|Issue #42 - November 2007|
Table of Contents
|02.||The Many Faces of Tutankham|
|03.||The (Lost) Titles of Tengen - Xybots|
|05.||Apple II Incider: Shanghai'ed|
|07.||How I modded my TI-99/4a to output beautiful RGB video.|
|08.||Mastering Sega - F-16 Fighting Falcon|
|09.||Game Over|Attract Mode by Scott
|This month's editorial was one that I
had been putting off for a while. Partly because it's not especially
retro related (unless you consider Street Fighter II retro, which I do),
and partly because it was just a hypothesis of mine and not a theory.
But Capcom recently made an announcement that helped lessen my concern.
So what the heck am I talking about? I'm talking about MUGEN's effect on
the 2D fighting genre.
If you're unfamiliar with MUGEN, don't be surprised. It's something of an underground phenomenon. One only needs to put "MUGEN" in the YouTube search bar to get a quick education about it. It's a fighting engine that allows people to import their own fighter designs into a fully customizable fighting engine to create their own fighting games. At least, that's what it is in theory. It's interesting to see what happens when you put unlimited creative potential in peoples' hands. A small portion of the MUGEN creations that I've seen made available have been rather impressive... I'm talking entire games that are good enough to rival the best that Capcom and SNK have had to offer.
However, the majority of MUGEN packs that I had found on the internet offer pretty much one thing: the ability for every fighter from every existing game by every existing company to fight each other (along with the occasional appearance of a Simpsons or Family Guy character). Simply put, they make Capcom vs. SNK 2 look like a small affair. While some characters lack quality or are missing certain abilities, most of them are quite complete, and in the case of several key popular characters (especially Ken, Ryu, and Akuma), offer severely enhanced and over powered varieties in addition to the originals. Let's just say that in a lot of cases, balance is not a concern.
The new ideas and concepts that people have presented through MUGEN are quite intriguing, but it made me wonder: if hardcore fighting fans can download MUGEN from any one of the available torrents, what motivation is there for companies like Capcom and SNK to provide new 2D fighting experiences? And they can provide something that MUGEN can't in many cases: polish and balance. Could MUGEN be responsible for eliminating incentive for a new 2D fighting game franchise? Fortunately, the world recently learned that the answer is no.
In the middle of October, Capcom announced that Street Fighter IV is in development. Now, it's only speculation that the game (and let's face it, series) will be in 2D, and nothing more is known about it beyond a painted animation of a fight between Ken and Ryu, but I'm sure it was a relief to people like myself who wondered if we would ever see anything official, or if we would need to turn to MUGEN for any new 2D fighting experience. While MUGEN is a fantastic tool, it has the potential, like all tools, to be abused. I'm happy to see, however, that it has not erased the drive to create newer and better 2D fighting games. I can't wait to see what Capcom has to offer with SF4.
We are back to reviewing the
Many Faces of 1982, this time the Konami arcade game Tutankham. Now
a quarter of a century old, Tutankham matches well with this time of year, and
Halloween. You are a brave explorer who may have to face a "trick", (find
the keys in the maze) in his effort to collect "treats" (artifacts or treasures)
in the tomb. You have to navigate your way inside the dangerous and spooky
Egyptian burial vault of the boy king. Tut's tomb is filled with unlimited
numbers of monsters such as asps, vultures, parrots, bats, dragons and
curses. A brave and resourceful archeologist can make it through all 4
chambers and ultimately recover the prized Golden Death Mask of
Tutankhamen. After obtaining this prize, you have conquered all that there
is, but wait there is more. The next time through the tomb, beginning at
stage 1 again, you'll play at the next harder skill level. You'll now face
even more frequent and faster enemies, more locks and thus more keys required to
complete each stage. Eventually the mazes will change slightly, filling in
some of the open spaces and altering the paths to become more difficult.
How far can you go?
|Beautiful arcade screenshot of courtesy of KLOV.com|
|Parker Brothers did all the classic era home versions of Tutakham|
|Screen shot of Atari 2600 Tutankham courtesy of Atari Age.|
|Vic 20 screenshot courtesy of Moby Games|
|Emulator screenshot captured - courtesy of Scott|
|Colecovision screenshot courtesy of moby games|
In this return to my favorite independent NES developer we take a look at a lost Tengen arcade conversion. While all the commercially released Tengen NES cartridges have been reviewed in this column over the years, there are still a handful of games that never made it into final production. These are of course prototypes, preliminary builds of games in varying stages development used for testing and promotion. Prototypes are hard to come by but Tengen prototypes seem to be impossibly rare with only two publicly acknowledged to have been found to my knowledge - Airball and Xybots. Thanks to the dedicated hobbyists over at Lost Levels, Xybots was finally released to the public in the Summer of 2007. Of all the known unreleased Tengen games, Xybots was the single title I was most interested in as I have always enjoyed the arcade original and Atari Lynx version.
Please keep in mind prototypes are in a development stage and as such usually are not complete or ready for commercial release. It's still common practice to give games their final polish toward the end of development and the prototype of Xybots is no different. It is absolutely playable and all the core parts of the game are in place however it lacks the above mentioned polish. Due to this the eventual retail release could have appeared different if the game had progressed further. I am reviewing the game as it is in this prerelease state, not as it could have been. By my estimate, which by no means is to be taken as fact, I'd say that development is at around 90% completion in the prototype. The prototype is also being reviewed via emulation as I do not own nor claim to own a physical prototype or reproduction of this game.
Released into arcades in 1987, Xybots was a 3D over-the-shoulder sci-fi maze based run and gun game. The Xybots have invaded a once peaceful planet and Major Rock Hardy and Captain Ace Gunn are dispatched to remove the mechanical menace. Destruction of the Master Xybots will liberate the planet however their underground multilevel fortress is infested with lower level Xybots under the control of the Master Xybots themselves. Fight your way through the mass of metal, descending deeper and deeper into the fortress depths. What is unique about Xybots is the way the perspective is presented.
The levels are laid out like large grids, each square can contain four walls. Although the game is in 3D is it incremented one square at a time. Moving the joystick in any of the standard eight directions moves your player relative to the direction they are facing. For instance continuously holding up on the joystick will cause your player to run forward, once they reach the edge of a square they will move to the next one unless there is a wall. The next square will scroll down, giving a primitive sense of 3D. Twisting the joystick a quarter turn clockwise will rotate the perspective 90 degrees to the right. Likewise twisting the joystick a quarter turn counter-clockwise will rotate the perspective 90 degrees to the left. If left or right is pressed without twisting the joystick the player will run to the left or right, causing the screen to move to the next square in the respective direction when the end of the current one is reached. In this way strafing is possible, making running attacks at enemies from the sides. There are two fire buttons which both cause your player to shoot and the Start button doubles as a super zapper. The super zapper stuns all enemies in close proximity and destroys all plasma shots currently sailing through the air however it drains 10% off your energy meter for each use. The energy meter constantly drains away slowly and your energy level is reduced each time you are hit. Picking up energy pods replenishes the meter but it will continue to slowly drain. Once the meter is at zero it's game over.
Throughout the mazes there are coins, keys, and weapon powerups in addition to enemies and energy pods. Coins can be spent at the end of each level on upgrades such as faster shots, slower energy drain, radar enhancements and more. Keys open panels that contain keyholes, many of these have special bonuses or warps behind them. Opening locked panels is often the only way to completely clear a level of Xybots, netting a hefty amount of bonus points. The objective of each level is to find and then reach the exit, which will allow you to descend further in the Xybots base. Some levels feature alternate exits which act as warps and allow the player to skip levels. Every few levels there will be a confrontation with a Master Xybot which is an exercise in strafing and avoiding shots.
3D isn't something the NES is known for at any stretch so bringing over a game such as Xybots sounds like a daunting task. However once broken down to its core, that of levels composed of interconnected squares, it seems much more feasible. Games like Golgo 13 Top Secret Episode and The Lone Ranger had maze based 3D stages however they were shown from a first person perspective and thereby didn't scroll fluidly. While Xybots doesn't scroll dynamically, it does have a fluid sense of moving in a 3D space and since the player is shown on screen it plays much faster. Tengen did all they could to keep the action moving at a rapid pace. This is an action arcade shooter after all, so fluidity of gameplay is important. The directional pad moves your player as it did in the arcade, respective to the direction they are facing. Instead of rotating a joystick, holding down the B button and pressing left or right on the directional pad rotates the perspective in that corresponding direction. This works great and would eventually be duplicated on the Atari Lynx version. You have complete control the entire time. The A button fires your blaster and the Select button fires the super zapper.
All the powerups and features of the arcade version make it into the home release. Locked doors, coins, weapon upgrades, the radar system, warp exits, teleport pads, it's all here. Graphics are very low resolution, especially in the case of the Master Xybots which are nearly unidentifiable due to the way the screen is laid out. Standard Xybots are decent representations of their arcade counterparts and they behave as they did originally however there are far fewer of them around than in the arcade. The reason the stages aren't overflowing with enemies becomes apparent the first time a situation filled with them arises - it causes the game to flicker horribly. With all the enemies being drawn in different scale, moving freely in the distance and up close, the player running around and changing the scale of the maze, and laser bolts being shot constantly the NES hardware just can't keep up. Granted the game keeps from choking and slowing down but it becomes nearly impossible to hit targets that keep disappearing and reappearing. The intermission screen is not present so rather than showing the elevator stop at a computer console and the player running over to purchase upgrades, the upgrade selection screen is displayed immediately after a level is completed. One would hope that Tengen intended to eventually add the intermission sequence in a later build since finishing a level feels empty without it. At least the title screen is a very nice representation of the original and there's a well done text tutorial that plays during the attract sequence that explains the controls.
Aside from the attract music playing at the title screen and during the tutorial there is no music in the Tengen version. One would assume that it had yet to be inserted but considering how much flicker there is in the game already it could have been omitted to help with game speed. Either way, the game feels empty without music pulsing away in the background as it did in the arcade, it removes a lot of intensity. Sound effects are good but of course none of the digitized speech and sound effects from the arcade are present on the NES. The effects that are there are quite passable however.The more I play the prototype the more I realize why the game was never released. It's a nice effort, it plays okay, but it is obviously running on under powered hardware for the game it's trying to be. Xybots is simply a different kind of game than what the NES was designed to handle and too many sacrifices have to be made to get it to play anywhere close to how the original did. The end result is an extremely barebones version of a great arcade game that was more than likely abandoned because it hit a refinement hurdle. I can't see this game being further improved without sacrificing even more stability, four sprites on screen at once is all it takes for this game to stop being fun real fast as it is. Sometimes games aren't released for a reason and the technical challenges of fast paced real 3D on the NES seems to be why Xybots never showed up on store shelves. It's still a nice little oddity and an important chapter in Tengen NES development. Thanks again to Lost Levels for releasing the dump of the prototype, it is greatly appreciated.
I got back last
Sunday from a two week vacation/jaunt through China with my parents. It's my third trip to China (and other provinces like Hong Kong/Macau) in the last 4 years (2004, 2006 previously). As it was previously, the trip was tiring and educational at the same time. It was tiring in that the first week of the trip was part of a tour group. If you've ever been part of a tour group going anywhere in the world, you know how it feels. The tour guides have you on very tight schedules, you spend a lot of time on buses and in general feel like you are being herded around like sheep. I ended going around to 6 or 7 cities in the span of a week. Also thanks to the tour, I stopped by a city where my company has an office. Though I wasn't able to stop by the office itself, I met up with two co-workers for some late night snacks.
The second week wasn't much better. Our tour ended after a week but we met up with my dad's co-worker. The co-worker had family in China and so we were able to stay at someone's house instead of a hotel. However, we were once again whisked around various locales around the area and I returned to the US jet lagged and pretty tired.
As far as the educational bit goes, I took away a lot from the trip. One, there's a lot of diversity and culture in China. Just think of the 50 states in the United States. Each state has it's own sub-culture and little differences. China has a lot of the same in each of cities and provinces. There may be a universally accepted language (Mandarin) but each city has it's own twist on language, food and culture.
Two, China may be a growing super-power, but there's still a lot of poor people. My family and I rode on Rickshaws (tri-cycles) where we paid the driver about 5 to 6 Yuan (Chinese currency). That's the equivalent to LESS THAN ONE US DOLLAR for some pretty tough physical labor.
Three, If anyone's interested in visiting China, now's the time to do it. When 2008 rolls around, with the Olympics around the corner, you'll probably face high prices and a crazy amount of tourists trying to visit China at the last minute. Visiting China will be a much different experience than visiting your local Chinatown (if you have one).
Ok, enough about my China trip. On the way back, I was wondering what I was going to write for this month's column. I decided it would be something related to my China trip. The trouble was what to write about. What are the Chinese most known for here in the US? Food? Bruce Lee? Jackie Chan? Yao Ming? Martial Arts/Kung Fu? Finally, after much thought, I came up with something less obvious, but still distinctly Chinese.
In 1986, Activision released a new puzzle game called Shanghai. Shanghai was "based" on a Chinese tile game called Mah-Jong. In reality, the premise of Shanghai had nothing to do with the game of Mah-Jong. The only similiarity between Shanghai and Mah-Jong was that Shanghai used the tiles of Mah-Jong for gameplay. The game play of Mah-Jong had no impact on how you played the game of Shanghai. Trying to explain the game of Mah-Jong is probably way beyond the scope of what I can do here. But Mah-Jong is a deeply complex strategy game that involves reading and understanding the tiles that Shanghai uses.
In Shanghai, your initial goal is to locate any two matching tiles and click on them to remove them from the game board. Ultimately, the gamer's final goal was to remove all the pairs and clear the board to win the game. Sounds simple enough right? Well, the catch was the tiles were laid out in something close to a pyramid shape (don't remember exactly). There was a chance that some tiles were be blocked by others. When you got to a point where you could no longer remove any tiles, then the game was over.
I personally first played this game on a old black and white Macintosh. I hardly played the Apple IIGS version of the game and never played the 8-bit Apple II version of the game though I saw screen shots of the 8-bit version. The Macintosh version had the sharpest graphics thanks to the slightly higher resolution graphics that were employed over the Apple IIGS version. However, thanks to the IIGS's color graphics, programmers were able to simulated the 3D effects a little better. Of course, it should come as no surprise that the 8-bit version of the game has the weakest graphics though the programmers did as well as they could.
Shanghai was a pretty big hit back when it was released and still has some fans. Personally, I didn't find the point and click premise of the game all that interesting. Essentially, Shanghai removed all the complex elements out of Mah-Jong and made it into a very simple game.
Pitfall released by Pony Canyon on September 5th, 1986. Released in the
United States by Activision in 1987|
I can already hear the groans as I begin to type this out. Yes, Super Pitfall is one of those much-hated games towards the top of nearly everyone's worst NES games list. And like most games on that list, it has its defenders. I am not one of them. Simply put, you either love this game or hate it, and most people end up hating it. There are a lot of good reasons for that. First and foremost is the addition of the gun. Pitfall Harry never used a gun in the first two Pitfall games, so why does he have to start using one now? The answer is simple: the game would be impossible without one. The problem is, there are so many enemies, that move fairly quickly, and they appear on the screen so quickly that you rarely have a chance to react to them before they've gone and killed you. The other thing is that the game just sort of drops you in the middle of a world and sets you free to explore in any direction that you like. Now, a lot of people would consider that a good thing, especially in 1986-87, but the problem is that the game doesn't ramp up the difficulty very well. That is to say, it doesn't ramp up at all. It's like you start in the most difficult section of the game right away because the entire game is fairly difficult. Those who have been brave enough to spelunk through the cavernous regions of Super Pitfall are usually rewarded with a variety of settings and, of course, plenty of treasure to collect, but you have to be fairly dedicated (and patient) to sit through the entire experience and uncover everything that Super Pitfall has to offer.
Banana released by Victor Interactive Software on September 8th, 1986.
This game can be summed up rather quickly: Boulder Dash with stricter gravity. In this game, gravity doesn't just affect the boulder, it affects you too. Once you dig down, you can't simply walk back up. Instead, you need to make use of a ladder in order to ascend. So it's a little trickier and requires more thought. The game is much more of a puzzle game than an action game. For the premise, you're a mole who much collect every... well, I assume they are potatoes, but they look like cigars. In addition, you must also collect Mrs. Mole and bring her back to the house once you've collected every potatoe. Of course there are the boulders to watch out for, but they pose more as obstacles then as threats, since they won't crush you or the misses if you are standing directly beneath them. At certain points in the game, you can collect tools that you can utilize by pressing the Select button, in order to complete the solution for a given stage. All in all, it's a slower variety of game than the ones that made the NES famous.
Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima released by Hudson on September 12nd, 1986. Released in the United States as Adventure Island in September 1988
After playing Super Pitfall, you may need to find a good action game to rinse the taste of Super Pitfall away, and out of all the games in this month's line up, Adventure Island is probably the best of the bunch. Adventure Island takes a lok of cues from Super Mario Bros., down to the fact that it features eight worlds composed of 4 stages each, with a final boss at the end of the fourth stage. Likewise, you can walk or you can run, and the run button happens to double as the attack button. The other button jumps. But Adventure Island also disnguishes itself in a few ways. For one, there's a timer that ticks down as you play, and naturally, you will lose a life if it ever reaches zero. Fortunately, the timer can be replenished simply by collecting the various fruits that appear as you approach them. So the game forces you to take note of where and when these fruit appear instead of treating them as mere bonus items. Your attack can be upgraded from a simple stone throwing hammer to fire, which inexplicably does a better job at destroying rocks that get in your way than the hammer does. Also quite hip is the fact that you can find and use skateboards. While they really increase your pass through the stages, you can never fully stop on them, so you have to be a bit more careful about oncoming dangers. The most useful items are usually hidden in secret eggs which you must jump in just the right place to make them appear. A variety of enemies and a very colorful palette round out a fun, but difficult action game. This game actually started out as Wonder Boy, a Sega arcade game. If you compare them, you'll notice quite a lot of similarities.
King's Knight released by Squaresoft on September 18th, 1986. Released in the United States in September 1989
That's right, this is a Squaresoft game. And from the company that would one day make the greatest RPGs comes... a shooter. And an odd one at that. King's Knight is a vertically scrolling shooter involving four heroes who must battle against a dragon. You don't choose which hero to control, you control all of them. One at a time in thr first four stages, and then all together in the last stage. The next odd thing about this game is that you will probably spend more time shooting at the terraint than at enemies, as all of the powerups that strengthen your character are hidden in the ground that you shoot away. Each character has a life bar, and can take a certain amount of hits before dying. Life can be replenished by collecting the up arrow icons (and likewise, taken away if you touch the down arrows.) Shots and speed can also be upgraded. As you walk along, holes will form in the ground. If you fall in, you must be sure to jump out of them as they immobilize you. Staircases appear from time to time to take you down into treasure laden undergound paths. Definitely not a game that was indicative of what was to come from Squaresoft, but an interesting one none the less. It was the first game that Squaresoft ever personally published in the United States.
Koneko Monogatari - The Adventures of Chatran released by Pony Canyon on September 19th, 1986.
This is a Famicom Disk System game that was, frankly, not very good. It was definitely one of those games that contributed to the idea that Japanese games were just too weird (and too cute) for their own good sometimes. It's not every day that you encounter a game about a cat that can be killed by smaller mice that wear overalls, and whose only means of attacking is by dropping eggs straight down on the enemies. And how does this cat get the eggs in the first place? He jumps up into tree branches naturally, and they pop out. But if they fall too far, they crack. Jumping down on a branch will produce apple which apparently turn rotten in about 5 seconds. Jumping up into the branch won't always produce an egg, sometimes it produces a beetle. Or if it does produce an egg, sometimes the egg will have one of the four letters in "HELP" on it. If you collect all four letter, a dog comes running on to the screen from left to right. Presumably, this dog is here to help you, and it does in fact clobber any enemy it runs into, but it can also kill you if you touch it... not much help. Ultimately, it just another overly cute side scrolling game that's a little on the slow side. Nice animation on the tree branches though.
Super Xevious: Ganpu no Nazo released by Namco on September 19th, 1986.
Finally, we end with a rarely seen sequel to the grandfather of vertically scrolling shooters, Xevious. The title translates to the Riddle of Gamp, a mysterious super computer which is in control of the invading force. You're back in the pilot seat of the Xevious attack ship, with the ability to shoot air-to-air guns and drop air-to-ground bombs. Unlike the original Xevious, this game's stages are more divided and don't necessarily flow in to one another. Instead, you must access the next stage by finding the position in the current level that leads to the next. If you miss it, the level will scroll on and continue from the beginning of that stage in repetition until you find the exit. Aside from that aspect, Super Xevious really provides more of the same; fleets of attacking ships that spill onto the screen, with occassional ground targets scattered around for good measure. This version of Xevious is a little more challenging, as many new types of enemies and behaviors are introduced, but it does provide you with a greater sense of progress since you can actually see the backgrounds change, and there is a definitive ending to this game, if you can last long enough to make it all the way to tne end.
When I was thirteen, I lived with my cousin, who had a TI-99/4a home computer. I spent a lot of time tinkering with it and did silly things like write terrible programs in BASIC which plotted graphics to the screen pixel-by-pixel. I planned out the pictures on graph paper before-hand. It took forever and the results were horrible. To make it worse, we had it connected to the family television through an RF modulator. The image was awful. It was fuzzy, had dot crawl, and the colors bled. I still had fun with the system playing the few games we had but I eventually got an Apple ][+ and didn't look back.
Now that I'm almost 40, I am finally looking back at all the old video game systems and computers from my childhood with fondness and have begun collecting them to play my favorite old games on them and find out about the games I missed the first time around. One thing I can't bring myself to relive is the awful video quality of these old beasts. I've been modding all of my systems to output higher quality video than they were originally designed to do. I've been getting at least s-video, sometimes component video, but always aiming for RGB video if it's possible. RGB is my favorite. I've got tons of RGB monitors and the quality is fantastic.
When I recently picked up a TI-99/4a, I googled around for video mods and came up empty. It seemed that the general consensus was that the TI-99/4a outputted composite video directly from its video chip and that was that. End of story. I eBay'd a composite video cable and moved on to my next system - a ColecoVision. I found that mods were available for the ColecoVision to go to component, composite or s-video, so I started looking into the best options. During my search, I happened to be browsing random threads on AtariAge.com and read a discussion about how the TI-99/4a used the same video chip as the ColecoVision. Wait. What?! I wondered why, then, can you only get composite video from a TI but component video from a ColecoVision? I asked around and it turns out that the TI uses a TMS9918a and the Coleco uses a TMS9928a and the only difference is that one outputs composite and the other component, but they are otherwise compatible with each other. Well, imagine that!
I'm pretty handy with a soldering iron, so I decided I'd get ahold of a TMS9928A, swap it into my TI and see what I could make happen. My ultimate secret desire was to get RGB out of the bugger, but I would have been happy with s-video or component. Component video is nice, but old school systems generally look worse on the kinds of TVs that have component inputs - flat screen LCD and plasma televisions (which is basically all I have). I much prefer to use 4:3 CRTs for my classics, so I figured I'd be going for s-video. I googled around for a data sheet and looked for people selling TMS9928A chips so I wouldn't have to kill a ColecoVision and I found ArcadeChips.com. They had 'em in stock for $10/ea. Perfect! I browsed the rest of their inventory and saw they sold lots of interesting chips, including some amps.
The data sheet for the 9928 said it output R-Y, B-Y, and Y signals. I figured one of the things I'd probably need to do was amplify the signals so I looked a little closer at ArcadeChips.com's inventory. One of the chips (a TBA530) was listed as a video pre-amp as used in a Gorf arcade machine. I was curious about whether I would be able to use a single chip to amplify all three signals instead of using three separate transistors as I had done in the past (for an N64 RGB mod) so I googled the schematics for Gorf, found them, and had a look at the video section which used the TBA530. Whoa! Low and behold, Gorf's video chip outputs R-Y, B-Y and composite video and converts it to RGB to display on the standard arcade monitor inside. Not only that, but it did it on a separate board called an "RGB Interface Board" which was nice and small! Neat! I figured that it might be easy to just find one of those and hook it up to the TI after I swapped in a 9928 instead of figuring out how to convert it's output to s-video.
I posted a WTB message on rec.games.video.arcade.collecting and within an hour had someone willing to sell me an RGB interface board from Gorf for $40 shipped. A little on the high side, but I was feeling giddy and went for it. I had it in my hot little hands three days later and wasted no time trying it out. I hooked it up to an old Sony CPD-1302 RGB multi-sync monitor which I had handy and could see an image but it wouldn't sync up (stabilize). I figured that problem must be that the 9928 was outputting R-Y, B-Y, Y while the circuit was designed for R-Y, B-Y, composite. So I jumpered Y directly to the green input on the monitor knowing sync-on-green was one of the modes this monitor supported. Voila! Pretty nice picture! The colors were a little washed out, though. I fiddled around a bit but didn't get them to be any richer, which was slightly disappointing. I figured I'd need to modify the circuit to deal with Y instead of composite, but that was pretty over my head.
Instead, I googled s'more. I looked for other arcade games that used a TMS9928. I didn't find many. I found that the arcade version of the Sega Master System used one, but there were only three games on that hardware and schematics weren't around for any of them. I kept looking. I found that Cliff Hanger, a laserdisc arcade game, used one. I found schematics for one of the boards in the set, but not the one with the 9928 on it. I kept looking for other games. Finally, I found that Baby Pac-Man, a videogame/pinball hybrid, used a 9928, and there were schematics available! I checked them out and, sure enough, the board it used, called the "Vidiot," converted the R-Y, B-Y, Y output of the 9928 to the RGB+sync I was looking for! Oh joy. The schematics showed the circuit was pretty simple, too. I checked eBay and there was a broken-for parts only Vidiot listed there, with only one bidder with a day to go. I put in a snipe and won it the next day for $12! Woot!
It took about 10 days for the Vidiot to arrive, but when it finally did, I immediately wired it up with test clips, but got nothing. I checked the voltages with the volt meter and they were all wrong. It turned out the voltage filter section of the board was bad, so I just bypassed it and fed +12vdc into the circuit right before it got converted to +8.2vdc by a big resistor (according to the schematics). That gave me an image, but it was not synced. There were pots (knobs - variable resistors) on the board which were labeled Red, Green, Blue and Sync. I fiddled with the sync pot and got a stable picture! The color was horrible and bleeding badly. I fiddled with the color pots and got decent colors but still with terrible bleeding. I measured the voltage where it should have been +8.2vdc but it was only +7.6vdc. I checked the schematics and they showed the resistor which brought the voltage down to +8.2vdc was only 52 ohms. I grabbed a 1k ohm pot I had laying around and replaced the resistor with that. Then I adjusted it until the voltage read +8.2vdc exactly. I looked up at the monitor and was greeted with a nice crisp image! I fiddled with the color pots a little more and got a perfect, beautiful picture. I was in bliss.
I excitedly shared my results with the folks in the AtariAge.com thread where I first read about the 9928 and then set about trying to fit the Vidiot inside the TI's case. Unfortunately, the Vidiot is huge. Bigger than the TI's case, in fact. I checked out the RGB section of the Vidiot and found it was perfectly isolated from the rest of the board's circuitry. So I grabbed my dremel and hacked it away from the rest of the board. It came out to just the right size to fit neatly inside the TI!
Here are the step-by-step details describing how I did the RGB mod.
1) After opening the TI's case and exposing the motherboard, I replaced the TMS9918A with the TMS9928A which I had purchased. I bent pins 35 (B-Y), 36 (Y) and 38 (R-Y) out of their sockets and added a bit of solder to them. I then soldered a wire to each pin and added a molex connector to the end for convenience.
2) I replaced the RF shielding around the main board and ran the new cable out of one of the holes. I then soldered wires to the inputs on the circuit which I had previously cut out of the Vidiot with a dremel. I soldered the wires to the left side of R82 (R-Y), R83 (B-Y) and R84 (Y) as shown in the picture below and added the mate to the molex connector from step 1.
3) Next I soldered wires to the outputs of the Vidiot circuit. I had previously removed the pins from the connector for space reasons. I soldered wires to pins 2 (Ground), 3 (Sync), 5 (Green), 7 (Blue) and 11 (Red). Then I added a molex connector to the end of the wires for convenience. Then, I flipped the whole motherboard over and soldered wires to the +12vdc and ground pins of the motherboard power connector. Lastly, I flipped it back again and laid masking tape down over the RF shield and set the Vidiot circuit on top of that.
4) Next I cut holes in the top rear of the case and added a 15 pin d-sub (VGA style) connector and a RCA jack for audio. I connected the wires for audio to the underside of the original A/V connector to pin 3 and ground (also using a molex connector). I soldered wires to the VGA connector and added the mate to the molex connector from the Vidiot's video output wires. Next I had to add a 1k pot to the power input of the Vidiot circuit and adjusted the voltage from +12vdc to the required +8.2vdc.
5) Finally, I taped the Vidiot securely down, connected all the molex connectors to each other and put the case back together.
The results? Amazing! Beautiful, crisp RGB video from a TI-99/4a. Yay!!
I also tried this mod on a ColecoVision and it works just as well.
F16 Fighting Falcon was released in 1985 by the Nexa corporation as one the very few Sega Card titles. The game was designed and programmed by Gilman Louie, the same individual who designed and developed the F-16 flight simulator 'Falcon' for Spectrum Holobyte (later became MicroProse), one of the pre-eminent PC simulator developers of the 1990's.
The sega card titles received a bit of a bad wrap; they had limited memory (32k) compared to their cartridge-based counterparts and were subsequently panned for 'lack of depth' or 'poor graphics'. While I always liked the sega card format (compact and priced less than the cartridges) it didn't really make sense on a console platform where the media size really wasn't an issue. The Game Gear would have been a much more suitable platform for the Sega card.
If your looking for flashy explosions and terrain screaming by at breakneck speeds this is not the game for you. Afterburner it is not. The game itself is fairly complex and one of the few 'simulators' of the 8-bit era. Although a single player game, two controllers are required. Controller 1 handles directional controls, weapons selection and firing. Controller 2 manages air speed, electronic countermeasures, and radar locking. To be honest, unless you have the right joystick (e.g. Quickshot with hat triggers and suction cup base) you cannot truly enjoy this game. Using a gamepad to control flight requires both hands. Constantly using you other hand to run countermeasures and control accelleration is frustrating. Often you will want to perform several tasks at one (e.g. accellerate while turning) which is virtually impossible using gamepads exclusively. They really should've bundled a joystick with this one.
Due to the complexities of fighter similuation and the corresponding limits of 8-bit hardware (and Sega Card memory) the game was stripped down to the essentials. Graphically, approximately 1/3 of the display is taken up by instruments and the HUD (Head Up Display). All your bases are covered: fuel, radar, altitude, direction, air speed, intercept angle, etc... The ground is simply a rolling grid and the enemy aircraft are rather crudely rendered but do increase in detail as you close. Weapons are basic. You get a single 20mm machine gun with 500 rounds and generic 'missiles'. The number of available missles increases with each level while MG rounds are fixed at 500.
Each of the 10 levels is virtually identical, the only differentiating factor is the difficulty and the number of enemy planes (MIG's only )you encounter. Level 1 begins with 2 planes, level 3 begins with 3 planes...you get the idea.
As you progress through the levels the gameplay becomes extremely challenging. Subsequent levels increase the number of enemy planes but the few additional missles gained helps little. Making each missile count is essential to success. Each missle is timed to explode and the timer starts on launch. The longer a missle takes to reach its target the more likely it is an enemy MIG will escape. Maintining radar lock (reticle turns red) is key and only possible when the MIG is in range and viewable in the HUD. No fire and forget here kids. Once the missles run out its down to the MG (did I mention you should have a joystick?!). When an enemy plane is in range of the MG and centered in the target reticle the reticle turns red. Keep a close eye on the ammo count, 500 rounds dissappear in the blink of an eye when facing multiple opponents. If you run out of missles and MG rounds before you've eliminated your designated targets its game over. You either run of fuel, crash, or get shot down.
Perhaps just as important as a good attack strategy is a defensive one. When taking enemy missile fire ECM's (Electronic Counter Measures) are essential. ECM's in addition to the afterburner can go a long way to breaking an incoming missile lock. Be careful with the afterburner, it consumes fuel at an insane rate. If you're hit by enemy MG fire you'll hear a 'pinging' sound on the side of your plane. You can only take so many hits before you're destroyed. If you're hit and the damage is severe the screen will turn red and and the eject warning will light at which point you'll only have a few seconds to eject.
At its core, F16 Fighting Falcon is meant for the combat simulator connoiseur. While lackluster graphics and sound may dissuade some the real meat of this game is the simulation. Twitch gamer skills won't save you; smart tactics and judicious use of ammunition and counter-measures will save the day.
Oh yeah, don't forget a joystick!