Sharp x68000 - 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
  • a 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, these two links should be useful:


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 Games

There seems 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.

With that said, I will shortly add in here the six games that to me define gaming on the Sharp x68000.

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.

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.


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.


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 throughtout 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.


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.


Castlevania Chronicles — Akumajō Dracula

Akumajō Dracula was originally released by Konami in 1993 on the X68000 before being ported to other systems including the PSOne 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 true the games I have listed above are Arcade conversions, 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 and I don’t even have a single ROM for it, as I continue to choose where possible to play these games on the systems that I own.

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:

  • Strider Hiryu
  • R-Type
  • Nemesis ‘90
  • Street Fighter II
  • Super Hang On
  • Pacmania
  • Chou Ren Sha 68k
  • Zugya
  • Dragon Spirit
  • Gemini Wing
  • Geograph Seal
  • Spacer Harrier
  • Salamander
  • Image Fight
  • Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton
  • Detana!! TwinBee
  • Etoile Princesse
  • Aquales
  • Overtake
  • Terra Cresta
  • Blue Wings 2
  • Parodius Da!
  • Otoko Dama
  • Sol-Feace
  • Granada
You can probably now tell I like x68000 Shmups.

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


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