Interesting Developments: microM8, diskM8 and Passport

Apple IIe emulator and disk tools

A couple of years ago, we here at Paleotronic were rattling our collective brains over a conundrum: how could we get more people (particularly young people) better interested in engaging with (read: playing) vintage computer software, specifically that written for the Apple II?

Of course, you could already download one of a few emulators, get some disk images, read some documentation and figure out how to get them working – but that process wasn’t very user friendly, and we decided we wanted to streamline it somewhat.

And so, we built an Apple II emulator (for Windows, MacOS and Linux, to make sure no one was left out) that had a built-in on-line library of both BASIC programs and disk images, which cut a few steps out of the process of discovering (and learning from) classic Apple II software. You can just browse the library, choose a disk and play. Simple.

We also built our own BASIC and (3D!) LOGO interpreters, so that you didn’t have to go through the hassle of booting a disk image to explore these vintage programming languages, and took the opportunity to refine their user interfaces a bit, introducing features such as command-line history, better command-line editing, and full-screen editors to aid in writing code.

While we were at it, we introduced text colours (something the real Apple II lacks), an 80×48 text mode, graphics characters (like the Commodore’s PETSCII), sound commands and other niceties to make Applesoft BASIC more featureful.  Users could “upcycle” BASIC programs with these new functions, if they were so inclined.  (We’re still working on adding all the commands we want, but soon you’ll be able to engage in all sorts of magic, so stay tuned!)

But we still had a fairly serious problem: younger users still found Apple II games to be boring! Which, to be fair, by modern standards they sort-of are. They’re flat, most of them are pretty static and don’t move around much, they don’t sound very good, and the Apple II’s limited colour palette doesn’t help, either. So, what could we do?

Well, an emulator doesn’t necessarily need to emulate everything. I mean, if you want an authentic(ish) experience, microM8 (and several other emulators) can provide that. But what if you don’t? What if you want to be better engaged? Well, there’s nothing to stop an emulator from remapping colours –check. What if we rendered the pixels as cubes, and let the user move the camera around? Check. What if we let them place images behind the Apple II’s graphics to liven things up a bit? Check. What if you could shift cubes forward or back based on colour, to enhance the 3D effect? Check! Background music? Memory-trapped sound effects? Check and check.

What if users could write BASIC “control” programs to manipulate vintage games while they were playing? Check. And finally, how do we put all of this together? We created a new file type, a microPAK, which bundles together all of the configuration files, original software, control programs, background images, sound files and whatever else. Some examples of microPAKs are shown to the right. Check them out by downloading microM8 from microM8.com

So, how do you get your copy-protected disks into an emulator like microM8? The Apple II deprotectionist known as 4am has released a tool that automatically removes a number of different copy protection schemes from original commercially-sold floppy disks. All you need is an Apple II (or II+, IIe or IIc) with two disk drives.

After downloading a copy of the Passport disk image from the link below and writing it to a real floppy using ATDPro, you simply boot the newly created Passport disk, remove it, and then insert the disk to be deprotected in your first drive and a blank floppy in your second drive.

After you press your C key, Passport will duplicate the original disk, then set to work scanning for various copy protection methods, removing them when it finds them. If all goes well, you’ll end up with a deprotected copy which can itself be duplicated, or imaged to run in an emulator. Passport can find and remove 60 different copy protection schemes. So, save your aging floppy disks today. Get Passport!

Download it from github.com/a2-4am/passport/releases

So, what if you’ve deprotected your collection of Apple II disks, then imaged them on to your computer, and you want to see which of them are unique and haven’t already been recovered and shared by someone else? Well, there’s a tool for that too!

diskM8 is a command-line program for Windows, MacOS and Linux that  helps you work with Apple II disk images. You can read and write files to and from them, detokenise and retokenise BASIC files, copy files between disk images, and more!

But diskM8’s neatest trick is that, after “ingesting” your disk image collection, it can compare all of them, finding not just complete duplicates, but also “active” data copies (disks copied over other disks), and disks that only have a small percentage of differing information (such as a high score file). Using diskM8, you can weed out non-unique disks, and find out if you’ve discovered a bit of vintage data gold.

Get it from github.com/paleotronic/diskm8/releases

 

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