VGT – Fun with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer

I recently discovered treasure at a Goodwill store.  I saw it on a shelf – a complete TRS-80 Color Computer 2 with the box and manuals.  It has never been my intention to collect retro computers – only video game systems.  But when I saw that it had a cartridge slot on the side and it came with about seven game cartridges – I was able to convince myself that it really IS a video game system.  It even came with a joystick.  So I bought it and immediately took it home.

The Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2

The Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2

According to the manual, this powerhouse computer has a 6809E microprocessor running at a blazing 0.895 mHz.  That almost a whole megahertz!  Top it off with a whopping 16K of RAM and I’ll have hours of programming fun.  It actually comes with a handy booklet that teaches how to program in color BASIC.  I can write programs in COLOR!!!  I can take over the world!  That is, as long as I never turn off the computer, because I don’t have a cassette tape recorder to save or load programs.

A stack of fun

A stack of fun

Maybe, I’ll come back to programming later.  For now, I want to play some games.  I have a whole stack of them.  Like I said earlier, these cartridges are proof positive that the CoCo2 (I recently learned that is a nickname for the computer) was designed for games.  To come across such a stack of games and all in good condition is a real find for a retro game collector like me.  The joystick is something of a disappointment.  It is proprietary to the Radio Shack computer family and it is an analog stick with no centering.  Analog is good for precision, but not having it auto center when you let go of the stick can be a problem.

But before I worry about the joystick, I have to solve the problem of video.  There is a composite plug on the back of the computer, and there is a Radio Frequency adapter in the box.  However, most modern televisions don’t have the antenna attachments that were on older tv sets.  Radio Shack to the rescue.  I went to the local store and asked the sales person for some support with my TRS-80 Color Computer.  She had a confused look on her face until I told her I was only joking.  (She had not actually been born yet when this computer came out)  She helped me find what I was looking for, an adapter that has a female RCA jack and converts it to a coaxial cable plug.  So I bought it, took it home, and screwed in the adapter to the cable/antenna on the back of my TV.  I plugged in the computer, turned it on, and set the television to channel four.  The BASIC screen came right up.   The adapter was less than $5 and it works great.  Now I could play some games.  These games were around the same time as the Atari 2600, the Mattell Intellivision, and the Colecovision.

The first game I tried was called Downland.  It is a 2D side scrolling adventure game that almost had the feel of a Super Mario Bros. game.  My character was trapped in a dripping cave filled with treasures and keys.

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He jumps and climbs to get around.  Sometimes when he gets a key a new door is revealed.  I know this information about the game only from watching someone play it on Youtube.  Unfortunately, my joystick only let him move to the left – although the jump button seemed to work fine.  I didn’t feel like figuring out why, so I turned off the computer, removed the cartridge, and inserted Color Baseball.  This game was exactly what it claimed to be – baseball in color.  The baseball players looked like little stick people but they looked good enough.  For some reason the joystick worked fine on this game.

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I was able to pitch and play defense.  It took no time at all to get use to controlling the defenders, a quick button push in the direction of third base would activate the third baseman.  I eventually got three outs and was able to take a turn at bat.  It was surprisingly challenging to get a hit but I got the hang of it.  This game would have been a lot of fun back in 1983.  However, my favorite game so far has been Demon Attack.  It is pretty much the same game as you may have played on other systems.  It worked only with the keyboard, which was fine with me.  I played this game for quite a while.  The game is in the space invader genre, but with more level variety and a boss level.  Graphics were fluid and the game looked great on the system.  However, it was about this time that I noticed I was not hearing sound for any of these games, so perhaps I’m doing something wrong with my setup.  I think the sound is supposed to come from the TV just like it did for the Atari.

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I’ll try out some more games and post them in a future article.  Plus, I want to figure out why I’m not getting sound.  Thanks for joining me today for this retro gaming blast from the past.

VGT – I Made a Game with GameMaker Software

I was tinkering around with Facebook the other night when I came across a message I had overlooked.  Someone had contacted me because they played a game that my son and I designed back in 2008.  The writer of the message said some nice things about the game – a project that I had completely forgotten about.  So I found the game and played it again.

But first let me give you some insight into how we created the game.  We did an internet search and came across a free product called GameMaker.  I checked to see if they are still around and they are.  Here is a link to their site and their latest version of the software:

We were brainstorming on ways to raise funds to pay for a grand scouting adventure, an 11 day hike through the mountains of New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch.  The cost of the trip was over two thousand dollars each and we didn’t have that kind of money.

The Tooth of Time

It’s not easy to get to the Tooth of Time

So we gave ourselves some criteria for making a game.  1. The game needed to be a puzzle game  2. The game needed to be simple  3. The game needed to be something we could actually make and finish.  With those goals in mind, we started to use the GameMaker tools.  I found an online game that I enjoyed called Splashback.  It was a game that involved drops that would grow until they burst into four directions.  The goal was to create chain reactions and earn more drops.  That gave us the inspiration to try to make a copy of the game concept, but instead of drops, we would use money.



First, Nate took the lead by designing sprites and then assigning properties to them.  He made pennies become quarters, quarters become dollars, dollars become piggybanks, and piggybanks that would explode into pennies going four directions.  We learned that even programming with GameMaker was a challenge.  We had to take every possible action into consideration such as what would happen when the pennies hit the boundary walls.  Nate also worked on the particle effects for the explosions.  Then I went to work on programming the rules and the levels.  I designed it so that you would be rewarded with items for the hiking trip as you earned the money.  The most challenging was programming the increase in difficulty as you  neared your goal.  Compare a picture of our game with the original.

Road to Philmont

Road to Philmont

I know our game isn’t as pretty but it works, it really works!  I discovered that Road to Philmont is still on the GameMaker website.  If you want, download it and give it a try.   I know it works on Windows XP and it works on Windows 7.  No promises on any other operating system.  I had a Click to Donate link but it doesn’t work any longer.  Want to guess how much money the game raised?   Fifteen dollars!  Good thing we had a car wash, a yard sale, etc.  It was an interesting and educational experience to make a working game.  It gave me a sincere appreciation for well designed games of all types.  Give the game a try and let me know what you think!

A successful trek

A successful trek

VGT – Gaming is Better with a Friend

I was so thrilled that video game designer legend Scott Adams viewed and commented on my last post!  Read the post and comments here.  I sent him a short email after I was finished writing but I never thought that he would respond in such a way.  What a great and humble person.

I accidently left without clothing.  Text adventures are still humorous!

I accidently left without clothing. Text adventures are still humorous!

I pre-ordered and downloaded a demo of his latest text adventure, The Inheritance.  I look forward to writing a full review when the final version is released on Feb. 14, 2013.  When I played the demo, it was difficult at first as I had to relearn the way that interactive fiction works.  The other night, I searched for an hour just to find a single item.  Then the next day, I started over with a friend and we worked on it together.  I was amazed that the first thing he thought to do was to search for (and find) the item that I had originally spent so much time looking for.  I found that I was enjoying the entire experience so much more with a friend – just the way it used to be back when I was young.

It is dangerous to go alone!  Take this.

It is dangerous to go alone! Take this.

There are many ways to play games, but I have found that my best experiences have been playing with a friend in the same room.  From playing Combat and Asteroids on the Atari 2600 with childhood friend Robbie, to playing text adventures on the TRS-80 with Scott, to playing Street Fighter 2 on the SNES with Hannibal, and to Ocarina of Time on the N64 with my son Nate – my best and happiest times in gaming were when I had a friend by my side.  When I was with a friend, I didn’t always have to play, but I would participate by listening and looking for things that might be missed – or maybe by looking something up in a player’s guide.

Art by Nate - He can't stand Metroid Other M

Art by Nate – He can’t stand Metroid Other M

Then there are the times when I want to be by myself.  I might turn the lights down, put in a game, and turn the volume up just for an immersive experience.  I tried that recently with a free game on the Playstation Plus Network called The Living Dead  (Correction: The Walking Dead).  I was intrigued for a few reasons.  Reason one: it was free.  Reason two: I had heard about this show on TV and learned it was filmed in Georgia – which intrigued me.  Reason three: I had heard that the game really put you in some unusual situations in which you have to make choices that can really affect the game play.  So I installed the game and played some of it.  After about 40 minutes I couldn’t play it any longer.  Dealing with zombies was just too nerve wracking on my own.  I needed a buddy!

How do you find yourself playing a game?  Do you have a gaming friend or do you prefer to go it alone?  There is no wrong way, but for me gaming is better with a friend.

By the way, my friend Hannibal – that is his real name and he is a marvelous professional magician (

VGT – Text Adventures Part 2

The middle school years are some of the roughest in existence.  When I was young, we called it junior high, but the net effect was the same.  You were a young person going through changes – surrounded by other young people going through changes – and you were supposed to be taking classes at the same time.  It was during times such as these, that I found true enjoyment in text adventure games.  They were a welcome escape from the harshness of the middle school years.

Hello to my old friend, the TRS-80 Model 1

Hello to my old friend, the TRS-80 Model 1

Enter the source of such enjoyment – the Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer.  I didn’t have one, but my best friend did.  His dad bought it but I never saw him use it.  Maybe it was because we were always using that thing.  The standard TRS-80 came with 4K built in, but this one was upgraded to 16K by the addition of a massive expansion module.  Games were loaded originally through a tape recorder, but eventually they purchased a floppy disk drive.  But no matter how the text adventure games were loaded, they were a favorite activity.

A copy of an ad from the Scott Adams website

A copy of an ad from the Scott Adams website

We really enjoyed text adventures designed by Scott Adams (the game designer, not the creator of Dilbert).  He is credited with writing the first games for personal computers from the ground up (rather than on a mainframe).  The early games were simple and based on two word commands such as, “look box” or “get sword”.  The parsing of the game only looked at the first three letters of each word, so we would often type, “loo box” or “get swo”.  This parsing would limit the vocabulary – but I have found that sometimes when there is a limit placed in an area, that creativity really comes out in other areas.  Some the games that really stand out in my memory were Pirate Adventure, Adventureland, and Pyramid of Doom.  My friend and I would even draw maps on grid paper to keep track of where to go.  We may have beat Pirate Adventure, but we could never get past the end of Pyramid of Doom in which we were near the top of the pyramid in a room and the statue of Pharaoh was awakened and slowly moving toward us.  If any readers know what we were supposed to do about the statue, please let me know.  Here is a link where you can try some of his text adventures online:

I found it interesting to discover that he is still creating games and recently announced the release of a Bible text adventure game called The Inheritance.  That’s pretty cool.  Perhaps Scott Adams was the original video game theologian!  Go here for more information:

But wait, did I really say that he is still making text adventure games?  I recently became aware of the fact that text adventures are especially enjoyed by the blind.  Others may have moved past the magic of text but there is a large community of people who enjoy what is now called interactive fiction.  Many of these computer users are visually impaired and have computers that read the text to them.  The power of the word is stronger than the best graphic cards.

VGT – Text Adventures Part 1

I love to read, and in retrospect there are two main reasons why.

First, I had a mother who loved to read and she somehow imparted that love into me.  She would often go to the library and return with a stack of books that she thought I would like.  I would start at the top of the stack and work my way down.  I would be captivated by the stories and hours would pass by quickly as I turned page after page.  Especially during the summers, I stayed up late reading in my bedroom because I simply could not put the book down.

Heaven may be a stack of books

Heaven may be a stack of books

The second reason why I love to read is because of the early text adventures on computers.  I was probably 11 or 12 (the early 80’s) when I first played Adventure on my Dad’s original IBM 5150 PC.  The game was created by Will Crowther and Don Woods but it was so much more than a game.  I found myself in a valley, surrounded by forest.  I followed a stream and discovered that it flowed underground into a two inch slit.  Then I explored further downstream and came across a locked grate – it’s a good thing I picked up those keys when I explored the small building earlier.  I unlocked the grate and started to explore the Colossal Caves.  No longer was the computer a machine for word processing or calculating, it was an imagination device.

A world of imagination

A world of imagination

I found Adventure just this morning on the internet at a website called and started to play it again.  It was java based and free.  It seemed primitive yet it still captured my mind.  Rather than intense graphics on the screen, I was utilizing the advanced processor of my brain.  I could see the dew on the grass and the rust on the grate.  I could even hear the sound of the stream flowing into the crack – the echo of the splash as the water landed somewhere below the ground.  I could even smell the leaves from the trees and the rich dark soil of the valley.  That’s the power of text, through a few simple words the power of the mind takes over.

Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The love and the power of text is also a part of my world view.  Traditional orthodox Christianity views the Bible as the final authority.  The text does more than just capture the imagination, it has authority over the lives of Christians throughout history and throughout the world.  It is  honored and treasured.  That is the definitive example of the true power of text.

For the next post in this Text Adventures Series, I will write about some of my experiences of playing text adventures designed by Scott Adams.  So fire up your TRS-80, get out the tape recorder, and let’s load some adventure games!