Lyonsden Blog

Category - VIC 20

A look back at Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox for the VIC20

Pinball Spectacular

Picked up another duo of classic VIC20 game cartridges off eBay to add to my collection this week. Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox, both of which are in pretty good condition complete with their original boxes and instruction sheets.

As usual I spent some time scanning the boxes in and adding them to my ‘3D VIC20 Game Museum‘. It’s so much easier to do this as and when I get new games. If I leave it too long they pile up and I develop a kind of mental block that prevents me doing them!

I’ve never seen or played either of these two before so had no idea what to expect from either of them beforehand. Thought I would share my thoughts on each title in the form of some mini reviews…

 

Pinball Spectacular

I’d never even seen Pinball Spectacular for the VIC20 before so this was a particularly interesting purchase for me. The game requires the use of paddles which was another reason I was keen to pick it up. There weren’t many paddle games made for the VIC so I grab any I can find!

Once I loaded this up I quickly realised that this is not a pinball game at all. It might take a few cues from it but this is basically a version of breakout.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular Title/Player select screen

 

You control two horizontal bats that you can move left and right with the paddle. Once you launch the pinball with the fire button you need to keep batting it back up the screen to destroy the coloured blocks. This can quickly get tricky as the ball ricochets, often at high speed, at all sorts of angles due to the design of the ‘table’. The goal here is to clear all the blocks and release an alien which you then destroy by hitting it with the pinball.

So far, this has far more in common with breakout than anything else. Here’s where the the pinball elements come in to play. You can hit the ghost at the top of the screen for extra points. Likewise if you can direct the ball to hit all the little faces (turning the frowns into smiles) you can gain another bonus. Light up the letters E X T R A and unsurprisingly you earn an extra ball.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular

 

It’s a very simple game but it’s presented attractively with a great use of colour and some decent sound effects. Best of all it’s actually really good fun to play, helped in no small part by the use of paddles to control the bats. I can see myself coming back to play this often, trying to rack up higher and higher scores.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

This game has a lot in common with other games such as Pacman or Radar Rat race. The aim of the game is to steal gold bars from the vaults in Fort Knox and escape back to your hideout with them. Fort Knox is represented as a maze of corridors and for some reason there are black panthers patrolling that you must avoid. Not sure why there’s panthers around instead of guards but no matter. If one touches you,  you lose one of your three lives, lose all three and it’s game over.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Title Screen

 

Whilst you are navigating through the corridors to retrieve the gold, one bar at a time, there’s no time limit. However as soon as you grab a gold bar a countdown timer bar appears at the bottom of the screen. You must get back to your hideout, whilst avoiding the panthers, before the time limit runs out. The faster you get back to your hideout, the bigger the payout. If time runs out you get nothing for your troubles. If you steal all the bars you move on to a bonus vault before moving up to the next level.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

First level of Raid on Fort Knox – on the left are the gold bars. You’re the little blue guy top right.

 

The graphics can best be described as rudimentary, as are the sound effects. If it was a budget game on cassette I’d forgive these shortcomings but for a cartridge game it’s disappointing. I reckon it was probably written in BASIC. I’m glad I was able to add it to my collection but in all honesty it’s not a title I see myself coming back to in the future.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Bonus Level – avoid those black panthers.

 

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun!

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun

Came across this idea of retrobrighting with just the sun on YouTube. I was highly sceptical so thought I’d give it a go myself! It’s a pretty simple idea. Instead of slathering your yellowed computer in peroxide, or immersing it in bath of bleach, simply stick it out in the sun for a few days! Sounds too good to be true right?

Enter the VIC

My VIC20 had some pretty unpleasant yellowing to it so I used that as my test subject. For 4 days straight I put it outside on a south-facing bench in the garden. I’d place it there before I left for work in the morning and bring it in once I got home in the evening. Today was the 4th and final day.

I’ll let the results below do the talking. I used the same white cotton bud in each photo as a frame of reference to judge the level of yellowing. I also took the photos in the exact same location at the same time of day to keep the lighting as similar as possible. No flash was used in any of the photos.

Before & After Results

I’m extremely pleased with the results. The overall yellowing has vanished, even the quite pronounced yellowing around the grill area has gone too. The beauty of this method is that I literally did nothing – the sun did all the work for me. I didn’t even need to dismantle the computer!

Conclusion

I’ve had some disastrous results using peroxide gel in the past. On one occasion I ended up with an appalling marbling effect on a rare C128D keyboard. After that incident I had vowed never to try my hand at retrobrighting again, however this test has changed my mind. It looks like it’s the safest and easiest way imaginable to brighten up yellowed plastic. It’ll be interesting to see if the brightening effect lasts. If the yellowing comes back in future I’ll update this article.

Three Classic VIC20 Games Remembered

Race, Skramble & Blitz

Picked up a few nice games off eBay recently for my VIC20. Although I’ve had all of them in past, this is the first time I’ve actually owned the retail releases for each game. The copies of Blitz and Race I had as a child were part of a compilation tape I got with my VIC20. I only ever had a pirated copy of Skramble so now at long last I have the original game in my collection.

Although the cassette tapes and ‘J’ card inlays were in terrific shape, the boxes on all three were extremely tatty and well worn. The very first thing I did was replace them with new ones and as you can see the games all look as good as new now.

 

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Like many people I got my copy of ‘Blitz’ and ‘Race’ on a compilation tape that came with my VIC20 computer.  I still have this tape (pictured below) of course but thought it would be cool to own the original, stand alone copies of the games too.  It’s holding up pretty well considering it’s now 37 years old!

 

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A brief look at each game

 

As I’ve done on previous occasions,  I’ve taken some screenshots of each game and written little mini reviews of each. Part of the fun of getting hold of these old games is to relive the whole experience of loading them and seeing if I even remember what they used to look like correctly after all this time.

 

Race

 

Despite some horrendous squeaking noises this loaded after a few tries. It’s a pretty spartan game with a brief text introduction and then on to the game. Despite the name and screenshot on the front of the cassette case this is not a racing game. No, this is a dodging game. Move your bike left and right to avoid the other bikes scrolling up the screen. The are four difficultly levels and it gets faster as you progress until you either reach the end or crash. Needless to say it’s not a very entertaining game, and probably never really was. The whole thing is very rudimentary, but then again it looks like it was written in BASIC so you can’t expect too much. Still, it’s a nice little bit of VIC20 history.

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Blitz

This is also a 3.5K game written in BASIC for an expanded VIC20. However this one manages to have a lot of charm and character and is quite fun to play.

The idea is simple, fly your little bi-plane across a randomly generated city as you bomb it into oblivion so you can land. Every time you reach the edge of the screen your plane drops down a row, getting ever closer to the skyscrapers below. You can only drop a single bomb at a time so there is an element of strategy (and luck) to it if you want to succeed. If you time it well you can often drop two or more bombs in one pass which is crucial to clearing the city. Fail to bomb even the smallest bit of rubble away and you’ll crash into it and it’s game over.

I played this quite a lot as a child, the graphics are really pretty good for what it is and the sound effects  work really well too. It’s still actually fun now and a worthy addition to my collection.

 

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Skramble

 

I thought this tape was faulty at first as every time I tried to load it I was getting an ‘out of memory’ error. After a spot of RTFM I tried just typing ‘LOAD’ instead of the customary ‘SHIFT & RUN/STOP’ as it suggested. Hey presto – it worked! The screen turned white and the text red and several minutes later the game greeted me with a very colourful  title screen.

I have to say this is by far the best game of the bunch, the extra 16K of RAM really allows the VIC20 to show what it is capable of. Fantastic, colourful graphics, slick side scrolling and punchy sound effects made this one of the best Skramble clones you could play at the time and it still looks great even now. It’s definitely the best version of Skramble you could play on the VIC. Just a shame so few games actually took advantage of the 16K RAM expansion back in the day as the VIC20 was capable of running some great games if given the chance.

It’s was very difficult trying to play this whilst reaching for the phone camera, games back then didn’t have a ‘pause’ feature! I’m looking forward to playing this a lot more now and reaching the end. If my memory is correct there were 6 levels in all with the final one being pretty torturous. I completed it many times over as a child and won’t rest until I do the same now as an older and wiser, albeit probably slower adult!

 

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Pi1541 Disk Drive

Pi1541 Disk Drive

Little bit of background

I’ve been aware of the Pi1541 disk drive or Pi1541 ‘hats’ for several months now. This project was undertaken to create a ‘cycle exact’ emulation of a Commodore 1541 floppy drive using a cheap Raspberry Pi computer. The idea behind it is that by fully emulating the 6502 CPU and 6522 VIA chips you would have a 100% 1541 compatible ‘disk drive’ capable of reading any disk image, even ones with custom fast loaders and exotic copy protection schemes. By contrast the ubiquitous SD2IEC devices don’t emulate either chips but rather simulate some disk protocols and use some clever code to try to blag some fast loaders into working. This is why special versions of some games need to be created to work on SD2IEC devices.

In a nutshell a Pi1541 Disk Drive utilises a Raspberry Pi B computer running custom software along with a daughter board or ‘hat’ which sits on top and connects to the GPIPO pins of the Pi. This ‘hat’ adds the standard IEC connectors and handles the stuff that is required for the Pi to successfully communicate with the attached Commodore computer. The project was created by a guy called Steve White and if you want to know the technical ins and outs then check out his website here.

Pi1541 Disk Drives can be picked up very cheaply on eBay. In fact the whole point of the project was to create something better than an SD2IEC but much cheaper than FPGA based offerings like the 1541 Ultimate II+. Of course another option is to build your own but I have neither the time nor the inclination to attempt that. The other big turn off with both of these options is that quite frankly, the devices are just plain ugly. Which brings me neatly on to my latest acquisition…

Pi1541 Disk Drive

As I mentioned earlier I’ve been aware of this project for some time, but for the reasons I mentioned above it just didn’t appeal to me. Until that is, I saw that Tim Harris who runs sharewareplus was offering a super slick, plug and play, cased Pi1541 Disk Drive complete with OLED screen. I just had to have one and after several months of waiting it has finally arrived!

 

Pi1541 Disk Drive

Pi1541 Disk Drive

 

This really is a thing of beauty, modelled closely on the first generation Commodore 1541 floppy drive. There’s so many little design cues taken from the original case. The Micro SD card slot encased in black plastic housing complete with scaled disk ‘slot’.  The red drive activity LED and green power LED. A chicken logo moulded into the casing top. The Commodore label complete with rainbow colours and a 1541 logo where the trailing 1 is actually a letter I. It even has a built in speaker to emulate the drive sounds of the original drive!

It came supplied with a Micro USB cable (to power it) and a single instruction sheet explaining what the ports are for and what the buttons do. Disappointingly it did not include a Micro SD card, IEC cable or even further instructions.

 

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The casing is approximately 5″ (13cm) deep, 3″ (7.5cm) wide and 1.25″ (3cm) tall. On the front there is a MicroSD card slot, a green power LED, a red drive activity LED and a ‘Select/Start’ switch. On the rear there is a power on/off switch, Micro USB power socket and a standard CBM IEC drive connector socket.

 

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On the top of the device is a lovely 1″ x 0.5″ (128×64 resolution) blue OLED screen along with four navigation buttons. When the device is first turned on it operates in SD2IEC mode which allows you to browse through the contents of your Micro SD card and select an image (or multiple images) to use. In this mode all 4 top buttons have a function: ‘move up’, ‘move down’, ‘exit folder’ and ‘add disk’ (for multi-disk games). In this mode the button on the front acts as a ‘select’ button.

Once an image has been selected on the device and a ‘load “*”,8,1’ (or similar drive command) is issued from the computer, it switches to full 1541 emulation mode. In this mode only the first 2 buttons on the top have a function: ‘previous disk’ and ‘next disk’. In this mode the front button acts as ‘start’.

 

Setting it up

I was advised that this Pi1541 Disk Drive worked best if you use an 8GB Micro SD card so I just picked up this generic card off Amazon and it has worked perfectly.

 

Pi1541 Disk Drive

8GB Micro SD Card

 

Unfortunately I did not fare so well with the Micro USB power supply. The device came with a Micro USB A-B cable so I plugged it into a free port on my power strip extension lead. The drive powered up and appeared to work fine until I tried to actually load a directory listing or a program and then it would just lock up and my C64 would freeze. Thinking the device was faulty, I got in touch with the guy selling it and was advised this was likely a power issue. The Pi needs a beefy PSU, especially when it’s also powering an additional board plus OLED screen. Long story short I tried several USB chargers from phones and such like but none of them fixed the problem. In the end I ordered an official Raspberry Pi PSU off Amazon and the problem just went away. Moral of the story? Don’t be a cheapskate and buy a decent power supply for it!

 

Pi1541 Disk Drive

Official Raspberry Pi PSU

 

In use

Once I’d properly sorted out the Micro SD card and PSU the Pi1541 Disk Drive worked perfectly. It loaded everything I threw at it including .G64 disk images that that won’t work on my SD2IEC device (but do work on my 1541 Ultimate II+). I also tried it with turbo load cartridges such as the Epyx Fastload and Action Replay VI’s Fastload. It worked perfectly and as you would expect loading times were significantly reduced using either cart. It is claimed to be 100% compatible with Jiffy DOS too but at the moment I don’t have the hardware to put that to the test.

There are a few other benefits that the Pi1541 Disk Drive has over it’s rivals. It doesn’t hijack the cassette port or user port for power like an SD2IEC device would as it’s powered independently from the host computer. Nor does it occupy the cartridge slot like a 1541 Ultimate does. It also works with my VIC20, something even the mighty 1541 Ultimate cannot do. I believe it will also work with both the Commodore 16 and plus 4 but I own neither of these machines so cannot confirm this.

There are a few niggles, the first being that the Micro SD card doesn’t have the ‘push to eject’ feature. When you want to remove it there is only 2mm of card protruding to grip onto and I found it difficult to pull out without using some needle-nose pliers.

My other gripe is that it didn’t come with an IEC cable, memory card or PSU. For a device costing £150 I would have expected these to be included and it would have saved me messing around trying to get a working power supply.

The sound produced is a little disappointing too. More a series of beep’s than a true emulation of drive noises (sounds a bit like what you get with a Gotek that’s had a sound mod fitted). My 1541 Ultimate II+ does a much better job of reproducing drive sounds.

Verdict

This is a terrific product and probably the best and most accurate emulation of the Commodore 1541 drive there has been to date. It also looks the part and will work across almost the entire range of 8-bit Commodore machines.

 

Pi1541 Disk Drive

Pi1541 Disk Drive next to 1541-II’s and a 1571

 

It’s definitely a luxury peripheral in my eyes though rather than an essential purchase. In this particular form it cannot compete on price with either the SD2IEC or the 1541 Ultimate II+ cartridge (which has many more features). However if you were to choose one of the more modest Pi1541’s you can find on eBay then it trounces the Ultimate on price and beats the SD2IEC on compatibility for a similar cost.

Another thing to bear in mind is that although, strictly speaking, SD2IEC devices are nowhere near as compatible as the Pi1541, they ARE ubiquitous. Because of this most games have been tweaked to make them work within the confines of the system out of necessity, so in most cases compatibility is often a moot point.

Bottom line is this; if you want the most compatible and by far the best looking modern 1541 Drive implementation there is and you don’t mind paying a premium for it, then you won’t find a better product than this.

2 New VIC20 Game Cartridges

VIC20 Pirate Cove & Star Battle

Picked up a couple of terrific classic VIC20 game cartridges off eBay to add to my collection this week. Pirate Cove and Star Battle, both of which are in fantastic condition. I’ve also spent some time scanning the boxes in and have added them to my ‘3D VIC20 Game Museum‘ too!

Pirate Cove is another excellent Scott Adams text adventure and along with ‘The Count‘, ‘Voodoo Castle‘, ‘Adventureland‘ and ‘Mission Impossible‘ completes my collection of his games on the VIC20.

 

VIC20 Pirate Cove

VIC20 Pirate Cove

 

Star Battle is a rather good Galaxians clone for the VIC20. I never had this as a child so really pleased to be able to add it to my collection now.

 

VIC20 Space Battle

VIC20 Space Battle

 

VIC20 Penultimate+ Cartridge

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Thought I’d share a little review of a new gizmo I picked up for my VIC20 recently. It’s called the ‘Penultimate+’ cartridge and it’s sold by The Future Was 8-bit.

It aims to be the only cartridge you will ever need to put in your VIC20’s expansion slot. It combines a RAM pack, various expansion carts, reset button, system diagnostics and over 70 game ROM’s into a single cartridge and all accessible through a simple and intuitive menu system.

 

What you get

The artwork on the packaging is fantastic, riffing off the original cartridge boxes to produce a product dripping with nostalgia. It’s a slip-case rather than a box though which disappointed me a little bit. Although I realise my cartridge is likely going to stay plugged in most of its life, it would have been great to have a proper box to store it in for those times when it’s not. Even if I never unplug the cartridge again, as a collector I would have appreciated a proper box to display on my shelf. With no cartridge inside the slip-case is very flimsy and could be easily squashed flat.

 

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The cartridge itself is sturdily built from brown plastic to a very high standard. It fits snugly into the VIC20’s expansion port without any issues at all. Most of Commodore’s original expansion carts were produced in a similar colour so again this is a nice nostalgic nod to the past.

On the top are two buttons. The first button on the left is an illuminated ‘menu’ button that launches the Penultimate+ Cartridge’s menu screen. The second ‘reset’ button on the right resets your VIC20 vastly reducing the need to power cycle your machine.

Given that much of the time this cart is going to be used for playing games, having joystick navigation through menus is a godsend. Simply move up and down with the stick and press fire to select a menu item or launch a game. Some frequently used options also have handy keyboard shortcuts too.

 

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The RAM Pack Function

The RAM pack behaves in much the same way as other switchable RAM packs like the Vixen one I already have. The one big difference with this one is that you can change the amount of RAM available using the on-screen menu instead of messing with DIP switches. You are able to chose from Unexpanded (no extra RAM), 3K, 8K, 24K, 32K and 35K. Strangely there’s no option to select 16K but playing 16K games with the 24K option seems to work just fine.

There’s a couple of ways to access the extra RAM depending on what you need it for:

  1. Select one of the ‘Set RAM…’ options from the menu to have that amount of RAM allocated whilst remaining in the menu system so you can load a game ROM.
  2. Press one of the function key shortcuts at the bottom of the screen to reset your VIC20 and drop you at the BASIC screen with the extra memory allocated. This is the option you would choose if you wanted to write a program or load one off a cassette tape and needed the extra RAM to do so.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Main menu with RAM options.

 

The Games

The games are neatly arranged into 4 categories:

  • The Future Was 8-Bit Titles (exclusive new games released by TFW8b)
  • Games (this is where the vast majority of the game ROMs can be found)
  • Adventure Games (all the Scott Adams cartridge adventure games)
  • Paddle Games (all the paddle compatible games)

 

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Penultimate+ Included Games List

Adventureland AdventureMission Impossible Adventure
AEMosquito Infestation
AggressorMotocross Racer
Alien BlitzMs. Pac-Man
Alien SidestepOmega Race
AmokPac-Man
Attack of the Mutant CamelsPentagorat
AvengerPharaoh's Curse
Basic-v4Pirate's Cove Adventure
BattlezonePole Position
Bertie the BallPrincess and Frog
Black HoleQ-Bert
BolderDanRadar Rat Race
Buck RogersRaid on Fort Knox
CentipedeRiver Rescue
Cheese and OnionRoad Race
ChoplifterRobotron
CloudburstRodMan
ClownsSatellite Patrol
Cosmic JailbreakSerpentine
Crater RaiderShamus
Creepy CorridorsSkibbereen
CyclonSpaceship-1
Deadly SkiesSquishem
DefenderStar Battle
Demon AttackSub Chase
Dig DugSuper Expander
Donkey KongSuper Slot
DragonfireSuper Starship Space Attack
Fast BoyTerraguard
FroggerTetris
Future FighterThe Count Adventure
GalaxianThe Sky is Falling
Gold FeverThreshold
GorfTopper
GridrunnerTornado
Jelly MonstersTutankham
Jungle HuntTypo
KeyQuestViccyBird
K-Razy AntiksVICKIT4&5
LazerzoneVicterm 40
Lode RunnerVoodoo Castle Adventure
Mine Madness

SD2IEC Functionality

Unlike, for example, the 1541 Ultimate cartridge that you can get for the Commodore 64, the Penultimate+ Cartridge does not allow you to add any content of your own. You are stuck with the cartridges and game ROM’s that it ships with.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

SD2IEC Device

 

Thankfully however, it does provide a quick way to access any content you may have via an SD2IEC device. Selecting this option from the menu will allow you to easily browse through the content of an SD card using a joystick. For games that won’t run on an unexpanded VIC20 you can allocate the correct amount of additional RAM needed before launching a game. I found this to work really well but I do need to spend a little time organising my game collection by how much RAM each needs.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Navigating the SD2IEC menus

 

Utilities

Under this section you will find a bunch of utilities that may be of interest to the more dedicated user.

 

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Utilities

 

Vic Term

This is a terminal program but as I don’t have a suitable modem for my VIC20 I’ve been unable to try this.

Vickit

This is a high speed cassette loading system. If you load this up and re-save a program to cassette it will load back in a fraction of the time.

BASIC4

This adds a number of sorely lacking disk handling commands to the VIC20’s BASIC arsenal such as ‘DIRECTORY’ and ‘DLOAD’.

Super Expander

This is probably the most useful of the bunch and greatly increases the BASIC commands available for writing programs. It provides dedicated graphics and sound commands along with some extra RAM to create them. It also provides commands that enable you to easily read paddle and joystick inputs. If you were thinking of writing a VIC20 game then this would be a great cart to load up. The only downside to this is however is that anyone else that wanted to run your program would also need the Super Expander for it to work!

VIC20 Dead Test+

This could prove to be another really useful feature to have on board. When you load this up it will test various aspects of your VIC20’s RAM and ROM in an endless cycle. If your VIC20 ever starts behaving strangely then this would be a great tool to load up to get an idea what’s going wrong.

If your VIC20 won’t even boot up then you can hold down the reset button for 10 seconds after switching it on to go straight to the dead test function. This is where ‘Dead Test’ cart actually earns its name.

I would have liked an option to buy dongles to plug into the various ports enabling a more comprehensive test but it’s still a great tool to have at your disposal. Maybe a future version will offer this feature.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

‘Dead Test’

Verdict

If you have a VIC20 then you should seriously consider getting one of these cartridges. It successfully combines a huge number of cartridges, games and functions into a single plug and play cartridge driven by a simple and intuitive menu system.

Even if you’re like me and have an extensive collection of cartridges already I would still recommend getting this. Not only is it hugely convenient to have an entire library of titles and functions always at the ready but it saves the wear and tear of both your VIC20’s cartridge port and the individual edge connectors of your cartridges. If you add an SD2IEC reader then you can literally have everything a few stick waggles and a button press away.

Does it fulfil it’s mission to be the one and only cartridge you need? Almost, but I still have an Adman speech synthesiser cartridge that I enjoy messing about with from time to time. Maybe a future ‘Ultimate’ version will incorporate this too and then it really can remain plugged in forever!

Retrokomp – A brand new Retro Computer Magazine

Retrokomp Magazine

I originally spotted Retrokomp Magazine a few months ago. I thought it looked interesting but sadly it was only available in Polish at the time. That’s changed now though so I ordered myself a copy for €10 plus postage last week and it arrived today.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

A technical article looking at diagnosing issues with the Commodore 64

 

So what exactly is it?

Retrokomp Magazine is a brand new retro computer magazine that focuses on 8-Bit and 16-Bit machines and is published by amiga.net.pl in Poland. Although it covers other makes and models of machine there is a lot of Commodore content covering everything from the VIC20 though to the Amiga. The other machines covered include Atari, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and the old Apple computers. It’s produced in full colour to a high standard on A4 glossy paper and there are 74 pages in total.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Detailed look at the long lost methods of interacting with 5.25″ floppies and how you can convert them to .D64’s

 

The first thing that struck me as I flicked through it is that it’s not like most of the other magazines in circulation right now. This is not a game-centric magazine, it’s very text heavy and it contains a lot of articles and information. This is a good thing in my opinion as there are plenty of other magazines that cover games already.

I’ve read a few of the articles in full and they’re well written, interesting and informative. They’re the sort of articles that I will either refer back to in the future or prompt me to start experimenting with a particular piece of kit or write a program. They remind me a little bit of the sort of articles you used to get in Amiga Shopper magazine (RIP).

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Making a VIC20 sound generator, complete with type-in listing

 

A quick run-down of the Commodore-centric articles in this issue:

  • Transferring data to the C64 (looks at converting real floppies into .D64 files)
  • Controlling the floppy disk drive (in depth look at floppy disks usage on the 64)
  • Expansion cards for the C16 – Plus/4 family (everything from adding more RAM to sound cards)
  • Diagnostic info for repairing Commodore 64’s
  • Better sound for the VIC20 (how to write your own sound generator – complete with listing to type in!!!)
  • Hardware expansions for the CD32 (looks at several devices you can get to expand the capabilities of the machine)
  • Devices supported by handlers (a look at Amiga DOS handlers and what you can do with them)
  • Tandem IDE controller (a look at the Tandem IDE CD-ROM drive controller for the Amiga)

 

 

Retrokomp Magazine

CD32 Expansions

 

Verdict

Although I’ve not read all of the magazine yet, what I have read so far impressed me. Even the non Commodore articles look interesting, so if I ever pick up one of those other machines there’s plenty to come back for.

Basically if you are interested in using your old computers for anything other than simply playing games on then I’d definitely recommend giving this magazine a try. It’s clearly targeted at hobbyists and tinkerers like myself and has plenty to offer.  If, however, you are only interested in games then this probably isn’t the magazine for you.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Happy days – a program listing to type in! This alone made the purchase worthwhile. (yes it’s deliberately blurred)

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

VIC-20

This is just a quick post about how I was able to repair the damaged keyboard on my recently unearthed Commodore VIC20.

As I mentioned previously in my VIC20 Attic Find post, the decades of storage in my attic had taken its toll on the keyboard. The insides of the keys had become brittle and four of them had broken apart. As you can see from the following photo they were in a pretty bad shape. In this condition they just wobbled around on top of the plungers and fell straight off if the keyboard was turned upside down.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

Broken and crumbling keys

 

The quick and easy solution would have been to stick some blue-tack in there but I doubt that would have been an effective bodge for long. Alternatively I could have glued them in place but then they would be permanently attached to the keyboard with no way of removing them for future cleaning or repairs. As my dad always used to say, if a job’s worth doing then it’s worth doing properly!

I did toy with the idea of replacing the whole keyboard with one from a donor machine off eBay. However that wasn’t cost effective and I really wanted to keep my VIC as original as possible.

I asked and searched around and eventually stumbled across retroleum.co.uk. They sell (amongst other spares) individual replacement Commodore 64 keys for £1 each. Luckily for me, the keyboard on my VIC20 is identical to the ones found on the original breadbin style C64’s. Not all revisions are so do check carefully before buying C64 keys if you want to fit them on a VIC20.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

My new VIC20 keys!

 

Particularly useful was the fact that they sell a wide variety of keys, not just from different models of C64’s, but with different levels of yellowing too! This meant I was able to choose some that would blend in perfectly with the rest of my keyboard. In the end the keys I ordered were described as ‘Breadbin C64 – Keyboard Type 2, Grade 1.5’. A couple of days after ordering them they arrived in a neat little cardboard box.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

New keys fitted – perfect match!

 

Fitting the new keys only took a few seconds and I was really pleased to see that they turned out to be a perfect match for my keyboard. My VIC20 is certainly looking a lot happier and I can actually use the keyboard now too.

Now that the keyboard is sorted I still need to look into sorting a few other things out. Next job will be to pop a few heat-sinks onto some of the more critical chips and maybe retrobrite it, if I’m feeling brave that is, (my last attempt was a disaster).

Replacing Grotty Game Library Cases

Replacing Game Library Cases

Replacing your game library cases is a very quick and easy method of rejuvenating some of your old cassette games. If yours are anything like some of mine then you may have several scratched up, chipped, broken or yellowed cases skulking around in your collection. The good news is that there are still companies out there supplying replacement cassette library cases. The company I use, based in the UK, is called Tapeline but there are probably others too.

The ones I’m using here are just standard black library cases costing around 26p each at the time of writing. You can get a variety of different types and colours too, even double and triple cases should you need them.

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Standard Black Library Case

 

Once the cases arrive it’s simply a matter of removing the cassette tape and paper ‘J’ card inlay from the old case and popping it inside a nice shiny new one. Here’s a few before and after photos to show the difference they can make. I’m sure you’ll agree that after replacing the game library cases the games look infinitely better, almost like new!

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

Six Classic VIC20 Games Added & Remembered

I received a nice package in the post this week containing half a dozen classic games for the VIC20. Four of these are actually re-acquisitions after I foolishly sold them. In my defence, at the time I believed I no longer still had my VIC20 so had little use for them. The other two (Skyhawk & Myriad) I only ever had copies copies of. I wanted to have the original games in my collection.

The Six Game Packages

 

 

All but one of the games loaded fine, though a couple needed a second try, either from the flip side of the tape or in the case of Skyhawk, the correct side of the tape! Sadly Tank Commander just didn’t load at all, it never even registered a ‘found’ on either side of the cassette so that one goes back on my shopping list…

 

They’re all in great condition and complete with their little instruction booklets. I have to admit I’ve never really been a big fan of these early plastic clam-shell cases. They often tended to have ill fitting inlays that stuck out of the top or bottom of the case leading to them becoming dog-eared or worse. Thankfully these cases have fared pretty well considering their age and still look really smart.

 

A brief look at each game together with a screenshot

 

I thought I’d honour the occasion with a screenshot of each game taken after I got them to load (or not). Maybe it will jog a few happy memories for you too. I know I had completely forgotten what a few of these looked like until loading them up. Crucially I’d forgotten what they sounded like! The woosh and thrum of my harrier jump jet loading fuel and getting ready to fly in Skyhawk instantly whisked me back to my childhood for example.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Skyhawk by Quicksilva – needs either a 3K or 8K RAM expansion. Make sure to load the correct side or you’ll get an ‘out of memory’ error! I used to love this game, even preferring it to Falcon Patrol on the C64. It just just seemed to play and sound better to me, offering a faster paced game that was just more fun to play. Even the bright chunky graphics had a charm of their own that FP couldn’t match.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Myriad by Rabbit Software – needs 8K RAM expansion. A brilliant little vertical shoot ’em up with colourful graphics and great sound effects. I found this pretty addictive as a child taking turns playing against my school friend to try and get the highest score. This was one of the games I copied, probably off that same friend I was playing against. I’m glad I finally own the game now.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Submarine Commander by Creative Sparks – needs 16K RAM expansion. Not quite on a par with Silent Service on the C64 but still an engrossing sub sim on the VIC that convinced childhood me that I was the Captain of a submarine!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Chariot Race by Micro Antics – the only game here that runs on an unexpanded machine. Amazingly this was one of the few VIC games that had a 2 player option. There was no joystick option though, you both had to use the keyboard to control your chariot. With my much larger adult hands this is probably a bit restrictive now but as a child playing against my sister (and beating her all the time) it was never a problem!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Computer War by Creative Sparks – needs 8K RAM expansion. This was basically a game based on the movie War Games. I suppose you could describe it as a variety of mini games where you had to crack codes and shoot down missiles in order to avoid WW3! This was another game that used to keep me entertained for long periods of time!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Tank Commander by Creative Sparks – needs 8K RAM expansion. Sadly this is as far as it got when attempting to load it 🙁 It was a great game though, you had to control your little tank within a large scrolling map, taking out enemy tanks and destroying their bases whilst hiding behind cover avoiding their attacks. Think top-down World of Tanks using just 14 kilobytes of memory! 🙂

 

All of these games were played heavily as a child, particularly those that required more RAM. The extra memory afforded improved effects and more interesting, in-depth games.  I remember being especially fond of Skyhawk, Myriad and Tank commander back in the day. This makes the fact that Tank Commander wouldn’t load all the more disappointing. However I can’t help but be amazed that the other five games still loaded perfectly, nearly 40 years after they were made on a format that was never expected to last this long.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Looks like there’s still a couple of original games I still need to track down before I can retire this tape! Incidentally the cassette inlay was designed and printed on the VIC20 by me using the Commodore 1520 Printer Plotter and BASIC.

Vic-20 Attic Find – Reacquainting myself with an old friend

VIC-20

Whilst rummaging around in the attic looking for a box of lights during the Christmas 2018 period I stumbled upon something amazing. It looked innocuous enough, a really dusty brown box tucked away under the eaves.  A box that I’d completely forgotten about. A box that hadn’t seen the light of day since I moved into our house 24 years ago. The contents had probably in that box for years before that too. What am I rambling on about? Only my Commodore VIC-20 that’s what. The very first computer I ever owned or indeed used! Not an eBay re-acquisition but the actual machine that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 12 years old!

 

VIC-20

Peering inside the box my VIC-20, C2N, Zipstick and PSU were all visible

 

The box was chock full of goodies, some in better condition than others. My VIC-20 had held up quite well albeit slightly yellowed. Unfortunately the sockets on the underside of some of the keys had become brittle and broken apart. When I removed the faux leather cover several simply fell away. The space bar had come off too but fortunately that just clipped straight back on.

 

VIC-20

VIC-20 Keyboard looking a little worse for wear.

 

Besides the VIC, a lot of my old software was in the box too including all my old cartridge games. There was also a vintage cassette case containing most of my old tape games too. I used to have a load ‘school playground’ acquisitions as well but they where nowhere to be found sadly.

 

VIC-20

A whole bunch of cartridge games…

 

VIC-20

My VIC-20 cassette games

 

Thankfully all of my more esoteric accessories were present and correct. My Adman Speech synthesizer, Vixen switchable 16K RAM pack and my Stack 4 slot cartridge expander

 

VIC-20

RAM pack, cartridge port expander on top of a stack of cartridge games 🙂

 

VIC-20

A better look at all the cartridges and accessories

 

Once I’d made sure that pretty much everything I remembered from my childhood was present and correct I naturally wanted to see if it still worked! To be safe I decided to open up the case and check that nothing had fell inside that might cause a short circuit. I also checked that none of the capacitors had degraded or leaked onto the motherboard. Happily, besides looking a little dusty the old girl looked to be in good condition!

 

VIC-20

A look at the VIC-20’s motherboard.

 

The original PSU still worked but as they can be notoriously bad for your Commodore’s health if they fail I didn’t want to take any chances. To protect my VIC-20 I used my SAV64 between the VIC-20 and PSU which would prevent any errant voltages reaching the motherboard.  Suitably protected I plugged everything in and turned on the power. I have to admit I was fearing the worst so I was relieved when I was greeted by a lovely glowing red LED! A very good start.

 

VIC-20

She’s alive!

 

Next I needed to hook it up to my TV. Although the modulator was in the box there was no way I was going to try and use that, the picture quality would have been appalling. I grabbed my C64 video cable to see if it would fit but unfortunately it didn’t. The VIC-20 uses a 5 pin DIN socket whereas my C64 uses an 8 pin one (for the extra chroma & luma info presumably).

 

VIC-20

The 5 pin video DIN port

 

Not to be deterred I rummaged through my boxes of old cables. Eventually I found a suitable composite cable that I used to use for my C64 before upgrading. I plugged it in, switched everything on and with some trepidation, switched the TV over to its’ AV input channel. I couldn’t have been happier when I was greeted with that familiar white and cyan screen. That message saying ‘**** CBM BASIC V2 **** 3583 BYTES FREE almost brought a tear to my eye.

 

VIC-20

A dear old friend says ‘hello’

 

Buoyed by this success I quickly dug out one of my favourite old game cartridges, Omega Race. Everything worked perfectly, the joystick, the sound, just as it had done the last time I played it about 30 years ago. Incredible!

 

VIC-20

Omega Race

 

In the coming months I will be trying to restore it to it’s former glory, cleaning up the insides, adding heat sinks to some of the chips to prolong their life and possibly retrobriting the case. I will also be looking into the current VIC-20 scene and expanding my game collection, trying to get hold of games that I previously only owned copies of. Not only that but I will be scanning my whole VIC-20 game collection and putting them on this site as 3D models for everyone to enjoy.