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[personal profile] krpalmer
Years and years ago, back when we were a "Radio Shack family" when it came to computers and, convinced that pretty much all computers more or less just used black, white, blue, and red (the latter two just "artifact colours" to boot, the way a tweed suit might "shimmer" on an old TV) for their graphics, I was more than content in an unconscious sort of way with that, one of the Color Computer games we had on our anonymous collection of floppy diskettes was called "Androne."

Your computer has been invaded by Data Bugs. Call on Androne, a user-controlled robot to hunt through your memory banks and "de-bug" them.
(from Radio Shack computer catalog RSC-12)

It was, I suppose, a mid-1980s-vintage take on the "first-person shooter," which involved steering step-by-step through a maze (with Pac-Man like markers on the passage floors you hadn't already been down), shooting down flying eye things on the way to zapping Maltese cross-like targets. I might not have played that game any more than any of the other games we had, but what might have made it catch in my mind was that one day, the diskette it was on just wouldn't load any more. That might, perhaps, have been the sort of small loss that sticks just because it is so trivial.

Hurtling up to the present, one day my small interest in emulator programs meant I happened to hear of a new TRS-80 emulator available for my current computer. I managed to download not just it but, more importantly, some disk images of programs for the very first Radio Shack computer. (That in itself left me thinking, as I did a decade ago when I found a previous TRS-80 emulator that wouldn't run on my current operating system, that an emulator program, just by including disk support, ran well beyond how the TRS-80 we actually had was ever equipped...) I indulged myself fiddling around with some very antique video games, their graphics just one low step up from "ASCII graphics" (although given how "ASCII graphics" can have their own certain cachet, there might be nostalgia packed in there unimaginable when "TRS-80 games" faded away a few years before the computers themselves did...) However, all of it might have just started me thinking about things I already knew about and more things I couldn't figure out about one particular game on a somewhat later Radio Shack computer.

I knew where to find an image file of the ROM cartridge "Androne" had originally come on before someone or other managed to copy it to a diskette to find its way into my family's software collection. I also knew about a Color Computer emulator programmed in Java that runs in browsers. What I hadn't been able to figure out was how to get the ROM image into the emulator. Not that long after I heard of the TRS-80 emulator, though, I also heard for the first time of a different Color Computer emulator, one I could load ROM images into... but not that long after seeing "Androne's" title screen for the first time in years, I realised something about the emulator's joystick support seemed lacking somehow. I could step through the first-person-perspective maze, but when the flying eyes came hurtling at me, I basically couldn't shoot them down, somewhat reminiscent of a gameplay video available online.

It was frustrating in as trivial yet meaningful a way as the initial loss of the game had been, but by now I seemed focused. I did happen to know of a few Color Computer emulators that ran under MS-DOS; intent on pushing the "Dosbox" emulator to its limit, I tried starting up them but didn't get very far. I also knew about yet another Color Computer emulator, one for the upgraded "Color Computer 3" no less, but this one ran in Windows. Getting even the most basic version of Windows and the associated virtualization software seemed a ridiculous outlay of money to run just one program doing just one thing I couldn't do with an operating system I was quite happy with.

However, in hunting down bits of information I'd seen a comment or two about how some Linux users had got the emulator running using "Wine," one of the programs that does indeed run using that. In poking into the topic, I discovered a click-and-go package, and resolving myself to take the leap, it wasn't long before I had an X11 window open with the familiar black-on-green startup screen of a Color Computer in it... but on loading the ROM image, satisfaction with being able to not just navigate but shoot only lasted until I realised the emulator was running with an odd sluggishness. Was it just my own fault for not having the tinkering fortitude to run Linux itself? One idea about the "winetricks" in the installer mentioning DirectX came to me overnight, and I all but leapt out of bed the next morning to try it out... but it didn't speed things up any. I did more searching, and tried editing the registry to activate OpenGL support... and that kept the program from working at all.

I might have been getting close to wondering if the grail would remain just beyond my grasp. Then, I managed to remember a different comment I'd run across, one about letting the program window run on a "virtual desktop" activated in a different part of the configurations option... and while I hadn't seen beforehand how that could make a difference, it did. Now, the game was running at speed... and for at least a little while, I was wondering if it had been easier to shoot the flying eyes when it had been sluggish.

It was all, I suppose, a lot of trouble for just eight kilobytes of machine langage code. For the excessive effort I put into it, though, there was some satisfaction at the end. As well, I now know a little bit more about software tools and options, and there was plenty of nostalgia along the way.

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