Archive for May, 2013

28
May
13

Secret Agent for DOS

This week I was keen on writing about one of my favourite games, Mech warrior 2 Mercenaries. Unfortunately whilst it works beautifully on my old DOS machine, I could not get it working properly under Dosbox. So I thought I might have another bash at getting the Battle for Wesnoth game running on my macbook. (the macports version) That to did not work.

Secret Agent Man!

Secret Agent Man!

So this brings me to today’s game Secret Agent released by Apogee back in 1992. It’s a platform puzzle game very much like Crystal Caves, it appears to even use the same game engine! Whilst the two games have a lot in common there are some subtle differences.

The Island map

The Island map

Graphics wise they support the same hardware, but Secret agent looks a bit nicer than crystal caves. Using the same engine means that you still require a 286 for decent speed of gameplay. I’d say that by using the same game engine they were also able to spend more time on the artwork and levels. The game still lacks VGA support which is not surprising, but a bit of an omission by 1992.

Sound is again limited to the PC speaker. Much like the graphics you can tell that they had more time to spend on the sound. The sounds are still not the best the PC speaker has to offer, but they are certainly an improvement.

Water!

Water!

Game play wise, many features of crystal caves have returned such as moving platforms, stationary guns and water based hazards, but there are some new features and improvements. As you’re not in a space environment there is no air supply that you can accidentally shoot. There are some extra items and objects in levels such as a computer terminal that requires a floppy disk to disable laser beams. Enemies are also different, taking many shots to kill and shooting back at you depending on the type. There are also some moveable blocks you will need to push around to reach higher places, you can lose them down a hole if you’re not careful.

Some jumping required

Some jumping required

I found that the levels were a little easier to complete, but still challenging enough that you’ll be retrying them frequently. It’s lucky that you have infinite lives! I found that the instructions didn’t explain what I had to do with some of the items I picked up such as the dynamite. Reading online now I know what it is for, but you didn’t have those resources available back then. Reading the instructions (online or otherwise) is important as there are some things you need to do in order to complete the level. Firstly you need to destroy the radar dish in the game, and then you have to have the dynamite in order to blast the exit level door open.

Looks easy!

Looks easy!

Secret Agent has much of the same classic game play as it’s predecessor, but came out at a time when people were starting to be more interested in having VGA graphics. It’s a fun platform game, and the good game play makes up for the lack of technical prowess, but it is certainly lacking in the hardware support it offers. I’m sure that this affected its popularity in the long run, but at least it offered something new for people with old machines to play.

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20
May
13

Sunfire V440 working!

I recently got all the parts together for finally testing and installing an operating system on the Sunfire V440 machines I had donated to me quite some time ago. The last piece of the puzzle arrived whilst I was sick, it is a system configuration card. It was a little difficult to find, and I only found one, so I can only get one of the two machines to work.

The first hurdle to get over was working out how to connect to the ALOM card via serial cable. I have a couple of DTE adapters to connect serial via RJ 45 cable (ethernet cable basically) so I initially tried just using these with a simple cat 6 cable to get a connection. Strangely it didn’t work. After a bit of googling and reading of sun manuals for the machine I found out that the serial connection requires a Null Modem adapter/cable.

I have several null modem cables, one being dual connector (9 pin and 25 pin) that is extremely useful. So after getting a 9 pin D-shell gender bender adapter I was able to cobble together a cable that worked. The ALOM messages came through to my terminal program and asked for a login. Fortunately as the SCC was new to the machine I should be able to use the default user/password to log in to the ALOM when I eventually need it, but in the mean time I just wait for the timeout to display the serial console for the machine.

Now having the serial connection I could finally turn the machines on and see the OpenBoot ROM messages and test the machines in diagnostics mode. One of the machines turns out to have something serious wrong with it as it fails a memory/CPU test quite badly. The text scrolled past quite fast so it was difficult to determine what exactly was wrong, but this will be something to investigate in the near future. The other machine however passed its diagnostics and even booted the Debian Linux Net install disc! Time to set up an OS!

I’ve been fortunate enough to recently get some nice 10,000 rpm drives for the machine, so I went about installing and testing them for bad sectors (using the Debian rescue function on the install disc). Luckily both hard drives passed their tests and I was ready to install an operating system.

I have already got NetBSD and FreeBSD running on two other Sparc systems, so I chose to install the Sparc64 edition of Debian on this particular machine. The install went pretty smoothly for the most part and everything server wise worked like a dream. There was even a package for installing the OpenJDK on the system, something the BSDs have yet to accomplish. Clearly Debian is a viable OS for running a server on these types of machines, but when I went to install a desktop environment such as Gnome I found that Gnome didn’t work at all. Unfortunately this also seemed to break many of the useful X11 applications that you can install. Other window managers seemed to work, but with applications being broken it was hardly worth the effort.

So installing Debian was only mildly successful. I was hoping to be able to log into the system via XDMCP, but with Gnome being as broken as it is under Sparc64 this isn’t really an option. I will be looking to install something else instead, but am now unsure as to what I will try. I could of course install something I know works well such as FreeBSD or NetBSD, but I’d like something different for this machine. I did think about installing Solaris, but I’m unsure if I can because of licensing. Whilst I have several Sparc machines, I don’t have any Solaris Licenses, so I don’t know if I am allowed to install it on this machine.

Does anyone else have any suggestions as to what OS I could install? Is Solaris an option? If I install Solaris would I be able to install free software? (via ports or pkgsrsc?) It seems I have some research and work to do!

13
May
13

Old Computer Books

Unfortunately I’ve been rather sick the last two weeks with glandular fever, and so I haven’t really been able to post anything. Fortunately I’m starting to feel much better, but I find myself unprepared!

So today I’m being lazy and just showing some photos of some books I recently acquired.

The University I work for recently had a big clean out in the main IT building. They were offering a number of their old computer books for free to both staff and students alike. I found some interesting books in amongst the more modern ones. There were a number of books for programming in Pascal and a set of manuals for Borland Turbo Pascal 6.0. This was good for me as I have the old Turbo Pascal 6.0 software (and have been using it for some time) and having a manual with more detail than the online help has proven to be quite useful. I also found a Fortran book (by Microsoft) which may be interesting reading as I’ve never programmed in Fortran before.

There are also a number of old books documenting old DEC hardware such as the PDP 11 processor and a few with more system specific information. I’ve never owned or used such hardware as it was a bit before my time in computing, so reading these books should be interesting. I had heard programming for the PDP 11 was interesting and sometimes frustrating.

Finally I got three books about micro computers of the early eighties and a CP/M guide book. Again most of the machines talked about in the books are before my time, so this will most likely also be some interesting reading!

Some photos of the books follow.

Turbo Pascal Manuals

Turbo Pascal Manuals

DEC books

DEC books

Programming Books

Programming Books

Mystery Machine!

Mystery Machine!

Microcomputing handbooks!

Microcomputing handbooks!




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