iMac resto

The iMac G3 is, to my nostalgic eyes, the most beautiful computer ever designed. So when I saw one lying there at the dump I had to take it, to see if it would boot. It did. It hadn’t been used since ’06 and was slightly beat up. I took pictures while restoring it, but much of this post is from memory.

When I found the machine it was booting OSX, and absolutely dog slow. It’s crazy how much faster SSDs have made computing; we used to wait. I posted on /r/vintageapple and got tons of help picking a hard drive replacement. Of course I found out that you pretty much need a working disc drive to boot one of these things, so I picked one of those up on ebay.

Replacement hard drive: adapter in an adapter
Old hard drive above. Adapter-adapter needed a bracket.

In order to get the thing apart you need to first remove the plastic on the bottom, then remove the EMI shield which is a metallic mesh under the plastic. It requires some finicky movements and faith that it’s not all going to fall apart on you. Also screws will try to get lost, so be careful about that. I was able to recover all of the screws once I removed the drive cage; I even had some extra!

The easiest way to disassemble it was face-down. The disk drive is easy enough to take out, but to take out the hard drive the entire cage (metal, at the bottom) needs to be replaced.

Once the thing was put back together with a new hard drive and disc drive, I installed OS9Lives’s version of OS9 from a burned CD. I was then able to load games on via a USB key!

Now running EV Override on OS9!

Return of the Flash Games

The Emularity and Ruffle teams have finally done it – Flash is running natively in the browser. No more flash plugin. You can play flash games and watch flash animations on archive.org. Flash defined internet content in the mid 00s. It has been effectively dead since the introduction of the iPhone, and to really enjoy it you need something with a mouse, or a very large tablet I suppose. Actually playing flash has gotten progressively harder, until now.

During the aughts, these where some of the games I played the most. Call it casual if you want, but these where the games you could play on school computers, that you didn’t need to buy. You could discover new ones every day. By timing alone, at least, they’ve ended up meaningful to me.

Heli Attack 2 – Chris Rhodes & Chris Hildenbrand

The choppers don’t like to stand still

This is a great example of how the mouse was used for what you might call a sidescroller/shooter. Rather than negotiate a level with pitfalls, the task of your Mario-like character is to dodge incoming bullets, sort of like a bullet hell shooter. It’s also got an array of different creative weapons, each accompanied by a cool robotic voice announcing it when you pick it up. It never leaves this basic loop, spawning helis as fast as you can kill them. Once you get good at it, you can keep playing it for quite a long time. You can play it here.

Fancy Pants Adventure – Brad Borne

The game shows off its non-flat terrain very early


https://archive.org/details/fancypantsadventure_202011
This game made a huge splash when it was released. The norm for sidescrollers since eras where denoted by the number of bits systems has was for side scrollers to be very similar to Mario and have the following characteristics:

  • Maps made out of a tile grid
  • Maps defined by axis-aligned bounding boxes
  • Movement defined by walking and jumping.

Fancy Pants adventure subverts these expectations while still sticking to the intuitive sensibilities of a platformer:

  • The levels are defined by smooth shapes much larger than what you’d expect in a tile map.
  • The maps use curved surfaces rather than straight lines or uniform curve sections.
  • In addition to walking and jumping, you can build up momentum and slide

But oh man, the style. This game dripped style. The lush animation, everything about it. I don’t think I ever made it past the first level. I didn’t care. When this came out it felt like it injected new life into the platformer formula. I think Flash’s vector nature really played a role here – it could do things you just couldn’t do on an NES. You can play it here.

Defend your castle – XGen Studios

The flash era was defined by a callous disregard for the lives of stick figures

This is a game that really only works with a mouse, and also illustrates the obsession with violence against stick figures. The figures attempt to knock down your castle and your defense against them is to click and drag them violently into the air so that they splatter down on the ground into a puddle of blood. Eventually you get enough points and abilities to take stick figures into your castle and turn the game a little bit more into a tower defense setup. You might be able to get this working on a very large tablet, but really the interaction is tailored for the mouse. The graphics are basic and make heavy use of gradients and stick figures – both flash tropes. Yet here I am in 2020, actually getting sucked into it. It’s a very well crafted dopamine loop. Launching the little bastards with your mouse is satisfying, mastering doing it quickly before they get to your gates is rewarding, and the relief of having your job automated by a bunch of archers is even more rewarding. You can play it here.

FlashTrek: Broken Mirror – Vex Xiang

Ferengi Marauder and an Excelsior

https://archive.org/details/flashtrek-broken-mirror

As a big fan of the Escape Velocity series, Broken Mirror kept me playing for many hours. It’s a space trader game set in the star trek universe. Well, the Trek’s mirror universe-the one where everyone is the baddies. It’s the rare fan game but it fills the exact kind of niche that you’d love to see for that setting. It’s also absolutely dripping with humor, especially inside fandom jokes. As a fan work it is monumental. I’d daresay that until Star Trek Online was a thing, it was the definitive star trek video game experience. The open world of the space trader genera fits perfectly with the open feel of Star Trek. And really, having a big open world RPG on a platform that was mostly used for single-screen arcade games is quite an accomplishment. It plays at breakneck speed on modern systems, but you can play it here.


Playing a 90s web game in the 20s

The first videogames I recall playing where applets on the early web. I’ve decided to explore what I can find of these games on the Internet Archive. I’ll leave notes on how to run them yourself and where to find them so you can follow along.

The Pantheon of game sites was, more or less Alfy.com, Ezone.com, and MoFunZone.com. When the flash era hit, we got Newgrounds, Addictinggames, and ArcadeTown.

This is the earliest capture of alfy.com, from 1999. It’s not the screen I’m most familiar with, but I’m curious to see which games are present already. It appears to be constructed entirely of image maps, so we need to inspect it to find any of the links.

Tail Gunner, Javanoid, Missile Commando, Urbanoids and Asteroids I definitely remember, and we’ll certainly get to them later. This landing page from May 2000 is closer to what I remember:

I’m sure the layout is somehow janked up by my up-to-date browser, but that is the gist of it. Some websites used to be like this. The different clickable sections are sharply rasterized images. There are probably a bunch of things on here which I’ll explore later, but most of my time was spent in the arcade tab.

At just the right resolution, the utterly noisy but correct layout is evident (this is the space games section. I recommend checking these pages out; static screenshots don’t do it justice. Everything is animated. I already recognize a ton of classics just from the little portal views.

Let’s try some games. You’ll need to install the JDK so that you have appletviewer available as a command. To do that in Ubuntu, use

sudo apt install openjdk-8-jdk

In order to make these games run in appletviewer, you need an HTML file that calls them. When I run appletviewer, I get

java.security.AccessControlException: access denied ("java.lang.RuntimePermission" "accessClassInPackage.sun.audio")

Good to know that this was discussed on Usenet in 2001.

Ok, so let’s install virtualbox, download windows 98, and give it a shot!

I needed to enable virtualization in my BIOS to make virtualbox work. Also I set up the good display driver because when I tried it initially the colors weren’t right.

That old familiar sting

But the display driver wouldn’t work! The radio button sets it to the driver, but it still thinks it’s disabled. Bummer. I also tried installing ie6 with winetricks, but it was too unstable to use

I triple dog dare you

Let’s try windows XP! We’ll apparently need the JVM. In order to get that on there, I burned a virtual cd which seems to be the easiest way to get files into your virtualbox PC. And it works! At least for some of the games. Check out this one on the author’s site: http://www.javaonthebrain.com/java/warp15/

Level 1: Mean Green Virtual Machine

This had the best graphics and probably made the strongest impression on me. The green/purple stuck with me enough that it’s the base color scheme for my 40k army now.

I probably haven’t played this game in twenty odd years. Does it hold up?

Well, the graphics are amazing. The author used POV Ray to make vibrant raytraced sprites that look great even in 2020. But the gameplay… Well, it’s impossibly hard. The controls don’t work quite right, you can only have two shots on screen at a time, collisions are wonky, and it’s very easy to accidentally slam into a wall and die.

Maybe I’ll return to get some other games working, maybe I won’t. I suspect that the problem with other games is that the assets aren’t in the archive, and if a more current source could be found they’d work just fine. Also some may require newer versions of Java. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader. May I recommend SuperKid.

Atomic PI emulation setup notes

I mostly game on PC, but at one point I set up a retropi for emulated console multiplayer. Mario Kart ran pretty well (sprites and all!) but BattleTanx wasn’t performing. That’s the N64 game that I probably played the most of, and it’s cracking good multiplayer, even at the 9FPS that the Pi could manage. That was sort of the experience I was after though, so I went looking for something a bit more powerful.

Enter Digital Loggers. There was a kickstarter for a board called the Atomic Pi. It’s about the size of two Raspberry Pis and has an Intel Atom processor rather than the Pi’s ARM core. It’s still smaller than any one of the various consoles I plan to emulate on it, which is a nice bonus.

For this setup I got the Atomic PI with the small breakout board that provides a (more or less) standard adapter plug. I’m using this power brick and this multi USB hub (because there is only one USB port on the board.) It comes with a soldered-in EPROM you can boot from and write an OS to, but OSs on the eprom are painfully slow so I would recommend installing your OS to a MicroSD card like you would with a RasPi. I’m using Lubuntu, and it’s performing pretty well considering the big screen it’s on, I’m sure your favorite lightweight distro will also do well. You’ll want something that ships with a desktop for emulation though

Back to Battletanx: To get it running in Mupen64Plus (which you can install with apt along with a barebones GUI for opening ROMs and managing settings) with Rice video you need only change the config in one way:

ScreenUpdateSetting = 7

There are some glitches (the button that makes the flame tank fire sideways and makes the FLP-E tank flip get stuck) but it’s mostly playable. And Mario Kart still runs great.

OS9 on Ubuntu

The first thing to know about emulating macs from The Before Time is that if you where using Classic Mac OS at the turn of the millennium, you probably used an iMac G3. This machine was ubiquitous-at least at schools in my area. This machine used a PowerPC chip rather than a 68k, so the emulator you want to use is SheepShaver. If you want to use a 68k there’s Basilisk II, which has a very similar setup, and just needs to be installed via apt.

In order to run SheepShaver you’ll need to download some additional stuff, so you might as well do it up front. Redundant Robot has become the de-facto distributor of these files (email me if this ever goes down, I’ll host’em.) Specifically you’ll want the New World ROM and A pre-made bootable OS9 install.

Next you’ll want to compile a copy of SheepShaver. This is thankfully very easy thanks to StackOverflow:

Install dependencies:

sudo apt install build-essential libgtk2.0-dev x11proto-xf86dga-dev libesd0-dev libxxf86dga-dev libxxf86dga1 libsdl1.2-dev osspd git

clone the macemu repo from github:
git clone https://github.com/cebix/macemu.git

Build SheepShaver:

cd macemu/SheepShaver
make links
cd src/Unix/
./autogen.sh
make -j3

Install the binary into your path

sudo cp SheepShaver /usr/bin

Run Sheepshaver with

sudo padsp SheepShaver

This will get you to the setup menu. In the Memory/Misc tab, add the new world ROM file. Then, back in the Volumes tab, add the .img file you downloaded, and create a new (big) empty volume to store your apps. Next add a valid directory that you do not care about because it will be consumed by sudo-enabled fire as “unix root.” Now you should be able to boot into the machine by hitting “start.”

In order to get apps working, you’ll generally want to first get them out of your unix folder and only then unpack them (most vintage mac files are in Stuffit format, so you’ll want a copy of Stuffit Expander to be your first install.)

Unfortunately, the Redundant Robot image is too small to fit many apps. What you’ll want to do is make your own image. Make a blank disc with SheepShaver’s interface download¬† this disc (you’ll need an account.) In order to boot from a file, it needs to be read-only (in fact it will render any writable file that it tries to boot from unbootable.) But you need to run SheepShaver as root. So to render the file unwritable to root, you need to make it immutable with

chattr +i ~/Downloads/Mac_OS_9.0.4.toast

Then add it to the boot list and it’ll boot to the installer.

SYLP is dead, long live SYLP

emf.sdf.org, or “The Shipyard Liberation Project” hasn’t been updated in years. This is mostly because I haven’t had anything to add to it-I think I got every last graphic I could, contacted everyone who’s email address still worked, etc. I’d also all but run out of space for my SDF account (I even had to host the 3d models from Ares on my own site.) Somewhere along the line, I lost access to my SDF account, but by then I was using Unix every day so I didn’t really miss it.

Fast-forward to now, I’ve realized that the fine folks at the Internet Archive have a sweet upload utility that allows you to upload whatever files you want, and (critically) add metadata to them so that some sort of context can be preserved. So I’ve uploaded those files to the archive, you can enjoy them here. That puts out the “what if SDF deletes my account” fire, but some stuff remains:

  • Files with appropriate licenses ended up on OpenGameArt rather than on SDF because I figured more people would see/use it. They ought to be mirrored on the archive.
  • Someone from the Ambrosia forums kindly ripped the graphics from a TC called “The Novel One.” I’ve got the graphics somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find the thread.
  • The “Open Source TC” had some assets at some point, and the notion was that anyone could take it and run with it. I’ve never run across a copy of it (it was hosted on DropBox of all places)
  • The list of missing shipyards on the SDF site still stands – if anyone out there has any of those graphics, I’d love to see them!

Estes and Escape Velocity’s Rocket Design

I first noticed while thumbing through old Estes ephemera on this site  when I saw it staring me in the face:

Snippet from the 1990 estes catalog
1990 Estes Catalog

Estes is a company that has, for a great many years, built and sold flying model rockets-as in, you build them, stick a solid fuel engine in the back, and launch it into the sky. It’s a good hobby for someone who’s a fan of spaceships. The same camp where I learned the art of model rocketry was where I found out about Escape Velocity, which brings us back to the point. If you’re an Escape Velocity or EV Nova fan, you probably recognize that as fictional space pirate “escort Frigate” the Atinoda Kestrel.

A diagram of the Kestrel, with labels for flavor
The Kestrel

Probably the most iconic ship from that game, it made its way into EV Nova as a post-game bonus option and NAEV as its poster-ship. Matt Burch, author of Escape Velocity, had this to say in an Ambrosia Times interview:

Ambrosia Times: […] Is it true that some of the graphics in EV are the result of a model rocketry hobby?

Matt Burch: Well, I used to build model rockets when I was little, and a couple of the ship designs in EV are loosely based on my memories of some of my favorite Estes kits.

That confirms my suspicions. So, which other ships are based on Estes rockets?

From the 1990 catalog, we’ve got these two:

Cropped catalog page of an oddly configured two-finned rocket
Estes Star Seeker

EV graphic from Evula.com
EV’s Executive Transport

Clipping from Estes catalog
Estes Strike Fighter

EV graphic of the lightning
EV’s Lightning Fighter

I’d seen the Rebel Cruiser described as having “babylon 5 roots” but I think its lineage is very clear from this:

Screen from a 90s Estes catalog
Estes Starseeker

Screen from EV
EV’s Rebel Cruiser

I’m less sure about the Clipper (which I think is the astro blaster.) The configuration is the same (two back-swept wings with giant winglets and canards in the front.)

Astro Blaster from the 92 catalogue
Estes Astro Blaster

Screen from Escape Velocity
Clipper from Escape Velocity

There are two possibilities for the Manta, and I’m not sure which one it really is, despite it sharing the name with one of the rockets. Maybe a combination of both:

Clipping from estes catalog
Estes Delta Clipper from 1986

Manta from 1994 Estes Catalog
Estes Manta (’94)

Screenshot from EV
EV’s Manta

So, several of the ships in EV share more than a passing resemblance to Estes rockets. There may be others that I’ve missed, or other sources of inspiration. I’d love to hear about them!