The quest for the grail is not Archaeology, it’s a race against your torch burning out…

January 19, 2013

IMG_0907As far as trilogies go, Indiana Jones ranks right up there as one of my all time favorites. What’s not to love about treasure hunting, whip cracking, Nazi bashing, mythology sensationalising adventure?

Nothing, that’s what. There’s nothing not to love about it.

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So it’d be crazy for me not to give a game based on such a fantastic set of movies a red hot go, which led me to fire up Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the Commodore 64 for a play today. Verdict? Not too shabby – not too shabby at all. Like a lot of C64 platformers, twitch-sensitive timing is the order of the day as you guide Indy through level after level whipping bad guys, avoiding falling rocks and avoiding that most toxic of platform game elements – water.

 

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IMG_0909Last Crusade employs an interesting game mechanic in the use of torches scattered throughout the levels.  Each torch illuminates bad guys, falling debris and other things worth shining light on, but they are finite objects. You need to always be on the look out for the next torch to pick up, lest the one you’re carrying burn out and leave you in the dark and utterly clueless.

From a few minutes with the game, I’d have to say I’ll be going

back to give it a proper work out. From the great 8-bit rendition of the Indiana Jones theme music, to the satisfaction created when a few well timed jumps land you out of danger and onto your next torch, Last Crusade hits all the right platform genre targets and is well worth some of your retro gaming time.


My games room – wide angle style.

December 26, 2012

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Collections by type…

December 23, 2012

In a slightly different strategy to taking random pictures of odds and ends of my collection, I’ve decided to put together some shots which depict an entire section of my current hoard (e.g. all my SNES games or all my Commodore stuff).  Below I’ve got pictures of my entire Sega Saturn games collection, SNES game collection, NES boxed collection (I have a stack more carts sans boxes) and Commodore goodies (including C64, C64C, C128 and C128D). Enjoy!

So many great 2D fighting titles in this bunch

So many great 2D fighting titles in this bunch

Childhood goodness abounds

Childhood goodness abounds

A small but growing NES boxed collection

A small but growing NES boxed collection

Terranigma, Mega Man X, Zelda and many other great boxed games in this lot

Terranigma, Mega Man X, Zelda and many other great boxed games in this lot


HxC Floppy Emulator Review

November 2, 2012

W. B. Yeats included the line “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” in his famous poem “The Second Coming”. Many ascribe the inspiration for this work to the atmosphere of post-war Europe, but I’m positive Yeats was talking about floppy disks.

The staple media during the 80’s and 90’s, the magnetic storage of the floppy disks of the day has just about run its course. Sad news for retro computer gaming buffs, who regularly come across games stored on 5.25″ or 3.5″ disks which no longer work due to the deterioration of the media itself.

I know this pain all too well.

Having purchased a bulk lot of Amiga disks – including boxed games – along with a couple of Amiga 500’s, I was torn up to discover upon inspection that most of them had been stored in a damp place and suffered all kinds of nasty mould damage. I still managed to harvest a chunk of working games out of the lot – but for how long? They’ll likely fail too, it’s the inevitable journey of the floppy disk.

So what’s a retro gamer to do? Well, there’s emulation of course, but we all know that never feels quite the same. Game speeds don’t match up, you’re not using original input devices (e.g. legitimate Commodore joysticks) and the whole experience really isn’t recreated. Another option, is to do as I did and invest in the HxC Floppy Emulator. This brilliant little device is made by a chap in Poland, and has the ability to mimic the workings of a floppy drive from a huge array of retro computers including the Commodore 64, Atari range, Amiga’s and Amstrad.  The kicker is, instead of using floppy disk media, it allows you to run floppy disk images straight from SD card. Bam! In one hit you have done away with the entropy of the floppy disk and stepped into the almost infallible world of flash card storage.

The way it works is simple. Into one end of the PCB, you re-route the floppy data cable and power connector from your chosen computer, and in the other end goes your SD card – loaded up with all the games you want to play. The set up is more involved than that – which I’ll get to in a moment – but that’s the basic principle. It’s an SD to Floppy cable data converter. Neat! This turned out to be the perfect solution to my desperate need to play Amiga games as often as possible, and in true blog fashion I detailed the steps of setting it up so you can get an idea of what’s involved, and whether it’s something you’re interested in.

First up, I picked a victim computer to test on. My Amiga 600 seemed like the best choice. Small, portable, in great condition and compatible with a fair chunk of Amiga titles. While the HxC floppy emulator is undoubtedly designed to be fitted inside the case at some point, short term I was happy to have mine attached in a rough fashion. First step, was to up end the Amiga 600, as I needed to pop the case to get to the floppy cables inside.

Would you believe the warranty seal was still intact? I felt like I was disturbing some ancient crypt as I popped the screwdriver through the seal. Hey, it’s for a worthy cause!

I had my HxC floppy emulator and specifically purchased SD card sitting close by and ready to be installed. Note the funny shaped SD card. It’s actually called a ‘UD’ and has a USB connection sticking out one side. Extremely handy for people like me who don’t have card reader in their PC, this allows me to just plug it directly into USB to download floppy images, then use the SD end into the emulator.

 

With a bit of ‘levering’ on some plastic tabs around the A600 case, the case popped open, and as you can see it was pretty easy to gain access to the internal floppy drive cables.

 

It’s a pretty simple affair to get the HxC connected, but make sure you read the instructions online carefully! You’ll need to ensure you set jumpers correctly for the drive(s) you want to emulate, and it’s also important to know which way your floppy ribbon cable goes onto the board (as it’s different for different machines) and what the led indicator lights on the PCB refer to (it will make diagnosing teething issues a hell of a lot easier)

 

As you can see, I went for the rough and ready ‘hang it outside the case, but only on the left side, yeah that’s the crip side’ look. If you’re more handy with case modding, you’ll want to fix it inside the case, with a window for the LCD.  Once installed, it was back to my main PC to prepare the SD card. A few things to note, firstly – read the documentation carefully. I can’t stress this enough. Because the HxC is designed to run on multiple different machines, you’ll have to be aware of the particular settings for your vintage computer as well as how to set the SD card up so that it boots the way you want (via a customisable config file placed on the SD card). There is a program you can download that allows you to customise the config file entirely, but you’re far better off initially using one of the ‘pre baked’ config files ideal for what you want to achieve. We picked one that auto loaded a ‘floppy manager’ (basically a game chooser GUI) when you run the HxC connected to an Amiga.

After you’ve configured the SD card, you just need to convert your floppy images into the HxC native .hfe format. Thankfully, this is super easy – in the case of my Amiga 600 I was using a ton of .adf files, and the same program that allows you to customise the config file also allows you to batch convert any number of disk files to .hfe format. Once I’d converted a few hundred games, they were loaded on the SD card, and it was back to the Amiga to fire it all up and test!.

The HxC is a thing of beauty when it’s fired up and ticking away. Interestingly, just because it’s running an SD card, doesn’t actually make any of the load times particularly fast, as the data still has to travel along the floppy cable.

 

 

Pictured below is the floppy chooser menu. Even if you’re only emulating a single drive (DF0 in the case of the Amiga) the floppy chooser allows you to assign a floppy image to a number of ‘slots’ in the HxC, and if you need to swap disks during use, you just press a button on the PCB to swap from one slot to the next. Very handy!

 

So, the moment of truth, did it work? Yes, yes it did 🙂

 

It’s a fantastic device, and I’m having immense fun trawling through a library of Amiga games to play the way they were intended to be played – on an Amiga, and a 1084S monitor. It’s a worthwhile investment for me (costing $100 approximately) and I know I’m going to get hours and hours of use out of it. If you’re happy running emulators, that’s fine to – but for anyone who is really digging that original experience on an Amiga, Atari, Amstrad, Commodore or any number of other retro computers, check out the HxC Floppy Emulator, it may just save you from all the pain and frustration of floppy media.

 


More C64 games

May 19, 2012

There are few sites as awesome as a big box of assorted C64 games. This delivery came Friday (the box complete with the same bugs and spiders it probably had when buried in someone’s garage) and I’ve just had a chance to open it and start playing through some of the titles today. A few of the titles didn’t load up, but I think that’s because my C128D isn’t the healthiest of beasts. I’ll plug in the Breadbin C64 over the weekend and continue my adventures then. In the meantime, please enjoy these shots of my C64 treasure hoard :).


A day of C128 love

April 25, 2012

I decided to wrap myself in some Commodore lovin’ on this freezing ANZAC day, so I pulled out my C128D to fire up a few random games from my ‘giant box of copied disks and tapes that I haven’t yet played through’.  Why the C128D? And not one of my trusty 64’s? Simple really – the C128D is an easier affair to hook up on my desk by virtue of the fact it has a built in 5.25″ floppy drive. There’s nothing more space-hogging than a C64, tape drive and monstrous 1541 disk drive combination, so the 128D is the better choice.

Plus I like the comforting noise of its little in-built fan whirring away in the background.

Anyway, pictures paint the story here, I took a few happy snaps of the various titles I chucked on for a look.  Some of the games featured below are Back to the Future (classic!), Transformers (confusing) and the oddly satisfying ‘Create with Garfield’ where you create pictures by putting together combinations of backgrounds, props, characters and blurbs from the Garfield series.  I am deeply concerned by how much fun I had with that one. Deeply.  Also, I find this link to be invaluable when navigating around the command line of any Commodore system.


Air wolves

September 27, 2011

There is absolutely no disputing that the theme from Knight Rider is the greatest TV tune ever trotted out on the worldwide stage. No no, don’t dispute it, you’re only making a fool of yourself.  Relax, give in, submit yourself to that tacky 80s goodness. It’ll hurt less if you don’t struggle.  Of course, if Knight Rider is king of the 80s TV show themes, then Airwolf is an easy runner up.  From 1984 to 1987 Airwolf – a show about a military attack helicopter and its cold war fightin’ crew – reigned supreme.

It was the ultimate mix of cheese and chopper action and while you could debate the overall tackiness of the series till dawn, the fact remains that several game publishers thought it worthy of consumption in video game format.  I discovered recently that I had Airwolf the video game for both the C64 and NES, so decided to pit them against each other in an old fashioned head-to-head.

The results may confound scholars and scientists for decades to come.

Probably not, but there’s always a chance…

It turns out that the titles are brethren in name alone and are entirely different beasts, as fit for direct comparison as David Letterman and a hot dog. If you want the version choc-full of brevity, here it is; The C64 version is fun, and the NES version is utter tripe.

I mean utter shit-on-the-bottom-of-your-shoe Carbon Tax Gonorrhea tripe.

The NES version takes the form of a flight simulator, which should be the first clue as to its tripey nature. The NES is a fantastic gaming platform, it’s the home of legendary titles, incredible game play and amazing experiences. It is not however, capable of simulating anykind of flight.  Its tiny Ricoh CPU makes a mockery of commanding the skies, managing to dribble out an uninspiring flat green ‘ground’ and a flat blue ‘sky’ from your HUD combined with the worlds most annoying chopper blade sound whirring constantly throughout the game. You shoot at blocky things that hover out in front of you – I think they’re planes – which consequently explode into other blocky things.

Airwolf on the NES. Green, blue and little else

Oh, and there’s a night mode – but that’s just tripe in the dark.

C64 Airwolf, crazy hard.

The C64 version on the other hand, takes a side scrolling approach to the Airwolf franchise (am I being generous with that term?) and does so with reasonably good results. You have to navigate the attack chooper through a series of caverns rescuing stranded people and avoiding lasers, falling rocks and flying saucers.  Now I’ve chosen to ignore the little things, like the fact the people you’re rescuing are easily half the size of your attack chopper indicating they could possibly be mutants and likely belong in the cavern, or the fact flying saucers feature in the game when it’s pretty vague how they fit into the overarching story.  I’m going to look past those things because the game is actually fun. It’s fiendishly hard

Giant people need saving too.

and I’ll probably never finish it, but definitely fun and certainly craps comprehensively on the NES title.

Plus, the C64 rendition of the theme is superb.

In a way, I feel good about this result, because it means that – at least as far as Airwolf is concerned – the C64 has demonstrated itself as the dominant platform over the limelight grabbing Nintendo, and that won’t happen often.  One small win for the Commodore breadbox.

 

 


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