The MouSTer is a device that enables modern USB HID mice to be used on various retro computers. The project has been through its ups and downs over years, but [drygol] is here to say one thing: rumors of the MouSTers demise have been greatly exaggerated. Now, the project is back and better than ever!
The team has been hard at work on quashing bugs and bringing new features to bear. The headline is that the MouSTer project will now offer mouse wheel support for Amiga users. This is quite the coup, as mouse wheels were incredibly obscure until the late 90s. Now, users of Commodore’s finest machines will be able to scroll with abandon with modern HID mice.
While the progress is grand, much is still left to be done. Despite the name, the MouSTer was never intended to solely serve Atari users. Future goals involve adding support for ADB mice for retro Macs, DB9 mouse support for even-older Apple machines, and DB9 mouse support for older PCs. The team is eager for there to be one MouSTer to rule them all, so to speak, and hopes to make the ultimate retro computer mouse adapter to serve as many purposes as possible.
We first looked at the MouSTer back in 2020, and it’s great to see how far it’s come.
If you ever spent some time playing on the Atari 2600, there’s an excellent chance you went through a few rounds of Combat. The two-player warfare game not only came with the console but was actually one of the more technically impressive titles for the system, offering nearly 30 variations of the core head-to-head gameplay formula.
But unfortunately, none of those modes included single player. That is, until [Nick Bild] got on the case. While some concessions had to be made, he has succeeded where the original developers failed, and added a computer-controlled enemy to Combat. What’s more, the game still runs on the stock 2600 hardware — no emulator tricks required. The true aficionados can marvel at the snippets of source code he’s provided, but the rest of us can just watch the video below the break and marvel at the accomplishment.
If you’ve never worked on such a constrained system, this might not seem like a big deal. But [Nick] does a great job of explaining not just what he did, but why it was so hard to pull off in the first place. For example, the console has no video buffer, so everything needs to be done during the VBLANK period where the game doesn’t need to be drawing to the screen. Unfortunately that didn’t give him enough free cycles, so he had to split his code up to run across three frames instead of just one. That mean’s the original game logic is now only running 27 frames out of the 30 per second, but he says you can’t really tell in practice.
That said, some cuts had to be made. He needed to remove the surprisingly complex engine sounds to free up some resources, and had to bump the 2 KB cartridge up to 4 KB to hold the new code and data. Turns out the 2600 could handle far larger cartridges via bank switching though, so this wasn’t actually a problem.
It’s been a year of anniversaries, what with the 40th birthday of both the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. But there’s another anniversary that in a sense tops them all, today marks 50 years since Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney incorporated Atari Inc, a name that will forever be synonymous with the development of the computer game industry. PC Magazine have marked the event with a retrospective, an affectionate look at the progress from Spacewar! coin-ops to the unsuccessful Jaguar console of the 1990s, and it pulls no punches over the lacklustre management that oversaw its decline in later years.
For us the high points of the Atari story were the VCS console and the ST line of computers, which probably best represent the brand’s successes in Europe where this is being written. It’s with something of a wince that we remember watching an Atari Lynx advert in a British cinema, in which the laugh came when the teenager-unaffordably high price was revealed. At least diehard Atari fans can take solace in that by then Commodore was equally being run into the ground.
[10p6] wondered what it would be like if Atari had used a standardized keyboard across its 16-bit and 32-bit computer lines in 1985. Imagination is fun, but building things is even better, and thus they set out to create such a thing. Enter the Universal Atari Keyboard Case.
The case design is flexible, and can accept a keyboard from models including the Atari ST and Falcon. The keyboard can then be used with an Atari Mega, TT, or desktop-style Atari computers without mods. It also brings modern peripherals to bear on these old Atari platforms, enabling the use of modern USB mice while also using the two onboard joystick ports. Power and floppy LEDs are present, but subtly hidden beneath the case, only becoming visible when illuminated. It also includes 5-watt stereo speakers for getting the best out of the Atari’s sound hardware.
The final part, a full 473mm long, was 3D printed in resin for a high-quality surface finish. The results are so good it almost looks like a genuine factory keyboard.
If you’re regularly playing with your vintage Atari machines and you want a great keyboard to use with them, this could be the design for you. [10p6] has promised to soon upload the design files to Thingiverse for those eager to replicate the work.
With the widespread adoption of emulators, almost anyone can start playing video games from bygone eras. Some systems are even capable of supporting homebrew games, with several having active communities that are still creating new games even decades later. This ease of programming for non-PC platforms wasn’t always so easy, though. If you wanted to develop games on a now-antique console when it was still relatively new, you had to jump through a lot of hoops. [Tore] shows us how it would have been done with his Sega Mega Drive development kit that he built from scratch.
While [Tore] had an Atari ST, he wanted to do something a little more cutting edge and at the time there was nothing better than the Mega Drive (or the Genesis as it was known in North America). It had a number of features that lent the platform to development, namely the Motorola 68000 chip that was very common for the time and as a result had plenty of documentation available. He still needed to do quite a bit of reverse engineering of the system to get a proper dev board running, though, starting with figuring out how the cartridge system worked. He was able to build a memory bank that functioned as a re-writable game cartridge.
With the hard parts out of the way [Tore] set about building the glue logic, the startup firmware which interfaced with his Atari ST, and then of course wiring it all together. He was eventually able to get far enough along to send programs to the Mega Drive that would allow him to control sprites on a screen with the controller, but unfortunately he was interrupted before he could develop any complete games. The amount of research and work to get this far is incredible, though, and there may be some helpful nuggets for anyone in the homebrew Mega Drive community today. If you don’t want to get this deep into the Mega Drive hardware, though, you can build a cartridge that allows for development on native Sega hardware instead.
[Bertrand] designed and printed some new stems for Kailh box pinks that can accept both of the two known variants instead of the standard Cherry MX receptacle. He also made a new PCB (natch) and a keyboard adapter to replace the membrane interface, and had a steel keyswitch plate custom cut. The so-called Atari 130MX mod can be used with an Atari 130XE computer, or as a regular keyboard for a PC if you solder in a Pico.
[Bertrand] says that this labor of love was meant to be reproduced and told us that for some folks in the Atari community, it’s already on like Donkey Kong. If you’re going to attempt this mod, know that filament printers won’t work well at all for these tiny and precise parts. [Bertrand] printed the stems on an Elegoo with a resolution of 1/20 mm (50 micrometers). On the bright side, old-new stock Atari keycaps are not that hard to find. Check it out after the break.
If you remember anything from 1983, it’s likely to be some of the year’s popular culture highlights, maybe Return of the Jedi, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. For anyone connected with the video gaming industry though, it’s likely that year will stick in the mind for a completely different reason, as the year of the infamous Great Video Games Crash. Overcapacity in the console market coupled with a slew of low quality titles caused sales to crash and a number of companies to go out of business, and the console gaming world would only recover later in the decade with the arrival of the Japanese 8-bit consoles from Nintendo and Sega. You might expect Atari to shy away from such a painful period of their history, but instead they are embracing it as part of their 50th anniversary and launching three never-released titles on cartridges for their 8-bit 2600 console.
The three games, Yars’ Return,Aquaventure, and Saboteur, are all unreleased titles from back in the day that never saw publication because of the crash, and are being released as limited edition specials through AtariXP, a new venture that the company says will offer “previously unreleased titles from Atari’s expansive library, rare-and-hard-to-find Atari IP physical media, and improved versions of classic games“. It’s fairly obviously an exercise in satisfying the collector’s market rather than one of video game publishing, but it will be interesting to see what emerges. In particular we hope someone will tear down one of these cartridges; will they find a set of old-school EPROMs inside or an EPROM emulator sporting a microcontroller and other 2020s trickery?