Sunday, April 30, 2006

Comment: What I Want for My CoCo

There's been a bit of chatter on the CoCo mailing list (http://five.pairlist.net/mailman/listinfo/coco) and the forum (http://www.coco3.com/forums/) and chat (http://www.coco3.com/cgi-bin/chat.cgi) about what to use a CoCo for and where it should be developed to. And yes I'm aware that sentence is not constructed properly. But the point is ... usually on top of my head.

Anyhoo, here is my list of things I'd like to do with my CoCo but are beyond my meager capabilities. But I think they would be fun and would be of great benifit to the CoCo community.

An electronics project interfacing board and kit for the beginner. It would be a full kit, with the interface board and all the components, along with say a dozen or so interfacing projects that could be completed by the beginner or intermediate electronics hobbyist. Everything except the tools, in otherwords. (Tools needed should be the minimum: pliers, wire cutter/stripper, 25W solder pencil/iron, some solder and solder wick...) The projects would be stuff like: offloading a BASIC program into a static RAM device so that it would run when plugged in, a weather station with programming examples, a sound generator, a programable LED array, a very basic PIC setup with a short introduction on how to program it through the CoCo, etc. The kit would have projects for using the pak slot with an included interfacing board and the various other inputs and outputs on the CoCo to give the beginner a) fun things to built with, and b) a primary goal as an introduction to interfacing the CoCo. As I get a little bit more knowledgable about electronics in general (very dangerous thing), I can see that have leaps and heaps of information to master before ever being able to plug something of my own design into my CoCo. This wouldn't be perzactly the same thing, but it'd be fun and go along way toward the learning by doing experience. :)

Strategy games. 3D graphic games are impressive, of course. But how about some modern war and stratey style games, with all their depth and complexity, on the CoCo? Where's our SimCity? Where's our Master of Orion II? Where's our Civilization? Where's our RTS games? Locked up in some genius programmer's brain, I'll bet. Well... Let 'em out! I want to play 'em! Pulling off something like one of these games, that is actually playable on the CoCo, would be most impressive and a true tribute to the power of our little green friend. (If your first reaction is "can't be done" see also M.U.L.E. on the 6502-based Atari 800. Arguable the best strategy game ever developed, and defiantely the best in the pre-Civ/Sid era. The 6809-based Color Computer kicks this machine's cajones, twice, in raw power. It can be done. Oh, yes. It can be done.)

I don't want a new microprocessor (sorry, but in that I'm a purist. It has to be 100% 6809 compatiable to be a CoCo), but I wouldn't mind cheap, easy memory upgrades. For the CoCo 3, or course, but also the CoCo 2 and CoCo 1. A new video chip for the CoCo 1/2 would be nice, too. And possible easier to do.

A cheap and easy way to make program paks would go a long way toward easing software distribution problems. Here's the problem: I'm convinced (mostly... well, okay not really, but probably) that one of the problems with CoCoists buying or joining in is the difficulty in getting software from the Internet. In most cases, you have to make a new 5 1/4" disk, or transfer to the CoCo in some way. So you have to hunt down a disk drive and controller, or buy a new OS and hardware solution, or use a cable that requires more software, etc. Now, let me be perfectly clear here: Some of the solutions currently available are amazing. Very workable. Every single cocoist out there should try them! But... You could eliminate the whole problem by mailing out Program Paks. Seriously. Plug the pak in and the game goes. Or the software automagically installs itself to whatever storage device you have hooked up. If it could be done cheaply, it would be a superb delivery vehicle, especially for those folks buying CoCos, but having a tremendous amount of difficulty getting floppy drives for it. If there were a quick and easy solution, why bother?

That's the trick, of coure. You need a simple (and cheap, we are hobbyists remember) way for software developers to dump their creations onto a pak. Of course, the pack itself has to be manufactuered. Plenty of challanges. But it would solve a big problem that tends to hold back the expansion of the CoCo community.

Another way to go with this is to create a SD-reader in a pak. Instead of reinventing the pak, just make a pak that can read more modern media. 4MB SD cards can be had for $4 a shot (or less in bulk) and would be perfect for delivering CoCo software... if there was a way to interface it. Cost is the SD card + software development+packaging. I bet you could keep the unit price down to under $10, so most software developed this way could be sold for $20-$25 (plus shipping). I'd pay that. Easy. A program pak package for SD cards is perfect for this. Every CoCo already has the slot. The slot autoexecutes, so the driver software would be imbeded in the pak itself. No need to load software or drivers or use an alternate OS. Then just pop your SD card in and run it just like a disk drive. The trick is doing this so that it is truely plug and play. No drivers to load, no disk needed, no modifications needed. The instructions for use should be less that 250 words, or less, in length. Even easier would be the following statement included with each unit: "Plug the unit into your pak slot (or multipak). Plug in your SD card. Turn on your CoCo. Refer to Tandy Disk Operation and Programming Manual. (Download at ...)." That's it.

Why are these the things that I'd like to see most for the CoCo? Because they are three things that are missing and are needed to continue to drive growth in the CoCo community. We need most people tinkering with their CoCos. The beginners to intermediate CoCoists need an easy way to see what can be done with interfacing and programming and to learn. Games drive a computer platform. The CoCo needs some modern "just one more turn at 3 A.M." games. Games that every cocoists absolutely must have and will keep them in front of their CoCos for hours at a time. Finally, an easy, cheap, modern storage method needs to be widely available. I mean something that any intermediate level electronics hobbyist can purchase parts for, follow the plans, sell off their web site, or build for other CoCoists. I think the SD-card is the answer (cheap and easy), but anything would do, just as long as it can be massively distributed and standardized.

So there you go. That's my want-list. Feel to drop your own thoughts in here. Love to hear what you'd like to see.

Angel's Luck,
Capt

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Captcpu,

What I want from my Coco 3, To be able to do assembly language, Too see more Games and maybe some more software to help create games.
Games are what makes a computer's world go round, it's what attracts people to use the computer, survey 1000 people who use computers, 80% would say The games is what keeps them interested.
So all you coco programmers out there, Start producing more games for the coco 3. I'm doing my bit, I'm learning ML on the coco 3, be awile before I can start producing games.

there's my Aussie $0.02 worth, What do you think Captcpu, Think we need more coco 3 games to be done.

laters

Briza

CaptCPU said...

For assembly, I'd try RainbowIDE. It's fantastic. Hell, it's fantastic for ECB programing. :)

I've given up on assembler for now because it would be a looong time before I produced anything. Focusing entirely on ECB has let me be more productive. The options are limited (difficult to do arcade or action games), but it's a start.

I agree about the games, though. The more I think about it, the more I think there should be some sort of concerted effort to jump start the CoCo game building community. Just not sure how to go about it. Thoughts welcome of course...

Angel's Luck,
Capt.