Our hobby in The New York Times -- sort of

From: Jim Brain <brain_at_jbrain.com>
Date: Mon Dec 20 17:23:22 2004

> Sated geek that I am, I'd love to read an in-depth article on the
> intellection property issues: Did they get permission from the
> CBM's heirs? Who got the 6510's IP rights? What about the software,
> was that easy to license? Why do so many of these cheap emulators
> license lousy titles, as opposed to the extinct top-sellers?

Since the principals aren't subscribed, I'll do my best.

Ys, they did, although the connection is rather circuituous (sp?). Early
in the year, Tulip held a big news conference and went over their vision
for the Commodore brand. At the time, they showed off me-too MP3 players
and USB drives with names like mPET and eVIC. They also introduced the
head of Ironstone Partners, and Tulip and Ironstone jointly described the
new web site that would allow the purchase of a C64 emulator and games and
the C64 Direct To TV (C64DTV).

Jeri's talk at the recent World of Commodore EXPO in Toronto paints a
slightly different picture. She said Ironstone had contacted her in late
2003, but couldn't seem to commit money to the project. In the Spring,
though, DC Studios called, with contract and money in hand. My theory is
that Ironstone punted to DC Studios. in any case, Jeri started on the
unit, and DC went looking for a implementor and a buyer. QVC stepped up
with the requiremements, and Mammoth stepped up to build.

The software was not easy to license, and the timing was too tight. QVC
set the number of games (30), and Adrian Gonzales and Robin Harbron,
helped at times by Mark Seelye with some last minute pieces by Per
Olafsson (sp?
) worked right up to the last minute to deliver 30 games for the unit.
Mark and Robin removed trainers and crack intros from games cracks for for
the unit, rewriting portions to deal with some small compatibility issues
and lack of some of the illegal NMOS 6502 opcodes. As well, two-player
modes and keyboard requirements had to be removed. Adrian worked on the
ROM file system, which replaced the tape load routines. Per helped on a
pro-bono basis, and added the joystick keyboard driver you can access on
the unit, as well as some easter eggs. At the time we (myself and others)
came to the September 2004 SWRAP EXPO in Chicago, the team had to deliver
the ROMset to the fab the next Monday. To get 30 games, Adrian had been
forced to split the Epyx "Games" series into individual events. That
following week, though, someone (not sure if it was Mammoth, DC, or QVC)
had a fit about that, so the team was given another week to stuff more
games in the unit. Though, for every games added, one had to be removed
so the final number was 30 (not counting the hidden games).

By the time of the SWRAP show, the final VHDL set had gone to fab for the
ASIC. Jeri and I chatted on IRC one Saturday (possibly late October)
where she stated she had held the box with 250K ASICs (unbonded) in a box
earlier that afternoon. Another week, she was in China to help with
layout and board issues. It seems she laid out a fine PCB, but the
contract manufacturer kept trying to cost reduce the unit, wreaking havoc.
 Jeri had to keep undoing things they did to the PCB to put it back in
working order.

A couple interesting items about the unit:

Folks should now know that Jeri's been working on the C-1 reconfigurable
computer (formerly known as the Commodore 1). As the first core was the
C64 core (which is what formed the basis of the C64DTV unit), the legality
of her reverse engineering the custom CSG ICs was a gray area. In the
contract for the C64DTV development, Jeri inked in language that
solidifies her right to develop the C64 core for the C-1. So, in essence,
she got paid for the work, and she was able to remove any legal issues
along the way. As a further note, Jeri was paid for the work upon
completion, no royalties, but I think the article also states that.

If you do hack the unit, you'll be presented with a complete C64 core that
is 99.X% vintage. As well, you'll find a small bit on $d03f, in the VIC
address range, that, if enabled, turns on a chunk of new functionality.
256 colors, a linear bitmap mode, virtual screen larger than physical
screen mode, and a DMA engine (ala the CBM 17XX REUs).

In the "keep it under your hat, you didn't hear it from me" Dept:
The IEC and KB pads were smuggled onto the unit. The initial PCB layout
brought all the lines out to pads. Under the epoxy, the actual ASIC has
all the C64 port lines and pins available, but the contract manufacturer
kept cost reducing the board and re-laying it to accomodate the cheap
manual labor that was to build it. Initially, they removed the lines
altogether, but then Jeri noted they needed to be pulled high by
resistors. After much grumbling, the manufacturer added the requisite
resistors into the design, which force the pins to be bonded and brought
beyond the epoxy, thus making them available for the hobbyist. As for the
pulling high.... The ASIC pulls those lines high internally. So, in the
end, the manufacturer paid a bit more in trying to cost reduce the unit.
Her defense is that those lines are needed in order to completely test the
unit, which is true.

Last weekend, Jeri was in Thunder Bay (Robin's locale) trying to get the
PAL version (the current ASIC is NTSC only) ready for the European market.
 I hear more surprises are in store for the PAL unit, so those of us who
bought early, will need to buy again.

And, contrary to the reader's current opinion, I am not Jeri's #1 fanboy.
Though, I have been blessed to be in the mostly "in-crowd" concerning the
development, before it became public knowledge. I do find it nice that an
enthusiast has been able to turn their hobby into some PR and some good
paying work to boot. The platform has gotten some PR.

About the only issue is that the DTV has fundementally raised the bar for
such throwaway joystick units. Already, the Atari crowd is miffed that
the Flashback and previous units are really NES-on-a-chip or similar with
re-written games, while the DTV is the real (NMOS going to CMOS
notwithstanding) item. As well, it has definite hacking potential, and
can be used far beyond the games it contains in ROM. The only concern
from the development team is that Tulip and the rest will wise up and
remove the hacking potential from the PAL unit, which would be a terrible

Jim Brain
Received on Mon Dec 20 2004 - 17:23:22 GMT

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