With Novag being gone for a while now, I'm wondering who ended up with their intellectual property - in particular, the software that ran their computers. I'm aware that there are some ROM images of... ummm... "questionable legitimacy"... that exist on emulator sites for a few older Novag systems. I'm just wondering if there's any way to contact whoever currently owns Novag's IP to see if they have any plans for further product development - and if not, if they could be convinced to make ROM images from their hardware available to the chess community...

Yeah, I know modern (and free) engines like Stockfish play a much better game than most of the old Novag gear - I just always enjoyed playing against these systems, I found their play (with the right settings) to be more "human" than an absolutely relentless modern engine. I think it would be a lot of fun if the old Novag software could be used as the basis of a UCI engine that could plug into a modern chess GUI, sort of like has been done with some of the old Mephisto software.

  • Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by the last sentence? Are you thinking of the "Resurrection" modules for Mephisto, and is there any more info on that than what I find by casual googling? – Torsten Schoeneberg Dec 31 '17 at 2:59
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    I'm referring to the UCI engines available here:. rebel13.nl/dedicated/dedicated%20as%20uci.html – patbarron Dec 31 '17 at 3:07

Novag was sold in 2009 to Solar Wide Industrial Ltd. They have continued to manufacture chess computers until 2014. Perhaps you should try to contact Solar Wide Industrial Ltd for more information. Their website is http://www.solarwide.com.hk but seems to be off line.

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  • It appears that Solar Wide Industrial Ltd. is now also no longer a going concern (see chess.com/forum/view/general/novag-citrine-owners3). They were part of a larger group of companies owned by Techtronic Industries Company Ltd. (tti.com.hk), whose subsidiaries make things like power tools and vacuum cleaners... I may inquire with them, but I'm not hopeful to be able to contact anyone who even knows what I'm talking about... – patbarron May 3 '15 at 19:55

This is not a direct answer to your question, but it will be helpful. I happen to miss too the playing style of the early chess computers. Those machines ran amazing algorithms on incredibly poor hardware resources (usually 128 or 256 bytes RAM and a 2 to 16 Mhz, 8-bit processors with limited instruction sets, which would make anyone laugh when compared with the cheapest smartphone of today). The resulting game style at a few seconds per move was aesthetically decent chess (rooks placed in open lines, knights towards the center and so on) that tried to use the machine resources as good as possible (instead of being purposely dumbed down like modern engines) but with the so-called "horizon effect". This allowed the attentive human player to beat the computer by means of combinations whose final result was above the horizon of the few plyes the computer was able to examine, e.g. you could trick the machine with a sacrifice for instance, or you could detect a weakness in an otherwise apparently sound position.

Yes, as a result, those chess computers played what many people like me find more human than all the PC chess software that followed. With "modern" software (meaning PCs since ~1990) it is very noticeable when randomly stupid moves are inserted in an otherwise strong play, or when the program plays something ugly with not much sense positionally that does not win you immediately but also does not allow to be beaten with tactics. There is no way you can beat modern software by being tactically strong, that has never again happened since the 90s. It is incredible that almost no one has paid any attention to this, but the solution was very simple: limiting the calculation speed of engines until matching those of the early devices. Without altering anything else: no choosing of suboptimal moves, no random noise added to the evaluation function or anything. Just let the algorithm get the most out of a position but set a very low limit to the number of positions evaluated per second and you have it.

It has been done at least once: try the open source UCI engine Rodent II by Pawel Koziol. Set the parameter NpsLimit at something between 40 and 100 and allow it between 5 and 20 seconds per move. It really plays like those old chess computers.

I am unaware of other engines that implement that possibility. Some engines limit the search depth (Rybka) but the response is nearly instantaneous. Others emulate a slow response but it is not clear what they are doing (looking at the playing style I suspect Ufim might be following this approach but it is not explicit). Others choose suboptimal moves as said (Stockfish), but nearly any author has thought of implementing the full chess knowledge and positional evaluation at arbitrarily low speed, and I hope the idea is copied by many developers. Playing against such algorithms with horizon effect is fun, and it really gives you the impression of a fight against an opponent that is trying to do his/her best, instead of a mighty opponent that is playing sub-optimally on purpose. I think that is what your question is about.

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    The emulated human players in late versions of Chessmaster are also nice to play against, and the "Sparring" option of Fritz (at least from version 6 to 8; I lost track of more modern releases). But nothing like those old chess computers, until Rodent II appeared (please note that it is an open source engine, i.e. no commercial interests intended in quoting it here). – Mephisto Feb 23 '17 at 3:45

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