Saturday, May 20, 2006

Comment: What Next for the CoCo?

The latest survey at the CoCo Hut was about what should be next for the Color Computer. Specifically, the survey asks what modern uses you would like to see developers work on, and since games was one of the top items in the survey back in February, it also asks what specific kinds of games. Finally, the survey asks what format you would like to see software distributed.

Question 1. What modern uses for the CoCo are you most interested in?

New Games (see below) 25%
Hardware Expansions (more RAM, expansion paks, video, media, etc.) 25%
Hobby (electronics, HAM Radio, collecting, etc.) 18.8%
Applications (wordprocessing, databases, etc.) 12.5%
Graphics (editors, demos, etc.) 12.5%
Programing Tools (C, PASCAL, FORTRAN, etc.) 6.3%

The respondants to the survey indicated they want more capability from their CoCos and they want to use their CoCos for their leasure time. I think this is an important point to consider in the "Where does the CoCo go next?" question. Specifically, folks aren't buying all these CoCos and hardware to do heavy duty work. They mostly aren't buying them to learn to program or to tinker with. Yes, there are those out there that do. But I suspect most aren't.

What CoCoists want appears to be to use their CoCos during their leasure time. They want to play retro games and new games, they want to hobby with them (perhaps learning to program, or to tinker with, of course), and they want to do it better... but definately with a CoCo. I suspect there are a ton of CoCo nuts out there that have a program or a game in mind they would like to have, but just don't know how, or have the time, to do themselves. With this in mind, discussion on this topic can focus more, as can developers.

There are quite a few very smart people in the CoCo community developing and expanding the CoCo's capabilities. What seems to be lacking, at the moment, is people taking advantage of those new capabilities (and the power of the machine by itself!) and putting them to use. The focus right now seems to be on developing the tools to do the work. Now that many of the tools are becoming available, ie. RainbowIDE, VGA and S-Video adapters, SD card reader, the SuperBoard, and others, I suspect we'll see more applications appearing over the next year or two.

My take (and strictly FWIW) is that a concerted effort needs to be made to encourage and assist those CoCo nuts that are interested in becoming more proficient at developing for the CoCo, but are at the beginner to intermediate level of technical skill. Reading the maltedmedia list, or jumping into the message board, can be somewhat intimidating for the non-technical types. (To which I'll say, jump in anyway! All those really smart people are also very smart, helpful and patient! So wade on in there and learn something.) For example, every CoCo magazine back in the day had a Beginner's issue and regular columns aimed at beginner and intermediate programmers and hobbyists. That focus paid off in spades as those beginners learned, practiced, and became experts. When they did, they started putting out an amazing amount of third party software and hardware that was pretty much unrivaled. That drew in more CoCo users, who produced and consumed more CoCo stuff, and so on. That needs to happen again. My thoughts on all this some other time... :)

Question 2. What kinds of games would you like to see? (if any)

Strategy 20%
Action 15%
Arcade 15%
Simulation 15%
Kids/Educational 15%
Wargames 10%
Adventures 5%
Puzzle 5%

The current survey (as I write this) gets a little more detailed into this subject, but with a couple of exceptions, I don't think there's a game you could go wrong with if you were of a mind to build one for the CoCo. Some high quality, new games, easily available, are needed. But I bet anything would fly. Don't want to learn assembler? Fire up ECB and pound out a fun little game. Don't think good games could be done in ECB? Refer to anything by Richard Ramella. :) 4K and 16K materpieces, every one of 'em. Feel the need for speed? Learn assembler. I gripe often about "not getting" assembler, but the truth is 6809 assembly language is pretty easy and straightforward. It just takes some studying. Partner up with other people! Good with sound or graphics? Partner with an assembly language programer who isn't and get busy! There's more than one way to program a CoCo. Some organized group projects would probably be pretty fun.

One surprise was the better than expected showing for Kids and Educational games. But then again, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Again, every CoCo magazine of yore had an numerous educational columns and issues. It was a BIG THING back in the 80s, and the CoCo was a huge platform for this application. Almost all of my CoCoing these days revolves around doing up little games and edu-tainment stuff for my 6-year old and 2-year old. Everything from doodle programs, matching games, having the Orchestra 90cc play music for music class, and even a completely original color matching arcade game invented pretty much entirely but my 6-year old daughter. It's a completely neglected area for the modern CoCo, but I suspect there's a need. Those of us that got our Christmas CoCos at ages 8 to 15 in 1980 to 1984 are now thirty somethings with kids, so there's probably a few of us out here that could use stuff to entertain the budding Mad Scientists in the family. I'll throw out a few of the ones I've done up for my girls here shortly (they're terrible, but they work), but I think it's something folks out there that are beginners or just getting back into the CoCo should consider tackling. Prgraming kid's games is pretty simple and straight forward in ECB and can serve as great practice and learning for adults getting their programing fingers back.

Question 3. What format would you prefer software for the CoCo be distributed in?

Could have phrased that question better, but...

DSK Image 60%
5 1/4" Floppy Disk 20%
Memory Card 20%
3 1/2" Floppy Disk 0%
Other 0%

With it so easy to snag a DSK image off the web, and easy to get it up and running in an emulator or port it over to the CoCo, this is the obvious choice. 5 1/4" floppies are a toss up, I think. Old fashioned and too unreliable over the long term, particularly if you're going to pay for something. I do think memory cards will become more popular as the concept grows, I'm certainly an unabashed fan myself. It's solid, it works, and it's cheap and easy to distribute. It would be nice to see some options for readers, of course, but the one available (from Cloud 9 Tech) should do nicely for many folks. I'd prefer a simpler, more single purpose device that works straight out of RSDOS, but I'll beat that drum later. :)

With the plethora of options available, from putting a 5 1/4" drive in your PC, slaving the PC to the CoCo with a device like Cloud 9's DriveWire, or using a transfer cable like Talor Software's PC Link Cable, there's plenty of ways to get stuff into the CoCo from DSK format. I suspect it'll be the leading format option for quite some time.

This survey didn't have too many surprises, but I found it focused some more specific questions for me. Sometimes asking the right questions is the most important part of getting a decent answer. The CoCo has an incredibly bright future, and some of the stuff out and coming out is flat out amazing. As such, I'd like to encourage everyone out there to buy this stuff. Use it. Talk about it. But most important, jump in there and get involved. Just like CoCo Man from the manuals, every CoCo nut I've ever met always has a smiling face and helping hand ready and waiting. Get in there!

Angel's Luck,

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