The dawn of an era, available and emulated in your browser to play.
October 25, 2013 9:09 PM   Subscribe

A few months ago there was a list of links to classic video game emulators posted. Very recently, I'm pleased to report, those links all came true. The Internet Archive bespoke upon aforementioned consoles, computers, and mileposts on our way to the tech utopia of today, (seriously, where's my flying car?) and they asked us to do something: Imagine every computer that ever existed, literally, in your browser. And it was so. I have absolutely no affiliation with jscott, btw. Thought I should disclose that.
posted by jdaura (36 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I saw the Texas Instruments 99/4a, and I nostalgia-ed so hard that I am now zero years old.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:25 PM on October 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

Historical Software Archive at Internet Archive. Only 28 so far but just opened.
posted by stbalbach at 9:27 PM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Between this, the Smash Bros. thing, and the Katamari Damacy reference, is today Video Games Day? I'm still working on that special MeFi Holidays calendar....
posted by JHarris at 10:38 PM on October 25, 2013

Yes, yes it is. October 25th, every year like clockwork. 'Classic Computer Gaming Day' didn't make the mefi calendar yet? I would never remember Halloween if it didn't come right after Video Games Day! ;)
posted by jdaura at 10:43 PM on October 25, 2013

They have the Kaypro II! But my browser choked on it. What a good project, though; so glad someone is doing this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:47 PM on October 25, 2013

I'm shocked, shocked to discover awesome being done in association with Jason Scott.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:10 PM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

To be fair, dhartung, A few bugfixes later, and ET is actually not a terrible game.

HSW got fucked.
posted by jaymzjulian at 12:42 AM on October 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I had a fever dream that one could take the BYTE magazine archive (and others) and annotate screenshots and source code listings with live embedded emulators. No more typing in hex codes by hand, mudda fudda!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:17 AM on October 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure what you mean RobotVoodooPower. Are you talking about type-in programs?

Well, not just BYTE, it was a large and popular genre of computer magazine at the time whose primary attraction were type-in programs. And many of these magazines (lots of them hosted by the Internet Archive itself!) had disk supplements that offered those programs without typing them in. It should be possible to provide a Javascript MESS interface to such an archive, with links to attached article text/page images. (I mention this despite the fact that this might make my own Commodore 64 work for Loadstar more accessible, which would be somewhat embarrassing.)
posted by JHarris at 1:32 AM on October 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anybody else have trouble getting these to work in the latest Firefox?
posted by Betafae at 1:32 AM on October 26, 2013

And yes jaymzjulian, Warshaw also created Yars Revenge, one of the most popular 2600 games. For ET, he was given an absurdly short time by Atari's notoriously clueless management to create a game for a notoriously difficult-to-program system. That he could come up with anything at all in that time frame shows genius.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not I Betafae, running Firefox 24.0 and can run the demos without issue.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 AM on October 26, 2013

Actually, now that I double check, most of it does indeed work fine.

Maybe my rush to play Tass Times in Tonetown on the IIgs for the first time since 1988 made me, uh, skip other systems.
posted by Betafae at 2:02 AM on October 26, 2013

I never met anybody else who had an Odyssey2.

Mine was a hand-me down. One day while being dragged around the basement of a fabric store by my mom we came across a discount bin of Odyssey2 cartridges for a dollar a piece.

The other kids told war stories about Atari but I was always talking about Pick-Axe Pete.

"The grapple in Bionic Commando is like swinging in Pitfall. I watched my uncle play Pitfall on his Atari all the time."

"Yeah, well Pick-Axe Pete had weird interdimensional doorways. So take that."

The Odyssey2 cartridges and boxes had awesome cover art. The art was frankly better than the games.

Here are a few examples.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:07 AM on October 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah JHarris, that's the idea. also has a good collection.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:28 AM on October 26, 2013

Excellent tags.

Between this, the Smash Bros. thing, and the Katamari Damacy reference, is today Video Games Day? I'm still working on that special MeFi Holidays calendar....

There was the MeTa too.
posted by ersatz at 3:37 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

(seriously, where's my flying car?)...
I want my mono-colored jumpsuit.
posted by Monkeymoo at 3:38 AM on October 26, 2013

Just as I was getting over my Chuckie Egg problem …
posted by scruss at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2013

Management identified two sweet spots for the new computers, a low-end version known as Candy, and a higher-end machine known as Colleen (named after two attractive Atari secretaries).
Sucks to be Candy.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:30 AM on October 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm only commenting because I want to help ensure the thread is longer than the list of tags.
posted by ardgedee at 5:41 AM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

jdaura: each space is interpreted as a separate tag. So if you want to tag your post with "Franklin Ace", you have to write it as "FranklinAce". Or "franklinace" -- capitalization helps the reader but doesn't affect searching. Likewise, a run of models should probably be tagged "VTech200 VTech210" and so on -- numbers and single letters on their own are kinda' meaningless in a tag search.
posted by ardgedee at 5:46 AM on October 26, 2013

And now back to an awesome post about an awesome thing.
posted by ardgedee at 5:47 AM on October 26, 2013

Rated! Now all I need to do is hook up my record player to my PC and I can finally try those programs for other home computers on this 7" flexidisc which came free with LOAD RUNNER [sic] comic.

Long since lost, much to my chagrin.
posted by comealongpole at 6:28 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

stbalbach: "Historical Software Archive at Internet Archive. Only 28 so far but just opened."

I wonder what it would take to get my collection of Chromassettes and... Shit, we had another set of tapes but I can't remember. I know they were white with white labels. In fact, I think I may have lost the Chromassettes and only have the white ones left.

I have, in the past, tried playing with a TRS-80 emulator, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to properly get an already properly ripped .CAS file running, let alone trying to line-in and record a wave of my own tapes. Ugh.
posted by symbioid at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2013

Ray Walston, Luck Dragon: I never met anybody else who had an Odyssey2.

Well, nice to meet ya!

Not only did I have an Odyssey 2, I also spent my time trying to figure out Computer Intro!, which was just god-awful. I bided my time on that while waiting for an Apple ][ to appear under the christmas tree. The 6502 was a ferrari compared to this thing.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:14 AM on October 26, 2013

I had an Odyssey 2 too! And really tried to play up the keyboard to my friend who had an Intellivision. "Look, mine is like a real computer, it has a keyboard. Also, it has KC Munchkin!" I found the box up in my parent's attic a few months ago...too musty to keep, but oh how it pained me to toss it, their marketing department tried so hard to make it sound like the game system of the future!
posted by mittens at 8:08 AM on October 26, 2013

Does explain the licensing for these ROMs somewhere? I'm normally the last guy to worry about such things, but the Internet Archive's whole point is to be careful about copyright while still preserving an archive. Did they get explicit permission for things like the 2600 Pac-Man and Pitfall? Or is it more a case of putting it online and seeing what happens?

JSMESS is awesome, btw. The ROM scene for years has been meticulously cataloging dumps of games, the libraries of all NES or SNES software are phenomenally well curated. Looking forward to when it all comes together to a simple "click here to play this obscure Japanese only prototype".
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where's my Amiga 500?!?
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:21 AM on October 26, 2013

This is awesome, and I hope the team gets stuff like asm.js support so it runs on more browsers, Mobile Safari for example. Funny that the web only realized it needed a low level programming language like 15 years after JavaScript was concieved, but c'est la vie.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2013

While it is a cool project, I'm not sure how far they're able to go as long as it's using Javascript. Any platform more recent than the mid-eighties will be really hard to emulate due to all the overhead, even with the smart JIT stuff that modern browsers use.

There's also the problem that the base of the project, MESS, is a "kitchen sink" kind of deal, which means the emulation is less than accurate for a lot of platforms. I think the C64 emulator there is still line based, which means the effects used in many later C64 games and demos won't work.
posted by ymgve at 6:42 PM on October 26, 2013

Does explain the licensing for these ROMs somewhere? I'm normally the last guy to worry about such things

No worries, licensing is fascinating - it's a game with fuzzy rules and fuzzy ethics. In the case of IA, they are not claiming the games are PD. They only link to a Terms of Use policy, which says on Copyright: "If you believe that your copyright has been violated by material available through the Internet Archive, please provide the Internet Archive Copyright Agent with the following information:" .. there may be more to it which is why only 28 games are available.
posted by stbalbach at 10:01 AM on October 27, 2013

I am not kidding when I say the best part of anything new I get to drop on the world is when it shows up on MetaFilter.

Two different sets of stuff here: The JSMESS project itself, and the Historical Software collection.

The HSC is a carefully curated set of programs that I chose to go across 10 different console and computer platforms, and which run from games to education to utilities and applications. I endeavored to have a bunch of contextual description, links to manuals, reference cards, and a case for how these are not just some "games n' crap" but historically critical works - the predecessor to Ultima, the first spreadsheet program, the earliest microcomputer text adventures. I want someone to walk into that place, and learn about these classic vintage works, and be able to instantly experience them in their browser. So that's the goal there. I think people are enjoying it, getting it, and giving good feedback. It was a lot of work to make the JSMESS program work within Internet Archive's infrastructure, and a lot of that work wasn't done by me.

Then there's the JSMESS project, where it emulates, at this moment, over 300 different computer platforms, can therefore run hundreds of thousands of extant programs floating out in the wild, and has support for sound (not perfect, hence the HSC is silent) and much of the amazing visual and programmatic power of the MESS program itself. Additionally, the work to do things this way really pays off as MESS improves and JSMESS improves right along with it.

So, ultimately, I expect the Internet Archive to have many thousands of programs up, just like the 28. We are also working to make it that if you upload your disk images or cassette .wavs or whatever else, we will have the option of a JSMESS window you can bring up and play that software right there. As we iterate across versions and improve the javascript, it'll get better at stranger and stranger use cases, and give better feedback (keyboard pressing, disk drive lights, etc.). It'll be a fun ride. Come along!

Finally, as I see this story pop up, I notice a couple things coming up, like "Why do they not have XXXX" which I hope the above explains a little. But another is "Oh God, Javascript".

Javascript is, at this point, the only cross-platform, cross-browser, open-sourced language that we have. Java is DOA and undependable (and seriously controlled by a terrible place), the NaCL world is not quite ready, and then it's a nightmare land of installed plugins, external clients and what have you. So Javascript is where it's at.

Both Javascript and Emscripten have improved greatly over the years - if you look at, javascript engines are getting fast. Also, emscripten has done some amazing rounds of improvement in how it compiles. We've seen massive improvements as we've been compiling JSMESS with it, and bugfixes we've sent in have been fixed into amazing improvements. That will continue.

I believe strongly we've back all the right horses: Javascript, MESS, and Emscripten. If better horses come along, I'm sure we'll switch. But this is where it is at for now.
posted by jscott at 3:40 PM on October 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

Not quite sure that I understand all of this, but props to jscott and others behind this. The reason I'm not reading deeper is that I'm trying to get me some flying toasters going right now.

Perhaps Christmas has come early this year...
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:40 AM on October 28, 2013

Mac System 7 in your browser! (with MacPaint!)
posted by mbrubeck at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2013

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