Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Final Post

(This is part six of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)


For the final week of this year’s Retrochallenge, I worked on creating STTR2. This is an embellished port of STTR1 taking some advantage of the modest capabilities of the Mattel/Radofin Aquarius.

To get to this point, I took the code for my “straight” port of STTR1 and completely re-factored the BASIC code to make it more structured. Next was to change any code that PRINTED to use relocatable, colored text and use the Aquarius’ graphic text characters to make grids, etc.

Sadly the project is incomplete for the purposes of challenge. There is no sound. It exceeds my target 16K RAM, and is slower than an ASR-33 teletype terminal. (The video above is running in an emulator with max speed enabled). But it was very fun to get this far.

Retrochallenge 2016/01 Epilogue

Well, I fell a little short for my challenge. I did not port Super Star Trek like I had originally planned and therefore ported STTR1 to the Aquarius instead of Super Star Trek. In retrospect I’m fine with it. I find STTR1 to be simple and enjoyable. The Trek games that followed added perhaps needless complexity.

What I was successful with was learning a ton about a game that I initially knew very little about. I have heard revering stories of the game from programmers who got an earlier start in computers than I did. I was also successful in learning more about the Aquarius and the great efforts of its enthusiasts.

Thanks, Retrochallenge!




Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Post 5

(This is part five of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)

Thank Heavens for the Internet Archive


Today I came across Mike Mayfield’s personal account of the history of STTR1. This information was rescued from a defunct website by the fabulous efforts of the Internet Archive:

That page was part of a more general survey of the early Star Trek text games. I noticed a Palm Pilot version. I’ll be trying that on the Palm III I use for weekend To Do lists.

Work Begins on STTR2

I’ve begun working on (or at least mulling over) an enhanced version of STTR1 for the Aquarius that will take advantage of the system’s modest graphics and sound capabilities.

The set of goals is not solidified but at a minimum:

  • Use a fixed display (not scrolling). Left half is Short Range Scan, right half is output of all other commands except the Galactic Record.
  • Change color palette to something more thematic
  • Add a title screen
  • Draw a grid for short and long-range scans


Never an endeavor so doomed.


Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Post 4

(This is part four of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)

STTR1’s Gone Gold

STTR1 cassette case

The straight port of STTR1 for the Aquarius is nearing completion. These were the tasks on my TODO list:

  1. Finalize the code
  2. Create a Git repository for the files that will be publicly shared
  3. Record STTR1 to a cassette tape
  4. (Finally) run STTR1 on a real Aquarius
  5. Create & print artwork for the cassette case

Finalize the Code

I’m trying to keep the target platform an Aquarius with a 16K RAM extension, even in emulation. One of the files I’ll be including in the distribution is a ROM (.bin file) image. This  will allow easier loading on emulators or perhaps one day the file can be included with a multi-cart. To accomplish this, I used the modern hack Bootloader BASIC v2.1 (or BLBasic) found on the Atariage forums. This is an enhanced version of Aquarius Extended BASIC that, among other things, will create a ready-to-run binary version of a BASIC program. The clever trick exploits the fact that Virtual Aquarius emulator redirects printer output to a text file on the host computer. BLBasic re-purposes the LDUMP command to instead export a binary version of a BASIC program to the host computer via the emulated Aquarius printer port.

However I was seeing some strange behavior emanating  from the .bin version of STTR1 while using MESS. It could be that MESS is not correctly emulating the Aquarius, or perhaps the STTR1 code along with whatever runtime is needed by BLBasic was hitting the upper bounds of the available memory.

So I’ve trimmed the memory footprint of the STTR1 code on the Aquarius by:

  1. Consolidating multiple lines of HP Time-Shared BASIC to a single line using the “:” command separator. HP must’ve allowed strictly one command per line number in its Time-Shared BASIC because the original code never strays from that.
  2. Trimming REM statements when HP added the program to their Contributed Program Library.

Consolidating commands introduced many new bugs because I inevitably removed a line number that was referenced somewhere else by a GOTO.  I became very familiar with the “UL” error.

ted branch to a line that is not in
memory, or deletion of a non-
existent line.

Create a Git Repository

Nothing too interesting . I’ve been using for no particular reason. I know all the cool kids are hanging out at github, but I’m too lazy to migrate. So far, I’ve uploaded:

  • the text of the BASIC source
  • a .CAQ file (cassette file format for Virtual Aquarius)
  • and the a .BIN file created by Bootloader BASIC.

The repository is here.

Record STTR1 to a Cassette Tape

Recording STTR1 WAV file to Cassette Tape using a GE 3-5015C Tape Recorder

In the Virtual Aquarius emulator, you can run the CSAVE command and it will export a .CAQ data file to your PC. Included in the tools sub-directory of the emulator is a program called CAQ2WAV.EXE. This Windows application will convert a .CAQ to a .WAV audio file.

I used Audacity to play the .WAV file to this gorgeous c.1986 General Electric 3-5015C tape recorder connected to the laptop’s audio output. Moved the tape over to the Aquarius’s Data Record and CLOAD’ed the muther in.

For all the stink eye that cassettes get, let me say that this all worked on the first try. Sure it takes 4m30s but that’s time to meditate – or run a very good mile.

Red DATA Light means life is good

(Finally) Play STTR1 on a Real Aquarius

STTR1 Instructions being printed to screen

The game plays well on the Aquarius. I even love the keyboard. The program includes an option to either print the instructions to screen or to the Aquarius’ thermal printer. I almost got weepy seeing that work on the first run.


Create & print artwork for the cassette case

I wanted a nice looking cassette case for STTR1. I looked at some examples of the third-party games sold in the eighties, for example “Chuckman“. And skimmed through episodes of Star Trek: The Only Series on Netflix to find some screen shots of space scenes to grab. After a long night of cutting, pasting, rotating, blurring, and undoing, I came up with something I like. Even has liner notes.

I’ll include this as a PDF or PNG in the repository.


Up Next

My original plan was to also port Super Star Trek. Alas that one may have to wait for a future Retrochallenge. Instead I want to add color, sound, and maybe even extremely crude graphics to STTR1, making it what? STTR2?


Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Post 3

(This is part three of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)


Mind Melding

In porting the 1972 version of STTR1 from HP Time-Shared BASIC to the Mattel Aquarius, I had to learn more about the code than I originally thought would be required. I imagined merely dealing with syntax differences which I could search and replace with ignorant bliss. However, the implementation of string variables differ so much between the two systems, I inevitably had to time-travel, get into the head of the high school student who authored STTR1, understand the program’s logic to a sufficient degree, and re-code some critical sections.

Is it spaghetti code? Of course it is. This is early BASIC and therefore a design requirement. Even so, some very clever algorithms exist throughout. (I’m especially impressed by the code that calculates course and torpedo trajectory.) However, the 1 or 2 character limit for variable names makes for a dizzying experience.

So before I move on and allow the weeds to germinate, I’d like to at least catalog the more interesting variables found in the original STTR1 listing along with my understanding of each one’s purpose.

Noteworthy Variables Found in Original STTR1

In case you’re inclined to follow along, here is the original BASIC listing for STTR1.


230  REM *****  PROGRAM STARTS HERE *****
240  Z$="                                                                      "
250  GOSUB 5460
260  DIM G[8,8],C[9,2],K[3,3],N[3],Z[8,8]
420  C[2,1]=C[3,1]=C[4,1]=C[4,2]=C[5,2]=C[6,2]=-1
430  C[1,1]=C[3,2]=C[5,1]=C[7,2]=C[9,1]=0
440  C[1,2]=C[2,2]=C[6,1]=C[7,1]=C[8,1]=C[8,2]=C[9,2]=1
1885  C2=INT(C1)
1890  X1=C[C2,1]+(C[C2+1,1]-C[C2,1])*(C1-C2)
1900  X2=C[C2,2]+(C[C2+1,2]-C[C2,2])*(C1-C2)
2700  H=(X/K3/FND(0))*(2*RND(1))
2710  K[I,3]=K[I,3]-H
2720  PRINT  USING 2730;H,K[I,1],K[I,2],K[I,3]
2730  IMAGE  4D," UNIT HIT ON KLINGON AT SECTOR ",D,",",D,"   (",3D," LEFT)"
3400  G[Q1,Q2]=K3*100+B3*10+S3
Variable Name Data Type Description
G 8×8 Matrix Galaxy; Elements contain 3-digit values to store number of Klingons, Starbases, and Stars in each of the 64 Quadrants
C 2×9 Matrix Lookup of Δrow, Δcol for a given course, where 1≤course<9
K 3×3 Matrix Klingon attributes; row, col, and hit-points remaining for up to 3 enemies found in current Quadrant


270  DIM C$[6],D$[72],E$[24],A$[3],Q$[72],R$[72],S$[48]
280  DIM Z$[72]
950  Q$=Z$
960  R$=Z$
970  S$=Z$[1,48]
3790  IF C$ <> "DOCKED" THEN 3820
3810  RETURN
Variable Name Data Type Description
C$ 6 char String Condition of the Enterprise – GREEN, RED, YELLOW, or DOCKED
D$ 72 char String First 6 labels for Damage Report – 72 char string treated as array of (6) 12-char strings
E$ 24 char String 2 more labels for Damage Report – 24 char string treated as array of (2) 12-char strings
A$ 3 char String Symbol definition for Stars (‘ * ‘), Klingons (‘+++’), or the Enterprise (‘<*>’)
Q$, R$, S$ total 192 char String Buffer used to display current Quadrant. 8×8 cells where each 3-char cell contains a copy of A$ or empty space
Z$ 72 char String Zeroed String – 72 spaces used to clear Q$, R$, and S$

Enterprise Attributes

4250  C$="DOCKED"
4260  E=3000
4270  P=10
4290  S=0
Variable Name Description
E Energy available to the Enterprise. Values 0-3000+
S Energy diverted to the Enterprise’s Shields
P Number of Photon Torpedoes remaining. Values 0-10
Q1,Q2 Quadrant; row, col of Enterprise’s location within the Galaxy. Values 1-8 each
S1,S2 Sector; row, col for Enterprise’s location within a Quadrant. Values 1-8 each

Galaxy Attributes

3690  PRINT  USING 3700;K[I,1],K[I,2]
3710  K3=K3-1
3720  K9=K9-1
3730  A$="   "
3740  Z1=K[I,1]
3750  Z2=K[I,2]
3760  GOSUB 5510
3770  G[Q1,Q2]=K3*100+B3*10+S3
3780  RETURN
Variable Name Description
K9 Total Number of Klingons remaining in the Galaxy. Set at start. Decremented as enemies are destroyed
K7 Total Number of Klingons at start of game. Used to calculate efficiency rating for successful games
B9 Total Number of Starbases remaining in the Galaxy. Set at start. Decremented if any are destroyed
S9 Total Number of Stars in the Galaxy. Set at start to 200

Quadrant Attributes

Variable Name Description
K3 Number of Klingons in current Quadrant (0-3)
B3 Number of Starbases in current Quadrant (0-3)
S3 Number of Stars in current Quadrant (1-8)

Time Attributes

4080  PRINT "YOUR EFFICIENCY RATING ="((K7/(T-T0))*1000)
4090  T1=TIM(0)+TIM(1)*60
Variable Name Description
T Current Stardate. Values like 2403
T0 Initial Stardate when game started
T1 Time at End of Game; Obtained from Real-time Clock
T7 Time at Start of Game; Obtained from Real-time Clock
T9 Time Limit; Number of Stardates you have to complete the game. Set to 30 at start

Set Course

1410  PRINT "COURSE (1-9):";
1420  INPUT C1
1430  IF C1=0 THEN 1270
1440  IF C1= 9 THEN 1410
1450  PRINT "WARP FACTOR (0-8):";
1460  INPUT W1
1470  IF W18 THEN 1410
1480  IF D[1] >= 0 OR W1 <= .2 THEN 1510
1500  GOTO 1410
Variable Name Description
C1 Course
W1 Warp Factor

Up Next

Hopefully a demonstration of STTR1 for the Aquarius


Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Post 2

(This is part two of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)

Work-in-Progress Port of STTR1 on the Aquarius

As with most of my Retrochallenge experiences, what I imagine I can accomplish in the first weekend requires the remainder of the month. So it has been with the no-frills port of the 1972 version of STTR1 to the Aquarius. My real goal is to extend a classic Star Trek text game to use Aquarius features such as color, sound, and hand controllers. But here we are halfway through January and I’m still just trying to get the original STTR1 game to run on the target platform.

As of the last several work sessions I have a foothold into the game and am able to play for a bit before encountering a mysterious syntax error at line number 1910. And torpedoes targeted towards Klingons instead say that I shouldn’t attack stars.

In this post I will enumerate the types of code changes I’ve had to make so far and provide some brief examples. At a high level there’s the trivial changes and, well, the non-trivial.

Trivial Changes

Printing Concatenated Strings

HP doesn’t require semicolons as concatenation operators.

HP Time-Shared BASIC


Aquarius BASIC


Array Indexes

HP uses square brackets. Aquarius uses parentheses.

HP Time-Shared BASIC

1630  D[I]=D[I]+1

Aquarius BASIC

1630  D(I)=D(I)+1

Chained Variable Assignments

HP allows chained assignments, the Aquarius does not.

HP Time-Shared BASIC

320  E0=E=3000
330  P0=P=10

Aquarius BASIC

320  E0=3000:E=E0
330  P0=10:P=P0

Shortening Command Lines to 72 Characters

Aquarius BASIC has a maximum line length of 72 characters. The original STTR1 source for the HP contains many, many lines that exceed that limit. These are simple but somewhat tedious changes.

Aquarius Guide to Home Computing pp. 1-10


Reformatting Output for a 40 Character Display

The teletype terminals that would be connected to an HP2000C  had generous line widths for displaying the program output. The 40 character display on a television set requires inserting line breaks into the original STTR1 text.

HP Time-Shared BASIC

3690  PRINT  USING 3700;K[I,1],K[I,2]

Aquarius BASIC

3690  PRINT "KLINGON AT SECTOR ";K(I,1);",";K(I,2);
3700  PRINT " DESTROYED ****"

Formatted Output

HP Time-Shared BASIC provides formatted printing akin to C’s printf() function. IMAGE statements define a mix of literal strings and placeholders with format codes. The PRINT USING statement points to the line containing the desired IMAGE statement and a list of variables to be substituted for the placeholders.



HP Time-Shared BASIC

2720  PRINT  USING 2730;H,K[I,1],K[I,2],K[I,3]
2730  IMAGE  4D," UNIT HIT ON KLINGON AT SECTOR ",D,",",D,"   (",3D," LEFT)"

Aquarius BASIC

2730  PRINT K(I,1);",";K(I,2);"  (";K(I,3);" LEFT)":PRINT

Zeroing an Array

The HP has strong matrix support and has the ability to operate on all elements in a matrix with one command.


HP Time-Shared BASIC

260  DIM G[8,8],C[9,2],K[3,3],N[3],Z[8,8]
910  MAT K=ZER

Aquarius BASIC

260  DIM G(8,8),C(9,2),K(3,3),N(3),Z(8,8)
910  FOR I=0 TO 3:FOR J=0 TO 3:K(I,J)=0:NEXT J:NEXT I

Jumped GOTO

HP Time-Shared BASIC provides a variation of the ON x GOTO line1 line2… seen in other BASICs on micros but not found on the Aquarius. And…Was GOTO originally intended to be GO TO (two words)!?


HP Time-Shared BASIC

1280  INPUT A
1290  GOTO A+1 OF 1410,1260,2330,2530,2800,3460,3560,4630

Aquarius BASIC

1280  INPUT A
1290  IF A=0 THEN 1410
1292  IF A=1 THEN 1260
1293  IF A=2 THEN 2330
1294  IF A=3 THEN 2530
1295  IF A=4 THEN 2800
1296  IF A=5 THEN 3460
1297  IF A=6 THEN 3560
1298  IF A=7 THEN 4630

Non-Trivial Changes

Fundamental Differences in String Variables


HP Time-Shared BASIC

HP BASIC strings are implemented as a one-dimensional array of bytes. The command DIM S$ [n] reserves n bytes for string S$.

Throughout the original STTR1 code, much of the game’s “graphical” representation is accomplished by injecting the symbols for the Enterprise (‘<*>’), stars (‘ * ‘), and Klingons (‘+++’) into large strings, exploiting HP’s treatment of Strings as special cases of matrices.

However, HP BASIC strings are limited to 72 characters. For this reason, the young Mr. Mayfield had to split the 192 (8 x 8 x 3) characters needed to represent the Short Range Scan view across 3 string variables Q$, R$, and S$. And then add code to cascade across the variables when trying to inspect  a particular spot in a quadrant.

Strings   ---------------------------------
Q$[01-24]:      *              <*>         
R$[01-24]:                      *       *  
R$[25-48]:   *               *       *      
S$[01-25]:           *                      

270  DIM C$[6],D$[72],E$[24],A$[3],Q$[72],R$[72],S$[48]
980  A$="<*>"
5520  S8=Z1*24+Z2*3-26 (Note: Z1 and Z2 are values between 1 and 8)
5530  IF S8>72 THEN 5560
5540  Q$[S8,S8+2]=A$
5550  GOTO 5600
5560  IF S8>144 THEN 5590
5570  R$[S8-72,S8-70]=A$
5580  GOTO 5600
5590  S$[S8-144,S8-142]=A$
5600  RETURN

Aquarius BASIC

Strings do not need to be declared before use. The command DIM Q$ (64) creates an array of 64 (maybe 65) strings. For the Aquarius version of STTR1, strings will need to be used in a totally different way. Since the game’s “graphics” are stored as 3-character  strings, I’ve opted to create an array of strings. In a 8×8 quadrant, Q$ will provide (64) 3-character strings.

270  DIM Q$(64)
980  A$="<*>"
5520  S8=(Z1-1)*8+Z2 (Note: Z1 and Z2 are values between 1 and 8)
5540  Q$(S8)=A$
5600  RETURN


No-Frills STTR1 Consumes Most of the 16K on an Aquarius

The target platform is an Aquarius with 16K RAM. If I drop the STTR1 code into an Aquarius emulator, FRE(0) shows that 1K of RAM is remaining. If I want to add new features, then the existing program will need to be put on a diet. Otherwise OM (Out of Memory) errors will begin to appear.

Solutions include: moving the embedded instructions to a separate, stand-alone program, combining multiple BASIC commands onto a single line, and creating an array of resource strings to use in place of repeated literals, like “KLINGON”, “TORPEDO”, and “ENTERPRISE”.

Up Next

Documenting the important variables used in STTR1.


Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

Retrochallenge 2016/01: Post 1

(This is part one of the chronicle of my Retrochallenge 2016/01 submission, which is to port some classic Star Trek text games to the Mattel Aquarius. To jump to the beginning, go here.)

Let’s Play the HP Time Shared BASIC Version of STTR1

I recorded a “Let’s Play” video of an abbreviated session of STTR1, enough to exercise all of the commands at least once. This was very, very late night recording – my mental acuteness was the opposite of acute.

How/Where to Run the Original STTR1

In preparation for my Retrochallenge, I spent some time in December trying to learn about STTR1 and how to play the original game. Well, I assume the “original” original game, which ran on an SDS Sigma 7 computer is lost to us and now resides in bit heaven. But the HP Time Shared BASIC port survived because of its inclusion in HP’s User-Contributed Library and the success of the HP2000 Family. In the end, I found at least three options for playing the HP version of STTR1:

  1. Locate and restore (2) HP2000 Series computers. One unit is needed for multiplexing terminals and one to run Access/Time Shared BASIC. And don’t forget tape drives or paper tape readers. And the media (magnetic and/or paper tapes). So – this option is impossible.
  2. Download, compile, configure, and run the SimH simulator. If you haven’t heard of SimH, it is to minicomputers what MESS is to microcomputers – only difficult. I did, in fact, have success with this route after several weeks of trying and would like to document my setup and perhaps share some configuration files. But that is a lower priority at the moment. If I fail to document this, I did find everything I needed, (though not in any single, tidy package) at the HP2000 Yahoo Group but you’ll need to join the group to gain access to the necessary files.
  3. Telnet to an already-running instance of a simh simulator. There are two such machines available at the time of this writing due to the generosity of the HP2000 Yahoo Group members :

The “Too Long, Didn’t Watch” Version

So, assuming these machines are still listening when you read this, the telnet option is the most straight-forward way to try out STTR1.

To Launch STTR1:

  1. Launch a terminal, such as the classic ‘xterm‘, that won’t be confused by the HP’s strange End-of-Line characters.
  2. Do this:
    telnet or

For your convenience, the instructions for STTR1 have been pulled from the original source and reformatted in my previous post.

To Quit STTR1:

  1. Use Command 7,2
  2. Enter a long string at prompt for using the calculator. This causes a string overflow and breaks out of the program.
  3. BYE

These machines have many other early text games including 1975 version of Oregon Trail. When looking at the list of programs in the output of GROUPS, the programs with a “C” attribute are semi-compiled and may need to be started using the command EXE-*progname, otherwise you should be able to use EXE-progname.

Up Next

Due to incompatibilities between HP’s BASIC and the version of MS BASIC found on the Aquarius, I’m forced to climb into the head of a teenage programmer from 1972.

Retrochallenge, Retrochallenge 2016/01

STTR1 Instructions


Here are the instructions for the 1972 Star Trek text game as found(*) in STTR1’s BASIC listing.

(*) Modified from strictly upper case

<*> Enterprise
+++ Klingon
>!< Starbase
* Star

Command 0 = Warp Engine Control

‘Course’ is a  circular numerical vector arrangement as shown. Integer and real values may be used. Therefore course 1.5 is half way between 1 and 2.

    4     3     2
      \   ^   /
        \ ^ /
  5 ------------- 1
        / ^ \
      /   ^   \
    6     7     8

     C O U R S E

A vector of 9 is undefined, but values may approach 9.

One ‘warp factor’ is the size of one quadrant. Therefore to get from quadrant 6,5 to 5,5 you would use course 3, warp factor 1.

Command 1 = Short Range Sensor Scan

Prints the quadrant you are currently in, including stars, Klingons, starbases, and the Enterprise; along with other pertinate information.

Command 2 = Long Range Sensor Scan

Shows conditions in space for one quadrant on each side of the Enterprise in the middle of the scan. The scan is coded in the form XXX, where the units digit is the number of stars, the tens digit is the number of starbases, and the hundreds digit is the number of Klingons.

Command 3 = Phaser Control

Allows you to destroy the Klingons by hitting him with suitably large numbers of energy units to deplete his shield power. Keep in mind that when you shoot at him, he gonna do it to you too.

Command  4 = Photon Torpedo Control

Course is the same as used in Warp Engine Control. If you hit the Klingon, he is destroyed and cannot fire back at you. If you miss, he will shoot his phasers at you.

Note: The Library Computer (Command 7) has an option to compute torpedo trajectory for you (Option 2).

Command 5 = Shield Control

Defines number of energy units to be assigned to shields. Energy is taken from the total ship’s energy.

Command 6 = Damage Control Report

Gives state of repairs of all devices. A state of repair less than zero shows that the device is temporarily damaged.

Command 7 = Library Computer

The library computer contains the three options:

Option 0 = Cumulative Galactic Record

Shows computer memory of the results of all previous long range sensor scans.

Option 1 = Status Report

Shows number of Klingons, stardates, and starbases left.

Option 2 = Photon Torpedo Data

Gives trajectory and distance between the Enterprise and all Klingons in your quadrant.