes even more complex consoles like the Playstation 2 and Gamecube/Wii. You can even load the games up on a USB flash drive which is detailed in the tutorials linked above.

The MiSTer is still my go-to retro device but for certain things like more recent game consoles and Sega Super Scaler arcade titles Retroarch on the Xbox is a great combination. It was awesome playing Afterburner 2 on my 65″ OLED with its awesome soundtrack pumping through my home theater audio. And although I will probably re-map some of the controls the general experience I found to be excellent insofar as compatibility, gameplay and performance are concerned.

If you’re curious about Retroarch and why it’s so popular, check out this interview I did with a member of the Retroarch team a few years back. They do some amazing work making emulation less complex for the masses!

Retro Review: The Atari 50th Celebration Compilation & My Favorite Atari 2600 Games!

Every year around the holiday season I like to do a retro review looking at some old technology in my collection. This year we look at an AV modded Atari 2600 that I picked up recently.

I begin the video with an overview of the great Atari 50th Celebration compilation (affiliate link). The compilation is a virtual museum of all things Atari including their arcade games, computer systems and all of their consoles (including the Lynx & Jaguar!). There are dozens of playable games on the compilation but many of my favorites didn’t make the cut primarily due to licensing issues.

There are lots of great videos on the Atari 2600 on YouTube so I focused on a few favorites from my childhood collection in the second part of my video. Most of the games featured are my original 2600 cartridges! Surprisingly they all booted right up.

For the games I couldn’t find cartridges for I was able to play them using a flash cart called the Harmony Cartridge. The Harmony cart can play just about every game ever released for the 2600 including some titles that make use of special chips like Pitfall 2. One of the things that I love about living in the future is that we have great new hardware for legacy systems!

The Atari 2600 era was a time of great experimentation where every idea was made into a game. Many of these experiments fell flat but many others became timeless classics that influence modern game mechanics.

In a comment, viewer Yuan Chang best summed up the 2600 : “Gaming distilled down to its purest elemental form and even in that form, it provided countless hours of fun.”

I definitely agree.

Downloading Shareware Games in the Early 90’s

I stumbled across a game I used to play in 1992 as a teenager called “Night Raid” the other day. You can find it on the Internet Archive and play it right in your browser!

Night Raid was a take on an old Apple II game called “Sabotage.” The premise of both games is that you’re a lone anti-aircraft gunner fighting off wave up after wave of paratroopers trying to take you out. You earn points with each aircraft and paratrooper hit and lose a point every time the gun is fired.

I hadn’t given the game much thought over the years (I even forgot its name) but the other day something about it popped in my head that sent me down a Google rabbit hole. A few minutes of searching brought me to the Internet Archive and I immediately was back in the 90’s playing a cool shareware game in my browser! I’ve since added it to the DosBox-X instance I run on my Macbook Air.

One of the fun parts about Night Raid was the heavy promotion of the Software Creations Bulletin Board System (BBS) that hosted its download files. During the Intermission scenes a little airplane flies overhead with the phone number for the BBS and the end screen of the game also encourages people to dial in and experience the board’s 50 lines and 6 gigabytes of storage space!

Software Creations was located in Massachusetts and was one of the larger BBS systems at the time. When a hot new shareware game came out you’d hear about it on FidoNet message boards on your local BBS but you’d have to dial out long distance to pick up the files at Software Creations. This was also where I picked up Doom in 1993 right when it was released to the public.

As you can imagine I racked up some major phone bills dialing into that BBS. Night Raid’s zip file came in at around half a megabyte which took roughly 33 minutes to download on the 2400 baud modem I used at the time.

When Doom came out the following year it was a whopping 2 megabytes and took over two hours to download. Unfortunately for me there wasn’t an active shareware gaming user base in my local calling area beyond my buddies and me so long distance was the only way to get at the latest goods.

When I finally had the cash to buy a 14,400 baud modem that same Doom download could be done in 20 minutes. With long distance rates running about 10-15 cents per minute that faster modem offered a huge return on investment!

BBS systems are still out there but are mostly available on the Internet these days via telnet. I did a video on the topic a few years ago if you’d like to get a feel for what it was like on one of those systems.

The whole scene died out pretty quickly once dialup Internet service became available in the mid 90’s. But it’s great to see so many people working to keep not only BBS’ing alive but also some of the networks that connected them together like FidoNet.

The Software Creations BBS was acquired by the “Total Entertainment Network” in 1995 right as BBS’ing gave way to web surfing. Apparently TEN cut their losses as the BBS’ing collapsed and shut the system down only a year or so after the acquisition according to Apogee Software’s Joe Siegler in a 2002 message board post:

It was even more of a surprise to us – as we had our files there. They essentially closed down overnight – we had no warning that it was going to happen.

It would be super cool if one of the Sysops (short for System Operator) had a backup of the BBS somewhere. How awesome would it be to have a time capsule like this accessible via Telnet to experience what the PC gaming scene was like back then.

A Visit to the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) Headquarters!

My journey into the world of amateur radio continues. This week we took a tour of the ARRL headquarters in my home state of Connecticut. We ended up with so much footage we had to split this piece into two parts!

In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.

W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.

W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!

iPhone at 15 – Original Box and Shopping Bag

The iPhone started shipping on June 29, 2007. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Incidentally I also got married that year so it’s easy to remember how many years I’ve been married based on the age of the iPhone :).

I posted this video on the extra’s channel the other day in recognition of the iPhone’s 15th birthday. It’s kind of a re-run as I made this short on the main channel a little while back.

Those of us suckers who bought an iPhone on release day also got a cool shopping bag to take it home in that you’ll see in the video. I called it the “mug me” bag as it clearly gave away its contents as you left the store. My original receipt was still in there too:

June 29, 2007!

My then fiancé was on a trip with her family and I was bored. So I drove up to the Apple store and bought the phone. There were no lines and they had plenty of stock. Of course that would soon change in future iterations. AT&T’s activation servers that were set up specifically for the iPhone were so overloaded I couldn’t actually use the phone until the next day.

Back then it only worked on AT&T’s network and I had to switch from Verizon. What a mistake that was – the phone part of the iPhone didn’t work anywhere in my house! I had to get a “Femtocell” in order to receive phone calls which barely worked. As soon as Verizon got the iPhone on its network I switched back.

The phone had pretty slow data speeds.. 3G networks were prevalent at the time but the iPhone only supported “Edge” which was about a 135k bits per second – not much faster than a dialup connection. There was no front facing camera and the rear camera was pretty lousy.

I think I traded in my old iPhone at one point to save money on a new one. I regret that now. It sure would look nice on my gadget shelf!

Crazy Atari 800 Add-On Device

I am a sucker for cool modern hardware for old retro hardware. YouTube channel The Retro Shack has this awesome and comprehensive review of an “everything” add-on device for the Atari 800 computers called the Fujinet.

What do I mean by everything? It’s pretty much the kitchen sink here with emulation for 8 floppy drives, a modem (connects via Telnet), a printer (writes out PDFs), realtime clock, a cassette deck for cassette based software, and a network adapter that connects via Wifi. Even crazier is that it allows for mounting disk images remotely over the Internet! It’s not all that expensive either at around $80 or so.

The Atari 800 has an innovative serial bus that in some ways works like USB where a whole chain of devices can be attached to a single cable with each uniquely addressable by the system. The creator of this hardware went on to work on the USB standard.

I have an Atari 800 in the basement here. My father-in-law purchased one back in the 80’s for use as a family PC but it hasn’t been booted up in decades. If you’re interested I might do a video or a stream where we power it up to see if there’s any life left in it!

The 800 is of course also faithfully recreated on the MiSTer.

AI Upscaled Wing Commander 3

Per WCNews.com a group called CD1188 Entertainment is working on upscaling the now super low resolution video from 1994’s Wing Commander 3. You can see it on their YouTube channel, it’s looking pretty good given the source footage they are working with!

Wing Commander is one of my favorite games of all time. Wing Commander 3 really pushed the envelope back in its day. It required a pretty fast 486 or Pentium, double speed or better CD-ROM, and a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM at a minimum.

The Wing Commander series was know for being a great space shooter but it also had equally good story elements. In the first two games they consisted of animated cut scenes with a few minutes of voice acting. For the third game Chris Roberts went all out with professional actors (including Mark Hamill, Malcom McDowell and John Rhys-Davies to name a few).

I talked about my love for Wing Commander in this video. You can see how the series progressed as technology improved over the course of its five mainline games and spin-offs.

My Apple //c Circa 1987ish

I was playing the “Halley Project” – a game that taught the basics of space navigation. It involved using an included paper star map to find planets that you needed to navigate to. I was very proud of myself for reaching whatever planet I landed on and took a picture (with film!) to mark the achievement.

The Halley Project also had about 20-30 seconds of full speech when the game first booted up! A rarity for sure on the Apple II.

You can play the game here on the Internet Archive, the audio sequence starts right when it boots up.

Newton Makes a Cameo in For All Mankind

I love the Apple TV+ show For All Mankind. It’s an alternative history sci-fi drama where the Soviets landed on the moon ahead of the United States. There’s something for everyone with this show which is helmed by Ronald Moore who previously worked on Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica.

Season 3, which just launched this week, takes place during an alternative 90’s where the Soviets and Americans are racing to get to Mars. And being an Apple show they are of course using Newtons as their personal digital assistants!

Unfortunately the Newton’s screen never looked this good. The best they could do was a green “indiglo” that was popular on some watches back in the day.

Perhaps all of the space age tech that developed out of the alternative space race in For All Mankind made for better displays!

Read and watch more about Newton in this recent blog post.

The Apple Newton Turns 30

I have always been a gadget nerd and when I first heard of the Apple Newton I wanted one.

At the time it was a totally new and different product category – “the personal digital assistant.” The device fit in the hand, was operated with only a pen, and had the ability to work with PCMCIA modems just like a laptop for sending faxes and email to online services available at the time.

In many ways it was ahead of its time and struggled almost from the get-go. The biggest problem beyond its $700 price tag (the equivalent of $1,400 today) was that the handwriting recognition wasn’t good enough for the average consumer. When it worked it was great but when it didn’t this digital device was far less efficient vs. a pad and paper. It was famously lampooned in the Doonesbury comic strip but also had mixed reviews in the press.

Apple actually released two Newtons – one was an Apple device, the other came from Sharp. But both were effectively the same device inside. Neither was very successful out of the gate.

Apple retooled and released an updated “Newton 110” the following year. That was the device I bought back in the spring of 1994. It had an updated operating system vs. the original device and worked a little better, but still wasn’t up to where consumers wanted the device to be.

It went through a number of iterations over the next four years culminating with the Newton MP2100 in 1997. But by then cheaper and smaller Palm Pilots took over the marketplace while Newtons got larger and more expensive.

Apple of course got the last laugh with their insanely profitable iPhone and iPad lines. They certainly learned from their mistakes.

I own a few Newtons in my retro collection. Here’s a video I did last year looking at how Apple’s iPad borrows a lot from the Newton’s approach to pen interfaces.

80’s Japanese Tech Was So Cool

Check this cool watch I saw in a Facebook Group post today. It’s a watch but it’s also a TV! This was back in the days of the Sony Watchman.

Unfortunately to get the TV component to work you needed to hook up this walkman size contraption that contained the tuner. But the watch itself was running with a liquid crystal display.

There was even this Casio watch that in the 1980s which not only had a touch screen but could recognize numbers drawn on its face for the calculator function.

This kind of tech was so magical to me as a kid and there never seemed to be an end to all of the cool new innovations coming out of Japan. My Dad traveled to Asia frequently and would always come back with stories of all of the cool tech he saw in the shops.

New Retro Video : Gameboy & NES Manual Estate Auction Haul!

Last week I told you about the impulse buy I made from a local estate auction website called AuctionNinja. I learned of the site from a funeral director friend of mine who often has to help families liquidate collections of the deceased.

I picked up a lot that consisted of a Gameboy with its original box, a half dozen games, a bunch of NES game manuals along with (oddly) a NES RF adapter and a four way multiplayer device. They didn’t pair the manuals up with the games which were all sold in separate lots.

As it turns out the condition of everything (except the Gameboy) is great – especially the original gameboy box. I couldn’t believe how pristine it was. Yes it’s just a box but it’s one of those things that takes you back to being a kid excited to get the latest game console. The condition of it is far better than anything I’ve seen for sale at game stores and conventions.

The Gameboy itself has seen better days. The adhesive for the screen window came off so I’ll need to reattach it. I am also going to need to take a soldering iron to the screen connection to get rid of the vertical lines that appear on screen (a very common problem with the original gameboy). It looks like a fairly easy fix.

Stay tuned for a Gameboy repair livestream! If I can’t fix the display I’ll replace it with a modern IPS one.

But unfortunately this video isn’t doing very well and that makes me sad :(.

It’s funny sometimes these throwback videos do really poorly at first and then at some point the algorithm tests it with a wider audience and it takes off. This one I did about a demo disc on the 3DO had a similar starting point but later took off an accumulated almost 65,000 views:

So check out the video if you’re so inclined to help add a few views 🙂. Thanks as always for your support!

New Video: Removing the Ticking Time Bomb from my Apple IIgs

In today’s video we’ll be taking apart my Apple IIgs and doing a little preventative maintenance. A video LGR posted on his channel this morning of his Apple II collection reminded me that I had to snip out a ticking time bomb inside my machine.

Many old computers have batteries that power volatile RAM for keeping time, saving system settings, etc. Over time those batteries tend to explode and leak their contents which often results in damage to the computer’s motherboard.

I was afraid of what I might find in my Apple IIgs when I cracked it open today. Thankfully my battery was a newer version that was more robust than some of the earlier IIgs batteries. But I snipped it out anyhow for good measure. My system won’t retain any settings until I come up with a replacement strategy but it is no longer at risk.

My IIgs is currently out of operation because of another widespread issue – exploding RIFA capacitors! Mine blew out when I was recording a video about my IIgs back in 2016. One of these days I’ll get it repaired and make another video about this beloved classic computer.

New Empire Strikes Back Game for the Commodore 64

Just in time for “May the Fourth” retro developer Megastyle games has released a new Empire Strikes Back game for the Commodore 64!

The game play is similar to the Atari 2600 and Intellivision classic where your snow speeder is up against wave after wave of imperial walkers. This one adds AT-ST’s to the mix along with a level progression system that was lacking from the original. The graphics look great! Here’s some footage of the game courtesy of YouTuber C64.

This will run on original hardware along with emulators and the MiSTer core. They made the game available in a few different formats including cassette tape! 

A Great MiSTer News Source

There is A LOT going on with MiSTer these days – so much so that I hope to do an update video about some of the things that I’m most excited about soon. A Sega 32X core has been added, a Playstation 1 core is close to completion, and the holy grail (for me) – the Apple IIgs – is in the works too! 

RetroRGB is a great source for following the progress of the project. A contributor to the site, Lu’s Retro Source, is posting regular update videos of all that’s new and exciting in the MiSTer project. You can find Lu’s channel here

Check out my prior MiSTer content here. Bob from RetroRGB and I have done two panel discussions of this at Retro World Expo that you can also find in the playlist. 

AVGN on Why Contra is One of the Best Games Ever

I still remember the day I bought Contra 35 (yikes!) years ago. It is one of my favorite games of all time. AVGN did a great analysis of what made this game so great : it was tough but fair.

Back in the day I managed to get to the last level until word of mouth about the “Konami code” made it to my school. I still remember the thrill of reaching the winter level on my first continue.

While so many games we thought were great don’t hold up today this one actually gets better with age.