Thursday 29 February 2024

We are Rewind WE-001 tape player/recorder

WE-001 portable tape player

I did a rare thing and straight away bought a gadget advertised on Facebook: a portable cassette tape player.

I didn't want to dilute my impulse by examining too many reviews and just ordered it. Ok, I saw the Amazon reviews appeared to average to at least ok/good.

Less than week later I became an owner of a "Keith" variant of the WE-001 player. There are more nicely colored models but I stuck with the grey one.

The device is branded as "We are rewind", the design is from France, built in China.

The styling is good and the object feels heavy in a nice way.

A feelgood product

The packaging is also fun, had I seen this at a store it might have been an instant buy.

Inside the box there's a quick guide and the proper manual, and as a courtesy, a short black pencil.

Confession: I probably never used a pencil for rewinding tapes back in the day.

Another confession: I probably never owned a commercially recorded music tape during the 1980s-1990s. Computer tapes? A bunch. And a few copied music tapes, which I guess killed the industry.

The player can be recharged using a USB-C cable. There's a Bluetooth wireless playback too, but I felt a little weird about that. I mean, if I intend to play back physical media, why break the chain?

The Unboxening

From what I've read the audio quality has been the main beef for some, but for most of us mortals the playback is good enough for what it is, a fun and nostalgic player.

But I also have to say I don't have much experience with tape playback during past 30 years. With my better headphones I could find some tiny hiss I would not expect from any current digital device. Just blast away something suitably loud and it's not noticeable, or use more forgiving headphones. I tried a couple of new and old tapes, and the output was what I expected.

Recording might be another matter. The manual recommends "Type I" tapes. They do sell the player together with a tape, being the cheapskate I didn't order one. Using a recommended tape would have helped make a more definitive statement.

There are not many music tapes around.

As it is, I did a recording from Fostex MR-8 digital recorder output to a 15 minute "computer" tape. Although at playback the speed appeared constant, there was occasional garbage here and there. These were not even at the loudest or bass heavy points.

Another try was from a Steinberg UR12 USB audio interface headphone out, recording Dave Rodgers' Deja Vu out of Youtube. As the results were somewhat similar, it's possible the tape is to blame, but it may also be the recording really is the weak point of the device.

So, the results are still a little random and inconclusive. My old tapes don't all have specification markings. The device has no peak light indicator but an automatic level detector, not a great starting point for recordings.

Instead of red, the record button is a sprightly yellow.

There's no eject button to open the lid, but this was probably rather common with portable players. You can simply pull the lid open.

At least by 1990s portable players became very round and with non-protruding buttons. The reason why WE-001 looks fresh is because such considerations have been ditched. I can imagine the sharp corners and buttons getting a little stuck inside pockets. But really, who would carry this player around just as casually?

Not much experience with battery life, I've had a few hour-long sessions without the LED giving any kind of signal yet. The promised battery life is 8-10 hours, a full recharge takes more than few hours.

And the connectors for power, audio in and audio out. Volume control to the right.

One important question remains. Can I use it to load ZX Spectrum tapes?

I had no such luck with the new ZX Spectrum Next. Using a stereo cable (TRS both ends) didn't cause much more than some border flickering. Similar problems did arise with a proper Sanyo Data Recorder, so I'll have to treat the Next as a separate issue, maybe there's still something I've not yet understood about the computer configuration.

Then I moved to ZX Evolution, another modern Spectrum clone, which has been proven to load tapes before. I took Horace Goes Skiing and had success after a couple of attempts. I needed to use less than maximum volume here.

There's no counter though, so reloading multiload game positions or loading a specific program from a collection could be troublesome.

The full rubber-key ZX Spectrum 48K tape loading experience has to wait, the equipment is currently buried a little deeper.


Wednesday 14 February 2024

2001–3001 The Clarke Odyssey

I'll cover these in more length than usual. No doubt more literate minds have analyzed 2001: A Space Odyssey to death, but I didn't even know "2061" existed.

In case of sequels, I'll avoid describing story-specific plot points that I consider reveals. But it's of course impossible to avoid describing the entire saga and not "spoil" it.

Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: A Space Odyssey

This is not an ordinary "novelization", and neither is 2001 a film of the book. The histories of the film and novel supposedly intertwine, and in any case the story is partly built on Clarke's earlier short stories. The book says it's based on the screenplay by Clarke and Kubrick.

It's not a hard call to say the film that came out of the process is more important than the novel.

The book almost inevitably feeds into the interpretation of the film. After reading the book and other sci-fi, the film events no longer seem all that incomprehensible, even if you don't accept Clarke's interpretation of what happens in the end.

Firstly, the plot loops back into itself. The space-age humans are much like the monkey-men in the beginning, fighting with each other until the other faction has the edge. The Monolith is partly about enhancing the intelligence of those who contact it, but it can also be considered as a prize, a milestone, and a monitor of the race's "worthiness".

The Russians and the Americans compete to reach the Monolith on the Moon, and much like with the monkeys, the other tribe wins and gets the option to reach another signal source at Jupiter. The parallel is clear in the film, but it is even more so in the book. The fighting doesn't end there, though.

The journey to Jupiter is something akin to the pinnacle of human race –⁠ now also including an AI –⁠ reaching to make the important contact. The analogy of a sperm cell (within the phallic ship) trying to reach the ovum (the round and motherly Jupiter) springs into mind, with the Star Gate sequence as the climax. The hardships cull out options, and in the end only Bowman remains.

In the film, both Bowman and HAL 9000 could be considered candidates. With HAL, the human race might have created something more "worthy" than themselves. The book makes HAL seem more of a pragmatic tool that becomes confused, whereas the film is more ambiguous. What are the inner motivations and the status of HAL's "soul"? Does HAL do the things it does because of a logical contradiction in the task statement, or because it also competes for the real goal?

The book makes it clear how the Monolith acts as a teaching aid and intelligence booster for the ape-men. There are said to be numerous monoliths on Earth, which are also crystal-like and transparent, producing psychedelic-pedagogic light shows for the apes. I suppose this gives rise to the idea that the cinematic medium is a comparable device.

Celestia displaying Cassini near Jupiter in 1.1.2001

Clarke gives more narrative meat to the episode on the moon, with more focus on Dr. Heywood Floyd. The moon colony is told to be rather huge, and the expository text dwells on details such as hydroponic farms and zero-g toilets.

Oh, and the journey in the book takes to Saturn, using Jupiter as slingshot. The real-world parallel is interesting, as the Cassini probe from 1997 actually used roughly that window of opportunity, reaching Jupiter just in time for 2001, continuing towards Saturn.

So the year 2001 is not evoked just to give a suitably far-off sounding time, Clarke probably figured it would be a good real world moment to reach Saturn. (In notes elsewhere, he blames the repercussions of Vietnam War and Watergate for making the real 2001 less like "2001".)

Budget reasons are often cited for changing Saturn to Jupiter in the film. It could be the star gate sequence also became more abstract as a consequence. A creative decision or not, simplifying the itinerary is a blessing to the film. 

Should I imagine these are alien ships or accommodations? Or the Galactic Grand Central?

Although the film was a huge leap for cinematic science fiction, a transcendental ending or twist in sci-fi literature was already quite cliché. The trope of immeasurably incomprehensible aliens putting humans in a "zoo" was also a sci-fi staple, witness a number of Star Trek episodes revolving around the theme. Kurt Vonnegut could already use the idea in Slaughterhouse Five (1969) for satirical effect. 

Of course, clichés aren't inherently bad, you just have to use them really well. The poetry and ambiguity of Kubrick's film makes it succeed. The book's spelled out interpretation is just one of the possibilities. The ending could simply be a celebration of life being more magical than whatever gimmicks might propel us to space.


Arthur C. Clarke: 2010 Odyssey Two (1983)

As we remember, Discovery was left on orbit around Io, the moon of Jupiter. Now we learn it is still there, but its orbit is unexpectedly decaying. Before the successor to Discovery can be launched, Anton Leonov, a Russian spacecraft sets out to Jupiter. Americans are generously taken aboard, mostly because only they can operate Discovery. 

What else is still in Io orbit? The Monolith, that is.

Overall, the plot is one somewhat unsatisfying "let's get to Jupiter real quick, and ... uh, let's get back even quicker". The intent and nature of the alien intelligence(s) becomes clearer, gnawing away from whatever mystery was left from 2001 (the book).

The main character is Heywood Floyd, known from the moon trip in 2001. He is an aging science professional who gets the chance of a lifetime to join the crew and visit Jupiter, something he missed ten years prior.

Although Floyd's insight is important to the resolution of the journey, he and the Discovery crew are mostly observers of events rather than protagonists.

The regressed HAL is relegated to a side role, as the Indian AI expert Chandra attempts to re-ignite its intelligence. Chandra was mentioned in HAL's deteriorating monologue in 2001. 

I get the feeling that after 15 years Clarke is downplaying the amount of AI development that could happen in the next 20. He's not entirely wrong. Yes, chatGPT can now carry as good or a better conversation than HAL, but not at 2010, and it doesn't really play chess and I wouldn't trust ship systems to it.

The text is replete with popular cultural references reflecting the time of the book's writing. Some of these are science fictional in nature, such as the direct Star Trek references. Indirect mentions go to Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. It's as if Clarke wanted to remind 2001 (the film) was the augur to the blockbuster generation of science fiction.

It's credible, people are entrenched in popular culture, and to Clarke it must have been obvious people would remember these films in the 2010s. Again, he isn't wrong. But it does make a stylistic hodgepodge of what one hopes to be a somber, philosophical journey.

Importantly, not that much was known about Jupiter's moons before Voyager visited them in the 1970s. As Clarke recalls in the short intro to 2061, the Voyager missions inspired him to write a sequel that features these satellites. Future discoveries could no longer radically contradict the findings.

The film version wisely prunes some of the book's sidetracks, such as most of Bowman's spirit-excursion to Earth memory lane and the above mentioned popular-cultural hits and misses. The Chinese craft's race to Europa is something we don't get to see either.

If I recall right, the film made the US/Russia relations more strained than in the written form. Funnily, the technology and displays onboard the Leonov have dated the film more than the comparable tech in 2001. It's a passable 1980s flick, if one is able to stop comparing it to 2001.

Repair Discovery's subsystems in a Colecovision game. What excitement!

There was an attempt at a game-of-a-film-of-a-book tie-in phenomenon that surrounded other sci-fi franchises and films in the 1980s. There's not only one, but two, games for the Coleco hardware. I'm unsure who is the intended audience here.

Anyway, the story is book-ended with Clarke's notes, explaining how this is a sequel to the film rather than the book (using Jupiter instead of Saturn). He reminisces over a few predictions that eerily came true, and a few life-imitates-art situations. Apparently the "Ah, Houston, we've had a problem" of Apollo 13 mission is an echo of 2001's "Sorry to interrupt the festivities, but we have a problem." They were playing Strauss in the module.

Clarke says the book was written on Archives III (CP/M) computer, the WordStar manuscript was sent out on a 5 inch floppy. He also mentions his trusty programmable HP9100A calculator (from 1968).

Arthur C. Clarke: 2061 Odyssey Three (1986)

It's 2061 and hey would you know it, Heywood is still alive! During the after-party of 2010, which took place in 2015, Heywood fell from a balcony and had to be taken to a space station to revive. This silly plot point ultimately made him a total spacer and he can't even return to Earth.

This lifestyle, combined with the deep sleeps he enjoyed during spaceflight, kept him a well-preserved 65 rather than the 100+ he really is. Convenient.

The book was supposed to be inspired by the findings of the Galileo probe, but the Challenger tragedy of 1986 put the probe on hold.

The story rather takes the Halley's comet as a starting point, another timely reference. Which will again become timely as it returns in ... 2061. The comet has already started its way back in December 2023. 

I used to think comets like Halley go back to infinite depths of space, and by some virtue of masterly calculation it is possible to predict when they will return. Well, this is sort of true, but Halley's comet doesn't really go much further than the orbit of Neptune. Which of course is far enough.

But I'm digressing.

Actually, no. The major point of the book is the importance of the Halley mission. If humanity now has effective rocket ships that can travel from Earth to Jupiter in weeks, they could visit the comet pretty much whenever they want to. Ok, it might be more valuable to do so near the perihelion, but I still think the whole premise is a little flaky.

Halley's Comet and the alignment of the Inner Solar System at the end of May 2061

Just as 2010 backpedals from the ending of 2001, the outcomes from 2010 are not instantly revelatory for the human race. The species is puttering about in Ganymede and have operations around the solar system with the improved spaceships.

There's a weird discovery on Europa, related to a mountain that didn't exist before. And despite the ominous warning of not to land there, circumstances will lead people to land there anyway. Some are hungry for scientific merit, some see potential for profit. The discovery is almost immediately guessable, but Clarke keeps hanging on to it until the end.

What with the mountain and Halley's comet stealing the show, the story actually has very little to do with the 2001 saga. It could have been written in some other frame, and I suspect it partly originates from some other project.

For most of the time Clarke is being pedagogical about space, orbits, rocket flight and the solar system in general. There's a Jules Verne-esque entourage partaking with the Halley's Comet mission, as a kind of space tourism. This enables Clarke to have more characters around to have small talk, but they don't do much for the story. 

The discussion can again turn to Star Wars and of all things, Gone with the Wind. Clarke seems to think that Beatles will be forgotten in 100 years, yet that somewhat badly aged film will be revered as a classic still in 2061. Currently it looks like the opposite might become true, but who knows.

As a detail, the story addresses the monolith's resemblance to the UN building.

From 201 min. of A Space Idiocy (1969), perhaps not MAD's finest moments.

Clarke progresses the story with ease, with nearly cinematic organisation of changing viewpoints and short expository chapters.

By the way, why did 2061 not receive the film treatment?

Apart from the fact the plot doesn't live up to even 2010 standards, I believe Halley's comet hype became very old very quickly, especially as the comet wasn't all that impressive. It would have been a mistake to release a film about Halley after it had passed.

There's now less talk of AI, computers and networks, and what little is there can be weird. Surprisingly, even rudimentary Google-style keyword searches take minutes or hours of expensive computer time in 2061. I recall Asimov was also somewhat prone to similar underestimations. But, just maybe, maybe, there's so much more information in 2061 that 20th century scientific papers and popular culture needs to be dug up from some deep strata.

In the short postscript Clarke mentions apparently having moved his writing to a more "portable" Kaypro.

Arthur C. Clarke: 3001 The Final Odyssey (1997)

This was already hinted at the epilogue 2061: something wonderful would happen in the year 3001. This story then mostly unpacks that epilogue.

Clarke was about 80 when this book came out. It serves as a sort of anniversary and perhaps a final hurrah for the author, who mostly wrote collaborations after this novel.

I sometimes forget that one aspect of the original was to showcase the world of 2001, its space stations, moonbases, computers, video calls and nuclear drives. 3001 does this in abundance, and for this far-away year Clarke can pull out all the stops and just describe one imaginative thing after another.

But it's also not that imaginative. What's on display is an Arthur C. Clarke greatest hits tour, with space elevators, space drives and other future innovations. Clarke gets self-referential and knowingly acknowledges the future world finally looks a little like the pulp cover art of early 20th century. Asimov and Heinlein are indirectly referred to.

Late 20th century popular culture features, too, as Clarke would now have witnessed Jurassic Park, CD ROMs, the fledgling cyberspace and the internet. These are retroactively inserted into the history of the first novel and Clarke knows very well the timeline doesn't make much sense.

An AI collage to match the book stylistically

Amusingly the world of 3001 can be a weirdly nostalgic extrapolation of late 1990s suppositions of how the future might turn out. Climate change, major wars, religion and killing animals for food seem to be a thing of the past. If Clarke was here to see the 2020s, he might have been less optimistic.

There's a curious sense that humanity is on its way developing the technologies that the Monolith entails... but I'm less eager to reveal plot points here, although the book is more than 25 years old by now.

Speed of light cannot be beat, and it looks like the alien entities responsible for the monoliths might have received their initial data on Earth's encounter with the Jupiter monolith and cooked up a suitable response. Based on data from the 20th century. Uh-oh. 

But didn't Bowman use a Star Gate in 2001 to visit the Galactic Grand Central, defying space and time? There's a stronger sense here that perhaps Bowman did not visit another star system after all, but that everything happened within a simulation inside the monolith. Well, again, Clarke readily admits the books do not form a coherent whole.

What disappoints me is the inclusion of slightly edited repeats of long passages from 2010 and 2061. Apparently Tsien's final message was so poignant it had to be included three times in the books.

With these repetitions alongside lazy "e-mail" type chapters give artificial length to the tome. There are some interesting ideas about the role and the morality of the Monoliths and their builders, but the closure to the Space Odyssey saga isn't very satisfying.

In the extensive end notes, Clarke reveals he has progressed to an IBM laptop, again trying to discredit the idea that HAL was meant to be one letter off from IBM...


Afterword

Clarke liked to use real-world predictive possibilities for laying out his plots, such as known windows of opportunity for space missions. In this series, he seems to have preferred not to write about worlds if there was no observations to base speculation on.

He was eager to see opportunity for life thriving in every crack, crevice and cloud of the solar system, despite the apparent barrenness and hostility of it all. 

In parts he seems to have been vindicated, as complex organic chemistry and water crop up nearly everywhere. But actual extra-terrestrial life seems to still elude us, and the 20th century idea of living just at the cusp of this great discovery, seems to be dwindling. I felt it also reflected in the sequels of 2001, each one taking a step farther from the original's premise.

Saturday 27 January 2024

2023

The 2023 retrospective has been delayed a little...

Listing "what I did last year" is not now very appealing, but I'll try to keep up the tradition.

Programming, graphics

The year started with the release of Multipaint 2023 with Vic-20 modes and the beginnings of a large internal overhaul. Every export and import of native formats is handled through external scripts, and I hope to extend this idea to a few other facets of the software.

Still, the most ambitious programming task was the Commodore 64 game Lancess Priya, which had been brewing from since 2022 summer. The semi-vector graphics routines make it more of a technical exploration than a proper game. I found the energy to port the game to Commodore plus/4 too.

ZX Spectrum Next... but what's wrong?

Of old computers, Sinclair Z88 inspired me for a while, fostering thoughts about focused, keyboard-based text-only computing, but the computer eventually became just another oddity in the pile.

In December, at long last the ZX Spectrum Next arrived from the 2020 Kickstarter batch. The final moments of the year were spent tinkering with the Next and getting Multipaint to do 256-color graphics.

As the "Z80N" processor has fantasy extensions, there's really no way to build a similar computer by putting together a real Z80 and an FPGA for video/sound chip. But despite some quibbles about the authenticity of this new "Spectrum" it has been enjoyable to explore.

No Escape

The retro graphics output was modest this year, although notably it does feature the first official ZX Spectrum gfx compo outing, No Escape, a remote entry for the Edison 2023 demoparty.

For me this is somewhat humorous moment, as I originally made Multipaint to create ZX Spectrum graphics, way back in 2013. Well, okay, the one-screener Unhanged Speccy demo already featured my gfx.

This and the Vammala Party piece New King were mostly left-overs from earlier times.
Applescii Macscii, happy 40th, Mac!

Although the old computers never really left me during 1990s and early 2000s, it has now been a more dedicated ten-year journey with exploring 8/16-bit computers, PETSCII, bitmap graphics and programming.

I sometimes think this "phase" is winding down rather than going to higher gear, but something new comes up all the time. The balance of the hobby may become shifted but apparently there's no real end in sight.


Games

No sooner than I thought the year would not have much gaming in it, I found myself playing Eurotruck Simulator 2, Carrier Command 2, Mudrunner, Lake and Just Cause 3, as documented in the blog.

I did touch Disco Elysium, but despite all the accolades it didn't look like a game I would play. Too wordy and narrative-driven for me. Before 20 minutes had passed I switched it off.

I also started with the 2009 Bionic Commando, and although it looks solid enough it will have to wait for another time. 

Again, Proton/Linux with Steam largely enabled all of this. I'd perhaps nominate Carrier Command 2 as the most interesting game experience for my 2023, despite all its flaws.

Lake

In addition I would play the occasional vintage game, and a few games on the aforementioned ZX Spectrum Next platform. Perhaps the tiny tower defense variant Next War took most of my time.

I finally became fed up with chess, at least the online variety. On self reflection, what began as a slow alternative to computer games, with focus on physical pieces, boards and paper books, ended up as an online grind with diminishing returns, sense of wasted time and increased irritation. I will return to it eventually.


TV, Books, Films

Star Wars: Ahsoka was not that bad, but it's not my generation's Star Wars anymore. Perhaps it is made for those who grew up with the prequels, Expanded Universe novels and the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series. Now instead of having rare encounters with Samurai-like Jedi, we're now treated with 1-2 light saber fights every episode.

Ahsoka. Not the series.

The first resurgence of what should be the post-slump Doctor Who has arrived, and although it looks promising, I'm wondering if the re-invention is sufficient. Soon it's 20 years since the renewal of the series, and one can say there's already nostalgia building up for those early 2000s times.

Dark was the most memorable TV series I watched this year, even if the third season went off a tangent and mostly just stalled the outcome. It started out looking like a poor man's Stranger Things, but had its own clear voice after all.

More recently, Umbrella Academy has proven to be entertaining enough, following on the footsteps of Watchmen and the like. I don't too much care about TV or film format superhero adventures, having read the stories in comic book form long time ago. Again the third season meandered and stalled around a plot point that was already evident in previous season. Such is serial TV these days.

Talking of TV, my mind is rather blank about 2023's TV. Perhaps the increasingly splintered nature of streaming TV is something that puts me off watching more. Want to rewatch Twin Peaks or a few episodes of McGyver on the spur of the moment? No, not possible.

I managed to see about 70 films (not counting re-watches) in 2023, starting off with Koyaanisqatsi and Lawrence of Arabia. Koyaanisqatsi is less artsy than its makers probably intended, but at least it sports the Philip Glass soundtrack that eventually mutated into the C64 Delta tune in Rob Hubbard's hands. I could see Lawrence as an important and influential film, but the "grand historical epic" format dragged it down somewhat.

Truman Show could be added to the list of films I really ought to have seen before, and whatever one thinks of Jim Carrey I thought the concept was more interesting than the one in Matrix. Oh, and I did see the clever Barbie, but Oppenheimer is still waiting.

I saw more than the usual amount of Finnish movies in the theater, partly because of research purposes.  The new Hirttämättömät (Unhanged) and the Spede biopic were not all that impressive but were mandatory viewing. In addition I saw Je'vida, a not too happy film about the integration of Sámi people in the 1950s.

Aki Kaurismäki's Dead Leaves (Kuolleet Lehdet) was the same usual what Kaurismäki does, but the new actors made it feel fresher and less of a "one man's odyssey". Aki's films are often set in an ambiguous time period  Man without Past looks like it could be 1950s, but suddenly you see a computer terminal in a bank... Dead Leaves is set to a specific year with laser-precision. Also, weird to see some of my neighborhood, so recently filmed, in the film.

This new year is unlikely to be very film-heavy.

Nearing the end of the year I read what felt like a ginormous amount of sci-fi, but in actuality it was a generous handful of books. As a kind of literary highlight I read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, a monumental and not entirely enjoyable task. At least afterwards I could easily read normal-sized sci-fi paperbacks in one evening or two.

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Multipaint and ZX Spectrum Next

Some development notes about ZX Spectrum Next graphics modes in Multipaint, the multi-platform (Linux, Mac, PC) for creating 8/16 bit images.

The supported screenmodes are "layer 2" graphics, 256 x 192, or 320 x 256, both with 256 colors. ZX Next has many more modes, but these look like the most prominent for graphics and games.

I know it's possible to write code that displays 512 colors on-screen, but as usual, Multipaint only supports the most vanilla screenmodes.

Paint programs for 256 color modes are common, so I tried to compensate by adding a bunch of useful load/save options, more than the usual amount.

DK sprites from the Next SD card

Why are the formats individually listed in the menu, and not just integrated in the file selector? Well, I've found that if a feature is not very visible, people tend to think it does not exist.

Seriously though, one day I may add a better file extension recognition for the main file selector too.

Multipaint was designed for about 16 colors in mind, so the palette and color options for 256 color modes can appear a little limited.

At least the FX brush modes such as Lighten/Darken, Tint and Mix help somewhat and work better in 256 colors than in other modes. I still consider these as somewhat "beta". But you can draw a filled rectangle with the FX "Darken" on the desired area to make it more subdued, without having to pixel everything again or alter the palette.

Spectrum Next has a convention where the default palette holds a 256-color "8-bit RGB palette", 8 steps for Red, Green and 4 steps for Blue. 

This is especially useful for NextBASIC, you can work ideas without having to define palettes. The 256-color set is already very comprehensive – there isn't that much more you can do with the 512 color range. (8 greyscales is something that springs into mind, though.)

Next default "8-bit" palette

Multipaint respects this default palette convention, so if you import a PNG image, the palette is not altered.

This behavior can be changed from File->Settings, by turning on the "re-palette" option for incoming files.

Coders: Each platform specific Save menu option can be invoked from the File-> Export TXT item. From this dialogue you can save text/source versions of the same formats. These can then be copied to or included in an assembler source.

As of now the result is a little unresponsive, but the file ought to save even if it looks like nothing happened.

The Export as Text dialogue.

I've been asked for GIF and BMP support, makes sense as they are indexed modes with no ambiguity. Again something to think about in the future.

The Multipaint BIN project format obviously preserves the palette and the color index, and sticking to the default palette can also be helpful.

The ZX Next specific formats supported:

NXI

NXI is raw bitmap data, without any palette information.

The 256x192 and 320x256 variants can be detected from the file length.

Without palette, they are 49152 and 81920 respectively. With palette, add 512 bytes to length.

Note that the display order is different for the 320x256 version, the image is stored "vertically" in memory.

Multipaint doesn't currently change the screenmode automatically for an in-coming NXI, so you have to first pick the correct mode and then load the NXI. The dialog will warn of incorrect NXI length, though.

Notably, the PLOTIT-LITE paint program included in the ZX Next bundle can load and save 256x192 NXI files.

 

NXI with palette added

The same as NXI, but with 512 bytes of 9-bit palette data. Multipaint can detect which one it is from the file length.

For saving, you have to choose either NXI or "NXI wo" (without).

This format is largely useful for storing, I don't know of any other context of use. 

SL2

256 x 192 raw bitmap data, without palette. These files have a 128-byte PLUS3DOS header to facilitate system loading, or something.

Although the header ends with a checksum, the checksum apparently only matters for the 128 first bytes, thus the value is always the same for this image format.

The importance of SL2 is that the NextBASIC can easily load these files:

10 LAYER 2,1
20 LOAD "picture.sl2" LAYER
30 PAUSE 0

If the picture is in the same folder, NextBASIC should load and display the image.


SPR

SPR is 16384 bytes, raw bitmap data, containing 64 sprite definitions. The sprites are ordered as 16x16 entities, following each other.

Multipaint has no different mode for sprites, the SAVE SPR simply stores the top third of a 256x192 mode screen. This also means whatever is in the remainder, is NOT saved!

Hopefully I can come up with a clearer solution, as the bottom part works nicely as a scratchpad, and there's a chance of losing work.

Some tile work

Preferably, sprites and tiles should be saved in some other format, and only exported via SAVE SPR when needed.

The Sprite/Tile editor included with ZX Next bundle can load SPR files. *.SPR can even be launched from the Browser for inspection.

There's a couple of NextBASIC demos that show how to load and use SPR files in your own Basic programs, I won't go there now.

PAL

PAL is a 512 bytes file which contains the 9-bit RGB definitions for 256-color palette, from index 0 to 255. Practically every odd byte just contains the last needed bit for Blue component of each color.

This is identical to the way the palette is stored in NXI paletted format. It is also a handy order for dumping palette data via color registers in machine code.

This format also facilitates the loading and saving of alternative palettes, in case you need something else than the default palette. I'd recommend sticking to the default palette as much as possible.


NEX

Nex is not an image format, but a more generic means of "packaging" a code, its data and assets into a direct one-file executable, as described here.

I used this opportunity to have a NEX-based self-viewer that can be run from the Browser.

If you use the excellent NextSync for wireless file transfer, you could just export the NEX into your PC sync folder, sync the Next and then run the executable. Not too slow!


A few non-Next related notes

Multipaint is still being developed, and I am headed for a 2024 version, with some overhauls and a possible move to Processing 4.

Tutorial is a funny addition. It can be selected from the start menu. Hopefully, by going through the tutorial, it's more clear what kind of tools and options are available. The tutorial hasn't really been tested much, and may be adjusted in the future.

Another recent addition is a "key cheatsheet" menu item, which shows some (not all) keyboard shortcuts that might come in handy for more effective work.

Generally, Pull Down menus and the icon set and tooltips should give an idea of what is there, but there are also couple of functions that have never been really visible.

For example, scrolling of dither patterns using [ and ] keys is not widely known!

Multipaint website and Downloads