In his so called debunk of my last article in the series about “An Introduction to BASIC”, TMR said the following…

“We are, thankfully, getting to the end of the author’s series on the Introduction To BASIC books, partly because he struggled in vain to keep on topic for most of these five posts but mostly because he rather obviously didn’t learn anything from them.”

I actually learnt the fundamentals of Microsoft BASIC (1977 version), enabling me to program text only applications and games. I was very upset to find out from this, or from a few more books that I couldn’t use the built in BASIC for the very things I bought the Commodore 64 to do. These were to compose music and write interesting commercial software, with colour, graphics, and music, such as games.

TMR had the cheek to point out that the Commodore 64 outsold most other computers on the British market! This happened because when people who wanted to learn programming in 1984 bought a Commodore 64, by and large they had no idea what a mess they were getting themselves into! All they knew about was that it had lots of software generally available from shops, while Dragon and Oric software was thin on the ground, or even mainly by mail order. The BBC Micro and Acorn Electron were “only” 32K, but consumers were told they “needed” more than 32K, and the C64 was advertised as having 64K (which they probably couldn’t access), with hires colour graphics, as well as a 3 channel synthesiser chip. This was thanks to “The A-Z of Personal Computers” with their filthy lies, and the lack of warnings or any outcry about the antiquated BASIC on the C64 from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as well as the consumer magazine “Which?”, or the computer press in general. Apart from this, the Commodore 64 cost about £200 when I got one, but the BBC Micro cost £399.

TMR failed even once to mention the amazing Music Macro Language developed by Microsoft, extended with some additional work by Yamaha. This is because it’s totally superior to the C64’s list of PEEK and POKE commands. When I had a Commodore 64, I was really keen, or even desperate, just to play a little tune, before I went on to making full use of the SID chip’s sound enveloping and waveform facilities, because I had no real idea what these concepts meant at first. All I wondered was “Why can’t I just play a little tune?”, which I thought should sound a bit like synthesised strings or playing a saw, like in the classic TV series “Lost in Space”. Later on, after editing the DATA statements in a type in listing containing lots of PEEK and POKE commands, I began to wonder “Why can’t I play more than one note at a time?” Of course, I could soon have been well away writing monophonic tunes using the Sinclair Spectrum’s BEEP , command, or the Dragon’s PLAY command. After this, if I’d had a Dragon computer, then I could have copied or even written a 6809 neo 16 bit multitasking Assembly language routine to play three note polyphonic music on the Dragon 32! Of course, I never ever managed to program any polyphonic tune I’d written myself on the C64!

TMR also made the false claim “The difference between BASIC dialects means that knowledge picked up on one machine doesn’t work on others when it’s bespoke commands as well; the author has apparently forgotten that he demonstrated this point whilst trying to claim that the Spectrum used the PEN command and later had to admit that, as a former Amstrad CPC owner, he was “confused”.” I must reply by pointing out that although colour, graphics, and sound commands were often different on different computers, they were often the same or very similar. There’s not much difference between the BBC and Amstrad Locomotive BASIC DRAW command, especially because Amstrad’s Locomotive BASIC is actually a rewrite of BBC BASIC for the Z80 processor! Dragon, Tandy, Spectravideo, Thomson, MSX, early PCs, and early Apple MacIntosh, and Amiga computers all used fairly similar versions of Microsoft extended BASIC. At the end of the day, concepts such as drawing using cartesian graphics screen coordinates could be transferred onto most other computers, so long as you took account of the different screen resolutions and coordinates.

The Commodore 128 has an extra video chip called the VDC, which has a 16 colour palette, where ONE of the colours is different from the VIC-II chip. This means that it can only display 16 colours at a time. As for C128 demos which claim to use more than 16 colours, but don’t run on C128 emulators, running them on emulators wouldn’t prove anything, because it’s possible to make emulators with additional features not available on the computers they’re emulating. I’ve got a real C128 sitting next to me at the moment, although I need to get a new video lead for it, as well as a special VDC lead which can display the output in colour. I know it’s possible to create optical illusions which make it look like classic computers have more colours by switching between 2 or 3 colours very quickly. I look forward to TMR sending me any C128 demos that use more than 16 colours!

Andrew Colin’s example was the only method of programming polyphonic music in Commodore BASIC V2 which I could find at the time and it was in an official Commodore book!

As TMR pointed out, in 1984, Clive Sinclair famously criticised MSX, saying “it’s as if all the car manufacturers had got together and said let’s all have the same engine, the same gearbox, the same axle and let’s use the one that was designed five years ago”, but most of the components in his Sinclair Spectrum were also 5 years old, apart from the Ferranti ULA. He claimed that the Spectrum was 2-3 times as powerful as an MSX computer, but didn’t explain why. It was the ULA chip that was responsible for limiting the Sinclair Spectrum’s colour graphics to only one foreground and background colour per 8×8 pixel square, while MSX was limited only to 8×1 pixel colour attributes. Apart from this, in general, if one computer can emulate another, then the computer doing the emulation must be at least as powerful, if not more powerful than the computer it’s emulating. I’m not aware of any Spectrum emulation software for MSX1 computers, but I’ve certainly heard of Spectrum emulators for the Tatung Einstein and Memotech MTX computers, both of which use the same Z80 processor, graphics chip, and sound chip as MSX1. The Spectrum expansion bus carried all the signals, as did the MSX cartridge ports, so no disadvantage there either. Their BASIC dialects were quite different, because MSX was Microsoft BASIC descended from DEC BASIC, while the Spectrum used Sinclair BASIC descended from Data General BASIC.

Of course, there were plenty of British micro computers in the early to mid 1980’s which had superior specs to the Sinclair Spectrum, depending on your opinion, such as the Oric-1/Atmos, Dragon 32/64, Memotech MTX range, Camputers Lynx, and Elan Enterprise 64/128, but these were wiped out, because people weren’t told enough about them and didn’t read up on the specs, so they didn’t understand why they should pay more for a computer than the asking price of a Sinclair Spectrum! The Sinclair Spectrum may have had more peripherals to upgrade it available than any other computer, but these often weren’t supported by third party software.

I think it’s no coincidence that MSX2 wasn’t even released in the main English speaking countries of Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It seems like a conspiracy! There were various anti apartheid sanctions against South Africa at the time, although INPUT magazine had a price for South Africa printed on its cover. I’ve checked with a South African about what computers were available there and he told me they had “all of them”, but further questioning led to him telling me that, as far as he knew, there were no Dragon computers, no MSX and no MSX2 in South Africa. He wasn’t aware of any clones or South African made computers either. The other countries are all ones I’ve recently heard as part of my extensive research, including reading magazines from that time, which didn’t have MSX2 released. Lots of computer magazines from Britain and the USA, putting down MSX, circulated round the other countries on that list. They criticised it for using “old” components, although these were no more old fashioned than the components that made up the Sinclair Spectrum, C64, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, and Amstrad CPC computers. Amstrad received little or no criticism for releasing the CPC464 in 1984 with the same 6845 graphics chip as the BBC Micro released in 1981 but with a lower vertical resolution, and the common 8912 sound chip already used in lots of computers and arcade machines. MSX1 specs were 256×192 hires graphics in 16 colours with attributes only affecting each 8×1 pixel group, 32 sprites, and a 3 channel synthesiser chip. The lack of Internet and satellite TV in the mid 1980’s meant that people in Britain were isolated from news of events on the Continent, where a small MSX2 explosion was taking place, especially in the Netherlands, because of Philips’ adoption of MSX and MSX2. Meanwhile, the best Commodore could do on the 8 bit front was to recycle the chips in the C64, add 64K RAM, a second video chip that required a special cable, and tack on a Z80 processor to make the C128.

It seems there was a plot against MSX in Britain, which involved preventing MSX software from being widely distributed, although MSX computers were available in lots of shops. After the poor sales of the relatively basic MSX1 in Britain during 1984 and 1985, the UK subsidiaries of Japanese companies supporting MSX2 didn’t bother to import any of the more advanced, killer MSX2 computers from the Far East and Philips didn’t bother to market their MSX2 computers in Britain either. These computers had a brand new graphics chip from Yamaha which could display up to 256 colours from a palette of 512, surpassing the Atari 8 bit 256 colour palette for the first time, and up to 80 columns of text. This restriction to particular markets shouldn’t have been allowed to happen! It was a new standard, even more standardised than CP/M or MS-DOS! At that time, MS-DOS ran on lots of computers which weren’t compatible with the IBM PC, such as the ACT Apricot. At some stage after this, I read about a lot of “grey imports” of Atari ST and Amiga computers, so obviously the lack of “grey imports” for MSX2 was due to lack of computer press coverage explaining to people why MSX2 was a “C64 killer”, the most advanced type of 8 bit computer so far with its photo realistic 512 colour palette, up to 256 colours on screen at once, graphics resolution of up to 512×212, even more advanced BASIC than MSX1 and bank switched RAM, with 128K RAM for video alone, as well as up to 256K system RAM.

Of course, the Sinclair Spectrum was an amazing computer when it came out in 1982, and had an equally amazing new version Sinclair BASIC, including commands for colour and graphics, but even Sinclair’s partner Timex felt the need to upgrade it for the US market AND the Portuguese market, although Portugal was considered to have a lower standard of living than Britain at that time. The upgrades included decreasing the colour attributes or colour bleed from 32×24 to 32×192, as well as fitting an 8910 sound chip, both the same as on MSX! Unfortunately, this made them incompatible with most Sinclair Spectrum software, meaning that users had to buy software specially programmed for the Timex Sinclair machine, but there wasn’t much software available. Timex Portugal dealt with this by bringing out a Spectrum compatible plug in ROM. I think this means that Sinclair Spectrum users could have had a graphics chip upgrade without sacrificing compatibility!

Several years later, after a lot of complaints about software piracy on all computer platforms, there was a lot of hype about new Japanese games consoles, which used cartridges to try and prevent piracy. There were new marketing strategies to get round the linguistic censorship. MSX was criticised for using cartridges and tapes, because it didn’t have disk drives at its launch, although these arrived in 1984, but these new devices were just games consoles. Some of these systems were remarkably similar to MSX and ran some games which had originally been developed on MSX, such as Metal Gear!

Finally, TMR said “In other words the author has absolutely no idea what he’s commenting on since he apparently can’t tell the difference between MSX1 and MSX2 graphics after singing their praises. The probably comes as little surprise to you dear reader as it does to your correspondent.” Actually, most of the additional MSX2 screens, numbered 4-8, had the same horizontal resolution of 256, the same as MSX1, although the vertical resolution was slightly better at 212 instead of 192. Some of these screens could use palettes instead of fixed colours, while one could use up to 256 colours. Only two of the 8 display modes, SCREEN 6 and SCREEN 7, had a higher horizontal resolution than MSX1, which was 512 pixels. Some or all of these screen modes also supported interlace from MSX BASIC 2.0, which doubled the horizontal resolution, but most people never heard of interlace before they heard about it on the Amiga. After this, some C64 fanatics managed to copy this idea.

That’s the end of this de debunk! I won’t do another debunk of a de de debunk TMR might write, but if he dares to do this I will mention it later, to stop him having the last word. Look forward to another post soon.

Posted October 20, 2014 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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