‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the eighth annual Byte Cellar vintage computer Holiday demo 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, apparently I wasn’t alone in this, as Benj Edwards explains in his piece, “The Oddball, Nostalgia-Inducing Christmas Tech Art Of The 1980s And 1990s.”
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 variety of platforms of olde and is sure to bring the warmth of the season to the hearts of any and all retrocomputing enthusiasts who behold it. Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!
Be sure to also have a look at the dozens of demos gathered through the years in the 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 edition of this post.
TI-99/4A – Christmas Demo by John McGinley (2018)
C64 – Merry Christmas 2017 by Nicokick Design (2017)
When it comes to the holidays, I get rather sentimental as well as nostalgic, these days. Holidays as a kid are some of the best memories any of us have, really. And having been an avid computer geek during the home computer era, my holiday memories are always laced with fun times on the computer as a kid.
Family Computing, along with many other computer magazines of the time, offered BASIC program listings in every issue, custom catered to various platforms of the day. (Back in the era of “home computers,” basically every system was its own world, one largely incompatible with the next — even the versions of built-in BASIC varied to such a degree that each platform needed its own particular version of the program in question.) And Family Computing was one of my favorite magazines out there at the time. As a CoCo 2 user, he typed in the CoCo version and brought a Thanksgiving turkey to life on his CRT. Inspired by this, I searched and found that issue on Archive.org and though I’d give it a try on a few systems sitting side by site in the Byte Celler: a TI-99/4A, an Atari 130XE, and an Apple IIgs. Thanks to RogelioP, much of my Sunday afternoon was spent keying a 35-year-old BASIC program into those three systems and recording the results to share. And, I have to say, DATA statements are a mess to debug, and I didn’t get things perfectly sorted, but we’ll just say that the various turkeys have “personality.”
Thanks for the inspiration, RogelioP, and all I can say from here to readers is Happy Thanksgiving!
I was at my Amiga 2000 the other night loading this and that scenedemo (demoscene productions) at random, many of which I’d not watched in years, when I ran across a little 40K intro featuring some nifty Halloween-themed elements. With Halloween just a few nights away, that seemed a rather appropriate use of pixellated vectors and it occurred to me to put together a collection of some of the Halloween-themed scenedemos out there for vintage systems, much as I’ve been doing for the past six years for Holiday / Christmas demos.
I’ve written a number of posts on this blog about computing memories around the ghoulish time of the year. For instance, there was the year that an Atari ST saved Halloween for me. I will certainly never forget the year that I plunged blade into pumpkin and created the sinister and ghastly iPod-o-Lantern. And I’ve taken part in several r/Retrobattlestations competitions designed to scare the bytes out of unsuspecting vintage computing aficionados, using an Amiga 1000 on two differentoccasions as well as an Apple //e.
Indeed, All Hallows’ Eve and vintage computing seem to go rather nicely together. So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the demos I’ve chosen to scare share with you this season.
C64 – Hokuto Force’s Pumpkin Joyness (2016)
Amiga OCS – Syntax Party Crew’s RSIDM Halloween Experience (2009)
The TRS-80 Model 4, like the Model 3 which preceded it, is a curvy, all-in one computer with a 12-inch monochrome text-only display flanked on the right by two full-height 5.25-inch floppy drives, one atop the other. As a kid, nothing to me looked more COMPUTER. I just loved fiddling with them in the Radio Shack down at the mall back in the early ’80s. Ten years ago I won an eBay auction for one, put it on the desk, wired it up as a serial terminal to my Mac Pro, but before long I put it on the shelf to make room for other systems as I wasn’t really doing much with it. Fast forward 10 years and we’ve got these nifty little WiFi232 devices, and the like, as well as inexpensive flash-based floppy and hard disk emulators. So, the Model 4 came down from the shelf and is currently getting some long-needed love. And in my first gesture of love I have lavished the text-only machine with a full 640×240 pixel graphics display, thanks to Ian Maveric’s Improved Grafyx video board.
What inspired me to pull the Model 4 down off the shelf were a numberoftweets from telnet BBS pals showing the system being put to great use logged into various systems across the web. Some of the screenshots showed the machine rendering ANSI “graphics” onscreen and I looked into it. As I suspected, the stock Model 4 is not capable of taking on a custom character set such as is needed by ANSI emulation, and I discovered the system had been equipped with a graphics board and the ANSI-supporting terminal program, ANSITerm, was rendering “text” to a graphics display; the character set was basically a software font.
Just a quick post here to share a bit of what I was up to this past weekend. It was “Modern Touch Week” over at Reddit’s r/Retrobattlestations which was a competition to show a vintage system using recent / modern enhancement hardware (flash-based floppy emulators, graphics expansions, etc.) in the most extreme or over-the-top fashion possible.
To meet the challenge I reached for my Atari 520ST which sports a recently-designed 4MB RAM expansion as well as an HxC 2001 SD-card-based floppy drive emulator that I built into an external floppy drive enclosure, as the original 520ST has no on-board disk drive (a design I prefer to the 1040ST and Falcon with their internal drives). I have never seen an HxC 2001 configuration like this and I consider it rather unique. The system stand / organizer shown is the A520 STation, a stand I had on my first Atari ST back in 1987 and one that that took me years to locate for my current collection.
After submitting that entry it occurred to me that the ST’s neighbor (one to the left in the “Byte Cellar”) better matches the spirit of the challenge. The system I refer to is my fairly well expanded TI-99/4A (the ’99 was my first computer–Christmas 1982), featuring TI’s large, tank-like Peripheral Expansion Unit containing a 32K RAM expansion, a serial / parallel interface card, and a 5.25-inch disk drive and controller card.
In the world of modern PC graphics hardware, all the buzz right now is about a rendering technique call ray tracing. This is mainly due to the release of Nvidia’s RTX development platform and Microsoft announcing its compatible DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API for DirectX 12 for Windows, both having taken place earlier this year. DXR allows Windows developers to utilize modern GPUs to accelerate the process of ray tracing a 3D environment in real time. This is big news for gamers because ray tracing allows for a much more realistic rendering of light and it’s real-world behavior within a 3D scene. Or…it will be as, presently, only a few games have been updated to utilize the rendering features that DXR brings to the table. And there aren’t a lot of GPUs out there yet with hardware designed with DXR in mind, directly targeting the acceleration of ray tracing calculations. Even still, it seems that ray tracing has become the new hotness and it’s even driven some observers fairly well out of their mind. It’s what’s new in tech.
Or is it?
Reading through today’s tech media, the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking so. One of the first articles I read about Nvidia’s new GPU’s (MarketWatch, Aug. 14) stated,
Nvidia on Monday announced its next-generation graphics architecture called Turing, named after the early-20th century computer scientist credited as the father of artificial intelligence.
The new graphics processing unit (GPU) does more than traditional graphics workloads, embedding accelerators for both artificial-intelligence (AI) tasks and a new graphics rendering technique called ray tracing.
But ray tracing is not a new technique. In fact, it’s almost as old as the earliest of 3D computer graphics techniques.
So, what is ray tracing? As A.J. van der Ploeg describes in his “Interactive Ray Tracing: The Replacement of Rasterization?” [ PDF ],
In computer graphics, if we have a three dimensional scene we typically want to know how our scene looks trough a virtual camera. The method for computing the image that such a virtual camera produces is called the rendering method.
The current standard rendering method, know as rasterization, is a local illumination rendering method. This means that only the light that comes directly from a light source is taken into account. Light that does not come directly from a light source, such as light reflected by a mirror, does not contribute to the image.
In contrast ray tracing is a global illumination rendering method. This means that light that is reflected from other surfaces, for example a mirror, is also taken into account. This is essential for advanced effects such as reflection and shadows. For example if we want to model a water surface reflecting the scene correctly we need a global illumination rendering method. With a local illumination rendering method the light from the water surface can only be determined by the light directly on it, not the light from the rest of the scene and thus we will see no reflections.
Ray tracing works by following the path of light. We follow the path of rays of light, i.e. lines of light. For an example of such a path consider a ray of light from your bathroom lightbulb. This particular ray of light hits your chin, some of it is absorbed, and the rest of the light is reflected in the colour of your skin. The reflected ray is then reflected again by the mirror in your bathroom. This ray then hits your retina, which is useful otherwise you would not see your self shaving. In exactly this way a ray of light in the virtual camera gives the colour of one pixel.
Two years ago I downloaded No Man’s Sky on the Playstation 4 and inserted myself into its infinite universe for the very first time. August 9, 2016 was launch day for Hello Games‘ space exploration survival game and the start of my now two-year journey. While I have now spent over 1,200 hours exploring this fascinating alternate reality, on that particular Tuesday two years ago I had no notion of just how deep into No Man’s Sky I would come to find myself.
After falling quickly in love with No Man’s Sky at launch, I began to gear-up in order to immerse myself as fully as I could. After a few weeks I built a gaming PC in order to give the game more powerful hardware to render its worlds. As the months exploring rolled by, the shelves and walls of my home and my office began to tell the tale of my travels. My family was quite aware when an anticipated update was imminent, and they heard, I fear, a bit more than they were hoping to about the ARG associated with some of said updates.
All my life I have dreamed of exactly this in gaming — an interesting, alternate universe, massive in scale, in which I can freely wander and explore at my own pace. That is what No Man’s Sky is to me, and it’s my observation that many others are similarly moved by the game. The fact that the universe is procedurally generated and that even the game’s creators can’t describe everything that’s out there to be encountered adds to the incredible sense of the unexplored, the alien. There is a lovely feeling of solitude to the whole experience of discovering a world, leaving your mark on it, and moving on to the next.
Here, two years later, I feel no differently and have had the pleasure of seeing that dream realized every time I return to this other universe of mine. Two weeks ago, an absolutely massive update arrived — No Man’s Sky NEXT — and everything in the game’s universe has gotten all the more rich, vivid, evocative.
Hello Games has worked tirelessly in support and expansion of No Man’s Sky these two years (and all of this for free to gamers) and for that, I and other explorers I’ve come to know through Discord, Reddit, and other avenues, are grateful.
To mark this day, I have put together a small sample of the virtual photography that I have carried out in my travels within the game’s universe. (These are taken from my larger No Man’s Sky travel gallery.) I hope readers enjoy the vistas.
Happy Birthday, No Man’s Sky.
Previous posts I have written about the game can be found below:
Just a quick post to share a recent addition to my office (full disclosure: it’s a cubicle) at my workplace in Washington D.C., a framed plotter print — artwork created by Paul Rickards.
For quite a while now I’ve been enjoying Paul’s photos and videos of vintage color plotters laying fractal-like designs to paper, driven by his own custom scripts. (Regular readers will know Paul from his brilliant work in creating the WiFi232 Internet Modem.) His plotter art speaks strongly to me, striking a lovely balance between the vintage and a future aesthetic. Paul has made a number of these plots available for sale on his website and last month I purchased one and had it properly framed. It’s quite a conversation piece and is a most lovely work of art, to my eye.
Back in the “home computer” days, I was something of a serial platform jumper; the list of systems I’ve owned is long. I would have a certain system and be happily using it and then become intrigued by a different system where the grass seemed greener. Way back when, jumping from one system to another was to take on a completely new experience — it wasn’t like today’s world where hundreds of different models of computers run either Windows or macOS. Basically, every system had its own unique hardware and its own OS.
So, I’d magazine-up on that shiny new platform, break into full lusting-after-it mode, and then talk my parents (my mom, really) into letting me put my current system in the local newspaper’s classified ads. With a few weeks and a little luck it would sell and then the new system could be had. I would do yardwork, more chores — whatever — to cover the price differential (with some notable help from the parents).
Typically I would jump from one system to another about every year or year-and-a-half until the landscape became much less varied and I landed on Windows and then macOS. But in that fickle period, from 1982 to 1994 or so, there are a few stand-out systems that I used very lightly or owned for only a few days. It occurred to me that an account of these brief encounters may make for an interesting story to share.
The first system on the list is the Atari 400. In late 1984 I was 12 years old and using an Apple //c system that I got earlier that year, shortly after it launched. I wasn’t looking to switch platforms (yet), but when I spotted an Atari 400 on clearance in a Children’s Palace toy store at the local mall (Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia), I was able to talk my parents into buying one. It was going for just $25 on a close-out sale. I hooked it up to the TV in the guest room and had fun playing the two cartridge games I had for it, Star Raiders and Gyruss. But, as it wasn’t my main system and as I wasn’t looking to expand it in any way, I probably didn’t spend more than four or five hours on it in total. When we moved from our home in York County to Williamsburg, Virginia the following year, that 400 somehow got lost in the shuffle and that was the end of my only experience with the Atari 8-bit line during its retail lifespan.
#todayInTheByteCellar I replaced the cracked case of my Tandy 1000HX with a "new" one, while in there upgraded the Siemens 8088-2 with an NEC V20, and replaced the LOUD fan with a small, quiet unit. All day, lovely project.
#todayInTheByteCellar I opened the 486-class PC and reconnected power (oops) to the CDROM drive so I could play Dark Forces again. Did a good bit of BBSing on the Amiga 1000. Wrote a blog post asking for opinions on capacitor failure.
#todayInTheByteCellar I moved one of the WiFi232 modem to the Apple IIe and did a good bit of BBSing on it. Its composite display is clearer than the Tandy 1000HX's CM-5 RGB monitor, interestingly. Also played some Atari 8-bit games. New PSU for Playstation ordered.