Monument Microgames – a closer look
Sep01

Monument Microgames – a closer look

The late 80s and early 90s saw the decline of 8bit computers in favour of their more powerful 16bit brethren. Understandably software production for these now defunct machines took a back seat or stopped altogether with software houses concentrating on the next big thing. However, with the resurgence of interest in vintage computing there is also a thirst for new software, something Graz Richards at Monument Microgames was quick to notice and fill that gap. Cheese and chocolate loving*, extreme bus-ride enthusiast Graz, now in his forties, originally started Monument in 1992 as a store to sell second-hand and new-old stock games, moving onto publishing new games in 2012. (*even together apparently!) Brunilda Endless Forms Most Beautiful Traxtor Metal Man Reloaded The games produced by Monument are of the utmost quality and often come with extras only ever previously seen in the ‘big box’ games of the Amiga/ST era. Badges, CDs, collectible cards and full colour manuals all come as standard and pricing is extremely reasonable considering the amount of work and level of detail that goes into each and every title. Games produced so far on the Monument Microgames label include: Catacombs of Balachor Zombie Calavera Genesis:  Dawn of a New Day Sid Spanners Collection Balachor’s Revenge El Stompo Game about Squares Forest Raider Cherry Cray 5 Future Looter Sir Ababol Phaeton Sam Mallard Traxtor Brunilda PET Snake Endless Forms Most Beautiful MetalMan Multi Dude Seto Taisho Vs Yokai / To Kazan   Interview with Graz Richards, owner of Monument Microgames RGC: When did you first become interested in videogames and what was the first videogame you ever played? Graz: It was Pong in 1977-78  I was 4 or 5, and very much aware of the “grown-ups” discussions about the impending microchip revolution.  Seeing Pong was like looking into the future.  I honestly couldn’t believe it at first.  Playable television! RGC: What was the first games console or computer you owned and how old were you? Graz: The first console was an Atari 2600.  It was very much a move on behalf of my parents to, ‘keep up with the Joneses.’  Friends of the family brought the console round to our house one day and showed off, “Missile Command.”  The sounds and graphics, bursting with light and colour were amazing, and the imagery of cities being levelled under mushroom clouds was extremely powerful for my young mind.  I was 8 years old by then. And then, one day, dad bought an Atari home for us, along with the obligatory Combat, plus Space Invaders and Adventure, which is still my favourite game of all time to this day. RGC:...

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The Starpath (Arcadia) Supercharger for Atari 2600 – a retrospective
Sep24

The Starpath (Arcadia) Supercharger for Atari 2600 – a retrospective

Atari 2600 Limitations Every console manufacturer at every generation has had a decision to make on how much memory (RAM) could be put in the console with an eye on production costs. The VCS designers back in the 1970s were severely constrained RAM-wise and could afford to add just 128 bytes of RAM to the design. Read-only memory used in game cartridges for the VCS was also expensive and it was only expected that games would use a maximum of 4K (4096 bytes) of ROM in the plug-in cartridges to contain all of the game code. In fact many early games used just 2K of ROM. Now, 4K is not a lot for game program code and 128 bytes of RAM is a real pain. This all meant that probably the biggest concern for a developer was to keep the ROM size down and minimise the number of variables that the game needs to record during gameplay and this would of course lead to compromises in the amount of change that could be fed into the screen graphics. In vintage consoles and computers, larger amounts of RAM mean that less compact code can be produced that can execute faster and so do more in the limited time available to manipulate the screen, potentially even using tricks such as re-writing portions of the code as it executes (self-modifying code) which is impossible in ROM. Enter The Supercharger The Starpath (formerly Arcadia Corporation) Supercharger unit plugs into the 2600 cartridge slot and boasted the claim that it would bring ‘action and detail not possible in conventional cartridge systems’. This was a little misleading perhaps as there were no graphics hardware changes in the cartridge which was in fact a 6K (6144 bytes) RAM expansion. The cartridge was designed to reduce the memory restrictions on the game developers, freeing them to produce larger code focused more on performance with more variables recorded and greater graphical changes made possible through techniques not possible when space is the overriding concern. It may seem a small amount but this extra memory was nothing to be sniffed at in those days and some of the Supercharger games really show the effect of having more space to breathe. However, the Supercharger also includes a cassette interface so that programs can be loaded directly into the extra RAM from cheap-to-produce (and so to buy) tapes rather than more expensive ROM cartridges with their expensive memory chips. With code loaded into the RAM from tape the Supercharger runs game code just like any ROM cartridge, in fact some enterprising hackers dumped released cartridge contents to tape so that the...

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Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600
Jul22

Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600

Have you played Atari Today? The Atari 2600, arguably the most iconic and enduring of all games consoles is also possibly the most confusing to collect. Not surprising really, when you realise it comes in eight official Atari branded versions (including the Japanese 2800) along with a whole host of clones spanning nearly a decade and a half of production. From the original 1977 CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ through to the all-black 1986 2600 ‘Junior’ the differences were such that almost everything about the console changed (except the chips). This makes the 2600 almost unique as a console in that you can spend a long time searching out and collecting all the variants. The 2600 has stood the test of time well, better indeed than most consoles of the early 80s period and remains popular with collectors, gaming enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. This popularity is fed with a booming home-brew scene and the recent(ish) production of ‘TV games’ by companies such a Jakks Pacific. For the purposes of this article I will keep things simple and will only be listing the official Atari models, not the Sears versions, Japanese version nor the many clone models available. Oh, and ignore the dates on some of the YouTube videos, I’m pretty sure they have them wrong. CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ (1977) Also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’, this was the original Atari VCS (Video Computer System), not yet known publicly by its 2600 designation. In fact the first 2600 to be officially called the 2600 wouldn’t be for another 5 years with the release of the black 4 switch ‘Vader’ model in 1982. Usually the most sought after by collectors, the first CX2600 differed from later models by having a thicker plastic lower casing and contrary to what you may read elsewhere the extra weight is solely down to this, there is no extra RF shielding inside and all Heavy and Light Sixers have the same RF shielding. The casing is also visibly different in that the plastic molding that runs around the back and sides is wider than on the 1978 ‘Light Sixer’ and has softer curves as opposed to the more angular second model. There are also other minor differences to the bezel etc. if you know what you are looking for. Manufacture of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ was done mainly in Sunnyvale, California – and, although I have never seen one myself – were also reportedly produced elsewhere. Sears released their own version of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ under licence called the Sears Video Arcade (Rev. A). CX2600 ‘Light Sixer’ (1978) This model also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’...

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Emulation on the cheap using original XBox – Part 1 – What it can do
Jun15

Emulation on the cheap using original XBox – Part 1 – What it can do

As some of you may know I am not only a big fan of gaming on original systems but also like to dabble in the dark art of emulation. Yes, I know many purists will be hitting the back button in disgust – but I am of the opinion that emulation has a place in every retro gamer’s life. Emulation lets you experience games in near pixel-perfection that you may not ever be able to afford or find and from a historical perspective it is a great way to archive and catalogue titles that would otherwise disappear. My choice of emulation tool is a self-modded original (some call it ‘classic’ now) Microsoft XBox. I have been asked on numerous occasions about how to mod an XBox and what a modded XBox is, so in this series of posts I will show you the capabilities of my 2 units and show you how to go about getting your own. I chose to use this particular hardware after stumbling across websites run by enthusiasts and finding just how big the XBox mod scene still is and what a capable machine they are for emulation purposes. Almost every emulator ever made has been ported to XBox and in most instances has been enhanced still further by enthusiasts with the addition of video sets and artwork. Many of you will have already heard of or use XBMC on other hardware (Apple TV etc.), well it all started on the humble XBox hence it’s name (XBox Media Center). Of course you can use an XBox as a great networked Media Centre and it does many more things besides but as this is RGC I will concentrate on the subject of retro computer and console emulation. A modded Xbox is my choice over PC/Mac emulation for the following 6 reasons: 1.  The XBox is relatively easy to mod yourself (soft-modding a standard 8gb XBox takes minutes once you know how and have the tools/software) 2.  The unit fits under your telly, unlike a PC 3.  A classic XBox is cheap, I saw them being sold with a controller for £14.99 recently at my local GameStation. eBay is another good source of cheap XBoxes. 4.  I use Macs, have done since 1988 (Mac Plus, SE-30, IIx) and as Mac users will know we are the poor relation to PC users when it comes to emulation. 5.  Unlike an Xbox 360, the original Xbox is very reliable – almost bombproof. 6.  The developer scene is still going strong and new versions of popular emulators are released weekly A modded XBox also has the following advantages: 1.  Region...

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How do I get my Retro Console to work on a modern TV?
May12

How do I get my Retro Console to work on a modern TV?

As an ex retro game store owner, I got a lot of pre-SCART retro consoles and computers sent back to me with reports of them not working. Upon testing, 9 out of 10 of these would prove to be working just fine, leading me to the conclusion that one or more of the following points apply: the cartridge they were using was faulty/needs cleaning (see this article on how to clean your cartridge) they had a modern ‘auto tune only’ TV (some of these cannot tune the weak RF signals that older computers produce) they didn’t understand the difference between analogue and digital signals they didn’t know how to manually tune their TV With the advent of HDMI, USB and Wi-Fi the current generation of tech-users rightly expect their kit to just plug in and ‘work’. Unfortunately for me and them this wasn’t always the case and old tech needs a little more preparation and understanding of how it works before you can start using it. From the mid 90’s consoles started to use an AV SCART lead and most modern TVs still have SCART connections so these consoles aren’t usually a problem. It is when we go back to RF output that problems begin to show. An RF signal is analogue and a modern TV has to be put into ‘analogue mode‘ in order for it to be tuned. Then you can usually allocate a channel and set it to auto-tune. If auto-tuning skips past the signal (usually Channel 36) then you may have to set it to manual tune. Some modern TVs don’t have manual tune. If this is the case, and it didn’t tune using auto tune then I’m afraid you won’t be using that particular TV to play pre-SCART consoles on. So to clarify: Tuning a pre-SCART console/computer Use a cartridge that you know works (or clean your cartridge following these instructions here) and make sure your console is switched on Make sure your RF co-axial aerial cable is connected to both the console and TV If the RF cable has a built in switch box make sure it is switched to ‘game‘ (or equivalent) Make sure your TV is set to analogue mode (consult your TV instruction manual if not sure how to achieve this) Pick a channel (nowadays most people are watching digital channels so just pick any) If it gives you the option to manually input a signal channel choose Ch. 36 If you can’t, try an auto tune If this hasn’t worked and your TV will let you, try manually tuning the signal If that doesn’t work buy a Commodore Pet...

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Got a video games cartridge that doesnt work?
Jun22

Got a video games cartridge that doesnt work?

We’ve all had it happen, whether on our Philips Videopac, NES, MegaDrive or Nintendo 64. A cartridge that refuses to work. It happens to us collectors most frequently, we are after all, more likely to get hold of stuff that someones just pulled out of the loft after 20 years of doing nothing but gathering dust. But don’t fret. In my experience you can nearly always get that grimy old cartridge to work, so don’t go binning it just yet! The main cause is just natural oxidisation of the contacts, either on the cartridge itself, the cartridge slot on the console or in some cases both. In this article I will assume that you know the console is OK (by testing with a working cartridge) and it is only the cartridge at fault. “Yeah, OK dude, but how do I get it to work?” I hear you cry. If you are lucky… If the oxidisation isn’t too bad, repeatedly inserting and removing the cartridge (with the power OFF!) will reinstate enough contact between cartridge and console to get your cartridge working again. Be patient and gentle, it might need doing for a few minutes before you bring life back to that old game and ramming it in won’t help but may just damage your console or game beyond repair. If you weren’t lucky and this didn’t work then you need to clean the contacts. Cleaning Step 1 – Give it a blow Don’t ask me how or why this works. It just does. Especially with NES cartridges for some strange reason. Give the contacts a good short hard blow, trying very carefully not to transfer spittle into the cartridge while you do it. It may need to be done a few times but this really does work (sometimes). Cleaning Step 2 – Alcohol You will need to get some rubbing alcohol (90%+ alcohol if possible although 70% will do) and some cotton buds (q-tips to our American cousins). Dip the cotton bud in the alcohol and gently rub along each contact back and forth a few times. You will be amazed just how much oxidisation is removed on a cart that has been unused for a while and the cotton bud will get quite dirty. Repeat this until the contacts are clean and shiny. Wait for the contacts to dry and try the cart, hopefully all will be well and the game will play, but if not… Cleaning Step 3 – Ink Eraser Non abrasive methods haven’t worked so it’s time for the big guns. You will need an Ink Eraser and a small brush (a half inch paint...

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