Lyonsden Blog

Category - Gaming

Zzap! 64 Issue 8

Zzap! 64 issue 8

It’s been quite some time since I last shared a look at the latest Zzap! 64 magazine and coverdisk so having just received Issue 8 I thought I’d rectify that.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 8

Zzap! 64 Issue 8 with accompanying Disk.

 

The magazine itself is another cracking edition with plenty of content to get stuck into. Spanning 60 pages there was lots to read about, including 8 new C64 game reviews, retro reviews, news and articles.

The editorial really stuck a chord with me on this occasion as it was all about the mighty ‘Mega65′ computer. I finally took the plunge and pre-ordered one of the second batch of these myself a while back and can’t wait to get my hands on it so I really hope the idea of a regular Mega65 section comes to pass.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 8

Zzap! 64 issue 8 Contents page.

 

As always the coverdisk is a visual treat in itself before it ever goes near a 1541! Featuring some great ‘space-y’ artwork across both the disk jacket and label. I’ve probably said this before but I wish this had been the standard of disks back in the day – but I suppose full colour printing was prohibitively expensive back then.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 8

Zzap! 64 issue 8 Cover Disk.

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A huge part of the enjoyment of getting a new coverdisk for me is going in blind and discovering what’s on them. Flipping the disk over gave the game away a little as the contents were listed on the back of the jacket. Still, it will prove handy in the future when I’m trying to locate a specific game/demo.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 8

Zzap! 64 issue 8 Cover Disk – back of disk jacket.

 

Coverdisk Contents

Upon loading up the disk I was greeted with a cool title screen listing the contents of the disk and a nice piece of SID music. Issue 8’s coverdisk features three full games and two demos spread across both sides. When selecting an option from the menu it tells you which side of the disk needs to be inserted before asking you to press the space bar to load it.

Option six brings up instructions for each game accompanied by some jolly decent Last Ninja music.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 8

Cover Disk Title Screen.

 

The Games and Demos on Disk #08

 

Ball & Chain

 

This is a fun little side-scrolling, endless runner style game where you guide your character, a rubber ball, around obstacles collecting coins and defeating baddies along the way.  The ball and chain you are shackled to can be used as a weapon once you get the hang of swinging it around. The game starts off pretty easy but soon starts to get harder and faster until you inevitably go splat.

 

Ball and Chain

Ball and Chain

 

Tenebra Extended

Tenebra is a really unique puzzle game where you have to guide your character through mazes of increasing complexity to reach the exit. The neat mechanic here though is that you can only move around lit areas and most of the levels are in darkness. You can pick up torches to light the way but there will be entrances that can only be crossed when your hands are free (forcing you to drop the torch) and so on. The game also features a neat password system so you can continue your progress right where you left off. All in all a very enjoyable and relaxing little game.

 

Tenebra

Tenebra

 

Cruiser-X 79 Demo

The is a demo of an upcoming vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. Shoot stuff whilst trying to avoid getting hit yourself and picking up power-ups along the way. Decent title music and functional in-game music and SFX,

 

Cruiser-X 79

Cruiser-X 79

 

Stoker Demo v2

This is a demo of a very interesting looking platform game featuring a cute looking dragon as the main character. The main appeal of this game is the huge playable dragon character called ‘Stoker’. He’s much larger than the sort of characters we’re used to on the C64 and really well drawn and animated too. Looking forward to seeing this when it is finished.

 

Stoker

Stoker

 

Rowman

In Rowman you control a little guy in a boat who must escape from a labyrinthine cave system collecting coins and treasure along the way. You have the ability to raise (but not lower) the level of the water inside the caves which you need to use carefully to both collect coins and reach each cave’s exit. The best part of this game for me though was it’s paddle support which is pretty rare in C64 games, new or old.

It really comes into its’ own with a set of paddles attached although it is very sensitive and I found my Hedaka Paddles worked far better than my cheap Atari  ones. If you have access to a decent set of paddles this is the best way to play the game. Be warned it can get get quite frustrating! Falling rocks can be almost impossible to avoid if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time…

 

Rowman

Rowman

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 8

This is another great edition of Zzap! 64 and well worth a buy, as is the coverdisk if you are a fan of physical media. The magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books and is priced at £3.99. Make sure you use the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to grab yourself a nifty 15% off the price! This code works for everything you place in your basket too!

Here’s a small gallery of images from the magazine.

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SIDPlayer+ Review

SIDPlayer+

The SIDPlayer+ is a neat little hardware music player made by Arananet that is able to play C64 SID audio tracks. They have a strong tendency to be perpetually out of stock but you can register your interest and receive an email when a new batch is ready which is how I got mine.

I’ve actually been meaning to post about this for a while but only just got around to it. Anyway after ordering the device I received small package in the post containing a transparent cassette case with full colour J-card, the SIDPlayer+ PCB and a small A5 instruction sheet.

 

SIDPlayer+

The SIDPlayer+ in cassette storage case.

 

The PCB has been created in the style of a compact cassette and the case provided offers a very practical means of storing it safely.

 

SIDPlayer+

Front of the SIDPlayer+ PCB.

 

The front of the PCB features three physical buttons; back, stop/play and next which function exactly as you would expect. On the right-hand edge there is a small power LED which indicates whether the device is switched on or not. On the left edge is the 3.5mm stereo headphone socket (the player outputs mono sound so you get the same channels in both ears). In the centre there are three additional LED’s that light up when the corresponding sound channels are in use.

 

SIDPlayer+

Back side of the SIDPlayer+ PCB.

 

Flipping the PCB over to the back side reveals an on/off switch on the left, rotary volume control along the top whilst on the right can be found a Micro USB power socket and the MicroSD memory card slot. There’s also shout outs to some of the people that helped to create the player printed on the board itself which is a cool touch.

 

SIDPlayer+

SIDPlayer+ Instructions.

 

Adding a Battery

The instruction sheet (pictured above) provides a useful annotated diagram of the player showing where all the important parts are located and gives some guidance towards adding a battery.

The player can be used as is, straight out of the packaging by simply plugging in a micro USB cable to power it. However I wanted it to be portable, just like a Walkman, so I ordered myself a compatible battery off Amazon (it doesn’t come supplied with either a battery or micro USB cable).

 

LI-ION Battery

LI-ION Battery.

 

The battery needs to be rated at 3.7V 150mAh and came supplied in oversized box displayed above. The battery itself is tiny, measuring just 30mm long, about 15mm wide and a couple of mm thick.

 

Battery with supplied connector plug.

 

There’s no connector on the board to plug the battery into but there are a couple of solder points for the wires so I just cut off the plug and soldered them in position.

 

Battery with connector removed and ends stripped ready to be soldered on the board.

 

I also used a couple of blobs of hot glue to hold the battery in place on the board to keep things neat and tidy.

 

SIDPlayer+

Battery glued to PCB and wires soldered in position.

 

I gave it a quick test by flipping the switch to the ‘on’ position and the blue power LED lit up which was a reassuring sign.

 

SIDPlayer+

SIDPlayer+ Powered on and headphones plugged in.

 

The board also incorporates the necessary circuitry to charge the battery. To achieve this you need to supply power via a Micro USB cable and set the on/off switch to the ‘battery’ position. One thing to note is that it continues to play music whilst charging so you need to press the ‘stop’ button to silence it.

As can be seen in the photo below, the board still fits nicely into the cassette case with room to spare, even with the battery attached.

 

Tucked away neatly into the cassette box.

 

Prepping the Card

With the SIDPlayer+ now powered it was time to turn my attention to sorting out a memory card to use with it. I didn’t bother buying one as I’ve built up quite a collection of memory cards of all types and sizes over the years. A quick rummage around the bottom of my desk drawer elicited a 128GB SanDisk card which was overkill really but would certainly do the job. It had been partitioned and formatted for something else in the past so I deleted all the partitions and formatted it as one big FAT32 drive using MiniTool Partition Wizard.

 

MiniTool Partition Wizard

Partitioning and Formatting the MicroSD card.

 

I then copied a handful of some of my favourite SID tracks onto it and popped it into the card slot on the SIDPlayer+. The files have to be placed in the root of the card and it’s worth pointing out that it can only play the older style PSID files and not the more recent RSID ones.

 

SIDPlayer+

Popping the MicroSD card into the slot.

 

Listening to Some SID Music.

With the headphones attached and the player powered on I was finally able to put the player through its paces. I played through a number of tracks and they all sounded terrific. It had plenty of power and I never needed to turn it up fully to get a decent sound level.

Although the player can be used ‘naked’ my preferred option was to keep it inside the cassette case at all times – in fact I will probably cut a small slot in the side of the case to accommodate the headphone jack. That way I can listen to the player with the case closed, maybe in my shirt pocket for example.

 

SIDPlayer+

Playing some music with the card in the case.

 

Navigating from one track to the next was easy enough using the buttons but without a screen to show the track names it did get a little tricky at times. This is because many SID files actually contain a number of subtunes and/or sound effects within them so unless you make a note beforehand you can often find yourself clicking through all manner of unexpected tracks before reaching the one you want. Not a dealbreaker but definitely something to be aware of.

 

SIDPlayer+

Listening to some music.

 

I recorded a couple of videos of the SIDPlayer+ belting out a two of my favourite C64 tunes. These were just recorded on my phone with the the sound playing through the headphones but it’s loud enough for you to hear what it sounds like. Obviously it’s miles better quality when listening directly through the headphones. The device is supposed to be capable of emulating both the original 6581 SID and the newer 8550.

 

 

Name that tune! I picked this particular track not just because it’s one of my all-time favourites but because the intro should make it easier to see the individual channel LED’s flicker on and off.

 

 

Sound Quality

 

The sound quality from the SIDPlayer+ is impressive for such a compact and inexpensive device but understandably falls a little short of the real deal. To give some idea of the difference I recorded the same track (Cybernoid by Jeroen Tel) into my digital sound recorder from both my real C64 and the SIDPlayer+. If you are able to, listen to them both whilst wearing headphones to get the best impression of the sound quality.

 

SIDPlayer+ and Zoom H2n

Zoom H2n hooked up to SIDPlayer+.

 

First off here’s a clip I recorded directly from my C64 via my SIDFX 3.5mm stereo output jack.

 

 

And here’s the same clip recorded directly from the headphone socket of the SIDPlayer+.

 

 

Initially they do sound very similar but between the 10-20 second mark you can hear a clear difference. I’m no audio expert and lack the vocabulary to describe the sound properly but the SIDPlayer’s rendition of this section of the the track sounds awkward with audible clicks and pops as it struggles to produce the right sounds. Reading through the specs of the player it does say; ‘Some filters are enabled but due to the hardware limitation, they do not cycle exact’. I’d hazard a guess that this is the reason for the issue.

 

Verdict

So the sound isn’t quite as good as a real Commodore 64 but to fixate on that alone kind of misses the point of this device. A C64 doesn’t fit in my shirt pocket and I can’t mow the lawn whilst listening to some classic Rob Hubbard tracks on it either. The SIDPlayer+ is an inexpensive and fun little gadget and if, like me,  you adore C64 SID music then it’s definitely worth picking up to have a play around with.

It’s worth pointing out also that since I bought mine last year an updated version has now been introduced. This new version includes a Bluetooth module so you can listen to it with wireless headphones making it even more convenient!

The SIDPlayer+ is available to purchase from here. Just create yourself an Arananet account then sign-up for a notification of when the next batch is ready for sale.

Amiga Tank Mouse Gets Laser Upgrade & Refurbishment

Love it or loathe it the Tank mouse is synonymous with the early Amiga computers and even though they’re very angular in design I actually find the ergonomics of them quite comfortable to use. However what I no longer appreciate is the imprecise and clunky ball mechanism and the constant need to remove the fluff and detritus that always collects on the rollers.

Now I know that some may consider this part of the nostalgia, and if it was only used occasionally then I might possibly agree, but as someone who uses my old machines on a regular basis I say balls to that – give me an optical mouse any day! With this Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade kit I picked up from AmigaStore.eu I can finally have the best of both worlds!

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

The laser upgrade kit contents.

 

The upgrade kit took around a week to arrive and included a single PCB with optical sensor, a little lens to fit over it, a replacement cover and a couple of little plastic spacers. There was also a small instruction booklet.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Instruction manual.

 

Annoyingly everything (even all the plastic parts) was covered in sticky soldering flux. All the components came supplied in a small Ziplock bag so the flux must have smeared itself onto everything in transit. I had to spend a good fifteen minutes giving everything a thorough cleaning with Isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the residue.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

What the board looked like before the excess flux was cleaned off it.

 

The manual was also a little disappointing – all the photos were dark and murky so details were near impossible to see. It was like a photocopy of a photocopy of a… well you get the idea. Thankfully it’s a pretty straightforward install and you don’t really need much guidance but it’s definitely something that could do with addressing in the future.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Quality of the photos in the manual leave a bit to be desired.

 

Preparations

My tank mouse had been sat in a cupboard, unloved, for many years so when I dug it out for this project it was looking a little sorry for itself and was quite yellowed, especially underneath.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

Top of the mouse doesn’t look too bad, a little dirty perhaps but nothing major.

 

One of the glide pads on the base of the mouse was also looking quite tatty so I wanted to sort this out too.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

The underside of the mouse is a completely different story. It’s turned a very unpleasant looking shade of ‘nicotine’ yellow.

 

Dismantling the mouse was pretty straightforward. Two small silver screws either side of the cable entry point needed removing to free one end of the case, whilst a couple of plastic clips secured the opposite end and just needing to be gently teased apart.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Internals

With the case opened you can see the ball mechanism in all its fluffy glory.

 

There were a further two black screws above and below the ball mechanism, holding the circuit board in place that also needed removing. I set both sets of screws aside somewhere safe as they would be needed later on when putting it all back together.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Ball

The two black screws at the top and bottom of the black plastic ball housing need to be removed and put to one side safely for later.

 

Once the board was out, the cable connector was removed and the ground wire soldered to the circuit board cut. It isn’t required for the the new laser board to work.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Circuit Board

The black ground wire that is soldered directly to the board needs to be cut here.

 

The old board is surplus to requirement now but I’ll be keeping hold of it as it may come in handy to repair another tank mouse in the future.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Bottom

The extent of the yellowing was clear to see once the cover and sticky pads had been removed.

 

After removing the old glide pads and the cover off the ball compartment the extent of the yellowing was pretty evident. The original beige colour could clearly be seen underneath. Hopefully this is the colour the whole mouse will be by the end of this project after a spot of Retrobrighting.

 

Retrobriting

I live in North West England so hot sunny weather is something of a rarity here so I had no chance of just using the suns UV to do the job as I have in the past. Just as an example, at the time of writing it’s raining and about 12’C outside.

To this end I decided to buy the necessary kit off Amazon so I could do this sort of thing indoors whenever I wanted in future and not be beholden to the weather. I picked up a small 10W UV lamp that came with a built-in bracket and power cable with inline on/off switch and moulded UK plug.

 

The UV lamp.

 

I also got a 500ml bottle of 6% Hydrogen Peroxide to make a nice bath for the mouse to soak in. I only had to use half of it too so could have got away with buying a smaller bottle.

 

Hydrogen Peroxide.

 

To begin the process I first gave the mouse case a clean in some soapy water before putting both sides into a tin foil lined plastic box.  The idea behind the tin foil was two-fold. Firstly it would reflect the UV light around the box helping ensure even coverage and secondly it would prevent the UV light from making the plastic box brittle and possibly even bleaching the colour out of my desk.

 

Retrobrighting

Plastic mouse case sitting in the bottom of a tin-foil lined box.

 

I then covered them with a 50/50 mix of warm water and Hydrogen Peroxide solution. I chose a box that wasn’t much bigger than the mouse case which kept the amount of fluid needed to a minimum.

 

Retrobrighting

UV light suspended over the box.

 

Once the case halves were immersed in fluid I positioned the UV light over the top of the box and held it in place with some helping hands and switched it on. Everything looked good so I left it for about an hour and then came back to check on it. The plastic parts were covered in hundreds of tiny air bubbles which meant the process was obviously working. The bad news was that those same bubbles were causing the case to float up and no longer be covered in the hydrogen peroxide solution. Over a period of a few hours I had to keep adding blobs of blu-tack to the underside of each part before they would finally stay submerged.

 

Retrobrighting

Blu-tack weights to keep the case submerged.

 

Once I was happy that the case wouldn’t float up any more and that the UV light wasn’t going to overheat or nose-dive into the liquid I shut the door to the man cave and left it all overnight to marinate.

 

Results

The following evening after work I fished the case out of the water and had a look at the results which you can see in the photo below. Needless to say I was pretty chuffed with how it turned out as everything was now a nice uniform beige colour top and bottom.

 

Retrobrighting Results

Freshly retrobrighted cases.

 

Compared to the mouse ball cover (which I deliberately didn’t treat – see photo below) the difference was night and day. All in I’d say the case probably spent about 24 hours under the UV lamp in the hydrogen peroxide solution. Perhaps they might have been ready a bit sooner but I wasn’t able to keep checking in on them. Either way I’m quite happy to wait a day for such a good result. Incidentally, the liquid solution was at room temperature (about 22′-24’C) the whole time, I didn’t use any kind of water heater.

 

Retrobrighting Comparison

Spot the difference.

 

Replacing the Glide Pads

Unfortunately in my excitement to finish my mouse refurb I forgot to take pictures of the case before fitting the new glide pads so you’ve already seen pictures of them fitted.

To get the correct sizing for the glide pads I simply placed the old pads on top of the new ones (photo below) and cut around the outline with a sharp craft knife. I struck it lucky with the curved pad at the bottom as it matched the curvature of the new one exactly so I only had to cut the rounded ends. The only slight issue I had was that the new pads were half the thickness of the old ones so I needed to cut out two of each and stick them on top of each other. If I hadn’t done this then they would not have cleared the recesses in the case and they’d have been a waste of time.

Anyway, I’m really happy with the end result as the mouse glides around like a dream now. I also still have enough material left to kit out another mouse should the need ever arise.

 

Mouse glide pads

Cutting out the glide pads.

 

Incidentally the mouse glide pads I bought were designed to fit a “Logitech G Pro X Superlight”. There are plenty available on eBay at the time of writing.

 

Installing the Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade Board

With the case now looking fine and dandy it was time to fit the laser upgrade itself. The first task was to fit the new plastic cover in place of the original. This is made out of some sort of flexible plastic material (TPU?) and I found it didn’t want to sit completely flat. Luckily it doesn’t hinder the use of the mouse but I might add a few tiny blobs of glue around the edge to hold it securely if it proves to be an issue in the future. Not sure why they made it grey either – definitely loses some style points for not being beige! At some point in the future I might have a go at 3D printing a better looking cover for it.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

New mouse cover fitted – it now has a square hole to better fit the new laser mechanism.

 

The next task was to fit the transparent plastic ‘lens’ to the circuit board. This slots into the bottom of the board and thanks to the different sized plastic pins it has on the corners it would only fit one way.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Plastic lens fitted to the underside of the circuit board.

 

With the lens fitted I carefully lowered the board into the bottom of the mouse case. The plastic lens needed to be held in place during this operation otherwise it kept falling out. Once the board was is in place, the flexible plastic cover fitted earlier prevented it from falling out through the bottom.

.

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

New board fitted into mouse base.

 

Next the two little plastic spacers were fitted over the existing screw posts allowing the board to be secured in place using the original black screws removed earlier. I then reattached the cable connector to the pin header on the new board.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Board secured in place and cable reconnected.

 

Now I just needed to replace the top half of the case by carefully relocating the clips at one end and securing the other with the two silver screws.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Job done.

 

Test Drive

The only thing left to do now was plug it into my Amiga and take it for spin. Happily it performed very well indeed,  it was just like using a brand new mouse – which is effectively what it is now. I did find the mouse buttons to be quite stiff compared to modern mice but it’s something I could get used to. The stiffness will be down to the type of switches they’ve used in the construction of the new board and they may possibly soften up a bit in the fullness of time too.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

Mouse back in action!

 

All in all I can heartily recommend this laser upgrade kit. Sure, the photos in the instruction manual are a bit ropy and the grey mouse cover isn’t perfect but the stuff that really matters, the laser mechanism itself, is spot on. This upgrade has totally transformed my crusty old tank mouse into a device worthy of being used in the 21st century.

Unfortunately at the time of publishing this if you want one you will need to register your interest on their website as they are currently out of stock. Still, good things come to those that wait!

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Close-up of the underside of the mouse.

 

 

The A500 Mini Review

Despite the fact that I already own a real A500 an A1200 and a CD32 I still pre-ordered ‘The A500 Mini’ as soon as they were announced, such is my love for these old Commodore machines. I also picked up both ‘The C64 Mini’ and Maxi despite owning a VIC20 and C64 which they both emulate. I suppose even if I never use them much they’re still really cool devices to own and display but the truth is I just can’t resist these (or any) sort of gadgets.

First impressions were terrific. The A500 Mini came in a very attractive and colourful box adorned with pictures of the computer and peripherals on the front and a gallery of the included games on the back. The box was surprisingly heavy too, something I definitely wasn’t expecting.

 

The A500 Mini

Back of The A500 Mini Box.

 

The A500 Mini comes with the following 25 games pre-loaded:

Alien Breed 3D
Alien Breed: Special Edition’92
Another World
Arcade Pool
ATR: All Terrain Racing
Battle Chess
Cadaver
California Games
The Chaos Engine
Dragons Breath
F-16 Combat Pilot
Kick Off 2
The Lost Patrol
Paradroid 90
Pinball Dreams
Project-X: Special Edition 93
Qwak
The Sentinel
Simon the Sorcerer
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
Stunt Car Racer
Super Cars II
Titus The Fox: To Marrakech And Back
Worms: The Director’s Cut
Zool: Ninja Of The “Nth” Dimension

 

What’s in the Box?

Opening up the box revealed the A500 mini itself, an optical USB Tank mouse, CD32-esque USB controller, quick start guide, HDMI cable and a USB C power cable.

 

The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini (with plastic cover).

 

The mouse and controller were tucked away under the A500 Mini inside their own little boxes.

 

The A500 Mini

Controller and Mouse Boxes.

 

The tank mouse is a perfect, slightly smaller replica of a real Amiga tank mouse.

 

Tank Mouse

The A500 Mini Tank Mouse.

 

The design of the gamepad was clearly inspired by the CD32’s controllers.

 

The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Controller.

 

A suitably beige USB C power cable and HDMI cable are also included. I have to admit it was nice to see the adoption of USB C for the power as most of my modern day kit uses this standard now. You have to provide your own USB power socket but that was to be expected – most of us have plenty of these lying around.

 

Cables

USB C Power and HDMI Cables.

 

The Quick guide is literally just that. Strip away all the pages devoted to other languages, health and safety gubbins and a list of the package contents and you are left with a meagre 2 pages of instructions. The full 48 page English instruction manual is provided online – here’s the URL given in the quick guide. For a retro product I did find this disappointing and would much rather have had all of this info in a nice spiral bound or hardback manual. Hopefully they release this as an optional extra shortly like they did with the ‘The C64 User Manual‘.

 

The A500 Mini Guide

The A500 Mini Quick Guide.

 

A Closer Look at the A500 Mini

From the photos you could certainly be forgiven for mistaking the A500 Mini for a real A500 especially if you last used one in the 80’s or 90’s. Obviously it doesn’t have the Commodore logo on display but it’s only really when you see the USB ports on the back that you realise something isn’t quite right.

If you try to press any of the keys you will quickly realise something else isn’t right too. Just like with The C64 Mini the keyboard is completely non-functional and just for show. It’s certainly very convincing visually though with each key perfectly formed!

 

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The attention to detail on the case is amazing and really makes me wonder why I’ve been waiting for four years now for my ‘Compatible A500 case’ to be made!

 

The A500 Mini

Spot the subtle differences from a real A500.

 

The case displays the wording ‘The A500’ rather than Amiga and their own logo rather than the familiar Commodore ‘Chicken head’ which is obviously for copyright reasons.

 

The A500 Mini

Those keys look so real!

 

The floppy drive and eject button are very convincing but totally non-functional. Its a real shame they didn’t incorporate an SD card slot for expanding your game library here. At the very least they should have put an extra USB port here so we could insert our USB stick like it was a floppy disk…

 

The A500 Mini

Close-up of the non-functioning ‘floppy disk drive’.

 

The diminutive scale of The A500 Mini becomes instantly apparent when compared to a 3.5″ floppy disk!

 

The A500 Mini

A500 Mini Compared to 3.5″ Floppy Disk.

 

Ports

Unlike the original A500 the The A500 Mini come with a very modest selection of ports comprising USB-C for power, a full-size HDMI for video and 3 USB ports for the mouse, controller and memory stick with extra games on. There’s also a power switch included on the back.

I really think there should have been an extra USB port included here for attaching a USB keyboard. If all you are interested in is arcade style games then you’ll be fine. However if simulation games are more your thing (like the Microprose games that needed keyboard overlays) then you are going to need a USB hub to add a keyboard which is going to make for a very messy setup indeed.

 

The A500 Mini

Connectivity: From left to right, Power button, USB-C power socket, HDMI Video, 3x USB ports.

 

Here’s a photo of everything you get inside the box. The relative size of the A500 Mini becomes apparent when it is sat next to the mouse and gamepad.

 

The A500 Mini

Contents of the box.

 

What’s it like to use?

After plugging all the cables in and pressing the on/off switch the power LED came to life. Surprisingly the drive activity light doesn’t actually operate when loading the UI or any of the included games.

 

The A500 Mini

All plugged in and ready to go!

 

After approximately 8 seconds of staring at a blank TV whilst it booted up a very snazzy red and white A500 Mini splash screen appeared.

 

The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Boot Screen.

 

As this was the first time the device had been used a couple of configuration screens popped up allowing me to choose my language and also whether I wanted to use 50Hz or 60Hz.

 

The A500 Mini

TV Settings Screen.

 

Naturally being in the UK I chose the superior 50Hz option for the optimal frame rate. 🙂

 

The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini User Interface.

 

After a quick test to make sure the mode was compatible I was presented with a gorgeous user-interface (UI). The UI features a scrolling carousel of Amiga game box art along with changing graphic montages from each game in the background. Some very relaxing ambient synth music plays softly whilst you navigate the UI too.

There are icons showing whether each game utilises the controller and/or mouse and how many players it supports. Each game can have a user star rating too, from 1 to four stars. As the carousel allows you to change the sort order between Author, Genre, Year, Publisher and Favourite this affords you the option of having the games displayed by order of preference should you want it.

 

The A500 Mini

The Chaos Engine playing as good as ever.

 

Over the course of an afternoon I had a lot of fun trying out all of the pre-installed games on The A500 Mini and they all ran perfectly. I didn’t do any side by side comparisons but nothing gave me pause for concern and I was very impressed with just how slick everything was. Games loaded in seconds – there’s no simulated loading times here.

There are plenty of quality of life features too. For example each game supports up to 4 ‘save states’ allowing you to instantly save your progress at any point in any game. It even includes a ‘disk label’ incorporating a screen capture of exactly what you were doing at the moment you created the save state to help you recognise it in future! I think these are a great feature and who knows – in 30 years time someone might be using using a PS5 mini console and using save-states to brute force through a boss encounter in Elden Ring…

 

The A500 Mini

Alien Breed Save State with thumbnail ‘disk label’.

 

Some of the included games need rudimentary keyboard support in order to work. Pinball Dreams is a good example, requiring the use of the function keys to select which level you want to play. The handy virtual keyboard (invoked by tapping the menu button) worked like a charm here. However for games that require frequent keyboard inputs or text adventures like The Pawn you would definitely need to use a USB keyboard.

 

The A500 Mini

Selecting a level in Pinball Dreams using the virtual keyboard.

 

Happily the tank mouse is a pleasure to use in the games that support it, in Simon the Sorcerer for example. I should point out that the main UI doesn’t support it at all though – you must use the controller to navigate around that.

Unlike the original A500 mouse this new one incorporates a modern optical sensor under the hood and is all the better for it. I’m not really nostalgic about the old ball mice – they were a pain and required constant cleaning. Even when new they were not as accurate in use as a cheap optical mouse is now. I’ve been using optical mice with all my Amiga machines for years which should speak volumes.

 

Simon the Sorcerer

Using the mouse in Simon the Sorcerer.

 

Tweaking the settings

So the included games all work like a charm – but there’s still room for improvement. There’s a bunch of options you can mess around with to alter each game to your personal preference. The settings screens all feature a Workbench 1.3 Window effect which is a nice nod to the past and another example of the thought that has gone into this product.

 

The A500 Mini

Display Options.

 

The Display Options screen allows you to select the zoom size of the screen. Some games are displayed as small 4:3 windows so you can use these settings to make the screen fit your display better. There’s also a CRT effect filter that adds scanlines to the image to make it appear as if its displayed on an old CRT monitor.

 

Alien Breed

WITHOUT CRT Effect.

 

The effect is subtle but quite effective which you can hopefully see on the two screenshots. Above is a screenshot taken without the CRT filter and below with it turned on.

 

Alien Breed

WITH CRT Effect.

 

The System Options screen allows you to adjust the mouse sensitivity, music volume and Power LED behaviour. The ‘mimic Amiga behaviour’ option just made the LED act weird when loading WHDLoad games (it would keep turning off) so I left this option disabled.

 

The A500 Mini

System Options Screen.

 

The Shutdown Device option allows a safe way to shutdown the A500 Mini and will probably be my go-to method for powering it off. If I invest a lot of time into a game and save my progress I don’t want to come back and find it’s been corrupted due to me pulling out the plug!

 

The A500 Mini

Safe Shutdown.

 

There’s also an ‘Advanced Options’ screen which is home to some less frequently needed settings. Here you can re-visit the 50/60Hz mode options, tweak whether a game should utilise the ‘border’ section of the screen, access System info, creator credits and also perform a factory reset.

 

The A500 Mini

Advanced Options Screen.

 

Loading Your Own Games

One of the advertised features of the console is being able to play your own selection of games on the device. However this isn’t explained at all in the Quick Guide, for this info you need to head online to their website: THEA500 Mini support (retrogames.biz)

In a nutshell these are the requirements for getting your own games onto The A500 Mini.

  • A USB stick formatted using FAT32.
  • The USB stick must have ‘THEA500 WHDLoad Package’ installed on it.
  • The WHDLoad programs all have to be LHA files.
  • The WHDLoad programs must be a complete archive of the program and
    not just the program’s WHDLoad installer.

 

My FAT32 Formatted 16GB USB Stick.

 

Once you’ve downloaded the ‘THEA500 WHDLoad Package v1.0.1 ‘ you simply unzip it to the ROOT of your USB stick. It should look like the screenshot below if you’ve done it correctly.

 

 

Games are simply copied into the root of the USB stick as well, or if you have a lot then you can also organise them into directories too. All the games must be in LHA format. I put a handful of games on my stick and it looked like the screenshot below. Note the ‘states’ directory and the various .uae files. These were all created by the A500 Mini itself and contain the save states and configuration options for my custom games. Don’t delete these files!

 

My USB Stick with a bunch of games ‘installed’.

 

The USB stick plugs into the spare USB port at the rear of the A500 Mini – assuming you aren’t using a USB keyboard of course.

 

The A500 Mini

A500 Mini with USB Stick plugged in.

 

If it has been setup correctly then a USB Stick icon should appear on the carousel as shown in the photo below.

 

The A500 Mini

USB Stick icon on the carousel.

 

Clicking ‘Start Game’ will then bring up the contents of the stick. In my example below I had put a few Lotus games on my USB stick to experiment with.

 

The A500 Mini

Selecting a custom game.

 

When loading the games the drive activity LED finally sprang into life!

 

The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Drive activity light.

 

Lotus 1 loaded up and played just fine, but it was only using a fraction of the available screen space…

 

Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge.

 

The Game Settings screen offers numerous tools to tweak how the game runs, including how it appears on screen.

 

The A500 Mini

Game settings screen.

 

By using a combination of auto-centre and auto-crop I was able to achieve the result in the next photo which was infinitely better. These settings are remembered for each custom game too which means once you’ve only got to configure things the way you like then the one time.

 

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge looking much better now that it’s using most of the available screen.

 

Mouse support is disabled by default which I discovered when I loaded up Walker for a quick blast. This was easily solved by going into the Game Settings screen and enabling the Mouse on Joystick Port 1. I also had to adjust the sensitivity as it seemed way over-sensitive to me. Once I’d sorted those two things it played perfectly.

 

Walker.

 

I’m not sure exactly how powerful the A500 mini is but it’s definitely much faster than a stock Amiga 500 that’s for sure. Here’s a video of it running the intro from Frontier Elite 2. Anyone who has seen this running on a stock A500 will know that it really struggles to keep up the framerate during most of this 3D animated sequence. The A500 Mini on the other hand makes it seem effortless.

 

 

Wing Commander also ran super smooth too which I remember being another game that really needed a decent CPU to shine. It actually runs better on the A500 Mini than it does on my TerribleFire 330 equipped CD32 which has a 50Mhz 68030 CPU.

 

ADF Support

You may have noticed that I’ve made no mention of loading ADF disk images so far and that’s because they are simply not supported. I have to say that this is a huge disappointment for me personally as I’ve purchased a lot of modern day Amiga games and many of them only came in ADF format. I’ve also converted many of my old original physical game disks into ADF images and I’m unable to use any of them. Furthermore I have no idea how to create WHDLoad versions of any of my games so I am faced with either not being able to play these games on the A500 Mini or having to search around to see if anyone else has created WHDLoad versions of them. I really hope Retro Games Ltd. add this feature in a firmware update soon as it really limits the devices appeal at the moment for me personally.

Verdict

The A500 Mini is a beautifully designed and executed piece of kit and it seems evident to me that the guys who created it are passionate Amiga fans. The UI is beautiful and I love the slick implementation of save-states and simple to configure options to tweak my gameplay experience. The mouse and controller both look the part and work really well. Most importantly of all, the games appear to run great on the device and at an improved frame-rate too, for games that support it. The lack of a decent printed manual is a bit disappointing but hardly a deal-breaker. The lack of ADF support on the other hand is a bit more troubling and quite a let-down for me personally. If using ADF images is important to you too then maybe hold off until Retro Games Ltd. announce they’re going to add support for them. For anyone else thinking of taking the plunge though, just get one – you won’t regret it.

Amiga 1200 ‘Triple LED’ Adapter Kit

Amiga 1200 Triple LED Kit

I recently spotted a neat little bit of hardware over on the AmigaKit website (they call it an ‘A1200 Triple LED Adapter’) that allows the user to change the colours of the Amiga 1200’s activity LED’s. A quick impulse purchase and a few weeks later the kit arrived, well packaged and protected in a zip-lock bag with a wad of foam to stop the LED’s from being damaged.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

A1200 Triple LED Kit Packaging.

 

A Closer Look at the A1200 Triple LED Adapter

The adapter actually offers a number of small improvements over the Amiga 1200’s stock LED’s.  For a start the connector cable now incorporates a 4-pin plug that can easily be removed from the LED circuit board. This will be a real boon when opening up my A1200 in the future allowing the case lid to be removed easily without straining the soldered wire connections.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Back view of the A1200 Triple LED Kit.

 

The biggest benefit though is that the LED’s are now removable and completely interchangeable. When selecting the kit on AmigaKit’s website you can pick what colour you want each LED to be. I chose Red, Amber and Green to represent HDD, FDD and Power activity respectively. They sell spare LED’s too in case you should need them in future which is good to know.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Here you can clearly see the 3 coloured LED’s.

 

The LED’s are all socketed and they can be removed by simply pulling on them gently so if you change your mind and want a yellow power LED – no problem!

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

A1200 Triple LED Kit with one of the LED’s removed revealing empty socket.

 

In the photo below you can clearly see the difference in the LED’s. The original A1200 board features transparent LED’s that light up pale yellow/orange/green colours when powered. By contrast the new board has coloured LED’s that I think provide deeper and more pleasing colours when illuminated.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Original LED board on the left, new one on the right.

 

Fitting the Kit

Fitting the new LED’s couldn’t be any simpler really. Start by removing the two phillips screws holding the old board to the case. Keep them safe as they will be needed to fix the new board in place shortly.

 

A1200 LED board

Original LED board attached to case with two Philips screws.

 

Unplug the power LED from the A1200’s mainboard. In the photo below it’s the lower (black) connector. The white connector is for the floppy drive. The old board can now be completely removed and stored away safely in case you ever want to put it back.

 

Amiga 1200 mainboard

Amiga 1200 original LED power connector on mainboard (the lower of the two).

 

Fitting the new board is basically the same procedure in reverse. Start by connecting the power cable to the board. The colouring is slightly different with the new wiring but just make sure the black cable goes on the left (below photo).

 

Amiga 1200 mainboard

Amiga 1200 new LED power connector on mainboard (the lower of the two).

 

Before fitting the board to the case make sure you orient it correctly; the power cable connects to the top of the board. Don’t forget to thread the cable through the square hole in the metal keyboard frame too!

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

New triple LED adapter connected and ready to be attached.

 

Attach the board using the two phillips screws that you removed earlier. The correct board orientation can be seen in the photo below.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

New A1200 Triple LED adapter attached to A1200 case lid.

 

At this stage it might be worth a quick power up to check that the LED’s are working. Assuming all is good, carefully reassemble the case and the upgrade is complete. If not, check the connector is pushed all the way down onto the pins and that it’s oriented correctly.

 

Finished Result

I found the new LED’s to be ever so slightly narrower than the original ones so there’s a tiny gap left on either side of them. However it’s hardly noticeable, especially once they’re actually illuminated.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

LED kit fully fitted.

 

I recorded a quick video to demonstrate what the drive activity LED’s look like in use. I’m very happy with the results and would definitely recommend this kit to anyone that wants to spruce up their A1200 a bit.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug – Hardware Fix

PCMCIA Reset Fix

The A1200 PCMCIA reset bug is an annoying glitch in the implementation of the card slot on the A1200 that was never fixed by Commodore. In a nutshell the Amiga 1200’s Gayle chip fails to reset PCMCIA cards during system resets such as when you press ‘CTRL A A’. Whether this is an issue for the user largely depends on the card being used but my network card is definitely one of those that is affected by the bug. Without either a software or hardware fix it requires a full power cycle to restore card functionality every time the bug manifests.

I’ve written about this issue before where I described fixing it using two command line programs called CardPatch & CardReset on Aminet. That software solution served me pretty well up until recently when I ran into the issue again after doing a clean AmigaOS3.2 install. After scratching my head wondering why Roadshow wasn’t working I decided it was time for a permanent hardware fix so that I would never encounter the issue again.

My Hardware Fix

A quick browse around my favourite Amiga suppliers revealed that AmigaKit made one such device and they had it in stock. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had one sitting on my desk.

The adapter consists of a PLCC socket attached to a small circuit board that contains the electronics for the fix.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

AMIGAKIT A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug-fix Adapter (PLCC socket side).

 

Besides the reset bug fix the device also includes pin headers for attaching a reset switch, a PCMCIA activity LED and also A14 and A15 signals for other devices such as clockport expanders. It’s a well made, neat little device.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

AMIGAKIT A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug-fix Adapter (circuit board side).

 

The device is designed to sit on top of the A1200’s ‘GAYLE’ chip which is where the fault stems from.

 

Amiga 1200 GAYLE chip (centre of the photo).

 

Installing the Adapter

To install the hardware fix you simply place the PLCC socket over the top of the GAYLE chip. However before doing this you must make sure that the device is oriented correctly otherwise it won’t work and may even damage your Amiga.

The adapter circuit board has ‘Gayle Pin 1’ written along the bottom edge and if you look closely on the A1200 mainboard below the Gayle chip you will see a ‘1’ marked beneath it (when viewing from the front). Make sure that these two are on the same side. Another, probably easier, way to tell is that the writing on the board should be the right way up once installed (viewing from the front). The pin headers should point towards the right hand side of the machine where the floppy drive is and away from the PCMCIA port too.

It takes a some force to get it to seat properly and the top of the board is not particularly finger friendly so be careful. It should click into place securely and not wobble around at all.

 

PCMCIA Reset Fix

AmigaKit PCMCIA Reset Fix installed on the Gayle chip. Note how ‘Gayle Pin 1’ on the adapter lines up with the ‘1’ on the mainboard.

 

There’s nothing else to connect and no software to install. Once the device has been installed you can close up the A1200’s case and switch it on.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

My Amiga 1200 mainboard sporting a number of extra expansions.

 

If everything has gone to plan the Amiga will boot up normally with no visible signs that anything has changed… except that PCMCIA cards will just work as intended now. No more unresponsive network cards after a reset from now on then!

I’ve had the device fitted for a week now and experienced no issues with my cards since. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

The expansion pin headers on the board are an interesting addition. I’ll probably add a reset switch to it in the near future as that would definitely come in handy. Not sure about the PCMCIA LED as I don’t use my CF adapter that often.

Anyway, if  you are coming up against the A1200 PCMCIA reset bug and want a ‘fit and forget’ solution I highly recommend this; it’s cheap, easy to fit and does the job.

Upgrading to AmigaOS 3.2.1

Kickstart 3.2.1 ROMS

I’ve not even had my Kickstart 3.2 ROMS installed in my Amiga 1200 for a month and I’m already replacing them! Why? Because AmigaOS 3.2.1 was released by Hyperion in December 2021. This incremental update fixes a number of issues and also adds a few new features so naturally I wanted to get my hands on it. Strictly speaking the physical ROMS are not required as you can map copies of them into RAM. However I wanted the real deal so ordered a set from AmigaStore.eu as this was were I bought AmigaOS 3.2 from. They arrived quickly and well packaged (along with an SDBox I ordered at the same time).

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Kickstart ROMS for the A1200

 

Installing the ROMS

Naturally the first thing I did was to open up my A1200 and fit the two new ROM chips. If you are looking for more comprehensive instructions on how to do this you can follow my guide here. The important things are to get the ‘HI’ and ‘LO’ chips in the correct sockets, that you orient them correctly (notched end of chip goes next to notched socket) and finally that you leave the last pair of pins in each socket empty as the sockets have 42 pins whereas the ROMS only have 40.

 

Removing the ROMS with a chip puller.

 

Before going any further I booted up my Amiga to make sure everything was working and that the new Kickstart ROMS were the correct version. Sure enough Workbench reported a Kickstart Version of 47.102 which is the 3.2.1 edition. Happy days.

 

Kickstart 3.2.1 version

Kickstart 3.2.1 (version 47.102).

 

Next I needed to obtain the 3.2.1 Workbench update. This is a free download from Hyperion but does require you to register your copy of AmigaOS 3.2 before it will allow you access. This requires the little code that was stuck onto the cellophane wrapper of the AmigaOS 3.2 box. The update comes in the form of a 15MB LHA archive that includes Kickstart ROMS should you need them.

 

Installing AmigaOS 3.2.1

AmigaOS 3.2 introduced native support for ADF image files so I thought I’d make use of this feature to update Workbench.

 

Contents of the Update3.2.1 LHA Archive

Contents of the Update3.2.1 LHA Archive

 

The LHA archive unpacks into a single Update3.2.1 folder that includes everything necessary to get things up and running. Opening up the ADF folder reveals 26 ADF’s and it’s these we need to do the upgrade.

 

Contents of the ADF Folder.

 

The ADF we need to get the ball rolling is called ‘Update3.2.1’. Simply double-clicking it opend that ‘disk’.

 

The Update3.2.1 ADF Image

 

It will then appear on the desktop just as if you’d inserted it into a physical drive yourself.

 

It all Starts with the Update3.2.1 disk.

 

Opening that disk, and then the Install folder within it, reveals a bunch of different country-specific installers. I went for the English(British) option as I’m in the UK.

 

Contents of the Install Folder,

 

Go!

The install process is now underway and we just need to click ‘Proceed’ to begin.

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Upgrade

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Update Begins

 

The first choice to make was picking an installation mode. I left it on the default ‘Novice User’ option as I’ve not done much customisation to my A1200 since doing a clean install of 3.2 a few weeks ago.

 

Installation Mode

Selecting the Installation Mode.

 

A warning pops just to confirm you are happy to proceed with the update which will obviously replace a bunch of your 3.2 files in the process. I clicked ‘Yes’ to proceed.

 

Installer

Confirming the start of the upgrade.

 

Next up you get to choose which language(s) you want. Check the boxes next to the one(s) you would like and then click ‘Proceed’.

 

Installer

Language selection.

 

It’s at this point that the installation really starts and files get copied across.

 

Amiga Installer

Files copying across.

 

Now I thought I was going to need to select each ADF as and when the installer requested a new disk. However that wasn’t the case at all. Something pretty cool happens during the install – it mounts and unmounts each ADF image as it needs them – automatically. During the install you see a bunch of disks appear and then disappear on the Workbench like magic. Impressive stuff indeed.

 

Mounted ADF image file

ADF images are switched on the fly.

 

Thanks to the auto-switching virtual disks the update only takes about a minute to complete. Once finished it asks you to click ‘Proceed’ to reboot your Amiga. It was at this point that I got my second pleasant surprise – my Amiga automatically rebooted itself! Many installers have the same message at the end but I don’t recall any that actually rebooted the machine before.

 

Installer complete

Upgrade complete.

 

Once Workbench had loaded back up I did another quick check of the version numbers. Reassuringly Workbench was reporting being 47.3. Combined with Kickstart being 47.102 this confirmed that my upgrade to AmigaOS 3.2.1 was complete.

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1

Both Workbench and Kickstart displaying correct versions.

 

New Feature – Eject

This release includes a lot of bug fixes and a number of new features too. Out of all of them though, the one I was most excited to see was also probably the most trivial. The Amiga now has an ‘Eject disk’ option under the Icon menu! Not unsurprisingly this lets you eject any disks that supports this feature. It was probably mainly intended for un-mounting ADF images but it also works with physical drives. I tried it out on my SCSI CD drive and it worked like a charm it also worked well with my Iomega Zip drive. Sure this was possible before via 3rd party programs but to have this feature natively available in Workbench is a first and worth upgrading for alone in my book.

 

 

SDBox Review

SDBox

If there was one take-away from my recent clean install of AmigaOS3.2 it was that transferring files across to a stock Amiga system is a real pain in the arse. Sure you can use CrossDOS, but that is limited to 720K files. If you have a CD drive then you can burn stuff to a CD which raises the limit considerably to 650mb. However this is pretty time consuming and my drive refuses to read CDRW discs so means I have to use CDR’s which is downright wasteful.

Enter the SDBox – a little expansion for any Amiga system that enables it to read and write data to MicroSD Cards. A few years ago I wrote a post about adding an SD Card to an A500, however that relied on having a Vampire accelerator card. This device just requires a parallel port to operate, something which all Amiga’s have.

What’s Included

The SDBox is actually a public domain Amiga community project that you can construct yourself (see here). However due to the inclusion of some surface mount components I chose to buy one ready made from Amigastore.eu. I can normally solder stuff OK but dealing with tiny surface mount components is beyond my skill level.

 

SDBox

SDBox – package contents.

 

Included in the package was the SDBox device in a nice 3D Printed case, a 4GB MicroSD Card with adapter*, instruction booklet and a 3.5″ floppy containing the software to make it all work. A mini USB cable was an option too but I’ve accumulated dozens of them over the years so didn’t see the point in getting another one.

 

Connecting the SDBox

With the Amiga turned off the SDBox simply plugs into the parallel port socket round the back. It also requires 5V of power to function which can be provided via a mini USB cable.

 

SDBox

The Micro SD card slot and Mini USB power socket on the back of the SDBox.

 

I found there was just enough clearance at the side for it to not interfere with my RCA audio plugs but this might not be the case if you have thicker plugs.

 

SDBox

The SDBox plugged into the parallel port.

 

When powered on the box glows red from inside – presumably this illumination comes from an LED on the Arduino Nano. It’s not quite as noticeable as the photo below would have you believe and it’s not a big deal.

 

SDBox

Red glow from the Arduino Nano inside.

 

Installing the Drivers

With the hardware powered on and connected the next task is to pop in the floppy and run the installer to install the driver software.

 

SDBox

Contents of the floppy disk.

 

The floppy comes with a handy installer (in both English and Spanish) to copy over and configure everything necessary to use the SDBox.

 

SDBox

SDBox Installer now finished.

 

A few moments later a message appears on the screen to inform you that the install is complete and where it has put the SD0 device.

 

SD0 DOSDriver

This is the SD Device it installs in DEVS/DOSDrivers.

 

A quick reboot and my SD card was showing up on my Workbench screen, just like any other drive would. I brought up the drive info window for SD0 to confirm it was reading the card properly.

 

SD0 Information

Icon Information for the SD card.

 

SD Cards

I chose to get an SD Card with my SDBox but you can use any MicroSD card you may have lying around. The one caveat is the device is only capable of accessing 4GB partitions so if you have a bigger card you must create a 4GB (or smaller)  partition on it for it to work. There’s some info at the end of this post describing how to partition a MicroSD card in Windows if you need it.

 

SDBox

If you look carefully you can see the packaging has been opened already…

 

*Clearly AmigaStore.eu were unable to source a 4GB card for me as they actually sent me a 32GB MicroSD card that had been manually partitioned to 4GB.

 

Using the SDBox

In use the SDBox performed well and exactly as described. It’s not going to set any speed records but given it’s hooked up to a parallel port that’s to be expected. To give an idea of transfer times I copied an 880K ADF file from my RAM Disk to both my internal CompactFlash card and the SDBox. It took about 1 second to transfer to the CF card and 6 seconds to the SDBox. Next I tried a bigger file;  AmiSSL 4.12 which was 5.7MB. It took 6.5 seconds to transfer to my CF card and 39 seconds to complete the transfer via the SDBox. Approximately six times slower but still perfectly acceptable.

 

SDBox

MicroSD card being inserted in the card slot.

 

The SDbox doesn’t support swapping thecard whilst the Amiga is running so don’t expect it to update the contents if you do – it’ll just result in an error. It requires a full reboot to refresh the contents of the card but again this is not a great inconvenience.

 

Fly in the Ointment – Conflict with Indivision AGA Mk3 Flicker Fixer

On a slightly more sour note I did encounter one issue with my unit. Whenever the SDBox was accessed, whether that be reading or writing data, my screen flickered/wobbled around. You can see exactly what I’m on about in the little video clip I recorded below. After testing all sorts of things I narrowed it down to an issue with using interlaced HIGHGFX screenmodes on my Indivision AGA Mk3 flicker-fixer. Normal Amiga screenmodes, including interlaced ones, worked just fine as did non-interlaced HIGHGFX modes (all of these still going through my flicker-fixer).

Naturally Sod’s law meant that my screen was utilising ‘HIGHGFX Super-High Res Laced’ which is why I witnessed the issue from the start. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker – it’s more of an irritation than anything else (especially if you are a bit of a perfectionist). It doesn’t affect the operation of the SDBox and I can certainly live with it – just something to bear in mind for anyone with a similar setup.

 

 

I tried many things to get rid of the issue and also contacted the manufacturer of the Indivision card but so far I do not have a solution. If I ever get to the bottom of the issue I’ll update this post.

 

How to make a 4Gb partition on a larger SD Card.

This is a pretty straightforward task to accomplish in Windows. I used a nice bit of free software called ‘MiniTool Partition Wizard‘ to do the job along with a spare 16GB MicroSD card that I had lying around.

 

MicroSD Card

A generic 16GB MicroSD card I used for testing.

 

Basically what you need to do is load up the software and then find your card in the list of drives. They normally show up slightly smaller than the stated capacity. For instance I popped in a 16GB card and it showed as 14.43GB under the list of available drives.

Once you’ve located it simply right-click it and select ‘Delete Volume’ then do the same again but select ‘Create’ to make a new, smaller partition. On the ‘Create New Partition’ screen select ‘FAT’ as the file system (see screenshot below) and it will shrink the size of the partition down to 4GB automatically. Give it a name (this will appear on your Amiga workbench) and then click ‘OK’ and then ‘Apply’ to make all these changes happen.

 

Partition Wizard

Partition Wizard – New Partition Settings

 

Now if you right-click the SD card and select ‘Properties’ in Windows you should get the screen below showing that the card is now recognised as being 4GB and formatted with the FAT file system.

 

Windows 10 Drive properties

Checking the size/format of the card in Windows.

 

Back over to the Amiga – pop the card into the SDBox and boot up your Amiga. You should now see the card appear on Workbench with the name you gave it in Windows. You can go to ‘Icon’ > ‘Information’ to bring up a similar properties screen to check it’s all setup correctly.

 

SDBox

SD Card properties displayed on Workbench

 

And that’s all there is to re-partitioning an SD card to work with the SDBox. Enjoy!

 

Rogue64 Review

Rogue64

It’s been a good while since I reviewed a game but after recently picking up Rogue64, a new game that has just launched for the Commodore 64, I suddenly felt the urge to write one.

The game, created by Badgerpunch Games (credits in the image below), is available both physically (from Bitmap Soft) and digitally from Itch.io. priced at £35 and £4.60 respectively. I picked up my copy of the game digitally.

 

Rogue64 Credits

Rogue64 Credits

 

The download included a CRT cartridge image along with a very attractive PDF instruction booklet. An Easyflash cartridge version is also available to download. At the time of writing the game is only available in cartridge form (whether that be physically or digitally).

 

Rogue64 Instructions

Rogue64 Instructions

 

I ran the game via my 1541 Ultimate II+ cart (and via emulation) and it worked without a hitch.

 

Story

The story, according to the games Itch.io page, goes like this: “You are Zendar the explorer, looking for treasure and fame in the dungeons of Mordecoom! Rumour has it that there is a magic item at the bottom of the dungeon, and you want it! The only problem is that there are evil cave dwellers lurking in the dark, waiting to attack as you travel deeper and deeper into this cube-like tentacle terror maze. The dungeons of Mordecoom are waiting!”

 

First Impressions

On first running the game there’s a ‘Bitmap Soft Presents’ screen complete with digitised speech before reaching the main title screen. From here you can choose to see the game credits, some instructions or begin your descent into the dungeons of Mordecoom…

 

Rogue64

Rogue64 game screen

 

The game screen is attractively presented, which considering this is all you will ever see, is just as well. The game utilises the C64’s hi-res graphics mode to achieve a detailed and crisp display. A good use of colour ensures that the screen is still attractive to the eye and everything is presented clearly.

In time honoured tradition your score and high score are displayed across the top of the screen along with the name of the game.

 

Rogue64

Gameplay window showing current room

 

The main screen is split into 3 main sections. On the left is the information panel where you can see your health, strength, inventory and status effects. The central window is where we can find our hero and where all the action takes place. The right hand side displays a map of the current dungeon and is updated automatically as you explore. Each dungeon level has a name which is displayed across the bottom of the screen.

 

Gameplay

The aim of the game is to battle your way through multiple dungeon levels and ultimately face off against the final boss. Levels get progressively more difficult as you journey deeper down and new monsters are introduced. Thankfully our hero gets stronger too thanks to magical gems that can be found as you explore. These can grant him extra strength or increase his health bar.

Grabbing gold bars adds a nice chunk of points to your score whilst various potions scattered around each level can help or hinder your progress. Green potions always recover health but the red and blue ones could do anything at all. This is because their contents are randomised at the beginning of each game to add a bit of variety to each play through. Some of their effects include freezing time for a number of moves, killing all monsters in a room, making you drunk so you move erratically and so on. This definitely adds an interesting element to the game as you drink one for the first time to discover what it does!

Hearts can also be found on each level and will recover our hero’s health on contact. However unlike the green potions they cannot be carried so you have to decide on the most opportune moment to use them.

 

Rogue64

Character stats and inventory

 

Each dungeon is split up into several small rooms and each of these is displayed in full within the central window. There’s no scrolling – your character stays within the confines of that window – it flips as you move from one room to another. Rooms tend to be a little maze-like in appearance and will incorporate one or more exits that allow you to move around the level.

Speaking of movement, our hero is controlled with a joystick in port 2. You simply push in the direction you want him to go. Objects can be picked up by simply walking over them and go straight into your inventory. I think the clever ‘use item’ system is worthy of a mention too. To select a potion within your inventory you hold down the fire button and move the stick left and right until it is highlighted and then simply release the fire button to use it. Very simple and slick, much like the rest of the game.

 

Combat

Enemies can be attacked by standing next to them and pushing our hero in their direction. Combat is automatic and uses RNG along with your strength, active potions and health to determine the outcome. As RNG is employed both your attacks and those of the monsters can and will miss their target occasionally so it pays to be careful. If a fight looks like it’s going the wrong way, running away is a viable option. You can come back to finish them off after you’ve healed up. It’s important to note that the game is turn based so enemies only react or move when you do which which makes it quite a relaxing experience overall.

Occasionally monsters can inflict a status effect on you that will last for a number of turns. I managed to get poisoned by a snake and kept taking damage after every move. If I hadn’t had a healing potion on me I would have been dead for sure. Likewise some of the potions you take have status affects such as making you stronger or intoxicated for a few turns and so on. This adds a certain level of unpredictability to the game and keeps you on your toes.

To progress onto the next dungeon you must find the exit to the current one (a yellow door) and also the key required to open it. Both of these are randomly somewhere with each level. You could choose to rush to the exit in each dungeon as it is quite possible to avoid contact with a lot of the monsters. However you’ll miss many vital upgrades doing this and end up being ill-prepared for the final boss fight. Far better to take your time and explore each room fully, defeating every monster along the way. Besides, this is what I’d call a ‘high score chaser’ game and the only way to get a decent score is to kill and collect everything in sight!

 

Design

I really appreciate the way the game screen has been designed – it’s very aesthetically pleasing and everything you need is always visible. No need to toggle map screens or inventories – it’s all there, all the time. The game employs an auto-map feature which is pretty neat. When you enter a room it is added to the map straight away and all available exits indicated too. This makes it easy to see at a glance if there are any rooms you haven’t discovered yet. Occasionally you can pick up a potion that will highlight all the rooms in a level immediately but I didn’t find these terribly useful.

It’s all thoughtfully laid out, intuitive and everything fits in the space allotted for it. Each room fits within the confines of the central window and each dungeon map fits within the map window. Inventory space is very limited so it pays to use the stuff you find rather than try to hoard it for later.

 

Rogue64 Map Screen

Rogue64 Auto-Map

 

Sooner or later you will meet a grisly death and be greeted with the Game Over screen. This gives you a handy summary of your progress including level reached, score attained and what monster offed you. I should point out that there’s no option to save your progress with this being a ‘roguelike’ game so bear that in mind before you start your dungeon crawl. None of your progress or hero upgrades carry over to your next play through – you are back to square one every time.

 

Rogue64 Game Over

Rogue64 Game Over screen

 

Music and Sound

Playing throughout is a terrific SID tune that really suits the game and certainly never gets tiring. Sound effects are minimal but are there when required. Battling, picking up items, exiting a room and so on all have their own little effects that add to the immersion of the game. There’s also a screen shake effect that occurs when you take a hit in battle which is a really nice touch.

 

Nit-picking

There are a few little things I wish had been incorporated into the game. For example, as great as the automap system is – it would be even better if it was able indicate the exit (after you have discovered it of course) to make it easier to find once you’ve located the key. Likewise if it could identify rooms with discovered but uncollected items I’d find that a real boon too.

Another feature I would love to see is an option to save your game, although I can understand why it’s not there. If you are 10-15 minutes into a game and something comes up it would be nice to have an option to save your progress. Whilst I don’t mind leaving my PC on for extended periods of time, leaving my 40 year old C64 on with a game paused is a definite no-no for me. Finally the big draw of replaying the game is to beat your high score – it would be awesome if the game actually saved this for posterity too.

 

Mobile Gaming

I’m not a massive mobile gamer but occasionally I’ll stumble across a game that I like to while away my lunch hour playing. This is one of those games. The turn based combat, addictive gameplay and simple control system make this a perfect game to play on a C64 emulator on my phone. There are quite a few C64 emulators out there for Android users; I use C64.emu and this game runs absolutely flawlessly on it. An added benefit of playing on my phone is that I can just flip it shut and the game is paused indefinitely until I come back to it. Nice! If smartphones had existed in the 80’s I would have failed all my ‘O’ Levels for sure…

 

Rogue64

Rogue64 running on my phone via the C64.emu emulator

 

Verdict

Normally roguelike games infuriate me. I hate losing my progress and having to slog through a game just to get back to the where I was up to. That’s definitely not the case with Rogue64 though. Through a combination of slick game design, simplified controls, easy to master turn based combat not to mention a great SID tune and a fair but addictive gameplay loop, Rogue64 keeps me going back for ‘one more go’. Sure I could kick myself when I die stupidly after failing to reach the next dungeon, but there there’s also a real sense of satisfaction when I finally do and beat my high score in the process. I’ve not yet reached the last level of the dungeon or seen the boss monster but I’m determined to keep trying until I do!

Installing AmigaOS3.2

Seems like it was only yesterday that AmigaOS3.1.4 was released and yet here I am with AmigaOS3.2! I actually bought this in June last year but I’ve only just got around to having a play around with it. For the time being this release is only available physically on CD which is fine by me. Hyperion say there will be a digital download version of it at some point in the future.

I will preface this post by saying that things didn’t go smoothly during my first install attempt. Hopefully someone can benefit from the issues I experienced and how I overcame them.

 

A closer look at the what you get…

Anyway I ordered the CD along with the Kickstart ROMs for my A1200 from Amigastore.eu. I have to award top marks for presentation as the CD came in a very attractive DVD style case along with professionally printed jacket. Inside there is a 14 page manual and the silk-screen printed CD itself. Finally but by no means least there were 2 new Kickstart ROMs to replace the existing chips.

 

AmigaOS3.2

The AmigaOS3.2 case, CD and manual.

 

The serial number is on a little sticker affixed to the cellophane wrapping on the outside of the box – don’t make the mistake I did of throwing it in the bin. Luckily I realised before the bin was emptied! The code is needed to register your purchase on the Hyperion site in order to be eligible for future updates.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 ROMS.

 

Workbench 3.2 actually spans a grand total of 35 floppy disks now which is why the decision was made to supply it on CD. Although half of those disks are either country or machine specific but it’s still a lot. The CD contains ADF images of all the discs should you wish to create your own physical versions. Likewise it contains the new ROM images so you can use them with a Vampire, map the ROMs to RAM or just use them with an emulator.

 

Fitting the 3.2 Kickstart ROMS

 

AmigaOS3.2 ROMS

Kickstart 3.2 ROMS Installed.

 

Naturally the first thing I did was to open up my A1200 and fit the two new ROM chips. If you are looking for detailed instructions on how to do this you can follow my detailed guide here. The important things are to get the ‘HI’ and ‘LO’ chips in the correct sockets (see photo above), that you orient them correctly (notched end of chip goes next to notched socket) and finally that you leave the last pair of pins in each socket empty as the sockets have 42 pins whereas the ROMS only have 40!

 

Compact Flash Card

My new A1200 hard drive – a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash card.

 

Whilst I had the case open I thought it would be a good time to install the new Compact Flash card I’d bought for the occasion. I opted to go with a nice big 32GB card this time around as it’s surprising how quickly you fill these things up without even trying. The card I bought was a SanDisk Extreme 32GB Compact Flash. I wanted something that would prove reliable and SanDisk is a brand I trust.

 

Compact Flash Card

32GB Card installed.

 

With the ROMS and new Compact Flash card installed it was time to power up my A1200 and make sure everything was working.

 

AmigaOS3.2

The new 3.2 ROM boot screen.

 

Just a few moments after turning the power back on I was greeted with a brand new boot screen. Gone was the multi-colour tick that has been there for the last thirty years – replaced by the Amiga ‘boing’ ball. Commodore’s name has also been removed and replaced with Hyperion’s. Anyway, mixed feelings aside, so far so good! Now it was time to get cracking with the Workbench install.

 

Prepping the disks

(The Discovery of problem no. 1)

As I mentioned previously there are a whopping 35 disks in total for this install. Even after I weeded out all the language specific variations it still left 11 disks to install. Thankfully the CD contains all the disks as ADF images and if you have a Gotek drive available it’s a simple matter of copying them across to a USB flash drive and using that. This time around there are no snazzy pre-printed disk labels included either so that was another reason not to bother making physical copies of the ADF images. There are a bunch of PNG images included on the CD for you to print your own labels should you wish to though.

 

External Gotek Drive

The Install3.2 ADF selected ready to boot on my Gotek drive.

 

The journey starts with the ‘Install3.2’ disk so I selected that on my external Gotek and then selected DF1 as the boot device from the A1200’s Boot options screen. (Accessible by holding down both mouse buttons on bootup until the power LED flashes). If you have a Gotek configured as DF0 then you won’t need to do this.

 

Amiga 1200 Boot Options Screen

Amiga 1200 Boot Options Screen

 

A short while later I was greeted with a basic Workbench screen and I thought I was on my way. Well you know what thought did… Everything looked OK but the mouse pointer was completely frozen – likewise the keyboard wouldn’t respond either. I tried to boot a few more times with no success. I unplugged all my peripherals, PCMICA card, audio cables, SCSI devices until all that was left was power, video and my external Gotek. Still it wouldn’t work. Maybe it didn’t like my Gotek, or the fact it was hooked up as DF1? So I created a physical Install3.2 floppy disk, disconnected my external Gotek and tried again with a real floppy in DF0. Another fail. So it wasn’t that either.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Workbench Screen (with frozen mouse).

 

I tried all sorts of things like re-formatting my USB flash drive and copying across the ADF’s again. I even tried a different flash drive and removing my Indivision Mk3 flicker fixer, all to no avail.

Eventually I was left with one thing I hadn’t tried – removing my Blizzard 1230 MkIV card. Luckily I remembered that the card could be disabled by holding down the ‘2’ key on boot so I gave it a try. Just like magic after doing this Workbench loaded fine and I could use my mouse and keyboard without any issues. Clearly something was up with my accelerator card.

 

Blizzard 1230 MKIV

Blizzard 1230 MkIV – MAPROM feature disabled with jumper removed.

 

More head scratching and investigations ensued until I finally discovered the source of the issue. I had the MAPROM feature enabled on my card which is supposed to speed the Amiga up by copying Kickstart into FASTRAM. However for whatever reason OS3.2 didn’t like that because from the moment I disabled it by removing the jumper (see photo above) the problem simply vanished. Happy days!

 

Prepping the Compact Flash Card

(The beginning of problem no. 2)

 

Now I had a working 3.2 Workbench it was time to Partition that nice shiny new Compact Flash card. I loaded up HDToolBox from the disk and clicked ‘Change Drive Type’.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Amiga HDToolBox – Defining a New Drive

 

Next I clicked ‘Define New…’  which brought up the Define/Edit Drive Type window shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Drive parameters screen.

 

The Amiga is perfectly capable of doing all the heavy lifting here – I just needed to click on ‘Read Configuration’ to get it to extract all the necessary parameters from the card. A little info window popped up and I clicked ‘Continue’.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Info Message

 

A second or so later and all the parameters had been pulled from the card and filled out on the screen.

 

Amiga HDToolBox – Defining a New Drive

All drive parameters configured.

 

Clicking ‘OK’ brought me back to the ‘Set Drive Type’ window where I could see my newly created drive listed as ‘SDCFXS-0 32G’.

 

HDToolBox

Newly configured drive now listed.

 

Clicking ‘OK’ again brought me back to the main HDToolBox screen, shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Don’t click SAVE just yet…

 

Partitioning the Card

Now it was time to partition the drive by clicking on the appropriately named ‘Partition Drive’ button.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my DH0 partition.

 

I chose to make my first partition 4GB, this would be my System/Workbench drive. To select the size I simply dragged the little triangle pointer and slid it along the bar. Annoyingly it’s still impossible to size a partition exactly so I just got it as close as I could which was 4011MB.

I called the first partition ‘DH0’ as this is the time honoured name for the Amiga’s boot drive and what most software expects to see by default. I also ticked the box to make it bootable as this is the first partition and the one the Amiga boots off.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my DH1 partition.

 

I made the second partition 6GB (6018MB) and called it DH1. To do this I clicked ‘New partition’ and then clicked on an unused portion of the card in the visual representation on the screen.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my last partition; DH2.

 

Finally I used all the remaining space to make one big 21GB partition and called it DH2. This will be were I install games, whether they be WHLoad or otherwise.

Once I was happy that all my partitions were sized and named exactly the way I wanted them I hit ‘OK’. (You can click each of the partitions in the bar to check their details before committing). This took me back to the main HDToolbox window shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Drive with changes waiting to be saved back to it.

 

To save all that configuration info and partition detail I clicked ‘Save Changes to Drive’ which flagged up a message (shown below) that a reboot was required. I then clicked continue to finish the process and write all the settings to the compact flash card.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

‘Reboot Required’ message.

 

Next I rebooted my Amiga off the Install3.2 ADF disk so I could begin formatting them. Unfortunately this was were I encountered problem number 2…

 

Missing DH0 partition

Spot the missing drive 🙁

 

There should have been three additional icons on the desktop, one for each of the partitions I had created. However for some reason DH0: was not being displayed. I tried going back through the HDToolbox configuration and making DH0 smaller and even making it the only partition on the card. Nothing worked.

 

Fixing the Problem

It turns out that for whatever reason, some cards are created with all the sectors on them filled with ‘1’s’ instead of ‘0’s’ and the Amiga doesn’t like that one bit.  So I had to remove the Compact Flash card from my A1200 and hook it up to my PC via a USB card reader.

I loaded up a piece of drive management software on my PC called ‘MiniTool Partition Wizard‘ (available as a free download). I then clicked on ‘Disk and Partition management’ which is the large green button near the bottom of the menu screen in the image below.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Main Menu Screen.

 

Next I needed to select my CF card from the list of available drives as can be seen in the image below. I knew my card was 32GB so it was pretty easy to spot – it appeared as a 29.82GB drive. It’s imperative to select the correct drive here – the consequences of picking the wrong one don’t bear thinking about!

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Selecting my Compact Flash card from the list of drives.

 

With my CF card highlighted I right clicked on it to bring up the menu and selected ‘Wipe Partition’.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Selecting the ‘Wipe Partition’ option.

 

This brought up another window along with a warning that doing this is irreversible so once again I made absolutely sure I had the correct drive selected. Definitely better to be safe than sorry when messing with partitioning software! Anyway the option to fill all sectors with zeros was already selected by default so I simply clicked ‘OK’ here.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Choosing how to wipe the drive.

 

This took me back to the main screen. Up until this point no changes had actually been made to the drive. To actually wipe the drive I needed to click ‘Apply’ in the top left hand corner. A warning then popped up about not running any other applications whilst applying the changes and then I clicked ‘Yes’.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Applying the pending changes to the card.

 

Finally the ‘Apply pending operations’ window popped up and a progress bar slowly made its way across the bottom as my card was being fill with zeros.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Operation Progress Window.

 

The whole operation took around 5 minutes or so to complete successfully at which point I was able to close down the program and remove the card.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Mission Accomplished.

 

Back on Track.

Now that I finally had a correctly prepared Compact Flash card, I re-installed it into my A1200 and begin the entire Partitioning process again, choosing exactly the same options as before. When I rebooted at the the end of it this time I was greeted with the Workbench screen I’d been looking for. One with all 3 drive icons showing on the screen waiting to be formatted as shown below.

 

AmigaOS 3.2

Unformatted drive icons.

 

To format each drive I selected the relevant icon and then selected ‘Format disk…’ from the Icons menu.

 

AmigaOS 3.2

Amiga format disk window.

 

I named DH0 ‘Workbench’, DH1 ‘Work’ and DH2 ‘Games’. I also made sure that long file name support was ticked along with the Trashcan and Fast File System.

 

Amiga format disk request

Obligatory data loss warning.

 

I used the ‘Quick Format’ option otherwise I’d be waiting all day for the format to finish! It’s totally unnecessary for large drives anyway – the only time I ever do a full format is on floppy disks.

A couple of warning messages popped up reminding me that all data would be lost. I simply clicked ‘Format’ on both of them to get the job done.

 

Amiga format disk request

Last chance to bail if you’ve selected the wrong drive by mistake!

 

The format was almost instantaneous and once I’d done all three drives I ended up with a screen looking like the image below.

 

Amiga Workbench

All partitions successfully formatted.

 

Installing Workbench 3.2

Finally it was time to install Workbench for real. I opened the Install3.2 disk and ran the English(British) installer from within the Install folder.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 English(British) Installer.

 

This invoked the first of many disk swaps. Thankfully I had all the ADF images on my USB flash drive so it was simply a matter of flicking through to the correct ‘disk’ and then letting the install continue.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Beginning the 3.2 install.

 

I clicked ‘Proceed’ on the first menu to appear as the other options are concerned with amendments/additions to an existing install.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting the 3.2 Install option.

 

As I was doing a straightforward ‘clean install’ I left the Installation Mode set to ‘Novice User’ and then clicked ‘Proceed With Install’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting the Installation mode.

 

The next screen asked where I wanted to install OS3.2. I selected my ‘Workbench:’ partition and then clicked on Proceed.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting where to install AmigaOS3.2.

 

The installer asked me which language(s) to install so being in the UK I naturally chose ‘English-British’ before hitting ‘Proceed’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Language Selection Screen.

 

The next choice to present itself was whether I wanted to install GlowIcons or not. I most definitely did so I clicked on ‘Yes’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

GlowIcons option.

 

I spent the next several minutes swapping ADF disks as the installer plucked files from everywhere based on the choices I’d selected.

 

AmigaOS3.2

CPU Library warning.

 

Eventually the installation reached 100% and then popped up a message telling me I would need to install some CPU specific library files to support my 68030 CPU.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Installation complete.

 

Hitting ‘Proceed’ on that screen and then on the next concluded the first part of the install.

 

Booting Workbench for the First Time

A reboot was required to test out the new install so I reset my A1200 and hoped for the best…

 

AmigaOS3.2

Missing CPU library nag screen.

 

Soon I was greeted with yet another reminder that I had an 030 CPU but no library for it. I hit ‘Return’ to continue booting and a few moments later I reached the AmigaOS3.2 Workbench screen complete with backdrop and snazzy GlowIcons.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Workbench Screen.

 

Content with the knowledge that Workbench was working nicely it was time to fix that CPU library issue.

 

Installing CPU Support Libraries

Back when I installed AmigaOS3.1.4 I remember having to source the necessary MMULIBS files from Aminet. Thankfully that’s now a thing of the past as 3.2 can install the required files itself. In order to do so I needed to re-run the installer and this time select ‘Install CPU Support Libraries’ from that initial menu.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Installing CPU Support Libraries.

 

A confirmation window popped up and I simply responded with ‘Yes’ to proceed.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Confirming the location of my Workbench install.

 

The following dialogue wanted to know which model of accelerator card I had installed. As I have a Blizzard 1230 MkIV I chose ‘Phase 5’ from the list and then clicked ‘Proceed’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting my accelerator manufacturer.

 

A few moments later and the installation was complete – all I needed to do now was reboot my A1200 and make sure all the warning messages had all cleared. (They had).

 

AmigaOS3.2

CPU Library Installation Complete.

 

Configuring CD Access

There was one other quick configuration change I could make to round off my install and that was to get my CD drive working. OS3.2 includes a CD filesystem so I didn’t need to install anything extra.

The first thing to do was drag the CD0 device from STORAGE/DEVS/DOSDrivers to DEVS/DOSDrivers and bring up the Icon Information window to edit the Tooltypes. The Information window has changed a little bit under 3.2 so the Tooltypes now reside under a Tab called ‘Icon’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Setting the CD ToolTypes.

 

There were two tooltypes I needed to alter; ‘DEVICE’ and ‘UNIT’. As I have a Blizzard SCSI card I needed to set ‘DEVICE=1230scsi.device’ as that is what my SCSI device is called. My CD drive has a SCSI ID of 3 so I set ‘UNIT=3’ and then saved my changes. As no CD device had been mounted up to this point I simply double-clicked the CD0 icon to test if the new settings worked and popped in my 3.2 CD. Happily a few moments later I could see a fancy little AmigaOS3.2 CD icon on my Workbench. Another job done.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Workbench 3.2 Installed and CD access working too.

 

With Workbench 3.2 successfully installed it was now time to get busy sorting out internet access and installing all my apps and games once more…

I’ve covered all that stuff before with 3.1.4 but if anything crops up that poses an unexpected issue I’ll add to this post.

Zzap! Amiga Micro Action – Brand new UK Amiga magazine!

2021 was a great year for Amiga magazines. Back in January there was the launch of Amiga Addict, then towards the end of the year, another brand new magazine appeared; Zzap! Amiga – Micro Action from the same guys who resurrected Zzap! 64 – Fusion Retro Books.

Zzap! Amiga

Zzap! Amiga Front Cover

The cover design adopts the familiar Zzap appearance and represents, perhaps, what we might have seen back in the late 80’s had Zzap fully transitioned over to the Amiga.

The magazine itself is A5 sized and is printed in full colour on thick glossy glossy paper, stapled at the centre. There’s a grand total of 58 pages sandwiched between the covers comprising mostly articles with a small smattering of adverts. From what I can gather Zzap! Amiga will be published 4 times a year (quarterly).

A Look Inside Issue 1

Zzap! Amiga

Zzap! Amiga Contents Page

There’s a clear emphasis on gaming here, which is to be expected considering Zzap’s heritage. This is probably why it’s only coming out quarterly too, allowing time for enough new games and news to surface. Some Zzap! regulars make an appearance including Zzap! Rrap (letters page) and The White Wizard (adventure gaming). RetroRecipes’ Chris Simpson (Perifractic) has his own section of the mag too whilst elsewhere there’s a 6 page article reminiscing about the CD32 console launch. There’s some cool featured Amiga art and a look at the success Bullfrog had with the Amiga. Of course there’s plenty of news from the Amiga gaming scene included too.

Zzap! Amiga

AMOS

AMOS Coding

Finally I have to mention I was really pleasantly surprised to see that there was an AMOS coding section near the back of the magazine. It even included a type-in listing to enter! The article also contained information on how you can legally get a free copy of AMOS to experiment with. As a big Amiga tinkerer this was definitely right up my street. I have a boxed original copy of AMOS so this is just the excuse I need to dust it off and put it to good use! I sincerely hope to see more of this sort of stuff in the future.

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All in all this was a great read, especially if you are an Amiga gamer. It was entertaining and informative without being dry and serious. I personally would have liked to see more game reviews – hopefully issue 2 will improve things in this respect.

At £3.99 plus postage it’s a no-brainer for me and a worthy addition to my retro magazine collection. Don’t forget you can get 15% off with code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ at the checkout!

Head on over to Fusion Retro Books to pick up your own copy. At the time of writing issue 2 is about to be published too which I’ll definitely be getting.

CD64 Interface – First Edition Review

If you’ve ever wanted to use CD’s with your C64 then this could be the gadget for you. I spotted this little gizmo on the SharwarePlus website and wanted it immediately. It arrived quickly and well packaged. Inside the box there was a CDR containing a bunch of games, the CD64 interface itself, an instruction sheet and a small Commodore bookmark type thingy.

 

CD64 Interface Package contents.

CD64 Interface Package contents.

 

A Closer look at what’s included

The CD64 Interface comprises a small circuit board with a cassette port socket one end and a single RCA socket the other. The RCA socket actually gives the first clue as to how this device works.

 

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The second big clue can be found when you insert the CD into a computer…

 

CD Tracklist showing all 33 tracks included on the CD.

 

If you haven’t already worked it out, the device lets you hook up the audio output of a CD player to the C64’s cassette port. The connected player then becomes a datasette of sorts albeit one with direct access to each program. The disc included is an audio CD and contains 33 audio tracks. Playing a track back through a stereo fills the room with that familiar screeching sound that most of us remember from the 80’s when copying games on cassette.

 

3.5mm headphone jack to Stereo RCA cable (not included).

 

In addition to the C64 game files there’s also seven Chris Hülsbeck music tracks on the CD which can be listened to on your CD player. Don’t try and do what I did and load them on the C64 thinking they were some sort of demo scene tracks – doh!

 

CD64 interface

My Sony Discman D-11 attached to the CD64 interface with a 3.5mm headphone jack to stereo RCA cable.

 

To access the CD I used my old Sony Discman D-11 and a 3.5mm headphone jack to RCA cable to try it out. I listened to the CD with a pair of headphones first just to make sure that the sound was coming out of both left and right channels (it did). Consequently it doesn’t matter which RCA plug you use to hook up the CD64 Interface, both will work.

 

C64 LOAD Screen

First attempt at loading the Menu off CD.

 

 

Loading Programs off the CD

To load stuff off the CD you press the familiar SHIFT & RUN/STOP keys and then press PLAY on the CD player. I was very quickly presented with a ‘Found CD Edition’ message which means it had at least found the first data track on the CD. However for a while I couldn’t get any further than this. After reading the guide it suggested unplugging connected devices to remove any unwanted interference. Once I had removed my 1541 Ultimate-II+ cart and 1541-II floppy drive I began to make some progress.

There was still a fair bit of trial and error to get the volume level right though. Too quiet or too loud and the programs failed to load – or loaded with an error.

 

Load error

Load Error.

 

After about 20 minutes of trying different levels I finally found the sweet spot, which for me was a volume level of 6 (my player goes up to 10). I also saw an improvement by setting the Megabass feature to the medium setting (as opposed to being turned off). Of course every player is going to be different in this respect – the key thing is to experiment.

 

Sony Discman D-11

Setting my volume level to 6 seemed to give the best results.

 

Now that I had the volume level set correctly I was finally able to get to the animated ‘Rainbow Arts’ Title Screen.

 

Rainbow Arts Title Screen.

Rainbow Arts Title Screen.

 

From here I could access each of the included 10 games via a simple menu screen.

 

Rainbow Arts Menu Screen.

Rainbow Arts Menu Screen.

 

To operate the menu it was simply a matter of selecting a game from the list with the cursor keys and then hitting RETURN.

 

Instructions for selecting the correct track on the CD.

Instructions for selecting the correct track on the CD.

 

The program then tells you which track to select on your CD player before pressing SPACE to begin loading it.

 

C64 high speed loader

All programs utilise high speed loaders.

 

All the games utilise very efficient high-speed loaders so load in no time at all. Impossible Mission took about 35 seconds to load, Dropzone just 15 which is pretty impressive.

 

A Few of the Included Games

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CD Contents

Here’s a complete rundown of the CD contents:

1. Start menu,

2. David’s Midnight Magic (Broderbund, flipper),

3. Dropzone (U.S.Gold, action),

4. Fist II – The Legend Continues (Melbourne House),

5. Impossible Mission (Epyx, action),

6-7. Jinks (Rainbow Arts),

8. Leaderboard Golf (Access, golf simulation),

9. Loderunner (Broderbund, jump&run),

10 & 11. M.U.L.E. (Electronic Arts),

12. Mission Elevator (Softgold, action),

13. Solomon’s Key (U.S. Gold),

14 to 20. Music pieces by Chris Hülsbeck,

21 to 33. Repetition of tracks 1 to 13.

 

Conclusion

This is a great little device once you’ve spent some time tweaking the sound levels. Being able to select which program to load by using the <</>> buttons on the CD player is far more convenient than using FF/RW on a Datasette so it’s shame there aren’t more compilation CD’s like this.

Although there’s only ten games on the CD there’s no reason why you can’t create your own CD compilations. I would think using something like TapWav to convert C64 .TAP files into digital WAVE files and then burning those to an audio CD would work. This is definitely something I’ll have a play around with when I have a spare moment in the future.

I had a lot of fun playing around with this little accessory and the included 10 games too. If you’d like to get hold of one for yourself then head on over to The Shareware PLUS Commodore 64 & 128 Blog and and grab one.