Whatever happened to the MSX revival?

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

17-01-2015, 07:14

A few weeks ago I had cause to post in the MRC forums for the first time since 2006. I was never a prolific poster, but looking into my message log, I was most active during the year 2004. This was the height of the MSX revival that saw the launch of the 1chipMSX, the relaunch of various classic MSX games on project EGG and... Not much else, really.

Looking back at news and photoshoots from the time, it's clear we were promised no less than a return of the MSX standard – or at the very least, a successor that would inherit its philosophy. In their presentations Nishi would talk about projects such as MSX.edu and Open System X, ASCII would show off new case designs... In the forums we'd discuss what the new platform would be like, whether it would be based on the ARM architecture, and which niche it would fill in the present-day computer market. On this particular subject I wrote:

Quote:

Like many people noted, the MSX is still a device ahead of its time: a unified productivity / entertainment platform, simple to use and develop, backed by vendor-independent standards. The closest thing we have nowadays are smartphones and PDA's, but they still lack interoperability, as each vendor designs its own, impenetrable hardware specs and proprietary development environments. As a result, the developer base, which is already relatively small, gets fragmented among far too many choices. ^

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There is no point in competing for the desktop -- the future isn't there, anyway. As we move our operations to the Internet, looking for greater mobility, the need for thin, mobile, connectible clients will raise. That's where the MSX can make the difference, because of the extra it got: a developer community already used to many of the needs of this new market.

Is this future so far? I already keep many of my files on the Internet, on personal pages, in case I need them when I'm alway from my notebook. I don't bother downloading reference documents (like the Java API reference) anymore; browsing them on-line works just fine. And I recently gave up using an e-mail client: it's much better to keep messages on the server, and manage them through the web.

For these everyday, Internet-bound tasks, processor power isn't that important, when compared to band size, connectivity and standards compliance -- and those are the benefits a new MSX is better posed to bring. Let the server clusters do the heavy processing... ^

(Notice I wrote all this in 2004, years before the raise of the iPhone, Android or cloud computing.)

But then ASCII got off the initiative, the MSX Licensing Corporation was spun off from the MSX Association, Bazix was denied selling the 1chipMSX in western markets, and in the end all later three disappeared without a trace. At least the fate of Bazix we know about, but I could find no reference on what was ever made of the MSXA or the MSX-LC.

Whatever happened? Other than the departure of ASCII and some vague references to "disputes" within the MSXA, I could find no information on why the revival failed. Clearly it wasn't because the market conditions weren't favorable – the iPhone and Android mobile platforms were launched just a few years later, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and the launch of the Raspberry Pi in 2012 showed there was well enough space for a new computer edutainment platform.

It baffles me the MSX couldn't find it's way back into the market over the last ten years, even as it diversifies in an ever greater variety of form-factors and power envelopes – from big servers, desktops and notebooks all the way down to tablets, smartphones and "maker" computers (think Raspberry Pi and Arduino). Why?

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Por mars2000you

Enlighted (5628)

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17-01-2015, 10:33

One of the elements of explanation can be found in the development of still better freeware emulators such as blueMSX and openMSX. By comparison, the official MSX-PLAYer was just an improved version of fMSX with mainly the addition of the turboR support and a good MSX-MUSIC sound quality, but without all the things supported by the freeware emulators : MSX-AUDIO, MoonSound, SFG01/05, debugger, trainer, ....

Besides, the MSX-PLAYer was never conceived as a stand-alone thing, it was still embedded with a specific game and the version that came with the Game Reader was only working when a cartridge was inserted AND detected (some new games were not detected !). On some Japanese MSX magazines, there were versions with MSX-BASIC games on an internal virtual disk, but promoting this way re-using of MSX-BASIC was a strange way, as using of real disks images was technically discouraged. Also the drivers for the Game Reader, conceived for Windows XP, have never been updated to Vista and higher, leaving the buyers of this device with a bad feeling.

Actually, the success of MSX-PLAYer has been limited to Japan and even in this country, you can find many people who prefer to use blueMSX or openMSX. Both emulators can be used on different systems (not only Windows) as openMSX is conceived in this way and as blueMSX has been ported to different systems, including Mac OS X, Android, XBOX, Wii, ...

Por Grauw

Ascended (9066)

imagem de Grauw

17-01-2015, 12:30

I just recently read that the Atmel CPU used in the Arduino is an 8-bit CPU… kind of unexpected, I didn’t know that! When I read that I thought: “damn, too bad they didn’t choose the Z80”.

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

17-01-2015, 13:02

mars2000you wrote:

Besides, the MSX-PLAYer was never conceived as a stand-alone thing, it was still embedded with a specific game and the version that came with the Game Reader was only working when a cartridge was inserted AND detected (some new games were not detected !). On some Japanese MSX magazines, there were versions with MSX-BASIC games on an internal virtual disk, but promoting this way re-using of MSX-BASIC was a strange way, as using of real disks images was technically discouraged. Also the drivers for the Game Reader, conceived for Windows XP, have never been updated to Vista and higher, leaving the buyers of this device with a bad feeling.

I can see how the limitations of the MSXPLAYer and Game Reader could prove frustrating veteran MSX users or newbies looking to try out the platform, but this looks more like a symptom than a direct cause of failure. Certainly it would have been possible for ASCII to address these problems on their products, as well as marketed them overseas – I doubt Bazix wouldn't have liked to give them a hand. The question is, why didn't they?

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

17-01-2015, 13:24

Grauw wrote:

I just recently read that the Atmel CPU used in the Arduino is an 8-bit CPU… kind of unexpected, I didn’t know that! When I read that I thought: “damn, too bad they didn’t choose the Z80”.

Indeed, though the AVR processors are fast little beasts, with RISC-like architectures and clock speeds of up to 32MHz (though usually falling in the 16-20MHz range). They've also been around for a while, having started production in 1996. So I can see why they'd appeal to the Arduino makers.

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

22-01-2015, 13:30

One thing that caught my attention back then was that during the Q&A session in Tilburg 2001, when discussing how former MSX consortium members might react to the new initiative, Nishi said they might become "enemies". I remember feeling uneasy at this – wouldn't it be more correct to call them "competitors"? – but at the time I wrote it off as merely a case of a non-native English speaker failing to remember a more appropriate word, and just using the closest one he could remember. It happens to me all the time, after all.

Today, however, reading about the quarrels leading up to (if not outright responsible for) the revival's failure, I cannot help but wonder if this wasn't a worrying sign after all – a hint of a confrontational attitude that would eventually tear the initiative apart. Certainly there is no shortage of accounts on Mr. Nishi's rather unpredictable behavior. Could it be that the very person responsible for starting the revival also played a leading role in its undoing?

Por Eugeny_Brychkov

Paragon (1145)

imagem de Eugeny_Brychkov

22-01-2015, 16:46

Hello, revival is still there. Look at my GR8BIT. After all my experiments I decided that MSX's value is its original design, hardware and software, thus it should not compete with anything like AVR/Raspberry/PC/Mac/iPhone. If one wants MSX's functionality (to play game or for rapid SW development) - use emulator.
PS. I also do some related developments - if you wish updates from me, connect on LinkedIn.

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

23-01-2015, 09:14

I understand that different people have differing views of the revival, and GR8BIT is a wonderful piece of kit, but it really isn't for everyone – and at US$499.00 a piece, it is arguably not a very cost-effective computer either. Of course there is a reason for this price tag, and I can totally see it being worth every penny for electronics / computer engineering students and hobbyists; nevertheless, this is not at all what the MSX was originally about.

At the time of its launch, the MSX was intended to be a consumer appliance: affordable, intuitive and largely composed of commodity technology. This is the role tablets and smartphones play today. And if you read the news and presentations given by Nishi at the time, it's clear that what he had in mind was a new consumer-oriented platform, one that would be related to the "classical" MSX more in philosophy than implementation.

This was never achieved. In fact it seems the whole initiative fell short at the first hurdle – in Nishi's plan (or at least what we can make of it) the 1chipMSX was never intended as an end-product, but more of a test project to get the hang of producing things. Yet when it failed, there was no second try – the MSX Association / Licensing Corporation seemingly fell off the world, never to be heard of again. And that's what bothers me: why, after so much planning, setting up of organizations and talk of international collaborations, all we got was a couple new 8-bit computers? It doesn't add up.

Por st1mpy

Hero (528)

imagem de st1mpy

23-01-2015, 09:11

price wise, when it was announced a few years ago, I thought gr8bit price was on the high side, but today it is very reasonable. A used 1 chip msx costs a lot more (it was much cheaper new though, and the price was dropping, I remember thinking about buying 2 or 3 for spares because there were many left over stocks).
I guess people might expect to buy something like a MSX's computing power for much less than $100.
One of the things 1 chip msx tried to achieve was to have MSX designed into a one chip, then go from fpga to asic. Actually fpgas price has dropped so much now, its probably more expensive to go asic unless the volume is large.

Por xperroni

Expert (83)

imagem de xperroni

23-01-2015, 09:47

Quote:

price wise, when it was announced a few years ago, I thought gr8bit price was on the high side, but today it is very reasonable.

How reasonable the price is depends on what you want it for. If you want is a computer for everyday use and a bit of tinkering, a Raspberry Pi can cost as little as US$33.00; if you want a microcontroller, an Arduino nano can be yours for as little as US$8.00. If you want to play MSX games you can get an emulator for free.

If you want to build your own computer almost from scratch, then of course the GR8TBIT is for you; but for many other use cases it is over-priced, over-complicated or over-sized. Often all three.

Quote:

One of the things 1 chip msx tried to achieve was to have MSX designed into a one chip, then go from fpga to asic. Actually fpgas price has dropped so much now, its probably more expensive to go asic unless the volume is large.

Which was and still is in itself an exciting prospect – FPGA-based consumer devices could be a revolution in the way we think of the things, to say nothing of how we program them. Yet when the 1chipMSX flopped there was no version 2.0 to "try, try again".

Quote:

A used 1 chip msx costs a lot more (it was much cheaper new though, and the price was dropping, I remember thinking about buying 2 or 3 for spares because there were many left over stocks).

Making it all the more frustrating that it was never distributed in the West as originally planned. Also the complaints from MSXA that D4 Enterprise was selling the 1chipMSX "illegally" are nothing short of baffling: people weren't exactly lining up the street to get one, shouldn't they be primarily concerned with moving as many of the things as possible?