The Sharp x68000 Computer

A Wonderful 16-bit Japanese Computer System

The Sharp x68000 is the one computer system I wished I had the opportunity to own and I only discovered it via emulation and going through the retro computer listings on eBay and other sites. This is because the x68000 was only released in Japan and where I live, the most popular systems were the Commodore Amiga and to a lesser extent, the Atari ST, which also happened to be the machine I used the most at that time.

I have discovered many things about this machine through reading magazines, system manuals and a few Japanese websites/forums dedicated to this system. I have compiled some of the details about this system here and I will add to it as I discover new things.

I hope this becomes a useful article about this vastly unknown, yet wonderful system which was produced in Japan between 1987 and 1993.

Two Japanese Ads for the Sharp x68000


Sharp x68000 System Hardware Specification

Let’s start with some hardware specs for the standard X68000 ACE model which was released early 1998 (source: x68000 User Manual):

CPU

  • Motorola-Clone 68000 CPU (HD68HC000) 10Mhz made by Hitachi

ROM: Total 1Mb ROM

  • 128Kb BIOS
  • 768Kb Character Generator (16x16, 8x16, 8x8 — JIS 1+2)

RAM: Total 1Mb RAM

  • Maximum RAM is 4Mb
The majority of applications and games did not require more than 2Mb RAM and many were able to run on the standard 1Mb RAM. Street Fighter II is an exception which will not run with less than 4Mb RAM.

VRAM: Total 1Mb VRAM

  • 512Kb Text
  • 512Kb Graphic

Other RAM/VRAM

  • 32Kb Sprite VRAM
  • 16Kb Static RAM

Screen Resolutions

  • 256x240, 256x256
  • 512x240, 512x256, 512x512
  • 640x480
  • 768x512
  • 1024x1024

Screen Colors

  • 65,536 Total Color Palette
  • Max. 256 Simultaneous Colors on Screen

Sprites

  • 16x16 pixels
  • 128 sprites per screen; 16 sprites per line
  • 16 colors per sprite selected from 16 palettes

Graphics

  • Hardware scrolling
  • Priority control
  • Super-impose
  • 2 Backgrounds

Sound — FM Synth

  • Yamaha YM2151 paired with a YM3012 DAC
  • 2 channels (stereo or 2 mono)
  • 8 voices, 8 octaves
  • Noise Generator
  • Sample Rate 22KHz

Sound — ADPCM

  • OKI MSM6258V
  • 4-bit Mono PCM

Expansion Slots

  • 2 Slots available

Input/Output Ports

  • VGA Monitor Port — 15/24/31 kHz refresh rates
  • Component RGB In/Out — equipped for NTSC-J Cable TV
  • 2 x MSX Joypad Ports
  • Headphones Jack
  • Microphone Input

System Case and Input Devices

  • 2 x 5.25" floppy disk drives with soft eject
  • The tower case looks like two connected towers, with a retractable carrying handle
  • Software controlled power switch
  • QWERTY keyboard, 113 keys
  • Single Button Mouse

Hardware Variations Comparing Other Models

RAM

  • The Pro and other more later models had 12Mb RAM maximum

CPU

  • XVI Model (1991) — Genuine Motorola 68000 CPU 16MHz
  • X68030 Model (1993) — Genuine Motorola 68030 CPU 25MHz

Hard Drive — SASI Hard Disk Interface Maximum Storage Size

  • ACE-HD: 20MB
  • EXPERT-HD, PRO-HD, EXPERT II-HD, PRO II-HD: 40MB

Hard Drive — SCSI Hard Disk Interface Maximum Storage Size

  • SUPER-HD, XVI-HD, X68030-HD: 80MB

Expansion Slots

  • 4 slots available on Pro models

Sharp x68000 Power Supply Issues

One of the most common issues with x68000 systems today are issues with the power supply unit ‘blowing up’. This may have been contributed to by the fact that the power supply is in an ‘always on soft power state’ and there were no switches other than via the front of case power button that performed a timed power off. If you happen to get one of these machines, most likely they will be sold with a power supply issue. You will have to seek out a suitable replacement power supply or be prepared to ‘convert’ a suitable PC power supply for usage inside the x68000.

To convert a PC power supply you will need to get yourself an instruction manual with the power pin-outs for your model to make sure you are doing everything correctly plus you will need to use a 4.7k Ohm resistor, a suitable chip that performs an inverting role (because the power polarity is actually reversed) and be capable of doing some soldering. If you are not confident doing this, I suggest you seek out the services of someone with electronics repair skills as I take no responsibility offering this rough guide.

The power connections are no doubt different with each model — but this is a rough guide diagram for the ACE-HD model that I have researched the most.

For more in-depth details on fixing power supplies read Power Supply Repair Instructions — or you could also attempt to build your own power supply.


The Sharp x68000 Operating System

The X68k ran an operating system developed for Sharp by Hudson Soft, called Human68k, which features commands very similar to those in MS-DOS (typed in English). Pre-2.0 versions of the OS had command line output only for common utilities like ‘format’ and ‘switch’ while later versions included forms-based versions of these utilities, greatly improving their usability. At least three major versions of the OS were released, with several updates in between. Other operating systems available include NetBSD for X68030 and OS-9.

Early models had a GUI called VS; later ones were packaged with SX-WINDOW. A third GUI called Ko-Windows existed; its interface is similar to Motif. These GUI shells could be booted from floppy disk or the system’s hard drive. Most games also booted and ran from floppy disk; and others require hard disk installation.

Since the system’s OS Human68k, BIOS ROMs, console and SX-Window C compiler suites have been released as PUBLIC DOMAIN — all thanks to the @nifty Sharp Products Users’ Forum (FSHARP) — from April 1, 2000 with the consent of Sharp, Hudson, and other contributing companies, they are freely available for download. That forum is no longer available but what it all means is that x68000 system emulation is actually 100% legal! Note that some software/games on the system may still have copyright applicable.


Sharp x68000 Peripherals

New section coming soon!


Six of the Best Sharp X68000 Games In My Opinion

There does seem to be a ‘rough rule’ where if an arcade conversion was made, the x68000 version is likely to be one of the best. This has been true for many games that I have discovered particularly for titles made by Capcom and Konami, but like all systems, there are some failures too.

I’d like to point out that the X68000 system has plenty of games that are not Arcade conversions. Someone might argue why bother — just use Mame — but you may have memories/nostalgia playing these titles, even if the ports are not exactly delivered like the Arcade counterpart. It might surprise people to hear that I personally do not use Mame nor have a single ROM for it.

1. Rygar — Argos No Senshi

Rygar is the “perfect port” of the Arcade version of this game. Released originally by Tecmo in 1986 in the arcades, the x68000 version was not released until in 1994 by Dempa/Micomsoft. Pressing F1 gives you access to the Dip Switch controls where you can set the difficulty, number of lives etc. which is a nice touch. This game includes all 27 levels present in the arcade version and is as difficult as the original.

Rygar is to this day, one of my all time favorite games.

2. Gradius II — Gofer no Yabou (Gofer’s Ambition)

Gradius II is in my opinion, a decent improvement over the first game in the Gradius series. The x68000 version (and the MSX version) of the game is essentially an alternate port of the Arcade version, which I also believe was developed to run at a lower screen resolution. Compared to the original Arcade version, it has totally different music as well, and I think I prefer the port music over the original myself. Before you begin the game, you can choose from four different weapon types for your ship — each with own different advantages and disadvantages. The graphics in Gradius II are quite spectacular for a game made around 1988 — particularly on the insanely difficult third stage with the field of crystals. A Konami classic.


3. Final Fight

Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat ’em up based in Metro City. Released by Capcom originally in 1989 and then exclusively on the x68000 in Japan in 1992, it is an “almost perfect port”. Only the music and slightly less on-screen enemies at one time (one could argue this version is more approachable because of this) are different to the original.

You can play in two player co-op mode, choosing from three characters — Mike Haggar, Cody and Guy. You must rescue Jessica (Haggar’s daughter) who has been kidnapped by the Mad Gear gang after Haggar became the newly elected city mayor. The game features different bosses at the end of each of the six main rounds (there are two bonus rounds as well). You perform various attacks/combos to defeat enemies but some combos will drain your health bar. A precursor to other Capcom fighting games including my favorite beat’em up — Captain Commando —and this game would be my number two.


4. Flying Shark — Hishouzame

Flying Shark is a game made by Toaplan and is the first in a series of two ‘shark’ games. Similar to the 194x series, you control a biplane flying over various battlefields filled with tanks, buildings, battleships and plans. Many enemies take multiple hits to destroy and you will need to clear areas to reach checkpoints through out the games five (but quite long) stages. If you do complete the five stages, you continue on from stage two but at a harder level of gameplay. I enjoy this shmup because I find it quite challenging to play.


5. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts — Daimakaimura

Another Capcom classic — the x68000 version of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts released in 1994 is a “perfect port” of the original arcade game that was released in 1988. The game is the sequel to Ghosts ‘n Goblins (a game I played extensively on the Commodore 64) and you control the same Knight character named Arthur. The main difference between the original and this game is that you can now fire upwards and downwards while jumping. The aim of this game is to rescue the soul of his lover Princess Prin Prin whose soul was stolen by Lucifier (Loki). The game is quite difficult and consists of just five stages and a final boss fight in Lucifier’s chamber. You need to complete stages one to five TWICE before you get the chance to defeat Lucifier.


6. Castlevania Chronicles — Akumajō Dracula

Akumajō Dracula was originally released by Konami in 1993 on the X68000 before being ported to other systems including the PlayStation in 2001. Set in the year 1691, you play as Simon Belmont who has to defeat Count Dracula who has been terrorizing the people of Transylvania again after rising again after a century of rest. Simon uses the Vampire ‘killer’ whip as his primary weapon against the Lord of Darkness. The whip can be upgraded with extras and is also used to help find other items hidden inside the castle during the games 24 stages. This game can be insanely difficult, but it’s still another Konami classic.

Note: While it’s true 5 of the 6 games I have listed above are Arcade conversions, I’d like to now point out some other X68000 games I enjoy.

Other Great x68000 Games

If you have decided to explore the x68000 system more — well done! — can I also recommend these game titles as well:

Aquales

Otaku Dama

ChouRenSha 68k

Akazukin Cha Cha Cha

Bubble Bobble

Overtake


Some other games worth trying out

Space Harrier; Super Hang-On; Strider Hiryu; Street Fighter II; Pacmania; Zugya; D-Return; Geograph Seal; R+R; R-Type; Dragon Spirit; Gemini Wing; Salamander; Image Fight; Nemesis ’90 Kai; Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton; Detana!! TwinBee; Etoile Princesse; Terra Cresta; Blue Wings 2; Parodius Da!; Sol-Feace; Granada

You can probably now tell I like playing Shmups on the Sharp x68000!


Update 2018: Puzzle and Logic Games

I received a question in the comments below from Matt Sephton about recommended puzzle or skill games — with his preference being not so much block or drop type games.

It’s a great question — because the Sharp x68000 is best known for it’s shooters and arcade ports.

I am aware of a few decent skill/puzzle games but there may be more around that I am yet to discover myself. Of course, there are the popular “puzzle” games of Tetris, Lemmings and Shanghai like on most systems at the time — so let’s skip over those.

The closest game to Pang which was mentioned in the comment (a brilliant 8-bit Atari game) is probably the Sharp x68000 version of Bomberman — but I know it’s not quite the same.

Note that there were two Pang games released on 8-bit systems — the other one is a port of the arcade game Pang I played on the Amiga which involves dodging and shooting bouncing balls that get smaller each time they are hit.

The Kururin series and Guru Logic Champ games also mentioned are very unique games and I own the first game Kuru Kuru Kururin game in the series on Gameboy Advance. Very challenging yet fun — however, there is nothing I am aware of for the x68000 system that is close to either of these two games.

Looking at what was released on the x68000, one of the more unique games I recall being decent is called Cameltry (also known as On the Ball), which is the Taito arcade game. It looks like it takes inspiration from Marble Madness (a game also available on the x68000) where you control a ball through a maze, avoiding traps, obstacles and holes. The game in a way reminds me of those wooden maze with a metal ball games we played as children. It was to my knowledge also ported to the SNES — but the downside of playing it on the Sharp x68000 is it needs a rare paddle controller to play or a mouse which adds to it’s difficulty.

Deflektor — a game which requires you to use a fixed set of mirrors to direct a beam of light to terminate bombs on the screen and all of these bombs must be cleared with that one beam of deflected light. I believe there is a version for this also on the Commodore 64.

Star Mobile is a real-time puzzle game involving a scale that is displayed on the screen, and from above, stars of different colors and weights will continuously fall onto it. You need to keep the scale in balance so the stars don’t fall off and each stage requires a certain amount of balanced weight before you can move onto the next. I didn’t think this game appeared on any other systems — but I discovered a PC Engine version exists as well.

Soko-ban Perfect is a top-down puzzle game with the goal of needing to push a number of boxes onto certain marked spots on the stage. The game has over 300 stages and they can be played in any order — as well as a custom stage editor.

Flappy 2 — only released on the x68000 — is like the original game where you control Flappy the yellow mole. You need to complete each level by pushing a blue stone from its starting place to the destination — but this version is in isometric perspective which is different to the original side view game.

There are a few more ports worth mentioning — even though some are drop/match styles of games.

A game called Pipe Dream closely reminds me of a Commodore 64 game called Super Pipeline — where you had to build pipelines that connected to two points on the board using randomly provides pieces as quickly as possible before the water travelling through them spilt everywhere.

Puyo Puyo — the same block puzzle game as on other systems — is a decent game. Columns is there too and it’s very close to the Sega Master System version. There is a port of Klax which is as good as the PC Engine version I have played. Lastly there is a port of Puzznic, which is another block arrangement game.

You could also “loosely” say some turn-based strategy/tactics games fit this description as well, like Military Madness and Mega Lo Mania — both are great versions of this game. Military Madness was actually the inspiration for the hugely successful “Advance Wars” series on the Gameboy Advance.


Sharp x68000 Game Box Art

Along with great games and near arcade perfect conversions, the x68000 also has in my opinion some of the best game cover art from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Many of the titles are hand drawn artworks and the amount of detail in these artworks is something else. Below are three examples of this fine artwork:

Detana!! TwinBee
Strider Hiryu
Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton

Sharp x68000 Emulation

With the system’s power supply problems, this makes the computer unfortunately a reasonably difficult machine to maintain. However, with emulation of the x68000 virtually 100% accurate, you can experience this machine in all it’s glory using an emulator under Windows.

The emulator I usually recommend is WinX68k High-Speed v0.95. I know that finding a reliable version of this emulator can be difficult, I have decided to host WinX68k High Speed 0.95 with System Roms. As a bonus, I have included two games inside the same ZIP file — Flying Shark and Rygar — so you can quickly get going with x68000 emulation. I hope after reading this you have decided to give this wonderful Japanese release system a go, and it may have sparked your interest in other Japanese systems.

Links to more Sharp x68000 Information


If you feel it’s worthwhile, please leave any comments you have about this. Thanks very much for reading.