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Speed and difficulty of older games

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by MV10, Jul 30, 2016.

  1. MV10

    MV10

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    Testing? lol ... This was 1986.

    "Do you see any smoke? No? Cool, it was supposed to be at the store an hour ago."

    Although assembly seems daunting, the machines in those days were so simple and expectations were so low, it really wasn't all that bad.

    The most difficult assembly program I ever wrote generated rotating 3D wireframe geometric figures on a TRS-80 Color Computer with a hand-built 128K bubble-memory cartridge I built with my father. That was about 1985. Trig in assembly -- that's a bit hairy (and worse, trig in general was new to me). It used every last bit of that 128K and squeezed that 1MHz 6809 to within an inch of its life. Actually I think it ran at less than 1MHz, can't remember if that was the original CoCo or the slightly faster CoCo2.

    I also once wrote a 6809 program that digitized audio from the cassette tape port. It could hold about 35 or 40 seconds of mono audio at about 8kHz playback (e.g. scratchy and noisy). I amazed my friends with clips from Missing Person's "Walking in LA" lol. It wasn't all that hard to write but it got me a magazine article, which in those days was big money to a high school student (around $150 to $350 depending on the magazine and article).

    Christ I suddenly feel like an old man.
     
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  2. imaginaryhuman

    imaginaryhuman

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    Assembly languages are cool. So simple and straightforward, but also take a LOT of instructions to get complicated stuff done, lol. I programmed in 68k on the Amiga a fair bit... loved the speed and efficiency and optimization potential, but higher-level stuff took so long to implement. Hats off to any assembly-language programmer, it's a dark art.
     
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  3. MV10

    MV10

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    I'm jealous, the Amiga had some pretty cool hardware for its time. By the time I had cool hardware on my desk (SGI IRIS Indigo) I was, sadly, long past my assembly days.
     
  4. longroadhwy

    longroadhwy

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    I was expecting a full test suite. :)

    What made you pick a TRS-80 Color computer rather than something like an Atari 800 computer?

    What magazine were you writing for?
     
  5. Ryiah

    Ryiah

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    Wasn't the CoCo way less expensive than the Atari 800? Sites I'm checking suggest less than half the price.
     
  6. MV10

    MV10

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    I was a kid, so my dad chose our computers. Never thought to ask why. I wrote articles for Hot CoCo, Soft Sector, and others I've since forgotten the names of. My 4X game with the creative title "Galactic Empire" made the cover of Soft Sector. Check out those AAA graphics!

    http://www.eriscreations.com/sanyo/softsector_1.html

     
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  7. longroadhwy

    longroadhwy

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    Wonderful AAA graphics ... I was about to ask where can I place my order. :)

    Was your 4X game all in assembly? How did you handle input for your game? Did you support only keyboard?
     
  8. longroadhwy

    longroadhwy

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    Apple II were quite common and they were much more expensive than Atari. But price is not everything.

    Since @MV10 did a large amount of assembly work I thought he would have had an Atari. The Atari 400/800 computer series you could get the entire operating system in printed form and all in assembly.

    You can see a picture of the manual (it was 2 or 3 inches thick) at this URL.

    http://atariage.com/forums/topic/201133-os-source-code-all-revisions/ (see msg #15)
     
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  9. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    Fantastic stuff. Thanks for linking to the digital mag download. Always like seeing those old computer mags. Reading the article about the game it seems pretty impressive especially for a BASIC type-in. I miss those days. lol

    Game still looks great to me. Nice work!
     
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  10. MV10

    MV10

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    Ha, nice, I didn't notice they linked to a PDF! I still have a copy of the print magazine stashed in a file cabinet, but hadn't actually looked at the code in probably 10+ years.

    On the TRS-80 product line memory was so limited you normally blew away the OS once your program was loaded. I never had any model of TRS-80 with a hard drive (they became available at vaguely affordable prices only at the very distant end of the product line) but it was even fairly routine to write your own floppy I/O (once we got fancy enough to move away from tape). Mostly you just synced to the signal when that little hole in the floppy went past the sensor, the steppers and motors were so crude that all the timing was pretty easy to work out (and the macro assembler made it relatively easy to link to certain routines stored in ROM).
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2016
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  11. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    I toyed around with a robotron 2084 clone. Was fun to work on one of my all time favorite classics.

    PS - Love this thread!

    Gigi
     
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  12. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I feel like this pattern has shifted to YouTube. I see much the same thing in my daily subscriptions stream. "Hi, I'm Some Gaming Channel, and I'm doing a walkthrough of Fallout 4 on Survival Difficulty, and I'm not allowing myself to use most of the game's mechanics! Oh, and I'm going to beat it." Followed by about 100 videos of said channel doing exactly that despite the self-imposed challenge, in addition to mechanical challenges created by the game's developers.

    The point of developing mastery, showing it off, and that mastery leading people to aspire to that level is nothing new, it's a fundamental part of the human psyche.

    Also, the "Some Gaming Channel" in question is This one by Major Slack Attack. It's insane, he was crazy to do it...and he completed it. Yes, he did. He's freaking insane.
     
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  13. MV10

    MV10

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    Oh and the really fun part? Back then we generally didn't have debuggers. (Which, come to think of it, is kind of similar to writing shaders.)
     
  14. Martin_H

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  15. tiggus

    tiggus

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    I loved Defender. My dad's roomate actually got so good at it on the Atari 5400 that:

    a) he had to visit the Dr. and get a hand cast for carpal tunnel
    b) he got such a high score he took a picture of it and mailed it to Atari for some reward
     
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  16. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    A better opportunity to advertise something like this.

    CMB PRG Studio

    Using that this past winter I wrote my first C64 Assembly language program in about 25 years. Was amazed to find that I still remembered the instruction set and hardware addresses well enough to do it. Of course, it was just a very simple program clearing the display and writing out a message. But it was just fantastic to run with Vice emulator and see it work.
     
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  17. MV10

    MV10

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    You haven't lived until you've successfully POKEd an entire page of graphics from an interpreter.
     
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  18. longroadhwy

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    Very interesting. Was the TRS-80 disk operating system that inefficient that you resorted to writing your own floppy i/o? Or was more an application specific issue?


    The was fun. Did you learn any other languages other than assembler and basic during that time?
     
  19. MV10

    MV10

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    There really wasn't much of a disk OS per se (although the CoCo did have an aftermarket DOS called OS/9 available, which I owned but don't remember ever actually using for anything). All the machines around that time normally loaded up a BASIC interpreter from ROM and it had some disk-specific commands glommed on. But usually in assembly it was just preferable to free up the memory for your program rather than keeping all of that around just to do some relatively easy disk IO. As I vaguely recall, you just built your data blocks in a specific chunk of memory, pointed registers to it and another block for the actual file info, then looped until the timing was right and triggered an interrupt. So I guess we still weren't really controlling the IO that much, though it's a far cry from arbitrarily pumping bytes into a file stream. And keep in mind the memory restrictions of the time -- a single-sided floppy didn't hold much, so you normally weren't writing more than a few bytes to save state. Even a full screen of graphics was only something like 6K.

    I couldn't begin to count the number of languages I've learned (and forgotten). Back then I used everything I could get my hands on. Pascal was trendy back then. Thanks to my first real job, I got into the beta test programs for Quickbasic, QuickC, and later on Visual Basic (which was pretty revolutionary in the Win3.1 days, compared to writing in C against the Windows API). I fricking loved QuickC. It was like programmer-crack. At one point I was convinced Turbo Prolog was the last language anybody would ever need. Somehow my dad got me into the local college for a FORTRAN class when I was about 13 or 14. On the first programming job resume I ever wrote I listed 29 languages.

    There was one interesting language that was specifically designed for graphics -- GRASP, which I think stood for Graphical System for Presentations. I made good side-money using it to write looping eye-catcher/advertising demos for computer stores. That's how I ended up getting my first full-time programming job. I'd written code my whole life and it didn't occur to me I could do it for a living. I was working in a hospital OR sterilizing surgical equipment, and working nights at a convenience store. A guy saw the demo and asked my dad (who ran a computer store) who wrote it, and a few days later I was a Real Programmer.

    Since my wife and I have played around with the 'duino product line, I've been giving some thought to going back to assembly on that platform. But, as always, there is a severe lack of spare time.
     
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  20. MV10

    MV10

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  21. tiggus

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    3d printer + arduino = lots of fun. Though why would you do assembly when it has a C api?
     
  22. MV10

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    By that same reasoning, I own a few Netduinos, too, so why use C when I can use C# and most of .NET? But the answer is, because I keep being overcome by a masochistic urge to pick up assembly again. :)
     
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  23. MV10

    MV10

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    And, of course, a 'duino project seems like a scope for an assembly project that I have a chance of finishing. Over the years I've noticed as the tools improve the scope of projects that a single developer might tackle seems to expand accordingly. I have a whole box of duino-stackable bits -- motor controllers, GPS units, etc. -- and keep telling myself I'll automate a lawn mower. Elsewhere in the forum I was speculating about testing my 'duino algorithms inside a Unity simulated environment. Talk about mixing both ends of the spectrum.
     
  24. Martin_H

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    "What could go wrong?"
    -Famous last words
     
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  25. MV10

    MV10

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    Everyone remain calm, Max the Mower is perfectly safe, I assure you.

    1.jpg
     
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  26. guavaman

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    While I'm sure the monetization model was a factor, I believe that the monetization model was actually a result of the game design and the limitations of the tech and not the inverse (at least initially). If you think about it, in the very early days of arcades, games were essentially digital sports. Pong was based on table tennis and is by nature short-attention-span and highly skill based. You didn't play to win the game (beat all the levels), you played to hone your skills, beat your friends, and get the high score (staying alive as long as possible). There were no levels to beat or quests to finish. Even when games branched out from pong to shooting aliens, killing bugs, racing, etc., they were all highly skill based, repetitive, and very small in scope -- again, digital sports. The early years of consoles were the same, still largely focusing on skill challenges rather than providing an expansive experience. Only much later (NES+) as the tech matured did most game design start to focus more on expansive linear content than on pure game mechanics. In my view, the best games focused on both (Super Mario Bros is a good example.) Even then, most games still had very limited lives and continues and were too frustrating for casual players.

    I too have lost my patience with extremely difficult games, including some games I didn't consider all that hard back in the day.. Maybe I'm just too old. :p Use it or lose it I guess.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2016
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  27. MV10

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    In the Robotron post-mortem he points out the game pulled in $1 billion... in 1986 dollars... one quarter at a time. (As ROI goes on 6 months of effort that's pretty sweet.) Monetization probably wasn't on the radar in the absolute earliest days (Pong), but it didn't take long for everybody to figure it out.

    (By the way, Random Internet Inflation Calculators show that $1 billion in 1986 would be about $2.2 billion today.)
     
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  28. guavaman

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    Wow that's a lot of green! :eek: I guess my point was, the precedent was set long before Robotron as to how most games were designed and monetized, the monetization scheme stemming naturally from the small scope, repetitive, skill-based design. Certainly they could have been tuning the difficulty to target a more hardcore audience to make them pump in quarters even faster as in the case of Robotron, but apart from that, the pattern was already set and rarely deviated from. That's just how I view it, but it's a bit of a chicken and egg issue really.
     
  29. MV10

    MV10

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    Heck Asteroids made $800 million. Defender was another billion-dollar game, Pac Man and all it's variants pulled down something like $4.5 billion, and Space Invaders got close to $3 billion (and that was a very early game). I've read Space Invaders was the big eye-opener in terms of "hey we can get rich off this."

    All those stand-up games had at least easy/medium/hard difficulty settings, and most also let you set things like number of lives, or even things like the speed of the enemies. Kids learned which arcades set the machines to the hardest settings, I imagine that was fairly counter-productive. (The same friend who found me that Space Duel machine had about six or eight machines of his own, plus four or five pinball machines, and for awhile he worked on arcade machines, so I was around most of them fairly regularly.)

    It was funny, actually, part of his job was making the rounds to gas stations and convenience stores to empty the coin boxes. By the end of the day, every day, he was lugging around thousands of dollars in quarters.

    (PS -- Just noticed you're the Rewired guy. Best. Asset. EVER.)
     
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  30. guavaman

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    :D Thanks!

    Ahh, the memories. We had 13 arcades at home I believe, mainly because my mom never liked the seedy (read: cool) arcade places in those days. (Yes, very spoiled. :p) They spanned time periods from Space Invaders to Crystal Castles... I think that was the newest one we had. The trackball was the most awesome input device ever for mad, frenzied mayhem. I can remember smacking on that ball as fast as I could trying (in vain, of course) to get away from the killer bee swarm ripping toward me at 95 mph. The most awesome part was when your hand got pinched between the side of the spinning ball and the machine during a mad dash. Now that's what I call tactile feedback! Centipede was the worst offender because the trackball was so small. Joust was another awesome game. I had an amazing proficiency for skewering the pterodactyls even at high levels when there were a ton of them on the screen. I guess that's a good skill to have if we're ever invaded by giant alien pterodactyls.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
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  31. longroadhwy

    longroadhwy

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    That is amazing 29 languages. Did you write code for mainframes also? The old Atari 810 was 88K disks and Atari 1050 was 127K disks. The same company that wrote Apple DOS also wrote the Atari DOS and other variants plus various languages for the Atari series of computers. They really loved assembly language. Bill Wilkinson was one of the developers at OSS (optimized system software).

    http://ataripodcast.libsyn.com/antic-interview-7-the-atari-8-bit-podcast-bill-wilkinson-oss

    There is also an article on Atari DOS also by the same group of developers.

    http://laughton.com/paul/abps/oss/two_births.html

    There are some really good podcasts of various other Atari developers (consumer and coin-op divisions) on this site.

    http://ataripodcast.libsyn.com/

    NOTE: Antic was name of one the Atari chips. It is funny when you mention POKE ... because the POKEY chip was the name of the sound chip used by Atari.
     
  32. longroadhwy

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    Wow 13 is a huge number. That explains your strong interest in input devices. :)

    There was only one true trackball in my opinion and that was the Trak-Ball used on Atari Football (1978) and original versions of Missile Command 1980). The smaller Trak-Ball (Centipede/Millipede/Liberator/Crystal Castles) was much more work in my opinion compared to its larger parent.

    Have you seen the GDC post mortem on Crystal Castles?

     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
  33. guavaman

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    Interesting! I never played the arcade Missile Command. Looking at the pictures online, the trackball looks the same size as the one on Millipede and Crystal Castles. Centipede had a very small trackball, but the other two had a large one.







    I haven't seen that. Looks cool, I'll definitely watch it. Thanks!

    Awww yeah!! Probably my favorite 2600 game of all time! The paddles were awesome!
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
  34. MV10

    MV10

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    Nah I didn't do anything on mainframes until pretty recently, maybe 2008. They're all boring database stuff. It's like the programming equivalent of having a government job.
     
  35. longroadhwy

    longroadhwy

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    The Missile Command (standard version) and the Atari FootBall'sTrak-Ball was 4.5 inches and the others were 3 inches and 2.25 inches. If you look at this URL you can see the standard Missile Command Trak-Ball and housing. Since one of the pictures show it being held in someone's hand you get a better understanding of the size.

    http://driph.com/words/2008/11/polishing-balls/

    If you look at SuzoHapp you can see some of the various trackballs and size comparison next to each other.

    https://na.suzohapp.com/wp/search.p?Q=trackball

    Missile Command (standup version) did have the capability to use the smaller Trak-Ball like you can see in the cocktail version of Missile Command (see video below). There was a dip switch to use mini Trak-Ball instead of the standard upright version of Missile Command.



    Speaking of arcade controls this is probably the most full featured set that I have seen to date. It includes joysticks, spinner, trackball and a Yoke (i.e. Atari FireFox/Star Wars style yoke). This is the first time I have seen a yoke included before in such a setup.

    http://arcadecontrols.com/arcade_joey.htm
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
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  36. TurboNuke

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    Damn, too late to a (partly) asm progrmming thread. We even used to write our own PC tools in asm - I remade DPaint mainly cos the PC version had a slow flood fill, and a bug with the xflip in grid mode.
    Sorry, I'll get out of here. :)
     
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  37. longroadhwy

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    It is good to see that many people are still interested in assembly these days. Speaking of DPaint ... EA has donated the DPaint source code to the computer history museum ...

    http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/electronic-arts-deluxepaint-early-source-code/
     
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  38. guavaman

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    Ahh, it's hard to see a difference of 1.5 inches in diameter with only part of the ball sticking out in the pics. That's one massive trakball! If I ever build an arcade cabinet, I'll make sure to get that size.

    That's an awesome setup there. That would make a fun project someday.

    Oh my... DPaint! I can't tell you how much time me and my siblings spent designing games and drawing the art in DPaint 4 on the Amiga. Too bad I wasn't into programming at the time and none of the games ever got made. :p If the source code for DPaint 4 were available, I'd snap that up and try to port it to Windows. :)
     
  39. longroadhwy

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    I am guessing you never had to program in mumps? (not the disease but this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUMPS )

    Since you owned a space duel were you ever interested in getting more arcade machines?

    Also any interest in making your own input control panel (e.g. http://arcadecontrols.com/arcade_joey.htm) for your PC gaming?
     
  40. MV10

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    I've never used MUMPS myself but when I worked at Alltel's mortgage processing division in the 90s we had a high-throughput Tandem minicomputer that used it -- payment processing for around two thirds of all US mortgages went through that one machine every month.

    I was definitely interested in getting more machines but they weren't easy to come by. No ebay back then.

    I played around with MAME for a very short while but I'm not really into PC gaming. I spend enough time at a keyboard making a living that I prefer vegging on the couch with a console on the rare occasions I find time for gaming. The friend who gave me copies of MAME built his own cabinet style PC to run MAME though.
     
  41. longroadhwy

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    How did you get space duel? Was the local arcade giving it away? That seems like a rare machine to find.

    What other machines were you interested in getting?

    Long ago I was able to pick up Missile Command (in amazing shape) for $150. It was pretty amazing considering it was only 5 years old at the time. Sadly it had to be given away to due to lack of space. I was looking at ebay recently and they are still charging the same 3K price that distributors were charging way back then for a new machine. Arcade machines always had amazing engineering.
     
  42. MV10

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    I don't remember them being particularly rare. That friend I mentioned who worked on the machines knew several people who owned various games, and somebody happened to have theirs for sale. I want to say I only paid about $50 for it. I've occasionally gone online to look them up again, I'm always surprised at how much people are getting for them now. Knowing how flaky the electronics can become, I'd never buy one I couldn't put my hands on personally first, and after this many years, that thing about electron beam overscan burning out the monitor deflectors is probably a deal-breaker even if the machine looked otherwise acceptable.

    I don't really know where I'd make the room for a machine now, either.

    A friend of mine lives about an hour away from Replay Museum, he was there this weekend and said it's pretty great. I'm more like three hours away but may have to fit it into a trip we're taking later this year. $12 to play all day. The picture below is half of the building.

    http://www.replaymuseum.org/

    1.jpg
     
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  43. MV10

    MV10

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    Also, I'm unreasonably pleased I have a valid, non-fictional reason to use "electron beam overscan burning out the deflectors" in conversation.

    1.png
     
  44. longroadhwy

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    That is nice to see and that sounds like a good deal too.

    I would guess that Replay is related to the magazine (http://www.replaymag.com/) of the same name? Same type of magazine like playmeter (http://www.playmeter.com/)?
     
  45. longroadhwy

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  46. MV10

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    I think it's a coincidence, I gather from the website it's kind of a mom-and-pop enthusiast thing.
     
  47. longroadhwy

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  48. longroadhwy

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  49. longroadhwy

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  50. MV10

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    That's cool.