After ZX Spectrum, the MSX was the second computer I had some good hands-on experience with. I remember the BASIC programming environment fondly, it was a breath of fresh air after the idiosyncrasies of the Spectrum. Although I disliked the idea of a "screen mode" (A Speccy does not know the concept) sprites and sound commands made life much easier.
Now I have a look at the MSX2, a Panasonic FS-A1WSX MSX2+ (huh!) which indeed is a +. I never saw an MSX2 back in the day and the platform seemed a bit uninteresting given that Atari ST and Amiga existed. More memory, more screenmodes, (usually) better sound and other tiny improvements were what made the second generation of MSX computers.
|"Case felt the edge of the deck sting his palm as he slapped MAX REVERSE. The matrix blurred backward..."|
The old workhorse, the Z80, is showing its age. It's not that great for pushing stuff around, even if there is a turbo mode for roughly 1.5x speed. Fortunately the VDP video chip has new tricks up its sleeve and the sound chip works independently too. This particular MSX features MSX Music extensions, meaning that a synthesizer engine can produce up to 9 simultaneous channels of tunes and sounds.
|The "Color Word Processor"|
Sure, the ROM bundle seems a hindrance now and makes one suspect incompatibilities. Fortunately the creators had the great wisdom of including a physical switch that bypasses the software package. Exiting each of the tools is through the STOP key, and the ensuing menus are navigated with the keys left and right to the space key, so I suppose they work as OK/CANCEL or YES/NO keys.
Although some of the kanji were present in western MSX character sets, I don't recall if they could be actively used. Here, Japanese writing characters are much more integrated to the overall setup. There's a "kanji lock" key in the keyboard that enables the characters displayed on the keys. It's possible to CALL KANJI to enter a really chunky text-mode, with big 16x16 kanji characters.
|The "Kanji Lock" key left to the Hardware PAUSE key.|
The music extensions can be simply invoked by CALL MUSIC and then using PLAY #2,"CDEFG" and the like. The Music Macro Language is a rather complex way for creating tunes, especially for nine channels, so many would these days prefer to use a tracker software.
|Messing around in MSX-DOS.|
The MSX-DOS itself is pretty solid and easy to learn if you've ever worked in CP/M or MS-DOS. An RGB cable gives a good enough picture to work on the 80-characters wide screenmode, but if it's hard on the eyes the MODE command may be used to switch to an arbitrary width. (And I mean arbitrary! Try MODE 1...)
|The screenmodes are quite flexible. The aforementioned KANJI mode can also be used in DOS.|
All in all, the MSX world is quite diverse. I'm really only a novice, as back in the day I just fiddled with BASIC and played some crappy European games. The direct Spectrum conversions (slower than the original) gave the platform a bad name around here... Yes, Konami cartridges were good but also expensive. It still is a pretty fun computer to mess with, and as with other popular platforms like C64 and Spectrum, new hardware and adapters make it that much more friendly for this day and age.