How can I become a computer assistant

The Color Computer Assistant

Benj Edwards

Few antique computers experience as much active dedication as the Tandy Color Computer 3 - introduced in 1986. The CoCo 3 (as it is called by its fans) has never sold nearly as many copies as, for example, Atari or Commodore, In return, however, it enjoys greater loyalty from its users. The CoCo 3 marked the end of a popular line of color computer products from RadioShack, the first model released in 1980. The third model in the series turned out to be an impressive swan song with support for 512 KB memory and built-in graphics and sound improvements - all while maintaining backward compatibility with the pre-CoCo-3 software.

EnlargeTCC 3. Source: John Kowalski

So it's understandable that some people steadfastly refuse to no longer use their CoCo 3 for work and entertainment purposes. One of them is John Kowalski, a former console game developer who still considers his CoCo 3 to be irreplaceable. "I turn it on, type in a short program to do something, and let it run until the results are there," says Kowalski. "I see him as my personal assistant - I can program him to relieve you of tedious and repetitive tasks, such as automatic document formatting, while I continue to work on something else."

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Kowalski began his journey to CoCo-Land with a Color Computer 2 in 1984. In 1986 he upgraded to the CoCo 3 and has remained loyal to the platform ever since. Kowalski only carried out a few hardware upgrades, increased the RAM to around 2 GB and overclocked the 6809 CPU to a lightning-fast 3.5 MHz. While Kowalski programmed video games at the Crystal Dynamics studio until the mid-1990s, his CoCo 3 played a leading role. "Every game I worked on was made up of some data from the CoCo," he says. Titles like "Namco Museum 50th Anniversary" and "Tron 2.0: Killer App" benefited from the antique machine, which Kowalski used as a kind of programmable, scientific calculating machine.

EnlargeNamco Museum. Source Namco

For "Tron 2.0", for example - a title for Microsoft's first Xbox - Kowalski used the CoCo 3 to test 3D techniques that were included in the game. "Many of the data sets that the 3D engine used were generated on the CoCo. For example, like tables that were used to calculate depth and perspective in the 3D view and also the data for fish-eye reduction", explains Kowalski. "The game's texture graphics were also translated into program data using a conversion tool that I wrote on the CoCo."

Commodore 64: Reviving the bread box When speed was only second, Kowalski typed a program in CoCo's own BASIC translator. When large amounts of graphics and sound data were involved, he switched to assembly language instead. The latter proved to be particularly useful when working on "Namco Museum" and "Atari Anniversary" - both titles that contained revised classic games from 80s arcade games. Kowalski used the CoCo to extract graphics data from the original arcade ROMs and converted them into a format that the Playstation 2 console could use. The CoCo was also used to translate the old arcade source code and improve the old sound effects.

Gagscreen dinosaur: funny error messages from the prehistoric PC era With such an old machine, one might think that it would be difficult to transfer the work data to a more modern PC. But Kowalski has no problems with that. For years he transferred data from his CoCo 3 to his Windows PC using 5.25 inch floppy disks. Today he simply connects the devices with a serial cable and then emulates the PC as a virtual disk drive. Kowalski says his current job, designing electronic hardware, hardly requires any data generation, which is why he no longer uses his CoCo as regularly. Even so, he has not yet retired the antique machine. Kowalski keeps his 25 year old sweetheart as his main work machine. And it is always ready to resume service within a few moments.