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MessagePosté: 23 Mai 2009, 03:24 
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Hello everyone, I am new here and to the world of Thomson computers! I have programmed a couple of 6809 games for the Dragon/Tandy computers in the last few years.

The Thomson range is unknown in the UK, despite being a neighbouring country. Using the 6809, we had the Dragon, Tandy Color Computer and Vectrex. It seems that there were few 6809-based computers/consoles compared to other CPUs, so I am curious about the Thomson system and have a few questions.

Over here we see France as being Oric and Amstrad CPC fans. :)

  • How popular were the Thomson machines, were they sold outside of France, what years were they sold in?
  • Were they popular for games? (There are a few games that we would recognise over here, but not a great deal of them).
  • Which models are most likely to be (or have been) in the average home? (e.g. which hardware configuration would a piece of software have to be written for to run on the most machines?)
  • TO and MO. Erm? Why two sets of slightly different hardware? :L
  • From what I read, the screen seems to be about 16K, but there is no hardware scroll and the CPU is always 1Mhz? :L (From Dragon/Tandy I am used to a 2K/3K/6K screen with 0.9Mhz).
  • No proper soundchip? (Like Dragon/Tandy).
  • Is there still a "scene" making games for the Thomsons?

OK, that will do for now, thanks in advance. :)


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MessagePosté: 23 Mai 2009, 10:52 
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First of all, congratulations : you are the first to write in this section ! We all hope that you won't be the last/first one. I'm taking time to reply, although I'm not the expert in English.

jmk a écrit:
The Thomson range is unknown in the UK, despite being a neighbouring country.

Because of its AZERTY keyboard, probably.

To answer to some of your questions, check this link :

http://www.old-computers.com/museum/company.asp?st=1&m=132

jmk a écrit:
How popular were the Thomson machines, were they sold outside of France, what years were they sold in?

The Thomson computers are very popular in France, because of what we call the "Computing Project for Everyone" (Plan de l'Informatique pour Tous) in the 80's-90's. During this time, Thomson had the right (and the duty) to distribute its computers everywhere in France, especially in schools.
Some Thomson have been designed with a QWERTY keyboard, and even with Arabic keyboard. But I'm not well informed about it.

jmk a écrit:
Were they popular for games? (There are a few games that we would recognise over here, but not a great deal of them).

Frankly no. Not for me, at least. That's just a question of taste. But you can download here a lot of games.

jmk a écrit:
Which models are most likely to be (or have been) in the average home? (e.g. which hardware configuration would a piece of software have to be written for to run on the most machines?)

TO7, TO7-70 and MO5 were the most common. But I suggest you to work on TO8/TO8D/TO9+, they give the best possibilities.

jmk a écrit:
TO and MO. Erm? Why two sets of slightly different hardware? :L

You have to ask to the Thomson designers, but I'm afraid they all committed suicide :roll:
That's a joke, of course.

jmk a écrit:
From what I read, the screen seems to be about 16K, but there is no hardware scroll and the CPU is always 1Mhz? :L (From Dragon/Tandy I am used to a 2K/3K/6K screen with 0.9Mhz).

No hardware scroll, that's right. You know, the Thomson were made for teaching, not for games...

jmk a écrit:
No proper soundchip? (Like Dragon/Tandy).

No, unfortunately. Generating sound on TO/MO makes the CPU entirely busy.

jmk a écrit:
Is there still a "scene" making games for the Thomsons?

Not really. If you want to make a game for Thomson, you're welcome. Anyway, you can download the last game on TO here : http://www.logicielsmoto.com/viewsoftware.php?softid=516

PS: I hope I won't make Thomson fans too angry with my approximations. Being beaten to death in English by a French would be a bad experience (ouch!).


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MessagePosté: 24 Mai 2009, 01:18 
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Prehisto a écrit:
First of all, congratulations : you are the first to write in this section ! We all hope that you won't be the last/first one. I'm taking time to reply, although I'm not the expert in English.

To answer to some of your questions, check this link :
http://www.old-computers.com/museum/company.asp?st=1&m=132

Your English is good! I only did very basic French when I was at school, quite a long time ago...

Thanks for the link, it covers a few things.

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
How popular were the Thomson machines, were they sold outside of France, what years were they sold in?

The Thomson computers are very popular in France, because of what we call the "Computing Project for Everyone" (Plan de l'Informatique pour Tous) in the 80's-90's. During this time, Thomson had the right (and the duty) to distribute its computers everywhere in France, especially in schools.
Some Thomson have been designed with a QWERTY keyboard, and even with Arabic keyboard. But I'm not well informed about it.
jmk a écrit:
Were they popular for games? (There are a few games that we would recognise over here, but not a great deal of them).

Frankly no. Not for me, at least. That's just a question of taste. But you can download here a lot of games.


It sounds a bit like the BBC Micro in the UK, very popular for education (and chosen to boost a national company), but not so good for games. Also more expensive, so the kids were more likely to have a cheaper computer at home.

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
Which models are most likely to be (or have been) in the average home? (e.g. which hardware configuration would a piece of software have to be written for to run on the most machines?)

TO7, TO7-70 and MO5 were the most common. But I suggest you to work on TO8/TO8D/TO9+, they give the best possibilities.


So that's 8K or 32K RAM for the older machines and 256K or 512K for the "new" machines. Quite a range!

When I think about doing a game for the Tandy or Dragon 32K is a good mid-point. Most Dragons were 32K and most (UK) Tandys were 16K or 64K. 8K would be a bit challenging, so perhaps 32K for the oldies and 256K for the new ones (perhaps 128K, if thinking about MO6 as well)?

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
TO and MO. Erm? Why two sets of slightly different hardware? :L

You have to ask to the Thomson designers, but I'm afraid they all committed suicide :roll:
That's a joke, of course.

:D

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
From what I read, the screen seems to be about 16K, but there is no hardware scroll and the CPU is always 1Mhz? :L (From Dragon/Tandy I am used to a 2K/3K/6K screen with 0.9Mhz).

No hardware scroll, that's right. You know, the Thomson were made for teaching, not for games...

Even the BBC Micro had a form of hardware scrolling. ;)

The only 6809 machine, I know of, which did was the CoCo 3, which didn't make it outside of America or Australia/NZ (I think).

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
No proper soundchip? (Like Dragon/Tandy).

No, unfortunately. Generating sound on TO/MO makes the CPU entirely busy.

:( Is there a timer interrupt or do you just have to sit in a loop?

Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
Is there still a "scene" making games for the Thomsons?
Not really. If you want to make a game for Thomson, you're welcome. Anyway, you can download the last game on TO here : http://www.logicielsmoto.com/viewsoftware.php?softid=516

Very nice, it shows what could be done on the TO8. Do you think the machine reached its full potential?

One other question: Now that we have LCD and plasma TVs, does the lightpen not work anymore?


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MessagePosté: 24 Mai 2009, 08:07 
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jmk a écrit:
Your English is good!

My Harrap's is better :)

jmk a écrit:
It sounds a bit like the BBC Micro in the UK, very popular for education (and chosen to boost a national company), but not so good for games. Also more expensive, so the kids were more likely to have a cheaper computer at home.

That's why even French kids have rather bought computers like Amstrad or Atari.

jmk a écrit:
So that's 8K or 32K RAM for the older machines and 256K or 512K for the "new" machines. Quite a range!

For sure. But most of the games are running on every compatible platforms.

jmk a écrit:
:( Is there a timer interrupt or do you just have to sit in a loop?

It's possible to use the timer interrupt, but the in-and-out stacking takes a lot of CPU time. I prefer the loop, and even what I'm calling "interlace code", which is the best choice if you want to share the time between a smoothly sound and a good program. Then you have to execute alternately a piece of code and a piece of sound, counting the cycles one by one, which is dead boring.
Of course, it depends on the quality you are searching for. If you really want a good sound with the 6 bits sound channel on Thomson, you have to increase the number of calls, and you become less CPU time to execute the "real" part of the program.

jmk a écrit:
Very nice, it shows what could be done on the TO8. Do you think the machine reached its full potential?

We've all tried to be as violent as possible. If you want to see something which is close to that level, try this :
http://www.logicielsmoto.com/download.php?fileid=657
http://www.logicielsmoto.com/download.php?fileid=665
(Taken from the demo site http://www.pulsdemos.com)
Make them run on a TO8/TO8D/TO9+ with 512k. Disk interlace 7 for a faster loading.
The counterparts, who worked especially on sound improving and compression :
http://dcmoto.free.fr/programmes/m/39/megar-demo1-to8fd.zip (SAP format : http://www.serveur87.com/video/thomson/ruiz/ruiz.zip)
http://dcmoto.free.fr/programmes/b/29/bolero-ravel-to8fd.zip

jmk a écrit:
One other question: Now that we have LCD and plasma TVs, does the lightpen not work anymore?

I've heard it doesn't react at all, which doesn't surprise me : the technology is quite different.


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MessagePosté: 26 Mai 2009, 01:49 
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Prehisto a écrit:
jmk a écrit:
Also more expensive, so the kids were more likely to have a cheaper computer at home.

That's why even French kids have rather bought computers like Amstrad or Atari.

Yes, what do you think the ranking table of 8-bit home computers would be in France?

Prehisto a écrit:
It's possible to use the timer interrupt, but the in-and-out stacking takes a lot of CPU time. I prefer the loop, and even what I'm calling "interlace code", which is the best choice if you want to share the time between a smoothly sound and a good program. Then you have to execute alternately a piece of code and a piece of sound, counting the cycles one by one, which is dead boring.

Oh well, some weak beeps can be produced in-game during spare time. :)

In my first CoCo game I played sound effects if there was any time left before the vblank. Not good quality, but it works.

Prehisto a écrit:
We've all tried to be as violent as possible. If you want to see something which is close to that level, try this : ....

A nice selection, but missing scrolling sections for obvious reasons. Are some parts done in the old MO5 mode to keep the speed up?

I think le 5eme axe (The Fifth Dimension?) has the best scrolling, but it is rather obviously cheating. :D

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MessagePosté: 26 Mai 2009, 02:43 
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jmk a écrit:
I think le 5eme axe (The Fifth Dimension?) has the best scrolling, but it is rather obviously cheating. :D

5eme Axe was definitely designed for Thomson and its hardware. The CPC version looks miserable and the scrolling is a total disaster.

5eme Axe is scrolling in fact 8K of video memory (the color one) which indeed is a lot faster than scrolling the 16K of it. By doing a lot of PULL and PUSH, it is fast to move a big chunk of memory, although it isn't really elegant (code-wise) :D


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MessagePosté: 27 Mai 2009, 14:27 
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Hi there !

Just my two cents. The thomson microcomputers have beeen sold tentatively abroad : Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy (under contract with Olivetti), algeria, Morocco, URSS. However, absolutely all tentatives have been total and miserable failures. Thomson computers could just not compete with the unexpensive Amstrads or the much beefier Commodores. Moreover, something like 99% of the software was in french and the costs to translate them were huge.

If you look carefully at the MO and TO series, they are functionnally almost identical, but the memory map is shifted by 4000 hexa. All the peripherals are compatible with both series. It seems (but not confirmed) that the MO series were designed for initiation and to be less expensive than the TO series, but were not to compete with the latter. Thus the incompatibility.

Fool

ps: sold from 1982 to 1987. Amstrad CPC probably the most popular 8-bit in France, but all these quickly replaced by Amigas and Atari STs and sometimes, PCs.


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MessagePosté: 28 Mai 2009, 18:39 
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Hello too :)

Fool-DupleX a écrit:
Moreover, something like 99% of the software was in french and the costs to translate them were huge.


Not counting for the fact most of the games for the MO5 and the TO7/70 where not fancy at all comparated to the C64 and the CPC: poor graphics, no sound except beeps, and where missing gameplay. Actually they written by people in firms (mainly Nathan) more interrested in educationnal softwares for schools than in games for kids (see: here, or there and even that)

Hopefully, few people created nice games with which I had much fun: android (my first game what came with the IPT pack provided by the government for schools if I remind correclty) and sortillege (I enjoyed the isometric 3D, and I am still wondering how they achieved to make the TO7 compute complicated 3D scenes with animations). But I was still jealous of games of my school mates that didn't existed on the TO7 (aztec challenge, winter games, spy vs spy, etc...)

It was only when the TO8 became available that the games started to compete with other platforms (see here or there), but it was nearly the end of 8bits computers.


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MessagePosté: 31 Mai 2009, 02:39 
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@Yoann:

Ah, it's The Fifth Axis, took me a while to find!

Hmm... not as bad as I imagined, the vertical scroll is chunky and messy. Would've been nice if they updated the graphics properly and... that music...

@Fool:

Interesting, sounds like a real minority (home) computer. I guess it does parallel the way the BBC Micro was used in the UK.

This page says there were 500,000 MO5s sold?
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomson_MO5

@Samuel:

Thanks for the links. Nice version of Captain Blood. :) Not nice version of the music. :( It's a shame they didn't push it more and give you all better games.

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MessagePosté: 02 Juin 2009, 11:35 
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Absolutely right. It's possible to make much better software on the platform (except for sound that remains an issue), but it was spoilt by people afraid of assembler. Most of the commercial prods until 1985-86 were in BASIC duh.

I'm the owner of this wikipedia page. In all, over 700'000 have been sold, with around 150'000 as state contracts for schools. Thomson benefited from the "I want the same as at school" effect. Indeed, the BBC Micro and the MO5 have had a similar life. In fact, even the Nanoreseau (network for MO5) was technically similar to the Econet for the BBC ...

The peripherals and extensions also look very similar to the Sinclair ZX extensions.

Fool


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