Lyonsden Blog

Category - Commodore 64

The Valley – C64 Cartridge Review

The Valley Cartridge

Recently Tim Harris was kind enough to lend me a new cartridge based game called ‘The Valley’ for the Commodore 64 to try out. The cartridge arrived housed inside a sleek oversized cassette case complete with a very attractive inlay card.

 

The Valley

The Valley Game Case.

 

The rear inlay depicts the April 1982 cover of the British ‘Computing Today’ magazine (costing just 70p!) which is where ‘The Valley’ game actually originates from.

 

The Valley

Back of case.

 

Upon opening the case it becomes immediately apparent that these are no ordinary cartridges. They are little electronic works of art.

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 1

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 2

 

As you can see from the above two photos there are actually two completely different cartridges. However the difference is purely cosmetic as they both run the same game.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rather than have a traditional plastic case these cartridges have been constructed in such a way that lets your see their inner workings. One consists of a PCB sandwiched between two purple perspex layers whilst the other is a triple decker PCB stack.

 

A Closer Look at the Two Cartridges

 

The black one… this is constructed from 3 PCB’s bolted together and is my personal favourite.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The purple one… this is made from a single PCB sandwiched between two sections of purple perspex.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Plugging the Carts In

Here’s what they look like plugged in…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

So why exactly have the cartridges been created like this? Well part of the reason for this strange construction becomes obvious when you first plug the cartridges in and switch on the power. They light up like Christmas trees, the reason for which I will reveal shortly.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

The Game

This game actually has quite some history to it and it all relates to that Computing Today magazine featured on the inlay card.

Back in the early 1980’s the magazine published The Valley in the form of a listing for the 32K Commodore PET.  The listing was hundreds of lines long so it was broken down into more manageable chunks for budding adventurers to type in (and then spend hours on end bug checking).

 

The Valley Title Screen

Title Screen.

 

This also made it relatively straightforward to convert the game to run on other machines as each chunk of code was accompanied by comprehensive documentation that described exactly how everything worked. A nice bonus of typing in games like this was having the option of tweaking the game to your liking. Nasty Troll kicking your arse? Just nerf it’s physical damage stats in the code!

 

The games backstory.

 

The object of the game is to find the Amulet of Alarian from one of the temples and also locate the 6 gem stones that slot into it. You must also reach the rank of ‘Demon Killer’ so that you can find the Helm of Evanna and return it to the castle. Only by doing this will you save The Valley from the darkness that has engulfed it. To achieve all this, you, the hero, must travel across the valley battling many monsters and raiding temples to find treasures and stones for the amulet.

In this original form the game lacked a proper ending and ‘suffered from very poor gameplay’ according to Dungeon Dwellers Inc (DDI), the makers of this new incarnation of ‘The Valley’. DDI have taken the original game and enhanced it to make it more fun to play. The enhancements don’t just concern the coding of the game either… but link directly into the design of the cartridges.

 

The Valley Cartridge

A thing of beauty!

 

The cartridges feature graphics for both the Helm of Evanna and the Amulet of Alarian etched onto the PCB. The really cool thing though is that within the graphics are a series of LED’s which depict the presence of each item within your actual in-game inventory.

There are 8 LED’s to represent the helm, amulet and each of the 6 mystic stones. When you find one of these items in the game the corresponding LED will light up! If you are lucky enough to find all the items there are LED’s on the back of the cart that will start to pulse signifying that you a nearing the games end.

A handy little extra feature is the addition of a reset button at the back of the cartridge which is itself illuminated by a red LED.

 

The Game

DDI have added a very atmospheric title screen complete with music to the start of the game that really sets the mood. However this is the only sound that you will hear from the game (unless you manage to beat it) as the game is played in complete silence. There is supposed to be an animated ending complete with sound but I’ve not come anywhere close to seeing that yet.

 

The Valley Instructions

You control the game using the numeric keys. Very strange layout at first but you get do get used to it. Shame there appears to be no joystick support though…

 

You begin the game by naming your character and choosing your class. The 5 options available are; Wizard, Ranger, Barbarian, Warrior and Cleric. The choice you make affects the in-game stats of your character, namely your Combat Strength, PSI (magic) Power and Stamina. If you ignore the choices on offer and select a different number then you are randomly assigned a class from one of 7 alternatives including: Villager, Thief, Bandit, Archer, Druid, Knight and Warlock.

 

The Valley Game Screen

The main game screen.

 

The main game screen then appears and the map of the kingdom is drawn up. The map and everything within it is generated randomly each time you start the game so no two play-throughs will ever be the same.

You will start in south west corner of the map on the safe path. So long as you stay on this path you will never be attacked. However once you stray off it it’s game on. Away from the safety of the path you can be attacked even if you are standing still so don’t wander off for a cuppa or you will likely find your hero dead when you return!

 

Combat

The Valley is a proper old school RPG that requires a healthy dose of imagination to be properly enjoyed. Other than the visual representation of where you are (Valley, Forest, Swamp, Tower etc.) there are no graphics to depict enemies or battles. All encounters are text based and the battles performed by rolls of the dice. When you encounter a foe you will be informed of their presence via text and a (semi) turn-based battle will commence. Whatever moves they make and the damage they do will be displayed on screen.

I previously described the combat as ‘semi turn-based’ and that’s because it uses a mixture of turn-based moves and real-time inputs from you during battles. When it is your turn to move a ‘Strike Quickly’ message will flash up on the screen and you literally have about half a second to press a key and select your attack. If you are too slow you miss your chance to retaliate and the monster gets another swipe at you. This is especially frustrating when you have to cast spells as you have to press ‘S’ to signify that you want to cast a spell and then press ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ to select which one. All of these key presses are subject to the same strict time restraints which can lead to frustration when you get flummoxed mid-battle.

 

Exploring a forest in The Valley

Exploring a forest in The Valley.

 

As I said combat is all a roll of the dice so both you and the enemy can and will miss and attacks will do a random amount of damage, sometimes none at all. Consequently you need to be prepared for anything. Occasionally you will surprise an enemy and get a chance at striking first or evading them – but only if you spot the opening message and press the correct key in time to take advantage of the situation.

I must admit I would have preferred a true turn based approach where you can take time to select your move and play at a relaxed pace. However this does make battles more tense, albeit at the expense of risking cramp in your hands from hovering over the keyboard like a praying mantis all the time!

Speaking of moves you have 6 at your disposal, 3 physical attacks and 3 magic. Physical attacks consist of Head, Body or Leg strikes with head strikes being less likely to succeed but rewarding success with more damage, whilst leg strikes are most likely to hit home but do the least amount of damage. The magic spells you can cast are Sleep, PSI Lance and Lightning however the latter two can only be cast once you reach level 8 and 16 respectively.

Damage reduces your stamina and combat strength and if either of these falls to zero your hero dies. To recover from damage you just need to move around. After every turn your stats slowly increase so it pays to keep moving although you can’t move far before you encounter another enemy to fight.

 

The Valley Lair

Inside a lair… each of those asterisks could potentially, if you are really lucky, be the amulet…

 

Occasionally you will encounter some treasure or a ‘place of ancient power’ rather than enemies with the latter granting welcome stat bonuses to aid you in your adventure.

When you venture into a swamp, forest or the Tower the upper half of the screen changes to show the map for that area. Forests have temples to explore whilst the swamps have lairs, each comprising of a single floor. The Tower is split into many floors and is the only place you are able to find the 6 stones, but only once you have located the Amulet of Alarian. If you try to enter the tower before you have located this your entry will be barred.

 

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

 

Progress can be saved by making your way to one of the two castles that are found at either end of the road – assuming you manage to get there in one piece! Additionally if you manage to place all six gem stones in the amulet it will grant you the power of resurrection… but only once. If you are slain and resurrected the stones disappear and you will need to find another set in the tower again!

Verdict

 

The Valley is a pretty unforgiving and difficult game I have to admit and I’m not very good at it. I was constantly either too slow pressing the keys or pressing the wrong ones in the heat of battle. Consequently I wasn’t able to get very far during the time I had the game for. However the allure of lighting up those LED’s on the cartridge was very strong indeed and it definitely had that ‘one more go’ quality about it. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely something I’d consider to be a collectors item and something I would treasure for years to come.

At the time of writing The Valley cartridges are only available from DDI. You can find their website here: sys64738. I believe the game will cost $80 plus postage to your location.

If you would like to try the game first to see if you like it before parting with a not insignificant amount of money it is also available to download from CSDB.

Eight Bit Magazine Issue #8 Out Now

Eight Bit Magazine Issue #8

I have to say the latest issue of Eight Bit magazine (issue #8) really caught my eye. There’s a VIC20 featured prominently on the front cover, a machine I have a real soft spot for as it was the first computer I ever owned. Most magazines tend to focus on its more powerful and popular sibling (the C64) so any coverage is more than welcome.

 

Eight Bit Magazine Issue #8

Cover featuring the Commodore VIC20

 

Inside there’s an interesting ten page ‘Collectors Guide to the VIC20’. It starts with a brief history of the VIC20 including that famous advert with Captain Kirk. It also looks at the machines hardware, the software available both back in the day and a few of the new titles released recently. It’s a good read for sure but it’s actually quite a short article and left me wanting more.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Also in the issue is a really in-depth look at 8-bit baseball games. Unfortunately I have zero interest in baseball so I moved swiftly onto the next article which looks at IRATA.ONLINE. I must confess I’d never heard of this until now but it looks very interesting indeed and worthy of more investigation.

There’s also a look at ‘Retro Virtual Machine’ (a Spectrum & Amstrad CPC emulator) and a lengthy feature looking at the creations of Sir Clive Sinclair. To round off this issue there’s a couple of game reviews: Shockway Rider (which is available for the C64) and a Text Adventure called Tower of Despair for the Spectrum.

All in all the magazine offers a good read, though because it doesn’t focus on any single machine YMMV.

If this post has piqued your interest and you’d like to buy a copy then take a look at the Eight Bit Magazine website.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad Review

A Little History

Back in the twilight period of the C64’s life, Commodore released the C64 Games System or C64GS. It was a keyboard-less console that used cartridge based games just like the Sega Master System or NES. Unfortunately there were only ever a few dozen games released for it and it was a commercial flop.

Why am I mentioning this now? Well, although it didn’t come with a gamepad, it did come with a joystick (Cheetah Annihilator) that had a second, independent fire button. Prior to this all C64 joysticks just had a single fire button. Those joysticks that did have two physical buttons existed solely to allow left or right-handed play.

Unfortunately due to the short life-span of the Commodore 64GS only a small number of games were ever produced that supported this second fire button.

 

Present Day

 

Super Mario Bros C64

Super Mario Bros on the Commodore 64.

 

Fast forward to 2019 and the amazing Super Mario Bros for the C64 was released supporting 2 buttons. This kick-started my desire to find a decent 2 button joystick to control Mario. I mean who wants to have to push ‘up’ on a joystick to make Mario jump?

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

The gamepad comes with a nice long cable.

 

A few weeks ago I discovered someone who is actually making Commodore 64GS gamepads. The company, based in the USA can be found on Etsy and eBay and is called RetroGameBoyz. The gamepads it produces are custom made to order and they offer quite a few different options to choose from.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Commodore 64GS Gamepad.

 

They sell the gamepad for around £25 with delivery to the UK taking around ten days. Unfortunately I did get stung for import taxes and the usual Royal Mail ‘money for nothing’ charge. Combine that with the postage fee and this basically doubled the cost of the pad for me.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

A close-up shot of the D-pad.

 

In More Detail

The gamepad is well constructed and nicely presented in a glossy black plastic shell. It is faced with a custom made vinyl ‘C64 Games System’ skin which really sets it off. This skin is how RetroGameBoyz differentiate each gamepad in their range. They do one for the Amiga and few more variations for the C64 too. In one configuration you can have the second fire button mapped to ‘up’ which would come in handy for a lot of platformers.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

A close-up shot of the 2 fire buttons.

 

The gamepad came with a very generous 10 foot (3m) long cable and is fitted with a standard 9-pin D-sub plug.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Rear view of cable entry point.

 

In use it works well with the D-Pad being easy to operate and the two fire buttons very responsive. The two central ‘select’ and ‘start’ buttons are actually extra ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. The main fire button is labelled ‘I’ and the extra button ‘II’.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Bottom of the gamepad case.

 

I’m really happy I’ve found this controller. For games like Super Mario Bros it really transforms the gameplay experience. I know joysticks are great for a lot of games but I do prefer using a gamepad these days for platform games.

 

Second fire button option selected in Chase HQ 2 settings.

 

The addition of the second fire button is a real boon too. In supported games like Chase HQ 2 you can play them without having to keep reaching over to press a key on the keyboard. In other titles like Paradroid Redux it offers a more nuanced control system by separating off one of the extra controls from fire button A to button B.

 

Supported Games

Here’s a list of Commodore 64 games that support a 2nd fire buttons and its function, if I’ve played them.

  • Alien 8 – 2nd button used to pickup/drop objects
  • Battle Command (Cart) – 2nd button toggles between driving and cursor control
  • Chase HQ2 (Cart) – 2nd button operates Turbo mode.
  • Double Dragon (Ocean Cart) – 2nd button performs all sorts of extra moves
  • Giana Sisters 30th Anniversary Hack
  • The Last Ninja Remix (Cart)
  • Myth (Cart) – 2nd button changes weapon
  • Paradroid Redux – 2nd button used to enter transfer mode
  • Robocop 2 (Cart) – 2nd button used for jump
  • Spacegun
  • Super Mario Bros – can now use buttons to jump and throw fireballs
  • Turrican II (Rainbow Arts)

Freeze 64 Issue 34 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue 34

The latest issue of Freeze 64, issue 34 has just been published and posted out to subscribers.

Issue #34’s featured game and interview is Manic Miner 64DX and its coder, Graham Axten. In the interview he discusses the improvements he’s made to the new DX version of the game. There’s no cheats or pokes in this issue which I initially thought was a little odd. The mystery was solved however when I actually read Vinny’s intro. In it he explains they took a back seat due to the focus on Manic Miner 64X in this issue and that they will return in issue #35.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 34

Freeze 64 Issue 34 comes with a ‘Doc Cosmos’ cheat card (no. 29) .

 

Percy is the featured game from the Mouldy Cupboard. When I saw that name I was initially surprised as I started thinking of ‘Percy the Potty Pigeon’ which I remember as being a superb little game. No, this game is all about a Penguin called Percy and is far from superb!

 

In another interview, Stephen Kellet dives into his coding past and reminisces about the games and systems he worked on. Most the fanzine regular sections like Zzapback!, Secret Squirrel and My C64 Heaven also make an appearance in this issue. A special mention has to go to the ‘Games we typed in’ article though. This was a real trip down memory lane for me as spending countless hours typing in listings as a kid is something I can definitely relate to!

 

Freeze 64 Issue 34

Quick peek at the contents of this issue.

 

If you fancy your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by purchasing this issue.

Here’s a link to my previews of several earlier editions of Freeze64 if you’d like to check out what you’ve been missing!

VS-7000 Joystick Review

VS-7000 Joystick

I recently picked up a super little arcade joystick off eBay for my Commodore machines. It’s brand new and made by this seller on eBay. He’s calling it the ‘VS-7000’. I’m really impressed with it so thought I’d share my thoughts.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

VS-7000 Joystick Construction

As standard it comes with a plain black plastic base with four sucker feet. However there’s a couple of retro styled vinyl VS-7000 stickers supplied in the box. These can be attached to the sides of the base if you want to jazz it up a little more. Additionally, if suckers aren’t your thing then they can be replaced by the included set of 4 rubber feet.

The seller also offers the same joystick in a couple of other colours. There’s one with a white base and another black one but with wood effect panels, presumably for people that want to use it with Atari systems. Sadly at the time of writing this he’s got no stock left of any variant but hopefully he’ll make some more soon.

 

VS-7000 Stickers and Rubber feet

The supplied stickers to go on either side of the base and a set of 4 rubber feet.

 

Both the buttons and stick are micro-switched and this makes for a really satisfying ‘click’ when pressed. In use I was never unsure whether a button had been pressed that’s for sure. The joystick unit itself is based on the Sanwa mechanism which is designed for arcade game cabinets. The shaft is made of metal with a nice chrome finish and it all feels reassuringly sturdy in use.

The joystick is available with either two ‘A’ buttons or an ‘A’ and ‘B’ button configuration (on request). It is straightforward enough to change from ‘AA’ to ‘AB’ yourself too. Unfortunately the A & B configuration of this stick is NOT compatible with 2 button capable C64 games like Super Mario Bros and Chase HQ 2. The C64 just doesn’t see the extra button at all.

 

VS-7000 Joystick

Here’s what the inside of the joystick looks like

 

Verdict

I have to say that this little joystick has really exceeded my expectations. It requires very little lateral force to move the stick around so it makes extended play sessions much more comfortable. I also found it enabled me to move around games more accurately or pull off those different moves in IK+ more easily. Puzzle games such as Vegetables Deluxe and Milly & Mollie suddenly became far more relaxing to play too.

I can’t overstate how much I love the stick movement on this thing. Selecting a direction only requires a gentle nudge which is immediately rewarded with a satisfying click. I can guide it in the direction I want using just my forefinger and thumb instead of needing to clamp my whole hand around it. Consequently, playing for hours no longer results in getting cramp in my right hand like I do with the other sticks (especially the Suncom). I should point out that this may well be an age related preference. I loved the ZipStick when I was a kid but fifty year old me? No so much.

The VS-7000 joystick does have one shortcoming though… the base is quite bulky and angular so is not the most comfortable thing to hold for extended periods of time. However I suppose that’s to be expected from a homebrew project like this. The joysticks of yesteryear were manufactured in large numbers and had custom, injection moulded bases, not something you can easily replicate on a small scale. Having said that this didn’t prove to be much of an issue for me as I use it mostly either resting on my knee or affixed to my desk with the suckers.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Commodore 1501 Power Monitor MkII Review

Commodore Power Monitor

Whilst I was idly scrolling through eBay one evening a rather cool looking gadget caught my eye. The device in question is the ‘Commodore 1501 Power Monitor MkII’ to give it its full moniker. I’m a sucker for anything with coloured LED’s, VU meters, flashing lights, knobs switches etc. Basically anything flashy or mechanical in nature. This little device features both multiple colour digital displays and a big red nuclear launch button – how could I resist?

 

Commodore 1501 Power Monitor

Here’s what came in the box, the Power Monitor itself and a power cable.

 

The seller is in Australia so delivery to the UK took a few weeks. It arrived well packaged in a small cardboard box. Opening the box revealed the Power Monitor itself together with a short power lead. The device is constructed entirely from plastic but has a textured finish that makes it look like it’s made of metal. The Commodore 1501 label is very convincing and makes it look like a real commodore product (although obviously it isn’t).

 

Commodore Power Monitor

A big red ‘reset’ button screaming to be pushed!

 

Flip the box over and there’s even an official looking serial number label on the bottom. The overall presentation on this is top notch and really made me feel like I was back in the 80’s and had just purchased an ‘proper’ Commodore product.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Serial number sticker.

 

So what exactly is it then?

This device does exactly what the label says – it monitors the power output of your Commodore PSU. In simple terms it’s basically a voltmeter and ammeter rolled into one. It is able to measure both the 5v DC and 9V AC PSU outputs and also measure the current being drawn by the computer.

In an ideal world your PSU should be outputting voltages as close as possible to the 5v and 9V levels that your Commodore needs. However this is often not the case, especially with old Commodore PSU’s. There are plenty of horror stories online about C64’s being fried by PSU’s that output higher voltages. It is supposed to work on the Commodore 128 and Plus/4 in addition to the VIC20 and C64 but as I don’t own either of those systems I can’t confirm this.

 

Commodore 1501 Power DIN socket

One of the two DIN sockets for attaching the power leads.

 

The 5V supply is used to power most of the chips on the mainboard and is the most sensitive to increased voltages. The unregulated 9V supply is used to power any attached C2N datasette, the user port and the SID chip amongst other things.

The seller claims accuracy is within +/- 0.1V for the DC meter and +/- 0.3V for the AC meter.

 

Interpreting the readings

The instruction booklet (available digitally) gives a handy guide to interpreting the voltage displays:

Voltage RangeDescription
4.95 - 5.1V Power supply functions normally.
5.1 - 5.2VMinor concern, measure the power supply
more often.
5.2 - 5.5VThe power supply is failing. Your Commodore
64 will not fail right away, but it is an
unhealthy situation. Replacement or repair of
the power supply is recommended.
5.5 - 6VYour Commodore 64 is in danger.
>6V In most situations where a Commodore 64
got killed by its power supply, the voltage had
risen above 6V. Usually the RAM memory
gets damaged first.

For some reason there were no instructions included with my power monitor. However after contacting the seller he kindly obliged and mailed them to me. Once more this is an amazing homage to the sort manual Commodore themselves used to produce back in the day, even down to the colour used, very nostalgic indeed.

The manual explains everything you need to know and is even quite funny in places. Tucked away amidst the instruction texts are lines like this; ‘This is NOT the time to practice your Kama-Sutra and experiment with how many different ways to insert your equipment’. There are quite a few more of these so the manual is well worth a read for these alone!

 

Power Monitor MkII User Manual.

Power Monitor MkII User Manual.

 

That big red ‘nuclear launch button’ is actually a reset button allowing you to reboot your Commodore without having to power cycle it, providing that is, your have it connected via the user port.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Display seen when hooked up to user port.

 

How is the Power Monitor used?

It can be used in a number of different ways but the most straightforward way is simply to attach it to the user port. Used this way it will display the 5V DC voltage level in the upper display and 9V AC in the lower one. This is also the only configuration in which the reset button will actually work. However when connected this way it will not display the current being drawn by the computer.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Using the 1501 to test my original Commodore PSU which is now almost 40 years old!

 

You can also use it as a simple PSU tester, to ensure a PSU is actually working or not outputting dangerously high voltages. To use it in this manner simply plug the PSU into either of the two DIN sockets on the Power Monitor. The displays will light up immediately to indicate the voltages being output by the PSU. Obviously used in this way there’s no load applied so the current cannot be measured.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

 

The final way it can be used is to attach it between your PSU and your Commodore VIC20 or C64. This is what the supplied cable is for. Simply plug your PSU into the DIN socket on one side of the 1501, plug one end of the supplied cable into the socket on opposite side and then connect the free end of that up to your computer. In this configuration you get the most accurate power readings as the PSU is operating under load. You can now also see how much current is being drawn indicated in the blue Amps display.

 

Commodore 1501 Power Monitor Verdict

I must confess I was initially attracted to this solely because of it’s appearance. However it’s actually an incredibly useful little gadget to have around. I have opted to leave it permanently connected up in-between my VIC20 and my 40 year old original Commodore PSU. This way I can always keep a watchful on eye on things. My C64 uses a modern Electroware PSU so I’m not overly concerned with that frying my computer…

 

VIC20 setup

Power Monitor MkII in use with my VIC20 setup.

 

I can use it to test PSU’s on the fly and also to give an indication of how ‘healthy’ they are. Granted I could do all this with a multi-meter but that wouldn’t be as convenient and it certainly wouldn’t look as cool!

The build quality is terrific and the guy making them has really nailed the whole ‘made by Commodore’ vibe. Of course it’s not an essential purchase by any means but it is a very useful one and gets a big thumbs up from me.

If you fancy getting one, I bought mine from this seller on eBay. I should point out that he actually does two versions. Mine is the MkII which can additionally measure current used. The cheaper MkI version only measures voltages but is roughly half the price.

Sherlock Holmes by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Infocom Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels was the last of a bunch of Infocom adventure games I picked up before Christmas. This, like all my others, is for the Commodore 64 and is in pretty good condition. The box does show some signs of wear but nothing too bad, just some creasing and wear to the corners. Sadly, like Border Zone, it is missing a ‘feelie’. Originally it would have shipped with a little plastic Sherlock Holmes key fob. It’s a little disappointing for sure but I can live without it, it’s the least important part of the package to me anyway.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Contrary to what I had expected, you actually play the role of Doctor Watson rather than Sherlock Holmes. The Crown Jewels have been stolen from the Tower of London and you only have 48 hours to retrieve them. Holmes deduces that this is a deadly trap constructed for him personally and so gets you (Watson) to take his place to throw the perpetrator off guard.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Exploring Victorian London is the highlight of the game for me. Locations are richly described which really helped immerse me in the games world. Playing Watson instead of Holmes is very odd though and I’m not sure why the author decided to do this. Only time will tell if it ultimately proves detrimental to the game.

Invisiclues

Unfortunately I don’t share Sherlock Holmes’ legendary deductive abilities so I’m glad there’s help available in this game. Just typing ‘hint’ brings up an ‘Invisiclues’ help screen. From here you can choose what you need help with from a menu. What’s great about this system is it gently nudges you in the right direction rather than just blurting out the answer. It does this by offering three hints. The first is quite vague but enough to hopefully get you thinking along the correct lines. The the second is less vague and if you still can’t figure it out the final hint is the actual answer. You can also turn this feature off if you think it will pose too great a temptation.

Sherlock Holmes Contents

As with all Infocom games there’s quite of lot of stuff packed inside the slide out tray.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Sliding out the box insert

Sherlock Holmes is no exception here with lots of extra goodies tucked inside the box insert.

The Sherlock Holmes box insert

Inside there’s the instruction manual, the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk, a tourist map of London and a copy of The Thames newspaper.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

A look at what’s included inside the Infocom Sherlock Holmes game box

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

London Tours Guide Map

The Thames newspaper

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

The manual gives you a few pointers including how to draw a map…

As I mentioned earlier there should also be a little key fob but unfortunately that was missing from the box. However all the important things are present and correct and the fob isn’t required to actually play the game.

Sherlock Holmes Fob

You can see the fob that should have been in the box next to the magnifying glass above

Once again this is another lovely addition to my Infocom collection and hopefully it won’t be the last. There aren’t many Infocom games floating around these days so it may be a while before another one crosses my path.

If you enjoyed looking at this page then here’s a look at some of the other Infocom games in my collection that I’ve posted about.

Commodore VIC20 ‘breadbin’ Case Repair

VIC20 Case Repair

Whilst working on my VIC20 recently I noticed a number of issues with the case. The first thing was that most of the little tabs along the back of the lid had broken off. This meant that the case didn’t close properly along the back at all. The other issue I spotted was that a couple of the plastic screw posts that hold the keyboard in place had split. Not sure why, possibly as a result of over-tightening at some point or the plastic expanding and contracting over the years. It was pretty clear that my dear old Commodore VIC20’s case was in need of some repair and TLC.

By the way, even though this post is all about the VIC20 the contents would be just as valid for a Commodore 64.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Naturally I want my VIC20 to remain in as good a condition as possible so I set about looking for a means to remedy these problems. My search concluded when I came across a company in the US called Soigeneris that 3D prints suitable repair parts. The product I ordered from them was the  ‘C64/VIC20 Case Saver Repair Kit‘. The whole thing cost me less than $20 including international shipping (which took about a week). *Note to self – get a 3D printer!

 

A look at what’s in the repair pack

 

Inside the pack there are actually 3 different parts to deal with common ‘breadbin’ case issues. New PCB standoffs (not needed here), replacement top case rear tabs and screw post repair sleeves. The drill bit is provided to help centre the PCB standoffs if you are using those.

 

Commodore Case Repair

From left to right: new PCB standoffs (with drill bit), replacement top case rear tabs and screw post repair sleeves.

 

 

There are several different case styles and they each have different types of hinge tabs. I had to check which variant mine was before ordering otherwise the replacement may not have fit. My particular VIC20 case needed ‘Type 2B’.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Fitting the new hinge tabs

I decided to fit the new hing tabs to the back of the upper case lid first. This necessitated completely removing what was left of the existing ones to make way for the replacements.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Cutting what’s left of the existing tabs off with a craft knife

 

This was a simple matter of slicing the tabs off flush with the edge of the case. I used a sharp craft knife for this (and ended up slicing my thumb open) so do be very careful if you are following this post yourself. The plastic was a lot more brittle and softer than I expected so I applied way too much pressure…

 

Commodore Case Repair

Tabs completely removed allowing the fitment of the replacement

 

 

Before proceeding any further I test fitted the tabs to make sure they fitted flush to the edge of the case. Where needed I shaved some more skin plastic off my with knife.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

The replacement tabs are well constructed and have been designed to align easily within the existing channels.

 

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

The instructions recommend using epoxy glue to fix them in in place as it sets rock hard. It also recommends roughening the surface of the case and cleaning it with isopropyl alcohol before gluing to ensure maximum adhesion.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I applied a generous amount of epoxy glue and then held the tabs in position using some modelling clamps.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Even though my epoxy glue is supposed to be quick drying I set the case aside for 24 hours to fully harden before going any further.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Holding the new hinge tabs in place whilst glue sets

 

Preparing the screw posts

 

Once I was happy that the glue had fully hardened I moved on to tackling the split screw posts. Thankfully only 2 of the posts were damaged but the kit includes enough replacement parts to fix all of them if necessary.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Broken screw post

 

Not only was the screw post split but it had also ‘mushroomed’ out at the top. This meant that it would need to be filed down to it’s original size before the repair sleeve would fit over it.

 

I used some of my wife’s emery boards to sand the post down. They worked really well too!

 

I used a few emery boards to sand the posts down to size but a small metal file would have done just as well. It took around 5-10 minutes to get it down to the correct size. I was constantly stopping and checking to see if the sleeve would fit. The last thing I wanted was to sand too much off and have the sleeve become loose.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Test fitting the sleeve. Note how the castellation allows it to slip over the post buttresses.

 

Eventually I found the sleeve would slide into place with moderate force so I stopped sanding. Then I just needed to repeat the process on the other broken post before gluing both sleeves permanently into place.

 

Gluing the repair sleeves

 

First I cleaned both the post and inside of the sleeve with isopropyl alcohol to make sure no plastic dust was left from the sanding. Then I mixed up a small amount of epoxy glue and applied it to the top of the post before sliding the sleeve down until the two top surfaces were flush.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Screw post fitted with repair sleeve after sanding it down

 

I smeared a little extra epoxy on the top of both the posts to fill the splits in the plastic too. There was no need to use any sort of clamp this time as the sleeves were a tight fit. The friction alone was more than sufficient to do the job.

 

Commodore Case Repair

An extra application of epoxy over the top helped fill any splits or gaps.

 

Once more the case was then set aside for 24 hours to give the glue ample time to harden.

 

Repaired commodore case

Top part of case with all repairs complete

 

Reassembly

Now it was time to screw the keyboard back into place and to reunite the top and bottom parts of the case.

 

VIC20 top case with keyboard fitted

Keyboard fitted back into the repaired top case

 

I must admit I was a little concerned that the added thickness of the sleeves might have prevented the keyboard from fitting correctly.

 

Commodore case sleeve repair

Keyboard re-fitted – just enough clearance with repair sleeve

 

Happily, although a tight fit, the keyboard slotted into place without any extra trimming needed.

 

Screw post repaired

Screw in repaired post

 

The screws went into the repaired posts without any issues and were held very securely.

 

VIC20 with lid hinged open

New hinge tabs seated in their corresponding slots on the bottom case

 

The two halves of the case also fitted back together perfectly. The hinged tabs were very securely held by the epoxy glue and the little tongues aligned perfectly with the grooves on the bottom half of the case. The back of the case was held tightly closed, a vast improvement from how it was before the repair.

 

VIC20 back of case

Back of VIC20 nicely demonstrating the tightly fitting case halves post repair

 

This turned out to be a very worthwhile, rewarding and cheap little project. The biggest cost was actually my time, both in preparing the case and making the actual repairs. The whole thing took me three evenings plus a couple of days of glue setting time.

Coupled with my heatsink project and keyboard repair my VIC20 is now in tip top condition again. Hopefully she will be able to take her upcoming 40th birthday in her stride as she marches on up to the big 50.

Vegetables Deluxe Review

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe is a sequel of sorts to the Vegetables game that was released on itch.io early last year by Mike Richmond. It’s a ‘match 3’ type of game similar to Bejewelled or Candy Crush, a genre I don’t think even existed back in the 80’s. Thanks to this game that’s no longer the case and you can now enjoy this genre on both a C64 and Amiga (see end of post).

 

Physical Presentation

The game is presented in a vibrantly coloured glossy green box with some great artwork on the front. The back of the box includes some nice clear screenshots of the game in action along with a description of what it’s all about.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Opening up the box reveals an instruction manual and the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk with a snazzy matching label.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe manual and Game on a 5,25″ disk

 

The instruction manual is nicely illustrated and in full colour throughout. It clearly explains how to play the game and describes the four different game modes on offer.

 

Vegetables Deluxe manual

Vegetables Deluxe manual

 

Loading up the Game

 

Upon loading the game  you are presented with a lovely title screen complete with music.  Pressing the fire button on your joystick starts a game straight away. I did find this a little odd as you’d normally expect to choose the game mode first.

 

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

 

To actually get to the menu screen you need to pause the game by pressing ‘P’ on the keyboard and then press ‘Q’.

 

menu screen

Vegetables Deluxe menu screen

 

From the menu screen you can choose whether to have music or just sound effects whilst playing. You can also select from one of four different gameplay modes (more about these later).

 

The Game

I’m sure most people are aware of what a ‘match 3’ game is but just in case… Basically you have a grid full of randomly coloured objects, or in this case vegetables. You must match 3 or more of the same coloured vegetables either vertically or horizontally to remove them from the screen and earn points. You do this by moving the little selection box around with a joystick, holding the fire button and then moving the stick in a direction. When a group of vegetables disappear, the ones above fall down and new ones randomly appear from the top to take their place. If you run out of matches the game will use one of your available ‘shuffles’ to randomly rearrange the vegetables on the screen so you can carry on. However, if you no longer have any shuffles remaining then the game will end.

 

Vegetables Deluxe ‘Classic’ mode

 

To mix things up occasionally an immovable block will appear that impedes your progress. You can also match more than three vegetables for extra bonuses. Matching 4 in a row will cause an entire row to be removed and this is a great way to clear those immovable blocks. Matching 5 in a row will cause every matching vegetable on the screen to removed and will earn you an extra shuffle.

 

Vegetable Delxue

Watch out for the grey immovable blocks, let too many accumulate and you’ll run out of moves!

 

The screen is broken up into 3 main sections. On the left there is a kind of shopping list which either tells you how many of each vegetable you need to collect, or how many you have collected so far. (More on this later). The centre of the screen is where all the action takes place whilst on the right is where the timer, score and number of shuffles are located.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Game Over! (This was my ‘shopping’ High Score)

 

Game Modes

 

There are 4 different modes, each catering towards a different play style.

Casual is for those that want a relaxing experience that keeps the ‘unmovable blocks’ to a minimum. The instructions reckon it’s still possible to reach a game over state in this mode. However during my time playing the game I found this to be more like an endless mode as I kept racking up extra shuffles.

Classic is the default play mode and has you battling to reach a high score whilst dealing with plenty of immovable blocks.

Shopping has you collecting the vegetables shown on the shopping list. If you manage to collect them all then you complete that level and move onto the next with a bigger shopping list.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Shopping mode has you collecting items off the list on the left

 

Countdown is the hardest mode and has a sliding countdown timer (the coloured bar on the right). This gives you just a few seconds to make a match or you lose a shuffle.

During play if you are struggling to find a match the game will briefly highlight a potential (though not necessarily the best) move you can make. This is a great feature and is one commonly found on modern variants of the game. It’s no use in Countdown mode though, for that you really need to be on the ball!

When you are not playing in shopping mode, the list on the left works the other way round. It actually keeps a tally of what you’ve collected, up to a point anyway. You see the counters only go up to 99 and then reset back to 0. It’s not a big deal and in Casual mode where you could potentially be collecting a mountain of vegetables, entirely understandable.

 

My thoughts on the game

I tried all the game modes but found the ‘shopping’ mode the most fun. It gives you something extra to work on besides just matching vegetables. I didn’t really enjoy ‘countdown’ mode as the timer destroyed the relaxation side of things. Games started in casual mode simply lasted too long. Without a save option I was never able to actually finish one. I guess people playing it on an emulator or C64 Mini would have the option of using save states but that doesn’t fly on the real thing. Leaving my ageing C64 on until I can come back to finish a game certainly isn’t an option either!

For a game that is all about reaching and beating a high score I was disappointed that there was no way to save a high score to disk. Many C64 games offer this facility now and it’s a shame that Vegetables Deluxe hasn’t followed suit. Of course it’s not the end of the world by any means. You can write your score down (proper old-school style) or snap a pic of the screen with a smartphone. Hopefully one day this feature might be included in an updated version of the game.

The game looks terrific though and all the better for utilising high resolution mode. The vegetables are clearly defined and very colourful and the overall aesthetic is very pleasing to the eye. If you choose to play with sound effects then you won’t hear much at all, just the odd ‘plink’ when you make a match. The music however is brilliant and if you enjoy SID tunes then this is definitely the way to play. I’ve played this game for hours and never  tired of listening to the soundtrack so top marks for that.

This is a terrific little puzzle game for the Commodore 64. It looks great, sounds fantastic and is a lot of fun to play. I have no reservations at all in recommending it to anyone looking for a casual gaming experience. It’s published by Double-Sided Games in Canada on cartridge, floppy disk or digital download. There is now also a cassette tape version available from Psytronik in the UK.

 

Standard vs Deluxe Comparison

I mentioned at the start that this is an updated version of the game. Below you can see a few comparison pics between this and the earlier version. There’s a number of marked improvements over the original game. These include the addition of in-game music and three extra gameplay modes. The Deluxe version also takes advantage of the Commodore 64’s high-res capability to deliver much crisper graphics than you get with the chunkier colour mode used in the original. It actually reminds me a little of a Spectrum game in terms of presentation, especially the font used.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Amiga Version

Included as a bonus at no extra charge is a complete Amiga port of the game as well! This takes the form of a digital ADF disk image that you can either use in an emulator or on a real Amiga via a GOTEK drive. (I think this bonus is exclusive to the Double-Sided Games release).

 

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Title Screen

 

It’s the exact same game with the same choice of game modes, optional music and so on. The music is terrific but I personally prefer the C64 tune. The title screen is also infinitely better on the C64 version with the Amiga’s being text only.

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe game screen

A big benefit of the Amiga version is mouse support which feels like the natural way to play a game like this. It also benefits from the higher resolution and larger colour palette to create a more striking display. Both games are brilliant but I think the C64 version is better in the music department whilst the mouse support gives the Amiga version the edge in gameplay. If the C64 version supported the NEOS or 1351 mouse then that would make it a clear winner for me!

Even though the Amiga version is classed as a bonus addition to the C64 game I would still recommend this to Amiga only gamers as it’s a great game on either system.

Border Zone by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Border Zone Infocom

Before Christmas I mentioned that I had picked up a few new Infocom adventure games for my collection. Well this is the second one, Border Zone for the Commodore 64. Again this is in very good condition throughout. The only blemish being that it is missing one of the feelies (a book of matches) but I’m not really too bothered about that.

 

Border Zone

Infocom Border Zone back cover

 

This adventure is a little bit different as you actually play three different people during the course of the game. The idea being that you get to see the story unfold from different viewpoints. At certain points in the story the paths of the characters intersect too which should prove interesting. Border Zone is basically a cold war spy thriller which was all the rage back in the 80’s. In a nutshell there’s an assassination plot and you must either try to prevent it, or ensure it succeeds, depending on who you are playing as.

 

Border Zone

Border Zone opening screen on my Commodore 64

I have to confess that after I started to play this I realised that there is a timer that ticks down while you are playing. This is a real-time timer… it ticks down whether you type a command or not. This is a real turn off for me as I like to take my time, examine everything, draw a map, make myself a cuppa or whatever… I don’t want to be stressing about running out of time. This may well prove to be a deal-breaker on this particular game, only time will tell.

It is actually possible to slow the timer down by entering the command ‘slow’. This certainly helps things but still doesn’t stop my anxiety levels whilst playing…

 

Border Zone ‘Feelies’

 

As with all Infocom games there’s plenty of extras packed inside the slide out tray.

 

Border Zone

Sliding out the box insert

 

Border Zone is no exception here with lots of extra goodies tucked inside the box insert.

 

The Border Zone box insert

 

Starting with the standard stuff first, there’s the instruction manual, a reference card for the C64 version of the game, the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk, and a registration card.

 

Border Zone

Feelies galore…

 

Also included is a map of the border between Frobnia and Litzenburg and a business card from ‘Riznik’s Antiques’. Additionally there’s an ‘I am Frobnia – Fortunate Tourists Guide and Phrasebook’ to help set the scene. As I mentioned earlier there should also be a little book of matches but unfortunately that was missing from the box.

All in all this is a fantastic item and another worthy addition to my Infocom collection, albeit one that I may never finish due to the timer.

If you enjoyed looking at this page then here’s a look at some of the other Infocom games in my collection that I’ve posted about.

Freeze 64 Issue 33 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Arriving much earlier in the week than is the norm, Freeze 64 Issue 33 glided onto my doormat today. This is the first issue of 2020 and I hope that there’s many more to come.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Freeze 64 Issue 33 comes with a ‘Mikie’ cheat card (no. 28) .

 

Issue #33’s featured game and interview is Head Over Heels and its coder, Colin Porch. There’s also a bumper crop of cheats and pokes for Frostbyte, Dragonspire, Freeze64 and Crazy Blaster. Meanwhile, creeping out of the Mouldy Cupboard this time around is the shameful Night Rider Niterider from 1984.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Freeze 64 in its native habitat…

 

In another interesting interview, Chris Stanley delves into the making of his recently released ‘Mancave’ game. Of course all the regular sections like Zzapback!, Secret Squirrel and My C64 Heaven make a return too. We also have the 2019 Freeze 64 Game of the Year awards to enjoy.

 

Quick peek at the contents of this issue.

 

If you fancy your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by purchasing this issue.

 

I need your clothes, your boots… and your copy of Freeze 64!  (Sorry couldn’t resist – my T800 model has finally reached a point where it’s starting to look like a Terminator and I wanted to show it off!)

 

Here’s a link to my previews of several earlier editions of Freeze64 if you’d like to check out what you’ve been missing!

Audio Tape Cassette Storage – Solution/Review

audio tape cassette storage

My audio tape cassette storage problem has been bugging me for quite some time now. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of cassette tapes (both music and games) and that number is constantly increasing. I’ve been storing a lot of them in those old drawer units (the ones usually covered in tacky looking wood effect vinyl). Whilst this is an effective storage method I’ve always found them a bit of a pain to use and also my tapes are hidden away out of sight. I’ve also got loads of tapes stacked on top of each other on a shelf and this is far from ideal too. Forty year old tapes are not something I want to risk playing Jenga with!

All this leads me to the reason for posting this article. After searching around for a while for a better solution I finally found one I’m happy with so I thought I’d share it.

 

This is a link to the racks featured in this post.


 

The Solution

The audio tape cassette storage solution I found is a purpose made wooden rack that can hold 60 cassettes in their boxes. It’s manufactured by a company in Germany called ‘Protected’ and are available for sale on . Delivery took less than a week by DHL.

 

The packaging the racks arrived in.

 

The racks came individually packaged. Opening the cardboard box (carefully to avoid cutting into it) revealed the nicely bubble-wrapped rack inside.

 

audio tape cassette storage

My cat loves it when I open new parcels!

 

All three of mine arrived in great shape. I must admit I was a little wary about ordering at first as I wasn’t sure if these were getting knocked together in someone’s garden shed. There is only one (poor) photo on the Amazon website and precious little info provided. However I was very pleased to discover a high standard of both manufacture and finish.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Nicely finished woodwork

 

A Closer Look

The racks are constructed from solid strips of pine wood and the back panel is made of plywood. All the strips of wood forming the slots are perfectly aligned and fit perfectly flush. There are no sharp edges or splinters to worry about as everything has been sanded smooth and edges rounded off. The back is a little rough but once in use you’re never going to see or touch it again.

There are 4 pre-drilled holes in each corner so you can wall mount the racks. Somewhat disappointingly plugs and screws are not provided. However this is not that big a deal and most people my age have probably got loads in a jam jar somewhere in their shed or garage. I would also recommend the use of a washer as the holes are quite big. Using a washer will also prevent you from driving a screw right through the thin plywood back panel.

 

width…

 

Size wise the racks are approximately 20″ (51cm) long and 13.5″ (34cm) tall.

 

height…

 

I opted for the natural pine finish but they also offer a white one too. I’ve not seen that in the flesh so can’t comment on the finish of it. I guess you could also either varnish or paint them to suite your colour scheme too. I’m quite happy to keep the bare wood finish for my setup though.

 

Closer look at the slot construction

 

The slots are perfectly sized and I’ve not found any cassettes that wouldn’t fit into the them.

 

audio tape cassette storage

A selection of VIC20 games slotted in nicely

 

The rack is slightly shallower than a cassette is deep (2″ or 50mm) which means tapes stick out about 1/2″ (12mm). This allows you to easily get your fingers around them when you need to get them out.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Top of rack makes for a useful display area.

 

You can even use the top of the rack as a small shelf for extra storage or display purposes. I’m still experimenting with what looks best but will probably settle for displaying double-cassette boxes or the odd big box game.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Racks filling up nicely…

Finishing Words

I have to say I really love these racks and I’m glad I’ve finally found a storage solution that fulfils my desire to display my stuff too. I filled my three racks straight away so have just ordered another three. With six racks I’ll have the capacity to store 360 tapes in total. That’ll allow me to store all the tapes I currently own and hopefully leave me with enough empty slots to accommodate future purchases, fingers crossed.

The racks are available from Amazon here:

 

Update: 1st April 2020

Fitted the extra three racks so as promised here’s a photo of the finished project. I still have a few empty slots left thankfully but how long for is anyone’s guess!

 

audio tape cassette storage

Finished project with enough space for 360 cassette tapes.

 

Hope you found this article useful!