Archive for May, 2016

18
May
16

Xerix 2 for DOS

Today we’re looking at the sequel to Xerix, a game written by Brendan Reville as a 15 year old. It was simple in many aspects but technically very impressive. Two years later in 1994 he released a sequel, simply named Xerix 2, which is essentially a more refined and polished version of the first game. It was originally released as shareware at the time under the name Twilight Software, but was still a one-man show consisting of Brendan himself.

The graphics engine appears to have had little changed, but it was already fairly impressive. It supports colour VGA and has dropped the monochrome mode, which was probably a wise move as few would have had need for it. The largest difference is in the graphics itself, the artwork appears more refined and there are substantially different themes for most of the levels. The balls of steel enemies are back, but there are other enemies and it’s much clearer where turrets are located. There are 12 levels this time, so there’s much more artistic variety, but some aspects still lack the extra detail you’d find in a commercial game. I still think it’s quite good graphically.

Sound wise a very wide variety of hardware is supported, although for the purposes of running it now-a-days only the sound blaster support really matters. It sounds like he’s used some kind of wave-table style music, which technically sounds great but the music itself is fairly simple and quite repetitive. I don’t think it’s bad, you may just find it better with the music off. I left the music on myself as i didn’t mind it.

Xerix 2 plays much like the original in many ways, but with significant differences. Firstly the enemies aren’t flying randomly, but are following set patterns of flight around the screen. They mostly move diagonally around. There are a number of different types of enemies, however they all behave the same, the only difference being how hard they are to kill.

There are stationary turrets like in the first game, but they only shoot one projectile in your general direction. They can be destroyed, but their shots often block yours and will do significant damage if you are hit. The turret will only have one shot on screen at a time so you can dodge the initial shot then destroy the turret.

Like other shooters there are power-ups for your weapons and shield restoration items. The power-ups come out of dead enemies at specific points in the levels and are different for each one. The main problem is they don’t turn up very often. Luckily you keep the upgrades upon death, so you don’t have to worry about completing a level without the right weapon, but you lose all of them (except the first one you get) at the start of each level. The upgraded weapons work fairly well given the right positioning.

It’s not with-out problems, for a start your ship moves quite slowly making it difficult to do any effective dodging and shooting. There is also no immunity period after being hit, you can get destroyed and lose multiple lives extremely quickly. It is still largely a nice improvement over the original game.

Gemini from Ancient DOS Games did a video on this particular game quite some time ago, and I didn’t completely agree with everything he said. The main thing I am in disagreement about was the comparison of this game versus something like Doom or other shareware he mentioned. The shareware market was a unique situation, companies and individuals of all kinds released software this way. So big companies and smaller shareware authors (often individuals) shared the same space.

Whilst it’s true it doesn’t compare favorably to shareware such as Doom, it’s not really a fair comparison to make as Doom and other high quality shareware was made with essentially the same resources as fully commercial games. That is a small-large team of people did the work. It would be fairer to compare it to other shareware games also made by an individual.

Compared to other one-man shareware authors it is kinda middle of the road. There are plenty of better and worse games within this category. Another one of the beefs Gemini had was with the pricing, and on this I can see his point. I think the author could have chosen a better (cheaper) price point.

It’s a bit of a moot point now, as the game was made freeware by the author some time ago. I actually was pleasantly surprised as I enjoyed the game despite it’s clear short-comings. I had watched the relevant ADG episode and expected something much worse.

Is it worth a play now? Well I think that depends on whether you’re a fan of shmups. I’d say that die-hard shmup fans (which Gemini is as far as I understand) probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much as other players. The lack of speed for your ship may be a source of annoyance, but there is some fun to be had if you can look past that.

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04
May
16

Storage room clean-up

Recently at work we’ve had a little clean out of a storage space that had some old and unused computer parts among other items no longer being used. It turns out some quite interesting and useful old parts were in storage there, some of which I’ve been allowed to keep. This is of course on the condition that any data on any device or media is securely erased.

Most of the computer parts are Adaptec SCSI cards of various vintage, but there are also a few other ISA cards, loose chips, a couple of hard drives, and an amount of tape media that will be useful for some of my tape drives. So too much to show in one post, this time I’ll be looking at the loose chips and ISA cards.

First up we have these spare chips. The four at the top are SRAM chips, although it has been difficult to determine the exact size and pin-out, I think they are 256 x 4bits. The data sheet is proving elusive for these. The bottom three chips are EPROMs, the two left most being hitachi HN462732P chips and the right a NEC chip. The middle chip of the three is a OTP (one time programmable) so is basically of no use unless it is blank, but the other two are UV erasable so may prove useful in the future for repairs.

Here is what appears to be an early SCSI card made by Trantor in 1992. There seems to be little information about Trantor around on the internet, but it seems they were bought out by Adaptec at some point, although this doesn’t seem to be documented. If I remember correctly they were known for the tape drives they made.

This particular card is handy as it will fit an XT class machine and appears to have the chips and ROM necessary for booting of the SCSI disk. There are even still some MS-DOS drivers available for it. The silk screen has the jumper configurations, so I shouldn’t need a manual to use it.

Here we have two IO cards, one with an Acer chip-set and the other with one from UMC. These cards would have been exceptionally useful for 286 and 386 machines as they have most of the IO you would need all on one card. They both have two serial ports, a parallel port, a joystick port, floppy drive connector and a hard disk (ATA) connector. Quite the array of ports indeed for one card! The main problem with having one of these today is finding out what the jumper settings on the board are, there isn’t any silk screen to speak of.

This is an Adaptec AHA-1542b, made in early 1993 from the date code on the main chip. It supports SCSI-2 and can transfer data at about 10Mb/s connecting up to 7 devices. It’s interesting because it has a floppy connecter as well as the usual SCSI connection. You may notice that it has two ROM chips, one is the usual BIOS extension to allow for operating systems like DOS to access the disks. The other is micro-code for the boards controller.

Finally here we have two cards, both Adaptec. One is an AHA-1510A and the other is an AHA-1522A. You may notice that both actually use the same board, just the 1510A has far less components populated. The 1510A is basically a stripped down card with all the extra bells and whistles removed to make it cheaper. The user manual for it says that this cheaper card is “utilizing the CPU’s untapped power to improve system I/O performance.” So I’d say that it doesn’t have DMA support on the cheaper card among other missing features.

I had a look on the Adaptec website for all the cards shown today, and surprisingly despite their age downloads and manuals still exist. I can only applaud them for still offering the downloads, I only wish more manufacturers did the same.

Next time I’ll show the various PCI and PCI-X cards, and yes they are all Adaptec.




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