Page last updated: August 22nd, 2008

The Microvision Simulation Project

(For project status and links to existing simulators, go to the table near the bottom of this page)

(Also, see update from March, 2014 at the bottom of the page for info about other Microvision emulation efforts)

In the Spring of 2007, while digging through a pile of odds and ends that had collected in my basement, I found a big cardboard box containing my old Microvision video game system and nine game cartridges. For those who never had the pleasure of playing with a Microvision, it was the first hand-held video game system that could use interchangeable cartridges to play multiple games. It came out in the late 1970s, long before Nintendo made the idea profitable with the Gameboy. See Wikipedia's Microvision page for more info and a couple photos.

The Microvision concept was way ahead of its time, so the existing technology could only support simple games that used a 16x16 grid of oversized LCD "pixels", push-button controls and a rotating knob for certain games. While playing with it in 2007, it occurred to me that it might not be too hard to simulate most of the Microvision games as playable web pages, using just HTML, Javascript, some simple graphics and the mouse. It seemed like the best way to preserve the games, since most Microvisions that have survived into the 21st century are now starting to suffer from screen rot (pixels going permanently black) and other problems. My unit is no exception - several pixels in the upper right part of the screen are going bad.

I did extensive Google searching, to see if anyone had already written a Microvision emulator. All I could find was a German web page where you can download a program called AMiViSi that simulates one Microvision cartridge, Phaser Strike. The page is in German - English speakers can try their luck with Google's Translation of the page, but it's not that hard to figure out in its original language.

So I set out to simulate the other Microvision games. I put together working versions of Blockbuster, Bowling, and Pinball, then decided to do a Javascript version of Phaser Strike, even though it had already been done (it's an easy one to do as a web page). I even got about half-way through a simulator for the Sea Duel cartridge before I realized that the remaining games may be beyond my abilities as a Javascript programmer. For example, I have no idea how to write artificial intelligence that would closely match how the Microvision came up with its moves in Sea Duel, Connect Four, etc. I could never even solve the puzzles posed by Mindbuster, much less write a program to create those puzzles. And the control schemes of Baseball and Alien Raiders are resistant to simulation via a mouse (you really need the control knob for those). The last two games, Cosmic Hunter and Super Blockbuster, I never owned copies of so I can't simulate them.

I had hesitated on writing a simulator for the Vegas Slots cartridge, mostly because I have no idea how the original game calculated the odds of the slot machine paying off. Finally, in the summer of 2008, I decided to just wing it and make my own version that at least looks like the original, if it doesn't play exactly like it.

Unless I suddenly get the urge to work on this some more, the Microvision Simulation Project will probably remain in this unfinished state for the foreseeable future. If there are any other programmers out there who own a Microvision and are good at writing Javascript and want to tackle some of the other games, feel free. If you want to steal some of the code I've already written, that's fine. If you come up with something playable, email it to me and I'll add it to this site. You can figure out my email address (with a little effort) from the description I put on my Home Page - just scroll down towards the bottom and look for the bold word email.

For those who just want to play the games, feel free. All that's required is a web browser that supports Javascript. The pages were intially written and tested against Internet Explorer 6 and 7, but I've had reports that they also work with IE7, Firefox and the latest and greatest Mac Safari browsers (earlier Safari versions have problems). Note that all the Javascript games lack sound, as there's no easy way to incorporate sound into a Javascript program.

Maybe someday I'll get back to this project and try to write some of those unfinished games, but for now just enjoy the four that are here.


PS - while doing a Google search for this page (to see if it was listed), I found this forum page that reviews my Microvision Simulation project and links to it (it would have been nice if they had linked to this main page instead of the individual games, and hadn't erronously stated that the games are written in Java - javascript and java are not the same thing - but oh well). Their only criticism is that my web pages are boring visually - that was kind of by design, as the star of this show is supposed to be the games, not a bunch of flashy graphics. But their suggestion that I should have included pictures of the original Microvision was a good one. There are the pictures in that Wikipedia article mentioned above, and if you need more there are pictures of a Microvision unit, box, instructions and all the game cartridges at the Handheld Museum site. I'd like to thank the author of that site for hosting scans of all the Microvision games' manuals. I lost my copy of the Vegas Slots manual long ago, so being able to download one really helped when I was trying to figure out how that game works.


Here's the current status of the Project:

Game Programmer Language Started? Done? Notes
Blockbuster B. Eichler (with help) JavaScript Yes Yes No sound
Bowling B. Eichler JavaScript Yes Yes No sound
Pinball B. Eichler JavaScript Yes Yes No sound
Vegas Slots B. Eichler Javascript Yes Yes No sound
Phaser Strike B. Eichler JavaScript Yes Yes No sound
Phaser Strike Timo Weirich and Tobias Bindel Visual Basic Yes Yes Not JavaScript - must be downloaded and installed
Sea Duel B. Eichler Javascript Yes No Not yet playable - ship and sub can move and fire, but programming and battle phases don't work yet; No sound.
Connect Four     No No  
Mindbuster     No No  
Baseball     No No  
Alien Raiders     No No  
Cosmic Hunter     No No  
Super Blockbuster     No No  


UPDATE:

I received an email on March 16th, 2014, from Sean Riddle who is involved in an effort to create a true Microvision simulator. Apparently there are two projects being worked on - a standalone Microvision emulator called MVEM, and an attempt to add the Microvision as one of many systems emulated by MESS. Here's Sean's email:

"I just wanted to let you know that there are a couple of Microvision emulators now: MVEM and MESS. A fellow named Kevtris figured out how to dump the code from some carts, and Iíve been blow-torching the rest and taking pictures of the dice to extract the ROM contents visually. All of the known carts (including Super Blockbuster) have been dumped, although Iím still working on transcribing a couple of them. Neither MVEM nor MESS have complete Microvision emulation, but some games are playable, and eventually all should be. Your site helped some of the programmers without Microvision units to figure out what the games should look like. Thanks."

He provided these links to the projects:

http://mbmicrovision.blogspot.com/

http://www.seanriddle.com/tms1100.html

http://blog.kevtris.org/blogfiles/TMS1000/

http://www.mess.org/