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Entries tagged 'cat:Retro Computing'

Klik & Play

I have been wanting to write about this piece of 16 bit Windows software for a quite a while. I don't know why.

I'll just start this entry and continue whenever. Just want to have it started for now…

When I got my first own computer - that must have been around 1996 or 1998 (probably closer to 1998) - I got most of the software that I used for free from magazines that came with diskettes or CDs. Because it was cheap. I reckon the publishers didn't really pay for the software that was on them, or may even have gotten payed for including restricted freeware/shareware on them. Because most of these magazines weren't even pricey for the magazine themselves, and you got the software for free. One of these disks included a demo of "Klik & Play" (That's how it's spelled everywhere. I'm pretty sure it was spelled "Klik 'n' Play" in the logo/intro animation, though. But whatever.) A programme that promised to enable the user to create computer games without previous knowledge, without writing any code, without knowing how to programme at all. I checked it out just because it was there. I remember thinking "who are they trying to fool with that language and why?" because of the slogan and promises (that I don't remember word by word). But after playing with it for a while, I was positively surprised by how true the claims seemed to be. You could really create a video game without knowing how to code.

I thought this piece of software genius back in the day. I was - idk - 12 and hadn't really thought of writing my own software. Computer software, in the minds of the people that I had to do, wasn't something that you wrote or edited yourself. Creating your own programme, writing your own code wasn't really in the realm of possible things to do with a computer. Almost as much as it is viewed now. I mean, editing a .BAT file in DOS was the hackiest one would get among my friends, and even that was rare. So the fact that the developers (Europress Software - Wikipedia credits Francois Lionet and Yves Lamoureux) managed to allow me, to create a simple, 2D, actually playable game, and the way they managed to allow this by using mostly to only the mouse, impressed me.

I think I don't want to explain how creating a game with Klik & Play works in detail. You can search the web or watch a video for that. But to get an idea of what it was like, and of how simple it was: On any given screen ("level") you can click an icon to add an object. You can select from a number of categories or add your own graphics and GIF animations. Then you could choose whether that object is just a background object (not doing anything, not moving, not interacting with other objects, not changing, ...) or if it represents one of the players. If it's a player, you can choose a set of controls. Most of the actual programming takes place in a table. On one axis are all the objects, on another axis something that can happen to or with them. And in the fields of the table, you choose what's supposed to happen when this circumstance ever comes true. So the table sort of represents a huge set of possible interrupts. Common things that can be acted upon are: An object touches an edge of the screen, an object touches another object, a key has been pressed and released, ... And examples for possible actions are: Move an object by incrementing/decreasing coordinates or by setting them to a fixed value, changing an objects velocity, jumping to the next or a specific screen ("level") in the game, increasing the player's points by 1. Just with there few examples, you could: Make the player object jump when you hit the space bar (e.g. in a jump&run style game), make it stand on the ground object and platforms (e.g. in a platform style game), make it move left and right when you hit the arrow keys, make it reappear on the other side of the screen when it leaves of side (like in Asteroids), make it collect and count coins, make it die when it touches a deadly enimy and only one life was left on the counter, go to the next level when this one is won, ... and much more.

Note that this is all done by only clicking on objects, buttons, lists, menus. Once you got used to the interface and know what's available, it's really easy to use. There is a feature that makes getting started with a new game even easier though. You can run the game in a mode where every event for which an action can be defined, interrupts the game and lets you choose an action (or choose that for this event it shouldn't ask/interrupt again) and then continue the game. The ball touched a stone, what do you want to happen? Bounce the ball, delete the stone object, increase variable A by 1, play CLICK.WAV. The ball touched the left edge of the screen. What do you want to happen? Bounce the ball, play CLACK.WAV. …

I think I could have handled writing code myself at that age, at least after having created some silly game-like things in Klik & Play. But nobody showed me and teaching myself seemed overwhelming. (It wasn't really. Good books and reference guides existed back then. But I didn't know.) Anyway.

You could play the game file by opening it with Klik & Play or you could compile it, which produced two files: an 16 bit EXE and a game file. I think the latter contained all the graphics and sounds and the executable was the actual game. But I'm not sure.

There were a number of programmes around in the 90s that promised to let you programme and/or create your own games without knowing anything about computers first (or that made some similar claims of that sort.) I tried two others, that took a completely different approaches. But I think they deserve their own entries. I could probably plan to make a series about these sort of tools where I start with the goal to create a complete list of functional, worth mentioning programmes, and end up with a pile of unexpected feelings of resignation over the fact that there are too many products to mention, like I did with alternative operating systems.

(tbd: proofreading, add links, add screenshots, fix misremembered details, write continuation about Klik & Play games.)

Looking for a 286 operating system

I got myself a 286. A small tower PC made from collected parts from here and there, a clock display and turbo button, but a motherboard that doesn't seem to have a turbo mode. An MFM hard drive, Mitsumi CD-ROM drive, two floppy drives, a VGA card, IO card, a damaged case. It looks like I could have built it from parts I found here and there. I reckon that's how it was built. It's the first working 286 that I had since I so stupidly through out my IBM PS/2 Model 30. Well, it wasn't that stupid at the time. It was a conscious decision. But anyway. The only other time I had a 286 board was when somebody gifted me their old PC because it was both worthless and broken. The CMOS battery had leaked and I didn't know enough about electronics to make it work, had nobody to ask and internet wasn't really a thing back then.

I had been looking for a specific model before: A Peacock 286 desktop. But Not only didn't I find one for sale so far, I'm pretty sure it would cost more than I'd be willing to pay for a vintage PC just so I could own the same PC model that was the first computer I ever used (for homw work in first grade). The first computer I had contact with was an Olympia People. I didn't even look for one of these because it would be a serious collector's piece and be respectively priced.

So I got just any working 286 PC; just to fill the gap in what I therefore should now start to call my collection of vintage hardware. It just happened to be one with a working MFM hard disk. As if I didn't already have enough unfinished and unstarted projects now I even payed money to buy me another one. Because now I have to do something with this machine, obviously. I bought it weeks ago and it's getting bored.

I thought about what OS I might want it to run. MS-DOS would be the obvious choice. Too obvious for my taste. CP/M after that. But that's too similar. I want something different. But I don't even know what other systems exist that run on a 286. Linux should be out. (Although I haven't yet looked if somebody has made some part of the kernal work on a 286. I doubt it though. No extended mode, no multitasking.) IBM AIX wasn't available for the 286 models either. Are there other Unix clones or versions that run on a 286? Of course there are. I just don't know them. Prologue comes to mind. And Xenix. What others are there? Which one should I try? I could test MikeOS on it.

Another never finished electronics project: my electronic typewriter that would make a very nice retro style terminal but isn't one

Background story: I wanted to park my car at a certain small parking lot that's usually pretty full. I was lucky: There was a free spot. Or so it seemed. As I drove up to it I saw there was something lying in the middle of the free spot. Looked like somebody got rid of some scrap there. I got out and honestly I wanted to put the stuff to the back of the parking spot under the tree that was there. If somebody decided not to bring their scrap to the right facility for free for some reason that doesn't make me responsible to pick it up and bring it there, I thought. But when I saw that it was an almost new looking electronic typewriter, I quickly decided to take it with me instead. It was a Triumph Adler Gabriele PFS. As I read somewhere it came out in the late 2000s or early 2010s. So not as vintage as the name typewriter may sound. But definitely some old piece of tech that is obsolete now but has a nice character and conveys a feeling from a certain time. That and the fact that I've never had or even used one made me add it to my collection of retro tech (that I've never before called collection because it doesn't really deserve that name).

Back at home I examined and tested it and I would have cleaned it, but there was nothing to clean. The case of the internal transformer was cracked and the outer case had a deep scratch at the corner where the transformer is. Everything was working fine except for the 2.8" diskette drive. The rubber band had long been degraded. But the bigger problem was that the main motor didn't do anything else than heating up very quickly. I couldn't find a replacement easily and still couldn't find a good replacement when I searched more thoroughly later. So I've replaced the drive with an emulator so I could use SD cards instead of diskettes. That not only has the advantage of working right now but also of using a medium that is more reliable being handled by my clumsy self and available easily. New 2.8 " diskettes would cost more than SD cards and couldn't hold nearly as many and long documents.

Before the drive emulator worked I had to work a bit with the developer of its firmware. I was lucky that I had a logic analyser and that the project was actively maintained by a developer who cared for adding support for my typewriter. The interface for that model of Mitsumi QuickDisk drive was already supported before. But the reverse engineered parameters, especially the timing was just not exact enough for my Gabriele.

Well, that's the state the machine is in right now. I can use it, I can save documents to SD card, I can't read the original diskettes and I can't read the documents on a PC or create documents for the typewriter on a PC without writing software for it first. I'm not using it for anything. The best thing I could come up with on what I could/would want to do with it is to add an interface that allows me to use it as a text printer. It has a printball with all important characters (no ASCII line art though, sadly) and maybe completely switch out its software to give the machine a new purpose. The easiest way for me would probably be to ignore all the electronics that are already inside and add a microcontroller that handles the LCD, print head and communication with the outside. I still wouldn't have any use for that though. So additionally I would turn it into a serial or telnet or SSH terminal, maybe all three. That would be more fun. Vintage look, vintage keyboard, vintage feel overall, a display that is subpar because it's old technology but still good enough to do its job, and the ability to print text on paper. Yeah, that would be fun. But I still wouldn't really have a use for it. I have a laptop that can do that job better and the keyboard of the typewriter doesn't have as many keys as I'd want it to have.

So, I'm not going to do it, or anything else with it. Maybe some day. Or none. Got any better/additional idea what I could do with it?

My Atrocities to Vintage Hardware and Software

I've thrown away a lot of stuff over the time that I mourn now. This is just to say: I'm sorry!

I feel bad when I think back and remember some things that I had collected, didn't value back then, but miss now. I had a lot of computer hardware that wasn't worth anything at the time. (Like 386 and 486 stuff in the 2000s.) I'd love to play with some of the stuff today sometimes. I think it was a waste to throw them out knowing that nobody will ever use them again. There was also an IBM PS/1 in good condition. That would be a very nice thing to own for a retro computer fan today. (It already was back then.) I also had years worth of c't magazines that I had a subscription for for a while. I had my reasons. I didn't have room to store so much stuff. But still. Maybe I could have kept just a few more things.

Even worse is that I've thrown away quite a few floppy disks with very rare software. The things I wrote back then are one thing. Nobody has a copy of these programmes I'm sure. The collection of Prologue OS software is another. Prologue was a French UNIX-like (yes, I said UNIX-like) OS for industrial applications. As far as I know there is no successor in development or still supported. It's a piece of computer history that, due to the relatively small regional spread, is not at the forefront of vintage software archives. In fact I've never seen any software for Prologue nor a version of the OS itself anywhere on the internet. The collection contained multiple versions of the OS from I don't know how long of a time span and a range of applications. The source code for many applications was also there (because of a familial connection to the author). At least some of the floppies likely contained the last copy in existence of software that was once very important in the daily work of some people.

I'm sorry!