A Loveletter To The Atari Lynx

Tales From The Dork Web #2

The Atari Lynx was the best handheld games console I never had. My cousin got one for Christmas, and I was blown away by the graphics and sound. Recently I bought an RG-350 handheld, which is by far the most flexible portable gaming device I’ve ever had. This issue is a love letter to the Atari handheld designed and built by the Amiga team at arch rivals Commodore.

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Before we start, if you’d like to read along to one of the best Atari Lynx tunes, hit play on the video. There’s a few emulation glitches but it’s mostly on point.

Epyx Fail

The story of the Atari Lynx is an odd one. Dave Needle and RJ Mical of the Commodore Amiga team designed the Lynx. 80s multi-event sports game software house Epyx asked the Amiga team to build it. The story of Epyx is a great read in itself. The company only realised it lacked the ability to successfully ship a handheld after Needle and Mical built it. It's no surprise they were in trouble when they cut a deal with Atari to recover some of the $8 million spent on it.

Atari released the Lynx but it was massively overpriced compared to Nintendo's Gameboy. Despite better hardware, the Lynx's hit and miss launch titles paled in comparison to Nintendo's Tetris and Super Mario Land. Epyx (and Atari) went nowhere fast, leaving the Lynx with little support. Despite this, commercial Lynx games were being developed late into the 90s.

Emulating a Lynx

Most multi-platform emulators like Mednafen and RetroArch have some form of Lynx support. Handy is the standard emulator, while RetroArch is your best bet for Android. You'll need a Lynx Bios image to play games on a local emulator, but you won't need it to play Lynx games in a web browser.

I played what I believe is almost every commercially released Lynx game at least once. This led to an unfortunate discovery. Most Lynx games are terrible by modern standards. As a kid, the Lynx's 4096 colour palette, 160x102 pixel screen and sprite scaling blew me away. Not so today. For every piece of gold such as Zarlor Mercenary I had to wade through dross like Kung Food or Basketbrawl. Having said that, here's my favourite games complete with videos and links to play in your browser.

Shanghai is a classic MahJong Solitaire game, well produced and very addictive. It's frustrating but persevere and you'll tame the dragon at least.

California Games was one of the bundled Epyx titles. It's a good mini-game collection with the best surfing mini-game this side of the Sega Master System port.

I've already mentioned Zarlor Mercenary. It's a good, solid vertical shooter that you'll either enjoy or immediately dislike. I enjoyed.

Xybots is a port of an Atari arcade game that don't seems to be well remembered. It's a 3D run and gun through a maze, killing robots intent on destroying humanity. The Lynx port has a few nice touches along the way.

Other honorary mentions include APB, Rygar and Lemmings. All solid ports but there are better versions available on other systems.

King Of Rock Ain’t Dead, He’s Just Sleeping. King Of Rock’s Alright

Just because Atari stopped selling the Lynx in 1995 doesn’t mean it’s dead. There’s a healthy homebrew scene and some cracking hardware mods for the Lynx including accelerators, USB connectors and Bluetooth Audio. There’s also a little UART inside the Lynx in case you fancied opening it up and trying some games with it. The Lynx even had a cheeky unused magnetic tape circuit. In case you felt like pulling one apart and looking inside, RetroManCave has made a tear down video.

Things You Might’ve Missed

ChibiAkumas’ YouTube Channel is an incredible rabbit hole for writing portable assembler across a lot of old platforms. His Atari Lynx Hello World video is a good taster.

Emeryth needed a flashcart to run the LSDJ Nintendo Game Boy music tracker. He built his own using an STM32 microcontroller, reminding me of the homebrew Wolfenstein 3D Game Boy Color cart. For modern gamers, Larry Land has updated his guide to running your own game streaming service. At $0.53/hr it’s pretty reasonable.

Tom MacWright writes on how he manages his music collection. If you don’t own it don’t get upset if it’s taken away from you. Podcasts too, as Spotify plan to ruin, sorry, I meant scale that.

Need to keep running Windows 7? Get extended support updates for a year for <US$64 per licence. Wordpad (yes, MS Wordpad) is getting ads. I try to avoid Windows 10 but not everyone has that option. If you need Windows 10, take a look at these OS privacy tools. For OS privacy balance, Vicky Boykis at NormCore Tech asks, “Why is Apple's commitment to privacy going down the drain?”

Did you know the Wacom tablet driver sends details of every app you open back to Google Analytics? Adrian Colyer has a decent writeup of a paper on TVs watching their viewers. Maximum points to Pekka for the best TV hack I’ve seen in a while.

_ta0 kindly reminded me of CollapseOS, the Z80 OS designed for society’s post-collapse. It runs on the RC2014, TI84+ calculator, TRS-80 (as shown above) and Sega Master System amongst others. You can even try it in a browser. There’s a small community and hey, even VICE wrote about it. Speaking of VICE’s poor journalistic standards, Two Bit History pootle round the dork web and poke fun at VICE’s reporting style with BBSes: The VICE Exposé.

Voyager 2 partially shut down last month but NASA has managed to get the 43 year old interstellar space probe partly up and running again. Also in science, James Fisher has been diffing 2019-nCoV and SARS. What a time to be alive.

Adam Egan’s Tedium piece on the horror of SAP gave me flashbacks to failed IT projects I’ve pwned and loved. Wherever I see SAP I think of this from Despair Inc:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this email. Any feedback or suggestions will of course be gratefully received. I’ve been asked by a few people to write about the MNT Reform laptop. I hope to get time with the MNT ZZ9000 card in March and will I’ll write about them both at the same time.

Please do forward these mails or links on to anyone you think who might like it, and of course encourage others to subscribe if they do. I’ll be back in your inbox in a couple of weeks with art inspired by John Carpenter’s They Live, personal search infrastructure, flying to the moon using a USB charger and more.