Sunday, November 27, 2022

Refurb weekend: Sega Dreamcast

Remember when consoles weren't glorified PCs? The 1999 Sega Dreamcast remembers. Sega's final console and introduced on "9/9/99 for $199" before the Sony PlayStation 2 hype machine overwhelmed it, it came on the heels of the Saturn, which had sophisticated hardware but was difficult to program and Sega lost millions on manufacturing them. In some ways the Dreamcast is the Saturn done right: the same SuperH architecture, just way faster (instead of dual SH-2s at 28.6MHz, one big SH-4 at 200MHz), a more conventional GPU (rather than the odd 3D VDP of the Saturn which used quads instead of triangles), and a straightforward uniprocessor design instead of the Saturn's sometimes rickety dual CPU bus. It was also much cheaper to manufacture even considering its use of the Yamaha GD-ROM format; nothing else supported it, but it stored up to a gigabyte and was backwards compatible with CDs.

However, the Dreamcast was also not very future-proofed as it was the only fifth-generation console not to use DVD format (even the "mini" discs of the GameCube stored more), and Sega's attempt to outrun Sony and Nintendo's new offerings with deep discounts only served to make the console unprofitable faster. Sega announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast on March 31, 2001, and slashed the cost to $99. I'd heard good things about it, I'd played Crazy Taxi in the arcades, and there it was at Fry's (rest in peace) at a price I could afford as a starving student, so I picked one up. Games turned up in quantity at lower prices and I even managed to land a Broadband Adapter and a keyboard and a light gun and a mouse and the Seaman microphone and even the fishing reel controller. There's also an SD card reader plugged into the back expansion port I can play disk images off.

Although I've picked up a couple other Dreamcast and Dreamcast-adjacent systems since, I still have the original one in my office. Its internal battery used for storing settings had long since worn out, requiring me to enter the date and time every time I wanted to play a game, but then it wouldn't read any discs other than SoulCaliber. I mean, I like SoulCaliber, but this was ridiculous. No Crazy Taxi? It's time for ... a Refurb Weekend!

... after we play a game of SoulCaliber.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Meet your new two-factor authenticator: your Commodore 64

Multi-factor authentication is ripe for disruption. SMS 2FA is inherently defective. Phone authenticators get stolen. Security tokens get lost.

But just try misplacing a Commodore SX-64. And any thief who tries to grab it and run gets a free hernia truss from the prison infirmary:

Plus, I've got a colour for every key!
And it actually works:
The terminal window is showing a generated time-based one-time password for a full key, and the emulated 64 is showing the correct key, at the correct time, which was known and tested to be valid. Yes, you really can use your Commodore 64 for multi-factor authentication to generate TOTP codes!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Running a pinball game from a disk image doesn't make me a pirate

I like pinball; I have a Williams Star Trek: The Next Generation and a Stern Sopranos machine in my house. (As it happens, the Sopranos machine is consistently more popular with guests as the ST:TNG machine tends to be a drain monster.) But computer pinball games were usually iffy due to substandard physics until around the mid nineties. One of the finest of those early releases are the Pro Pinball games; they easily had the best gameplay and graphics, and despite being synthetic were nevertheless plausible machine designs instead of some of the fanciful crap you get nowadays. They were all ported to the classic Mac and I own the lot. Here are the first and last, Pro Pinball: The Web and Fantastic Journey.
I'm making a point of saying I own these and showing you I do, because none of the Pro Pinball titles will play without the CD mounted. For The Web, which I have here as part of the 10 Tons Of Fun compilation pack released by StarPlay, and Timeshock this makes sense because the music tracks are regular redbook audio and play directly from the CD. But this was not the case for Big Race USA nor my personal favourite Fantastic Journey: near as I could determine, the CD requirement was only to make sure you owned the disc. I could certainly dupe it and play from a burned copy, and that's what I did, but I ought to be able to install the game and not need the disc at all. As always copy protection only inconveniences legal owners and never deters the pirates.

In this case it didn't deter them either, because I became aware of a crack for Big Race USA that will happily play the game from a CD image. My "gaming" classic Mac is a Power Macintosh 7300 with a 800MHz Sonnet G4, an ATI Rage Orion (a Mac-specific 16MB Rage 128GL which has fewer compatibility problems with older games than the Radeons), a gig of RAM and two 18GB SCSI drives. That's more than enough space to save disk images for games and most of the games (that don't require redbook audio tracks) play from one, which is both faster and less wear on the optical drive. Big Race USA and Fantastic Journey both refuse to.

The Web runs a unique executable, but the others use a more or less common runtime. This gave me hope that Fantastic Journey could be broken in the same way that Big Race was. Let's have a look.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Refurb weekend: Commodore SFD-1001

The Commodore SFD-1001 is an oddball and a rarity even among Commodore IEEE-488 5.25" floppy drives, which nowadays aren't particularly common either (though my preferred IEEE-488 device is the MSD Super Disk Drive SD-2, which also conveniently has IEC serial). The SFD "Super Floppy Drive"-1001 is a low-profile single drive version of the CBM 8250 dual drive and stores a whopping 1MB per disk, which when the series was introduced in 1980 was really quite something. Unfortunately it requires 96tpi double density "quad density" floppies to do it — not the 48tpi double density disks you'd feed a more typical 1541 or 1571, nor the 96tpi high density PC floppy drives use — so there wasn't a whole lot of megabytes to store into even when these drives were newer. I also have a CBM 8050 which is the single-sided (but still dual drive) version of the 8250; it can store roughly a cool meg too but you have to flip it over for the second half.

This SFD came to me from a seller who said while it powered on it also made a weird noise and he had trouble inserting disks. Nevertheless, it's still an odd enough duck it was worth buying to see if it was repairable. We have an extra hour this weekend from the daylight savings change, so let's crack this sucker open.