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Sharp X68000
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Hardware - X68000 XVI
"POWER TO MAKE YOUR DREAM COME TRUE"

Just for the record, it may be useful to know that you can reset the X68000 using the key combination CTRL+OPT.1+DEL on your keyboard.

 

OVERVIEW
The X68000 was Sharp lethal weapon, unveiled to conquer the 16 bit PC market in Japan after its X1 line failed in the 8 bit market arena against the more successful PC-88 series from Nec.

In the meantime, Europe was also shifting from the 8 bit to the 16 bit era and the battle was raging between the C=Amiga and the Atari ST.

Interestingly, the Amiga500, the Atari St and the Sharp X68000 all shared a common CPU: they had at their heart a beating Motorola 68000. That same CPU was so popular that it was also to be found in the Mega Drive / Genesis, the Mega CD / Sega CD, the all powerful Neo-Geo and a few other systems as well.

 

The X68000 XVI was released with 2 Megs of Ram as standard, which would allow almost all games to be played (except Super SFII I believe which requires 4 Megs) and came with a switch to toggle between 10 Mhz and 16 Mhz mode. A very elegant touch indeed.

It also came with the empowering writing on the side of the machine:

PERSONAL WORKSTATION
x68000 XVI SERIES
POWER TO MAKE YOUR DREAM COME TRUE

 

GAMES
What set the X68000 computer line apart from the rest of the gaming machines of the time though was that it attracted an impressive number of pixel-perfect ports of the hottest coin-op which were released in the arcades. Capcom ported flawless conversions of Final Fight, Strider, Ghouls'nGhosts and Street Fighter II while Konami was busy porting Gradius II, Twinbee, minor coin-ops like A-Jax and developing what many consider the killer applications for the machine: Akumajou Dracula, which stayed for a long time an exclusive for Sharp's powerful machine and Nemesis '90, an update of Nemesis III for MSX2. Other outstanding ports included R-Type, Rygar,Chelnov, Cotton, Mahou Daisakusen and the list could go on...

Today, the X68000 doesn't dwell into westerners wild dreams because of the coin-op ports which are readily available elsewhere on more modern platforms but rather because of the impressive production of exclusive games which were produced for it. Naious, Scorpius and D-Return come to mind, while for instance other games such as Phalanx, Thunder Force II, Valis II, Undead Line and Sol Feace look and sound way better compared to all other versions available on other platforms.

Another thing worth mentioning is the high quality of the packaging, which most of the times included big quality boxes decorated with nice artwork, and outstanding manuals which often included goodies such as comic strips or drawings which could not be found elsewhere.

 

Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame drew this wonderful cover

MIDI
Now a few technical notes: many games support MIDI and have specific soundtracks written for it. A few midi synth were supported such as the MT-32, the SC55, the SC155 and later more advanced models such as the SC-88VL or the SC-88 Pro work as well. Not all games will sound "right" on the better midi synths though...

It should be noted that in order to hook up one of these midi devices to the X68000, you need to get a midi card such as the official Sharp CZ-6BM1 or alternatively the System SACOM SX-68M or the SX-68M-2. Just to shake things up a little, depending on the midi card you get, you may need a special cable adapter mini-din to standard midi to connect the midi synth to the midi card...these cable adaptors are hard to find too but it is possible to get them built if you download the schematics which are floating online somewhere. I did that and the cable worked for some time but it was poorly built so I had to replace it :(
Creative Labs manufactured a line of Sound Cards which used the same miniature midi connector so the cable adaptors these cards use is perfectly compatible, as I am using one of these right now.

Creative Labs Mini Din to Din adaptor works flawlessly on the Sharp CZ-6BM1 Midi card.

Moving on, if the midi card is inserted correctly into the X68000 expansion slot, then the drivers for the midi soundtrack should be loaded automatically upon inserting a game with midi support.
Activating the midi soundtrack should be done either in the configuration menu of the game (Castlevania, SFII, Phalanx) or by pressing some key on the X68000 keyboard while the game is loading (Sol Feace...). This part I find very frustrating because I can't read what's written in the instruction manuals of the games so I have no clue of which key I am supposed to press and for how long...

The Roland SC-155 Midi Synth is basically an Sc-55 with cool sliders to adjust instruments individually in a very user-friendly way. It also comes with an MT-32 compatibility mode which can be activated. This feature is great for older games.

Even if you don't plan on getting one of these midi devices, you should always connect a pair of speakers to the X68000 (via the earphones connector for instance) instead of using the internal speakers. The difference is simply huge.

 

CONTROLLERS
Joystick ports are at least more or less standard meaning that you can use an MSX joypad or a Marty Joypad to play X68000 games. Most games support only 2 buttons but others like Chelnov, Fatal Fury and Street Fighter II require three, four or six buttons.. Capcom was so awesome at the time that it bundled a very handy adaptor with the X68 version of Street Fighter II to connect its line of CPS fighting sticks to the X68000. This adaptor also allows to connect a regular Mega Drive Joypad and has a special switch to toggle between 2 and 6 buttons mode. Awesome!!

 

Micomsoft XE-1PRO is often referred to in many X68000 game manuals. It is fully compatible with the MSX. The two fire buttons can actually be rotated to suit your playing preferences, while it is possible to set autofire even on full auto (meaning you don't even need to keep the fire button pressed). The firing rate of each button can be adjusted with two sliders at the top, and all kinds of led will be blinking to show the firing speed. Sounds sweet but the stick didn't really work too well on super hectic games such as UndeadLine since sometimes, buttons would get stuck into a certain firing mode,screwing up my games!
Better to fall back on a trustworthy Mega Drive pad via the Capcom Power Stick Fighter Adaptor!

 

MONITORS
About the monitor, you will notice by looking at the pics that I connected two different types: a Commodore 1942 monitor and a sharp CZ-612D multi-synch analog RGB monitor. Since importing an X68000 monitor from Japan can be rediculously expensive, I initially located a bi-synch Commodore VGA monitor which could synch either to 15 khz or to 31 khz. 24 khz doesn't seem to be really used in any of the games I tried so I figured I would not need it. Also, I got a special cable specifically made to connect the X68000 to the Commodore 1942 monitor (male 15 pin RGB to female VGA since the 1942 comes with a fixed male DB-15 VGA connector) and the trick seemed to work.

 

The Commodore 1942 monitor video cable
(male 15 pin RGB)

 

Games using both resolutions worked but colors looked washed out. This really bothered me because there was no way to adjust it. I tried of course to play around with contrast and brightness but that only helped a bit. I even went into the X68000 Switch.X settings to adjust some video settings via software (the X68000 OS will let you do that!) but that didn't help much either. What puzzles me is that the Commodore 1942 monitor looks fantastic when I hook up an Amiga 500 or an A4000 to it, with super vibrant colors and a nice resolution. Go figure...

 

Amiga C=1942 bi-synch monitor hooked up to a Sharp X68000 XVI, 2MB of Ram, Sharp CZ-6BM1 sound card, Roland SC-155 sound canvas, Micomsoft XE-1PRO stick playing Akumajo Dracula

 

 

Anyways, when I finally got the chance to get myself a proper X68000 monitor from within Europe at a very reasonable price including shipping, I went for it. Problem is after playing only for a few hours (and finishing Chelnov in the process), the screen turned completly purple! The monitor was 15 years old though so what to expect... damn! I wasn't happy and I wasn't gonna give up on the monitor after all the hassle I went through! Eventually, I managed to take it to repair and 60 euro later, my monitor works now flawlessy...

I decided to write all this so that you understand what it really means to get into real X68000 gaming (not emulation). It is certainly rewarding but it is a path that only true commited players should undertake!

110/220v
A final note for euro gamers out there. You'll need a good step down transformer to connect both the X68000 XVI and the monitor. They of course run at 110v and combined, they require around 200watts of power. To be on the safe side, get a 300watts adaptor and you'll have some peace of mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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