A microM8 update and a glimpse into the future of Paleotronic

We'll get there eventually! Wherever 'there' is...

The latest update to microM8 adds a few new features and fixes a few outstanding bugs.

  • Platoterm support
  • Mockingboard enhancement
  • Original Apple II and 13-sector disk support
  • Compatibility improvements
  • Taking microM8 (and Paleotronic) into the future

Firstly, we’ve enhanced our serial card emulation so that microM8 can run Platoterm, the graphical terminal used to connect to PLATO-based services such as Irata Online and Cyber1. PLATO was an educational on-line service developed by the University of Illinois during the 1960s and was active into the 1990s. But while its purpose was primarily educational, it fostered one of the first on-line communities, and its programming language, TUTOR, could (and was) also be used to create multi-player games.

On Cyber1 you can browse and take lessons on a number of topics, while Irata Online’s focus is more on retro-computing forums and gaming. To make it easy for you, we’ve provided direct links to the Platoterm client inside the Applications sub-menu of the microM8 menu, which automatically connects to the desired service. Check it out!

(Note: we’ll be adding these to the GUI soon, but in the meantime if you’re a GUI user you can find pre-configured Platoterm microPAK files in the /micropaks/comms/ folder inside the microM8 file catalog)

The improvements to our serial card emulation also now allows other terminal clients to work as well, such as AGATE, an ANSI-compatible (graphics not colour) terminal emulator that allows you to connect to BBSes that support ANSI graphics. You can find AGATE in the /micropaks/comms/ folder inside the microM8 file catalog (accessible with shift-control-`)

Not in colour (despite what the login splash says), but the graphics still look pretty cool.

Apple II demo-coder Vince ‘Deater’ Weaver released a new Mockingboard music player for VortexTracker files created for the ZX Spectrum and Atari ST computers. It sounded pretty good, but we quickly realised that on microM8 it was missing the bass! It turns out that the envelope generator inside the AY-3-8910 sound chip can also be used to generate audio frequencies (because why not?), and this technique was often used by chiptune creators for bass lines. So we’ve added that missing functionality and now it sounds much better! You can find PT3 Player in the /micropaks folder.

We’re also considering adding VortexTracker-style instruments to microTracker – stay tuned!

Next up, we realised it was weird calling ourselves an Apple II emulator without actually emulating an original Apple II. We had resisted adding it because microM8 is really disk-centric. But years ago someone had created a ROM with ‘autostart’ code from the Apple II+ merged into it. And so we’ve added both the ‘autostart’ II profile and an original non-autostarting Apple II (although getting a disk booting using the latter is a bit more complicated. At the * prompt, press Control-B and then hit Enter. Then type PR#6 and hit Enter… this is why we were excited about the autostart ROM!)

Now if you’re going to emulate an original Apple II, you probably also want to emulate the original 13-sector Disk II format as well…

This tries its best to be automatic but if you need to turn it on or off manually there’s a toggle in the microM8 menu under Hardware -> Disks -> Use 13 Sectors.

Apparently there were a few .WOZ files floating around (such as Elite) that didn’t work properly on microM8. It turned out it wasn’t the disk drive that was the problem – our understanding of how the CPU break flag worked wasn’t quite right. But we’ve figured it out, and now those titles work. Hooray!

Finally, while we have you here, we’d like to talk for a moment about the future of Paleotronic. Being honest, we were rather upset by the failure of GORF, and dismayed by the lack of support we received from the retro-computing community here in Australia. Promises were made and broken. People who we thought supported us didn’t. While some of this stemmed from a clash of personalities, some of it seemingly came from something more insidious – a desire (and effort) to see us fail. And so we did.

It was very disheartening. This caused us to re-evaluate what we were doing, and who we were doing it for.

While it’s certainly more comfortable to play to an existing crowd (older people interested in retro-computing due to nostalgia), that’s not really what Paleotronic was supposed to be about. But it became that: with microM8 we began to focus (became obsessed, frankly) more on the accuracy of our emulation than on the educational or creative aspects, the latter two more representative of what microM8 was meant to be. But we became (intoxicated) slaves to our (very nice) download numbers and a desire to see them continue meant we spent an inordinate amount of time chasing issues related to a very (very) small selection of software or limited functionality that in all honesty very few people care about. Enough! 

The next issue is still coming…

Similarly, because the majority of Paleotronic Magazine’s subscribers are nostalgics, it became full of ‘member berries‘. This was fun but also not really where we had initially meant to be heading. We want to promote retro-technology awareness and education towards those who weren’t actually alive when said technology was state-of-the-art, not to those who lived through it (as much as we value you!).

While it’s hard to act contrary to the desires of our existing audience, we don’t want to get completely frustrated and burn it all down, and so we’ve shifted focus towards developing a more educational, project-based format, where the exploration of history is mainly there to provide context for practical applications (such as electronics and programming), and is not the attraction itself. We’re going to heavily integrate it with microM8 and an associated storyworld and target it towards older children and young adults – the audience we really want to engage.

Maybe not ‘for kids’ as this mockup suggests but younger people, definitely…

This new magazine will be called microMates, and its first issue will make up the back third of the next (and maybe final) issue of Paleotronic, due out in July (promise!)

microMates will be a smaller magazine, released more regularly, with more of a focus on creation – a retro-‘maker’ magazine, perhaps.

microM8’s focus will similarly turn towards creation tools, enhanced programming languages (we recently re-wrote the Logo parser to be re-usable for other languages such as Pascal) and interactive (maybe even video) tutorials.

microM8 will still be a decent Apple II emulator, but we really want to get people using it for more than just playing old games. We want them to (learn how to) make things! Hopefully lots of things. That will make us happy.

Details are still being worked out, but this is definitely where we want to go. We’ll keep you posted as things develop.

Thanks for flying with Paleotronic!

 

 

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