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Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Tue Jul 20, 2021 5:46 pm

Over the course of a few projects I've finally created a seamless process for moving over NES game ROMs to be used with my Apple Newton Messagepad 2100’s Newtendo emulator.

For me, it requires transporting myself and the tech I use to the late 90s. In fact, this process has been the only one that has seamlessly worked for me from end to end.

Go with what works, right? As soon as I try to introduce modern tech/browsers everything falls apart.

Hardware used:
  • Powerbook G3 Pismo, connected to Wifi
  • Apple Newton Messagepad 2100 (works the same on my 2000 as well)
  • Entrega USB > Serial adapter (hard to find, clear green cable similar to eMate)
  • Apple serial to 9-pin adapter (gray cable)
  • 9-pin serial to Apple serial port (white cable)
  • Newton proprietary port adapter (little black box sticking out of the Newton)
  • Apple M7601LL/B Airport Base Station (soley so my Pismo can get on my home WiFi network without any networking fancy schmancy rigamarole. A dedicated "line" so to speak.
The hardware.

Software used:
  • MacOS 9.2
  • NOS 2.1
  • Newtendo PKG
  • Classilla Browser, for downloading PKG files and NES ROMs; modified
  • NCU 1.0 for Mac (Newton Connection Utilities)
  • NES game ROMs
  • PackType for Mac (this forces a PKG file you download to be understood by MacOS as a true Newton file)
  • NES Packager (this takes the NES ROM and converts it to a PKG file, but it's still not ready until you use PackType)
(If any of you can't find any of the software above and want to give it a go, let me know and I'll provide downloads)

I won't go into all of the nitty gritty details of my process here (I'm not sure there's an audience) but let's just say I got it all working very seamlessly now. Download an NES ROM, convert it, move it to the Newton and fire it up!

In my experience, the best guarantee for PKG files to not get corrupted is to keep them as far away from modernity as possible. This means I needed an era-correct Mac laptop on a B Wifi network to download the relevant PKG files. I then used software on the Powerbook to convert the PKG files to be correctly identified by all machines (re-packaging the package) and moving them over to the Newton via the same machine. In other words, the Powerbook is the ultimate bridge. And it being connected was the key. Downloading files on a modern machine and bringing them over via USB - which is possible - wouldn't work. The files would get scrambled every dang time. Do it all from the PB and I was good to go.

I immediately determined that any kind of action/arcade/platform game was out of the question. The emulator was simply way too sluggish for any of those games to feel very good or be very fun. A cool tech demo, but that was about it.

But then I thought, “What about point-and-click adventures?” The NES didn’t get very many of those, but there was a small handful.

So I moved over 3 classics.

It was then that the mild disappointment crept in. The games were playable but the thought of “what might have been” wouldn’t escape me. 

The Newton was the perfect point-and-tap device already with its touchable screen and stylus. But the emulator only supports the stylus tapping the UI’s skeuomorphic A/B buttons and d-pad for cursor control. I so wanted to just tap the game screen to play the games…

I felt I’d nearly touched the face of Lord Zeus before falling back to earth.

I also discovered that touching the emulator's B button would cause an instant error regardless of game in use. It's a bug in the emulator that was never fixed.

After a quick scan of the NES game manuals, I found that Shadowgate does not require the use of that button. And it's extremely playable and looks awesome. Out of the entire NES library I may have found the one game that is a sincere pleasure to play. I'll keep looking, but I do like what I've found.

There is an option to stretch the NES's boxy screen wide to fill the Newton's horizontal screen orientation, which I prefer here. It's easier to see everything with my aging eyes.

The controls take a minute to figure out then it's quite enjoyable to play.

I'll have more gaming on the Newton to report soon. Fans of Infocom games will totally dig it!

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