Lyonsden Blog

Tag - Commodore 64

Zzap! 64 Issue 2

It’s been a long 3 months since the first issue of Zzap! 64 magazine launched but my copy of issue 2 is finally here. In my ideal ‘alternate reality’ world, Zzap! 64 would be published every month but there has to be sufficient new games out there to actually review. Sadly the 80’s are long gone and though there are lots of games now being made, they’re nowhere near as prolific as they were during Zzap’s original publishing run. Three months seems to be the magic number then, allowing time for enough new games to emerge from bedroom coders around the globe to fill a magazine.

 

Zzap! 64 issue 2

Zzap! 64 Front Cover.

 

Even though the C64’s halcyon days are long gone, Zzap! 64 issue 2 still manages to feature an impressive ten brand new game reviews. One of them even receives the coveted ‘sizzler’ award. I think that’s a staggering achievement for the C64 scene and just goes to show there’s still plenty of life left in the old girl!

The page count has remained the same as before, as has the quality and use of full colour throughout. Zzap! 64 regulars like the White Wizard, Rrap and Scorelord all make an appearance. Speaking of Scorelord, one of these days I must try and get at least one of my puny high scores featured on his page!

 

Zzap! 64 issue 2

Zzap! 64 issue 2 Contents page.

 

This issue was a cracking read from cover to cover, just like the first one. The reviews were bang up to date, even covering the likes of Nixy the Glade Sprite which has literally only just released. I also really appreciate how they give honest reviews with differing viewpoints. The C64 scene is so active now that I find a more critical approach really helpful in deciding on my next purchase(s).

 

Getting hold of a copy of Zzap! 64 Issue 2

Needless to say if you are a C64 gamer then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Zzap! 64 magazine. It’s available from Fusion Retro Books and is priced at £3.99. Make sure you use the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to grab yourself a nifty 15% off the price! This code works for everything you place in your basket too!

Here’s a small gallery of images from the magazine.

 

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Great Giana Sisters (Reproduction)

One of the less desirable side-effects of the booming C64 retro scene is the extra demand. The supply of old games and hardware is limited as obviously no more copies are being made. Consequently as more and more people try to get hold of stuff the more scarce and thus expensive it becomes. This is basic supply and demand unfortunately and Great Giana Sisters is a perfect example. It was already a scarce product owing to the small number of copies sold originally but add the extra demand and it becomes classic unobtanium.

 

eBay

One of the more reasonable asking prices for the game on eBay!

 

There are a few copies floating around but when they do appear on eBay they sell for hundreds of pounds. At the time of writing this there is one on there now with a ‘Buy it now’ price of £300 and several others for much more…

 

eBay

Taking the pi**?

 

Unless you have very deep pockets then that puts it out of reach of most hobbyist collectors such as myself.

 

Great Giana Sisters

Front Cover Artwork.

 

Imagine my surprise then, when I stumbled across this version on eBay selling for less than £40. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I was a little apprehensive about the quality of the item I would receive. I made the seller an offer which he accepted and then patiently waited for it to arrive.

 

Great Giana Sisters

Back of the box.

 

A few days later the game arrived, packaged securely to prevent any damage . The sturdy cardboard box the game came in was around the size of a VCR tape but about 50% thicker.

 

Great Giana Sisters

Another view of the box side-on.

 

Glossy artwork from the original game adorned the front cover whilst the back of the box had some screenshots and details of the game. Both sides of the box had matching title artwork down the spines, capped off with a couple of very attractive silver foil stickers.

 

Great Giana Sisters

Box spine.

 

Inside the box was equally well presented with a thick black foam pad sitting at the bottom and all the ‘feelies’ placed on top.

 

Great Giana Sisters

A look inside the box.

 

Besides a copy of the game on cassette tape there was also an instruction sheet, glossy colour level map, a bookmark and a postcard featuring the alternative cover artwork. Oh and a little sachet of silica gel crystals to keep moisture at bay. Keeping everything neat and tidy inside the box was a matching Giana Sisters strap around the contents.

 

Great Giana Sisters

All the ‘feelies’ included in the game.

 

Is it original? Of course not. Is it going to be worth a fortune in the future? Almost certainly not. Is it a great looking physical copy of the game that didn’t cost me an arm and a leg? It sure is and one I’m more than happy to display on my shelf.

 

Great Giana Sisters

Great Giana Sisters loading screen.

 

That tape is no mere dummy either, it actually contains a copy of the game on both sides!  🙂

 

Great Giana Sisters

Playing Great Giana Sisters on my C64C.

 

Here’s a link to the sellers items for sale on eBay if you want to take a look for yourself. He produces a few other reproduction games too although he doesn’t always have them listed for sale. If there’s none there when you look then keep checking back or fire him a message. He says he’s open to requests to produce other games too…

A look at the new Zzap! 64 2021 Annual

Picked up a copy of the latest Zzap 64 2021 Annual last week so thought I share a little look at what’s inside. Let’s start with the awesome front cover artwork by Oliver Frey, the exact same artist from the original Zzap! 64 magazines of the 80’s.

 

Zzap 64 2021 Annual

Front cover of the 2021 Zzap! 64 Annual.

 

Flipping over to the back cover we find a very interesting advert that appears to herald the return of MicroProse simulation games. MicroProse was a big player in the Commodore market (especially on the Amiga) and produced some of my favourite C64 games such as Silent Service, Gunship and Pirates!

Sadly, but not at all surprising, these new games will be coming to Windows PC’s and not the C64 or Amiga. Even so I’m still looking forward to seeing what MicroProse produces. To be honest that’s probably what they are banking on too otherwise why else would they pay for such a prominent advert in a book about 40 year old computers!

 

Zzap 64 2021 Annual

Interesting advert on the back!

 

Below is a little peek at the contents page giving you an idea of exactly what’s inside the annual.

 

Zzap 64 2021 Annual

Zzap! 64 2020 Annual Contents Page

 

A few of the many contributors this year include Andrew Braybrook, Stuart Collier, Perifratic and Trevor Storey.

 

Zzap 64 2021 Annual

Zzap! 64 2020 Annual Contents Page

 

Most of the Zzap! 64 magazine regular features like Zzap! Rrap and the White Wizard can be found within the annual and are given plenty of space to shine. There are also dozens and dozens of game reviews covering pretty much every new game that has been released over the last 12 months for the C64.

 

Zzap 64 2021 Annual

Another example of the amazing Artwork of Oliver Frey.

 

The hardback A4 annual has 120 full colour pages all packed with interesting articles, reviews and artwork.

Here’s a tiny selection of random pages from the annual to give you an idea of what it contains.

 

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Rounding off

There’s certainly enough content in this annual to keep any C64 fan quiet for a very long time. I reckon it makes a superb collectors item; chronicling the last twelve months of the C64 scene. I’ve bought every one of this new run of annuals since it started back in 2019 and I sincerely hope they continue being produced for a long time to come too.

The Zzap 64 2021 Annual is available directly from the Fusion Retro Books website for £15. You can save 15% by using the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ at the checkout making it even more of a bargain!

K&A Plus #17 Magazine Preview

Received my copy of K&A Plus #17 a few days ago. As always I paid a little extra for the cover disk which I think is well worth it. The disk comprises the 4th instalment of a series of games compilations called ‘Good Old 8-Bit Games’.

 

K&A Plus #17

K&A Plus #17 Front Cover.

 

The 81 page magazine has a lovely piece of artwork featuring Guybrush and Elaine from Monkey Island adorning the front cover. The relevance of this becomes immediately apparent when reading the very interesting ‘LucasArts Legacy’ article.

 

The CoverDisk

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games

Good Old 8-Bit Games #4.

 

The double-sided floppy disk (complete with printed colour jacket) is packed with C64 games to help while away those rainy Sunday afternoons.

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games

The Complete GO8BG Collection so far…

 

Once again the disk represents astounding value for money, packing in 11 great games across both sides. There’s a lovingly crafted custom loader for the disk with some terrific music playing in the background too.

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games

Custom Game Loader.

 

The highlight of the collection for me this time has to be Tiger Claw – a fun little Bruce Lee inspired beat ’em up.

 

Good Old 8-Bit Games

Tiger Claw

 

Here’s a full rundown of the games included on disk #4…

 

K&A Plus #17

Good Old 8-Bit Games #4 – Disk Contents.

Magazine Preview

 

Here’s a quick look at the contents page of K&A Plus #17.

 

K&A Plus #17

K&A Plus #17 Contents.

 

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

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This was a great read with loads of reviews and interesting articles to get stuck into. There’s enough here to keep any Commodore fan entertained for an entire afternoon. 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 #17 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 is pretty quick (COVID disruptions allowing of course).

Zzap! 64 Magazine is Back!

Zzap! 64

Well this is something I would never have envisaged happening a couple of years ago… the return of a printed Zzap! 64 magazine! This is an A5 sized publication produced by the same guys who make Fusion magazine, Fusion Retro Books. It’s going to be published on a quarterly basis rather than monthly. This makes a lot of sense and should ensure there’s plenty of new gaming content to fill each issue.

 

Zzap! 64 Issue 1

Zzap! 64 Issue 1

 

I received issue one a few days ago so I’ve had a chance to read it in its entirety now. I also opted to get the very snazzy binder to store all my future issues in. The magazine has been printed on a high quality silk paper and runs to an impressive 58 pages, all in glorious full colour (back in the day much of the magazine was printed in black and white).

 

Zzap! 64

Zzap! 64 Binder

 

Zzap! 64 magazine is packed with reviews of the very latest C64 games to hit the scene. A testament to just how popular the C64 continues to be, despite its advancing age! Speaking of reviews, they are just as good as I remember, presented in that familiar ZZap! style with a main review accompanied by comments from the other writers.

 

Zzap! 64

Zzap! 64 game scoring.

 

Games are scored on Presentation, Graphics, Sound, Hookability and Lastability and given an overall aggregate percentage score, very similar to how they used to be reviewed back in the day.

 

Zzap! 64

Two thumbs up – must be good!

 

Still present and correct are the little B&W portraits of the reviewers in various pensive poses giving you instant visual feedback about what they think of each game. Further reassurance that this is still the Zzap! 64 I know and love – just shrunk down to A5 size.

 

Zzap! 64

The White Wizard adventure and RPG section.

 

As a big Adventure game fan I was thrilled to see the reappearance of the White Wizard. This section of the mag features reviews of some of the current C64 Adventure and RPG games along with news of up and coming ones to look forward to.

 

Zzap! 64

Soul Force gets the coveted Zzap! Sizzler award.

 

As well as the many reviews there are some previews of upcoming games such as the Empire Strikes Back and a look back at some of the more notable games of the past.

 

Zzap! 64

Article about the upcoming Empire Strikes Back game.

 

There’s a few trips down memory lane and insights into events which happened during the magazines heyday too which I found both engaging and entertaining.

Zzap! Rrap makes a welcome return, presented by the totally real and definitely not imaginary Lloyd Mangram, complete with little cartoons of him adorning the borders of the pages.

 

Zzap! 64

Lloyd is back!

 

All in all this is a fantastic return to the C64 scene for the magazine and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. Along the way I had a good few chuckles, some trips down memory lane and discovered some new games that I want to add to my collection.

This is a magazine that every C64 fan should read and the next issue just can’t come soon enough for me.

 

Zzap! 64

Zzap! 64 Contents page.

 

Zzap! 64 magazine is available from Fusion Retro Books and is priced at £3.99. The optional binder is £15 and can hold 12 issues or 3 years worth of magazines. Make sure you use the code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to grab yourself a nifty 15% off the price!

 

 

Zzap! 64

Issue one stored safely in the binder.

 

 

A C64 Type-In BASIC Listing – in 2021!

As a fully certified computer nerd I spent an inordinate amount of time in my teenage years typing away on my VIC20 and C64 entering BASIC programs from books and magazines.  I found the process fascinating, witnessing a program gradually taking shape before my eyes. Sometimes I would ‘run’ the program before it was even finished just to glimpse the title screen or see how it was looking.

A couple of my favourite magazines (for listings) at the time were ‘Commodore Horizons’ and ‘Your Computer‘. YC was packed with new listings for all manner of 8-bit machines every month and it always had several for the C64. I would think nothing of spending hours painstakingly transcribing reams of code into my computer and probably another few more ‘debugging’ the code to fix all the mistakes! It was a fun, occasionally frustrating but always rewarding experience. It was also very educational. Typing in other peoples code helped me learn how to program myself. I used to experiment a lot, changing their code to make the program do something different. Eventually I went on to get a few of my own programs published in magazines and ultimately it’s what got me into a lifelong career in computers.

 

C64 Type-In BASIC Listing

Typing in a listing!

 

Why the trip down memory lane? Well because it’s now 2021 and I’ve just spent several evenings typing in a brand new game into my Commodore 64! The game in question is a version of the every popular Klondike solitaire card game written by Roman Werner.

 

C64 Type-In BASIC Listing

A snippet of the Klondike Solitaire PDF.

 

It’s available to download in PDF format (it is a type-in listing after all) from his itch.io page.

 

C64 Type-In BASIC Listing

This is how the listing is presented. The colour coding helps makes things easier to follow. Note the 4 digit hex code in grey at the start of each line. This is the checksum code.

 

What made the idea of typing in his listing all the more appealing was the fact that he has utilised a new checksum tool when creating the listing. The way it works is this; each line of code in the listing is given a checksum number. Every time you type in a line of code the tool examines it and generates a code so that you can check it matches. If it doesn’t then you know you’ve made a mistake and can correct it straight away. That way, when you reach the end of the program it should run first time without issue.

 

C64 Type-In BASIC Listing

The checksum code in white appears after entering each line of code. If the checksum on the screen matches the one in the listing you are good to go. If not then it’s time to check where you’ve gone wrong!

 

Obviously I had to type in the small checksum tool program initially and get that working but it only took about 15 minutes. The checksum system was fantastic in use. Inevitably I did make several errors along the way but I was able to correct them immediately and move on. It was certainly far better to know I’d made a mistake straight away than try to fix multiple errors within hundreds of lines of code later on. Occasionally it did lead to some prolonged head-scratching as I tried to figure out what I’d entered wrong though!

 

C64 Type-In BASIC Listing

Playing the completed game.

 

I did struggle a little at first – it’s been nearly 40 years since I’ve had to deal with the C64’s weird and wonder special symbols and some of them took me a while to figure out! The fact that ‘Light grey’ is accessed by holding down the C= key and pressing 8 for example had long since faded from memory.

The entire listing took me around 5-6 hours to complete from start to finish and that included ‘debugging’ time. If I had to do it again I’d be much faster now I’m familiar with most of the PETSCII characters once more.

I still found it a very enjoyable experience, even though I now have to deal with wearing varifocal glasses. I was quite surprised to discover that you can still purchase copy holders so I picked one up to help keep the listing and the screen the same distance from my eyes which helped a lot.

 

The Game

For probably the first time in my life ever the program ran successfully first time! A testament to the success of that Checksum tool for sure. I was greeted with an attractive title screen that includes some options for customising the game.

 

C64 BASIC Solitaire

Title Screen.

 

Considering the game is written in BASIC it looks great and plays really well. It utilises the Commodore 1351 mouse which just feels like the natural way to play a game like this. There’s some extra code provided to add joystick support too should you wish to have it. The mouse pointer utilises a sprite in the form of a hand which looks really slick in operation.

 

C64 Solitaire

Using one of the alternate coloured decks.

 

The game plays exactly as you would expect a game of solitaire to play. By utilising mouse input it ‘feels’ like a much more modern game during play.

You can opt to play drawing 3 cards from the deck or just 1. Right-clicking on a card sends it to the appropriate foundation pile. You can also select a group of cards to move from one column to another.

 

C64 Solitaire

You can select a group of cards just like you would expect to move across to another column.

 

The card backs can also be changed to one of 4 different colour choices (red, grey, purple and blue) simply right-clicking the top card on the deck. Limited but effective sound effects are used to represent both the shuffling of the deck and card movements during the game. There’s even an animated ‘win’ screen at the end.

 

C64 Solitaire

The ‘win’ screen complete with animation. Game tracks the time played and number of moves you have made which is a nice touch.

 

SuperCPU

The game runs really well as I said but it is a little on the slow side when first setting up the cards on the screen or if you move a large stack of cards from one column to another. I’m only talking about a few seconds and it certainly doesn’t ruin the game, but it did encourage me to dust off my Turbo Chameleon V2 and test out the SuperCPU functionality.

 

C64 Turbo Chameleon

My Turbo Chameleon cart.

 

I tried it set to various speeds to see how it would affect the game. After some experimentation I found 3Mhz to be the sweet spot. Any faster and the mouse pointer started jittering all over the screen. 3Mhz gives the game a real boost to the point where the cards appear at the speed you’d expect. Any faster and you lose the impression that the cards are actually being dealt anyway and thus some if its charm.

 

C64 Turbo Chameleon

Setting the CPU speed to 3Mhz.

 

You can see the difference the improved CPU speed makes in the video below. The quality is pretty ropey as my camera lacks the ability to fine tune the shutter speed which is necessary to match the CRT’s refresh rate but it serves its purpose.

The video starts off with the cards being laid out at normal speed. Then you can see me going into my Turbo Chameleon settings and enabling ‘Turbo Mode’ with the speed set to 3Mhz (which is 3x faster than a standard C64). Now that the CPU is running at 3Mhz I demonstrate the cards being laid out again, but noticeably faster this time. This is definitely my preferred way of playing the game now.

 

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

This Commodore 64 IRQ LED mod is a fun little hack that I spotted on eBay last year. Since my C64 mainboard has just come back from being re-capped I finally took the opportunity to fit this whilst I had the case open.

It’s a very simple little device that changes the colour of the C64 (or VIC20) power LED according to IRQ activity. When the computer is just idling the LED will glow red as usual. However when the CPU is active and generating interrupt requests (IRQ’s) the colour changes to green. This allows you to instantly see at a glance if your C64 is doing something. Anything that causes rapid IRQ’s will actually make the LED appear to be orange as it flicks rapidly between red and green.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Everything supplied in the regular breadbin kit.

 

I picked up two of the devices, one for my 64 and the other for my VIC. I should point out that this isn’t a destructive hack. Nothing is permanently altered or damaged in any way and it can easily be reversed if desired. The device itself is really simple and there’s (usually) no soldering required. It consists of a tiny circuit board containing an LED, a couple of resistors and a single chip that detects the IRQ signals and triggers the LED colour changes. Connected to the board are 3 wires that are terminated with IC clips. These clips attach to the cartridge port pins and this is how the device monitors IRQ’s.

 

Breadbin Install

 

VIC20 Power LED.

Original VIC20 Power LED.

 

For breadbin C64’s and VIC20 computers fitment is extremely simple. You just unplug and remove the existing power LED and replace it with the little circuit board. There’s a small black plastic ring on the inside that needs pulling off and then the LED should push into the case from the outside with a little bit of force.

 

Removing a VIC20 Power LED.

Removing a breadbin C64/VIC20 Power LED.

 

There’s a spare black plastic collar for mounting the LED supplied in the kit in case you break the existing one. Also supplied is a little double-sided adhesive pad that you can use to fix the board in place. The new LED will need a little pressure to snap it into place and with the help of the adhesive pad it should be held nice and secure.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Fitted board – held in place with a double-sided sticky pad sandwiched between the case and the chip.

 

Now it’s just a matter of wiring the board up. The 3 wires need to be attached to the front row of cartridge port pins using the IC clips as indicated below.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

IC clips connected to VIC20 cartridge port.

 

One the VIC20 the green clip goes onto pin 22 (Ground), Red – Pin 21 (+5V) and White – Pin 19 (IRQ).

On the C64 it gets wired up as follows; Green – Pin 1 (Ground), Red – Pin 3 (+5V), White – Pin 4 (IRQ).

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

View showing the completed mod fitted.

 

Time for the moment of truth – putting the case back together and giving it a test drive. The LED in my kit had been soldered on in reverse so when my VIC was idle it lit up green and when busy it changed to red. I could have solved this by de-soldering it and flipping it round but it really doesn’t bother me so I left it alone. Other than that it works exactly as advertised and I’m really happy with the result.

 

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C64C Install

 

I hinted earlier that non-breadbin installs aren’t quite so simple. I have a C64C and as supplied the mod will not work with this model. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious being the C64C has a rectangular LED rather than the usual round one found in Breadbin style machines.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Board supplied without a round LED and a rectangular one waiting to be fitted.

 

The other problem becomes apparent once you open up the case. As can be seen in the photo below the power LED is at the opposite end of the case to the cartridge port so the supplied wires are too short.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Here you can see that the supplied wires in the kit only reach half-way across the board.

 

Fortunately these issues are easy to sort. I mentioned about the LED to the seller (Tim Harris who runs Shareware Plus) and he kindly supplied the board without an LED fitted so I could fit a rectangular one myself. These ones here are a good fit: rectangular LED’s on eBay.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

LED fitted to 10′ long wires to allow it reach across.

 

In order for the LED to fit in the existing hole I soldered it to three 10 inch lengths of wire and then soldered the wires to the circuit board. I fitted some heat shrink tubing over the joints to insulate them. This allowed me to mount the circuit board close to the cartridge port and also have the LED in the correct place.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Here you can see the mod fully fitted and wired up. Note there are several other IC clips on this photo – these are from my SIDFX (twin SID chips).

 

I attached the board with a small double-sided sticky pad to hold it in place. I also carefully bent the wires on the LED 90 degrees so the cables would lie flat along the top of the case.

The IC clips were connected to the cartridge port pins as follows:

  • Green – Pin 1 (Ground)
  • Red – Pin 3 (+5V)
  • White – Pin 4 (IRQ)

 

Verdict

After giving it all a quick test I put the case back together and had a play around with it. When idle the LED lights up red as normal – a much more vivid red than the photos show. When the CPU is actively generating an IRQ such as when loading off a disk the LED with light green. Rapid IRQ activity that can happen when playing a game makes the LED appear orange.

I’m really impressed with this little mod. It’s one of those things that’s kind of pointless but also completely essential at the same time. I love having a visual indicator that my computer is doing something and during loading or saving operations it functions as a kind of drive activity light.

You can see it working clearly in the video below, taken whilst I was loading a program off a floppy disk.

 

 

If you enjoy tinkering and like the idea of having an activity light on your C64 or VIC then I can thoroughly recommend this. Did I mention that it costs less than a tenner too? A real no-brainer for me.

Retro 3 Port USB Cassette Hub Review

I spotted this little USB Cassette hub on social media over Christmas and thought it looked cool so had a look around to pick one up for myself. After some searching I found one on Amazon and for the price I couldn’t resist taking a punt.

 

Packaging

The Packaging

 

It arrived in a plain black box with no indication of what was inside at all. Inside the box there’s what at first glance appears to be a standard looking cassette in a transparent library case along with a micro-USB cable.

 

USB Cassette Package Contents

Package Contents

 

Opening up the case reveals a ‘C90 Cassette’ styled very much like a tape from the 1970’s or 80’s.

 

USB Cassette Hub

USB Cassette Hub in library case

 

Look a little closer though and you start to see that things are not as they first seem. For example, the centre view window where you would normally see the tape spools is merely a sticker. However the two spools are real and can actually be freely rotated. Perfect for reliving your youth by inserting a Bic pen and twirling it around like madman!

 

USB Cassette Hub

Looks can be deceiving!

 

If you flip the cassette over you also notice that both sides are labelled as ‘Side 1’. Perhaps with a little more effort that could have been remedied but that’s a minor niggle.

 

USB Cassette Hub

Side by side comparison with a regular cassette tape.

 

The shell itself is the exact same shape and size as a regular cassette with the main difference being that where the tape transport holes usually lives there are now three USB sockets. There are also no holes for the capstan spindles.

 

USB Cassette Hub

USB Cassette Hub placed on top of a real cassette tape. I thought the way the 3 ports are perfectly aligned with the tape transport holes of the original was a nice touch.

 

Along the top where you might expect to find a write-protect tab there is a micro-USB socket for connecting the hub to your computer using the supplied cable.

 

USB Cassette Hub

No plastic tabs to snap off (or tape over) here. Just a micro USB port.

 

The J card is completely blank – I think they missed a trick here and could have had a nice cover image for the hub and printed the instructions inside in the form of an album listing. That’s a little project I will probably do myself on a rainy Sunday afternoon…

 

Case

The case is just a regular old transparent library case with a blank J card.

 

Instead of a printed J-card there is a small fold-out guide that gives brief specs and some warnings.

 

USB Cassette Hub Instructions

Minimalist instructions.

 

Specifications

In terms of specs it’s positively ancient, supporting only USB 1.1. However, given it’s a retro styled hub it kind of makes sense that the hardware it houses also dates back to the late 1990’s!

 

USB Cassette Hub

Another comparison with an old tape.

 

Manufacturer specs:

  • 3 Port USB 1.1 Hub
  • Supports OHCI and UCHI
  • 1.5Mbps – 12Mbps
  • Includes mini USB cable
  • Rated 5V DC

Thankfully USB 1.1 is perfectly fine for the likes of keyboards and mice which makes it a terrific accessory to use with TheC64 Mini and Maxi machines when you need a few extra USB ports.

 

Putting it to good use

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Mini, 2 joysticks and a USB drive.

 

In addition to USB keyboards and mice I found it also worked perfectly with both my TheC64 Mini and Maxi joysticks and my mini USB drive. Great news if I want to play any 2 player games that aren’t on the built in carousel.

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Mini

 

I also tested it with my TheC64 Maxi and it worked just as well. However with 4 built-in USB ports on the Maxi it’s not really necessary. Still, it’s nice to know it’s an option in the future.

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Maxi

 

Just for kicks I tested the hub out on my PC by transferring a few files across to a USB flash drive. It worked but was very slow – maxing out at a pretty measly 2.77MB/s. Of course this wouldn’t be much of an issue if I was just transferring a few games across to play on TheC64 Mini.

 

PC file transfer speed graph

Testing out the transfer speed on my PC.

 

Verdict

This is a super little device to use with a TheC64 Mini and gives you an extra 2 ports overall. (One of the built-in ports is taken up by the hub). It looks really cool and very nostalgic and compliments TheC64 mini perfectly. The extra ports allow you to hook up a USB keyboard and use a flash drive for extra games along with a joystick or two. This simply isn’t possible without the use of a hub. Sure you could get a modern USB 3 hub but where’s the fun in that!

I can’t recommend it for everyday PC use… it’s just far too slow as you’d expect from a USB1.1 device. But for less than a fiver I think it’s a great little device for retro gaming and sure to put a smile on your face when you use it. An added bonus is that it stores neatly away in a cassette rack when not in use!

 

Freeze 64 Issue #38 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue #38

It’s always nice to be able to start the weekend with the latest edition of Freeze64. In todays case it’s issue #38 featuring the unmistakable Rambo on the front cover.

 

Freeze 64 Issue #38

Here’s a look at the front cover of issue 38.

 

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 #38

Freeze64 Issue 38 Contents Page.

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy of Freeze 64, Issue #38 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!

Cosmic Force Review

This was a game I backed on Kickstarter back in March 2019 and a couple of weeks ago it finally arrived through my letterbox.

 

Cosmic Force Review

Cosmic Force Box Cover.

 

The front box artwork is nicely done featuring your spaceship surrounded by blueprints of what are presumably enemy spacecraft. The back of the box shows a few screenshots of the game along with a description of the gameplay elements you will encounter.

 

Cosmic Force Review

Back of the Cosmic Force box.

 

Opening up the box reveals a number of physical goodies that enhance ownership of the game, harking back to a time when this sort of thing was commonplace.

 

Cosmic Force Box Contents

Cosmic Force Box Contents

 

Included inside is a Blu-ray ‘making of’ documentary, a Cosmic Force sticker plus the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk along with a paper jacket to store the disc in.

 

Cosmic Force Box Contents

Goodies laid out.

 

Completing the physical box contents is a full colour instruction manual with a cover that duplicates the artwork found on the box.

 

Cosmic Force Instruction Manual.

 

The instruction manual is terrific and includes a little bit of history behind the games creation along with some technical insights into how it was programmed. Littered throughout are many colour screenshots of the game to accompany the instructions and gameplay hints provided.

 

Cosmic Force Review

A look inside the instruction manual.

 

Rounding off the manual is a list of all the Kickstarter backers who enabled the game to be created. I really liked this feature and it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside seeing my name listed amongst them.

 

Cosmic Force Review

My name in the Kickstarter backer list.

 

The Game

Upon first loading the game you are presented with a menu screen of sorts allowing you choose between starting the game, loading the pixel art title screen and resetting the high score. This game stores your high score on the disk which is a terrific feature that I wish a lot more games offered.

 

This is the first screen you are presented with after loading the game.

 

The vibrant pixel art title screen is well worth a load at least once. The fact that it is accompanied by a funky piece of Rob Hubbard/Jason Page music certainly doesn’t hurt it either!

 

The ‘Pixel Art’ title screen.

 

Once you’ve had enough of the title screen and music you can press fire and the game will load. You get a brief overview of the games plot and also a view of the current high score. This is a pretty spartan screen compared to the title screen which is a bit of a shame. The use of a custom font here at the very least would have elevated its appearance greatly.

 

Cosmic Force Review

This is the main title screen of the game proper.

 

Phase 1

Pressing fire starts the game proper. The first section is, as the game event admits in the manual, just like Galaxians. Waves of enemies will make their way down the screen in various formations whilst shooting at you. When destroyed some of the enemies will drop a range of power ups for you to pick up. These include a twin shot, a protective force field, a bomb which will destroy everything on screen, extra lives and an EMP that that freezes enemies in place allowing you to pick them off with ease.

If you die you will lose your current power-up. In fact even if you don’t you will lose it as soon as you enter the next level. Fortunately they are not in short supply. Extra lives in particular are thrown at you regularly and you will need them all if you are to stand a chance of reaching level 108.

 

Cosmic Force Review

The ‘Galaxians’ Phase.

 

Your ship is able to move both vertically and horizontally as you would expect and firing speed is only limited by how fast you can mash the fire button. A simplified version of the music continues to play during the game using one less channel leaving room for the sound effects of your laser fire and enemy explosions.

 

Phase 2

After a few waves of Galaxians you move onto the next series of levels – the ‘Star Wars’ phase. This is easily the weakest part of the game for me. Waves of enemy drones follow an elliptical path ‘into’ the screen. To give a 3D effect, blocky sprites are reduced in size to make them appear to fly away into the distance which in itself is an acceptable effect. However they do not fire back at you!! You can sit there doing nothing and the drones will just appear in front of you and fly away into the distance only to reappear in front of you and do the same again and again until you shoot them down. At the very least there should have been a timer or something to add some level of tension here but really the enemies should have been firing back at you.

 

Cosmic Force Review

The ‘Star Wars’ Phase.

 

Another niggle I have with this section is the lack of a firing animation. When you press fire the crosshairs will briefly flash and you hear a beep… and that’s it. If an enemy is under the crosshairs at the time it will be destroyed. Some sort of laser beam effect would have been nice here… even if it was just a couple of flashing lines like you got in Elite so you know your weapon is actually firing.

 

Phase 3

When you complete the star wars bit (and lets face it, it’s impossible to fail) it’s on to the final Defender phase. Here you fly your ship horizontally left and right across a scrolling vector landscape shooting down enemies and trying to prevent them from building bases on the planet surface.

 

Cosmic Force Review

The ‘Defender’ Phase.

 

The enemies are by and large the same as the ones you faced in the first stage of the game. They share similar attack patterns even though the screen is now scrolling horizontally. The new mechanic here is preventing the aliens from landing and building bases on the surface. Sadly there is no radar included for this section of the game which is an odd omission for a defender clone. It doesn’t ruin the gameplay completely but it does make accidental mid-air collisions with enemies more frequent than I would have liked.

Interspersed between the three phases are the occasional challenge levels. These are a variation of the Galaxians phase but enemies drop lots of pick-ups giving you a chance to stock up on extra lives and bonus score. After phase three you go back to phase one with slightly more enemies to deal with.

Verdict

The presentation of the game is a little disappointing I feel. The game makes a great first impression with a high quality box, physical goodies and that impressive pixel art screen. However things take a turn for the lacklustre once the main game loads with a screen full of text using the C64’s standard font. The enemy sprites are also very dull with poor use of colour making the game look very drab and uninteresting.

After the three phases the levels just loop around with maybe a few extra enemies so you are basically playing the same levels over and over with little to set them apart. There’s the occasional challenge level thrown in that offers extra lives and score bonuses but these don’t look much different from the standard levels.  There are 108 levels in total and so far I’ve reached level 40. Other than encountering an asteroid field once there hasn’t been anything radically different from the first few levels of play.

 

Cosmic Force High Score Screen.

The ‘Game Over’ / High Score Screen.

 

Despite appearances though it’s actually a fun little shooter once you get into it. I highly recommend using a gamepad rather than a joystick as you really need that extra responsiveness you get with a D-pad. The inclusion of a permanent high score is a big positive too as you are always striving to beat it. Sadly it is literally just a high score that is saved though. No names or initials are stored so if your wife beats your score there’s no way to save that fact for posterity.

So is it worth the £35 I pledged on Kickstarter? Sadly I don’t think so, no. It would definitely make a great budget game, maybe on Itch.io for a few pounds. However I feel it just doesn’t have the polish or variety I expect for a game at this price level.

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!

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.