VGT – Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

When I was in junior high school, I had a friend named Andy.  We lived in the same neighborhood and I was often asked to “watch the house and feed the cats” when his family was away on vacation.  As a young teenager, I enjoyed having a place to myself and would often watch movies on their Sony Betamax.  They also had a Texas Instrument TI-99 with several game cartridges.  I don’t remember if the games were any good, but it was cool to have a computer all to myself.  Hmm…  They had a Betamax, which was an unsuccessful video medium – and a TI-99, which was an relatively unsuccessful computer system.  I’m not making any judgments, but I hope that Andy’s parents didn’t play the stock market.

Texas Instrument TI-99/4A

Texas Instrument TI-99/4A

Since becoming a retro game collector, I’ve been keeping an eye out for this classic computer from the 80’s.  I have a simple standard for collecting computers – they simply must have a game cartridge slot.  If it does have a slot, then it is no longer a computer in my eyes, but a gaming system.  I was recently at a friend’s garage sale.  I didn’t see a lot that I was interested in but casually asked if they had any older game systems they wanted to sell.  She remarked that she only had some old Texas Instrument computer that they have been storing in the attic since the 80’s.  She couldn’t get it right then but she promised to bring it by and we could make a deal.

Box Front

Box Front

She came by a few days later and I could not believe it – she still had the original box!  Unfortunately, it had severe heat damage but it was still interesting to see the original package and even a rebate sticker still on the box.  The back of the box was in much better shape and it showed how the TI-99 was supposed to be used.   The ultimate setup had the computer with a monitor, a voice synthesis module, joysticks, a modem coupler, and a huge expansion pack.  I’m sure that it would have costs at least $5,000 back then to have every component.

Box Back

Box Back

My newly purchased computer included the system, RF adapter (for connection to television), 2 joysticks (broken), a voice synthesis module, and 2 game cartridges.  I had all the equipment, but would it still work after storage in a hot attic for more than thirty years?  YES!

TI-99 screen

After searching for the right television connections, I turned it on and the TI-99 start screen came right up.  It had a friendly rainbow of colors!  Even though it gave me the option of programming in BASIC right away, I chose to turn it back off and load the first game cartridge: Ms. PacMan.

She's more than Pacman with a bow!

She’s more than Pacman with a bow!

The game didn’t look too bad and I was surprised to get decent sound as well.  But with broken joysticks, I had to try and play the game using the keyboard.  Normally, that would not be a problem except the computer has no number pad, so I had to use letter keys.  It was hard for me to remember so I died frequently.  I can play Ms. PacMan on much better systems – so enough of that!

Unsuccessful Wumpus hunting

Unsuccessful Wumpus hunting

The second cartridge was for a strange game called Hunt the Wumpus.  I did not have any instructions, but I wandered a maze until I was killed by the Wumpus.  This game had no appeal to me without some understanding of the game’s purpose.  I would have been very disappointed back in the eighties to spend a lot of money on a cartridge like this and then play it.  I couldn’t even get a decent picture of the maze, although the game seemed to delight in telling me how many times the Wumpus killed me.

Wumpus 3, Ted 0

Wumpus 3, Ted 0

What do I think of this as a game system?  Well, before I pronounce judgment I need to be on the lookout for more games.  There are plenty of them for sale out there.  I seem to remember playing Miner 49er on the system back at Andy’s house, so I’m definitely going to look for that one.  But so far, this is a game system that is a challenge to set up, has broken joysticks, and has either sub par games or games that I have better versions on other systems.  This one, for now, is destined for display on the shelf.  I made a short video on youtube about the TI-99/4A for you to watch below:

VGT – Playing Atari On My Colecovision

I mentioned in my previous post about the Colecovision, that when I purchased it, I received a bonus.  That bonus was an expansion module that allows me to play Atari 2600 games on my Colecovision.  Why would I want to do it?  That is a good question.  I already have an Atari 2600 that was given to me by a friend.  But now I don’t have to unplug my Colecovision from the TV and then set up my Atari!  Instead, I plug in the large awkward expansion module and then start playing River Raid with less fuss!

Expansion Power!

Expansion Power!

Why did Colecovision build such an expansion?  For one, it gave them the ability to truthfully claim that they had the largest game library of all the systems at the time.  It is amazing to me that they were able to build the expansion module (and later the Gemini) using “off the shelf” parts which prevented Atari from any legal recourse.  It is perhaps even more incredible that it still works today, almost thirty years later.

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Swordquest – Fireworld on the Expansion Module

The third party Atari joystick that came with my purchase does not work well, but I have several authentic Atari joysticks – and there is always the Genesis joypad.  I can’t say whether the Expansion Module worked better than an original Atari 2600 but it certainly worked the same.  I wonder what the cost was like back then?  Did a person actually save money by purchasing the Expansion Module?  I would guess that if was cheaper it was only marginally less.  But there is such a cool nerd factor in having one system’s games play on another.  That is just not supposed to happen right?  But I love that stuff.  I remember back in the mid 90’s when I connected a Gameboy expansion to my Super Nintendo – and then plugged my Super Nintendo into the TV card installed on my Pentium computer – and it worked.  I thought I was the coolest guy around – playing Gameboy games on my computer monitor.  It’s amazing that I’ve ever had a girlfriend, or even convinced a woman to marry me.

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

The final bonus of my Colecovision purchase was that I actually received not one but TWO of them.  The second one seems to be fully functional except for the power adapter.  The controllers don’t seem to work perfectly but I hope to repair them with a good cleaning.  It just means more fun playing around with my childhood dream, the Colecovision!  Thanks for letting me share it with you.

VGT – Colecovision Discovery

I remember the first time I ever saw a Colecovision.  I was in junior high and was invited over to a friend’s house in my neighborhood.  We were friends but not necessarily best friends – that all changed when I saw his Colecovision.  I wanted to be his best friend for life!  When I was young, I did not have any of the newer gaming systems at my house.  Sure, we had a Pong clone but it just wasn’t as much fun as those newer cartridge based systems.  So what did I do?  I made sure that I had friends with game systems!  I don’t want it to sound like  video games were the ONLY reason I chose my friends,  because that is not true.  But most of my friends had similar interests – sports, computers, and video games.

When I saw the Colecovision, I could not help but to compare it to the Atari 2600.  The Colecovision was easily superior in both graphics and sound.  Donkey Kong looked, sounded, and played like the real arcade version (or at least closer to anything I had experienced up to that point).  The controller was a tad bit difficult to use, but it only added to the challenge.

The other day I was listing an item for sale on Craigslist.  Just on a whim, I decided to search using the term “Colecovision” and I was surprised to get a hit from a seller who lived just down the road from me.  He was selling a Colecovision and a “Super Intendo” for $70.  I was surprised that it was still available – but after reflection, it may be that it was because of the word “Intendo” rather than “Nintendo.”  Perhaps it wasn’t coming up in searches?  I don’t know.  We made arrangements for the sale.  He was a nice person who had played with the game systems when he was a boy.  He was cleaning out his attic and decided to sell his “Super Intendo”.  I decided not to correct his incorrect pronunciation of one of the most popular video game systems in history.  Both systems were in excellent condition, with several games.  Plus, there was a huge bonus item which I will discuss in a future blog entry.

Colecovision and Games

Colecovision and Games

The Colecovision needed some cleaning (the Intendo was in excellent condition) but I really enjoyed cleaning it up with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.  I had to clean the contacts on all of the games but they all worked.  Of course the controllers were just as cumbersome as I remembered.  The side buttons did not work very well but I disassembled the controllers and cleaned them up – they worked good as new.  I had heard that you can play some Colecovision games with a Sega Genesis controller so I gave it a try.  You sure can!  The three best games I played were Donkey Kong, Galaxian, and Q-bert.   WarGames is based on the hit movie from the 80’s but it looked pretty complex.  I’m probably going have to search on the internet and figure out how to play it.  It looks like some kind of super complicated Missile Command.  I didn’t try to play Pit Stop but I assume it has something to do with racing and not going to the bathroom on a long trip.

It still runs great!

It still runs great!

As a collector, I have a mental list of certain game systems I would love to own.  The Colecovision was on my list.  I always wanted to have one to call my own.  Adding it to my collection is the fulfillment of a childhood dream.  Maybe now I will have friends who want to hang out at my house just to play it too!  Of course they would probably be complete nerds – but that’s OK with me!

VGT – XBox One Timeline (Part 2)

The latest Xbox One setup

The latest Xbox One setup

This blog entry is a continuing story from my first timeline about the Xbox One.  Click here to read it.

In late January, I was feeling good and decided to reconnect my Xbox One in the living room.  So what if it can’t play a DVD in sync.  I have a DVD player right?  Besides, I really wanted to play a game designed from the ground up for the next generation.  Did I really buy an Xbox One so I could play Assassin’s Creed 4 and Peggle 2?

Throughout February, I decided that we were not watching cable TV downstairs often enough to justify the expense.  We watched the Olympics on NBC and NCIS on CBS – both nationally broadcasted channels.  Plus, my wife noticed that the voices were not syncing to the pictures.  It worked correctly when directly connected to the TV, so I knew the problem was the HDMI input on the Xbox One.  We decided to return downstairs cable box to Time Warner.

Feb. 22 – I received the HomeWorx  HW150-PVR from Amazon.  It is a digital converter box that is compatible with the Xbox One.  After installing it and connecting it to the Xbox One, I was able to watch over-the-air (OTA) television that would respond to channel changes by voice.  Again, this feature is really great – when it works properly.  If there is a room full of people or activity in the kitchen (cabinets closing or pots clanging), it does not respond well to voice commands.  Regarding the HW150-PVR, it has been an interesting device.  It calls itself a PVR instead of a DVR which means that I can connect an external storage device (in the photo below I have inserted a 16 Gig memory stick) and record over the air television.  I can also pause live television.  This feature works well but it is not user friendly and doesn’t compare at all to the DVR experience.  You have to specifically program the time and channel that you want to record, and even though I set it up for recurring once a week it did not record again after the first time.  I’m sure there is something I did wrong but it is not clear.  Even the remote is confusing.

A close up of the digital converter box

A close up of the digital converter box

Mar. 1 – Feeling crazy on a Friday night, I go to a local game store and purchase a used copy of Ryse: Son of Rome, a true next generation game.  The game is pretty fun and does look fantastic.  However, in the week following, I find the screen freezing up and the Xbox One is extremely hot.  This starts to happen even when watching tv as well.  Then I notice AGAIN, that the TV sound and video are not synchronized.

Mar. 2 – I contact Microsoft support through their website chat.  Since I am clearly under warranty, they send me another system through a program called Advance Exchange.  When it comes in, I just swap machines and ship the defective one back at no charge.   If I do not return the defective system, I may be charged for it.  That is reasonable to me.

Mar. 7 – The replacement arrives and the next morning I install it.

Mar. 8 – During the install, I discover that the replacement Xbox One is endlessly looped in an update.  After completing the update, it tells me that it may restart – then it turns off and never comes back on again.  When I manually turn it on again, it acts like I’m turning it on for the first time.  It updates and shuts off.  Rinse and repeat.  I chat again with the Xbox One technical support.  They send me instructions for an offline update.  It involves putting the update on a USB memory stick and holding certain buttons down while turning it on.  The instructions say the Xbox One will make 2 “turn on” sounds but mine makes 1 “turn on” sound and then 1 “turn off” sound.   After that, the system bricks.  I can’t even get the green Xbox power one screen when I turn it on.  I chat back with Microsoft.  I am told my case is going to be turned over to the Advocacy Team, who will contact me.  I am assured that the end result will be my complete satisfaction.

Mar. 10 – After no contact, I chat again with Microsoft and am told the I would be contacted by the end of the day.

Mar. 12 – Still no contact.  I connect again through chat and I am told that the issue has been escalated and that I would hear something soon.

Mar. 13 – Still nothing.  I contact them again and inform them that I am shipping back the replacement unit since it is bricked.  I don’t want to keep it any longer than necessary.  I am once again assured that I will be taken care of and there will be no charges.  When I mention that it is taking a long time, I am told that is a normal timeline for Microsoft.  I am told to be sure to check my Junk Mail folder, just in case I have been contacted.  I check it.  There is nothing from Microsoft there.

Mar. 15 – I still have not heard anything, and now sadistically am committed to wait it out just to see HOW LONG it will take for Microsoft to take care of a good customer.  It will give me something to write about right?  In the meantime, I have my super hot original game system that still freezes up and plays television out of sync.   But at least I can create art on my laptop using Microsoft Paint!

I made this myself with MS Paint

I made this myself with MS Paint

I think we can all see where my son gets his artistic talent.  Let me compare something he posted on Facebook.  Compare the talent.  You be the judge.

3D Drawing using Maya by Nathan Loring

3D Drawing using Maya by Nathan Loring

I look forward to writing a blog post with good news from Microsoft.  I still believe in them and I like this product.  I can’t wait to get the same experience that my friends are having with it.  For now, I am just in limbo.

VGT – XBox One Timeline

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My Xbox One setup with a Time Warner cable box

Nov. 22 – XBox One is waiting on my front porch.  No staying up all night in the cold at a Wal-Mart.  No feeling of, “I earned this”.  Just a box sitting there.  I don’t have time to take it out of the box and set it up because I have class that night, and all day Saturday.

Nov. 24 – I finally have time to unbox and set it up.  Seems pretty cool with all the voice recognition.  The TV feature is wasted on me though, because I don’t have cable or satellite.  I didn’t buy any games but a friend gave me Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.  I’m too tired to play it

Nov. 26 – The Homeworx Digital Converter Box arrives.  I want to try out the TV features without the pain of a monthly cable TV bill.  So I try connecting the antenna to the converter box, then to the HDMI input of the XBox One.  It actually works with a crystal clear picture.  I say, “Xbox watch TV” and it magically changes.  It responds to my voice for volume up, down, and mute – but not to change channels.  I try different settings but the Homeworx HW1080STB isn’t on the list of devices that the Xbox One will work with.  I should have checked out compatibility before ordering.

Nov. 27 – Shelia and I decided that we want to get cable again.  She enjoys the HGTV network and I want the gadgets to work.  She picked up new cable boxes and I install them.  I connect the cable box to the Xbox One and turn it on.  I get a message that the cable box is not authorized.  After two phone calls with Time Warner I end up with an appointment for a tech to come on the day after Thanksgiving.  Neither of the two boxes worked when connected to the Xbox One.  However, I was eventually able to get one working by going through the cable box setup when directly connected to the TV.  Once the cable box is set up, I connect it to the Xbox One and things ARE FINALLY WORKING.

Nov. 28 – I watch football games on TV with the NFL app snapped on the right side.  OK, it was pretty cool.  I also like going from games or Netflix back to TV.   I start the process of teaching Shelia how amazing it is to just talk to your TV and have it respond rather than the laborious process of reaching for the remote.  Her keen legal mind argues that reaching for a remote is really not very exhausting.  She is not fully convinced but willing to give it a try.

Dec. 3 – I come home from work to a frustrated wife.  She has been saying, “Xbox on” but with no results.  I try it and nothing happens.  It doesn’t work until I manually start it.  Apparently either the Xbox One had an update – or my cable box had an update but either way – it all stopped working.  The only way I get things fixed is by connecting the cable box directly to the tv and going through the painstakingly slow reboot process.  Once it is back up and running, I reconnect it to the Xbox One and things are working again.  Will I have to do this every time there is an update to my Xbox One or to the cable box?

Dec. 11 – It has been a pretty smooth time with the XBox One.  We are starting to get used to the whole television integration element.  Maybe Microsoft is really on to something here.  Shelia’s parents arrive for the holidays today and after they are settled in, I bring my father-in-law into the living room to show him something modern and extraordinary.  I say, “Xbox On”.  Nothing happens.  I say it again, louder.  Nothing happens.  I practically shout, “Xbox On!”.  Again, there is no response.  Well, what do you know, there was another update so I have to disconnect the cable box and reboot it.  My father-in-law walks away chuckling to himself.  I feel embarassed and a little humiliated.  After the cable box has been rebooted, I just leave it directly connected to the TV.  There is no way I’m going to be able to train my in-laws on how to use the TV through the Xbox.  They are going to be here for several weeks too.

Dec. 20 – I have only been using the Xbox to play one of my two games: Assassin’s Creed 4 or Peggle 2.  I find myself missing the voice integration.  However, tonight Shelia and her mom want to watch a DVD.  I suggest watching it through the Xbox One since I had to disconnect the DVD player when her parents first arrived.  (My TV has two HDMI inputs)  She agrees and they put in the “White Christmas” DVD.  I’m sitting in the living room with them working on a paper for school and it seems like all is going well.  Eventually Shelia mentions that the audio is out of sync with the video.  I notice that it is off – really off – like asian martial arts film off.  I know the disc is fine because they use it every year.  I search online and discover that there is an issue with the Xbox One and audio sync with Blu-Ray and DVD.  The suggestion from Microsoft is to change a couple of settings and to give the machine a fresh reboot before watching a movie.  What?  This “all in one” solution for my living room can’t even play a DVD correctly?  Perhaps I broke up with my Xbox 360 too hastily.

Dec. 21 – I have completely disconnected my Xbox One and moved it out of the living room.  It sits on the floor, unplugged for the rest of the holidays.

I have mixed feelings about the XBox One right now.  I have gone from thinking it is the coolest thing in the world to completely taking it out of the living room.  Sometimes it works so well.  It recognizes who I am.  It follows my voice commands flawlessly.  Then there are those other times – the times that I am trying to show it off – that it doesn’t work.  I’m a techie person, and I don’t mind troubleshooting a little when things don’t work, but most people would not have the patience to find solutions and would simply return the system.  If I was Microsoft, and I was promoting a complete home entertainment solution – I would have made sure that it could play DVD’s correctly.  That really bugs me.  The verse below might apply to Microsoft, and also to me as well…

Proverbs 16:18 (ESV)  Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

VGT – A Friend GAVE Me These NES Games!

A friend came to my house and said he had something in his trunk of his car for me.  I was surprised to discover that the trunk was filled with classic Nintendo Entertainment System games and accessories.  He knows that I am a collector and entrusted me with almost his entire collection.  Several things about his collection impressed me.  First, he had several games in the boxes and they are in excellent condition.  Second, even as a boy he took special care to store his cartridges in cases and even to type labels for them.  Awesome.  Thanks again my friend for the donation.  I am happy to share it with the world through Youtube and through my blog.