Meeting Your Heroes: Kazuhiko Nishi and the Resilience of MSX
They say 'Never meet your heroes,' and that is probably true for most cases, but my experiences in 2023 gave me some excellent counterexamples. I've had the privilege of crossing paths with inspiring figures like John de Lancie, Drazen Petrovic's family, and, twice, the brilliant mind behind the MSX computer standard, Kazuhiko Nishi. Meeting him has proven that 'meeting your heroes' can indeed be a wonderful thing.
Nishi-san: A Visionary Engineer and Businessman
Kazuhiko Nishi is widely recognized as the "father" of the MSX standard, but his influence extends far beyond that. He played a pivotal role in Microsoft's success in Japan during the early '80s, contributing to the development of Windows and numerous other computing innovations. While many know him as a businessman, it's essential to remember that Nishi has always been an engineer at heart—a remarkably skilled one at that.
A Personal Introduction: My Journey with MSX
My own journey with technology began with the Gradiente Expert, a Brazilian model adhering to the MSX standard. At a time when most PCs were dauntingly complex and boring, MSX provided a user-friendly platform that allowed me to quickly write small programs, play sounds, organize collections, run animations, and, of course, play games.
Designed to be both affordable and powerful, MSX succeeded in this mission, ushering in a new era of home computing. Panasonic, Sony, Pionner, Yamaha, and others released gorgeous MSX devices, and some of them were clearly ahead of their time.
Unfortunately, as PCs became more affordable due to IBM-PC clones, the MSX standard began to fade.
Retro Computing Era: Keeping the MSX Spirit Alive
With the sunset of the MSX after the Turbo R generation, it found new life in the retro computing community. FTP servers like FUNET and SUNET became treasure troves of old games, ROM dumps, technical documents, and every MSX-related magazine ever published. Resource websites, community groups, and regular meetups further solidified the MSX's place in the retro computing scene.
Remarkably, new hardware and software are still being developed, nearly 30 years after the "death" of the standard. Nowadays it is possible to connect your old MSX to the internet, download software updates and even write on social networks.
Revival Attempts: A Passionate Pursuit
Throughout the years, several attempts were made to resurrect MSX, including projects like the one-chip MSX, MSX Omega, and MSX VR. While these initiatives achieved their own successes, they couldn't officially bear the MSX name due to trademark issues.
Notably, MSX VR deserves commendation for capturing the spirit of MSX with its stunning design.
Nishi is Back: A New Chapter for MSX
After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Tokyo, Nishi returned to the MSX world. He tackled the trademark limbo, got the license to MSX Basic, and announced the revival of MSX, introducing the MSX0, MSX3, and MSX Turbo.
Initially, the idea of a single brand covering such a wide range of usage seemed perplexing, but after sitting down with Nishi, it became clearer.
MSX0: Embracing the Future with Nostalgia
The first offering of this new generation of MSX is the IOT-focused MSX0. Built on the M5 Stack hardware, it features software crafted by Nishi and his team, designed to capture the essence of our beloved 8-bit machine. The MSX0 ships with a Groove connector for a variety of sensors and a compact LCD screen.
It can be used as a handheld device for playing classic MSX games or for coding your first IOT or smart home application. While it faces competition from Raspberry Pi and Arduino, Nishi believes MSX0's open nature will set it apart.
For now, MSX0 is only available in Japan, but Nishi plans to release it on every market MSX was successful in the past.
What Comes Next: Unleashing Creativity
During my time with Nishi, he revealed the upcoming MSX0 devices, set to launch via crowdfunding later this year in Japan.
These devices will come in various forms, including a ring, a collar, a watch, and a smaller variant with an even tinier LCD screen.
When asked about their specific use cases, Nishi's candid response was, "I don't know."
In a world dominated by walled gardens and closed platforms, Nishi aims to rekindle openness and fun, encouraging people to experiment with technology.
Conclusion: The Legacy Continues
Back in the '80s, MSX served as the gateway to a generation of developers, fostering creativity and a love for technology. Today, Nishi strives to recreate that spirit.
While it remains uncertain if MSX will compete with Raspberry Pi or Arduino, we must applaud Nishi for keeping his vision alive. The MSX story continues, reminding us that pursuing innovation is a journey worth celebrating.
Nishi is back, MSX is back!