Sunday, January 25, 2009

Emulation just isn't the same, is it?

Way on back when I was a mere 13-years-old in 1982, I received a TRS-80 Color Computer (the famed CoCo) for Christmas.

That remains my favorite computer. Of course, it wasn't advanced by today's standards in that it came with a mere 16 kilobytes of RAM and hooked up to a television set (monitors were available, but most people just used their TVs). The Motorola 6809 CPU hummed along at a mere .89 megahertz, but a command could be typed in that would double that clock speed -- a trick that was used by a lot of game programmers. You got a 32-column screen, no lower case letters, primitive sound and a mere eight colors that could be displayed on the screen at any one time (some programmers got around that restriction, as I recall).

Programs were loaded from a cassette deck, but people wanting to get really advanced could shell out quite a bit for a disk drive. A lot of us relied on the cassette deck and fell back on "ROM packs" that plugged into the computer's cartridge slot for more advanced games.

I, like everyone else, subscribed to a couple of Color Computer magazines (Rainbow and The Color Computer Magazine were my favorites) and spent a lot of time typing in BASIC programs copied from those magazines and various books. I wrote a lot of basic programs on my own, too. One bit of trivia about those old Color Computer days is that the BASIC was from Microsoft.

That's right. Before Bill Gates took over the world, his company had a lucrative contract with Radio Shack to provide BASIC to the company's line of computers. Microsoft provided BASIC to a lot of other manufacturers, too.

I always have, by the way, admired the discipline programmers had back in the 8-bit era. They didn't have just a lot of memory to work with, so they were efficient out of necessity. A lot of games were in machine code because that ran much faster than anything else. Contrast that era to today when bloated software is typical because memory is no longer an issue and CPUs are fast enough that efficiency is no longer that important.

At any rate, I experienced the fun of putting in a 64 kilobyte RAM upgrade and soldering the jumpers necessary to make my CoCo recognize the expanded memory. I enjoyed that computer and still have fond memories of it, even if it was replaced a year later by an IBM-PC.

The point of all this is that I get sentimental every few years and decide to go the emulator route. I downloaded a copy of M.E.S.S., got the appropriate BIOS sets for it, found a few games here and there and ran an emulated Color Computer 1. I even wrote a very simple BASIC program for the heck of it and you can see the code and the result below:

Unfortunately, using an emulator isn't the same as actually owning some TRS-80 hardware. I reach that conclusion every time I get an emulator so I can feel like I'm messing with a CoCo again, so I'm not sure why I even bother.

The problem, of course, is that the keyboard layout is different, the controllers are different and shuffling disc images around is often more trouble than it's worth. Perhaps I'll break down and buy some hardware again one day.

Some people love emulation, however, whereas some people swear by the original hardware. All fans interested in the old CoCo should visit the Tandy Color Computer Supersite, one of the finest resources on the Internet for that kind of thing.


Sparky said...

Very interesting, i had a trs 80 i traded up to a commodore 64 and i remember sitting up all hours of the night with is a fun commodore site wish i still had all that stuff be fun to play around with now.

Paul Eilers said...

I did not grow up using computers. I was always playing ball somewhere.

Even today, I can hardly delete email!

Karen said...

OMG I forgot all about Tandy. Great post.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Sparky -- I'll give that a look. I had a Commodore SX-64 (the portable one) and loved the thing.

Paul -- You are probably better off than those who grew up tied to those things!

Karen -- A lot of people have forgotten about the old Color Computer. Radio Shack never supported that thing well enough.

Sherry said...

I remember the TRS-80 but I'd imagine that most folks who are internet savvy these days have no idea what you're talking about.

Ms. O. D. said...

The keyboard kinda looks like the new mac's keyboard that I'm using right now, buttony, this sort of looks like the macbook air, a thicker version without the screen. :) Actually I have a thingy in the back of my mac that allows me to hook up it up to the newer hdtvs. 26 some years, much hasnt changed :P

fwaggle said...

My wife's family started with a TRS-80, but my household was a Commodore house from the beginning, and all the way through until the bitter end (my first "IBM compatible" PC was a 386).

Ahh those were the days though.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Sherry -- Perhaps not and that's a shame. There was something to be said for those old hobbyist, "bang in your own programs, by God!" days.

Ms. O.D. -- That Mac keyboard is a heck of a lot better, believe me. That "Chicklet" feel could be a real drag.

Lucky you. Wish I had a Mac instead of this PC junk.

fwaggle -- Those were the days, indeed. My first IBM compatible was, well, and IBM-PC. Yes, the old 8088.

I remember thinking how cool it was that the Microsoft BASIC interpreter was very similar to what was on the CoCo. I knew how to program the thing as soon as I set it up, booted DOS 1.1 and went into "basica."

Oh, and that old PC cost $4,200. What did I get with that? 128 kilobytes of RAM, a CGA graphics card, color monitor, Epson 9-pin printer, the Easy Writer word processor, a box of 10 diskettes (which cost $100), DOS 1.1 and the Diagnostics program.

Thank God my parents paid for all of that.

STACI said...

Man, I thought the Tandy that I had in 1990 was bad. I don't even think it really had a hard drive. You had to put a floppy disk in to work it and, heaven forbid, your mom dropped paint on that disk. Then you were SOL big time.

The only games we had, if you could call them that, were Writer Rabbit and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

Oh, and the Tandy had a lovely, matching dot matrix printer.

Denford said...

Jumped straight from typewriter to computer, so never experienced this fascinating phase.

Very interesting. You have a very good thing going here with your blog.

My greetings are coming all the way from Zimbabwe!!

The Natural State Hawg said...

Staci -- Sounds rather like that old IBM-PC of mine. I had but one, 360-kilobyte floppy and had to load DOS from that. I loved that computer, however.

Believe it or not, those of us who owned 8-bit machines back before the IBM-PC came along loved the heck out of those systems. We learned to program, played games and modified our computers a bit because, well, that was the cool thing to do.

My favorite thing about the old CoCo was this -- when you turned it on, the blasted thing just worked. I can't say the same about my XP machine (yes, XP -- I refuse to make the jump to Vista).

Denford -- Wow. That was quite a jump, huh? Thanks for the kind words and, wow, Zimbabwe is a long way from Arkansas!

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Thanks for the memories! Love that old-style programming. It was at least as much fun as the games.