Lyonsden Blog

Category - Commodore 64

Commodore 1530/1531/C2N/Datasette Dust Cover

Datasette dust cover

A modern, stylish datasette dust cover is something I’ve been after for quite some time. I do still have the burgundy leatherette one that my parents bought me back in the 80’s but it is seriously hideous now. In fact who am I kidding? It was probably hideous even back then but being just a kid I didn’t know any better!

 

Datasette Dust Cover

Was this even cool back in the 80’s? Regardless, the time has come for it to go…

 

Why do I need a dust cover anyway?

Most of my retro computers have very nice, custom made transparent perspex covers. They offer great protection from dust and scratches whilst also still allowing me to see my beloved machines.

We have two cats in our household that think everything is fair game to sleep on. Besides keeping dust at bay they are great at keeping cat hairs out of keyboards and everywhere else cat hairs shouldn’t be. I buy all my dustcovers from a company called Retronics based in Poland.

 

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Anyway back in February I spotted this teaser on their Facebook page which clearly showed they were  working on a dust cover for the Commodore Datasette. I duly made a mental note to keep checking back to see when it was available. A few weeks ago I checked again and noticed that it was finally available so I went ahead and bought one from their eBay shop.

Inside the box.

 

Sweeties!

 

It arrived yesterday so here’s a quick look at it. It was packed inside a very attractive box displaying a nice photo of a 1530 Datasette on the cover. Opening it up revealed the cover tucked into a plastic bag along with some delicious freebie Polish sweets. (Every order I have ever received from them has contained these) 🙂

 

Datasette Dust Cover

Naked Dust Cover.

 

With it being transparent it’s quite a tricky thing to photograph!

 

Datasette dust cover

The unmistakable bump for the counter reset button.

 

Impressions & Photos

There isn’t really a great deal you can say about a dust cover. This product does exactly what it says on the box. It’s very well made and the dimensions are just right so that it rests securely on top of the datasette without sliding around. It has all the lumps, bumps and ridges exactly where they need to be to fit correctly and look the part.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s a bunch of photos of the dust cover doing its thing. From certain angles it almost looks like there’s no cover on at all, which for me, is exactly how I like it.

 

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The bottom line? If you own a 1530/1531/C2N/Datasette and you are in the market for a stylish dust cover then I don’t think you will find anything better than this.

Freeze 64 Issue #37 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue #37

Looks like the post is finally getting back to normal after all the disruption brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. How do I know this? Because I’ve just received the latest issue of Freeze 64, Issue #37 within a week of it being posted out!

 

Freeze 64 Issue #37

Here’s a look at the front cover of issue 37.

 

Here’s a rundown of the contents of this issue taken straight from the magazines’ directory listing! As always there’s no shortage of interesting Commodore 64 articles to get stuck into.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #37

Freeze64 Issue 37 Contents Page.

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy of Freeze 64, Issue #37 then head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by purchasing this issue.

Physical copies (it isn’t available digitally) are priced at £3.99 plus postage. There are also subscriptions available which offer the opportunity to save a little money.

Finally, here’s a link to my previews of several earlier editions of Freeze64. If you’re new to Freeze64 and would like to check out what you’ve been missing all this time then this is a great place to find out!

How to Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

I’ve always wanted a cassette tape winder so when I stumbled across this plan on Thingiverse I thought it would make a great little project for my 3D printer. Sure I could search on eBay and maybe pick up an old one but where’s the fun in that? So here’s a little guide to how I built my own cassette tape winder.

Computer Stuff

First off I had to download the zipped STL files from the Thingiverse site. (STL files contain 3D CAD objects that you can print).

Each component has it’s own STL file and there were 10 of them for this project. You can see them all listed in the folder screenshot below.

 

These are the components that you need to 3D print.

 

You cannot print STL files directly so I use a piece of free software called Cura to work with them. This software allows you to see the STL files as an interactive 3D model. It also processes STL files by ‘slicing’ them into layers that can then be saved as GCODE files and printed on a 3D printer. If you’ve never 3D printed something this might all sound very complicated but it really isn’t.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

Winder case as viewed within Cura software.

 

The image above shows the main case for the winder in Cura. I have already sliced it and it shows an estimate of how long it will take to print, over 7 hours in this case. 3D printing is not a fast process!

 

Beginning the 3D Printing

 

Freshly printed winder case.

 

Above you can see the finished case print… but there’s some extra support material that will need to be removed from underneath it. 3D printers can’t print (over long distances at any rate) in thin air so they need to create a kind of scaffolding system (supports) in order to do so.

 

Removing the 3D printed support material.

 

Support material is designed to break away easily from the main print. In the above photo I used a sharp craft knife to break away the support material. It only took a couple of slices and then I was able to get my fingernail under it and simply pull it away in one piece.

 

View showing the support material removed.

 

With the support material removed you can now see the winder start to take shape. In the above photo you can see the latticed support material too. It’s made this way to minimise plastic wastage and also allow it to be broken away easily. The fewer points of contact it has with the main build, the easier it is to break off.

 

Here the few little pieces of support material that were clinging on have been removed with a craft knife.

 

In the above photo I have cleared away the few little straggly bits of plastic left by the supports with my craft knife.

 

This is the case viewed from the other side.

 

This is what the inside of the winder case looks like. There are 8 posts to support the case screws, a hole for the winder spool and 3 protrusions where the gears will sit.

 

Gathering the parts together

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

All the 3D printed components ready for assembly.

 

This photo shows all the parts of the winder fully printed a few days later. The instructions advise printing the cogs on rafts because they can be difficult to remove from the print bed. However I didn’t bother… I have glass bed and things pop off very easily once it cools down. It also means the finished prints are smooth and clean but of course YMMV. I did use supports for everything where the instructions recommended to do so and carefully removed them after printing.

 

The bearings and screws needed.

 

What you will need

In addition to the 3D printed parts a few bits of hardware are also required. Some bearings, screws and a rubber belt. Here’s a rundown:

  • 6x  4x8x3 miniature ball bearings for the gear wheels – I used these.
  • 1x  3x8x3 miniature ball bearing (for the winder knob) – I used these.
  • 14x  3x12mm pan head self-tapping screws – I used these.
  • A 1mm square rubber belt approximately 55mm in diameter.
  • Philips screwdriver.
  • Craft Knife.
  • Side cutters (to help remove support material if necessary).
  • Silicone Grease (optional but recommended).
  • 3D printer!

 

Gears with bearings fitted.

 

The next step was to fit the 6 bearings into the gear wheels. The two pulley cogs are fitted with two bearings, one each side whilst the driving gear and spool take just one.

 

Gears with bearings fitted.

 

The bearings were a snug fit but I didn’t have to force them in at all. Once fitted they remained in place by friction alone so there was no need to glue them in.

 

One-way clutch.

 

The winder incorporates an ingenious little one-way clutch mechanism that will only rotate in one direction. The benefit of this is it prevents you from accidentally winding a tape in the wrong direction causing it to unspool inside the case. Impressively it prints in situ too – there are 6 moving parts which are all printed as one complete mechanism together.

 

Putting it all Together

 

Start with these gears first.

 

Next came the exciting part – putting it all together. The driving gear, both pulley’s and spool went in first, making sure the bearings all seated correctly on the pegs.

 

Then add these. Note that pulley 1 and the clutch have already been assembled in this photo.

 

Next to go in was the one-way clutch which fitted onto the hexagonal shaft of pulley 1.  It can fit either way around but needs to installed so that it ‘sticks’ when turned anti-clockwise but free-wheels clockwise. The instructions said to glue this in position but I didn’t bother as its going nowhere once the lid is attached.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

The rubber belt is added last.

 

The belt went in next and simply needed stretching around the clutch and pulley 2. There was a fair amount of tension here with the clutch being pulled over to one side, however once the lid goes on and the pegs slot into the bearing top and bottom, it sorts itself out.

 

A minor issue…

I did have one issue at this point when putting everything together. There was too much friction with the spool and it wasn’t turning freely. I tried shaving/filing plastic from the cog teeth, adding a drop of oil to the bearing and adding a little silicone grease to the teeth but none of this really helped.

In the end I reprinted the part scaled down slightly to 98% which allowed the spool to spin freely. I also had to enlarge the bearing recess slightly with a Dremel so the bearing would still fit inside. Possibly if I’d persevered a little longer with the file I could have got the original part to work. However given how everything else fits together perfectly I figured the part needed re-designing slightly for a better fit. Regardless, I’m happy with my fix and how it now operates.

Before I screwed the back cover on I also added a tiny bit of silicone grease to the other gear wheels just to help keep them lubricated.

 

The Finished Winder

 

View of the back of the assembled winder.

 

Here’s the winder with the back screwed on and the handle and knob attached.  The knob also has a bearing inserted into it so that when it’s screwed to the handle it will still spin freely.

I had no issues screwing things together but the instructions did advise caution in case the plastic splits and suggested drilling out the holes further as a precaution. Again I didn’t bother as I felt my screws were a good fit for the holes but again YMMV.

 

Front of Winder with retaining clips attached.

 

The two retainer clips attached to the front of the case using a couple more screws. The dimples are positioned such that they face the back of the winder.

 

Tape held captive by retaining clips.

 

The screws need to be tightened just enough so that the clips can move with a little force but remain in any position. These are used to hold cassette tapes securely in place whilst winding.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

View of the winder looking down.

 

Video of winder in use

And here’s the finished winder. I have to say it works extremely well and will be a great help in minimising wear and tear to my various C2N Datasette’s, Walkman’s and tape decks. It’s fast too, I managed to rewind a C90 tape in around 30 seconds. The use of a belt helps to ensure that when reaching the end of a tape, any excess force results in the belt slipping rather than damaging the tape.

 

Retro Format – A Brand new Retro Computer Magazine

Retro Format

Believe it or not there is now another Retro Computing magazine on the block! It’s called Retro Format and it’s a multi-format magazine that caters for all retro 8/16/32-bit systems. Born from a successful Kickstarter campaign, this magazine is mostly focussed on games, specifically reviewing them, much like you’d imagine an all format ZZap!64 might look.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Cover.

 

Initial impressions are very good indeed. It’s a full-size magazine, 64 pages in length (cover to cover) and all printed in full colour. There are over a dozen full reviews of games for retro systems inside. The games themselves are almost exclusively new ones created recently for retro systems. The two main exceptions to this are John Wick (a new NES styled game for modern PC’s) and Strike Commander – an old DOS game.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Contents Page.

 

The Reviews

I really like the review style. It breaks game scores down by Graphics, Audio, Playability, Lastability and then gives an Overall score. This is how games used to be reviewed back in the day and I welcome seeing this format again.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Game Scoring System.

 

As for the reviews, the bulk of the magazine is split almost 50/50 between Commodore and Spectrum games with the remainder made up of a handful of MSX, CPC and PC titles.

There’s also a future classics section which looks at a couple of modern games for the Vita and Playstation VR systems. I’d say the jury is out on this section though as I’m not sure I felt it was relevant.

Besides the games there was a really interesting 8-page feature on the SEGA Dreamcast system along with some of the best games available for it. I ended my SEGA experience with the Mega Drive but this definitely piqued my interest and made me think about getting one…

 

More than just games…

 

Retro Format

A look at the Christopher Reeve Superman Movies.

 

The magazine is rounded off by a classic Movie and TV section which I enjoyed a lot. It features the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and also delves into some past episodes of The Twilight Zone. As a big  Sci-Fi fan I found these articles to be right up my street.

 

The original Twilight Zone – NOT the recently re-hashed abomination.

 

Here’s a peek at some of the reviews featured in the magazine.

 

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How to get your own copy…

If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of the magazine then head on over to the Retro Format website.

Latest Retrokomp Issue 2 is now out

Retrokomp Issue 2

Just received my copy of Retrokomp Issue 2, the multi-format retro magazine.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Retrokomp Issue 2 Cover

 

Once again there is plenty of content with a hefty count of 72 thick glossy pages and over a third of them devoted to Commodore machines. If you are interested in other machines besides Commodore then there’s even more on offer with the like of ZX Spectrum, Atari, Amstrad, Apple 2 and even old IBM PC’s covered.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Contents of this issue

 

Here’s a few highlights of this issues contents.

 

C64 Restoration project.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

A look at Simon’s BASIC on the C64.

 

How to clear the Hi-Res screen on a C64.

 

A look at the Pi1541 disk drive emulator.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Part two of the Project Stealth Fighter article.

 

Comparison between Atari and CBM BASIC.

 

A look at file backup on the Amiga.

 

24-bit datatypes on the Amiga.

 

A look at archiving software for PowerPC equipped Amiga’s.

 

Card readers on the Amiga.

 

Amiga Modula-2 Programming.

 

A quick run-down of the Commodore-centric articles in Retrokomp Issue 2:

  • Sysres
  • Commodore 1541 Drive – Typical Problems
  • Simon’s BASIC – Sprites mean strange objects on the screen
  • Raspberry Pi 1541
  • Commodore PET vs Atari BASIC
  • Using the USR statement
  • Clearing the high resolution screen
  • Commodore 64 Restoration
  • Modula-2 Programming
  • 24-Bit datatypes for Workbench
  • Simple file backup
  • Memory card readers

If you’ve never come across Retrokomp magazine before you might like to read through my preview of the first issue here and the second, here.

Alternatively if you’d like to purchase a copy of Retrokomp Issue 2 for yourself then visit the publishers website here and show your support.

Fusion Magazine #11 just arrived

Fusion #11

Received the latest edition of Fusion Magazine, issue #11, a couple of days ago. This little magazine has really grown in terms of content and quality over the past year thanks in no small part to the diverse range of contributors. This issue see articles from Retro Man Cave, Octav1us and Dave Perry to name but three.

 

Fusion #11

A look at the cover of Fusion #11.

 

I’m focussing on the retro gaming content here but there is more to it than that as it covers a smattering of modern games along with retro toys and memorabilia. All in there’s 60 pages worth of content, which for £3.99 is great value for money and should ensure that even if some of the content doesn’t interest you, there should be plenty that will. I’ve got a discount code for 15% off the price at the bottom of this page too.

Here’s a little peak at some of the stuff in this new issue:

 

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Here’s a little look the contents page so you can see what else features in this issue:

 

Fusion #11

Fusion #11 Contents.

 

If you want to pick up a copy of Fusion #11 magazine then head on over to their website. The mag is only £3.99 plus postage, a very reasonable amount for such a well produced magazine. If you use the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ at the checkout you will also get 15% off the price making it just £3.40! I will also receive a tiny bit of commission which will help towards the hosting costs of running this blog.

Freeze 64 Issue #36 Fanzine is out now

Freeze64 #36

I’ve finally just received the latest issue of Freeze 64, Issue #36 – hurrah! Sadly this has been another victim of the Coronavirus situation with the postal services. I remember Vinny informing subscribers that this had been posted weeks ago. Still, better late than never!

 

Freeze 64 #36

Freeze 64 pictured alongside the featured game on the cover. (The game is from my collection).

 

Here’s a rundown of the contents of this issue taken straight from the magazine. I’m looking forward to reading this over the upcoming weekend.

 

Here’s a quick peek at the contents of this issue – image take straight from the magzaine.

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy of Freeze 64, Issue #36 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!

K&A Plus #15 Magazine has arrived!

K&A Plus #15

Received my copy of K&A Plus #15 today. This was another magazine heavily impacted by the current Coronavirus situation but it was definitely worth the wait. As with the previous issue I paid an extra €5 for the cover disk. This issue came with a second compilation of 11 super C64 games; ‘Good Old 8-Bit Games #2’.

 

K&A Plus #15 Front Cover

K&A Plus #15 Front Cover.

 

I have to say I really love the fantasy artwork on cover of this issue. The  illustrated colour disk jacket is pretty awesome too, a really nice touch.

 

The CoverDisk

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games #2

Good Old 8-Bit Games #2.

Even better, an extra matching jacket was included for the previous ‘Good Old 8-Bit Games #1’ disk!

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games #1

Good Old 8-Bit Games #1 wearing it’s snazzy new jacket!

 

There’s some superb games on the cover disk. Highlights for me are PowerGlove, Bruce Lee – Return of Fury and PO Snake. Amazing value for money for just €5!

Here’s a full rundown of what’s included…

 

K&A Plus #15 disk contents.

Good Old 8-Bit Games #2 – Disk Contents.

 

Magazine Preview

 

There’s a big emphasis on gaming in this issue with game reviews galore. There’s reviews for every major Commodore system from the VIC 20, the C64 through to the Amiga and CD32. The reviews cover a mixture of old and modern games.

Of course there’s some other non-gaming stuff featured too. There’s a look at how to get a C64 emulator running on the Nintendo Wii, RayCasting on the VIC20 complete with (partial) program listings, news and lots more.

Here’s a quick look at the contents page of K&A Plus #15.

 

K&A Plus #15 Contents.

K&A Plus #15 Contents.

And here’s a little preview of some of the stuff in this issue:

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If you’ve never come across this magazine before you might want to take a look at some of my previews of previous issues here.

If you want to find out more about K&A Plus #15 or order yourself a copy, head on over to the Komoda & Amiga Plus website. The magazine is produced in Poland but they produce an English language version too. Shipping to the UK (before COVID-19 at least) only takes a few days.

 

Replacement C64/TheC64 Maxi badge

Even though I have a real C64 I also own a TheC64 Maxi computer. Cosmetically this machine is indistinguishable from a real breadbin 64 bar one thing… the badge. For whatever reason (probably copyright) the TheC64 Maxi doesn’t have a proper Commodore badge which has always irked me.

 

This is the standard label that comes on the ‘TheC64’ machine.

 

Thankfully I will be irked no longer thanks to an eBay seller in Australia who manufactures replica badges. Mine came supplied well packaged with a stiff piece of hardboard inside the envelope to make it impossible for the postman to bend it.

 

A close-up of the badge.

 

The badge itself is beautifully made with proper chrome lettering and features the authentic Commodore ‘chicken head’ and rainbow colours.

 

A close-up of the badge.

 

The badge is 0.8mm thick so it’s quite obvious that this isn’t some cheap vinyl print. It’s the same quality as the one found on the 1501 Power Monitor I have previously reviewed from the same seller.

 

Fitting the Replacement C64 badge

This has to be one of the easiest projects I’ve ever done. The first task is to peel off the old badge – it’s quite thick and the new badge won’t sit flush unless you remove it. I used a hobby knife to carefully lift the edge at one end and then gently peeled it off. I took my time and managed to get it off in one piece leaving virtually no residue behind.

 

Peeling the old label off.

 

I performed a quick clean up with some Isopropyl alcohol and then peeled off the protective film from the back of the new badge. It fitted the oval recess perfectly which made aligning it a simple task.

 

Replacement C64 badge

New badge fitted in all its glory.

 

Once fitted I think it looks fantastic, almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The only slight difference for aficionados is that the original had raised lettering but regardless it’s a massive improvement over the rubbish badge that it came supplied with.

 

Replacement C64 badge

The finished result. Very satisfied with it myself.

 

I’d definitely recommend this to anyone that wants to make their TheC64 Maxi a little bit more authentic. So if you fancy one then for the very reasonable sum of £7.50 plus postage you can purchase one these replica badges off his eBay store yourself.

 

Looks just like a real C64 now!

Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1 Joystick

Hedaka Joystick

While I was looking for a new gamepad for my Commodore 64 a while back I stumbled across this bad boy. It’s called the ‘Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1’ joystick and I spotted it on the German eBay site and imported it to the UK. All in with postage I think it cost me around £40.

Using the interactive 3D display immediately below you can take a look at the box it came in. Just click inside the box and then when the hand icon appears drag to rotate and zoom in and out.

I honestly don’t know too much about the origins of this device – I simply bought it because it looked interesting. From the German language used on the box it appears to have been made for the German market. However all the text on the device itself is in English which seems a little odd. It’s worked out great for me though as I know instantly what everything should do!

 

Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1 Joystick Specs

Using my amazing multi-lingual abilities Google translate I was able to glean the following information from the specifications listed on the box:

  • Control knob for computer games, suitable for many computers, Atari all types, Commodore VIC20, C64, 128 and C16 & Plus/4 with adaptor.
  • Additionally 2 integrated paddles
  • Particularly sensitive control by micro-switch
  • Auto-fire infinitely adjustable
  • Extra large fire-buttons
  • Stable metal housing
  • Practical suction feet for safe stand
  • Extra long connection cable

Basically this device looked to have been aiming to be the only controller you would ever need to use with your computer!

 

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Construction

This thing is built like a tank with the entire case being constructed from 1mm thick powder coated steel. The base measures 20cm x 12cm and the height to the top of the joystick is 10cm. A very generous 3m long cable is provided which means you can use this device from pretty much anywhere in the room.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Closer view of the joystick controls.

 

The stick itself is very comfortable in use and the micro-switches ensure you get a nice tactile ‘click’ as you move it around. The oversized fire buttons provide similarly satisfying feedback when pressed. The joystick requires only light pressure to operate and about 5mm deflection from centre to register a click.

 

View of the base showing the four sucker feet.

 

On the underside of the joystick are 4 large rubber suckers that allow you to stick the base to a desk or table. These work really well and on a completely smooth surface possibly a little too well. When I placed the joystick down on a glass coffee table I really struggled to get it off!

When firmly affixed to a surface it gives a great arcade-like experience. I tried using it on my knee but it quickly became uncomfortable. However sticking it onto a place mat first and then on my knee offered a comfortable compromise.

 

Hedaka Joystick

In this view you can see the red LED just to the right of the auto-fire speed control knob. This visually displays the rate of fire.

 

 

Auto-Fire

For shoot-em-ups you can opt to turn on auto-fire mode using the toggle switch. Once this is engaged there is a speed selector knob which can be rotated to fine tune the rate of fire. This is completely analogue and the knob rotates through 270′ so you really can set it to anything you desire. There is a red LED above the speed control knob that lights each time the fire button is activated providing instant visual feedback of the rate of fire. The auto-fire only engages whilst the fire button is held down too which makes perfect sense.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Close-up of the joystick itself.

 

Paddles

The real ace up its sleeve for me though is the inclusion of paddle controls. This means if I fancy a quick game of Panic Analogue (easily my favourite paddle game) I no longer need to dig out my Atari Paddles.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Close-up of the paddle controls.

 

Both paddles are implemented and of course each has its own fire button. The button for paddle 2 is activated by selecting another toggle switch. The paddle knobs do take a little getting used to as they are much smaller than a typical paddle wheel (1cm diameter v 6cm). However they work effectively and allow very smooth and precise movement.

 

A Look inside

Just out of curiosity I decided to open up the case and have a peek inside. There are four philips screws along the lower edge of the base keeping the cover firmly attached. These screws fit into four little slots cut into the sides of the cover so they only need to be loosened a few turns and the cover will slide up and off.

 

View of the inside with all the electronics attached to the top cover.

 

Close-up of the joystick micro-switches.

 

This is a close-up of the two micro-switch fire buttons (left) and the Paddle potentiometers (right).

 

Verdict

This is a terrific joystick and I’m so glad I took a chance and bought it. The auto-fire feature is superb, probably the best implementation I have seen. Furthermore, the design of the joystick with its large base, oversized fire buttons and limpet-like suckers means it offers a very arcade like experience. Playing the classic Gorf or the much more recent Galencia with this joystick is a real pleasure. When I want to play the odd paddle game, not having to swap controllers to do so is incredibly convenient. Definitely a recommended pickup if you see one up for sale.

Ballyhoo by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Infocom Ballyhoo

I recently managed to pick up another adventure to further expand my Infocom collection – this time it was Ballyhoo from 1986. It arrived in a lovely condition throughout with just a few worn edges and corners to bear witness to its 34 year lifespan. I was really impressed that the ‘The Travelling Circus That Time Forgot’ balloon was not only still in the box but also in once piece.

 

Infocom Ballyhoo – back cover

 

This particular adventure takes place in a circus setting, beyond which ‘lies a seedy world of deception and crime’ according to the description on the box. A young girl has been kidnapped and it falls upon you to investigate her disappearance. The description continues; ‘…watch your step. As the night progresses, you realise you’re in as much danger as the little girl… the kidnapper is lurking right on the lot, trying to set you up for a permanent slot in the freak show!’

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

The Ballyhoo opening screen on my Commodore 64

 

Ballyhoo’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 kids aged 9 and above.

 

Official Souvenir Program

In many Infocom games there’s often a short story to set the scene for the game. In Ballyhoo the scene is set within an ‘Official Souvenir Program’ that actually forms part of the box cover. It provides a brief history of the circus and introduces several of the ‘acts’ that perform in it, both past and present. The program then gives way to the games instruction manual, describing how to play the game and even giving tips on drawing a map and so on. It’s an essential part of the packaging for sure.

 

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Inside the Infocom Ballyhoo box

 

As with all Infocom games there’s more than just a disk inside the box.

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

View of the box compartment with plastic ‘lid’ in place.

 

Infocom’s Ballyhoo offers a number of circus themed extras tucked away inside its box.

 

View of the box compartment with plastic ‘lid’ removed.

 

Normally there would be a reference card included that gives directions for loading the game but it looks like that is missing from my copy. However the 5.25″ disk is present and correct and in really good condition too with no signs of mould on the label. It loads fine as well although when I play it I’ll be using a copy or just using a disk image to preserve the original disk.

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo game contents laid out.

 

Also included is a single ‘Admit One’ circus ticket and a trade card for Dr. Nostrum’s ‘Wondrous Curative’, ‘Guaranteed to sooth all ills’. As I mentioned at the beginning, the balloon is still in the box too which I’m delighted about. Admittedly it is now rock solid and could never be blown up but as a memento of a gaming period gone by it’s a terrific addition. Many of these little trinkets are missing from the games now as they were easily lost over the years.

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

A closer look at the ‘feelies’.

 

Quite a lot of effort has gone into the creation of these extras. For example, reading the reverse side of Dr. Nostrum’s trade card reveals the ailments it can be used to treat. These include Toothache, Grippe & Catarrh, Constipation, Pin Worms and even ‘Singer’s Throat’, whatever that is. It even gives directions on exactly how to use it for each type of ailment. Snake oil remedies like this were commonplace in this time period so this all helps to build atmosphere.

 

A closer look at the ‘feelies’ – reverse side.

 

The back of the ticket gives details of the acts you will be seeing and also warns you to be wary of pickpockets, gamblers, thugs and thieves which doesn’t bode well! It also reminds you that you are entitled to three sessions with ‘Rimshaw the Incomparable’. Apparently he will read your palm, the bumps on your head and even hypnotise you!

It definitely has the foundations of a good mystery thriller and I look forward to getting stuck into it one day very soon!

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.

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.

 

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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.

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

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Plugging the Carts In

Here’s what they look like plugged in…

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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.

 

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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.