Lyonsden Blog

Category - Commodore 64

Freeze 64 Issue #66 Fanzine

Issue 66 of Freeze 64 arrived in the post earlier today and features artwork (created by AI Vinny says) for the game ‘Strangeloop’ on the front cover. Why? Because this game is the main feature of this edition. Sadly no cheat card this month though.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #66

AI Generated ‘Strangeloop’ cover

 

Here’s a shot of the contents page so you can get an idea of what’s in this issue.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #66

Freeze64 Issue 66 Contents Page.

 

I’ve been getting Freeze 64 for many years now and have just extended my subscription for another year as Vinny continues to make a fantastic magazine that deserves our support. If you would like to find out how you can get hold of your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and take a look.

Finally, here’s a link to some of my previews of earlier editions of Freeze64.

Zzap! 64 Issue 18 out now

Here’s a quick look at my copy of Zzap! 64, Issue 18, that arrived in today’s post.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 18

Zzap! 64 Issue 18 Cover Image

 

As always the magazine is packed with content spanning 60 pages, including news, game reviews and insightful articles about the past, present and future Commodore 64 scene.

 

A Peek Inside

Here’s a quick look at the contents page giving an overview of what’s inside this issue.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 18

Contents Page

 

The now familiar digital covermount page gives a preview of what’s on this editions ‘disk’. If only someone would start producing 5.25″ floppies again…

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 18

Digital ‘covermount’ content page.

 

There’s half a dozen goodies waiting to be selected on this months covermount, plus an additional full game hidden away in the Zip file – ‘Elasto Mania 64’ which is a very cool (and tricky) physics based  scrambler bike game. Imagine something along the lines of an 8-bit ‘Trials’ game. Impressive stuff for the C64.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 18

Issue 18’s Covermount Menu screen

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 18

This is another great edition of Zzap! 64 and well worth a buy. The magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books priced at £4.99. Make sure you use the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to grab yourself a sweet 15% off the price! This code works for everything you place in your basket too!

Below you can peruse a small gallery of images from the magazine.

 

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You can find other Zzap! 64 related posts here .

WiC64 Review

WIC64

The WiC64 might possibly be one of the most interesting devices for the Commodore 64 I’ve seen in years. It’s not just the hardware (which is great) as there have been a few Wi-Fi interfaces released already for the C64 over the years, but more how the software that’s been created for it leverages the new hardware to achieve something truly special. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this could be the future for modern day 64 enthusiasts – I’ll explain why during the rest of this post.

 

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This glorious gizmo was sent to me by Tim Harris over at Shareware Plus. Inside the rather unassuming box there’s the main host board, an ESP32 module, a teeny tiny OLED display and a card with a link to a website to go to for more info.

 

WiC64

Contents of the WiC64 package.

 

So, what is it and what does it do?

Basically the WiC64 is a plug-in Wi-FI accessory that connects to the user-port of the Commodore 64 providing internet access. (It also works with the SX64, C128 and VIC20 computers though I’ve not tested it with these). However unlike existing Wi-Fi adapters that utilise serial mode data transfers and are thus restricted to stuff like accessing BBS due to their slow communication speeds, this bad boy operates in parallel mode, utilising 8 data lines, 2 handshake lines and one control line. This is all handled by the ESP32 module.

Basically it’s super fast and capable of loading a typical C64 program in the blink of an eye across the Internet. Yep you read that right, with this device you will be able to download (and upload) programs and files directly over the Internet on your C64!

 

Putting it together

No manual is provided but then again it is 2024 so having online documentation is to be expected. Following the link on the product card takes you to the WiC64.net website where you can download assembly instructions, a launcher program in PRG format and some STL’s to print a nice case for it.

 

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Assembly was an absolute doddle and just requires you to fit the ESP32 module and screen to the host board. They both simply push into the sockets provided – all you need to be careful with is the orientation of the ESP32 module but there’s photos in the PDF manual showing which way around it needs to go.

 

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After putting the WiC64 together I decided to 3D print the case for it so loaded the STL’s into my slicer software to prepare them for printing. The model has been well designed so no support material is needed when you place each part flat on its largest side.

 

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Just over an hour later (I have a Bambu Labs P1S printer so it’s fast) the print was complete and looked fantastic.

 

Freshly printed case halves

 

The two buttons on the host board pop through matching holes on the side of the case whilst there are a couple of little push buttons incorporated into the top of the case so you can still depress the ones on the EPS32 module.

 

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Oops

Unfortunately I ran into my first problem here when I tried to plug the newly encased WiC64 into the user port of my C64C – it simply wouldn’t fit! This was through no fault in the design of the board or even the case but just bad luck on my part because of where I had chosen to locate the switches for my SIDFX install.

 

Houston, we have a problem!

 

The case was clearly never going to fit so I had to abandon that idea and go naked. Even without the case it was an incredibly close fit with just a couple of millimetres clearance between the board and the switches. To be honest though, apart from the obvious lack of protection, I think I prefer it without the case as it does look incredibly cool with all the LED’s glowing and the little OLED screen displaying messages and such. I’ll just need to be careful to never drop a paperclip down the back of my C64!

 

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Teething Problems

With the WiC64 now plugged in it was time to test it out! I downloaded the Launcher from the WiC64.net site (currently at version 2.5) and copied it over to my 1541 Ultimate II+ cart (via ethernet)  so that I could run it.

 

Ground control to Major Tom…

 

It popped up a message saying it was searching for Wi-Fi and a few of the lights started to flicker on the board…

 

Lights are on but nobody’s home…

 

However it never got any further than this. After about a minute of trying the launcher would simply crash leaving me with a blank screen.

 

This doesn’t look good!

 

Needless to say I tried this a few times but got the same result each time. I even tried activating the hotspot on my iPhone (with maximised compatibility) in case it didn’t like my Wi-Fi 6 router but it still failed.

 

Updating the Firmware

With nothing seeming to work I decided to have a go at updating the firmware as I remember seeing this mentioned on the card. The whole process is web based and conducted within the browser itself. I had to unplug the WiC64 board from my C64 and then hook it up to my Windows 11 PC using a MicroUSB cable.

 

WiC64 Flashing

WiC64 ready to be flashed

 

Needless to say I had to install a driver for it first as the UART device was showing as unrecognised in Device Manager…

 

How it appears in device manager

 

There’s step by step instructions on the ‘Online Flasher’ page and it directs you to a Silicon Labs website to download the drivers. I have Windows 11 so chose the CP210x Universal Windows Driver which worked out well. Installing the driver was just a matter of right-clicking the device and selecting ‘update driver’ and then pointing it to the folder where I’d extracted the driver previously.

Driver successfully installed

 

Flashing the device is actually done within the browser but it must be Chrome, Edge or Opera. I use Brave but thought I’d still be OK because it’s Chromium based but the Connect button never appeared for me until I changed over to Edge. Then I was able to select ‘CP2102 USB to UART Bridge Controller (COM7)’ as the serial port to begin the process. Sadly within a few seconds of starting the update it failed with an error. Although I never did find out what caused the error the solution was to hold down the ‘BOOT’ button on the ESP32 module whilst performing the update and it then worked without a hitch.

With the firmware now updated it was time to put it back in my C64 and see if I could get it to connect to my Wi-Fi.

I hooked it back up to my user-port, turned on my 64 and loaded up version 2.5 of the launcher once more.

 

Now we’re getting somewhere!

 

Much to my delight this time around it displayed (just) my 2.4Ghz SSID (I have a Tri-band router) and I was able to enter the password to connect to it just like you would expect to do with any modern day device.

 

WiC64

BOOM! We’re in business!

 

After a few moments it connected and my C64’s IP address was displayed on the OLED screen, along with the SSID, signal strength and current firmware version.

 

WiC64 Welcome Screen

WiC64 Welcome Screen

 

The launcher menu screen also loaded up with new options to Login and Register. I didn’t have an account so I selected Register to create one which only took a few moments and then I was finally into the system proper.

 

WiC64 Menu Screen

WiC64 Menu Screen

 

Let the Games Begin!

There’s a lot of sub menus and interesting things tucked away into the WiC64 Launcher menus but I’m just going to pick out some of the things I found interesting – in no particular order!

 

Offline Games List

 

I’ll start with the games as there’s quite a lot of them. They’re split between Offline games (found in the File Area>Games section) Online games and online multiplayer games. The mind blowing thing about these games is that they load onto your C64 over the internet, but not only that they load in just a matter of seconds. I decided to give Shadow Switcher a quick blast as it’s a game I know and love. I selected it from the menu and BAM, a second later it had loaded and I was able to play it. Absolutely incredible.

 

Shadow Switcher

 

The Online and Multiplayer games have their own section which splits off into another 4 sections containing approximately 20 games. The ‘Online’ games are existing games that have been modified to incorporate persistent High Score tables where you can compete for bragging rights against other WiC64 players. There’s a global ‘all time greatest’ score table and also a ‘Todays Greatest’ which is a cool feature that gives everyone a shot at fame no matter their skill level as it gets wiped every 24 hours.

 

All-Time Greatest and Todays Greatest High Scores

 

I decided to have a blast at Great Giana Sisters next, which being a bigger game, took a bit longer to load, coming in at a whisker over 20 seconds.  Still mightily impressive and if you don’t own or have a copy of the game to hand the sheer convenience of this system is game-changing. Imagine having an entire catalogue of hundreds of games and being able to tap into them whenever you want and play them on your real C64 with persistent high scores stored in the cloud adding a new competitive edge to the gameplay.

 

Great Giana Sisters – WiC64 High Score Edition

 

There’s currently only 2 multiplayer games; Artillery Duel Deluxe and Multorio. Multorio appears to require the username of the person you want to play against upfront before it will do anything so as I don’t know anyone else using it I’ve not been able to try this.

 

Artillery Duel Deluxe

 

However Artillery Duel Deluxe is a lot more user friendly and will let you play against random people online, play local multiplayer or even just play solo. It even has a spectator mode called ‘Onlooker mode’ where you can watch other players duke it out! I’m not sure if this is live or more of a replay of past battles but it’s still entertaining!

 

Artillery Duel Deluxe

 

Obviously this isn’t Steam or Xbox Live so finding other users online can be tricky which is why the solo mode is much appreciated. I assume this is probably why the developers seem to be focusing on asynchronous gameplay, affording everyone the opportunity to compete against others, any time they want.

 

Internet Radio

WiC64 Radio is another program I found myself coming back to time and time again. It’s tucked away in the ‘Apps’ section of the ‘File Area’. Personally I would have thought the Internet section was more appropriate but it didn’t take long for me to remember where it was located.

 

WiC64 Radio

WiC64 Radio

 

I absolutely adore SID chip music and this program supplies a never-ending stream of it over the internet directly into your SID chip. The program will just keep playing an endless stream of fantastic SID tracks until you close it. If you come across one you’re not so keen on you can just tap space to skip it and move onto another,

 

WiC64 Radio

 

Not only that but you can create a custom playlist of your favourite tracks too. The screen displays lots of info about the track currently playing including the author, title, it’s release date and run time. I tend to load this up and just leave it running in the background – you can’t beat some classic SID tunes being played through real hardware.

 

Demo’s

One of the things I used to love doing in my youth was watching and listening to scene demos on both my C64 and later on my Amiga. Well the WiC64 has got me covered here too with a nifty Demo section containing 8 demo’s filled with pulsating graphics and sound for that shot of nostalgic dopamine.

 

“Quadrants” Demo

 

Most of these demo’s loaded pretty much instantaneously for instant retro gratification. The Elite Code Mechanics demo soon proved to be a particular favourite due to the amazing music which I could (and did) happily listen to for hours.

 

Elite Code Mechanics Demo

 

The still pictures obviously don’t do the demos justice but I just couldn’t get my iPhone to capture video off my 1084 monitor without it turning into a horrid flickering mess.

 

Crystal Gazer Demo

 

Ideally I’d like to see many, many more demos appear here so hopefully the developers add to this section over time, after all, most of them are probably in the public domain (unlike the games) so there shouldn’t be too many obstacles to making it happen?

 

Chat/Messaging

WiC64 seems to be a predominantly German project right now so the Chat and Message board areas are dominated by German users which is a shame but I’m sure in time as more of us come on board this will change

 

Sadly most, if not all, the messages seem to be in German

 

However I was intrigued by the ChatGPT option at the bottom of the menu. Surely this couldn’t be THE ChatGPT that is all the rage right now?

 

Surely not, ChatGPT on the C64?

 

Chat GPT

Well yes, actually it is. Incredibly the AI revolution has made it to our trusty C64’s in 2024. You can ask it any question and get a near instant reply. It works just like it does on a modern computer, simply ask it a question and it will respond with an answer almost immediately.

 

ChatGPT in action on the C64

 

Obviously unlike, for example, Copilot in Windows 11, it is unable to create images but I wouldn’t really have expected that anyway. It also does seem to lack the continuity you get when interacting with ChatGPT on modern systems. For example if you try to tell it a Knock Knock joke it will respond with ‘who’s there’ but then thinks your answer is a new question. Likewise you can start a game of hangman but your guesses don’t seem to be recognised. It’s probably churlish of me to nit pick things like this when the fact it works at all is an astonishing achievement, but it would be the icing on the cake if they could fix this. However ask it any other straight question and you will get just as comprehensive a response as you would on a new computer which is just incredible.

 

Google Maps!

Yes you read that heading right, WiC64 also gives you a portal to Google Maps on your C64 and what’s more its actually useable too! This is arguably even more impressive than ChatGPT given the graphical overhead involved in drawing them.

 

Google Maps

 

You can search for a place or post code from the menu screen or just dive straight in. It seems to have a rough idea where you are already, presumably based on your external IP address, unless it was just pure coincidence that it started me off in Merseyside! Once the map is visible on the screen you are able to zoom in and out using the function keys and pan around using WASD. There’s a choice of satellite view or road map view. Each page refresh takes about 5 seconds or thereabouts to display – eminently useable and I was able to find and navigate around places I know very easily.

 

Google Streetview!

 

But there’s more! Pressing ‘V’ toggles Street View so you can look around in glorious 8-bit 3D at your street and even find your house, all on your Commodore 64. I would not have believed this possible if I’d not experienced it myself. It’s an absolutely astonishing accomplishment.

 

Clocks

There’s plenty more programs and features to be discovered that I haven’t mentioned yet too. For instance there’s an entire sub-menu devoted to a collection of Real Time Clocks (synced to the Internet of course), ranging from a simple digital clock to some downright convoluted affairs that require some serious thought to decipher!

 

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C/Place Pixel Project

There’s also something called  “C/Place Pixel Project” which is an interesting little concept. It’s basically a community art project – you take it in turns with other users to place a single pixel on a 40×50 screen in order to ‘paint’ a picture. If nobody else is around you can make a picture on your own instead! It also has an option to let you watch a timelapse of pictures being created which can be quite mesmerising to watch and a really neat extra feature.

 

c/place Pixel Project

 

 

WiC64 Media Center

This is yet another really cool feature that lets you upload your physical disks into the cloud, either for public use or your own private use.

 

Uploading one of my disks to the WMC

 

You simply pop a disk in your drive, enter a few details to help catalogue it so you and/or others can find it in future and then hit upload. Naturally you can also download the disks too.

 

Downloading a disk from the WMC.

 

In just a couple of minutes I was able to download a game from the WMC cloud onto a floppy disk with just a few keypresses and then load it up and play it.

 

Playing the game I’d just downloaded.

 

There’s a whole repository of disks already waiting to be accessed in the cloud too. This is the sort of thing I could only dream about back when I was a teenager but it’s now a reality thanks to the WiC64.

 

Honourable Mentions

There’s even more stuff to play around with that I’ve not covered yet including:

  • MOSCloud Compiler (a facility to upload your BASIC programs and have them compiled in the cloud).
  • Remote Image Viewer (enter an image URL and it will render it on your C64). I didn’t have much success with this as most online images have horrendously long and complex URL’s and it’s very easy to make a mistake entering them without the option of copy’n’paste. However even when I was absolutely sure I had the URL correct I’d get a ‘failed to process image’ error. Hopefully it’s just a glitch and will be ironed out in due course.
  • CSDB Browser to keep up to date with the latest C64 releases
  • RSS Feed viewers for Forum64 and Tagesschau – sadly both in German only.
  • Telnet program – with a few provided servers to try (similar sort of experience to BBS’s) or you can try entering your own.
  • A DiskMags section – I found the intro screens and accompanying chip music a lot more entertaining than reading some of them but as always with these things YMMV.

 

Excess RapidNews DiskMag

 

Conclusion

I did have a few crashes and lock-ups but nothing major and considering what it’s trying (and succeeding) to do I can totally forgive a little instability. Besides, on the odd occasions it happened I just reloaded the launcher via my 1541 Ultimate-II+ cart and was immediately returned to the exact same position in the menu that I’d launched the program from. It was a minor inconvenience at most. There were also few little issues I had during setup but nothing major and they were all easily solved by a spot of RTFM. There were a couple of sections that seemed to be dominated by German speaking users but hopefully that will change as the device becomes more popular, but even if it doesn’t it only affects a tiny fraction of what’s on offer anyway.

Without a doubt this is an absolutely incredible hardware and software package that really brings the venerable C64 into the 21st Century. It offers so many new ways of accomplishing things, new ideas to try out not to mention the potential new features it may bring in the future. This is one of those devices that every C64 user owes it to themselves to get hold of. Whether you are a gamer or a tinkerer there’s something to interest everyone here and at just £35 it’s a bit of a no-brainer too. SharewarePlus has them in stock now so what are you waiting for? Go get one!

Freeze 64 Issue #65 Fanzine

Freeze 64 Issue #65

Issue 65 of Freeze 64 arrived in the post earlier today and features the new ‘Rocky & Co’ game on the front cover. It also includes the latest cheat card; number 41.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #65

This edition comes with cheat cared #41 to add to your collection.

 

Naturally I immediately added this new card to my Pokémon Trading Card Freeze64 Cheat card album. I know they don’t fit perfectly but it does the job and keeps them in pristine condition 🙂

 

The new collectors card in my album.

 

Here’s a shot of the contents page so you can get an idea of what’s in this issue.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #65

Freeze64 Issue 65 Contents Page.

 

I’ve been getting Freeze 64 for many years now and Vinny continues to make a fantastic magazine that deserves our support. If you would like find out how you can get hold of your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and take a look.

Finally, here’s a link to some of my previews of earlier editions of Freeze64.

Freeze 64 Issue #64 Fanzine

Issue 64 of Freeze 64 arrived in the post yesterday after taking a little well deserved break. It features one of my favourite games from back in the Day – Falcon Patrol and includes a new cheat card; number 40.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #64

This edition comes with cheat cared #40 to add to your collection.

 

Speaking of cheat cards, I recently picked up an album to keep my cards safe. It’s probably meant for Pokémon cards so they don’t fit perfectly but it does the job and they stay put 🙂

 

Freeze 64 Issue #64

The new collectors card in my album.

 

Here’s a shot of the contents page so you can get an idea of what’s in this issue.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #64

Freeze64 Issue 64 Contents Page.

 

I’ve been getting Freeze 64 for many years now and Vinny continues to make a fantastic magazine that deserves our support. If you would like find out how you can get hold of your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and take a look.

Finally, here’s a link to some of my previews of earlier editions of Freeze64.

Zzap! 64 Issue 17 out now

Zzap! 64 Issue 17

Here’s a quick look at my copy of Zzap! 64, Issue 17, that arrived a few days ago.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 17

Zzap! 64 Issue 17 Cover Image

 

The magazine is packed with content spanning 60 pages, including news, game reviews and insightful articles about the past, present and future Commodore 64 scene.

 

A Peek Inside

Here’s a quick look at the contents page giving an overview of what’s inside this issue. Spoiler alert – there’s a lot of games getting Sizzler awards in this issue!

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 17

Contents Page

 

Sadly the coverdisk for Zzap! 64 is digital only these days as the supply of ‘new old stock’ 5.25″ disks has run dry (nobody manufactures new ones any more). There’s still a page dedicated to letting you know what you can enjoy when you ‘insert’ the .D64 file into your 1541 Ultimate II+ though (or whatever your 1541 emulator of choice happens to be).

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 17

Digital ‘covermount’ content page.

.

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 17

This is another great edition of Zzap! 64 and well worth a buy. The magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books priced at £4.99. 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!

I’ll leave you with a small gallery of images from the magazine.

 

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You can find other Zzap! 64 related posts here .

Andy’s Utility Cart Review

In this post I’ll be taking a look at ‘Andy’s Utility Cart’, a collection of 12 utilities (and one music demo) from SharewarePlus, all combined onto a single C64 cartridge..

 

Andy's Utility Cart

The Cartridge and Instruction Manual

The cartridge comes packaged in an attractive cardboard box along with an ‘instruction’ booklet. However this is just a small folded sheet containing a list of what programs are on the cart. No instructions for any of the included programs are actually provided.

 

Inside the Cartridge

Removing the solitary Philips screw and opening the cartridge shell reveals a smart looking white circuit board hosting a 1Mb Atmel AT27C010-70PU EPROM along with a couple of ancillary chips. The Atmel chip is a ‘one time programmable’ affair that contains all the C64 programs.

 

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What’s on the Cartridge?

So now that we’ve seen the hardware inside the shell it’s time to see what programs are on it. See below for a full list of what’s included.

 

  1. 64 DOCTOR
  2. 64 TESTER
  3. FAST LOADER
  4. TURBO NIB COPY
  5. DISK TOOL b.S
  6. CASS.AZIMUTH
  7. HEAD ALIGN
  8. 1541 ALIGNMENT
  9. 15 SEC FORMAT
  10. THRUST CONCERT
  11. 1541 ALPS CHECK
  12. TURBO 250 [Bonus Program]
  13. DIAGNOSTIC [Bonus Program]

 

All of the utilities on the cart are selectable from a handy menu screen as can be seen in the photo below. There’s no way to exit most of the programs or get back to this menu screen so you will need to power cycle your C64 to achieve this.

 

Andy's Utility Cart

Andy’s Utility Cart Menu Screen

 

Strangely for a compilation that is described as ‘twelve utilities for the Commodore 64’ there’s actually 13 in total. Not sure why there’s a discrepancy. Maybe they considered 13 to be unlucky?   Perhaps it’s because one of the programs, Thrust Concert, isn’t actually a utility at all but more of a scene demo? Alternatively it’s conceivable that they felt some of the programs were a bit samey? Who knows… but I’m certainly not going to complain about having an extra program included!

 

Andy's Utility Cart

Back of the box (and a list of what’s on the cart)

 

Here’s quick look at each of the 12 13 Utilities

 

64 DOCTOR (Diagnostic sequence by Computer Software Associates)

 

This is a comprehensive diagnostic program that can help with troubleshooting issues with your C64. It can test the keyboard, video, audio, joysticks, disk drive, datasette, RAM and even an attached printer.  You are able to launch a complete systematic scan or you can select a specific test and just run that.

 

Menu Screen for 64 Doctor

 

In the photo below I ran the keyboard test which marks each character on the screen as you press the corresponding physical key on the keyboard. Great for seeing at a glance which keys might be faulty on an old keyboard.

 

Running through the keyboard test

 

64 TESTER (Comprehensive screen, keyboard & joystick port tester by Tim Cannell)

 

This is another diagnostic program that focuses on testing the screen, keyboard and joystick ports. The tests are displayed on-screen immediately on launch and includes character maps, colour palette (including overscan borders), along with sprites, and the current status of both joystick port axes.

 

C64 Tester Screen

 

Additionally a counter ticks upwards at the bottom, presumably so you know the program is still running/not crashed and a rather annoying ‘Close Encounters’ style 5 note beep jingle is stuck on repeat too which had me reaching for the volume knob after about 30 seconds!

 

FAST LOADER (Commodore 64 fast disk loader with shortcuts by MR. BYTE)

 

This one is a floppy disk fast loader utility, presumably similar to Epyx Fastload and the like. Unfortunately in my testing I didn’t have much luck with it and nothing would load with it enabled.  At first I had both my 1541 drives on and I was getting an error in German saying ‘Bitte nur floppy anschalten’ which translated to ‘floppy only please’. Not very helpful but I took it to mean ‘one floppy drive only’. Thinking it didn’t like having both drives on I turned one off and tried again. This time I didn’t get that error but instead the screen would just go blank when attempting to load stuff, unsuccessfully. I tried a variety of disks and programs but nothing made any difference. Some instructions for this one might have been helpful – maybe I was missing a vital step. I also made sure my JiffyDOS ROM was disabled, but that too made no difference. Maybe it just doesn’t like my C64? The brief description did mention ‘with shortcuts’ but I have no idea what they are and whether they were optional or a necessity to get it working. In the end I had to throw in the towel and admit defeat with this one.

 

I may never know how speedy Mr Bytes fastloader is…

 

 

TURBO NIB COPY – (Copy Q turbo nibbler disk copier with error scanner by Cracker & CSS)

 

This is a very handy and easy to use ‘nibbler’ disk copy utility that can copy the contents of one disk to another using either one or two 1541 drives.

 

Turbo NIB Copy Initial Screen

 

An option screen allows you to select drive unit numbers for both the source and destination drives letting you configure disk to disk copies if you have more than one drive.

 

Options Menu

 

Obviously copying disks is quicker and more convenient using two 1541 drives but it’s still perfectly possible if you only have a single drive at your disposal.

 

Reading phase

 

In the case of single drive copying, disks are copied in sections with you swapping the source and destination disks in and out of the drive. It takes four passes (8 disk insertions in total) to completely copy a single disk although the fourth and final pass is much faster than the previous three.

 

Writing phase

 

A visual representation of the tracks and sectors being copied is displayed on screen in real-time providing reassurance that progress is being made.

 

DISK TOOL b.S (Disk Tool V6.5 with comprehensive floppy & disk monitors by Klaus Raczel)

 

This program includes a whole raft of disk related tools ranging from the mundane like formatting and verifying to advanced sector editing.

 

Disk Tool Title Screen

 

Unfortunately the menu’s are all in German which I cannot understand (it’s been nearly 40 years since I studied it at school and I was never particularly good at it anyway). Some of the German words were close enough to their English counterparts that I could understand them, but others, not so much.

 

Some of the German is easy to understand… some is not

 

Basically I struggled to use this utility. I did try the translation feature of my iPhone which did a pretty good job of translating the photos I took of the menus to be fair but it made using what is already quite a complex program a chore. One rainy day maybe I’ll go through all the menus and translate them into English…

 

CASS.AZIMUTH (Cassette Azimuth for aligning & adjusting your datasette by H Diebek)

 

This is a really useful tool when you are having issues loading software off tapes from your datasette unit. Apart from having a dirty read/write head, azimuth (head alignment) is probably the main reason for having games and programs fail to load. On Commodore’s datasette units you can adjust azimuth using a small Philips screwdriver but you need real-time feedback to let you know whether your are making things better or worse. This program provides that feedback.

 

Menu/Instruction Screen

 

I do already have software to do this that I purchased back in the 80’s from Interceptor Micro’s. It came with a little Philips screwdriver and a pointer to attach to it so you could see how much you had rotated it. However it’s one glaring flaw was that the software came on cassette. Not ideal if your read/write head is totally out of whack!

 

Alignment screen – clearly my drive needs some adjustment…

 

The program displays the data being read off a C64 tape in real time as little black dots falling down the screen. This allows you to fine-tune the azimuth on the fly by adjusting the screw until the dots appear as orderly and distinct thin vertical lines (rather than be splattered across the screen). In the photo above there is certainly room for improvement on my deck.

However it’s important to remember that azimuth can vary on a tape by tape basis as much depends on the azimuth of the machine that recorded the program onto the tape in the first place!

 

HEAD ALIGN (Minimal head alignment v1.1 for your datasette by Enthusi)

This is basically another Datasette azimuth alignment program only this time a more streamlined, bare bones version that doesn’t require you to press any keys to start the process. It also didn’t like having my JiffyDOS ROM enabled and refused to supply power to my cassette port until I disabled it. Not a big deal, just something to be aware of.

 

Head alignment screen

 

1541 ALIGNMENT (Commodore 1541 disk drive track & sector alignment by Antiram)

 

This is a comprehensive track/sector alignment tool for tuning 1541 drives. Happily my drives are in perfect shape so I didn’t mess around with this program at all but it’s a very useful tool to have in ones toolbox for when the need arises for sure!

 

1541 Alignment Menu Screen

 

15 SEC FORMAT (Fast 15 second formatter by Mike J. Henry & Alf Maier)

This literally does what it says on the tin – load it and it prompts you for a disk name and ID number. Enter these and press RETURN and away it goes!

 

The name’s Bond…

 

In fact calling it ’15 Sec Format’ actually does it an injustice as I found it was consistently formatting disks in 12 seconds. Using JiffyDOS made no difference to the speed in this case. The program ends once the format is complete but you can simply RUN it again to format another. If you have a whole bunch of disks to format then this would be a great solution.

 

THRUST CONCERT (Music concert featuring Rob Hubbard & Jeremy Smith by Stoat & Tim)

 

This isn’t a utility but still a welcome addition to the cart. I suppose it could be considered a ‘sound test’ but that’s a bit of a stretch.

 

Stoat and Tim Present…

 

This is basically a music demo and I do actually remember listening to this quite a lot back in the day. The demo features the music Rob Hubbard created for the budget Firebird game callerd ‘Thrust’ and is ‘played’ by a band of animated computer characters.

 

Rob Hubbard on keyboard (bottom right)

 

If, like me, you love Rob Hubbard’s music then this demo is an essential listen.

 

1541 ALPS CHECK (Alps 1541 drive alignment with LED & stepper motor tests by Commodore)

 

This is another terrific 1541 diagnosing program that allows you to test/adjust everything including the LED’s, head alignment, stepper motor speed and even the write protect tab. A very useful program to have, especially on cartridge in case your drive is in no state to load up your utility floppy.

 

1541 ALPS Check Menu

 

 

Bonus Programs

 

F1. TURBO 250 (Turbo cassette load & save by Mr Z)

This is a pretty simple but effective program that allows you to save (and then subsequently load) programs onto cassette tape in turbo format. It cannot load non-turbo programs from cassette at faster speeds as the speed itself isn’t altered. What this program actually does is increase the density of data saved onto a tape. With more tightly packed data, any given length of tape will contain a larger section of the saved program and thus when read at the same speed, loads more of that program into your C64’s RAM. Ultimately the result is that the program loads in a fraction of the time.

 

Turbo 250 Menu Screen

 

Of course densely packed data is more susceptible to read errors but with this cart you have the tools required to sort that problem out too!

 

F3. DIAGNOSTICS (Diagnostic Program 324528, by Commodore)

This is another C64 diagnostic program that tests things like RAM, Timers, Memory and Colour output.

 

Diagnostics Test

 

It runs all the tests automatically on launch and loops through them continually. A counter is updated at the end of each test cycle allowing you to keep track of how many times it has run, useful for bench testing a machine after a repair for example.

 

Colour Test

 

Final Thoughts

Andy’s Utility Cart is a really useful collection of utilities to have in your arsenal. Sure, there are a few duplicated programs but this allows you to pick the one that suits your needs best.

It’s a shame I couldn’t get the Fast Loader to work and that the Disk Tool utility is presented in German but there are loads of other programs available so it’s far from a dealbreaker. There are no instructions provided (nor links to online documentation) so you either need to know what you are doing or be prepared to do a bit of research and hunt around online for information in order to get the most out of some of the packages.

Priced at just £18 it’s easy to forgive these minor shortcomings anyway. I certainly had a lot of fun playing around with all the programs on the cart and have no doubt I will be using several of the utilities to maintain my disk drives and datasette.

The cart is available from Tim Harris over at Shareware Plus priced at £18 at time of posting.

Zzap! 64 Issue 16 out now

Zzap! 64 Issue 16

Here’s a quick look at my copy of Zzap! 64, Issue 16, that arrived in the post today.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 16

Zzap! 64 Issue 16 Cover Image

 

The magazine is packed with content spanning 60 pages, including news, game reviews and insightful articles about the past, present and future Commodore 64 scene.

 

A Peek Inside

Here’s a quick look at the contents page giving an overview of what’s inside this issue.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 16 Contents Page

Contents Page

 

Sadly the coverdisk for Zzap! 64 is digital only these days as the supply of ‘new old stock’ 5.25″ disks has run dry (nobody manufactures new ones any more). There’s still a page dedicated to letting you know what you can enjoy when you ‘insert’ the .D64 file into your 1541 Ultimate II+ though (or whatever your 1541 emulator of choice happens to be).

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 16 Coverdisc Page

Digital ‘covermount’ content page.

.

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 16

This is another great edition of Zzap! 64 and well worth a buy. The magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books priced at £4.99. 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!

I’ll leave you with a small gallery of images from the magazine.

 

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You can find other Zzap! 64 related posts here .

Freeze 64 Issue #63 Fanzine

Issue 63 of Freeze 64 has just arrived.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #62

This edition comes with cheat cared #39 to add to your collection.

 

Here’s a shot of the contents page so you can get an idea of what’s in this issue.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #62

Freeze64 Issue 63 Contents Page.

 

I’ve been getting Freeze 64 for many years now and Vinny continues to make a fantastic magazine that deserves our support. If you would like find out how you can get hold of your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and take a look.

Finally, here’s a link to some of my previews of earlier editions of Freeze64.

Zzap! 64 Issue 15 out now

Zzap! 64 Issue 15

Wouldn’t you just know it, like buses, you wait months for the next editions of your favourite retro gaming magazines to arrive and then they all come at once! Yep today my postie delivered Zzap! 64 to join yesterdays Zzap! Amiga and Freeze 64 from the day before! This is issue 15 of Zzap! 64 and features possibly one of the most iconic and memorable bits of cover artwork the original run of the magazine ever used.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 15

Yummy.

 

The magazine is packed with content spanning its 60 pages, with news and game reviews, including more than one title that gets the coveted ‘sizzler’ award!

 

A Peek Inside

Here’s a quick look at the contents page giving an overview of what’s inside this issue.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 15

Zzap! 64 issue 15 Contents page.

 

Sadly the coverdisk for Zzap! 64 is digital only these days as the supply of ‘new old stock’ 5.25″ disks has run dry (nobody manufactures new ones any more) . There’s still a page dedicated to letting you know what you can enjoy when you ‘insert’ the .D64 file into your 1541 Ultimate II+ though (or whatever your 1541 emulator of choice happens to be).

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 15

Digital ‘covermount’ content page.

.

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 15

This is another great edition of Zzap! 64 and well worth a buy. The magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books priced at £4.99. 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!

I’ll leave you with a small gallery of images from the magazine.

 

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Freeze 64 Issue #62 Fanzine is out now

It’s been a long time since I made a post about a new edition of Freeze 64 arriving. It’s certainly not because I’ve stopped reading it, but a few years ago I made the decision to make these sort of quick news type posts on Twitter instead of on here. However since cutting all ties with that platform I still want to continue to give it a bit of publicity by mentioning it on my blog.

Issue 62 literally landed on my doormat this morning so other than a cursory flick through it I’ve not had time to actually read anything yet. I can however report that it did come with another cheat card for the collection! 🙂

 

Freeze 64 Issue #62

This edition comes with cheat cared #38 to add to your collection.

 

Here’s a shot of the contents page so you can get an idea of what’s in this issue.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #62

Freeze64 Issue 62 Contents Page.

 

I’ve been getting Freeze 64 for many years now and Vinny continues to make a fantastic magazine that deserves our support. If you would like find out how you can get hold of your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and take a look.

Finally, here’s a link to some of my previews of earlier editions of Freeze64.

Hollywood Hijinx by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to acquire a whole bunch of Infocom adventure games from a generous donor over in the USA. Even though the cost for me to get them all shipped over to the UK was significant it was all worth it when the package finally arrived and I got to open it up. So here’s a look at one of the games I received in that delivery… Hollywood Hijinx from 1987.

Considering this game is 36 years it’s in superb condition with just a little creasing to the spine towards one edge in the middle. The previous owner clearly looked after it really well.

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx – Back Cover.

 

This particular adventure takes place in the mansion and surrounding grounds of your rich Aunt and Uncle who have recently passed away. Your Uncle was a famous actor and amassed a lot of wealth over the years and you stand to inherit the lot – but only if you can find the ten treasures your Aunt cunningly hid away (before she died obviously) around the estate. Oh and you have to collect every single one of them in just one night!

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

The Hollywood Hijinx opening screen on my Commodore 64 and 1084 monitor.

 

Hollywood Hijinx’s difficulty level is rated by Infocom themselves as ‘Standard’ which means it is supposed to be playable by normal mortals. I’ve never played this particular adventure before so that remains to be seen. However they do have two higher difficulty levels of Advanced and Expert so that does encourage me somewhat. The easiest difficulty for reference is ‘Introductory’ which they say is suitable for children aged 9 and above.

 

Tinsel World

This is a fictional Hollywood tabloid that sets the scene for the game and is integrated into the box lid as is usually the case with Infocom’s ‘grey box’ releases. There are numerous stories about your Uncles exploits that gives some background info for the story. There’s also some other completely unrelated, ludicrous but often humorous tales that you might expect to see in such a ‘trashy’ magazine. The publication then transitions into the instruction manual, describing how to play the game and providing tips on drawing a map and so on.

 

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Inside the Infocom Hollywood Hijinx box

As with all Infocom games there’s far more than just a disk included here.

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

Back of the box.

 

Removing the plastic ‘lid’ from the recessed ‘hole’ inside the box reveals a small treasure trove of trinkets and extras (or feelies as Infocom used to call them).

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

Storage compartment inside the box.

 

When picking up these games second hand I often find the lid has been lost (along with some of the contents too if you are unlucky). Happily it was included here, probably explaining why everything was present and correct within.

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

Hollywood Hijinx Floppy Disk.

 

The game runs off a single floppy disk which was in great condition with the original label that, although a little yellowed with age, had not succumbed to mould or graffiti. Amazingly the game still loads perfectly from that disk too.

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

All the stuff included inside the box.

 

The United Products of Infocom ‘passport’ was included with this game. This is basically a little catalogue showing you all the other adventure games they had available at the time. The registration card (unused) and Quick Reference card is also present and correct.

 

Infocom Hollywood Hijinx

At least the claim about the size of the swizzle stick was true!

 

One of the most prominent of the ‘feelies’ included is the amazing ‘Lucky palm tree swizzle stick!’ which really is the same size as in the fictional advert. Luckily it was included with the game otherwise I would have had to pay $12.95 plus $3.00 P&P to get hold of one! Sadly no matter how many times I twizzled my stick (oo’er missus) I’ve not uncovered a chest of gold coins whilst digging in my garden!

 

Buddy Burbank Photo

Signed photo of your Uncle.

 

Also included is a suitably cheesy signed photo of your Uncle Buddy which looks like it was taken after he’d doused his hair with an entire bottle of Grecian 2000…

 

Uncle Buddy Letter

Reverse side of the photo reveals a letter from your Uncle.

 

Flipping the photo over reveals a note off your uncle with some clues to help point you in right direction to find the treasures.

 

Aunties Will

Your Aunts Last Will and Testament

 

Last but by no means least there is a letter written by your Aunt explaining why they have left everything to you and also why they hid the treasures away instead of just giving them to you.

However your nieces and nephews have also received a similar letter, so, in a nutshell; you get first dibs on the treasure hunt as your Uncle’s favourite nephew… but if you can’t find all the treasures in a single night then tough luck – your other nieces and nephews will get a shot instead and you’ll end up with nothing!

This sounds like a fairly straightforward treasure hunt game, albeit with a timer. I haven’t played it yet but am really looking forward to having a go at this one and seeing how many treasures I can find!

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