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Sometimes you come across something that just makes you say wow – do a double-take and say wow again!

This was my immediate reaction when I found out about jsbeeb

Retro game and computer emulators are not new things – but this for me is special and personal.

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Arcadians

My first computer was a Acorn BBC Micro – 1983 was the year – spotty teenager with the newest and arguably hottest personal computer here in the UK. In fact – back then, the UK was the main country with the latest and fastest growing cutting edge personal computers – the first PC’s – Spectrum’s, Dragon, ZX80/81, Amstrad etc.

The BBC wanted to launch a TV series about computers – they wanted a computer to show how to use computers – and they chose a little known company called Acorn to produce the proton – soon to be renamed to the BBC Micro – in just a few weeks from start to finish.

If you’ve never heard of Acorn – then just look at your phone – its beating heart is likely to be an ARM processor, designed by the same imaginative minds that created the beeb.

Packed full of cutting edge stuff (for the time) – a massive 32K of RAM – yes you read that correctly, running at an amazing 2MHz, with 6 “modes” of graphics – one of which was 8 colours at 160 x 256 pixel resolution and 3 channels of audio – all run on the wonderful Motorola 6502 processor … haven’t we all come a long way in 30 years :)

Most of the memory was taken up by the graphic mode – so most games were written in less than 10K. Back then, not only every byte was precious – every bit of the byte was vital.

What makes jsbeeb special then?

Well – it is written in javascript … so think about what has been done. We’ve got an interpreted language, emulating a whole foreign microprocessor, the custom sound chip, custom graphics chips etc, all displaying its output in a web-browser. In-fact, today’s computers are so fast, the authors have had to slow down the emulator to make it usable.

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Chuckie Egg

how to install

sudo apt-get install git
cd ~/Downloads
git clone https://github.com/mattgodbolt/jsbeeb.git

how to run

cd ~/Downloads/jsbeeb
python -mSimpleHTTPServer

Then fire up your favourite web-browser and type in the search bar localhost:8000

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Defender

how to use

Ubuntu users who dabble with a terminal will feel right at home here. The BBC Micro had no concept of a mouse, windows etc. It was command line driven. The language was – and still is – the wonderful BBC Basic

You just need to know a few of the basics

  1. *CAT – displays the contents of a disc
  2. CHAIN "filename" – loads and runs the “executable” e.g. CHAIN “METEORS”
  3. ALT-F12reboots the computer
  4. SHIFT-F12 – reboots and runs whatever disc was last loaded. Thus if in doubt – choose a game and then press SHIFT-F12 to run the game.

The default game is the brilliant Elite

Workspace 1_010

For games, the keyboard is king – most games had similar key bindings. CAPS-LOCK + CTRL or Z + X are left and right. ENTER or SPACE is “Fire”. SHIFT is “Go faster”. The fun though was figuring out these key strokes yourself – just press every key on your keyboard until something happened :)

Workspace 1_008

Meteors

Some tips

  1. the * in *CAT can vary on your keyboard – on my UK keyboard, * is SHIFT-@
  2. Put your browser into fullscreen mode – e.g. F11 for Firefox and then use CTRL+scroll to shrink or expand the “CUB Monitor screen” to fit your screen size.
  3. The options “Discs – From STH Archive” will download the full games archive from Stairway To Hell – but it can take 10 minutes or more.
  4. … so while you are waiting, just go-to STH, download a zip file, unpack it to reveal the .img file. Then load this “from examples or local” – remember to use the “all files” option to make the .img file visible.

Finally – have fun – the games are superb – amazingly addictive – and just remember what you could achieve in just a few K of ram.

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