Note: The following history is fictional. That is, it never actually happened. It would be awesome if it did, but it just didn't. Nutmeg Technical Group doesn't exist yet, however I have too much time on my hands, so I made it into a fictional game company with its own history. Enjoy!Lilac Pro Type:
Personal computer/gaming console Manufacturer:
Nutmeg Technical Group Ltd. Release Date:
January 31st, 1991 Country of Origin:
United Kingdom Sound Hardware:
NM303 "Emma" proprietary sound chip system (8 channel FM synthesis; 25 operators; basic stereo, can play either left, right or both audio channels, integrated DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for 4-channel sample-based synthesis, integrated PSG (programmable sound chip) with two square waveform channels and one white noise channel + sine wave LFO (low frequency oscillator,) 15 channels total) Graphics Hardware:
NMD44/A "Rebecca" proprietary graphics chip (256 colors, 4 per-channel; max. 100 sprites on-screen; 2 graphical modes; max. resolution 320 x 240 pixels) Processor:
"Lloyd" proprietary 16/32-bit CISC (complex instruction set computing) chip Operating System:
Nutmeg DOS (disk operating system) version 3.1 for 16-bit architecture (comes with basic graphical shell "Saffron v2.0" for a Windows-like environment) Storage Media:
Proprietary magnetic disk system, can hold up to 10.5 MB; Internal HDD (hard disk drive,) can hold up to 500 MB Peripherals:
Support for two 3-button control pads; Keyboard; single-button mouse; hookups for VGA monitor or TV set; Optional printer
The Lilac Pro, released in early 1991, was Nutmeg's first wildly-successful computer system, replacing the earlier Lilac computer system, which came out in 1986. The Lilac Pro was also one of the few widely-successful European consoles, having been designed and built in Great Britain. During its lifetime it did not face much competition from the two "rival" consoles, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, partially because it was meant primarily as an inexpensive home computer, with a secondary (but very large) focus on gaming, much like the Commodore Amiga. The console ran strong until 1996, when it was abruptly (and some say tragically) discontinued. Thus, Lilac Pros are highly-prized collectors' items nowadays, with some running for as high as $2,500 used on eBay.Audio Capabilities
For sound, the Lilac Pro used the NM303 sound system, codenamed "Emma" and designed, developed and manufactured by Nutmeg's hardware division. The Emma used three integrated sound chips (an 8-channel, OPL-like FM synth chip, a 4-channel PCM sample chip and a 3-channel PSG waveform generator chip) for a total of 15 channels.
Like most early computer sound cards, the Emma system only supported basic
stereo, that is, sound could be output to either the left channel, the right channel, or both channels at once. Audio could be either output to your television set via an A/V cable, or to a speaker system via a speaker output jack. There was a headphone port on the front of the console too, though it was seldom used. Most commonly, the computer was hooked up to stereo speakers and set up like a personal computer. Additionally, the system could be run in "legacy mode" which only used the internal speaker, capable only of producing square-wave tones and beeps. This speaker was also used for default system beeps.
Games often used a blend of FM and digitized sample-based synthesis, for both music and sound effects. The Lilac Pro garnered critical acclaim for its high sound quality for its time, and many games used digitized sound effects more than other games at the time. Both sound and music used the same file format (*NM3
) which made use of all fifteen of the Emma's channels. NM3 music generally made almost equal use of both instrument samples and digital FM-synth instruments, with added square wave and noise from the PSG chip. This made for very unique-sounding music with much more depth than other consoles' game music at the time. Music could be composed on a tracker-like program that came with the computer, and many amateur composers made wonderful music of their own.Video Capabilities
The Lilac Pro's NMD44/A graphics chip, codenamed "Rebecca" and also developed entirely within the Nutmeg company, was somewhat advanced for its time, easily outperforming the Yamaha YM7101 graphics chip used by the Sega Genesis. It was VGA-compatible and had support for 256 colors, but could run in 256-color, 16-color and monochrome (black and white) compatibility modes. Most games ran at 256 colors, though the 16-color and monochrome modes were used to run older programs and games which did not support 256-color VGA graphics.
A total of one hundred sprites could be displayed on-screen at one time, outperforming the Genesis, which could only display 80 sprites at one time. A total of seven display planes (three foreground, three background and one extra) were supported, giving interesting parallax effects. In addition, the Rebecca chip supported basic sprite scaling and rotation, though to save memory this was used sparingly. Rotation could be "simulated" by pre-rotating a sprite and saving each angle in memory as a separate image, then playing back the rotation sequence as an animation. Finally, very basic alpha blending was supported as well, with sprites and backgrounds set at either 100%, 50% or 0% transparency.
Most impressively for its time, the Rebecca chip supported very basic 3D graphics. Models and primitives were displayed as low-poly, flat-shaded objects with an appearance similar to the FX Chip, used on some Super Nintendo games such as Star Fox
. But what set the Rebecca's 3D capabilities apart from the rest was its support for basic texture mapping. The fifth display plane (extra) was used as a texture buffer to store simple texture maps. However, only ten textures could be stored at one time, and lighting was not supported. Still, this made for some very impressive graphical effects!
The Lilac Pro's impressive graphical capabilities for its time made it highly popular among the demoscene
, rivaling (and outperforming) even the legendary Commodore Amiga. Amateur and hobbyist programmers made beautiful and impressive tech demos to show their friends and engage in competitions.Operating System
The Lilac Pro used a proprietary variant of the Disk Operating System (DOS) developed by Nutmeg FSDiv (Functional Software Division.) It used a command-line interface from which any available game or program could be run. When the machine would boot up, the user would be taken to a command prompt, where you would type the name of the program or file you want to run, or the directory you wish to search in. It was also used to load the graphical user shell.
The GUI (graphical user interface) shell, called "Saffron," featured a point-and-click system reminiscent of Windows 3.0 (the current Windows version at the time of the Lilac Pro,) but with some design aspects from Mac OS and Amiga Workbench. Windows could tile but could not overlap, and icons were not supported, instead using lists and a file manager. A bar at the bottom displayed available hard disk space, CPU use and other "housekeeping" functions. Because Saffron was merely a graphical shell on top of the actual OS, any program could be run from it, making it more convenient. Most could be run in either fullscreen or windowed modes, though some only supported fullscreen.
The Saffron graphical shell came with a handful of programs geared toward the hobbyist game designer, including: Hard Copy
(word processor) CompileBASIC
IDE) Emma Composer
(NM3 music sequencer) ModelKit
(simple 3D modeler) PixelPaint
(2D image editor)Peripherals
The Lilac Pro had two controller ports, for two players. The standard Lilac Pro controller had three buttons (A, B and C) arranged in a triangular arrangement (reminiscent of the SNES's diamond-shaped arrangement, minus the X button,) along with a D-pad, a start button and a select button. Later on, the "Nutmeg Deluxe" controller, released on 1993, featured L and R shoulder buttons, and was more reminiscent of a SNES controller. Certain later games only supported the Deluxe controller.
The computer also came with a keyboard, with optional single-button mouse for use with the Saffron graphical shell (Saffron was sold separately, and came with the mouse.) In addition, it could be hooked up to a standard printer to serve as a simple office machine as well as a game console.Games
The Lilac Pro had many games made for it, most of them exclusive to that system and created by Nutmeg itself. Some of the earliest games starred Cormy the Cormorant, Nutmeg's mascot character. Later games had Dash and Spotlight in them, along with other characters. Here is a list of some of the more popular games released by Nutmeg itself for the Lilac Pro: Cormy's Adventure
(1991): A platformer starring Cormy the Cormorant, basically Nutmeg's answer to Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. The Cormy character was created by Bay Area comic artist Forrest Seale in 1986, then sold to Nutmeg as their mascot in 1988. Kyrdan
(1991): A two-player action game similar to a cross between Contra and Shinobi. You and your friend play as the Kyrdan warriors, and you fight against high-tech enemies and aliens. Known for its amazingly ground-breaking special hardware effects. Mitt-Mitt and Hog-Hog
(1992): There are two teams, "Mitt-Mitt" which you control, and "Hog-Hog" which is computer-controlled. The point is to hide from Hog-Hog as much as you can, then attack them when you get the chance. Plays like a variant of capture the flag. A lot of quirky characters and setting you also encounter. One level is a copy machine which swallows rats. Da5h
(1993): The first game starring Dash, this time as a ten-year-old kid. He must save the kingdom of Eternia, which exists only in peoples' dreams, from the evil time-traveling warlord Joe Destructo. He is assisted by a female angel called Spotlight, who lives in a computer.
These are just some of many awesome games released for the Lilac Pro...someday I want to make this console out of old hardware parts, when I'm more experienced with computers, and actually make some games for it! Now of course, this would be in the mid to late 2010s, but still nothing like a little nostalgia!Trivia
I messed up on the picture...it says the disks are "magneto-optical," but they're actually just magnetic disks.
The mouse is also single-button, but it has two buttons in the picture *facepalm*
Also, Cormy is my character. Forrest Seale is not a real cartoonist.
----------------------------------------------------Do not steal
. Art theft is illegal, you know
This picture is © 2010 - 2011 Nick Hägen