LOAF Fixes the Computer of Tomorrow

Hey! I'll do a big update tomorrow. I haven't made much progress actually building anything, but I have a mess of beauty shots of parts to collect... and I went to a party showing off the WiiU that I guess can be part of this story.

The 3DO Blaster arrived yesterday and so this weekend's project will be getting it up and running!

Hail and well met, fellow fans of pretending to talk like you're in an Ultima game but not quite grasping the mechanics. How doeth thou on this most tubular morning...eth?

I'm hoping to post several things to this thread today, culminating with the part of the story you've all been waiting for. First of all, however, is a collection of consoles and computer parts I Instagram'd while I was anxiously awaiting the 3DO Blaster's arrival. If you follow me on various social networks... I'm sorry. But also you've probably seen at least some of these before.

When we last left our hero, the 3DO Blaster was won! But it was weeks and weeks away. First it would need to ship from the original seller to the Celga warehouse in Japan. Then it would need to hang around for a while until the other two pieces of Japanese Wing Commander junk I bought also arrived so they could all be shipped to the other side of the world together. So: weeks and weeks.

In the meantime and with a newly cleaned desk half I decided to take some pictures of my various Wing Commander oriented consoles. They'll be the heart of the NEXT chunk of this project, as I try to perfect them for their games the same way I have been with the PCs, Mac and Amiga. I posted one each morning to my Tumblr for a few days. (Tumblr: a good place to people who share your interests and then turn out to be teenage girls.) These are all pretty self-explanatory:


The Amiga CD32! In 1993, with the success of the Super Nintendo and Genesis and the rise of the CD-ROM, Commodore boldly stepped forward and said: why not us, too?

The answer was, of course, because no one really wants a system for playing predominantly British PC game ports. It was slightly more of a success (read: not a success in any of the ways by which the word success can be defined) in Europe where people knew what an Amiga was... but it's kind of bizarre that it was even marketed in the US. And yet here an American CD32 console sits!

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but it's molded in a kind of dark grey plastic that just feels incredibly cheap compared to... every other piece of consumer electronics in history. I love it, though, it's so between-the-wars; it has the bearing of the 3DO or the Playstation but the stylings of a Genesis.

It has a cool controller (not pictured) that's sort of a strange U shape with big brightly colored buttons. It looks like the sort of fake controllers people in stock photos play no-games with! I'll snap a shot later. Like the system itself, though, it feels sadly loose and cheap.

You can also turn the CD32 into a real Amiga by way of various third party addons which plug into the expansion port in the back. I actually have one of these, an SX-1 module, which turns it into an Amiga 500-equivalent. It's in my junk pile now that I have an Amiga 4000... I just can't bring myself to sell/trash it because it's so cool. (The addon also makes the console look ridiculous; it becomes L-shaped and then you plug in external floppy and hard drives.)


Here's your average everyday Super Nintendo. This is the first model and... there's nothing much to say about it. I have another one of those modern "retro duo" fake SNESes which I bought to test a Wing Commander prototype cartridge I eBay'd (verdict: not WC2, frown face)... but for the official setup, we need the real thing! Not pictured: two standard controllers. I figure as lame as they are, Wing Commander and The Secret Missions were designed to use the classic Super Nintendo controller. The second controller is because you need it to access a cheat/easter egg in The Secret Missions!


The postage-stamp-sized PSone is absolutely adorable. Why not go with a PS2? Because Wing Commander 3 is, oddly, one of the few games on Sony's old incompatability list. The mechanical eject button was actually jammed when I dug my PSone out of the bit, but I was able to take it apart and clean it out.


Ah, the 3DO. With the arrival of the 'Blaster, my long-suffering FZ-10 can finally go to its rest. This was my first game console, purchased back in 1995 or so to play Super Wing Commander and Wing Commander III. And she has held up magnificently over the years, including many trips back and forth from Maryland to Texas.

The FZ-10 was Panasonic's second model of 3DO and it's a little improved over the FZ-1 (it adds memory management, drops the mechanical CD tray for a physical top-loading one that doesn't break as easily.) The idea behind the 3DO was that the technology would be licensed to anyone willing to make the consoles... so there were multiple companies producing 3DOs (Panasonic, Goldstar, Creative Labs, etc.)

Then I figured what the heck, throw on a few of the fancy controllers I've collected over the years:


Here's the Flightstick Pro, the perfect controller for Wing Commander III. Unlike the FZ-10, this one isn't getting time off... it will be plugged right in to Karga!


... and this monstrosity is Sony's first analog controller, the precursor to the Dualshocks we use today. Hah hah just kidding, no one uses them today since the Playstation 3 is just for watching blurays. But it is magnificant and Wing Commander IV is specifically designed to use this stick-and-throttle setup. If you can't tell from the picture, the footprint on this sucker is roughly the same as that of a small car.

Some of the parts I ordered for the new computer and to get the 3DO Blaster up and running started arriving and so I Instagram'd a few pictures of those as well!


Here's the video card for the new Pentium, a PCI S3 Trio64V+. Why this card? Because it's the same as the one in Karga. I decided that duplicating parts that weren't specific to a game would be best for overall setup and future maintenance. Also, I know it works with the VFX-1!


This is the Soundblaster AWE32 model I bought to go with the 3DO Blaster... which I ultimately realized I didn't need. Note the three IDE-but-not connectors at the back of this card, those were so it could act as the controller for the three types of competing CD-ROM drives at the time (Panasonic, Mitsumi and Sony.)

I discovered I didn't really need this, though! I assumed it was necessary to be the controller card for the Creative Labs CD-ROM drive... but it turns out the 3DO Blaster itself handles that aspect. This has been replaced with an AWE64 Gold, which is in the mail now (to match Karga.)


An Epson SD-800 5.25"/3.5" combo drive like the one used on Karga. These are nigh-invulnerable. Unfortunately they seem to be getting somewhat rare... I ended up paying $40 for it. You can't put a price on a working 5.25" drive in 2012, though!

Finally I decided it was time to take apart Karga for the great switch over. Many of his specialty cards (VFX-1, RAP-10) would be moving over to the new Pentium... and that would be a good opportunity to snap a few pictures. And so I present...


The AWE64 Gold, the GOLD standard for Sound Blasters, hyuck, hyuck, hyuck. This is a cool card: it's smaller than those enormous AWE32s and SB16s so fits nicely in my slot that's blocked by the CPU (ugh, motherboard designers.) The big advantage for someone like myself who doesn't care about the MIDI aspect is that it has a stereo RCA output instead of a single miniplug. And... well, it's literally gold. How cool is that?


The RAP-10, Roland's strange attempt at coming up with a high roller alternative to the Sound Blaster. It's a GM (but not GS) MIDI card mated with a nice FM synth... but the fatal flaw is that it isn't Sound Blaster compatible. A game has to SPECIFICALLY support the Roland RAP-10 in order to use it. Amazingly enough, Wing Commander 3 and 4 (which has no MIDI!) are among the few that do.

This card would be far sexier if Roland hadn't cheaped out -- it doesn't have the extended Roland GS MIDI sounds and it doesn't have an intelligent MPU-401 port.


The controller card for the VFX1. This is what people fight over on eBay; the helmets themselves actually show up pretty cheap regularly!


An AGP Voodoo 5 5500. 3dfx cards don't come much fancier than this! Okay, they do, but those are rare prototypes and way over what is needed for Wing Commander Prophecy. I do miss my Pure3D Voodoo 1 card, but this is a pretty cool replacement. Note the power molex... thing: you needed to plug these right into the power supply!

Okay, whew, one post down several more to go. Tune in next time when we find out just what I was doing during those three weeks. (Hint: nothing that has anything to do with old computers.)
Here is, I promise, the last of the what-I-did-on-my-3DO vacation posts. It's... just a bunch of random things from my camera. But haven't you always wondered what my life is like when I'm not building a Wing Commander related computer?


My Star Trek wallet was getting a little long in the tooth, so I replaced it with the next best thing.


I facilitated a cat-to-cat iPhone conversation.


I bought some fine art! And also these paintings. Our mutual friend LeHah alerted me to a piece of Wing Commander CCG original art being sold on eBay and despite having NO MONEY after all the 3DOing I decided to buy it.

... and then the seller offered me a second piece after I paid. DAMN IT! These are actually really cool, just 300 or so more needed to complete the collection. It's pretty neat to own a piece of my favorite card game.


I dehoarded the shelf of random Xbox 180 games next to my bed down into a nightstand with important artifacts and a charging station for my various devices. Now I'll never be without a 3DS or a Kindle or whatever.


Which actually got me to my next idea, which was that working out in the morning would be much, much less boring if I was playing Wing Commander IV on my PSP. Yes, I have a lavender PSP, you want to fight about it?


I made my name in diskettes.


I bought some other art! The Gneech was selling comissions and I figured it'd be neat to have a Kilrathi drawn by him. And it was neat!




I went downtown to see Batman and took this picture of the Metro. Like in Fallout. Except the escalators work more often in Fallout.


Here's the motherboard for the Pentium all stacked up and ready to go!


And here's my work area with a cool light up moon!


I moved my bed and found... this. What is it? No one knows.


I guess I can't talk about this one!


... but here's a movie prop to tide you over.



I was in the Ultima Forever Alpha! Which I guess I also can't disclose. But my brother picked me up these cards and map at ComicCon!


I like to look at my VFX-1 on its glass head and think to myself /really/.


Here's the order for the last bits of the Pentium that were needed. So that's coming soon!


So for the last... year maybe... I've had this book I knew as a kid in my head. It was about how to make space-related crafts out of everyday objects; cardboard, soda bottles, etc. But I COULD NOT remember the name and it frustrated the hell out of me constantly. I'd go on a googling frenzy every few weeks: alien crafts, UFO crafts, space crafts, etc. and come up with nothing remotely correct.

Until a few nights ago I was lying in bed and the word 'interplanetary' popped into my head. Sure enough: "The Interplanetary Toybook." A few days later, Amazon had a used copy in my hands. So now I can make so many toy spaceships out of old bottles.


I'm sensing a theme.


And one more giant Lego. I was feeling bad last weekend and I decided I'd build a giant Star Wars Lego ship to take my mind off things. A 2500 piece Imperial Shuttle. Which is twice as many pieces as any of the power outage ones I built were. No big deal, right? I could do it in an afternoon!

I bought this kit in an awkward fashion a few months ago - the only one they had left at the Lego store was open. The guy insisted it was fine, but I kind of had my doubts. So I figured I'd put my mind at ease finally and build it.


Saturday afternoon, everything was sorted and ready.


3 AM Saturday. Not... progressing great.


10 PM on Sunday. Argh, now this was going to haunt me during the work week.


Monday afternoon.


Grey cat dies of Lego poisoning.


Tuesday night.


Wednesday night. FINALLY. Anyway, this thing is unreasonably giant and I have absolutely no place to put it. Sure feels good, though.
I was actually referring to the book, but now that you mention it I do remember they made a movie out of it. Pissed my wife off no end as I recall (the whole "book's better than the movie" crap. Again.)
I have never read the book, but I remember the movie being strangely fancy. One of those things where they clearly spent an insane amount of money on it and you aren't quite sure why. And then everyone in the world immediately forgot about it.
And now back to our story, already in progress!

As I mentioned, the 3DO Blaster arrived! Did I mention that it costs $73 to ship a 3DO Blaster from Japan to the US via EMS? I have absolutely no money right now. But it was worth it! Or it will be, if it works. Let's find out.


Here's the beautiful box with that classic Creative Labs livery. I looked through a thread of Creative Labs collectors and I was absolutely enamoured of their collections of dozens of Sound Blaster models in these boxes.

Thanks to the Grey Cat for demonstrating how parallel lines work.

One thing I've found buying from Japanese collectors: they are METICULOUS. Used games always have their registration cards and their little sticker seals and so on. The 3DO Blaster even had its original plastic wrap, neatly folded and included in the box!

It also had THIS:


Woah! I don't think I can bring myself to stick this on Karga's ugly, ugly case but... I will absolutely scan it and make a copy. It's such a neat little addition. Oh, Intel Inside? Well, check out what I'M packing!


Also from Japan was this neat-o-keen Super Wing Commander... I don't know what it is. A sales slick of some sort. It's made of heavy, glossy plastic. The reverse is a similar advertisement for the 3DO Need for Speed.


Here's the card itself. It's beautiful! A full length ISA card, it matches the LAPC-I in size (and scope!) If you'd like to see it up close, here's a DSLR photo: http://hamtwoslices.net/photos/3DO_Blaster_DOSV.JPG

So there's one worry down: the thing I paid $500 at an auction where I couldn't understand the language really was a 3DO Blaster and it survived being shipped around the world. But the big questions still remained: would it actually work? Would the CD-ROM I bought to go with it work? Would I need to install DOS/V and Windows 3.1J to use it, or could I just find the English software?

So my next step was to find the English software. I posted please at a pair of message board where I knew people had talked about 3DO Blaster ownership before: a 3DO community and at Vogons. The 3DO group was a bust, but someone at Vogons was able to immediately provide me with the English software disk and the CD-ROM drivers (my CIC login isn't working; I'll upload them to our FTP when it is.)

We also--and this fascinates me if no one else--figured out what the difference between the two cards was. Here's his English-language card:


Note the two EEPROMs near the bottom of the ISA connector, with a space between them? Now look at the same area on my Japanese card. The missing EEPROM contains the kanji fonts needed for various Japanese 3DO titles!

So, cut to last night and I'm lazily watching gymnastics (okay, enthusiastically watching gymnastics) and waiting for the day to end. I figured this would be it for my story and I would try to make everything actually WORK this weekend.

Then I got a text from my brother: he had to go to a movie screening, could I stay up until midnight and buy a Breaking Bad watch for him? Sure. But I'd need something to do with those extra hours...

So I decide to go ahead and put everything together. I started by putting the CD-ROM in, I figured I would set that up before I touched the 3DO Blaster. It went in to the extra slot, plugged in to the power (I was out of molexes and had ordered a splitter) and... nothing.

Karga wasn't booting. He'd power up and I could do things like open the drive bays... but there was no post, no beeps. His immortal soul seemed to be gone. What was going on?


I tried swapping the PSU with this older one; it says 1979 on it because I took it from a time machine. That gave me hope for a minute (it didn't boot /differently/) but ultimately didn't go anywhere.

Then I figured it out: putting the older, longer CD-ROM in to the case had wanged the crap out of the RAM. Nice going, computer case designers, there's no room for a full length 5.25" drive. In fact, there's no room for ANY 5.25" drives if you use all four slots. Argh.

So I put in a new 128 meg SIMM (luckily, I had a few... thousand... lying around) and screwed the drive in half-way and... bingo, boots fine once again (reminder to self: swap out the power supplies again tonight, put 1979 back in the time machine.)


You're really really ugly, Karga, and you're going to need a new case.

So with that dumb misadventure out of the way I proceeded to carefully wedge a 13" 3DO Blaster into a 12" ISA hole. Now if you like plugging things into other things you are going to LOVE the 3DO Blaster installation process:

- Run an internal audio connector from the CD-ROM to the 3DO Blaster.
- Run an internal audio connector from the 3DO Blaster to the Sound Blaster.
- Run a 42-pin proprietary ribbon from the CD-ROM to the 3DO Blaster.
- Run a VESA feature connector ribbom from the 3DO Blaster to the video card.
- Run an external VGA pass through from your video card to the video-in on the 3DO Blaster
- Pray


And I did all that and... nothing, no VGA signal. Oh no! Did I have a bad Blaster? Had I spent hundreds of dollars in treasure and shaved years off my life worrying about the auction for nothing?

Nope, I had the feature connector ribbon on backwards. I swapped it around and bingo, Karga booted and displayed video that was passing through the 3DO Blaster. I suddenly had a lot of hope.

Whew, I'm tired, I said to no one in particular, because I was tired. But wait: after all that it was only 10:30. I still had 90 minutes before I had to buy a weird watch for my brother. Eh, I'll just watch gymnastics. But wait: NBC HAD CUT TO SWIMMING.

So I dutifully put the 3DO software and the CD-ROM drivers onto a USB connector, jumped to my Windows 98 partition and dumped them on the DOS drive.

Booting up in DOS, next, was a mess because my autoexec was looking for half a dozen cards that weren't there anymore. I'll clean that later.

I installed the CD-ROM drivers in DOS and rebooted and...


Argh! The CD-ROM wasn't connecting. Was this normal because I hadn't installed the 3DO Blaster drivers yet, or was it trouble?

Switch to Windows where I found... that my video card settings were screwed up because it was looking for my Voodoo with it's weird hacked drivers. After a little switching around I had visible Windows 3.11 again.

I ran the English 3DO Blaster installer. This was the big test.

No errors. Time for a reboot.

..... ADAPTER CARD READY! Bam, the CD-ROM drive WAS working now. This was a good sign.

Back to Windows. I now had an array of 3DO-related utilities to choose from. I started the player and got the startup logo from the BIOS!


WOO! This is great! The last big test for the night: can it actually play a game?

I popped Super Wing Commander out of the FZ-10 stored in back of me, put it in the Creative Labs CD-ROM drive and, well:


We have 3DO on the PC, boys and girls!

There's a LOT I have to experiment with now in terms of display settings, keyboard mapping (?!) and so on... but it works and it's amazing. The picture is SO CLEAR compared to the s-video on the console. This whole process was so worth it.

So next steps are to build the Pentium and do a LOT of cleaning. Everything is everywhere because I had to disconnect joysticks, speakers, KVM switches and so on to take Karga apart.

But I'm going to be playing Wing Commander 3 3DO on my PC in no time!
Awesome job, glad to see you got your 3DO blaster up and running now. This topic made me wanna post my own retro gaming room, hope you don't mind!

Are you sure this sound card (Roland RAP-10), does not support any Sound Blaster? I managed to find a special DOS driver for this card - TAPIRAPT.COM. It seems to me that the driver works as a Sound Blaster for this card.
That is the DOS driver for using a Turtle Beach "Sequencer Plus" MIDI sequencer with the RAP-10.

(Just the fact that the Sequencer Plus needed separate drivers for the Sound Blaster and the RAP-10 is a good indicator of the fact that they're incompatible...)
It is not. I'm sorry, dude, there's no way your RAP-10 is ever going to be a Soundblaster, no matter how you ask the question. But it's a pretty neat toy, regardless.
A soundblaster pro- compatible card goes for next to nothing these days. Team it up with your RAP-10, and you'll enjoy the best of both worlds...
The RAP-10 is an odd one in that it doesn't need any drivers loaded at startup... the games that support it take care of that themselves.
It's 4am, and thanks to the necro bump above, I just spent 40 minutes reading through this epic adventure once more.

I never thought I'd reach a time in my life where lying awake in bed in the small hours with a smartphone reading about how a dude far across the sea went to great trouble to obtain and compile a number of aged computer parts would be quite so gripping.

...but thanks for this, Ben. These threads were astonishingly good reads.

I can only imagine (you never did say?) that WC3 3DO was quite the treat on that gargantuan 90s boss rig. I'm semi tempted to build my own retro machine as I only started full builds circa 2000 and some of the hardware looks most alien. It'd be a fun challenge.

But I probably won't.

Kudos sir. Very belated kudos.
Thank you very much! I'll continue the story someday... the computers have survived two moves, and have gotten a few friends since then... just need time to tell my story :)