Tuesday, September 13, 2016
The printed circuit boards and parts arrived. I put a few boards together so that I could get a few pictures made up for the blog, website, kit construction instructions and to test out distribution options.
The only thing that concerned me at first was the rainbow ribbon cable I received from Futurlec. Compared to what I was used to, it was more rigid and transparent between the cores. Looking into it further I found that it has the same gauge, 28AWG, as the stuff I was sourcing locally except the insulation around the cores is reduced. It's more than adequate for the 4play card but I'm happy to use the more popular grey AWM2651 cable if one prefers that option. Just make a note when ordering. The locally sourced rainbow ribbon cable is roughly three times the price of the other two.
A fair bit of time was spent in trying to find cost reductions so as to make the product as affordable as possible. Some changes resulted in small savings but others surprised me as to how much of a difference they made. For example, by removing the non functioning gold fingers from the card's edge connector resulted in savings of more than a quarter of the printed circuit board's production costs. Also one of my pet hates when purchasing goods is unnecessary high postage costs. When looking at packing options for the 4play card I was able to determine that if the packaging was no more than 2cm thick then I was able to use padded envelopes instead of parcels to cut postage costs in half or even more depending on the destination. I'm hoping that by delaying the product's availability and time spent sorting everything out has payed off as I'm all for providing the best product at the best possible price.
My biggest dilemma was what to do about an ordering system. One thing about the retro computer community is that there is no shortage of examples. The variety of different solutions ranging from using the email system all the way through to full on web stores is amazing. I listed all the things I wanted out of the system and it became clear that the best solution for me was going to be a custom website. I just wasn't sure about how much effort was going to be needed to pull it off. I was already familiar with Blogger and found that people have used it to turn their blogs into web stores. I didn't want to go to that extreme straight away so after a crash course in HTML hacking and a weekend of playing around I managed to put together a webpage where I can customise the order to each customer's situation. It's flexible enough for any unexpected changes and it will be able to provide up to date product availability information. At this stage it's not capable of handling multiple products and it's not going to win this year's most impressive website award but I'm hoping it will be enough to get the job done.
The site is called "Lukazi's Loot" and the link to it is here. http://lukazisloot.blogspot.com.au/
I plan on keeping only the parts available on hand. Each card will be put together on an order by order basis so by doing this I'm hoping it will result in the product being available on a more regular basis than just being batch driven.
Construction instructions for those that wish to built the product themselves can be found here. https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B5PVarmqxaOnS2ZxZWRKSDg5WE0
In today's fast paced world where the norm is to find technology products being developed by large teams of people it's great to find a place such as the vintage computer community where one can immerse themselves into all levels of a product's life cycle, be it software, hardware or both and still have fun at the same time. I really enjoyed the experience of taking a product from concept to the final product stage but I could not have done it alone. Thank-you to everyone who provided assistance with the project, advice or just support.
Do yourself a favour. Experience something different.
From the time I recreated the Sirius Joyport device (the digital joystick part of the card) in 2009 I have wondered if producing a Sirius Joyport clone would have been a good idea. Several people have asked me about it but I have turned them down. The Joyport works well on the Apple II and II+ machines but not on the IIe and IIGS which accounts for the majority of today's Apple II users (the IIc doesn't count because it can't use the Joyport ie it doesn't have the 16 pin Game Port socket). When attached to a IIe or IIGS the Joyport causes the machine to go into self test mode on reboot. This happens because the self test mode is tied to the Open and Close Apple keys / paddle buttons and the Joyport sets these paddle buttons to high by default. This problem is not only an annoyance but it could be causing the computer harm. I'm happy to take that risk with my own computers but I don't want to be doing that with other people's machines. There is no signal on the Game Port to let you know that the computer is rebooting so on my Joyport hardware I have added a power button. Even with this power button it's difficult to get into the habit of turning it off every time you want to reboot. The best thing I was able to come up with is possibly adding some sort of pressure pad where the joystick, when placed on the table, is powered off but when it's picked up it turns on.
While waiting for the 4play boards and parts to arrive I wondered if there was a better solution to the Joyport situation. Since I'm already communicating with Atari style joysticks using the 4play card I wanted to find out how difficult it would be to convert the Joyport games into being 4play compliant. It turns out to be very easy. I have converted a few of my favourite Joyport games to work with the 4play card. These programs include Boulder Dash, Boulder Dash II, Seadragon, Spy' Demise and Wavy Navy. So now there is an alternate way to enjoy these titles using digital joysticks. Not only have I converted the games but I have improved the functionality where possible. For example take Seadragon. This game requires two triggers to play the game. Trigger 1 is for torpedoes and trigger 2 is for the screen bomb. Since the Joyport is only a single trigger solution, to play Seadragon using that device you need to play with a digital joystick but use the keyboard for the second trigger. How annoying is that! I was able to convert Seadragon to use both triggers on the 4play device.
Each conversion was different. Spy's Demise was the easiest to convert because it only uses the left and right directions for gameplay. Seadragon was the most involved only because I wanted to improve on the dual trigger functionality. Unlike Antoine's conversion of Lode Runner or Jesse's conversion of Kaboom!, I haven't written the code to automatically check for which slot the 4play is plugged into. All my conversions assume the 4play card is inserted into slot 4. If you're using a different slot then you will need to change any occurrence of the code "AD C0 C0: LDA C0C0" to what is required by the above picture ie if your card is in slot 7 then your code should read "AD F0 C0: LDA C0F0".
I would like to thank the developers of Ciderpress, AppleWin and Omnivore for making it easy for me to perform the conversions on a modern day computer.
You can find the converted disk images and the description notes on how the Joyport games were converted here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=1U2ZaPhB8TDHceTgKS-jVUeXZNNv4KEq7
Update: 16th January 2017.
I have provided a link here from Brutal Deluxe Software which contains 8-bit routines to help with programming the card and also a patched version of Lode Runner: http://www.brutaldeluxe.fr/sourcecode/4play.html