SMC II Light Pen System

Image: Asian writing on disk sleeve

I was given the SMC-II Light Pen System as a Christmas present one year, after having marvelled at someone using one in one of the local Apple clone stores. It came in a thick, soft-padded plastic box with fake woodgrain texture and gold lettering.

The image to the right is a poor photograph of the title lettering - I really should try to get a better picture of the outside of the box. This is the mock-classiest packaging I've ever seen for a computer peripheral. :-)

Image: SMC-II box lettering
Image: The card and light pen in the box.

The main part of the system is an Apple-compatible card that fits into Slot 7 of an Apple ][ or ][+, with the pen attached to it via a very soft and flexible wire.

Although very comfortable and expensive-feeling, the wire actually prooved to be the downfall of my SMC-II. After the pen-holder unstuck itself from the side of the monitor several times and the pen fell to the floor, the wire developed a break, and I was forced to hold it in funny positions to get the pen to work.

It's probably not possible to see it in this picture, but I did a makeshift repair to the cable. I slit open the soft exterior and ran a wire along the inside, then wrapped it up in electrical tape. This worked for a couple of months but it is again necessary to hold the wire in strange positions to get the pen to work.

Why not just replace the wire? Well, because I've so far been unable to get to either end of it. The card seems to be encased in a solid block of plastic, and I'm afraid I'll damage the pen if I pull it apart. So to fix it, I'll have to locate the break as precisely as possible and splice around it, or splice a new wire in to replace the old wire.

Image: The disk sleeve

The software came on a disk with a silver label and a green sleeve with all kinds of Asian writing on it. Someone has told me that they think it's the product warrantee, with the registration form on the tear-off upper part of the sleeve. The matching silver stickers seem to confirm that.

The painting sofware that came with the light pen was actually pretty good, though it had problems keeping the colours constant during the fills. This was actually more of a problem with the way the Apple ][ handles colour than a problem with the light pen, and careful planning could get good results.

Most of the following images were painted on a green phosphor monitor. I had to hook up the family television when I wanted to see colour. I got to know what the different fill patterns looked like and was able to choose them in black-and-green, possibly only getting a chance to check the colours days later. That's probably how so many obvious colour artifacts wound up in the images.

I generally didn't use the television directly for painting as the light pen had to be recalibrated for each display.

Image: Melbation
"Melbation" by Tim Hovey
Image: Asteroid
"Asteroid" by Hrothgar
Image: Land Lamprey
"Land Lamprey" by Hrothgar
Image: Kraken
"Kraken" by Tim Hovey
Image: Rust Monster
"Rust Monster" by Ken Lagüe
Image: Ixitxachitl
"Ixitxachitl" by Tim Hovey
Image: Roper
"Roper" by Hrothgar
Image: Lemur
"Lemur" by Tim Hovey
Image: Pit Fiend
"Pit Fiend" by Hrothgar
Image: Leaf
"Leaf" by Hrothgar
Image: Garfield
"Garfield" by Hrothgar
Image: Odie
"Odie" by Hrothgar

These are most of the pictures that were drawn with the SMC-II that I could find. The rest have gone missing, and may have been killed by bit rot. It was the mid-80s, I and most of my friends were into AD&D, and the Garfield comic strip was still funny. (I was an Apple clone user from 1983 to 1987.) There's not much to show for what must have been a large expense. The guy in the store had actual artistic talent and I guess I hadn't yet learned that you can't substitute technology for talent.

Image: SMC-II Manual

The light pen also came with extended commands for AppleSoft BASIC, which allowed the user to use the pen in BASIC programs. It also included some very useful general graphics commands like &WRITE, which printed text onto high-res graphics screens, and &ZOOM which did an incredibly fast zoom of the high-res graphics screen by plotting it on the text screen using normal or inverse space characters. I actually used some of these commands in some games that I wrote, but unfortunately LPBASIC will only start up if the light pen card is installed. This means that programs written with these commands can't be used on other machines.

The manual had uneven type, as if it had been typed on a typewriter, and contained some bad (sometimes humourous) translations. It was good enough to get by, but I think the company should have hired a native English speaker to proofread the manual.

The software that came with the light pen used a pen-based menu system, and I would like to show some pictures from it here, but unfortunately I no longer have hardware capable of using the light pen system. My Microcom ][+ is ill (it won't boot floppies with known-good drives and controllers) and the light pen card isn't recognized by my Apple //e (which is also a problem with my two Z80 cards).

I don't know the origin of this device. I had thought that it might be connected to Sony, because Sony produced a computer called the SMC-70 at around the same time. A Web search reveals that there is a company in Thailand with the name "S.M.C. Laboratories Co., Ltd.", though, which is exactly the name printed on the back of the Light Pen System Reference Manual. Also, I have been told that the characters seen in the image at the top of this page are traditional Chinese characters.

[Hrothgar's Cool Old Junk Page] 2005-11-14