Any Good Tutorial Videos for MSX Newbies

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By telecommand

Supporter (14)

telecommand's picture

18-07-2018, 23:40

Hi all,

Just wondering if there are any YouTube videos you recommend for newbies to MSX (actual hardware rather than emulators?) I haven't really found any after searching but I'm just after basics like using MSX Basic, how to load a cassette, formatting/loading disks etc.

Is my only option to look up wikis or is there a decent MSX 101 out there?

Thanks!

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By wyrdwad

Hero (653)

wyrdwad's picture

19-07-2018, 23:15

I've suggested making a video like this before, as I think it could be really useful to a lot of new MSX adopters. I might take some time to record segments for such a video in the near future, as it's about time to make it a reality!

In the meantime, I can detail for you some of the information you're asking about... it'll just have to wait a few hours, since I'm presently at work. Wink But detailing things like how to load cassettes, formatting disks, etc., I can definitely help you with, and putting it into easy-to-understand language might be good practice for my eventual video.

I'll try to post some details later tonight if I can. Otherwise... well, the weekend's coming up, so I can definitely get things posted for you then!

-Tom

By wyrdwad

Hero (653)

wyrdwad's picture

20-07-2018, 10:13

OK, so here's some starter info for you, in a nutshell.

First off, I don't know what model of MSX you purchased, but here are a few general factoids:

  • If your MSX has a peculiar switch next to the reset button, it may be for the "internal software," a.k.a. the menu system that loads word-processing, BIOS config settings, etc. You'll basically never need this in the modern world, so you may as well set this switch to OFF (切) rather than ON (入) if you've got it. If you don't have any such switch, then... never mind!
  • Similarly, if you have a dial next to the reset button, it may be for rapid-fire (and may say something next to it like RENSHA, REN-SHA, etc., which basically just means rapid-fire!). In most cases, for gaming, you're going to want to use a controller rather than the keyboard, and most good controllers have individual turbo switches for each button, so you'll probably want to turn this dial all the way off as well.
  • Again, I don't know what model MSX you purchased, but I'm willing to bet it has two cartridge slots and one floppy disk drive. For your reference, the order of operations for basically every MSX is: cartridge in slot 1, cartridge in slot 2, internal software (i.e. the menu), floppy disk, BASIC. In other words, if there's a cartridge in slot 1, that will take priority over everything else, and the MSX will boot from that. If there's not, but there's a cartridge in slot 2, that will be the next-highest priority. If there are no cartridges inserted, then it'll load the system menu. If you have that turned off, then it will try to boot from disk. (If you have the system menu turned on, you can still boot a disk by selecting BASIC from the menu, as that will pass control of the system down the chain.) And if it can't load anything from the disk, or if there's no disk inserted, it will boot to MSX-BASIC.
  • Do you have an MSX2+ or MSX turboR? If so, then you probably have MSX-MUSIC support built in to your system. (Systems that have this will generally have the MSX-MUSIC logo printed on the case somewhere, but sometimes that's worn off.) If you have an MSX1 or MSX2, then chances are you don't have MSX-MUSIC. What MSX-MUSIC is is a Yamaha OPLL FM sound chip, which is used by a very large number of Japanese games (as a general rule of thumb, the majority of disk games utilize OPLL, whereas the VAST majority of cartridge games go for standard 3-channel PSG chiptune-style music instead). Many games will have both PSG and OPLL soundtracks available, to accommodate either type of system, though a rare few titles will have OPLL only, leaving you in silence if you don't have MSX-MUSIC on your system.
  • ...Not to fear, though, because you can always buy an FM-PAC or similar cartridge, which will provide any MSX system with MSX-MUSIC support when inserted into one of the two cartridge slots.
  • Is your system Japanese or European? If it's Japanese, then chances are it only has 64 KB internal RAM (unless it's been upgraded). And if it's European, chances are it has 128 KB internal RAM (unless it's been upgraded). There are exceptions to this, such as the MSX turboR machines (which I believe have 256 KB RAM standard), but this holds true for the most part.
  • ...The thing is, it also probably doesn't really matter, if you're playing exclusively cartridge games (from any country), or if you're playing primarily Japanese games (on cartridge, cassette, OR disk). It's only if you plan on playing European games -- especially European games on floppy disk -- that 64 KB RAM will often be too little, resulting in the game either refusing to boot, or freezing your system. This limitation can be overcome with special memory-expansion cartridges, but depending on the game and your model of MSX, those might not actually be recognized, meaning a handful of European games will simply be unplayable for you without directly upgrading your internal RAM.
  • Also, it's worth noting that there is an NTSC/PAL divide with MSX systems. European systems typically default to 50 Hz, while Japanese systems typically default to 60 Hz. You can change this via software, though I don't know how. And in a lot of cases, it won't actually matter -- though when playing certain Japanese games on a 50 Hz machine, the music and general game speed will be slow, and when playing certain European games on a 60 Hz machine, the music and general game speed will be fast.
  • There is NOT any region-protection on MSX games, however... except for Metal Gear 2. For whatever reason, Metal Gear 2 is region-locked to Japanese systems. So if you're using a European system, you may need a crack for that.
  • Oh, and one final general warning: NEVER REMOVE A CARTRIDGE WHILE THE MSX IS POWERED ON. This is apparently a cartridge-killer, or even a system-killer, in some rare instances, and is generally discouraged.

Now, on the subject of disks:

  • Early MSX1 machines have 1DD floppy drives, which can only hold 360 KB of data and are more or less useless (since very few games come in chunks of 360 KB or less). Chances are, however, whatever machine you bought has a 2DD floppy drive, which means your floppy disks can hold 720 KB of data -- the vast majority of MSX models are equipped with these.
  • The problem with this is, most floppy disks you can still find for sale in the dusty corners of the internet are 2HD -- the kind that store 1.44 MB. And these are not supported by any MSX model, to my knowledge.
  • Not to fear, though! You see the write-protect switch on one side of the floppy disk? Check the other side of the disk as well. On a proper MSX-style 720 KB disk, there will be nothing there, but on a 1.44 MB disk, there will be a hole there. If you place a piece of tape over that hole, the MSX will be completely fooled into thinking you're using a 720 KB 2DD disk!
  • Note that using these fake converted disks as your blank floppies isn't perfect, however. You may find that your first attempt to format such disks will fail (though if you try again immediately afterward, it will almost always succeed). And you may find, too, that when attempting to rewrite the whole disk via Disk Manager, it'll just give you errors until you reformat the disk -- and you'll usually have to reformat it on the MSX, rather than through Disk Manager. But, it's still an option, either way!
  • Speaking of Disk Manager, I highly recommend picking up a cheap USB floppy drive off of eBay or Amazon (make sure it specifically says it supports 2DD 720 KB disks, though, as most do not!), and also downloading this software onto your Windows computer: http://www.lexlechz.at/en/software/DiskMgr.html - You'll be using this a lot to write .dsk files you've downloaded from the internet onto floppy disks, or to back up your floppy disks onto your Windows machine.
  • If Disk Manager gives you an error when attempting to load a .dsk file, just ignore it. You can still write the .dsk to disk, and it'll still almost certainly work fine on your MSX. Errors typically just mean the disk contains binary data, rather than MSX-DOS data.
  • Also, speaking of formatting disks, here's how you do it in MSX-BASIC: make sure you've got a blank floppy disk in the drive, and type CALL FORMAT. You'll be asked if you want to format the disk in drive A or B; select A. You'll then also be asked if you want to format a single-sided dual density disk (1DD) or double-sided dual density disk (2DD); select 2DD, as that's the 720 KB version. And that's it!
  • Make sure to always keep a formatted blank disk on hand for save-games, as a lot of games save to disk! Even some cartridge games, like Metal Gear 2, save to disk.
  • Also, if you're going to be playing a game off of disk, it's good to get in the habit of holding the left Ctrl key on bootup. This frees up a little extra memory for use by the floppy drive. MOST of the time, you won't need to do this... but on rare occasions, it can spell the difference between a game working like a charm, and a game crapping out on you. (Fortunately, most games that require this will actually tell you to do it on bootup. This message will often be in Japanese, however, so... yeah...)
  • One other important thing to keep in mind: floppy disks can get very dirty, and worse, they can get moldy. Like, on the inside! It's kind of a myth that the floppy disk is a volatile format, as a well cared-for floppy will likely last longer than a CD. However, if the platter inside the floppy disk gets moldy, THAT'S usually what causes the disk not to load, or to generate bad sectors. And worse still, mold from a disk can transfer onto your drive head and deposit mold onto other disks. So every time you get a new disk off of eBay or what-not, I highly recommend sliding open the metal shield on it and checking the platter inside under a bright light. Use your fingernail on the metal circle along the back of the disk to slowly rotate the platter until you've checked all the way around, then flip the disk over and check the other side as well; you're looking for noticeable splotches or areas of dubious discoloration. If you see any such things, then you've likely got a moldy disk!
  • Moldy disks CAN be cleaned, however, 90% of the time. It's tough to do, and the process involves careful usage of cotton swabs, soapy water, and isopropyl alcohol -- but I have a friend who's superb at cleaning disks, and after sending her roughly two dozen moldy disks to clean, she sent them back to me with every one in working order except for 3 of them. Which is a pretty damned good ratio, IMHO!

And, on the significantly more complicated subject of cassettes:

  • First off, you're going to need a data recorder.
  • Secondly, MAKE SURE you're holding the left Shift key on bootup if you plan to load a tape game. That basically completely unloads the floppy drive from memory, and is absolutely *essential* for loading the majority of tapes out there. Fail to do this, and you'll barely be able to play anything via cassette... at least, on a Japanese system with 64 KB RAM.
  • Once you've got a tape in and rewound, there are three possible means of loading data from it: LOAD, BLOAD, and CLOAD. Most games will tell you which command to use in their manual or liner notes, or on the cassette label itself -- though this isn't always the case. If you do see a command written somewhere, be sure to type it out exactly (remembering that filenames are CASE-SENSITIVE), press Enter, then press Play on the data recorder.
  • If there's no command written anywhere, you can try each of the three, which I'll explain in detail below. If it worked, you should see the word "FOUND:" appear on your screen, followed by a filename, shortly after the first data burst.
  • If you see the word "Skip:" followed by a filename, it probably means you didn't follow my above instructions and remember that filenames are case-sensitive, so stop, rewind, and try again! ;)
  • ...But before doing that, press Ctrl+Stop to tell the MSX to stop trying to read from the tape. That's the general key command for breaking out of a BASIC program.
  • The tape-loading command most common to use with European cassette games is LOAD"CAS:",R or RUN"CAS:" -- both of these commands do the same thing, which is to load the first program they find on the tape into MSX-BASIC, and then RUN it as soon as it's done loading.
  • The tape-loading command most common to use with Japanese cassette games is CLOAD by itself -- no filename, no ,R or anything like that. This loads binary data in a very peculiar way that seems unique to Japanese tape games, and you'll just see the word "Ok" on the screen when it's done. At this point you can type RUN or press F5 to run the program.
  • And if neither LOAD or CLOAD works, try BLOAD"CAS:",R -- this works just like LOAD"CAS:",R except that it searches for binary data rather than MSX-BASIC data. BLOAD commands are the ones that typically cause those funky color bands to appear along the border of the screen while the game is being loaded.

...And, yeah. I'm 100% certain I'm missing something here, but that's kind of the long and the short of it. If I made a mistake with anything, I'm sure someone else will correct me, but hopefully this info will be enough to help you get started!

Let me know if you have any questions.

-Tom

By Manuel

Ascended (14470)

Manuel's picture

20-07-2018, 22:17

One minor correction: the only game with region lock is Metal Gear, Japanese version. Not Metal Gear 2.

Also, I never understood the use of LOAD"CAS:",R. If you can just do RUN"CAS:".... Don't bother about file names, just leave them out. CLOAD is for tokenized BASIC programs. A nice compact format, but doesn't support automatic running. It's not unique to Japanese games, although most commercial tape releases in Europe avoided it in favour of a small loader in ASCII format (RUN"CAS:"), followed by the machine code program, or a direct machine code program loader (BLOAD"CAS:",R).

By wyrdwad

Hero (653)

wyrdwad's picture

21-07-2018, 04:27

Ah, duly noted! I always thought it was Metal Gear 2. Thanks for the correction!

Also, I agree, there's no point in ever typing LOAD"CAS:",R when you can just type RUN"CAS:", but I feel it's helpful to note that that command exists for parity with BLOAD"CAS:",R, since it makes the BLOAD command seem less like an outlier.

And while there's generally no reason to bother with filenames, I have actually played one cassette game that kind of required it, as it used different filenames to determine different routes (specifically intending for you to skip over a few datastreams in order to load the one that represented the choice you just made). I don't recall which game it was, though, because I remember it kinda sucked, so I got rid of it. Wink I think it might have been one of the James Bond games?

But yeah, in general, "don't bother with filenames" is good advice.

Again, though, I think it's important to at least note that filenames are case-sensitive, since there are definitely games which include filenames in the run commands listed in their manuals, for whatever reason. And if you're like me, and decide to type exactly what the manual tells you to type -- but forget that cassette filenames are case-sensitive -- you're going to be very frustrated. Wink

-Tom

By Manuel

Ascended (14470)

Manuel's picture

21-07-2018, 09:31

Yeah, and that's why I wouldn't recommend to type exactly what the manual tells you Smile

By telecommand

Supporter (14)

telecommand's picture

21-07-2018, 21:58

WOW. Thank you for this!! I guess I should have mentioned which MSX I have but I didn't realise I'd get such a huge swath of info like this Big smile

Bought a Sony HB-F1 from Japan. So it has two cartridge slots but no FDD. I might pick up an external drive+cartridge system later down the track if I find a game I want to play that requires it or need to be able to save like in Metal Gear etc.

One thing with cassettes, is there any way to either get the data loading bars/colours like you'd see on a ZX Spectrum or have the tape sounds play back on the machine while loading a cassette so I can hear something actually happening? My problem when trying to load a cassette is I never know if it's actually loading anything until the tape has finished - which can get pretty tedious considering how long it takes to get through a tape... I have to just sit in silence and hope for the best!

Thanks again for this. Super helpful!

By wyrdwad

Hero (653)

wyrdwad's picture

21-07-2018, 22:38

The loading bars only show up for cassette games that are BLOADed, as far as I know (though again, I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong! Heheh). But regardless of that, most actual data recorders you can buy have options to let you know that they're working. The one I've got is a Philips that has a Monitor On/Off switch -- if it's set to On, it'll play the sounds as the tape is loading, but even when it's set to Off, you can tell if it's working because there's a green LED light that lights up whenever data is being sent to the MSX. So I just keep the Monitor switch Off, and watch for the green LED light to know that the data is transferring properly.

For cassette games that don't work on my system, it's usually pretty obvious, since the light will shut off and the tape will stop moving after only about 15-20 seconds. If I then try pressing the Pause key on my keyboard, the Pause light won't come on, which means the system is frozen. And that's what happens the vast majority of the time when I've got a faulty tape or a tape that won't load on my system for one reason or another (presumably due to its 64 KB memory or 60 Hz default speed, since Japanese tapes ALWAYS load without trouble, but only maybe 70% or so of European tapes seem to load without freezing like this).

Do be absolutely certain, though, that you see "Found:" followed by the filename shortly after pressing Play on the tape, because if you don't, then the tape is NOT loading. You'll be able to hear the system noise if you have Monitor switched to On, and you'll see the LED light, but the system will still just be searching through that datastream for a valid program -- not actually loading any of the data it's playing. It's times like this that you'll need to Ctrl+Stop out of the loading process, rewind the tape, and try again with a different command (LOAD/BLOAD/CLOAD).

There are also times when the tape will continue to play and seemingly be loading data, but your system will actually be stuck in a loop or something -- though that's pretty rare, and so far has only ever happened to me on games that are BLOADed, so it's been pretty obvious that it was happening just by looking at the sparseness of the loading bars.

Also, I do own one tape game that has so much data, it's actually split onto both sides of the tape (which seems to be really rare, as it's much more common for an identical copy of the game to be recorded onto both sides of the tape), and the instructions did NOT say anything about flipping the tape during loading, so I thought for the longest time that my copy of the game was bad. But nope; all I had to do was flip it over and press Play again after it reached the end of the side and stopped, and it finished loading just fine. I assume some data recorders have auto-reverse, which would make this a moot point, but my Philips one does not. So that's also something to watch out for.

...Basically, tape games are just a pain in the ass. And generally not worth your time, at least for me: the vast majority of tape games I've played are straight ZX Spectrum ports, and I've never much cared for the Speccy -- especially on a system that's so much better, as it feels wrong to underutilize the MSX's capabilities just to play Spectrum games. Wink

There are some exceptions, though, which have made me not ENTIRELY regret owning a data recorder, including a handful of Japanese tape-exclusive titles that are pretty neat, as well as some great classic Activision games and some other cool European tape games that AREN'T just straight Speccy ports, like Booty, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, Desolator (which is the aforementioned double-sided tape), and my personal favorite: Addicta Ball.

Also, the best version of Pac Man on MSX is probably the infamous tape game "Oh Shit!", also known as just "Shit" and later released under the censored title of "Oh No!" Wink

-Tom

By Manuel

Ascended (14470)

Manuel's picture

21-07-2018, 22:44

The bars are only shown when the custom loader of the game chooses to show them. The game might still be initially loaded with RUN"CAS:", which then loads the binary loader. So the load instruction doesn't say much. But definitely there must be a custom loader (so a machine code program that is somewhere down the road BLOADed) to see them, so it's very game dependent.

"Oh no!" was the title of "Oh shit!" in the UK, for obvious reasons Smile

Lastly, I have never heard of or seen a datarecorder with auto-reverse.

By Manuel

Ascended (14470)

Manuel's picture

21-07-2018, 22:43

telecommand: if you tell us what you intend to do with your system, we can give you a bit more to-the-point hints and information.

By wyrdwad

Hero (653)

wyrdwad's picture

21-07-2018, 22:53

Manuel wrote:

"Oh no!" was the title of "Oh shit!" in the UK, for obvious reasons Smile

Ahh, that makes sense. I thought my copy of "Oh Shit!" was from the UK, so I was confused for a moment -- but I just checked, and it turns out my copy of the game is from the Netherlands.

Quote:

Lastly, I have never heard of or seen a datarecorder with auto-reverse.

Interesting. I wonder why Desolator didn't mention anything about flipping the tape, then? It's definitely a legitimate publication of the game, as far as I can tell -- not a copied tape or anything. Are there any other tape games you know of that split the data onto two sides like that? I know of a few that have individual "chapters" on each side (mostly Japanese adventure-style games) which are loaded separately as you reach certain checkpoints within the game, but Desolator is unique in that there's only one single continuous datastream that's split across both sides of the tape. In other words, you only BLOAD once, but during that BLOAD, you have to flip the tape.

Seems like that may be kind of a rarity!

-Tom

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