Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for October 3rd, 2013

The IBM PCjr Exhibition Starter Kit

Posted by Trixter on October 3, 2013

I had a blast at this year’s VCFMW.  If you peruse my event photos, you’ll notice a PCjr setup in several pictures, both with and without people using them.  This was my display, which I pimped with an hour-long presentation about the history, hacking, and homebrew state of the PCjr.  I stood up three systems:  A starter (stock) system, an expanded system, and a hobbyist/homebrew system.  All had games and books and software, with original boxes and manuals.  I also laid out some cartridge games so people could see what those were like, and also some uncommon sidecars including a speech adapter and cluster adapter.  Finally, each monitor had a sign on top of it that encouraged people to TRY ME! and listed things they could do with each system.

All in all, I was pretty happy with it — and some others were too, based on the attention it got.  Some highlights:

  • Dads and sons playing Dr. J and Larry Bird go One-on-One against each other
  • A Lode Runner expert playing for over an hour through level 32 and 192,000 points until she had to leave
  • A couple of friends completing King’s Quest (using an iphone to download maps and hints)
  • The guy who made Coverfire (Crossfire clone) playing the original Crossfire on cartridge, like he had 30 years ago

People using the systems and asking questions was exactly what I was hoping for.

Missed the show?  Want to stand up an exhibit of your own?  Not to worry!  I’ve made all of my presentation and exhibition materials available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.  You are free to use those materials if you’d like to put on a similar presentation.  The 1-hour presentation slides, unprotected disk images for some games, signs I made for each setup, and even a PCjr button and t-shirt design are there if you truly want to nerd out.

Bill of materials

Starter system: 128k PCjr, no sidecars, wireless chiclet keyboard, two joysticks

Expanded system: Racore 2nd-drive expansion, 640k, wired “pro” PCjr keyboard (the later model), two joysticks.  (Optional: NEC V20 CPU, Tandy 1000 graphcs hardware mod)

Hobbyist system: jrIDE sidecar (adds hard drive via an 8GB IDE DOM, 768K RAM, clock), parallel-port sidecar with xircom PE3 adapter connected to the internet, IBM 83-key keyboard connected via a Racore adapter

Preparation

I copied some software to diskettes (that I wouldn’t care if someone walked away with them) to demonstrate the starter and expanded setups:

  • Super Boulderdash
  • Jumpman
  • Dr. J and Larry Bird go One on One
  • Music Construction Set
  • Pinball Construction Set
  • Flight Simulator v2.12 (v2.13 has a bug if you try to use expanded memory)
  • Touchdown Football
  • King’s Quest (original PCjr booter)

These game choices were carefully considered and deliberate:

  • All of these were bootable disks that didn’t require any DOS — just insert the disk and turn on the system.
  • They all have support for PCjr graphics, sound, or both (Touchdown Football even talks!).
  • They support gameplay through joysticks which means there is no learning curve in figuring out the keyboard commands

I felt they showed off the “best intentions” of the PCjr while keeping user learning/confusion to a minimum.

Materials

To flesh out the display, I added many more materials: PCjr magazines, books, and original boxed PCjr-specific versions of software (Lotus 1-2-3, Wordstar, Typing Tutor III, Andrew Tobias Managing Your Money, others).  I wanted users to get a sense of what personal computing was like back in the 1980s and I felt the additional materials helped.  On more than one occasion people were flipping through the magazines, either looking for names they knew, or mocking some of the advertisements :-)

Here’s what it all looked like when completed:

1-20130927_184813 2-20130927_184819 3-20130927_184825

I will eventually be putting almost two hours of PCjr materials on youtube in a series of videos, but until then, enjoy the starter kit.

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