Awakening A Dragon From Its Slumber

For all the retrocomputing fun and games we encounter in our community, there are a few classic microcomputers that rarely receive any attention. Usually this is because they didn’t sell well and not many have survived, or were simply underwhelming machines that haven’t gathered a huge following today. One that arguably falls within both camps is the Dragon 32, a machine best known in those pre-Raspberry Pi days for being the only home computer manufactured in Wales, and for being nearly compatible with the Tandy Color Computer due to both machines’ designs coming from the same Motorola data sheet. Repeat restorer of retrocomputers, [Drygol], has given a Dragon 32 the full restoration and upgrade treatment, offering us a rare chance to take a look at this computer.

The Dragon arrived with a pile of contemporary books and software, but no power supply. A significant modification was made to the internal PSU board then to allow it to work with an Amiga unit, and the black-on-green Dragon text came up on the TV screen. Recapping and a replacement for a faulty op-amp fixed poor video quality, then it was time for a 64K memory upgrade with some neatly done bodge-wiring. Finally there’s a repair to the very period-looking analogue joystick, and a home-made interface for the more common Atari/Amiga style sticks.

The Dragon may be only a footnote in the history of 8-bit home computing, but with its good expandability and decent quality keyboard it perhaps deserved to reach more homes than it did. This appears to be the first time a Dragon has featured here, though its Tandy CoCo cousin has made it into a few stories.

VCF East: Old Computers, New Games

While the vintage computer festival in Wall, NJ had just about every vintage app you could imagine – multiple varities of *NIXes, pre-Zork Dungeon, BASIC interpreters of all capabilities, and just about every game ever released for 8-bit Commodore systems – there was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a distinct lack of modern programs written for these retro systems. Yes, despite there being people still curled up to keyboards and writing games for vintage systems, modern software was a strange oddity last weekend.

There were two wonderful exceptions, however. The first was Fahrfall, a game for the TRS-80 Color Computer. We’ve seen Fahrfall before when [John Linville] wrote it for the 2012 RetroChallenge Winter Warmup. The game itself is a re-imagining of Downfall for the Atari Jaguar, with the graphics scaled down immensely. The basic idea of the game is to jump down, ledge to ledge, on a vertically scrolling screen. Hit the walls or the bottom, and you’re dead. It’s a great game that probably would have sold well had it been a contemporary release.

Next up is a rather impressive port of Flappy Bird for the TI-99. The video does not do this game justice, although part of that might just be the awesome Amiga monitor used for the display. This game was brought in by [Jeff Salzman] of Vintage Volts who isn’t the author of the game. Honestly, the video doesn’t do the graphics any justice. It really is a great looking port that’s just as addictive as the Android/iDevice original.

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Giving The TRS-80 CoCo A 44 Color Display

As a relic of the early 80s, the TRS-80 Color Computer couldn’t display very many colors. By default, the CoCo could only display 8 colors on the screen at a time, but [John] figured out a way to increase the number of colors displayed using a very simple trick that surprisingly isn’t found in original CoCo games.

The TRS-80 Color Computer uses a Motorola 6847 video display generator to produce color graphics on its display. There are several graphics modes available to CoCo programmers, including a high-resolution black and white mode, and two four-color modes using red, green, blue, and yellow or buff, cyan, magenta, and orange.

These color palettes are extremely limiting, and usually switching between these modes produces a lot of flicker. [John] figured out if he switched the color pallets every 1/60th of a second (i.e. during the vertical blanking interval), he could display 44 colors on the CoCo.

It’s a clever little hack to increase the color palette of the CoCo, and in our opinion should be in the running for winning this season’s Retrochallenge. Sadly, [John] is judge for the Retrochallenge this time around, so he’ll have to settle for earning a Hackaday merit badge.