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VZ200 & VZ300 – 8 bits of awesome!
Below is an article I wrote for The Retrogaming Times.
In the early eighties, Video Technology (aka VTech) created a popular little 8-bit computer. They named it the Laser 200 and sold it as a competitor to the ZX Spectrum. It was also known as the Texet TX8000 in Europe and the Salora Fellow in Finland. But to us Australians, it was known as the Dick Smith VZ-200. Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) was a tinkerer’s favourite place to get electronic components and various gadgets.
The computer was derived from the TRS-80 and most of the Assembly Language routines were exactly the same, although many had been moved up in memory. It featured Microsoft BASIC as a built-in language, but most games were developed in Assembly. A quirk occurred when the graphics in games were updated while the raster scan was in progress and this meant a glitching ‘snowy’ effect was often seen. The VZ-200 featured a Zilog Z80 microprocessor and originally 4kb of RAM. This was upgradable with a 16k expansion pack and, later, a 64k expansion pack. It could output two sets of four colours when in graphics MODE(1): green, blue, red and yellow or buff, cyan, magenta and orange. Most games used the former colour set as it was easier on the eyes.
VZ200 and VZ300 computers with datasette, disk drives, memory expansion, joysticks, cassettes and printer peripheral.
Later on, an updated version was released named Laser 310 aka VZ-300 with more memory and a real keyboard with plastic keys (as opposed to the VZ-200’s ZX-like rubber keys) and a full-length spacebar. Other peripherals available for these computers included a printer/plotter, floppy disk drive (capacity of 78kb per disk), joysticks and a light pen.
A few Extended BASIC applications were released, partially to ‘unlock’ the disabled TRS-80 features such as auto-line numbering, line renumbering, fast graphics routines and sound routines. The most popular would have been Russell Harrison’s Extended BASIC. An updated DOS firmware was released, also developed with Russell which allowed auto-starting of an application when the floppy disk was inserted and extra commands.
VZ200 (front) and VZ300 (back), Wordprocessor cartridge, Memory expansions, Joysticks, Printer interface, datasette.
A rudimentary Word Processor (Wordpro) could help you with your essays and letters and you could also purchase an Editor/Assembler program for developing your own applications. Keen developers created patches to update the “EDASM” to allow for disk functions which were not in the original program. A more functional Word Processor called Quickwrite was developed by Leslie Milburn. Several popular journals and fan magazines were created in Australia and New Zealand and many fun hours were spent at computer groups meeting other fans and sharing the excitement of our favourite 8-bit computer. A few magazines included: Hunter Valley VZ Journal, Le VZ OOP (Owners, Operators and Programmers), VeeZed Down Under and one I wrote myself and distributed on floppy disk called VZ Diskmag.
Hoppy (a Frogger clone)
Early games included a clone of Frogger called “Hoppy” and a clone of Space Invaders called “VZ Invaders.” Hoppy was a two-screen game as it was not easy to fit the full game screen on at once. I have many happy memories playing these games over and over. I waited patiently for the game to load from cassette in the DR20 cassette recorder. I also was quite fond of the Pac-Man clone “Ghost Hunter.” There was really only one level, although the ghosts did get faster as the levels progressed. Still, it was wonderful to be able to play my favourite arcade games at home.
VZInvaders (Space invaders) and Ghost Hunter (Pacman clone)
A lot of games were programmed by a developer duo called “Dubois and McNamara.” They also created a lot of games for the TRS-80. It’s possible the games were programmed first on another computer and then ported to the VZ-200. I have an interview with Greg Dubois on this website.
Later on, other fun games were released such as a very cool clone of Choplifter called “Dawn Patrol.” This version was programmed as a side-scroller. There weren’t very many side-scrollers released for the VZ-200 computer. I know of this one and “Defense Penetrator” which was a fantastic clone of Scramble by Tom Thiel. “Planet Patrol” (a clone of Moon Patrol) was sort of a side scroller, but not in the usual sense. “Galaxon” (a clone of Galaxian) was one game which really impressed me. The programming was tight, the sound effects delicious and it was incredibly fun to play. The fact that I was quite terrible at it did not deter me from hours upon hours of my teenage years lost to this game.
Dawn Patrol (Choplifter) and Galaxon (Galaxian clone)
Juergen Buchmueller joined the VZ Emu mailing list created by Eggy Lippman. He developed some drivers for the VZ-200 for MESS and released a set of libraries in Small C to assist in writing games. He left us with a lovely version of Defense Command which played beautifully and was very enjoyable.
Gaining some motivation from this game release and now having access to a very useful library of routines I was encouraged to make a game of my own. I’ve been a long-time fan of Arkanoid and so put myself to the test of creating a playable version on the VZ-200. It was developed in Small C and tested on Guy Thomason’s WinVZ emulator. I downloaded the original Arkanoid arcade game into an emulator and used an infinite lives cheat to see how each level was designed, then went about coming up with ways to do the same levels for my version I named “Arka Ball.” It was very satisfying to create a fun game for others to download and play. I added funky sound effects and even tried to mimic the level intro tune and game over tune. Whether I managed or not is a task for the players to decide.
Defense Command and Arkaball (Arkanoid clone)
There were many other games developed for the VZ-200 computers such as: VZ Panik (Panic clone), Ace of Aces, Ladder Challenge (Donkey Kong), Chess, Dig Out (Dig Dug), Hamburger Sam (BurgerTime), Kamakaze Invaders (Astro Invader), Lunar Lander (Moon Lander), Missile Attack (Missile Command), Penguin (Pengo), Super Snake (Snake), VZ Asteroids (Asteroids) and others.
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