Lyonsden Blog

Tag - Commodore 64

Ballyhoo by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Infocom Ballyhoo

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

 

Infocom Ballyhoo – back cover

 

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

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

The Ballyhoo opening screen on my Commodore 64

 

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

 

Official Souvenir Program

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Inside the Infocom Ballyhoo box

 

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

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo game contents laid out.

 

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

 

Infocom Ballyhoo

A closer look at the ‘feelies’.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

The Valley – C64 Cartridge Review

The Valley Cartridge

Recently Tim Harris was kind enough to lend me a new cartridge based game called ‘The Valley’ for the Commodore 64 to try out. The cartridge arrived housed inside a sleek oversized cassette case complete with a very attractive inlay card.

 

The Valley

The Valley Game Case.

 

The rear inlay depicts the April 1982 cover of the British ‘Computing Today’ magazine (costing just 70p!) which is where ‘The Valley’ game actually originates from.

 

The Valley

Back of case.

 

Upon opening the case it becomes immediately apparent that these are no ordinary cartridges. They are little electronic works of art.

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 1

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 2

 

As you can see from the above two photos there are actually two completely different cartridges. However the difference is purely cosmetic as they both run the same game.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rather than have a traditional plastic case these cartridges have been constructed in such a way that lets your see their inner workings. One consists of a PCB sandwiched between two purple perspex layers whilst the other is a triple decker PCB stack.

 

A Closer Look at the Two Cartridges

 

The black one… this is constructed from 3 PCB’s bolted together and is my personal favourite.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Plugging the Carts In

Here’s what they look like plugged in…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

So why exactly have the cartridges been created like this? Well part of the reason for this strange construction becomes obvious when you first plug the cartridges in and switch on the power. They light up like Christmas trees, the reason for which I will reveal shortly.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

The Game

This game actually has quite some history to it and it all relates to that Computing Today magazine featured on the inlay card.

Back in the early 1980’s the magazine published The Valley in the form of a listing for the 32K Commodore PET.  The listing was hundreds of lines long so it was broken down into more manageable chunks for budding adventurers to type in (and then spend hours on end bug checking).

 

The Valley Title Screen

Title Screen.

 

This also made it relatively straightforward to convert the game to run on other machines as each chunk of code was accompanied by comprehensive documentation that described exactly how everything worked. A nice bonus of typing in games like this was having the option of tweaking the game to your liking. Nasty Troll kicking your arse? Just nerf it’s physical damage stats in the code!

 

The games backstory.

 

The object of the game is to find the Amulet of Alarian from one of the temples and also locate the 6 gem stones that slot into it. You must also reach the rank of ‘Demon Killer’ so that you can find the Helm of Evanna and return it to the castle. Only by doing this will you save The Valley from the darkness that has engulfed it. To achieve all this, you, the hero, must travel across the valley battling many monsters and raiding temples to find treasures and stones for the amulet.

In this original form the game lacked a proper ending and ‘suffered from very poor gameplay’ according to Dungeon Dwellers Inc (DDI), the makers of this new incarnation of ‘The Valley’. DDI have taken the original game and enhanced it to make it more fun to play. The enhancements don’t just concern the coding of the game either… but link directly into the design of the cartridges.

 

The Valley Cartridge

A thing of beauty!

 

The cartridges feature graphics for both the Helm of Evanna and the Amulet of Alarian etched onto the PCB. The really cool thing though is that within the graphics are a series of LED’s which depict the presence of each item within your actual in-game inventory.

There are 8 LED’s to represent the helm, amulet and each of the 6 mystic stones. When you find one of these items in the game the corresponding LED will light up! If you are lucky enough to find all the items there are LED’s on the back of the cart that will start to pulse signifying that you a nearing the games end.

A handy little extra feature is the addition of a reset button at the back of the cartridge which is itself illuminated by a red LED.

 

The Game

DDI have added a very atmospheric title screen complete with music to the start of the game that really sets the mood. However this is the only sound that you will hear from the game (unless you manage to beat it) as the game is played in complete silence. There is supposed to be an animated ending complete with sound but I’ve not come anywhere close to seeing that yet.

 

The Valley Instructions

You control the game using the numeric keys. Very strange layout at first but you get do get used to it. Shame there appears to be no joystick support though…

 

You begin the game by naming your character and choosing your class. The 5 options available are; Wizard, Ranger, Barbarian, Warrior and Cleric. The choice you make affects the in-game stats of your character, namely your Combat Strength, PSI (magic) Power and Stamina. If you ignore the choices on offer and select a different number then you are randomly assigned a class from one of 7 alternatives including: Villager, Thief, Bandit, Archer, Druid, Knight and Warlock.

 

The Valley Game Screen

The main game screen.

 

The main game screen then appears and the map of the kingdom is drawn up. The map and everything within it is generated randomly each time you start the game so no two play-throughs will ever be the same.

You will start in south west corner of the map on the safe path. So long as you stay on this path you will never be attacked. However once you stray off it it’s game on. Away from the safety of the path you can be attacked even if you are standing still so don’t wander off for a cuppa or you will likely find your hero dead when you return!

 

Combat

The Valley is a proper old school RPG that requires a healthy dose of imagination to be properly enjoyed. Other than the visual representation of where you are (Valley, Forest, Swamp, Tower etc.) there are no graphics to depict enemies or battles. All encounters are text based and the battles performed by rolls of the dice. When you encounter a foe you will be informed of their presence via text and a (semi) turn-based battle will commence. Whatever moves they make and the damage they do will be displayed on screen.

I previously described the combat as ‘semi turn-based’ and that’s because it uses a mixture of turn-based moves and real-time inputs from you during battles. When it is your turn to move a ‘Strike Quickly’ message will flash up on the screen and you literally have about half a second to press a key and select your attack. If you are too slow you miss your chance to retaliate and the monster gets another swipe at you. This is especially frustrating when you have to cast spells as you have to press ‘S’ to signify that you want to cast a spell and then press ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ to select which one. All of these key presses are subject to the same strict time restraints which can lead to frustration when you get flummoxed mid-battle.

 

Exploring a forest in The Valley

Exploring a forest in The Valley.

 

As I said combat is all a roll of the dice so both you and the enemy can and will miss and attacks will do a random amount of damage, sometimes none at all. Consequently you need to be prepared for anything. Occasionally you will surprise an enemy and get a chance at striking first or evading them – but only if you spot the opening message and press the correct key in time to take advantage of the situation.

I must admit I would have preferred a true turn based approach where you can take time to select your move and play at a relaxed pace. However this does make battles more tense, albeit at the expense of risking cramp in your hands from hovering over the keyboard like a praying mantis all the time!

Speaking of moves you have 6 at your disposal, 3 physical attacks and 3 magic. Physical attacks consist of Head, Body or Leg strikes with head strikes being less likely to succeed but rewarding success with more damage, whilst leg strikes are most likely to hit home but do the least amount of damage. The magic spells you can cast are Sleep, PSI Lance and Lightning however the latter two can only be cast once you reach level 8 and 16 respectively.

Damage reduces your stamina and combat strength and if either of these falls to zero your hero dies. To recover from damage you just need to move around. After every turn your stats slowly increase so it pays to keep moving although you can’t move far before you encounter another enemy to fight.

 

The Valley Lair

Inside a lair… each of those asterisks could potentially, if you are really lucky, be the amulet…

 

Occasionally you will encounter some treasure or a ‘place of ancient power’ rather than enemies with the latter granting welcome stat bonuses to aid you in your adventure.

When you venture into a swamp, forest or the Tower the upper half of the screen changes to show the map for that area. Forests have temples to explore whilst the swamps have lairs, each comprising of a single floor. The Tower is split into many floors and is the only place you are able to find the 6 stones, but only once you have located the Amulet of Alarian. If you try to enter the tower before you have located this your entry will be barred.

 

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

 

Progress can be saved by making your way to one of the two castles that are found at either end of the road – assuming you manage to get there in one piece! Additionally if you manage to place all six gem stones in the amulet it will grant you the power of resurrection… but only once. If you are slain and resurrected the stones disappear and you will need to find another set in the tower again!

Verdict

 

The Valley is a pretty unforgiving and difficult game I have to admit and I’m not very good at it. I was constantly either too slow pressing the keys or pressing the wrong ones in the heat of battle. Consequently I wasn’t able to get very far during the time I had the game for. However the allure of lighting up those LED’s on the cartridge was very strong indeed and it definitely had that ‘one more go’ quality about it. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely something I’d consider to be a collectors item and something I would treasure for years to come.

At the time of writing The Valley cartridges are only available from DDI. You can find their website here: sys64738. I believe the game will cost $80 plus postage to your location.

If you would like to try the game first to see if you like it before parting with a not insignificant amount of money it is also available to download from CSDB.

Commodore 64GS Gamepad Review

A Little History

Back in the twilight period of the C64’s life, Commodore released the C64 Games System or C64GS. It was a keyboard-less console that used cartridge based games just like the Sega Master System or NES. Unfortunately there were only ever a few dozen games released for it and it was a commercial flop.

Why am I mentioning this now? Well, although it didn’t come with a gamepad, it did come with a joystick (Cheetah Annihilator) that had a second, independent fire button. Prior to this all C64 joysticks just had a single fire button. Those joysticks that did have two physical buttons existed solely to allow left or right-handed play.

Unfortunately due to the short life-span of the Commodore 64GS only a small number of games were ever produced that supported this second fire button.

 

Present Day

 

Super Mario Bros C64

Super Mario Bros on the Commodore 64.

 

Fast forward to 2019 and the amazing Super Mario Bros for the C64 was released supporting 2 buttons. This kick-started my desire to find a decent 2 button joystick to control Mario. I mean who wants to have to push ‘up’ on a joystick to make Mario jump?

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

The gamepad comes with a nice long cable.

 

A few weeks ago I discovered someone who is actually making Commodore 64GS gamepads. The company, based in the USA can be found on Etsy and eBay and is called RetroGameBoyz. The gamepads it produces are custom made to order and they offer quite a few different options to choose from.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Commodore 64GS Gamepad.

 

They sell the gamepad for around £25 with delivery to the UK taking around ten days. Unfortunately I did get stung for import taxes and the usual Royal Mail ‘money for nothing’ charge. Combine that with the postage fee and this basically doubled the cost of the pad for me.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

A close-up shot of the D-pad.

 

In More Detail

The gamepad is well constructed and nicely presented in a glossy black plastic shell. It is faced with a custom made vinyl ‘C64 Games System’ skin which really sets it off. This skin is how RetroGameBoyz differentiate each gamepad in their range. They do one for the Amiga and few more variations for the C64 too. In one configuration you can have the second fire button mapped to ‘up’ which would come in handy for a lot of platformers.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

A close-up shot of the 2 fire buttons.

 

The gamepad came with a very generous 10 foot (3m) long cable and is fitted with a standard 9-pin D-sub plug.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Rear view of cable entry point.

 

In use it works well with the D-Pad being easy to operate and the two fire buttons very responsive. The two central ‘select’ and ‘start’ buttons are actually extra ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. The main fire button is labelled ‘I’ and the extra button ‘II’.

 

Commodore 64GS Gamepad

Bottom of the gamepad case.

 

I’m really happy I’ve found this controller. For games like Super Mario Bros it really transforms the gameplay experience. I know joysticks are great for a lot of games but I do prefer using a gamepad these days for platform games.

 

Second fire button option selected in Chase HQ 2 settings.

 

The addition of the second fire button is a real boon too. In supported games like Chase HQ 2 you can play them without having to keep reaching over to press a key on the keyboard. In other titles like Paradroid Redux it offers a more nuanced control system by separating off one of the extra controls from fire button A to button B.

 

Supported Games

Here’s a list of Commodore 64 games that support a 2nd fire buttons and its function, if I’ve played them.

  • Alien 8 – 2nd button used to pickup/drop objects
  • Battle Command (Cart) – 2nd button toggles between driving and cursor control
  • Chase HQ2 (Cart) – 2nd button operates Turbo mode.
  • Double Dragon (Ocean Cart) – 2nd button performs all sorts of extra moves
  • Giana Sisters 30th Anniversary Hack
  • The Last Ninja Remix (Cart)
  • Myth (Cart) – 2nd button changes weapon
  • Paradroid Redux – 2nd button used to enter transfer mode
  • Robocop 2 (Cart) – 2nd button used for jump
  • Spacegun
  • Super Mario Bros – can now use buttons to jump and throw fireballs
  • Turrican II (Rainbow Arts)

Freeze 64 Issue 34 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue 34

The latest issue of Freeze 64, issue 34 has just been published and posted out to subscribers.

Issue #34’s featured game and interview is Manic Miner 64DX and its coder, Graham Axten. In the interview he discusses the improvements he’s made to the new DX version of the game. There’s no cheats or pokes in this issue which I initially thought was a little odd. The mystery was solved however when I actually read Vinny’s intro. In it he explains they took a back seat due to the focus on Manic Miner 64X in this issue and that they will return in issue #35.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 34

Freeze 64 Issue 34 comes with a ‘Doc Cosmos’ cheat card (no. 29) .

 

Percy is the featured game from the Mouldy Cupboard. When I saw that name I was initially surprised as I started thinking of ‘Percy the Potty Pigeon’ which I remember as being a superb little game. No, this game is all about a Penguin called Percy and is far from superb!

 

In another interview, Stephen Kellet dives into his coding past and reminisces about the games and systems he worked on. Most the fanzine regular sections like Zzapback!, Secret Squirrel and My C64 Heaven also make an appearance in this issue. A special mention has to go to the ‘Games we typed in’ article though. This was a real trip down memory lane for me as spending countless hours typing in listings as a kid is something I can definitely relate to!

 

Freeze 64 Issue 34

Quick peek at the contents of this issue.

 

If you fancy your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by purchasing this issue.

Here’s a link to my previews of several earlier editions of Freeze64 if you’d like to check out what you’ve been missing!

VS-7000 Joystick Review

VS-7000 Joystick

I recently picked up a super little arcade joystick off eBay for my Commodore machines. It’s brand new and made by this seller on eBay. He’s calling it the ‘VS-7000’. I’m really impressed with it so thought I’d share my thoughts.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

VS-7000 Joystick Construction

As standard it comes with a plain black plastic base with four sucker feet. However there’s a couple of retro styled vinyl VS-7000 stickers supplied in the box. These can be attached to the sides of the base if you want to jazz it up a little more. Additionally, if suckers aren’t your thing then they can be replaced by the included set of 4 rubber feet.

The seller also offers the same joystick in a couple of other colours. There’s one with a white base and another black one but with wood effect panels, presumably for people that want to use it with Atari systems. Sadly at the time of writing this he’s got no stock left of any variant but hopefully he’ll make some more soon.

 

VS-7000 Stickers and Rubber feet

The supplied stickers to go on either side of the base and a set of 4 rubber feet.

 

Both the buttons and stick are micro-switched and this makes for a really satisfying ‘click’ when pressed. In use I was never unsure whether a button had been pressed that’s for sure. The joystick unit itself is based on the Sanwa mechanism which is designed for arcade game cabinets. The shaft is made of metal with a nice chrome finish and it all feels reassuringly sturdy in use.

The joystick is available with either two ‘A’ buttons or an ‘A’ and ‘B’ button configuration (on request). It is straightforward enough to change from ‘AA’ to ‘AB’ yourself too. Unfortunately the A & B configuration of this stick is NOT compatible with 2 button capable C64 games like Super Mario Bros and Chase HQ 2. The C64 just doesn’t see the extra button at all.

 

VS-7000 Joystick

Here’s what the inside of the joystick looks like

 

Verdict

I have to say that this little joystick has really exceeded my expectations. It requires very little lateral force to move the stick around so it makes extended play sessions much more comfortable. I also found it enabled me to move around games more accurately or pull off those different moves in IK+ more easily. Puzzle games such as Vegetables Deluxe and Milly & Mollie suddenly became far more relaxing to play too.

I can’t overstate how much I love the stick movement on this thing. Selecting a direction only requires a gentle nudge which is immediately rewarded with a satisfying click. I can guide it in the direction I want using just my forefinger and thumb instead of needing to clamp my whole hand around it. Consequently, playing for hours no longer results in getting cramp in my right hand like I do with the other sticks (especially the Suncom). I should point out that this may well be an age related preference. I loved the ZipStick when I was a kid but fifty year old me? No so much.

The VS-7000 joystick does have one shortcoming though… the base is quite bulky and angular so is not the most comfortable thing to hold for extended periods of time. However I suppose that’s to be expected from a homebrew project like this. The joysticks of yesteryear were manufactured in large numbers and had custom, injection moulded bases, not something you can easily replicate on a small scale. Having said that this didn’t prove to be much of an issue for me as I use it mostly either resting on my knee or affixed to my desk with the suckers.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Sherlock Holmes by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Infocom Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels was the last of a bunch of Infocom adventure games I picked up before Christmas. This, like all my others, is for the Commodore 64 and is in pretty good condition. The box does show some signs of wear but nothing too bad, just some creasing and wear to the corners. Sadly, like Border Zone, it is missing a ‘feelie’. Originally it would have shipped with a little plastic Sherlock Holmes key fob. It’s a little disappointing for sure but I can live without it, it’s the least important part of the package to me anyway.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Contrary to what I had expected, you actually play the role of Doctor Watson rather than Sherlock Holmes. The Crown Jewels have been stolen from the Tower of London and you only have 48 hours to retrieve them. Holmes deduces that this is a deadly trap constructed for him personally and so gets you (Watson) to take his place to throw the perpetrator off guard.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Exploring Victorian London is the highlight of the game for me. Locations are richly described which really helped immerse me in the games world. Playing Watson instead of Holmes is very odd though and I’m not sure why the author decided to do this. Only time will tell if it ultimately proves detrimental to the game.

Invisiclues

Unfortunately I don’t share Sherlock Holmes’ legendary deductive abilities so I’m glad there’s help available in this game. Just typing ‘hint’ brings up an ‘Invisiclues’ help screen. From here you can choose what you need help with from a menu. What’s great about this system is it gently nudges you in the right direction rather than just blurting out the answer. It does this by offering three hints. The first is quite vague but enough to hopefully get you thinking along the correct lines. The the second is less vague and if you still can’t figure it out the final hint is the actual answer. You can also turn this feature off if you think it will pose too great a temptation.

Sherlock Holmes Contents

As with all Infocom games there’s quite of lot of stuff packed inside the slide out tray.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

Sliding out the box insert

Sherlock Holmes is no exception here with lots of extra goodies tucked inside the box insert.

The Sherlock Holmes box insert

Inside there’s the instruction manual, the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk, a tourist map of London and a copy of The Thames newspaper.

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

A look at what’s included inside the Infocom Sherlock Holmes game box

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

London Tours Guide Map

The Thames newspaper

Sherlock Holmes Infocom

The manual gives you a few pointers including how to draw a map…

As I mentioned earlier there should also be a little key fob but unfortunately that was missing from the box. However all the important things are present and correct and the fob isn’t required to actually play the game.

Sherlock Holmes Fob

You can see the fob that should have been in the box next to the magnifying glass above

Once again this is another lovely addition to my Infocom collection and hopefully it won’t be the last. There aren’t many Infocom games floating around these days so it may be a while before another one crosses my path.

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

Vegetables Deluxe Review

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe is a sequel of sorts to the Vegetables game that was released on itch.io early last year by Mike Richmond. It’s a ‘match 3’ type of game similar to Bejewelled or Candy Crush, a genre I don’t think even existed back in the 80’s. Thanks to this game that’s no longer the case and you can now enjoy this genre on both a C64 and Amiga (see end of post).

 

Physical Presentation

The game is presented in a vibrantly coloured glossy green box with some great artwork on the front. The back of the box includes some nice clear screenshots of the game in action along with a description of what it’s all about.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Opening up the box reveals an instruction manual and the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk with a snazzy matching label.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe manual and Game on a 5,25″ disk

 

The instruction manual is nicely illustrated and in full colour throughout. It clearly explains how to play the game and describes the four different game modes on offer.

 

Vegetables Deluxe manual

Vegetables Deluxe manual

 

Loading up the Game

 

Upon loading the game  you are presented with a lovely title screen complete with music.  Pressing the fire button on your joystick starts a game straight away. I did find this a little odd as you’d normally expect to choose the game mode first.

 

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

 

To actually get to the menu screen you need to pause the game by pressing ‘P’ on the keyboard and then press ‘Q’.

 

menu screen

Vegetables Deluxe menu screen

 

From the menu screen you can choose whether to have music or just sound effects whilst playing. You can also select from one of four different gameplay modes (more about these later).

 

The Game

I’m sure most people are aware of what a ‘match 3’ game is but just in case… Basically you have a grid full of randomly coloured objects, or in this case vegetables. You must match 3 or more of the same coloured vegetables either vertically or horizontally to remove them from the screen and earn points. You do this by moving the little selection box around with a joystick, holding the fire button and then moving the stick in a direction. When a group of vegetables disappear, the ones above fall down and new ones randomly appear from the top to take their place. If you run out of matches the game will use one of your available ‘shuffles’ to randomly rearrange the vegetables on the screen so you can carry on. However, if you no longer have any shuffles remaining then the game will end.

 

Vegetables Deluxe ‘Classic’ mode

 

To mix things up occasionally an immovable block will appear that impedes your progress. You can also match more than three vegetables for extra bonuses. Matching 4 in a row will cause an entire row to be removed and this is a great way to clear those immovable blocks. Matching 5 in a row will cause every matching vegetable on the screen to removed and will earn you an extra shuffle.

 

Vegetable Delxue

Watch out for the grey immovable blocks, let too many accumulate and you’ll run out of moves!

 

The screen is broken up into 3 main sections. On the left there is a kind of shopping list which either tells you how many of each vegetable you need to collect, or how many you have collected so far. (More on this later). The centre of the screen is where all the action takes place whilst on the right is where the timer, score and number of shuffles are located.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Game Over! (This was my ‘shopping’ High Score)

 

Game Modes

 

There are 4 different modes, each catering towards a different play style.

Casual is for those that want a relaxing experience that keeps the ‘unmovable blocks’ to a minimum. The instructions reckon it’s still possible to reach a game over state in this mode. However during my time playing the game I found this to be more like an endless mode as I kept racking up extra shuffles.

Classic is the default play mode and has you battling to reach a high score whilst dealing with plenty of immovable blocks.

Shopping has you collecting the vegetables shown on the shopping list. If you manage to collect them all then you complete that level and move onto the next with a bigger shopping list.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Shopping mode has you collecting items off the list on the left

 

Countdown is the hardest mode and has a sliding countdown timer (the coloured bar on the right). This gives you just a few seconds to make a match or you lose a shuffle.

During play if you are struggling to find a match the game will briefly highlight a potential (though not necessarily the best) move you can make. This is a great feature and is one commonly found on modern variants of the game. It’s no use in Countdown mode though, for that you really need to be on the ball!

When you are not playing in shopping mode, the list on the left works the other way round. It actually keeps a tally of what you’ve collected, up to a point anyway. You see the counters only go up to 99 and then reset back to 0. It’s not a big deal and in Casual mode where you could potentially be collecting a mountain of vegetables, entirely understandable.

 

My thoughts on the game

I tried all the game modes but found the ‘shopping’ mode the most fun. It gives you something extra to work on besides just matching vegetables. I didn’t really enjoy ‘countdown’ mode as the timer destroyed the relaxation side of things. Games started in casual mode simply lasted too long. Without a save option I was never able to actually finish one. I guess people playing it on an emulator or C64 Mini would have the option of using save states but that doesn’t fly on the real thing. Leaving my ageing C64 on until I can come back to finish a game certainly isn’t an option either!

For a game that is all about reaching and beating a high score I was disappointed that there was no way to save a high score to disk. Many C64 games offer this facility now and it’s a shame that Vegetables Deluxe hasn’t followed suit. Of course it’s not the end of the world by any means. You can write your score down (proper old-school style) or snap a pic of the screen with a smartphone. Hopefully one day this feature might be included in an updated version of the game.

The game looks terrific though and all the better for utilising high resolution mode. The vegetables are clearly defined and very colourful and the overall aesthetic is very pleasing to the eye. If you choose to play with sound effects then you won’t hear much at all, just the odd ‘plink’ when you make a match. The music however is brilliant and if you enjoy SID tunes then this is definitely the way to play. I’ve played this game for hours and never  tired of listening to the soundtrack so top marks for that.

This is a terrific little puzzle game for the Commodore 64. It looks great, sounds fantastic and is a lot of fun to play. I have no reservations at all in recommending it to anyone looking for a casual gaming experience. It’s published by Double-Sided Games in Canada on cartridge, floppy disk or digital download. There is now also a cassette tape version available from Psytronik in the UK.

 

Standard vs Deluxe Comparison

I mentioned at the start that this is an updated version of the game. Below you can see a few comparison pics between this and the earlier version. There’s a number of marked improvements over the original game. These include the addition of in-game music and three extra gameplay modes. The Deluxe version also takes advantage of the Commodore 64’s high-res capability to deliver much crisper graphics than you get with the chunkier colour mode used in the original. It actually reminds me a little of a Spectrum game in terms of presentation, especially the font used.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Amiga Version

Included as a bonus at no extra charge is a complete Amiga port of the game as well! This takes the form of a digital ADF disk image that you can either use in an emulator or on a real Amiga via a GOTEK drive. (I think this bonus is exclusive to the Double-Sided Games release).

 

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Title Screen

 

It’s the exact same game with the same choice of game modes, optional music and so on. The music is terrific but I personally prefer the C64 tune. The title screen is also infinitely better on the C64 version with the Amiga’s being text only.

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe game screen

A big benefit of the Amiga version is mouse support which feels like the natural way to play a game like this. It also benefits from the higher resolution and larger colour palette to create a more striking display. Both games are brilliant but I think the C64 version is better in the music department whilst the mouse support gives the Amiga version the edge in gameplay. If the C64 version supported the NEOS or 1351 mouse then that would make it a clear winner for me!

Even though the Amiga version is classed as a bonus addition to the C64 game I would still recommend this to Amiga only gamers as it’s a great game on either system.

Border Zone by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Border Zone Infocom

Before Christmas I mentioned that I had picked up a few new Infocom adventure games for my collection. Well this is the second one, Border Zone for the Commodore 64. Again this is in very good condition throughout. The only blemish being that it is missing one of the feelies (a book of matches) but I’m not really too bothered about that.

 

Border Zone

Infocom Border Zone back cover

 

This adventure is a little bit different as you actually play three different people during the course of the game. The idea being that you get to see the story unfold from different viewpoints. At certain points in the story the paths of the characters intersect too which should prove interesting. Border Zone is basically a cold war spy thriller which was all the rage back in the 80’s. In a nutshell there’s an assassination plot and you must either try to prevent it, or ensure it succeeds, depending on who you are playing as.

 

Border Zone

Border Zone opening screen on my Commodore 64

I have to confess that after I started to play this I realised that there is a timer that ticks down while you are playing. This is a real-time timer… it ticks down whether you type a command or not. This is a real turn off for me as I like to take my time, examine everything, draw a map, make myself a cuppa or whatever… I don’t want to be stressing about running out of time. This may well prove to be a deal-breaker on this particular game, only time will tell.

It is actually possible to slow the timer down by entering the command ‘slow’. This certainly helps things but still doesn’t stop my anxiety levels whilst playing…

 

Border Zone ‘Feelies’

 

As with all Infocom games there’s plenty of extras packed inside the slide out tray.

 

Border Zone

Sliding out the box insert

 

Border Zone is no exception here with lots of extra goodies tucked inside the box insert.

 

The Border Zone box insert

 

Starting with the standard stuff first, there’s the instruction manual, a reference card for the C64 version of the game, the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk, and a registration card.

 

Border Zone

Feelies galore…

 

Also included is a map of the border between Frobnia and Litzenburg and a business card from ‘Riznik’s Antiques’. Additionally there’s an ‘I am Frobnia – Fortunate Tourists Guide and Phrasebook’ to help set the scene. As I mentioned earlier there should also be a little book of matches but unfortunately that was missing from the box.

All in all this is a fantastic item and another worthy addition to my Infocom collection, albeit one that I may never finish due to the timer.

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

Freeze 64 Issue 33 Fanzine is out now

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Arriving much earlier in the week than is the norm, Freeze 64 Issue 33 glided onto my doormat today. This is the first issue of 2020 and I hope that there’s many more to come.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Freeze 64 Issue 33 comes with a ‘Mikie’ cheat card (no. 28) .

 

Issue #33’s featured game and interview is Head Over Heels and its coder, Colin Porch. There’s also a bumper crop of cheats and pokes for Frostbyte, Dragonspire, Freeze64 and Crazy Blaster. Meanwhile, creeping out of the Mouldy Cupboard this time around is the shameful Night Rider Niterider from 1984.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 33

Freeze 64 in its native habitat…

 

In another interesting interview, Chris Stanley delves into the making of his recently released ‘Mancave’ game. Of course all the regular sections like Zzapback!, Secret Squirrel and My C64 Heaven make a return too. We also have the 2019 Freeze 64 Game of the Year awards to enjoy.

 

Quick peek at the contents of this issue.

 

If you fancy your own copy then head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by purchasing this issue.

 

I need your clothes, your boots… and your copy of Freeze 64!  (Sorry couldn’t resist – my T800 model has finally reached a point where it’s starting to look like a Terminator and I wanted to show it off!)

 

Here’s a link to my previews of several earlier editions of Freeze64 if you’d like to check out what you’ve been missing!

Audio Tape Cassette Storage – Solution/Review

audio tape cassette storage

My audio tape cassette storage problem has been bugging me for quite some time now. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of cassette tapes (both music and games) and that number is constantly increasing. I’ve been storing a lot of them in those old drawer units (the ones usually covered in tacky looking wood effect vinyl). Whilst this is an effective storage method I’ve always found them a bit of a pain to use and also my tapes are hidden away out of sight. I’ve also got loads of tapes stacked on top of each other on a shelf and this is far from ideal too. Forty year old tapes are not something I want to risk playing Jenga with!

All this leads me to the reason for posting this article. After searching around for a while for a better solution I finally found one I’m happy with so I thought I’d share it.

 

This is a link to the racks featured in this post.


 

The Solution

The audio tape cassette storage solution I found is a purpose made wooden rack that can hold 60 cassettes in their boxes. It’s manufactured by a company in Germany called ‘Protected’ and are available for sale on . Delivery took less than a week by DHL.

 

The packaging the racks arrived in.

 

The racks came individually packaged. Opening the cardboard box (carefully to avoid cutting into it) revealed the nicely bubble-wrapped rack inside.

 

audio tape cassette storage

My cat loves it when I open new parcels!

 

All three of mine arrived in great shape. I must admit I was a little wary about ordering at first as I wasn’t sure if these were getting knocked together in someone’s garden shed. There is only one (poor) photo on the Amazon website and precious little info provided. However I was very pleased to discover a high standard of both manufacture and finish.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Nicely finished woodwork

 

A Closer Look

The racks are constructed from solid strips of pine wood and the back panel is made of plywood. All the strips of wood forming the slots are perfectly aligned and fit perfectly flush. There are no sharp edges or splinters to worry about as everything has been sanded smooth and edges rounded off. The back is a little rough but once in use you’re never going to see or touch it again.

There are 4 pre-drilled holes in each corner so you can wall mount the racks. Somewhat disappointingly plugs and screws are not provided. However this is not that big a deal and most people my age have probably got loads in a jam jar somewhere in their shed or garage. I would also recommend the use of a washer as the holes are quite big. Using a washer will also prevent you from driving a screw right through the thin plywood back panel.

 

width…

 

Size wise the racks are approximately 20″ (51cm) long and 13.5″ (34cm) tall.

 

height…

 

I opted for the natural pine finish but they also offer a white one too. I’ve not seen that in the flesh so can’t comment on the finish of it. I guess you could also either varnish or paint them to suite your colour scheme too. I’m quite happy to keep the bare wood finish for my setup though.

 

Closer look at the slot construction

 

The slots are perfectly sized and I’ve not found any cassettes that wouldn’t fit into the them.

 

audio tape cassette storage

A selection of VIC20 games slotted in nicely

 

The rack is slightly shallower than a cassette is deep (2″ or 50mm) which means tapes stick out about 1/2″ (12mm). This allows you to easily get your fingers around them when you need to get them out.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Top of rack makes for a useful display area.

 

You can even use the top of the rack as a small shelf for extra storage or display purposes. I’m still experimenting with what looks best but will probably settle for displaying double-cassette boxes or the odd big box game.

 

audio tape cassette storage

Racks filling up nicely…

Finishing Words

I have to say I really love these racks and I’m glad I’ve finally found a storage solution that fulfils my desire to display my stuff too. I filled my three racks straight away so have just ordered another three. With six racks I’ll have the capacity to store 360 tapes in total. That’ll allow me to store all the tapes I currently own and hopefully leave me with enough empty slots to accommodate future purchases, fingers crossed.

The racks are available from Amazon here:

 

Update: 1st April 2020

Fitted the extra three racks so as promised here’s a photo of the finished project. I still have a few empty slots left thankfully but how long for is anyone’s guess!

 

audio tape cassette storage

Finished project with enough space for 360 cassette tapes.

 

Hope you found this article useful!

JollyDisk – a Merry 8-Bit Christmas

JollyDisk

I spotted this little festive treat quite by chance just a few days before Christmas. It’s called ‘JollyDisk’ and is basically a series of animated Christmas cards along with some nice SID based Christmas carols. There’s also an animated Yule Log ‘Jukebox’ thrown in for good measure too.

From time of ordering to delivery from the USA to the UK took ten days. Given the time of year I thought this was pretty good. What wasn’t so good was the £13.11 customs charges I got stung for. Only £5.11 of that total was actually import duties, the other £8 was tacked on by Royal Mail for ‘handling fees’. Anyhoo… them’s the breaks as they say so I won’t hold that against it. As for the Royal Mail… you robbers…

 

JollyDisk

JollyDisk Contents

 

Anyway my JollyDisk came neatly packaged inside a ZipLock bag with a colourful card inlay showing what it’s all about. There was also a nice ‘Stirring Dragon Games’ sticker, a keyboard overlay (remember those?) and of course the actual 5.25″ JollyDisk itself!

The JollyDisk is actually double sided. The first side is devoted to the multimedia Christmas cards whilst the flip side hosts the Yule Log Jukebox.

 

Christmas Cards

 

JollyDisk Title Screen

JollyDisk Title Screen

 

After a few moments you are greeted with a nice title screen before moving on to the Christmas cards. The cards are beautifully presented in full multi-colour graphics featuring a number of animations that help bring the scene to life.

 

JollyDisk

Pay attention to this one to spot a special appearance…

 

In one scene for example, Santa’s sleigh streaks across a moonlit sky (closely following by E.T. if you pay attention!). Others feature animated animals, snow falling, twinkling lights and much more. It’s clear that a lot of love went into creating each scene.

 

JollyDisk

A fox gazes into a moonlit sky…

 

Accompanying each screen is a Christmas carol performed gracefully by the C64’s SID chip. There’s a different carol for each screen ranging from Silent Night to Deck the Halls and of course Jingle Bells is in there somewhere too!

 

JollyDisk

Winter scene featuring a deer taking a drink

 

Once each music track has finished the next scene is automatically loaded off the floppy disk.

 

JollyDisk

Traditional Christmas scene

 

Once the final Christmas Card has been displayed it loops right back to the start. This means you can leave it on for as long as you like and have it constantly cycling through different scenes and carols.

 

JollyDisk

A kid playing on a C64 in their bedroom at Christmas – something most of us can probably relate to!

 

It’s the sort of thing a computer shop in the 80’s might have left on display during the festive season.

 

JollyDisk

The last scene before looping back to the beginning

Yule Log

 

The second side of the JollyDisk features a fully animated Yule Log created entirely from PETSCII graphics. This ‘Jukebox’ is where that keyboard overlay comes in handy.

 

JollyDisk Keyboard Overlay

The keyboard Overlay in use

 

The keyboard overlay sits over the function keys and reminds you which keys do what.

  • F1 turns the sound off.
  • F3 changes the fireplace design (there are 2 to choose from).
  • F5 selects a crackling fire sound.
  • F7 skips to the next song.

The songs that play are the same Christmas carols that featured on side one. However there do seem to be a few more on offer here. I think there’s ten in total. In addition to moving sequentially through them with F7 you can also directly access each one using the number keys. Playing the songs like this causes them to play on a loop, particularly handy if you have a favourite.

 

JollyDisk

JollyDisk Yule Log menu screen

 

The crackling fire sound enabled by pressing F5 is quite effective. I assume it’s been created using various snippets of white noise but it’s pretty effective and definitely relaxing. In fact I’ve actually got it running in the background whilst I type this article!

A static photo wouldn’t have done the Yule Log justice so here’s an animated GIF…

 

Here’s an animated GIF I created of the crackling fire. You’ll just have to imagine the Christmas carols playing or the sounds of the log crackling – either that or buy a copy for yourself 🙂

 

All in all this is a delightful little product. It’s definitely something I will look forward to digging out every year to experience some 8-bit Christmas cheer.

As I write this it’s still available physically for $24.99 or $14.99 digitally from Stirring Dragon Games if you are interested in getting hold of a copy yourself.

Plundered Hearts by Infocom – Classic C64 Purchase

Plundered Hearts

I was lucky enough to bag a few new adventure games for my collection in the run up to Christmas. One them was this, the big box release of Plundered Hearts by Infocom. I paid a little more than I probably should have as it’s quite a rare game and is in beautiful condition. It’s definitely been well cared for by its previous owner. It is resplendent with all the extra ‘feelies’ and paperwork inside its pristine box too.

 

Infocom Plundered Hearts back cover

Infocom Plundered Hearts back cover

 

This adventure tells the story of a young woman who sets sail for the West Indies in search of her sick father. Along the way you will encounter pirates, puzzles, vicious crocodiles and even romance.  This sounds like it could be a really good yarn and given the pirate subject matter has made its way into my play list quite near the top!

 

Plundered Hearts running on my Commodore 64

Ooer missus – Plundered Hearts running on my Commodore 64

 

Plundered Hearts ‘Feelies’

 

As always with Infocom games, a huge part of their appeal for me is the extras (feelies) tucked inside the box. All of these bits and bobs came as standard with each copy of the game sold. No premium priced ‘special’ or ‘collectors’ editions here designed to fleece the customer. No siree, everyone got the same fully loaded edition. How times have changed – you’re lucky to get a sheet of paper listing the game controls these days!

 

Plundered Hearts

Sliding out the box insert

 

Happily Plundered Hearts is no exception here with lots of extra goodies tucked inside the box insert.

 

Plundered Hearts Contents

The Plundered Hearts box insert

 

There’s the instruction manual, a reference card for the C64 version of the game, the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk, a registration card and a coupon book containing offers for other games and merchandise.

 

Plundered Hearts Feelies

Plundered Hearts Feelies

 

Incidentally there’s some great offers inside the coupon book but sadly it looks like I missed the expiration date by a few days…

 

Infocom T-Shirt Coupon

I’d definitely be taking advantage of this offer of a free Infocom T-Shirt if the coupon was still valid!

 

Opening up the blue velvet pouch reveals even more goodies… There’s a beautifully hand written letter from Jean Lafond helping to set the scene for the game. A 50 Guinea note from the Bank of St. Sinistra rounds off the list of feelies and looks pretty convincing although is sadly not legal tender in the UK.

 

Plundered Hearts Feelies

Letter and 50 guinea note contained within the blue velvet pouch

All in all this is a fantastic item and a very worthy addition to my Infocom collection.

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