Lyonsden Blog

Category - Reviews

Eight Bit Magazine

Eight Bit Magazine

In this post I’m taking a look at Eight Bit magazine, another new (to me at least) retro computer magazine. I actually ordered these 6 issues 4 months ago as part of a Kickstarter campaign but they took a fair bit longer to arrive than expected. I’ve only had time to read through the first issue so far but things are looking promising. The magazines are well written and interesting to read and feature multiple contributors rather than being written by just one person.

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Genesis article

 

Issue one weighs in at almost 70 pages so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. As the title suggests, the content is spread across all 8-Bit formats. There’s a very interesting and in-depth look at the ‘Genesis’ of gaming. Here they delve into the history of the first arcade machines and home consoles that appeared in the 1970’s and early 80’s. This is a very long (14 pages) and text heavy article, but thankfully the font and colours used in the printing make it easy to read. Having lived through the entire period the article covers I found it to be a great trip down memory lane. I particularly enjoyed reading about long forgotten software companies such as Imagine (which was based in my home city) – as a child I used to dream of getting a job with them and razzing around in a flash car!

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Commodore 64 Collectors Guide

 

Elsewhere in the magazine the article ‘Collectors Guide: The Commodore 64’ caught my eye. This is a brief introduction to the machine, what it can do and some of the most popular peripherals available for it. I hope to see more in depth articles about the 64 in future issues as this one didn’t really tell me anything new. However I think the point of these features is to give non-owners of such systems an idea of what the machine is capable of and what is available for it. The article did hint that they would be looking at GEOS in a future issue so I’m really looking forward to that!

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Commodore 64 Collectors Guide

 

Also in issue one there is a brief (and I do mean brief) look at BASIC programming and machine code. I really hope they expand on this in future issues as I’ve got a strong hankering to get back into programming on the C64 and would love to see some proper tutorials. There’s also an extensive look at the early Apple 8-Bit computers, a quirky computer from Yugoslavia and even a couple of short game reviews. All in all I’m very pleased with this magazine and look forward to getting stuck into the other five issues. I’ll definitely be subscribing to future issues too.

If you would like to find out more information about the magazines or order your own copies then you can visit their webpage here: Eight Bit Magazine.

Single Button Games for C64 – Mini Reviews

C64 Single Button Games

Here’s a quick look at the new C64 ‘Single Button Games’ collection from K&A Plus including screenshots of each of the 5 games on the cassette.

I always enjoy getting packages in the post from foreign countries, seeing the strange looking stamps on them and of course trying to remember exactly what I’ve ordered from where to guess what may be inside! You know how it is with a lot of retro stuff – often it can be weeks or even months after you place an order before it  arrives.

Anyway, this time it was ‘Single Button Games’ from K&A Plus Magazine in Poland. As the name suggests this is a collection of games that you can play by only using your joystick fire button.

 

Single Button Games

The Cassette Case

 

Single Button Games

The Complete Package – includes some cool little stickers!

 

Amazingly there are 5 little games packed onto this cassette; 2 on side A and 3 more on side B. All of them utilise a turbo loader so you won’t have to wait too long for them to load. Even so,  they all feature loading music and loading screens to entertain you whilst you wait for the games to load – just like being back in the 80’s!.

 

Single Button Games

The Inlay Card

 

Taking a Look at the Single Button Games

As mentioned already there are five games included – let’s insert the tape and take a brief look at them all, in the order in which they appear on the cassette.

Single Button Games

Binatone Data Recorder with the Single Button Game Collection Inserted – Ready to Play!

 

SIDE A

Captain Cloudberry (Tape Counter – 000)

You control a small Bi-Plane and have to destroy weather balloons found around the screen whilst avoiding hitting the frozen clouds. The fact you can only use a single button press to control the plane ensures that this is nowhere near as easy at it sounds! Clicking the fire button causes the planes direction of flight to rotate 45′. Each subsequent press rotates it another 45′ until you have come full circle. Just imagine trying to play ‘Snake’ with just a single button to rotate the snakes head and you’ll get the idea.

 

 Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Title Screen

 

Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Game Screen

Pixel City Skater (Tape Counter – 057)

This is a screen flipping ‘endless runner’ where you have to perform skateboard jumps over various obstacles to progress as far as you can before you inevitably collide with something and fall off.

 

Single Button Games

Pixel City Skater – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Pixel City Skater – Game Screen

 

Side B

Fire To Jump (Tape Counter – 000)

This is very similar to the previous Pixel City Skater game but features very minimalist graphics with the same principal of jumping over objects in a screen flipping ‘runner’ style game.

 

Single Button Games

Fire to Jump – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Fire to Jump – Game Screen

 

Flappy Bird (Tape Counter – 059)

This game surely needs no introduction? It’s a faithful reproduction of the frustratingly addictive game that took the mobile world by storm a few years ago. This version is a perfect recreation of the game right down to the same maddeningly difficult gameplay!

 

Single Button Games

Flappy Bird – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Flappy Bird – Game Over Screen – Expect to see this within seconds of loading the game!

 

Flapper (Tape Counter – 102)

The final game in the collection should really be called ‘Chopper’ as it sees you trying to control a small helicopter. You have to navigate it through a side scrolling landscape very reminiscent of the old ‘Scramble’ arcade game. The faster you press the button the faster the rotor blades spin and the more lift you get. It plays a little bit like Flappy Bird but is easier to control.

 

Single Button Games

Flapper – Game Screen

 

And that’s it – a really great little collection of games that I’m very happy to add to my C64 collection. I enjoyed all 5 games but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Captain Cloudberry which has that ‘just one more go’ quality in spades. It’s presentation is top notch too and it has a delightfully quirky little rendition of ‘Lady Madonna’ as its’ theme music which I can’t get out of my head!

 

If you would like to get hold of your own copy then you should head right on over to the K&A Plus website here. They also produce a terrific magazine that covers both the C64 and Amiga computers which is well worth taking a look at whilst you are there.

 

A Closer look at the Cassette

Just to finish I thought I’d show a few close-ups of the cover and the cassette itself which has been really well produced.

 

Single Button Games

C64 Single Button Games Cassette Case

 

Single Button Games

Side ‘A’

 

Single Button Games

Side ‘B’

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI – a Solution

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI

Having recently picked up a 2nd-hand Toshiba LCD screen to use with my Vampire equipped Amiga I found myself in the position of needing to connect my trusty 35 year old Commodore 64 video over HDMI to a modern display.

The problem, and why I needed to use HDMI

Obviously I had already exhausted all the other options before going down the HDMI route. I tried a direct composite connection, composite and S-video over SCART and of course good old RF. I even tried a custom cable off eBay with a 300ohm resistor built in that other people have had some success with. None of these options worked. The best I could achieve over RF was a vertically rolling black and white image. All the other methods resulted in nothing – just a black screen. The annoying thing is when I plugged the 64 into my brand new Panasonic 4K TV I got a perfect picture with all the cables so clearly this was just an issue with the older Toshiba panel. For reference, in case anyone is reading this who has the same issue, my Toshiba TV’s model number is ’22DV714B’.

Now I do have a Commodore 1084S but with my current set-up there is simply no room for 2 screens – I needed a single screen that could handle everything. Native Amiga 500 screen modes, 720p screen modes from the Vampire output and of course the output from my C64C. One day when I get my man cave sorted I can have each machine with their own screen but until then this is my solution…

The Commodore 64 Video over HDMI solution

Clearly whatever video signal my 64 was outputting simply wasn’t compatible with my Toshiba screen. Determined to get it working I figured it would be worth trying to convert the signal into something that would work. I had a look on Amazon and settled on the device pictured below. It claimed to do exactly what I needed and was pretty cheap so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if didn’t work.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter box with the mini USB power lead.

The box itself is very small, about the size of a book of matches and it came with just a short mini USB cable and some simple instructions in the box.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – Composite and Left/Right Audio inputs

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – HDMI Out port

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – Mini USB socket for power and 720p/1080p output selector switch

Setting it all up

In addition to an HDMI cable and a USB charger (to plug the mini USB power cable into) you will also need a Commodore 64 Composite video cable like the one pictured on the left below. If you don’t already have one they are readily available on Amazon. Setting it up was really straightforward, I just needed to provide a 5v USB charger for the power lead and then hook up an HDMI cable and the composite video and audio connections from the C64 A/V port using the above type of cable.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – With power, composite video, audio and HDMI cables all connected

The Amanka box can output at both 720p and 1080p. My LCD is only 720p so I selected that option and then powered everything on. I have to admit I wasn’t overly optimistic about my chances of this working given the failure of everything else I’d already tried. However I was ecstatic when I saw that familiar blue “Commodore 64 Basic V2” screen again! The C64 sound is also passed through HDMI so it would seem to be a complete solution for both video and audio!

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI

Success – Commodore 64 video over HDMI on my Toshiba 22DV714B LCD TV

So another success story – I would consider the Amanka device a permanent solution and am very pleased with both the cost and the end result.

There are are links to the exact box I bought in the article if you would like to make sure you get the same one that worked for me – I will get a few pennies to help pay for my hosting costs but you will pay the exact same price as you would if you went to Amazon to purchase one – win win! If you would like to know anything else about the above setup then just drop me a quick message and I’ll do my best to help you out.

 

Moga Pro Review – PS Vita killer?

Moga Pro Review

Today I finally received my Moga Pro pre-order from Game and I’m very happy to say it was worth the wait!

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box

Just in case you’re not aware of what one is – it’s a bluetooth hardware gamepad that works with Android phones and tablets to give you a more ‘console like’ experience and overcome the problems of using touch screens to play.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box (flap open)

The devices retails for £40 and comes in a very attractive retail box with a fold out magnetic front flap that shows the device in action with phones, tablets and even a TV. Inside the box you get the pad itself, a plastic tablet stand, USB charging cable, instruction booklet, quick-start guide, QR code to download the driver for your device and a code to download a free copy of N.O.V.A. 3 from the Gameloft’s own store.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box (back)

 

First thing you need to do is charge the pad up as it is powered by an internal rechargeable battery. An LED flashes yellow to indicate the unit is charging and extinguishes when fully charged. While the pad is charging you can scan the QR code with your phone which will take you straight to the MOGA Pivot app which you need to install on your phone or tablet.

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Gamepad

Once the gamepad is fully charged you can move onto the next stage which just involves running the Pivot app and following the simple on-screen instructions to pair the pad with your phone. It will also give you an opportunity to get a free copy of Pacman*, redeem your Nova 3* game code and register for updates. I received an email a few minutes after registering with instruction on how to actually get the game. The whole process couldn’t be simpler and my pad paired and worked first time with no issues at all. As well as letting you setup your pad the Pivot app also acts as a central hub where you can see all of your installed Moga Pro compatible games and also browse and download new ones.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box Contents

*In order to install both of these games you have to allow installs from Unknown sources on your phone. The option can be found in Settings>Security>Unknown sources. This is because the apps are being downloaded from outside the Google Play store.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro with Galaxy Note 2

 

The build quality seems to be first-rate and the design has clearly been based on the XBox 360 pad as the dimensions, stick layouts, triggers and buttons are all virtually identical, even the XYAB letters on the buttons are same! This is fine by me – the 360 pad is by far the best I’ve ever used on any system and the Moga Pro is just as comfortable and precise to use. Where it differs from the 360 pad is that it incorporates a flip out spring-loaded arm which holds your phone in place securely while you game. The arm dimensions are extremely generous so don’t worry about your phone fitting – I have a Galaxy Note 2 and it fitted comfortably even with the phone in a Spigen case! It feels perfectly balanced once the phone is in place and very little effort is required to hold the whole thing steady. It could easily have been top-heavy and tiring to hold but it’s obvious a fair bit of thought gone in to the placement of the arm and it works well.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro phone holder arm

 

I tested the game with a copy of Gameloft’s Modern Warfare Combat 4: Zero Hour. This is a Moga Pro enhanced game which basically means it fully supports all the features of the Gamepad. The Modern Combat games have always looked and sounded the part but been seriously let down in the control department with the virtual sticks and touch screen controls being awkward at best and a downright hindrance at worst. Not to mention that you’ve got your thumbs obscuring a good chunk of the screen. The Moga Pro was a revelation – before I knew it an hour had passed and I was really enjoying myself. The sticks are really responsive, dead-zones almost non-existent and lining up head shots quickly became second nature. Familiar Call of Duty console button configurations also helped too, with bumpers launching grenades, X to reload, Y to switch weapons and so on.

I have a Playstation Vita which is a really great handheld system, the best I have ever owned in fact. However having experienced the Moga Pro coupled with my Galaxy Note 2 I’d have to say it’s a better gaming experience than the Vita. The screen is bigger, the whole thing is easier and much more comfortable to hold and the full-size pad and analogue sticks really are of console quality. The final kicker is that at just £4.99 the Gameloft COD clone is a darn sight cheaper than Black Ops DeClassified too!

Some more images…

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro with Galaxy Note 2 – close-up of phone holding grip

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – viewing installed games

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – Congratulations!

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro & XBox 360 Gamepad Comparison

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – browsing for new games

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro – Modern Combat Control Layout

Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones Review

Received a pair of these bad boys yesterday so thought I’d share my findings for the benefit of anyone else that might be interested.

 

Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser RS130’s

 

Included in the box with your headphones is the transmitter/charger base, two AAA rechargeable batteries, a 1/8”->1/4” stereo jack adaptor, small power brick (similar size to a mobile phone charger) and a small multi-lingual manual.

Setup was a breeze, just power up the transmitter/charging station and hook up to your audio source. It will automatically turn itself on when it detects an incoming audio signal and off shortly after it ceases. Then you just need to open up one side of the headphones and slot in the two AAA’s. You switch the headphones on using a small on/off switch on the rear of one of the ear cups. They automatically tune themselves into the FM signal from the base, although you can also select 3 different “channels” on the base and initiate an auto-tune from a small button on the ‘phones themselves if you need to. It recommends you charge the batteries for 16 hours before first use – you do this simply by hanging the ‘phones on the charging stand. There are two metal strips in the headband that pickup the charging current from the metal stand… when it detects that the battery is charged it automatically switches to trickle-charging so no need to worry about over-charging. Being impatient I threw in a couple of Duracell’s so I could play with them right away…

The headphones themselves are well designed and constructed, lightweight for their size and extremely comfortable. The headband is well padded and has the usual vertical adjustment, the ear cups also pivot horizontally as well as vertically so you are assured of a snug fit. They are also well padded and have been covered in a suede type of material rather than vinyl which makes them very soft and comfortable and also less likely to make you sweat whilst wearing them for long periods. I was able to walk around the entire ground floor of our house without any loss of signal so you shouldn’t have a problem whilst sat on the sofa in front of your TV.

Sound quality wise I couldn’t fault them – the volume is controlled by a small thumb-wheel on the right ear cup and goes up far enough for you to be deafened by explosions in COD3 if you really want! There is plenty of bass on offer and I experienced no distortion in the sound and all dialogue and effects were crystal clear. There is a slight hiss when the volume is cranked up high during periods of silence but this is never noticeable otherwise. A welcome addition is a surround sound option you can enable – just don’t expect 5.1 effects from it… it basically seems to widen the field of sound so that you feel like the sound is coming from all around rather than just from your left and right. They do leak a bit of sound so no good for watching movies in bed, but for playing games late at night in your living room they are perfect.

I would definitely recommend these Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones for those of you who are annoying your partner/parents/neighbours/pets with noisy late-night gaming sessions!