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RetroGamer: Acorn Archimedes

This month’s RetroGamer (issue #65, with the shiny red cover) features my six page feature on the Acorn Archimedes, a computer system that I used to run when I was teenager. The article is split between the main feature and a “Perfect 10” summary of some of the classic games. I have the magazine now and the layout looks great.

Note that this content won’t be included in my future article compilation books as the Imagine Publishing contract does not allow it. The Arc A310 in the photograph is my very own well loved machine, and hopefully it’ll be back with me in the next few days. Oops, it seems that I forgot to put the drive eject button back in when I put the machine back together! The issue is being discussed on the RetroGamer forum here, and the comments about my article seem quite positive. Hopefully, I’ll do something else for the mag in the future.

Read on for some more about the article including some content that had to be cut for length.

As you can imagine, as the article was for RetroGamer, I have focused on the Arc as a classic gaming platform, although I did manage to include some details about the hardware and the operating system. You might remember that I did a feature on the machine for Micro Mart in February, but that article didn’t dwell on the games as much as the history of the machine itself. Although Arcs weren’t that common, I was very lucky as I was able to attend a local Acorn computer club. I enjoy drawing attention to the legacy of the platform as I feel it is often overlooked. Hopefully, I’ve done my job and a few new people will be interested in the Arc. By the way, ArcEm, Arculator and RPCEmu are all good emulators and there are a few others.

When choosing the games, I tried to make a representative selection that balanced original games with conversions. Conversions had a special part to play on the Arc but I didn’t want to give the impression (or reinforce the myth) that we didn’t have many decent original games.

When covering the history of the machine, I fired off a few questions to Sophie Wilson, one of the designers of the Arc and the BBC Micro. She was very helpful but I had to cut some of her answers for space. Here is some of the cut content, for fellow Acorn obsessives:

Is it true that you first simulated the ARM chip in BBC BASIC?

Yes, the first simulator was written by Steve [Furber] in BBC BASIC – he implemented an event based simulator which modelled all the ARM’s datapaths.

I wrote an instruction set emulator of the ARM – once for the 6502, and again for the NS32016. We ran a lot of software on these until we had real ARM chips.

An anecdote about the power requirements that I hadn’t heard before…

[…]the biggest surprise on ARM1 was when we tried to measure the power it took and discovered it wasn’t taking any at all… (the PCB didn’t connect the power pins, it was running entirely through the power coming in from its I/O pins via the protection diodes)

A few tidbits about ARX…

Of course we wished we had different things – the operating system project to produce ARX hadn’t given us anything saleable, so causing us to rush out an interim OS (since the hardware was certainly ready). The system really only became what we had desired with the release of RISC OS 2 (arguably with the release of RISC OS 3 when the applications support was much better). And it took until the RiscPC with VIDC20 before the basic display capability was what I’d wanted…

Thanks also go to Chris of Drobe for answering some of my questions. Hope you enjoy the article. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or post to the RetroGamer forums.

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