The Amiga 1000 Doing Its Thing – A Video

My love for the Amiga began before I got my first, back in October of 1985. Of the various models released during its lifetime, my favorite is the original, the Amiga 1000. Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time on my 1000 and, as is always the case, the capabilities of this nearly 32-year-old machine amaze me.

I’ve put together a bit of a usage demo to highlight some of the system’s features that stand out to me. It’s quite casual and without any particular direction, just me using various programs and prattling on about them. I hope those familiar will enjoy a bit of nostalgia and those not will be intrigued to some degree by this amazing computer.

Posted in Amiga | 3 Comments

My January 1986 Macworld Is Missing Page 13

The reason why is a funny little story.

I grabbed a few computer magazines from the 1980s off of my shelf the other day and sat down to flip through them, as one does. Shortly after opening the January 1986 issue of Macworld (volume 3, number 1) I noticed it was missing a page. Page 13 had been torn out, fairly cleanly. I pondered this for a moment and then the memory came back to me.

In January of 1986 I owned an Amiga 1000 and had since the first units appeared in the local computer store in October 1985, shortly after the Amiga launch. I had been wanting and waiting (to sell an Apple //c) for a Macintosh during the summer of 1985. And, I got one…but returned it after a week or so because of encountering the Amiga in person at the aforementioned store. I was still receiving my Macworld subscription, though.

On page 13 of the January 1986 issue, in the publisher’s column, David Bunnell ran a piece entitled “If the Mac Only Had Color–and Then What?” The piece spoke of the frustration some Mac owners were feeling, seeing GUI-based machines sporting color displays such as the Amiga and Atari ST hitting the market. (The Macintosh II, offering a color display, did not appear until the following year.) Bunnell tried to allay such reader envy, pointing out that his three-year-old office PC had two monitors, one color and one black and white, and that he almost never used the color display. He went on to speak in high terms of Apple’s new ImageWriter II printer, reviewed within the issue, capable of printing seven colors, even on the Macintosh.

Bunnell then headed in a direction that raised my 13-year-old ire. He indicated he had recently spent time evaluating the Amiga and — well, I’ll let him speak for himself.

I recently spent some time evaluating Commodore’s Amiga, the new computer that features advanced color graphics. What I discovered really surprised me: the resolution of color on the Amiga is actually not that much better than the resolution of color on the IBM PC.

The Amiga’s really super resolution is on its black-and-white monitor, just as it is on the Mac.

So if you want to use serious business applications with the Amiga, you still need a black-and-white screen. If you want color, you need a different screen, and you end up with lower resolution. The color screen appears to be good only for games or for certain small niches in the computer market, such as graphic art or screen presentations.

By not making the Macintosh a color machine right off the bat, Apple recognized that today’s color technology is still too primitive to dabble in. Creating the same screen resolution in color as you have on a black-and-white screen is not really worthwhile at this stage because the color rinses out in the wash.

On the Amiga you can’t even draw a proper circle in color. It looks more like a rounded bunch of jagged lines and is virtrually irreproducible on paper.

Right now color is best for games and educational programs. Therefor having color on the Apple II is a natural, while color on the Macintosh makes less sense.

As a (13-year-old) Amiga user, that really pissed me off. Commodore did not launch the Amiga with or promote any monochrome display. The Amiga’s high-resolution screenmode was 640×400 pixels (plus overscan) in 16 colors out of a 4096-color palette (while the Mac’s was 512×342 pixels, black and white). In order to work with less expensive 15kHz screens, this mode was interlaced (like television), and so GUI-type on-screen images exhibited flicker. I have heard that Commodore planned to release a long-persistence (slow-phosphor) RGB monitor to reduce flicker, but I don’t believe that ever made it to production. I spent hours and hours using Deluxe Paint to create video art in the interlaced mode. And the circles were smooth.

I had recently received an Okimate 20 high-resolution color printer for Christmas and my bedroom wall was covered with full-color printouts of my “paintings.” I was in such a lather after reading Bunnell’s article slighting the Amiga that I sat down and typed out a letter — to Commodore — making them aware of the shots fired, complete with a few (smooth) circles drawn in color at the bottom. I printed it out on that printer, evidence of the Amiga’s ability to reproduce color circles on paper, and mailed it off to West Chester, PA along with page 13. I have no recollection as to whether or not I expected some kind of response. (I received none). I suppose it was mainly catharsis.

Since my copy of this Macworld is missing page 13, I had to consult the Internet Archive to capture the page in question.

Posted in Amiga, Just Rambling, Macintosh | 8 Comments

Did You Hear About That Nutter Who Dropped $4K on No Man’s Sky?! [Updated!]

NMS-ATLASPeople who know me both online and IRL know that I’m a pretty big fan of Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky.

Actually, that’s something of an understatement.

I’m about 330 hours in so far (405 planets across 128 systems). I’ve been rather prolific on Twitter, sharing experiences and evangelizing the game (out of a sense that unhappy players don’t quite “get” it), I’ve been a denizen of the related Reddit subs since Launch Day (9 August, 2016) and have gained some note there, and I’ve made several posts about No Man’s Sky here since launch: A Few Words About the Best Game I’ve Ever Played: No Man’s Sky, My Skylake Gaming PC Build, Procedural Planetary Exploration Across the Decades. My wife and my 10 year-old daughter are pretty tired of hearing NMS anecdotes, I’m quite sure.

In a nutshell, it started out like this. I first heard of No Man’s Sky in the summer of 2015. The previews looked pretty amazing and, as I had a PS4, I was excited for its release. Not long after, I grabbed Elite:Dangerous, which I had been following with interest for some time, when it landed on the Mac (I wasn’t a PC guy…at the time), and was amazed by its realism. Comparatively, my impression of NMS at that point was that it would be less of a “whole scope” universe simulation than E:D; it seemed from previews that NMS wouldn’t be presenting an “I can fly from point A to point B across the galaxy without ever breaking frame” environment and I wondered if that would make for a much “smaller” experience. Months passed and I was spending time in E:D, mining, fighting, but became frustrated because the difficulty of amassing assets in order to upgrade ships was, to me, a huge barrier and I eventually lost a good deal of interest. I wasn’t having much fun and as a result I pretty much stopped playing.

Months more passed and No Man’s Sky was released. I purchased a digital download of the game for PS4 on day one and began playing. I fell in love immediately.


I recall waking up on my genesis planet and walking about the lush alien landscape in a sort of wonder. I had to make an extremely long trek in order to find the elements needed to repair my initial ship so that I could venture onward. Along the way, walking through the trees, boosting up cliff faces with my jetpack, gazing at planets hovering on the horizon, running around with the various creatures skittering about the landscape, I experience a feeling of incredible immersion and the scale of the thing reality sunk in. I could explore every inch of this massive planet if I wished. And there are over 18 quintillion planets in No Man’s Sky‘s procedurally-generated universe. My earlier concerns about NMS feeling “smaller” than Elite:Dangerous were certainly for nought.

gtx1080_450pxThe PS4 I played with was in my den entertainment center with a few other consoles, tied to the wall-mounted screen. After just a few days in, I wanted to get as deep into the experience as I could, so I pulled one of my Mac’s displays off the desk to clear a space in the basement computer room, bought a 32-inch curved 1920×1080 display, and plopped it and the PS4 down next to the Mac and started playing. This turned out to be a great move — so much nicer than playing from the couch across the room. I ran like this for a couple of weeks, getting up well before dawn to get some time in before heading to the office most days, and it was awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I wanted to take things farther, to get all that I could out of the game. I decided to build a high-end gaming PC specifically to play No Man’s Sky.

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Posted in Gaming, No Man's Sky | 30 Comments

Tapping the HP-9000 Gecko for “Not x86 Week”

This past week was “Not x86 Week” over at r/Retrobattlestations and I decided to stand the HP-9000 712/100 “Gecko” RISC workstation out front for my entry.


I happened upon a boot sale one weekend back in 2003 and spotted an HP-9000 712/60 in a stack of Sun workstations in the back of a truck. I had always wanted to play around with a Gecko, knowing of the unique video hardware onboard from a system review I read in NeXTWorld magazine years earlier, so I bought it — for just $20. Getting it home, I pulled out my NEXTSTEP 3.3 CDs and got it up and running in no time. Its video output, and the manner in which it generates it, is pretty amazing.

Not too long ago, I found an HP-9000 712/100 motherboard on eBay for a reasonable price and replaced the 712/60’s board with it, upgrading it from a PA-7100LC CPU running at 60MHz with 64K of L1 cache to a 100MHz unit with 256K of L1 cache. NEXTSTEP really flies on this system, as does HP-UX, which I recently installed on an external drive to allow dual-booting.

I consider the HP Gecko to be the most interesting NEXTSTEP-compatible system out there, and it’s certainly one of the most prized systems in my collection.

Visit a gallery of all my r/Retrobattlestations entry photos. A complete list, with links, of the fun I've had with challenges in that subreddit over the years can be seen below. Good times!

Posted in HP, NeXT, r/Retrobattlestations | Leave a comment

Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2016 – 2011 Editions)

‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the sixth annual Byte Cellar vintage computer Holiday demo video roundup so everyone can feel that warm, fuzzy, pixellated holiday glow. With scanlines. Enjoy!

I’ve been a computer geek for a long time now, but I’ve been enjoying The Holidays even longer.

I got my first computer, a TI-99/4A, on Christmas morning in 1982. I was 10 years old and from that Christmas on, it was nothing but games and computer hardware that I wanted Santa to leave me under the tree. On through my teenage years, part of my ritual for getting into the Holiday spirit was downloading and watching Christmas demos on whatever system I had at the time (and every platform out there had a few of them).

Enjoying these demos is a personal tradition that I had, sadly, long left behind until 2010 (the year before I began writing these posts) when I was inspired to seek out the demo I remember best, Audio Light’s 1985 musical slideshow for the Atari ST. With the help of an emulator, I captured it to share online with readers.

A year later, I fired it up again and watched it run through it’s 16-color, pixellated images and 3-voice musical holiday greetings. As I watched, it occurred to me that it might be nice to gather a few of the other demos I remember from the good ole’ days and present them here, in order to try to share some of the holiday cheer that they used to inspire within me.

The following list of demos ranges across a number of platforms of olde and includes the aforementioned Atari ST demo I recorded (see the first video of the 2011 collection). Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!

The 2016 collection:

Atari Falcon – Wee Gift by The Pixel Twins (2016)

C64 – Dan Kovaks’ Christmas Demo (2011)

Tandy 1000 – A Tandy Bear Christmas (1988)

BBC Micro – Melvyn Wright’s Musical Snowmen

C64 – Electronic Christmas Card & Fireplace

Apple IIgs – Polymorph’s Christmas Demo

Amiga – 17 Bit Software’s Christmas Music (1989)

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Posted in Just Rambling, Multi-Platform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Remembering the Apple IIgs Sales Demo

introducing_the_apple_iigsIt was a Saturday morning in September when we saw the Apple IIgs for the first time. By “we,” I mean those of us who headed to local authorized Apple dealers across the country (which for me was Chaney Computer in Newport News, VA) to get some hands-on time with Apple’s new II during that launch-day event 30 years ago, back in 1986. But the hands-on session came only after the machine was (physically) unveiled and the Apple IIgs Sales Demo was booted up and presented to the crowd in attendance.

Apple planned an event for participating dealers that centered around a IIgs system equipped with two 3.5-inch floppy drives, the 12-inch AppleColor RGB Monitor, a 1MB RAM card, and a decent set of speakers. The main event was the two-disk Sales Demo which was written by Tom Lichty and Tom Crosely in order to let the IIgs show off its talents.

After the black cloth was thrown aside revealing the platinum-hued system underneath (and after the “oohs” and “aahs” had abated), the IIgs was switched on, the drives began pulling in data, and suddenly the room was filled with the music of a jazz saxophone while colorful shapes danced about the screen. The quality of that sax and the instruments that began to accompany it was shocking to everyone present; the 32-second piece was digitized 8-bit audio (hence the need for the 1MB RAM expansion board) and very few other systems could pull that off. This was not something that most in attendance had experienced before. Apple’s original plan had been to use synthesized instruments to play the intro piece, but the demo team was unable to get things sounding of the level of quality demanded by this important demo in the allotted amount of time. It was an impressive demo of the GS’s Ensoniq sound chip.

While this year marks the 30th birthday of the Apple IIgs, what really got me thinking about this demo was a post I wrote a few weeks back, concerning the Atari ST, in which I mentioned the Apple IIgs Sales Demo. In writing that piece, I went looking online and was surprised to find no full, proper video of this demo that made such an impression on me and at least a few of you readers out there. Troubled by this, I decided to properly record the demo and upload the video so that it’s out there for anyone searching for this glimpse of a memorable piece of the Apple IIgs‘ infancy.

Posted in Apple II, Down Memory Lane | Leave a comment

My SGI O2: Down Off the Shelf and Back On the Desk


A quick update regarding the SGI O2 system I’ve written about a few times over the years. I grabbed an O2 setup on eBay back in 2003 (went in looking for an Indy, but the O2 seemed a better proposition) which consisted of an SGI O2 unit with a 64-bit 175MHz MIPS R10000 CPU, the O2 media interface card with camera, and a new-in-box 17-inch SGI 1600SW display and video interface card. It’s a sweet little system that I had setup and running down in the basement computer room for several years until I picked up an Apple Lisa 2/10 (in 2005) and needed desk space to set that up. I shelved the O2, intending to bring it back out one day.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-11-23-40-amThat day was last Tuesday.

What inspired me to bring it out was a series of videos that “Dodoid” / “DodoDude700” is publishing which take a look at the history of SGI. Here’s part I and part II. They’re worth a watch.

While there’s zero unused desk space across the six desks I’ve got down in the Byte Cellar, my office in DC has a huge amount of unused space. Two morning Uber trips in to the District was all it took. In the three years I’ve been working here I’ve brought in my Apple //c, my SAM440ep-Flex PowerPC-based “Amiga,” and a Raspberry Pi. And, joining them now, is the O2. It’ll be nice to be able to use it occasionally, as I do the other systems on my desk.

Posted in SGI | 5 Comments

Procedural Planetary Exploration Across the Decades

nomansfractalus_lqRegular readers are surely aware that I’m rather addicted to the space exploration game No Man’s Sky by Hello Games. I recently detailed my love for the title and gave an account of the high-end gaming PC I built specifically to play No Man’s Sky to the fullest, after having fallen in love with it on the PS4. And while there are those who may look askance at me for cherishing a game that’s not in any way retro, I make no apologies! Recently, however, a particular video comparison came to mind that I believe all of my readers can get behind.

No Man’s Sky provides a universe featuring over 18 quintillion planets to explore, which is made possible by utilizing procedural generation to create the nearly infinite number of worlds. It’s not the first game that has offered up procedural planet generation, however.

In 1985 Epyx released Rescue on Fractalus by Lucasfilm Games. It is a game that puts the player in the role of rescue pilot negotiating a hostile alien landscape in search of downed comrades. What made the game special was the mountainous procedural landscape through which the player would fly. This fractal landscape may appear extremely primitive to the modern eye but they were very impressive at the time, generated by the modest 1MHz, 8-bit CPUs of the day.  I used to spend hours playing the game on my Apple IIe 30 years ago, imagining I had descended onto LV-426 in a bid to save my shipmates from the terrible fate of becoming alien host cocoons. It was pretty awesome.

Because of certain similarities between the two games and the 30+ year span of time separating them, I thought it would be interesting to set them side-by-side, so to speak, for a quick and dirty comparison. (Game maker Jeff Minter also invoked Rescue on Fractalus in his recent blog post about No Man’s Sky.)

Here I have captured a bit of gameplay of both Rescue on Fractalus and No Man’s Sky. For the former, I chose perhaps the best looking version of the game, the original Atari 8-bit release, which is running in an emulator (Altirra) on the PC. For the latter, I chose a planet in the system I am currently exploring (consisting of five planets and one moon) that features no flora or fauna to speak of, in order to present a more or less base No Man’s Sky planetary state for the comparison. (More verdant worlds are out there, however.) The elevations on the shown planet are about half as tall as the tallest I’ve seen in game. Rescue on Fractalus is being rendered in the Atari’s 160×96-pixel color graphics mode (obviously enlarged dramatically in the emulator) while No Man’s Sky is running at the 32-inch LCD’s native 1920×1080-pixels — 135 times more discrete pixels than the Atari is pushing.

What a difference three decades, on both the hardware and software front, make. Not surprisingly, bringing out Rescue on Fractalus for this video has me playing it again after all these years. Both of these games are definitely worth spending some time with.

UPDATE [11/15/2016]: I’ve just learned over at the RetroGamer mag forums that someone is working on a PC (Windows) remake of Rescue on Fractalus entitled Fractalus (video). Looks interesting — give it a whirl.

Posted in Gaming, No Man's Sky | 6 Comments

The Year that ‘Starglider’ and the Atari ST Saved Halloween

(The U.S. presidential election took place yesterday, and today I am greatly in need of some serious distraction, so I thought I’d write a post about a particular computing memory from decades past that’s been on my mind lately, but is not something I would typically sit down and write about. This is going to meander a bit, but I hope you enjoy it.)

pumpkinpixOnce again, Halloween has come and gone. As a youth, the season as a whole and the spooky night of ghouls and goblins in particular, was one of the best times of the year for me. These days, however, it’s my ten-year-old daughter’s candy wrappers that litter the living room floor. These Halloweens are very special to me as a father, but of the Halloweens of my youth, one in particular — 30 years ago — stands out as the best of them all.

In the summer of 1986 my parents went through a divorce and my mother and I moved to a new neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia. I remember, quite clearly, unpacking, setting up my new bedroom, and getting my Apple IIe system up and running on a desk by the window. This was about the time school was starting up after the summer. I was 14 going into the eighth grade.

Around this time the Apple IIgs was released, and I went to one of the launch-day dealer demos on a Saturday in September at Chaney Computers in Newport News. I saw the memorable Dealer Demo and got to play around with the unit a little. I really wanted a IIgs, and shifted into my sell-the-old-, plead-with-parents-for-the-new-system mode. As I was ramping that up, for reasons I can’t recall, I decided that I wanted an Atari ST instead, and so put the 520ST in my sights. I ran the Apple IIe in the local Daily Press‘ classified ads section and got it sold. I recall sitting in Spanish class on the day we were to go to Games ‘n’ Gadgets in the nearby Coliseum Mall to purchase the system after school. I told a classmate sitting next to me, a computer geek like myself, my plans for the afternoon and I remember him trying to convinced me to buy an IBM PCjr setup (like he had, discontinued at that point) instead. It’s odd, the little thing one remembers.

At any rate, my mom took me to the mall and we came home with an Atari 520ST, an RGB monitor, and two games: Time Bandit and Major Motion. I had fun with those titles, but that’s all I had to run on it, well, aside from bundled NEOchrome (paint program) and Megaroids. I didn’t (yet) have a modem for it to dial into BBSs and hadn’t (yet) joined a local users group. So, while I consider Time Bandit to be one of the best games I’ve ever played, I was wanting a new game.

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Posted in Atari, Down Memory Lane, Gaming | 6 Comments

Getting Spooky with the Apple IIe for October


October was Spooky Month over at r/Retrobattlestations. The contest required submitting a photo of a vintage machine playing a Halloween or “spooky” video game. As you can see, I fired up Polarware’s text/graphic adventure Transylvania — one of my favorites — on my 128K enhanced Apple IIe. The 16-color Double High-Res version of the game can be seen on the screen (very sharp).

I was a sticker-winning runner-up at the end of this competition. Go Apple II!

Back in 2013, I tapped my Amiga 1000 and Fright Night for the October “Spooky Week” competition.

Visit a gallery of all my r/Retrobattlestations entry photos. A complete list, with links, of the fun I've had with challenges in that subreddit over the years can be seen below. Good times!

Posted in Apple II, r/Retrobattlestations | Leave a comment