The Custom TRS‑80 and Other Mysteries
The first time I ever saw a TRS‑80, it was running Galaxy Invasion, written by Bill Hogue and Jeff Konyu. It might be difficult for some today to completely understand just how remarkable a program it was. Galaxy Invasion, along with Bill Hogue’s other games for Big Five Software, were incredible demonstrations of what was possible with the TRS‑80. Judging from the messages I have received over the years, his games inspired many people to pursue a career in computers because they wanted to learn how to write programs the way he did.
After writing his games for the TRS‑80, Bill Hogue went on to even greater fame as the author of Miner 2049er, the 1984 Electronic Game of the Year, and its sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back!. More recently, he created the official site of Big Five Software. I was pleased to have the opportunity in October 2008 to interview Bill Hogue.
The Computer Chronicles was a television show about computers which aired from 1982 to 2002 on PBS stations in the United States. Back in 1991, the Computer Chronicles devoted an episode to Radio Shack computers. Tandy was still manufacturing computers at the time, and most of the show was about their current computers.
But at the start of the show, Stewart Cheifet, the long-time host of the Computer Chronicles, showed off his first computer: a Model I that he bought in 1978.
Devil’s Tower was written by John Olsen and released by Fantastic Software in 1982.
The player starts the game on the left, separated from the Attackers by a tall mountain in the center of the screen. The goal is to shoot over the mountain and destroy the Attackers on the other side. To complicate matters, the Attackers shoot back at you, often displaying an uncanny ability to predict where you are moving.
The PMC‑80 was the North American version of a TRS‑80 Model I clone that was created by EACA International Limited, a Hong Kong manufacturing company. Their Model I compatible computer was sold around the world by different distributors using different names. In Australia and New Zealand, it was the System 80. In Europe, it was the Video Genie. In the United States and Canada, it was the PMC‑80, distributed by Personal Micro Computers.
The name TRS‑80 stood for two things:
- TRS stood for Tandy Radio Shack, the company that created the TRS‑80.
- 80 was taken from the Zilog Z80, the processor used in the original Model I.
Tandy continued to use the TRS‑80 name for their future computers, even for ones that didn’t use a Z80. For example:
Scarfman was based on the arcade game Pac-Man, which was released by Namco in 1980. It was written by Philip Oliver and distributed by the Cornsoft Group. The Cornsoft Group also released a version of Scarfman for the Color Computer.
The game starts with you (the “Scarfman”) at the bottom of the screen. Like Pac-Man, the goal of Scarfman is to eat all of the dots on the screen. You earn points for every dot eaten.
J. Weaver Jr. is the author of the TRS‑80 games Outhouse, Chicken, Rally, Vexus, Planetbuster, Yield, and Pulsar. In this interview, conducted in October 2008, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his games and his memories of the TRS‑80.
Many people considered the lack of high-resolution graphics to be the biggest deficiency of the TRS‑80 Model I. The maximum resolution of the Model I was 128 by 48 by using block graphics. Many games made good use of that resolution, but it was still low compared to other computers.
The 80-GRAFIX was one of several high-resolution add-ons available for the Model I. Designed by Ted Carter, it was originally sold by Programma International for $149. The 80-GRAFIX fit entirely within the Model I case and required only minimal soldering.
It isn’t everyday that a new piece of TRS‑80 hardware is introduced. If you have been following the Model 100 mailing list, then you have already read about Ken Pettit’s development of the NADSBox. The NADSBox, which stands for New Age Digital Storage Box, is a memory card interface for the Model 100, Model 102, and Model 200 that supports SD, SDHC, and MMC memory cards.
Now the NADSBox is available for pre-order through Club 100, Rick Hanson’s excellent Model 100 user group and site. The pre-order cost for the NADSBox is $150. Shipping worldwide is $10. You can buy it along with a TS-DOS ROM for an additional $35. The cost will go up to $200 on January 1, 2009.
The history of early microcomputers is a poorly documented subject and the amount of misinformation available is incredible. That’s why it is such a pleasure to read a book by someone knowledgeable about the subject. Collectible Microcomputers is just that book, a reference book for classic computers.
Long-time TRS‑80 users may remember Michael Nadeau as a frequent contributor to 80 Micro, serving as senior copy editor, executive editor, and later editor-in-chief. He was also editor-in-chief of HOT CoCo magazine and the coordinator of the 80 Micro Anniversary issue.