Ten lines of BASIC is a big limitation, even when getting clever by stacking multiple statements into a single line, so [Martin]’s game has a much narrower scope than the original Atari 2600 version. Still, the core elements are present: E.T. must find and gather all the parts of the phone in order to contact his ship, after which he must meet the ship in time to escape. All the while, FBI agents attempt to interfere. The game was written in SAM BASIC, used by the SAM Coupé, a British Z80-based home computer from the late 80s with an emulator available for download.
Now, for lovers of “um, actually” topics, do we have a treat for you! Let’s take this opportunity to review a few things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. That it was a commercial flop is no doubt, but the game itself is often badly misunderstood. Way back in 2013 we covered an extraordinary effort to patch improvements into the binary for the 2600 game, and in the process there’s a compelling case made that the game was in many ways far ahead of its time, and actually quite significant in terms of game design. You can jump right in on an analysis of the hate the game receives, and while reading that it’s helpful to keep in mind that In 1982, many of its peers were games like Space Invaders, with self-evident gameplay that simply looped endlessly.
Folks who like the take the old Amiga out for the occasional Sunday drive usually do it because they have wistful memories of the simpler times. Back when you could edit documents or view spreadsheets on a machine that had RAM measured in kilobytes instead of gigabytes. But even the most ardent retro computer aficionado usually allows for a bit of modern convenience.
Enter the mouSTer. This tiny device converts a common USB HID mouse into something older computers can understand. It even supports using Sony’s PlayStation 4 controller as a generic game pad. While the firmware is still getting tweaked, the team has confirmed its working on several classic machines and believe it should work on many more. Considering the prices that some of these old peripherals command on the second hand market, using a USB mouse or controller on your vintage computer isn’t just more convenient, but will likely be a lot cheaper.
Confirmed retrocomputing superfan [Drygol] is a member of the team working on mouSTer, and in a recent post to his retrohax blog, he talks a bit about what’s happened since his last update over the summer. He also talks a bit about the challenges they’ve faced to get it into production. Even if you’re not into poking around on vintage computers, there are lessons to be learned here about what it takes to move from a handful of prototypes to something you can actually sell to the public.
We especially liked the details about the mouSTer enclosure, or lack thereof. Originally [Drygol] says they were going to have the cases injection molded, but despite initial interest from a few companies they talked to, nobody ended up biting because it needed to be done with relatively uncommon low pressure injection. While 3D printing is still an option, the team ended up using clear heatshrink tubing to create a simple conformal protective shell over the electronics. Personally we think it looks great like this, but it sounds like this is only a temporary solution until something a bit more robust can be implemented.
Sticking a Raspberry Pi in a Pelican-style case and calling it a cyberdeck has become something of a meme these days, and while we certainly don’t look down on such projects, we recognize they can get a bit repetitive. But we think this one is unique enough to get a pass. Sure [eizen6] mounted a Pi inside of a rugged waterproof case, but it’s simply serving as a display for the real star of the show: a vintage Atari 800XL computer.
The overall look of the build, from the stenciled Nostromo on the back to the self-destruct warning sticker over the display is a reference to Alien. Partly because both the film and the Atari 800 were released in 1979, but also because [eizen6] says this particular aesthetic is simply the way computers should look. The visual style is also meant to signify that the project embraces the old ways despite the sprinkling of modern technology.
To that end, retro aficionados will be happy to hear that the Atari appears to be completely unmodified, with [eizen6] going as far as nestling the nearly 40 year old computer in foam rather than permanently mounting it to the case. The various cables for power, video, and data have all been terminated with the appropriate connectors as well, so everything can be easily unplugged should the 8-bit machine need to be returned to more pedestrian use.
In the top half of the case, [eizen6] has mounted the Raspberry Pi 3B+, a seven inch touch screen, a USB hub, and a SIO2SD that allows loading Atari disk images from an SD card. Using a USB capture device, video from the Atari can be shown on the Pi’s display with a simple VLC command. With a USB keyboard plugged into the hub, the Pi can be put to more advanced use should the need arise. It’s also worth noting that, thanks to a custom cable, the Atari is running off of a USB power bank. With a second USB power bank dedicated to running the Pi and its LCD display, this retro cyberdeck is fully mobile.
The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.
Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like retro.hackaday.com, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.
Building a retro computer, or even restoring one, is a great way to understand a lot of the fundamentals of computing. That can take a long time and a lot of energy, though. Luckily, there is a Twitter bot out there that can let you experience an old 8-bit Atari without even needing to spin up an emulator. Just tweet your program to the bot, and it outputs the result.
The bot was built by [Kay Savetz] and accepts programs in five programming languages: Atari BASIC, Turbo-Basic XL, Atari Logo, Atari PILOT, and Atari Assembler/Editor, which was a low-level assembly-type language available on these machines. The bot itself runs on a Raspberry Pi with the Atari 800 emulator, rather than original hardware, presumably because it’s much simpler to get a working network connection on a Pi than on a computer from the 80s. The Pi runs a python script that polls Twitter every two minutes and then hands the code off to the emulator.
[Kay]’s work isn’t limited to just Ataris, though. There’s also an Apple II BASIC bot for all the Apple fans out there that responds to programs written in AppleSoft BASIC. While building your own retro system or emulating one on other hardware is a great exercise, it’s also great that there are tools like these that allow manipulation of retro computers without having to do any of the dirty work ourselves.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with retrocomputers of yesteryear, but for modern users, it can be something of a culture shock. Going back to floppy disks after all these years is a reminder of just how far storage technology has come in terms of speed, reliability, and of course, capacity. Luckily, there are ways to combine the best of both worlds.
Floppy drive emulators for classic computers are of course nothing new, but we think this one [c0pperdragon] has put together is worthy of a closer look. Not only does the ATmega32U4 based emulator have an exceptionally low part count, but the code has been written in the Arduino IDE. Both features make it easy for new players to duplicate and revise the design should they feel so inclined. In a pinch you could even implement it on a breadboard with a garden variety Arduino.
The emulator is housed in a 3D printed enclosure designed to look like an era-appropriate Atari 1050 Disk Drive, except you’re using SD cards instead of floppies. The firmware can mimic two physical drives and supports up to 100 disk images on each SD card. The user interface is about as simple as it gets, with two push buttons and a pair of seven-segment LEDs to indicate which disk image is currently loaded up.
[retrohax] has provided vintage computer guidance for years, and part of that guidance is this: sometimes using paint as part of restoration is simply unavoidable. But the days of tediously color-matching to vintage hardware are gone, thanks to [retrohax] offering custom-mixed spray paints in Amiga 500 Beige, C-64 Beige, and ATARI ST/SE Grey. (At the moment only delivery within Poland is available due to shipping restrictions, but [retrohax] is working on a better solution.)
It’s not every day we see someone mixing custom spray paint colors, but off the shelf options don’t always cut it. Another example of getting specialty materials made from the ground up is custom plywood specifically designed for laser-cutting puzzles, something done because the troubles that came with off-the-shelf options were just not worth the hassle.