"Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-5-10 @ 09:02

candle_86 wrote:shame your not local, ive got an amber hercules display sitting in my closet doing nothing


Pity! I've even checked the shipment cost to Poland to see if I could actually afford that, but sadly it's exorbitant.

What's ironic is that I've actually been to Fort Worth a couple of times when I was working with my previous employer (Stockyard, White Elephant Saloon and all that).
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby candle_86 » 2018-5-10 @ 14:07

OldCat wrote:
candle_86 wrote:shame your not local, ive got an amber hercules display sitting in my closet doing nothing


Pity! I've even checked the shipment cost to Poland to see if I could actually afford that, but sadly it's exorbitant.

What's ironic is that I've actually been to Fort Worth a couple of times when I was working with my previous employer (Stockyard, White Elephant Saloon and all that).


well if you find yourself back this way let me know
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-10 @ 11:00

I think I owe everyone involved in this thread a bit of an update.

In short - I am going to hijack my own thread. You see, while this box and its components are very pretty, it is also very large. And one of my problems and the reason for unending quarrels on retro computers with my wife is the lack of physical space to keep them. While searching for Hercules-compatible amber monitor I have found something that let me kill three birds with one stone: Tandon CSP1622. It is a sort of all-in-one, AT with Hercules and compatible screen. Instead of having huge box with small Hercules monitor I have computer and display combined in a relatively small package. Naturally, I had to go for it!

Adios, Vobis AT. Hello Tandon AT.

Seller's photo:

Tandon_00.jpg

It has arrived! CMOS battery dead, so dismantling the thing to see what's inside:

Tandon_01.jpg

First success - setting disc type in BIOS. Drive operational, some German software still in place:

Tandon_02.jpg

TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-11 @ 02:55

OldCat wrote:I think I owe everyone involved in this thread a bit of an update.
In short - I am going to hijack my own thread. [

Hah, that's cool. :D I'll have to remember to do this more often, too. ;)

Anyway, that 286 looks interesting to me. Reminde me a bit of the "Ergo" PC,
an 8088-PC that was built into a TTL/Mono CRT and had an ergonomic stand,
which the monitor/PC unit was mounted to and which could be moved in several dimensions.
I'm sorry, it's hard to describe. saw that PC once in my life in an old magazine.
Here's a drawing I made, maybe it gives an impression of the machine.

ergo_sctribble.gif
ergo_sctribble.gif (2.04 KiB) Viewed 403 times

The monitor was a green TTL monitor, likely in 720x350 resolution.
Not sure if it had Hercules (aka MGA, HGC) already or in IBM fashion, MDA.
When I was little, when I had my multimedia 286 PC with 4MB RAM, VGA, PAS16, HP LaserJet and a handy scanner,
I had no clue that a "boring typewriter PC" could draw such beautiful monochrome graphics.

Just recently, I few years ago, Hercules got my attention again. Probably because of DOSBox and the fact that
my father did a few scans in the 1980 with its handy scanner. And since the picture program did save screen dumps
instead of using a proper picture format, these scans could only be displayed by using Hercules hardware.
That's when I started to learn about Hercules and monochrome graphics in general, I think.

If you like, also have a look at EMÚ386. It'll emulate some of the 386 real-mode instructions,
so you'll be able to run quite a few more programs on your 286. According to the manual,
this comes in handy for ISA PnP utilities, as required for the newer Sound Blasters (SB16 PnP, AWE series).
It may also work with other programs, such as games, provided that they are dumb and don't check for a 386.
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby root42 » 2018-7-11 @ 08:31

Wow, GS-Menü brings back some memories... That software company made shareware software for small offices. Bookkeeping and such, as well as other tools, as this menu software.
My ramblings on YouTube
Me playing games on my 286 and on my Sega MD2 on Twitch
80286@12 MHz, 2 MiB RAM, Tseng ET4000 1 MiB, schlae AdLib, XT CF Lite, OSSC 1.6
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-11 @ 09:09

root42 wrote:Wow, GS-Menü brings back some memories... That software company made shareware software for small offices. Bookkeeping and such, as well as other tools, as this menu software.


I believe Herr Gandke's company is still active in the IT field (digital marketing agency, if I am not mistaken).

Jo22 wrote:I had no clue that a "boring typewriter PC" could draw such beautiful monochrome graphics.


Well put. Nostalgia is a factor, granted, but there is elegance in high-resolution monochrome graphics. I will add some screenshot(s) later in this thread.

Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-11 @ 09:24

The second success - replacing hard drive with Compact Flash card and CF adapter:

Tandon_03.jpg

Putting the adapter in one of the extensions slots required extending 0 and +5V cables, as well as finding long enough IDE cable (old type):

Tandon_04.jpg

I have actually soldered power cable to the adapter, it came out rather nicely:

Tandon_05.jpg

This is the third success - works with new power cable and IDE cable:

Tandon_06.jpg


TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Scali » 2018-7-11 @ 09:26

OldCat wrote:Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?


I could help with that. I have made some helper functions in C and assembly to set the two Hercules modes (text and graphics), and tweak various things.
One of my experiments was to set up the Hercules memory to have 4 separate framebuffers, and flip between them.
By preprocessing a grayscale image into 4 buffers, I could simulate various levels of brightness by exploiting the afterglow of a monochrome monitor (basically a form of PWM).
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-12 @ 09:31

After first couple of successes there came time for inevitable failure ("HOW QUICKLY THE TIDE TURNS"). NiCd accumulator that was fine when I first opened the PC vomited acid all over the board:

Tandon_07.jpg

As it turns out, this is typical behaviour for NiCd accus that were not used for a long time and then got charged. Good thing I caught it relatively quickly, disassembled, desoldered accumulator and cleaned board so no damage done:

Tandon_08.jpg

Reassembled it to check if it works and it did:

Tandon_09.jpg

Then I went on to work on replacement. Unfortunately, this accumulator was a bit specific, so no off the shelf component would fit. I have asked a small company to build for me a custom one from button cells. Took them a while, but the result was spot on (dimensions, voltage, connections). Soldered it in:

Tandon_11.jpg

...and once again the whole thing worked:

Tandon_12.jpg

Fourth success! For some of you, this might be trivial, but for me these were the most advanced changes I ever did on a vintage machine.

TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-12 @ 20:43

OldCat wrote:Well put. Nostalgia is a factor, granted, but there is elegance in high-resolution monochrome graphics. I will add some screenshot(s) later in this thread.

Cool, thanks. I'm looking forward to it. Both CGA and Hercules remind me of the Gameboy, by the way:
Firstly in terms of Nostalgia (both are 80s tech) and secondly, because they share artistic aspects.
Gameboy had 4 shades, CGA has 4 colours. Hercules is black/white and uses dithering from time to time.

OldCat wrote:Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?

Well, yes, I am. By far not as much as Scali, however. He's from the demos cene and knows a lot about the internals.
To give an idea, just read what he wrote about the structure of Hercules video memory and you'll see.

Anyway, here's a little bit of something that I recycled from CGAView (not to be confused with a video player of the same name).
In essence, it's just a tool that lets you create and load Hercules screen dumps.
Attachments
MGA_CRT.JPG
mgaview_test.zip
https://youtu.be/pKCphBy2jGg
(261.9 KiB) Downloaded 4 times
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-13 @ 07:05

Jo22 wrote:Cool, thanks. I'm looking forward to it. Both CGA and Hercules remind me of the Gameboy, by the way:
Firstly in terms of Nostalgia (both are 80s tech) and secondly, because they share artistic aspects.
Gameboy had 4 shades, CGA has 4 colours. Hercules is black/white and uses dithering from time to time.


Spot on. I also really, really like Game Boy and its graphics. I have one with screen mod (backlight plus bivert):
20171201_202149-624x902.jpg


I also happen to have two plasma screen Toshibas and like to compare how things look in pure monochrome and four shades of orange:
viewtopic.php?f=63&t=56507

Jo22 wrote:Well, yes, I am. By far not as much as Scali, however. He's from the demos scene and knows a lot about the internals.
To give an idea, just read what he wrote about the structure of Hercules video memory and you'll see.


Superb! I'll fire a private message your way to explain why I asked.

Jo22 wrote:Anyway, here's a little bit of something that I recycled from CGAView (not to be confused with a video player of the same name).
In essence, it's just a tool that lets you create and load Hercules screen dumps.


I will definitely give it a try. Quick question, as I will only be able to test it mid-next week at the very earliest - can you export these dumps to something readable / decipherable by modern software? Such as gif, png or bmp?
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-13 @ 12:04

With accumulator repaired and HDD replaced by CF card, I thought all I needed was to reassemble the whole thing. I was naive.

I started playing with old games and discovered that image goes all haywire on some of them:

Tandon_13.jpg

Ugh (not the game, just general sigh of disappointment).

Fortunately, fellow Vogoner 133MHz suggested a solution:
133MHz wrote:That looks like the card is putting out 60Hz vertical frequency when running those games and the monitor is only syncing to the standard 50Hz for MDA/Hercules. A quick tweak of the V.HOLD control should sort it out, but if your monitor doesn't expose said control to the outside you'll have to open it up and look for it on the circuit board to adjust it while looking at the screen. You can find a balance where it will work on both 50 and 60Hz so you don't have to fiddle with it anymore.


I had never meddled with the insides of monitors before, so I was a little nervous. Took me a while to open the monitor case, but finally did:

Tandon_14.jpg


Armed with thick non-conductive gloves, started looking inside and prodding various elements. The potentiometers weren't really in the most comfortable spot:

Tandon_15.jpg


Nevertheless, I played with V.HOLD a bit, as 133MHz instructed me to do, and - lo and behold! - it worked:

Tandon_16.jpg


TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-17 @ 09:18

The last part was re-assembling the whole thing: monitor covers, motherboard and power supply etc. A bit problematic, because I disassembled parts of it weeks ago - but having bumped into this problem before, I already am taking a lot of photos in the process. Apart from one small mistake, namely connecting HDD diode and power diode to wrong sources (whoever thought that green diode should have a red cable and vice versa was a moron... or had really dry sense of humour), it all went well:

Tandon_18.jpg

As you can see, right now I am mostly playing old computer games on it - but I am not ashamed of it in the slightest, on the contrary, I love seeing these titles in childhood embers' colours again.

Tandon_Targhan.jpg

Mission accomplished.
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-18 @ 10:34

Wow, this looks really great! You did a good job at restoring the computer.
The outcome of your restauration is really good! :) A Genius GM-6 mouse would fit to that, I think.
I also like the amber pictures of Bubble Bobble and Targhan, by the way.
I imagine, the expereince would be awesome (as in very 80s) if you could later add
a GameBlaster or Tandy 3-Voice card for music (for Bubble Bobble, at least).

OldCat wrote:[
Spot on. I also really, really like Game Boy and its graphics. I have one with screen mod (backlight plus bivert):

Thanks for the photo! I abolutely loved that game, btw. Along with Wario Land 1 it was one of my favorites.

OldCat wrote:
Jo22 wrote:Anyway, here's a little bit of something that I recycled from CGAView (not to be confused with a video player of the same name).
In essence, it's just a tool that lets you create and load Hercules screen dumps.


I will definitely give it a try. Quick question, as I will only be able to test it mid-next week at the very earliest - can you export these dumps to something readable / decipherable by modern software? Such as gif, png or bmp?

Yes, I think I can manage that. It'll take a bit, though. I have to read the specs about them first.
Also, if you only want to edit/display existing binary images of Hercules/CGA, you can run these viewers in DOSBox
and use the screen capture feature (Ctrl-F5). ;)

OldCat wrote:Apart from one small mistake, namely connecting HDD diode and power diode to wrong sources
(whoever thought that green diode should have a red cable and vice versa was a moron... or had really dry sense of humour), it all went well

Hah, yes, indeed! Somehow I really hope it was a dry sense of humour! :D
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-19 @ 10:22

By the way, you can also play C64 IF games on your Amber 286..

The emulator programme is called c64 and supports Hercules.
Colours are dithered, which looks really nice sometimes! :)

(Samples: *I was using my OTI-037C in MGA mode, since my 286 PC
w/ Hercules graphics and TTL-monitor didn't like it. Maybe it uses a custom resolution.)
Attachments
c64hgc_dbx_basic.png
C64 BASIC V2
c64hgc_dbx_basic.png (2.75 KiB) Viewed 218 times
c64hgc_crt_dir.jpg
Showing a directory listing/displaying the 1541 floppy index
c64hgc_crt_lgop_game.jpg
Playing Leather Goddesses of Phobos
c64hgc_crt_game.jpg
Playing a random text-adventure (MGA emulation)
c64hgc_dbx_game.png
Playing a random text-adventure (DOSBox: Hercules machine mode)
c64hgc_dbx_game.png (4.39 KiB) Viewed 218 times
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-20 @ 08:48

Hey Jo, thanks for your comments. Sorry, I couldn't reply earlier.

Jo22 wrote:Wow, this looks really great! You did a good job at restoring the computer.
The outcome of your restauration is really good! :) A Genius GM-6 mouse would fit to that, I think.
I also like the amber pictures of Bubble Bobble and Targhan, by the way.
I imagine, the expereince would be awesome (as in very 80s) if you could later add
a GameBlaster or Tandy 3-Voice card for music (for Bubble Bobble, at least).


I have a very similar Logitech mouse (and a holder!), but it hasn't yellowed at all and therefore doesn't fit this computer aesthetically (didn't think I'd ever use this phrase). If I see Genius GM-6 mouse, I will buy it, though, it's so retro.

GameBlaster and Tandy 3-voice would be a welcome addition, but they are unfortunately quite rare and very expensive. I've paid around 50EUR for the machine, about 20EUR for the keyboard and maybe 20EUR for the parts (cables, CF card, adapter, custom battery), so no more than 100USD altogether. I'm afraid PC Speaker will have to do for now, but on a positive side - it's very 80s as well.

Jo22 wrote:I abolutely loved that game, btw. Along with Wario Land 1 it was one of my favorites.


Same here: second Mario Land and first Wario Land were totally the best games on the original Game Boy, transcending hardware limitations. I also really liked Contra: Alien Wars and Legend of Zelda. Last year discovered joys of using flash carts, so when I have some more time, I will check some hidden gems.

Jo22 wrote:By the way, you can also play C64 IF games on your Amber 286..


Wow, I didn't know that, but it's amazing. I will definitely give it a try. Might need to check if any other 8-bit computers would not be available as well. Thanks for the heads up.
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-20 @ 21:02

OldCat wrote:Hey Jo, thanks for your comments. Sorry, I couldn't reply earlier.

No problem, same here. :)

OldCat wrote:I have a very similar Logitech mouse (and a holder!), but it hasn't yellowed at all and therefore doesn't fit this computer aesthetically (didn't think I'd ever use this phrase). If I see Genius GM-6 mouse, I will buy it, though, it's so retro.

Ah, I see. That Logitech mouse is fine, too. It's just that I have little knowledge about vintage mice.
For some reason, the Genius GM models do pop up more often on fleamarkets and my country's eBay. :confused:

Jo22 wrote:GameBlaster and Tandy 3-voice would be a welcome addition, but they are unfortunately quite rare and very expensive. I've paid around 50EUR for the machine, about 20EUR for the keyboard and maybe 20EUR for the parts (cables, CF card, adapter, custom battery), so no more than 100USD altogether. I'm afraid PC Speaker will have to do for now, but on a positive side - it's very 80s as well.

This makes senes. 8-Bit cards themselves are rare now (in comparison). Gratefully, most 16-Bit cards do work, as well.
By the way, I once had a GameBlaster.. Naive as I was, I sold it on eBay. Because it seemed broken to me (no Win98 drivers). :blush:
To my defence, I had no internet access and no idea what a GameBlaster was. I thought it was some sort of SoundBlaster clone.
If you like to enhance sound on your 286, you can install a Covox plug (or clone). Some of the classic games from the late 80s/early 90s
do support it. SimAnt, for example. The higher processing power of a 286 CPU is really helpful here.
If you wish, you can even combine the covox plug with some 80s audio systems (vintage stereo, ghettoblaster, etc.).
viewtopic.php?f=62&t=57885

OldCat wrote:
Jo22 wrote:I abolutely loved that game, btw. Along with Wario Land 1 it was one of my favorites.

Same here: second Mario Land and first Wario Land were totally the best games on the original Game Boy, transcending hardware limitations. I also really liked Contra: Alien Wars and Legend of Zelda. Last year discovered joys of using flash carts, so when I have some more time, I will check some hidden gems.

That's cool. I missed Zelda at the time, but had the joy to played it later on in my teens.
GB games I also liked when I was little were Space Invaders, Kirby's Dreamland, Paper Boy (at a friends house),
Tiny Toons. For some reason, I muissed the whole Pokémon stuff everyone was crazy about.
I finally got into the series because of my little sister, when she found a Pokémon Emerald cartrige at the schoolyard..
That was the time when I took heart and got us a bunch of the classic GB carts of Red/Blue/Yellow
(all second-hand, I replaced some batteries, too. I had to buy a Tri-Wing screwdriver for that).
That beeing said, we didn't became fanatics of the series. Just the ordinary fans. ^^

Anyway, back to the GB games - back in the 90s, I played many of them on my Super Gameboy adapter on SNES.
The Space Invaders cartridge (or "cassette" as we used to call such a thing) had both a GB ROM and the SNES ROM inside of it.
And when played on the SNES, the GB ROM also took advantage of the SNES audio chip (SPC700) or second controller.
In a similar fashon, Kirby's Dreamland 2 also took advantage of the SNES audio (to play sound effects like wind and thunder).

OldCat wrote:
Jo22 wrote:By the way, you can also play C64 IF games on your Amber 286..


Wow, I didn't know that, but it's amazing. I will definitely give it a try.
Might need to check if any other 8-bit computers would not be available as well. Thanks for the heads up.

You're welcome. While I had a C64 in my later childhood, I didn't exactly grew up with it.
Among my frist computers was a Sharp MZ-700, an 8-Bit machine with Z80 CPU and text mode/glyph based graphics.
What I like about the C64 is less the graphics, but the SID sound and the many interactive fiction games.
By the way, using that ancient C64 emulator is less difficult than it seems (many failed on it):
* Copy your D64 image to VC1541.000
* Run C64 executable
* Display the directory (type LOAD"$",8 (enter) then LIST (enter))
* Run the first program LOAD "*",8 (enter) then RUN (enter)
* Or run the program you got displayed earlier (LOAD"PROGRAMNAME",8 (enter) then RUN (enter))

Edit: Some typos fixed.
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-25 @ 10:53

Jo22 wrote:Ah, I see. That Logitech mouse is fine, too. It's just that I have little knowledge about vintage mice.
For some reason, the Genius GM models do pop up more often on fleamarkets and my country's eBay. :confused:

Same here - it's just that I got this one as a bonus with one of old computers. So, zero cost wins!


Jo22 wrote:If you like to enhance sound on your 286, you can install a Covox plug (or clone). Some of the classic games from the late 80s/early 90s
do support it. SimAnt, for example. The higher processing power of a 286 CPU is really helpful here.

I actually did have Covox as a kid, came in a box with Electro Body (aka Electro Man) game. But being as lazy as I am, I will stick with PC Speaker and if I have enough of these chirping sounds, I'll just put some Sound Blaster clone inside. The trick, however, is that I have only two ISA slots in there, as well as two openings - it really is a very compact construction. So adding sound card would also require moving CF adapter somewhere else (probably into the slot on the side, where FDD is).
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-8-05 @ 21:14

OldCat wrote:I actually did have Covox as a kid, came in a box with Electro Body (aka Electro Man) game. But being as lazy as I am,
I will stick with PC Speaker and if I have enough of these chirping sounds, I'll just put some Sound Blaster clone inside. The trick, however, is that I have only
two ISA slots in there, as well as two openings - it really is a very compact construction. So adding sound card would also require moving CF adapter
somewhere else (probably into the slot on the side, where FDD is).

Thanks for mentioning that game. I played Electroman before, but had no idea it was a cut-down version.
The original, Electro Body (shareware version), works just fine on my old 286, even in the emulated Hercules of my VGA card.
I've also found some scanned box art of the Polish version on Mobygames, which lists a lot more devices than Electroman does.
Makes me wonder why they got removed afterwards. :confused:

For the CF card, I've got an idea, but it requires some tinkering: In the 2000s, Floppy-/Card Reader combo drives were made.
They included a slim 1.44MB drive along with an USB flash card reader in a single case.
In theory, you could remove the card reader part and install the CF adapter in its place.
Or you could attach a Gotek drive to the USB card reader.
Anyway, these are just some ideas that came to my mind. :)
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-8-07 @ 12:18

Jo22 wrote: I played Electroman before, but had no idea it was a cut-down version.
The original, Electro Body (shareware version), works just fine on my old 286, even in the emulated Hercules of my VGA card.
I've also found some scanned box art of the Polish version on Mobygames, which lists a lot more devices than Electroman does.
Makes me wonder why they got removed afterwards. :confused:


Overall, same applies to all X-Land games of that era: Electro Body, Heartlight PC and Robbo. The original Polish versions all supported Hercules, CGA, EGA, VGA, but in later Epics versions for US marker the support for older graphic cards was dropped. Nothing was explicitly cut when it comes to content, however.

I talked about it with Maciej Miasik (one of the creators of Electro Body, who later on worked as a producer on the first Witcher game - met him on one of gaming fairs in Poland, possibly Digital Dragons) and I think his answer was that they recompiled the game for Epic and somewhere around that point the support for Hercules, CGA and EGA was dropped, as in US this was pretty much obsolete (equivalent of backward compatibility).

The trick is that when years later Mr Miasik released these games for free, the code base he used was the one from Epic games, not the original older one, simply because it was easier to get ahold of (the old one was already lost at that point, I believe). So my recommendation for people who would like to play them on the older systems is to find the original versions and manual scans (necessary due to copy protections systems). I can help with that, if needed.
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