My second steps with MSX2…

PhilipsMSX2mainA close up of my MSX2

Finally, after all the disruption of Christmas and New Year I’m back! I wish you all a happy 2015, which is pronounced TWENTY FIFTEEN!!!!

On Thursday, December 18 2014, I received a package from an eBay seller in the Netherlands. It was an MSX2 computer! A type of computer never released in Britain, where I have always lived. It seems this type of computer was never released in any English speaking country either! Some MSX fanatics in Australia had them specially imported, and I’m not 100% sure about the situation in Canada. There was also the Yamaha CX7M MSX2 computer (a later model from the CX5M) which was sold as a musical instrument in music shops, but I’m not sure in which countries it was available.

As I previously posted on here, the computer I’ve bought is an Philips VG8235 MSX2 computer, the same as or similar to a Philips MSX2 computer I used at the Philips stand at a show in London, which I think was in 1986. I actually wanted an MSX2 computer with a separate keyboard, which is called a “pizza box” configuration in MSX circles, but it seemed I couldn’t afford one, so I went for this more traditional doorstop style model instead. It cost me €99 plus €20 postage.

PhilipsMSX2driveMy MSX2 showing the refurbished, thinner floppy disk drive with a gap above it

Luckily for me, after I sent a question about whether or not some Philips software was built in on ROM, the eBay seller told me it wasn’t built in to this model, so then she had a look round for a copy of the Philips Video Graphics editor and sent this disk which also contains a Philips Home Office suite, as well as two other disks, so well done to her! I’ve given her some glowing feedback on eBay. The other disks contain a collection of 19 classic games, now abandonware, mainly ripped from cartridges, and the other disk contains just one game called Infinity, which is an MSX2 fruit machine simulation. The disk of 19 games contains such classics as Antarctic Adventure, Hyper Sports 1 & 2, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Road Fighter, and King’s Valley, which helped define MSX as a gaming platform.

Buying this MSX2 computer for me is like an alternative timeline of what might have been. During the time period early May 1985 to December 1988 I was mainly a fanatical Amstrad CPC user, having bought a CPC664 because of the 8912 sound chip with unprecedented software envelope control, the built in disk drive, and a colour monitor included with it. However, in about February to April 1986 I also got a Yamaha CX5M Music Computer, which was of course MSX version 1. I didn’t go for any other MSX1 computer, because the 8910 sound chip as used in MSX couldn’t play different instrumental sounds on each of its 3 channels. It seems Locomotive Software for Amstrad overcame this limitation in their BASIC and ROM system firmware using the 8912 chip, which I have recently read otherwise has the same limitations as the 8910 used in MSX1. I used my CX5M mainly for music, although I did some programming and some games playing on it. I read in the magazines “MSX Computing”, as well as “MSX User” about developments such as the MSX disk drives with MSX-DOS, the Quick Disk drives, and MSX2, but unfortunately, I never managed to upgrade to any of these facilities. I joined the independently run Yamaha DX Owners’ Club, which was for users of Yamaha DX synthesisers, as well as the Yamaha CX5M computer. The organiser of this club eventually gave up due to other commitments, then it was taken over by Yamaha Kemble Music (UK) Ltd. I did some work on the Yamaha Kemble Music (UK) Ltd stand at a music fair. My knowledge was superior to a Yamaha Kemble Music (UK) Ltd manager who answered a customer’s enquiry about if his Quick Disk drive was compatible with the new disk compatible Yamaha music cartridges with “Yes, so long as it uses MSX Disk BASIC”. I was able to point out that his Quick Disk drive wasn’t compatible with the new disk compatible software because it not only didn’t use MSX Disk BASIC, but was a sequential filing system, like tape, although it recorded a single track onto a disk like a groove on a vinyl record.

PhilipsMSX2backThe rear view of my Philips VG8235 MSX2

Later on, in December 1988 I took the plunge and bought an Amiga A500 computer! This became my main computer for programming and most activities except composing music, although I did try that as well. I became a fanatical Amigan and an Atari ST and PC hater. I started programming in AmigaBASIC by Microsoft, which is similar to MSX BASIC, but has extra commands for windows, sub programs (like procedures), speech, the mouse, and pull down menus. I still hated the Commodore 64, because that computer had nothing in common with the Amiga except both of them were sold by Commodore. The Amiga doesn’t even have a Commodore style printer port. Eventually, Commodore killed the Amiga because they didn’t understand it. It was about 9 years ahead of the competition. They got rid of the original team who developed it. Apart from them, only ex Atari employees dismissed by Jack Tramiel, and Atari 8 bit enthusiasts understood the Amiga.

As for using my new MSX2 computer, after looking at the software provided on disk, I needed to get a blank disk, or at least reformat a spare one if I could find one. I picked up a disk with a not really brilliant classic game on it, which I had downloaded anyway, put it into the MSX2 internal drive, then typed the MSX Disk BASIC command CALL FORMAT. I was prompted to format drive A: or drive B: . I later checked that if you choose B: it then prompts you to insert a disk into the same drive for drive B: , like under CP/M on the Amstrad CPC. Next, I was asked whether I wanted to format a single sided or double sided disk! My Philips VG8235 has been upgraded from a single sided 360K disk drive to a double sided 720K one. I selected the double sided option and it started to format! All went well, then I had a newly formatted disk ready to save programs onto. Just from memory, I soon started to create a program in MSX BASIC V2.0 showing the background of the text based SCREEN 0 cycling through lots of colours using the command COLOR=(number, red, green, blue). I was surprised this worked on SCREEN 0, because this screen mode was also available under MSX1. However, this is definitely MSX2, not MSX1 and it finally surpassed the Atari 8 bitters for the maximum number of colours on an 8 bit computer!

I also tried out the Philips Video Graphics software which responds to joystick control. I recently posted a long video which showed someone using this software to generate lots of geometric patterns. Unfortunately, Philips decided to use lots of icons, without accompanying text in any language at all, so I found that I wasn’t able to work out how to draw anything using this software! I’ve searched online for a scanned manual in any language, but haven’t found one so far. I hear that the software AGE5 is better, but only works in SCREEN 5, although some enthusiasts have hacked it to produce versions that work in some other display modes. I hope to copy this onto floppy disk soon.

Here’s the details of MSX2 graphics screens.

Mode Resolution Colours Size Description
4 256×192 16 of 512 RGB 16kB Graphic Mode
5 256×212/424 16 of 512 RGB 32kB Graphic Mode
6 512×212/424 4 of 512 RGB 32kB Graphic Mode
7 512×212/424 16 of 512 RGB 64kB Graphic Mode
8 256×212/424 256 (no palette) 64kB Graphic Mode

When faced with the choice of this or the C64 320×200 hires with 16 colours and 8×8 attributes or colour bleed, or the 160×200 multicolour mode with only 4 colours in each 8×8 cell, surely only people totally brainwashed by Commodore propaganda or living somewhere MSX2 wasn’t available would have wanted to play blocky games or do rough, woodcut style graphic art on a Commodore 64!

Two days later after receiving my MSX2 computer, I went away for Christmas. I didn’t want to take my amazing new, refurbished MSX2 computer with me in case it got damaged, so this means I was unable to use it over a period of 9 days.

PhilipsMSX2256barsprgA short MSX BASIC V2.0 program to produce vertical bars in 256 colours

I’ve also started programming in MSX BASIC again. This is a totally amazing and user friendly language compared with Commodore BASIC V2, Visual BASIC, C, or C#. I’m trying to familiarise myself with the additional screen modes 4-8. It was fairly easy for me to display bars in 256 colours out of the 512 available. Try simulating that on a Commodore 64 which only has 16 colours!

PhilipsMSX2256bars1The output of the 256 colour bar program above

I’ve started programming a demo of a game using SCREEN 4, which has no colour bleed attributes, using 16×16 sprites and some simple music using the PLAY command. The music slowed down the program, because I forgot how to use MSX interrupts from MSX BASIC, but have now found out from the excellent “Complete MSX Programmers’ Guide” (Melbourne House) that the relevant commands are ON INTERVAL= GOSUB , accompanied by INTERVAL ON. Of course, this would require God knows how many POKEs on the C64! I’ve also been having some more fun typing in some listings from the Dutch “MSX Computer Magazine”, such as “Escape”, a platform game which mixes MSX BASIC with a lot of Machine Code routines.

My next step will be downloading some MSX2 software from the Internet, then transferring it onto floppy disk, using some kind of floppy disk drive. This could be either a built in floppy drive or a USB floppy drive. My first attempts to do this with a USB floppy drive have failed. After that, I plan to buy a sound upgrade cartridge called FM PAQ. This is a new reproduction of the classic MSX FM PAC cartridge by Eric Boez, an MSX enthusiast in France on . This module isn’t compatible with Yamaha’s SFG-01 or SFG-05 FM synthesiser modules in their CX5M and similar computers, but I hear it’s got more software support. I think the software and the music cartridge could both be totally amazing, but whatever it is, I can practically guarantee it will be a lot better than software for the Commodore 64! You can look forward to reading about it on here!

I have been encouraged by my new/old MSX2 computer to study Z80 Assembly Language/Machine Code again, this time from the book “Programming the Z80” by Rodnay Zaks. I haven’t got very far. However, in this book Rodnay Zaks makes the revelation that about 10% of people can write programs without making flowcharts first, but about 90% of people think they’re members of this 10%, so the programs they write crash, and as for the 10% who can write programs without making flowcharts, other people can’t understand how their programs work. I think this sums up TMR of the website . In other words he thinks “Flowcharts are for wimps!”

BTW, some recent news about programming MSX1 and similar systems with the Z80 CPU and TI99XX VDP video chip is on the YouTube channel Electric Adventures. A series started on 22-12-14 which is called “Let’s Make a Retro Game”. In this series Tony Cruise, a former writer on “Micro’s Gazette”, a fanatical Australian MSX/Spectravideo 318 and 328 magazine is using development software running on Microsoft Windows, such as a sprite editor (which combines two sprites into a single two colour sprite), and the BlueMSX emulator to develop a game to run on MSX1, Spectravideo 318/328, and the Colecovision console (which all use the Z80 CPU and TI99XX VDP), in Z80 Assembly Language, then show how to port it across to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC, which also use the Z80 CPU, but have different graphics chips. Finally, he plans to port the game to the 6502 based Atari 8 bitter, and even the crappy 6510 based Commodore 64! Warning: watching this final stage could blow your mind! Of course, once someone has understood this lesson, they could enhance the game to MSX2 standards by using a different display mode, multicoloured sprites, and even some FM music, or SCC music.

Finally, here’s a video clip showing a well known game that was first released on MSX2. This game is called “Metal Gear”! Try doing this on a C64 with its blocky 160×200 16 colour graphics!

Look forward to another post from me very soon now!

Posted February 6, 2015 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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