Retrogaming Times
Issue 37 - Page Two


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TI 99/4A, the Overlooked Computer
Part Three

This is the last part of my three part series on the TI computer.  It is just an overview of the great computer and I barely scratched the surface on this wonderful computer and all it has to offer!  This month, I am going to talk about getting a TI computer and what you need for the ultimate setup.  You may be surprised that a TI computer is much cheaper than you thought.

The best place to get a TI computer is probably on eBay.  They can be bought quite cheap and you can usually get a system with a handful of games and some joysticks for about $20.00-$30.00 (plus shipping).  Once you get a TI, you need to start looking for the Joystick Adapter from Wico.  This will set you back about $10.00-$20.00, but it is worth it.  The next thing you need is a speech synthesizer.  This is a must for games like Parsec and Alpiner.  This should keep you busy for awhile as there are hundreds of carts available!  

When you decide to take the next step, you need to get a disk drive.  If you are going to do this, you should just get the PE Box (stands for Peripheral Expansion), where you can add one or two disk drives, the RS232 card and other stuff.  With a disk drive, you can then play games like Tunnels of Doom and many of the later games that were only released on disk.  After this, you are pretty much set.  While you can get a monitor, it is not necessary.  A television will do fine, even if the picture is not as good.  Now you are ready to enjoy all that the TI computer has to offer and you can get it all for under $100.00!  You will not only have a fun computer, but also a very durable and well made one!  It should give you years and years of quality service.  Enjoy!

The TI 99/4A
“A History-Part II”

by Jim Krych

I would have to believe, that the best description of just how hard finishing a project, and doing it RIGHT, is that the idea is the easy part. The other 99% of the blood, sweat, and tears, and often, ridicule, make any project work difficult. But, if one takes things in a methodical and professional way, even hobbyist projects can be done professionally.

The second part of my history with the TI 99/4A can be best said as “The Project Years.”

It may seem that the previous article just suddenly ended. Well, that is basically how things with me and the TI were, right after High School, and I joined the U.S. Coast Guard. My first unit, after boot, was a LORAN Station in Malone Florida, as a seaman apprentice amongst a bunch of Electronics Techs. The only computer related stuff I did then-88-89, was with a ‘286 clone. And some involvement with the Dothan Alabama Computer User Group.

Ironically, it was while I was at the Navigator’s School in Yorktown, Virginia, that I also started the AAS program in Electronics Engineering Technology from CIE. A Correspondence College. This was a paradox of my Coast Guard career-a navigator who was becoming an Electronics Engineer. (All of this was to try to go to OCS-since QM’s, navigators, had better chances for the OCS program.

The background for project ideas had been laid during the first part of my history with the TI. The second part would require the toughest parts-learning schematics AND troubleshooting, all from CIE. And, of course, a place away from my cutter, the USCGC Acacia. All of which would happen in mid-1990.

Getting back with my old buddy Walter Ryder, we decided that now, we could do the old memory project. What we did first was ask-people we had read about and could contact. It was when I had contacted Jim Peterson, that he had given me the famous “never announce until ready to ship” and pointing me to Chris Bobbitt, of Asgard Software.

My timing for contacting Chris in the summer of 1990, couldn’t have been worse, I realized years later. Chris had just given up on the Press program. But, Chris took a chance on us-total unknowns. You need to understand, it was only in the 1990’s that I really paid any attention to the goings on in the TI community. I didn’t get a subscription to Micropendium until that timeframe-1990’s.

This memory Project was called AEMS, Asgard Expanded Memory System. What is known as AMS and SuperAMS, came about as a decision to actually manufacture the Project Prototype as an actual product. Tony Lewis of the Hardware Team, had proposed a very simple design based on a 128K or 512K SRAM chip, and the 74LS612 Memory Mapper. This would allow our Software Team of Art Green and Joe Delekto, to produce the vital software. Tony and I were the Hardware Team, and I wire-wrapped the original 128K prototype design. (Walter Ryder had to drop out early in the Project)

The unique difference of the AEMS Project was our insistence to the “Ease-of-Use” concept for expanded memory on the TI 99/4A. Up until that time, and excluding the Myarc Geneve, all “memory” expansion cards, were really Ramdisks. And most people didn’t want to loose Ramdisk memory for some type of CPU expansion, i.e. RAMBO. Also, programming for CPU use, compared to file storage was a nightmare. And, finally, given the mindset that ALL memory expansion cards would need a DSR, Device Service Routine, or page the memory in certain set page sizes and only in certain memory “holes”, we certainty broke new ground!

And while Tony was debugging the AEMS, which used DRAM SIMMs(that prototype is still around somewhere!), our Software Team, by the Grace of God, did accomplish what we had set as our goal. A new loader, a linker, and a macro assembler. A programmer would only need to assemble the code into sections from 4K up to 24K, and with some careful design beforehand, create the linker script, and the paging would never be touched by the programmer! The best example of this is the game TI-Nopoly. This is a 96K clone of Monopoly, that showed, just how effective the system was. Joe and Jon Dyer created that game.

Was our system needed to use the expanded memory? No, and quite a few programs programmed the card directly. It was fairly easy to do, and the design was ingenious: upon powerup, the card “appeared” as a 32K card, but when put into “Map” mode, the expanded memory could be accessed, in the SuperAMS, this is both the upper AND lower free memory expansion areas, >A000->F000 and the >2000->3000 respectively.

And, we were given an “A” for the hardware, and an “A-“ on the software-by a Mr. Bruce Harrison, who at that time didn’t “need” the expanded memory. Bruce has done some fantastic work with the SuperAMS, including upgrading the Midi-Master program to use the expanded memory.

The original AMS cards were a small batch of 25 cards. When we had ordered 50 more, the PCB designer and maker, took the money, and we didn’t have anymore to make another run. SO there we were.

We had given up on the AEMS DRAM design, and in reality, a 1 meg system that works fine is a lot better than a troublesome system. Even the PSRAM design, supplemented by Chuck Abdouch, wouldn’t work on all systems-mine included(but then again, mine was a hardware hacker’s dream!) One megabyte is the limit of the AMS/SuperAMS paging(256 pages of 4K pages)

The Project was effectively ended. And no hope of making more-except for the few brave people who took the SuperAMS schematics I offered, and built them. The only difference between the original AMS and SuperAMS is this: SuperAMS allows the lower 8K to be paged in and out. And, can have one or two 128K or 512K SRAM chips.

However, I didn’t give up. And that paid off when the Southwest 99ers User Group, decided to have a new run made-of the SuperAMS design. We worked with a local PCB designer here in the Cleveland Area-Drgan, had a one-of-a kind PCB prototype made, fixed the bugs in that, and presented the SuperAMS to the TI Community at the 1995 MUG fair in Lima Ohio. And this Product, was again highly rated in the reviews.

All of the 100 SuperAMS cards have been sold, and I am not going to sell that $600 prototype!

But, since the design work has already been done, and just a PCB house turn the Gerber data into an actual PCB, perhaps…………………………………………….

Was the AEMS Project easy? Not at all! Was it frustrating? At times, very. But, it was neat to be a part of something that really hadn’t been done before, and having been told what we were doing was wrong and against the grain, and totally succeeding in our goal! A PRODUCT had been released, and announced when ready to ship! This is a rarity in the TI World. As more hype goes into vaporware and promised “this project will save your TI” . What we did was truly unique, and, did change the TI’s abilities. We left the TI a better machine than when we first started!

And, that should be the yardstick by which things are measured. And, SuperAMS will live on-in the emulation form with PC 99, and hopefully, with the MESS driver for the TI 99/4A! I have offered the schematics to the driver programmer for free.

I won’t delve into the next and final TI project I was involved in. Primarily because I consider it to be the finest PROJECT that became a PRODUCT. And also, because all I had learned about projects, and everything that goes in them, came to fruition in it. It was truly the greatest example of “don’t announce until ready to ship”! That final project is for the next article!

And all it really was, was just the best solution, to a major problem, for both TI’s, and other TV RGB systems. And, the most controversial!!!

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Sites of the Month

Once again, I have been able to find a few sites that are worth your time to check out!  More wonderful stops on the superhighway for you to visit!  

Retro-Remakes
I first saw this mentioned on the Arcade@Home website.  When I followed the link, I was sent to video game heaven!  This site has a ton and I do mean a ton of remakes of classic arcade games!  You name a popular arcade game and there is at least one remake, possibly more.  Take a game like Pacman and you have dozens!  It was like heaven for a game fanatic like me!

The best part of this site is that they have the Champ games!  For anyone who missed the great Champ games, they were a company that did awesome remakes that featured not only arcade faithful versions, but also enhanced versions!  These alone are worth a download, not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of other versions available!  Do check this site out, you will thank me for it and try those Champ games (Centipedem, Champ Galaxian, Champ Kong and Champ Galagon).

Here is the URL:  http://www.retro-remakes.com/

Retroview
This is one of those sites that is still in its infancy, but it has all the makings of a great site!  There are only a handful of reviews right now, but look for that to change in the future.  But take a look at the reviews and the amount of work that goes into them and you will be impressed.  This is a site to bookmark and check back often on.

There are also some game cheats and a few other things in the quickly growing site.  Like I said, it has just started, but it is already looking very good!  So check it out at the following URL:  http://www.mameworld.net/retroview/

MAME Reviews

Time to dig out some very odd games for review.  I have been getting into some of the newer games added to MAME (yes, I finally decided to update my version of MAME) and decided to give some of them a review.  So prepare for my tribute to Gladiator as I do games that deal with mano a mano fighting.  


(Babes and dinos, how could they go wrong?)

Dino Rex
One of those games that I really liked at the arcade was Primal Rage.  Stop motion dinos fighting was too cool!  Being a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen, it really captured my attention.  Little did I know there was a clone out there.  Leave it to MAME to expose it to the masses.  If you are anything like me, you never heard of Dino Rex.  


(A T-Rex versus a Triceratops!  
All we need is Raquel Welch and we can remake 10 Million BC!)

The first thing you will notice with the game is it uses the same kind of stop motion look that made Primal Rage popular.  There are many other similarities, so many that I would not be surprised if there wasn't a lawsuit involved.  Both have humans in the game, both are one dino versus another.  The similarities are very close.  But this game does offer something that even Primal Rage doesn't, a chance to fight with Barney!  Allright, it really isn't Barney, but it is a fat, purple dinosaur and who else comes to mind?  


(Barney and the other dinosaur are breaking into song!)

The gameplay itself is decent.  For a fighting game, it really isn't great, but it is allright.  There are little things that make the game fun, like how a pterodactyl comes and eats your human when you lose two out of three matches.  You also get the cavemen in the crowd cheering and little dinos that pop up here and there.  But there aren't enough variety of creatures and soon you tire of it.  Plus, too many of the dinos are the same and the amount of moves is quite small.  I can see why I never heard of this, it wasn't very good.  Oh well, it is worth a download and a few games.  It will not make your top ten games of all-time, but it is a good time killer and against another opponent, it can be fun.


(Yeah, yeah another story about a big fight.  Shut up and let's fight!)

Hippodrome
No, this has nothing to do with hippos.  Time for a quick history lesson, a hippodrome was a large building for entertainment during the days of the Roman Empire.  It usually housed such stuff as gladiator battles.  This game takes that idea and gives you a chance to put your lowly human up against all forms of nasty creatures!  


(She is as dangerous as she is repulsive.)

While the moves are limited, the creatures you fight are not.  Each one is different and much to your disadvantage, they are all bigger and tougher than you.  Like a human could beat a gargoyle or a gorgon, give me a break.  But, life is not fair and neither is this game.  You must venture forth and battle and that is what this game is all about!  


(Disney lied, they told me that gargoyles are friendly.  Ouch!)

You can tell alot of time went into this game as it is more than your typical fighting game.  First off, each opponent has different moves and different strengths and weaknesses.  The lizard man for instance has the shield that is good at blocking.  The gargoyle has ranged weapons and can fly.  You need to learn how to fight each one as the same strategy will not work on all the contestants.  


(That is one mad lizard man.  Is there anyone my size to fight?)

But you do have one advantage, you can buy different weapons!  After you beat a foe, you get some money that you can use at the store for different weapons and power-ups and more.  Make sure to buy different weapons as you will need them.  An axe may be nice against the lizard man, but not against the gargoyle as the weapons work at different speeds and ranges.  

This is just one of those games that will have you coming back for more and more.  You will want to be able to defeat all the opponents and it is quite a challenge.  Once you download this, be prepared to waste alot of time.  

 

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