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The NEC Retro topic

Discussion in 'General Sega Discussion' started by Black Squirrel, Dec 31, 2021.

  1. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Hey remember this post from 2022? Because I didn't... or at least, not enough to actually act on what I said.

    It's the thrilling battle between two beige boxes:

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Any normal person would look at these two and think they're the same thing. And they should be, but they're not - the model on the right is the PC-9801 VM21, and it has more RAM. This means there's an entire library of games that it can play that the "old" VM machine on the left can't (without help).

    This annoyed me too much to make pages two years ago, but times have changed: PC-9801 VM21. We're up to 40-ish games listed for it so far, which if you're playing at home, means a larger library than the Sega 32X across all regions. And to be fair, while it's a stupid situation, it's not one NEC Retro can't cope with - editors just need to swap out "VM" for "VM21". And unlike the computers themselves, games were fairly clear if they needed a VM21 - there are outliers causing problems, but that's the same with any PC-98 system:

    [​IMG]
    Simple. Kinda. Because NEC kept two lines of PC-98 machines going at the same time - the VM(21) has 5.25-inch floppy drives, and the UV(21) has 3.5-inch drives. 80-90% of games were released for both formats - why NEC didn't fully transition to the 3.5-inch disk to stop this madness sooner is a mystery, but whatever.


    So you'd think it would be simple: VM and VM21, UV and UV21. But there's a catch - the V and U machines weren't released at the same time. In this case, the VM21 launched about 7 months before the UV21, which means between November 1986 and June 1987 you couldn't buy UV21-branded games. What happens then?

    [​IMG]
    This noise. A game launches for the brand new VM21, but also for the older UV (ignore the 2).

    So wait, if VM = UV, why would you need the 21? Because turns out, VM =/= UV.

    The PC-9801 UV has twice as much VRAM than the PC-9801 VM, because the former debuted 11 months after the latter (July 1985 vs. June 1986). This means theoretically UV games can be more complex than VM ones, though in practice the extra RAM in the UV wasn't tapped into... until the VM got a replacement. And unfortunately, this isn't the first time NEC did this - there were upgrades every year, so the two lines were constantly leapfrogging each other.

    This means the "pairings" look like this:

    M/U
    VM/U
    VM/UV
    VM21/UV
    VM21/UV21

    And of course you get games that just flat out refuse to ship on one type of disk, just because.


    The good news is that other than form factor and built-in FM chips, the core specs of the VM21 and UV21 remained the same (with a similar thing happening with the VX and UX), so by 1987 this stupidity had ended. Although because NEC were pretending that 3.5-inch drives could only appear in small computers, a good chunk of the expansion boards had to be re-released in smaller sizes. Because that's sensible.


    Anyway I've tried to keep on track of the VM/UV issue. Because I've made poor assumptions in the past, NEC Retro might be inventing versions of games. And of course, just because something's advertised in magazines doesn't mean it shipped to retail.


    There is one other issue: because NEC's plans were stupid, some publishers didn't bother with specifics, thus you can get 3.5-inch disks for "VM series" computers. And to be fair, you could always buy an external disk drive: you were never locked out of either software library, so thisn't an incorrect statement to make, but the lack of consistency does cause problems for NEC Retro.

    I am genuinely considering a special category for "games that lie", where the boxes and advertising don't reflect reality. If we discount storage media, since that's a big bag of worms, I think any game that claims compatibillty with a system, but actually needs hardware upgrades (e.g. graphics or RAM) to function would qualifiy.

    e.g. a "PC-9801 VM" game that needs 640K of RAM - it can't run without upgrades, therefore to claim it's compatible with the PC-9801 VM is a lie.
     
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  2. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    In the list of "tedious tasks I'm putting off for now", NEC Retro should be able to generate upgrade paths for older machines. So if you need more RAM, we can say "get this RAM board". There aren't that many combinations used by games, so it shouldn't be too tricky to list them all.


    And yeah, the first RAM board was the "PC-9801-02" and it gives you 128K. There's also an 02L and an 02N and I don't know why they're different, but whatever. The first PC-98s had 128KB, so if you need 256KB, get that.

    But what if you needed 512KB? I guess one option would be to buy three of these things - there's enough expansion ports, and I guess it would work(?). But wouldn't it be better if NEC would sell you a 256KB or 384KB board instead? They might not be there at launch in 1982, but you'd expect technology to progress eventually, right?

    [​IMG]

    Nope. I think NEC are calling this a "RAM support board" - still 128KB, but now you can attach a daughterboard to get more. How many daughterboards were there? Dunno. Might you still have to buy more than one of these things to get to 512KB? Dunno.

    Also some of these expansion boards don't work at certain clock speeds.



    ...I think I'm going to pass on this for now.
     
  3. Saad

    Saad

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    yeaaaaaaaaah, this was on my mind while working on all the models, didnt think of update paths necessarly, just listing all the expansion boards, the peripherals and the extra parts you can add to a model, and there's a lot of stuff to cover.

    There's model specific expansion boards; be it because of proprietary expansion slot buses which makes them (occasionally, the 98 Note series is an exception) incompatible with already existing boards, or because there's not enough expansion slots (the U line is the main example), so new unique (built-in) boards need to be made.

    o1058220794.1.jpg
    One of the most fun ones i come across is this, which apparently upgrades your lowergrade 386SX models into 486 ones.

    Another thing i was thinking off is peripheral compatibility, we already started cataloguing the games that are compatible with specific boards like the -26K. And not every game needs a mouse and keyboard, and some might be better with a joystick. Makes me wonder if there's any game that is compatible with the touch-screen peripherals.
     
  4. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    "i want the space game for my birthday"

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The life and times of Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu II. On PC-88 you can get a DX Kit and a DX Set, on PC-98 it's DX+Kit and DX+Set.
     
  5. BSonirachi

    BSonirachi

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    So with some games now having to be categorised as VM21 and UV21 games, I take it this guide will have to be rewritten accordingly:

    upload_2024-5-16_17-17-8.png
     
  6. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Yes

    I forget what I've written - that'll be before I discovered (a lot of) VM21/UV21-branded software (not seen any F3 stuff though).



    in other news

    I keep posting this list of PC-9801 software because it's the best we have. But having sifted through it a few times in the last few weeks, I'm starting to think it's stretching the truth slightly... or that some software is so rare that it may take years to find. Or both.

    Near the top is Shijigen no Ie or "4 Dimension House", a very early adventure game. I can't for the life of me find a PC-9801 version (or a PC-8801 version for that matter), just this advert that seems to claim it totally exists:

    [​IMG]

    I had a brief crisis of confidence when attempting to parse this though - there's a mention of the FM-7, but also a "GSX8800" and I had no idea what that was.


    [​IMG]
    Turns out it's another invention by pre-Kirby HAL Laboratory - a "General Sound Expander" which adds a couple of sound chips to a PC-8001 mkII and/or PC-8801. It's not a total unknown, but documentation is still sparse.

    http://www5f.biglobe.ne.jp/~apaslothy/tool/Gsx.html
    One thing I did find was this list of software that supposedly supports it and... most of them are Hudson Soft's Nintendo ports. I haven't dipped back into emulation (yet?) but they don't seem to mention GSX-8800 support on their boxes.

    [​IMG]

    HAL also made a trackball and called it CAT.

    [​IMG]

    How many games support this? Again, no idea.
     
  7. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Cat? Mouse? Hmm.



    Someone else can confirm or deny this, but I don't think any PC-9800 computers shipped with mice. PC-9821 machines seem to have (or at least advertised compatibility), but for anything older, you just got a keyboard as standard.

    It's not unusual - mice only became a must-have once graphical user interfaces became mainstream, and you'd have to wait until Windows 3.1 or 95 for that. But there are plenty of "simulation" games for the PC-9801, and some claim to have mouse support. We should probably make a list.

    But what does a PC-98 mouse look like? Well NEC confuses us by offering two options: the PC-9871 "mouse set" and PC-9872 stand-alone mouse.

    [​IMG]

    The PC-9871 is a "set" because it comes with an expansion board to let you use the thing - mice were not available for the computer at launch, and certainly weren't popular enough to warrant a dedicated port on the motherboard. The problem with offering two packages, however, is we don't have an official name for the device... which means I'm probably going to have to leave it as "mouse". Furthering the problems is the fact there were revisions like the PC-9728L and PC-9872R - they're all two-button ball mice which I assume behave exactly the same, but you tell me.


    Of course there is another name we could call it...

    [​IMG]

    Because hey, it's a Microsoft Mouse, just with a different connector (or the same connector, since Microsoft made a few we don't have great records). Later mice are NEC-badged but despite actually being produced by a Japanese company, the original mice were Microsoft-branded - exactly the same as their offerings in the West for the IBM PC.

    Modern Microsoft collects your data for advertising. 1983 Microsoft collected the dirt from your skin in its logo.
     
  8. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    And you want to know why consoles were so popular in Japan.

    [​IMG]

    My plans fell over at the first hurdle. Lemmings supports a mouse, yeah...

    ... a "Bus Mouse" (バス マウス). No support for the "Serial mouse" (シリアルマウス) - guess it was naive to think it was only a connector difference. If you bought the wrong mouse, you couldn't play the game, which is great given some games just say "mouse".


    In IBM world I was under the impression it didn't make any real difference what sort of mouse you had - the drivers would sort out the noise, so software could support both with minimal effort. Maybe not a thing in PC-98 world?
     
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  9. Saad

    Saad

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    Took a quick look at it and, firstly, i dont think any PC-9801 shipped with a mouse. Secondly
    Capture.JPG
    (this is a section of one of the 3 peripheral tables, and each table is a double page spread. TO REITERATE, there's a lot of peripherals to cover)

    The PC-9871/K were only for the original PC-9801, the PC-9801 E, F1 and F2, with the F3 using only the PC-9872K and PC-9872L. All other PC-9801 models only use the PC-9872 and its variants.

    So I think having a page for the Mouse thats compatible with most models, and the "Mouse Interface Set" for the first models is the way to go.


    World's quickest edit to include this too: Third Party mouses (mice?)!!! That's why there's that warning. My understanding is that the PC-9872 and its variants are bus mice(mouses?). Plugging a serial mouse into the bus mouse's port in the front of the computer is a sure fire way to mess a lot of stuff up, so that's even more of a reason to differenciate between bus and serial mice. One's for the front, the other is for the back (and needs special drivers).
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2024
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  10. Pirate Dragon

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  11. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    MIDI support is an awkward thing that I'm not sure the internet fully understands. It certainly hasn't been written down in an easy-to-parse manner.

    The MIDI standard was invented in 1983, but it wasn't until 1991 when "General MIDI" (GM) was introduced. Prior to this, a "piano" sound on one MIDI device might come through as a "guitar" on another - GM pairs instruments with numbers, so while you might get slightly different sounding pianos between manufacturers, you should be able to guarantee it'll be a piano.

    Before you could guarantee that, you had "de facto standards" headded by your favourite manufacturers. The MT-32 from 1987 is a prime example - Roland got there first, everyone followed Roland... except those who didn't. But it means that while the MT-32 is a MIDI device, it's not General MIDI compliant, and thus you had to compose music specifically for the MT-32 (or a device copying the MT-32's ideas).

    General MIDI was meant to ensure everyone was on equal footing, but despite advocating for it, GM wasn't good enough for Roland or Yamaha, who would go on to produce their own "extensions" to get more instruments and features. Which means anything optimised for the Roland "GS" specification wouldn't be compatible on Yamaha's "XG" devices. Luckily for NEC Retro, XG didn't arrive until 1994/1995 so that one shouldn't be an issue.

    The problem is GS. And by "problem" I mean "really lads?".

    Because apparently the very first General MIDI compliant device was the very first GS compliant device too. That is to say, for however many weeks or months in 1991, you could not buy a GM device that also wasn't a GS one (though I'm also told some early shipments weren't fully GM compatible because it debuted very close to the standard - can't confirm that yet).

    Anyway that device was...
    [​IMG]
    the Sound Canvas.

    The first device was called the Sound Canvas - the first in a long line of Sound Canvases. It has been retrospecfically re-Christened the "SC-55" because that's its model number, but from what I can tell, at launch, it was never called the SC-55. When games say they have Sound Canvas support, they mean this (though they're also sort-of incorrect - it's optimising for GS, just this was the only GS-compatible device at the time)... though I guess by doing so, it's defeated the purpose of General MIDI and we haven't acheived anything. Well done.

    Pretty much every Roland device is GS compatible, except for the SC-7 from 1993, a (presumably) budget option, launched about 18 months after the original Sound Canvas. For games this means you have two options:

    - GM: "Everybody including Roland"
    - GS: "Just Roland"

    (Incidentally "GS" doesn't seem to officially stand for anything. It is literally just "GS").


    The good news is that from NEC Retro's perspective, in most cases games will be targeting either GM, GS, or the older MT-32*. To bring back Princess Maker 2's long list of specs:

    [​IMG]
    Rather than claiming to be optimised for eight different MIDI modules, it's closer to two. Roland's CM-300, and Yamaha's CRX-T3 are General MIDI-compatible devices (the target is General MIDI), while the CM-32L, CM64 and LAPC-N are MT-32-compatible devices*. The CM-500 can do both because it's fancy. Princess Maker 2 doesn't make use of Roland's extra GS features.

    But yeah, most games post-1991 should neatly fit into those three categories. We shouldn't need in-depth coverage of 3409284023 MIDI modules, but of course it's not entirely avoidable because each module will have slightly different pianos.




    *though the MT-32 was only a pseudo-standard and so not all Roland devices pre-1991 can guarantee 100% compatibility. I think that's why we keep seeing CM-32 and CM-64s being mentioned - there might be slight differences between them all.
     
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  12. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    [​IMG]
    "Linear arithmetic synthesis". I've seen a couple of games group the MT-32 and friends under that banner, though I'm not sure it was official. But "LA", "GM" and "GS" makes things a little easier to comprehend I guess.

    This is Lunatic Dawn, which is all in on Roland.

    EDIT:

    [​IMG]
    Note to self: must pay attention.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2024 at 5:28 PM
  13. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Right let's sort his noise out

    All the MIDI combinations I think we need to care about (and some we don't), but I'm expecting to be wrong:

    - The MT-32 (1987; LA). Explained already - the first MIDI box, doing its own thing, popular in the West in the late 80s and early 90s, darling of the internet. There are technical differences between older and newer units but not enough to care about.

    - The CM-32L (1989; LA). An MT-32 without a display or buttons, in beige. It adds 33 extra samples (for sound effects mainly) that the MT-32 does not have. A select number of IBM PC games made use of those - I have no idea if this applies in PC-98 world.

    - The CM-32P (1989; PCM). This uses PCM wave table synthesis and is not really a thing in gaming, so I think we can discount that one.

    - The CM-64 (1989; LA/PCM). This is a CM-32L and CM32P combined into one unit. We don't care about the 32P-side so this is the same as the CM-32L.

    - The CM-300 (1991; GS). A GS MIDI device - essentially a Sound Canvas without buttons or screens. As GS was a standard we can just have a page for that. Oh look.

    - The CM-500 (1991; GS/LA/PCM). A CM-300 combined with a CM-64, except with some features taken away making it not very good at the CM-64 bit.

    - Other pre-1991 MIDI devices - there are some supported by games (see again: Police Quest II). We will care, but I don't know how much yet.

    other guff:

    - MT-100 - a revision of the MT-32. PC games don't care.
    - LAPC-I - an MT-32 in IBM PC card form. Not going to apply to us


    tl;dr: MIDI things to look out for

    - MT-32
    - CM-32L if it makes use of the extra features
    - General MIDI (GM)
    - GS
    - Anything else pre-1991 that isn't mentioned above
     
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  14. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Okay there was at least one PC-98 program that presumably took full advantage of the CM-64:
    [​IMG]

    "Musiro"(??) (ミュージ郎), which came in a package with all the bits you need. But this isn't a "game" - if we cover this, we have to start covering the likes of Microsoft Works and Borland C++ on NEC Retro. I'm not strictly against such an idea because literally nobody else will bother otherwise, but it's a lot of work.

    Then again I was hoping to find DOS/V productivity software that mentioned the Teradrive a few weeks ago, so meh.

    EDIT:

    I'd also like to think Genei Toshi used the extra features of CM-32L since there's a picture on the box:
    [​IMG]

    but you tell me
     
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  15. Saad

    Saad

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    Covering stuff that is strictly outside of the games is on my (paralyzingly long) to-do list; The different versions of BASIC for all the home/portable computer models (and also covering all the computers in the first place, The technical data books included the SV-98 in their list of PC-9800 models so i'm looking into those, not to mention the PC-8201 and PC-2001...). And more specifically in the PC-9800 space: the unique versions of N88-BASIC made for the 98LT/HA, PC-9801 P and its PenDOS, or the word processor that's compatible with the work station models' High-Res Mode. So I'm all for covering Musiro/Myushirou (idk what's a more correct romanization).
     
  16. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    This is how Google image search works

    Search for DOS/V, get PC-9801.
    Search for PC-9801, get PC-8801.
    Search for PC-8801, get... nothing. Or the MSX.

    Either way I've been pushing to get more games documented on NEC Retro, and the results right now are 826 PC-88 games and 712 PC-98 games. The full lists will easily top 1000 each - I've been avoiding the "less classy" software.

    You can track the progress:
    https://necretro.org/NEC_Retro:Todo/PC-8801
    https://necretro.org/NEC_Retro:Todo/PC-9801_2

    Plenty more pages can be made if you're prepared to fight the language, but we'd have to do a lot of digging in order to represent these libraries fully. The fact is, maybe half the games for these two platforms have not been dumped (or at least, made publicly available), particularly older software from 1982-1985. Other online lists are based on magazine advertisements alone, which doesn't guarantee a product was released, and if I can't prove it exists, I'm unlikely to make pages.


    It's the classic problem - NEC Retro needs the attention, but because the wiki isn't as feature-rich as Sega Retro, I tend to lose inspiration when I find I can't do things. SystemSoft, a relatively unknown developer in the West, must have published hundreds of games for NEC systems, but I can't generate an automated list, and nobody's around to maintain the underlying software.

    And it's a shame, because there's some genuinely weird and wonderful video games for old NEC computers:

    [​IMG]
    風へ 翼よ、愛あるところへ (Kaze e Tsubasa yo, ai Aru Tokoro e(?)) is a pidgeon racing simulator.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    surely this alone should have you interested
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2024 at 6:30 PM
  17. Overlord

    Overlord

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    How did that not get a port to the Spectrum? Geordie Racer looks far worse than this.
     
  18. Asagoth

    Asagoth

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    wiki stuff... and a beer... or two... or more...
    I'm not going to lie... I've never had any contact with NEC computers or consoles... and I'm as good at Japanese as I am at Egyptian Hieroglyphics... In short, I don't even know where to start :( ...