VOGONS


First post, by DonutKing

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After searching for a couple of years I finally managed to track down a copy of Return to Zork for ReelMagic.

Then of course came the task of actually making it run. 😀

The ReelMagic Cards for anyone who isn't aware, were one of the first MPEG decoder cards available for PC's. As well as watching MPEG videos, a number of games and educational programs were written for the cards. The MPEG versions were different to the standard DOS or Windows versions of these games and usually would not run without a ReelMagic card installed in the system.

I obtained a ReelMagic CD card from A1 Used Computers a while ago but I never bothered doing anything with it. It didn't have any cables or software but it did have a small daughter board with an OPL2 on it (YM3812). It's a 3/4 length 16 bit ISA card.

The ReelMagic CD doesn't use an external dongle like other models of the card, it simply uses the VESA feature connector. Luckily I had some spare 26 conductor ribbon cable and female IDC connectors so I was able to easily wire up a connector. There is nothing special about the cable, just a female connector on each end.

The game itself didn't come in a box. I have the original boxed DOS CDROM version of Return to Zork which comes in a big box with 'Encyclopedia Frobizzica' (basically a printed manual with heaps of game backstory and copy protection), and 'feelies' like a sealed envelope with a 'sweepstakes winner' letter in it.
The MPEG version just comes in a jewel case, but has the 'RealMagic' logo on the front cover of the jewel case booklet. The booklet basically contains the manual, tech support guide and copy protection info, in lieu of seperate documents.

A pic of the card and RTZ MPEG edition:
ZvjgLQVl.jpg
Click for big

Here is the card installed in my 386.
8q16pxdl.jpg

You can see the ribbon cable connecting the ReelMagic and my VGA card together.

Getting it working was actually really simple. First I wired up a 26 pin ribbon cable and connected the VESA Feature Connnector headers of my video card (ET4000AX) and the ReelMagic Card. Then I plugged my VGA monitor into the ReelMagic card and powered on, and everything worked as expected.
There is a slight drop in quality when using the ReelMagic card's VGA output in this manner, compared to the output of the ET4000AX but you have to really stare at a still image to notice it.

I then installed the drivers for the ReelMagic card - these are available at VogonsDrivers.

The card includes Sound Blaster compatible digital sound hardware and an optional OPL2 daughterboard. In theory you could use the ReelMagic instead of a sound blaster. However I had quite a few problems with this. Despite the inclusion of a real YM3812 OPL2 chip, FM synth sounds weird. Nearly all the games I tried had music that sounded completely different to a real Sound Blaster with an OPL2. I also noticed that in several games like Halloween Harry and Mystic Towers, the sound was very poor quality, with a lot of popping and crackling, which doesn't happen with a real Sound Blaster. Duke Nukem 2 and Sim City 2000 wouldn't play digital sound at all.
Perhaps the card is faulty? It did work perfectly with Return to Zork though.

On the topic of Return to Zork - The ReelMagic version of the game works in a similar fashion to the standard CDROM version. It installs into a directory called RTZ-RM.
One caveat is that the ReelMagic cards are actually sound cards as well, so they can play the audio from MPEG streams. One of the sound card options when installing Return to Zork is to use the ReelMagic card for digital audio. However, if you choose this you don't get to choose a different card for music (every other option lets you pick seperate digital sound and music devices). Since I have an LAPC-I in my 386 I wanted to use that. The ReelMagic card just uses the standard sound blaster driver, so during installation, I picked Sound Blaster for digital sound and then was able to pick MT32/LAPC-I for music.

Unfortunately I don't have any way of capturing the output of the game into a video. I tried filming with a camera but it looked terrible. But basically,the game looks a lot better than the DOS CDROM version.
In the DOS CDROM version, all the actors tended to stay still and only their mouths would move when they were talking. In the MPEG version they are fully animated and actually move and show some body language. A number of the conversations are changed as well (some are shorter, some longer). If you ever wondered why the Wizard Trembyle would move about the first few times he contacted you via the tele-orb, then seemingly turn into a zombie with a moving mouth after replacing his battery, this is why. It seems that the video was recorded of him moving about and they started converting this into whatever format the DOS CDROM version uses, but stopped doing this after about 4 or 5 movies. There's actually a gag in the Old Mill where he says 'This guy drinks so much even his plants are potted!' then laughs and bonks his nose on the front of the tele-orb - you miss out on this in the standard DOS version as the wizard doesn't move.

A lot of backgrounds are more animated as well- for example, the flowing water of the river behind the lighthouse or in the boat has a much higher framerate and looks much better in the MPEG version. The intro and ending movies are also noticeably better quality.

In the DOS CDROM version a lot of music from the game was in redbook audio format and played off the CD. In the MPEG version the music is part of the MPEG files - there are no redbook audio tracks on the CD. This means that some of the music sounds a little different - for example, the 'victorious' music that plays the first time you go underground and exit the New Mill. The Forest of the Spirits theme and Whispering Woods themes, amongst others, are different in the MPEG version - these were redbook audio in the DOS CDROM version, while in the MPEG version they are synthesized. However, all the FMV sequences have the music digitally recorded as part of the MPEG stream, and these all sound like they were recorded off an MT32/LAPC-I. (The manual does recommend to use an MT32/LAPC-I for best results so I presume this is what the music was recorded with).

This means that you can actually have 3 different audio devices for RTZ-RM. MPEG movies always play their audio on the MPEG card. However if you have another digital card installed and configured, digital sounds will play out of that, and likewise for music. I initially configured my LAPC-I and Sound Blaster Pro as music devices and took me a while to figure out why some sounds were playing and not others. Basically digital sound outside of an MPEG movie - like running water sound effects under the bridge, or speech from the tape recorder - would play on the SB Pro. Music that is not in an FMV sequence would play on the LAPC-I, but all FMV sequences would play both sound and music on the ReelMagic card. Quite confusing! I ended up just using the ReelMagic for digital audio but kept the LAPC-I for music.

There are a few other differences as well. After toasting Boos until he passes out, and opening the trapdoor underground, he is gone forever 🙁 In the DOS CDROM version he'd wake up and sit on the side of the mill, but in the MPEG version he presumably succumbs to cirrhosis or alcohol poisoning and is never seen again.
There was a trick with the DOS CDROM version in Canuk's shack, normally the Yozozzo scroll would disapper from your backpack if you tried to take it outside. You could feed it to the duck to create an egg, then carry it outside and throw the egg to break it and reveal the scroll (although you couldn't do anything with it). This isn't possible in the MPEG version- the option to feed the scroll to the duck isn't available.

The Shrine in Bel Nair Temple can't be clicked in the MPEG version, only the Pedestal and Altar. Rebecca Snoot doesn't give you a copy protection quiz if you break into her house (Ms Peepers still does though). There are a couple of other subtle changes that escape me right now but overall the gameplay is the same.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the card and the ReelMagic version of Return to Zork is much improved from the standard DOS version. I'm now looking for any other ReelMagic games, if you know of any please visit my amibay thread 😀

If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.

Reply 1 of 29, by badmojo

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Great post! Sounds like it was worth the wait. What a honking great card just to get a little video going, those were the days.

I walked up to A1 Used Computers a while back (I work in Melbourne CBD) after seeing all that great stuff listed on their website, but they were unhelpful at best. The sulky looking kid behind the counter didn't seem to have ever heard of an ISA card. How did you buy from them? Just 'add to cart' and pay? Did you contact them first to make sure they had stock?

If it's broke, then fix it!

Reply 2 of 29, by Mau1wurf1977

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I also bought from them. They are slow with email updates and one of my orders took weeks and I noticed the status was pending, after emailing them they shipped it.

I got this Gigabyte board with bad caps from them. However they agreed to ship me two Aopen BX440 motherboards as compensation rather than getting a refund 😀

Also got some ISA video cards from them a while back.

My website with reviews, demos, drivers, tutorials and more...
My YouTube channel

Reply 3 of 29, by DonutKing

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Yeah I just boughf from the online store, didnt have any issues. I also bought a monitor from them and had it couriered to my door.

One other thing I forgot to mention is that performance is heavily affected by cd drive speed. I was using a double speed CD ROM and was getting frequent pauses as the game reads from disc, even with smartdrv installed and the project file on my hard drive. The reelmagic CD cards were sometimes bundled with a doublespeed drive (sony CDU-33A) but Id really want a quad speed at least.

If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.

Reply 5 of 29, by DonutKing

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I don't have any way to record sound and video from the ReelMagic card at the moment. I'll need to buy a few things...

If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.

Reply 6 of 29, by keropi

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^ I was thinking something along the line of photos to see the difference in quality... is it noticeable?

cT89QGt.gif Amstrad PC7486SLC-33 wanted , click me for AmiBay ad!

Reply 7 of 29, by swaaye

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Oh neat. A Reelmagic card in action! Thanks for the detailed write up.

It's amazing how fast video playback developed. Starting with a big card like this and moving to fully integrated MPEG1 and 2 acceleration within graphics chips in just a few years. And then the FMV gaming craze died anyway since people were way past being thrilled with actors on their monitor!

But games tended to avoid MPEG1/2. Everyone seemed to prefer Smacker and Bink. They are less computationally demanding but I bet licensing is another reason...

Reply 8 of 29, by DonutKing

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keropi wrote:

^ I was thinking something along the line of photos to see the difference in quality... is it noticeable?

Not with my digital camera taking photos of the screen. I really need some sort of video capture system to show the differences.
But there is a big difference in quality.
In the standard version, the videos have many compression artifacts and seem very 'blocky'. The MPEG version is noticably better.

If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.

Reply 9 of 29, by swaaye

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DonutKing wrote:

In the standard version, the videos have many compression artifacts and seem very 'blocky'. The MPEG version is noticably better.

Game companies were sometimes writing their own video compression back then. The options were poor, mostly because CPUs were so weak. Hardware accelerated MPEG-1 was definitely far superior. RAD Game Tools' Smacker came in around that time though and became very popular.

Reply 10 of 29, by luckybob

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its scary to think how much money some of that hardware is worth... You could almost buy a car for the cost of an LAPC. KUDOS!

It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.

Reply 11 of 29, by DonutKing

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I got the LAPC-I off ebay for $212 in a bundle that also included a RAP-10, two SB 2.0's, an SB Pro and two SB16's. Must have been the bargain of the century 😀
I've also recapped the LAPC-I and upgraded its ROM to 1.02.

The total value of that 386? Priceless. They would have to pry it from my cold dead hands before I'd sell it.

If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.

Reply 13 of 29, by j^aws

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^^ I've tried two types of ISA cards with EM7xxx chipsets, and they both worked in DOS. However, the image quality varied significantly between the two types whilst using the same host VGA card. The card that used the internal Feature connector had a brighter image compared to the one using the external pass-through connector. OTOH, the card using the pass-through connector was more compatible with its host VGA card.

Reply 14 of 29, by soviet conscript

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So I recently acquired a Reelmagic card like the OP's (though mine seems cut down as it doesn't have as many chips on the PCB) and I was wondering. what kind of cable do I need to connect the VESA feature connectors? do I have to make my own like the OP or are there pre made alternatives as I'm not super skilled with splicing together homemade cables.

Reply 15 of 29, by j^aws

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soviet conscript wrote:

So I recently acquired a Reelmagic card like the OP's (though mine seems cut down as it doesn't have as many chips on the PCB) and I was wondering. what kind of cable do I need to connect the VESA feature connectors? do I have to make my own like the OP or are there pre made alternatives as I'm not super skilled with splicing together homemade cables.

These VESA cables are easy to find on Ebay:

www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1-Pcs-2-54mm-Pitch-2 ... xyLchRrhVR

Look for 26 pin IDC cables with both ends having female connectors.

Reply 16 of 29, by soviet conscript

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thanks. thankfully though my card arrived today with a 26 pin cable attached. unfortunately though I cant get it working. it displays fine when I hook the monitor up to the reelmagic card so I assume the image is passing over the cable okay. I installed the drivers which seemed to go smoothly but when I restart the system and boot up I get "DSP not found" and "mpeg playback not installed"

Reply 17 of 29, by soviet conscript

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I figured it out, it was clashing with my sound blaster pro, which leads me to my next question. how did you mix the audio? as stated the reelmagic card outputs certain audio through it such as when the actors are speaking but I set my sound blaster pro 2 to output the digital effects and music. unfortunately they aren't mixing. I assumed id just run a line from the reelmagic card to my line in on the sb and it would mix them but its not. is mixing something I need to install the sb drivers for? I currently only have the sb configured via a command line in the autoexec.bat file.

Reply 18 of 29, by j^aws

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^^ I just used an external cable from the Reelmagic, connecting its output to a Line In of a SB compatible card. Ensure your SB mixer is configured correctly, so that it isn't muting anything relevant.

Reply 19 of 29, by soviet conscript

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Here we go, Return to Zork Reelmagic version intro. I didn't bother to set my mixer here with the SB Pro card so its in mono and no thunder sound effect at Infocom logo but meh....

Captured this in DOS on my 33mhz 486DLC rig with my DVI2PCIe card.

https://youtu.be/-qvPQrtgUKk