Thursday, 31 December 2015

SANTA CLAUS CAME TO TOWN

As you'll probably have caught on to by now it'll be the New Year before the blog starts to take off and head in whatever direction this wonderful little computer takes me, but just before we say goodbye to 2015 altogether I thought I'd share some wonderful additions with you.

Well I finally got another copy of Fantasy World Dizzy after the one I'd ordered months ago never worked on the big first day with my new Commodore.  If you're not up to speed yet you can catch up by clicking here.  But it wasn't the only further addition to my Commodore this festive season I'm very happy to say, as two of my friends wrapped up a couple of brilliant C64-related gifts for me as well.

But first, with so much time off from work over December I was able to finally get my claws into a few lengthy sessions with good ol' Dizzy himself and the result was even better than I'd imagined:


I'm addicted to it all over again and a write-up will be coming to the blog in the new year.

But back to Christmas Day and my friends Andy and Kevin had wrapped up a certain book I'd been clamouring for recently and the C64 game of my favourite film of all time respectively (and one of my top games from back in the day too), both of which will receive the blog treatment soon:


Receiving Christmas presents for the 64 kind of legitimises this whole thing for me and how serious I am about it this time around.  As we settle in to 2016 the blog will be getting a proper design too and you'll begin to see how I'm wanting this to develop, with everything documented right here on this blog.  As such, I do know how it's all going to start so I hope you'll join me in January as it all kicks off!

In the meantime have a very Merry Christmas season and a Happy New Year too and I'll be back soon...

UPDATE: A review of Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium is now up - click here.
FURTHER UPDATE: A review of Fantasy World Dizzy is also up - click here.


Friday, 11 December 2015

DAY ONE


So the day has finally arrived!  The Commodore has been sitting in my spare room since I bought it on eBay in September and then throughout October I added the extra bits and pieces I wanted to play or read, never opening their envelopes more than necessary to check the correct items had been sent.  Wrapped up and placed under one of my Christmas trees ten days ago, it's finally time to reveal what I did buy and, more importantly, does it work?


Well yes, thankfully it does.  Though it was touch and go there I have to say because the first title I wanted to load up was CodemastersFantasy World Dizzy but it simply ran out of tape and stayed on the loading screen.  I resorted to the tried and tested tactics we had as teenagers of unplugging the joystick and trying again and trying side B of the tape.  I noticed the Shift Lock key depressed and convinced myself that was the reason it hadn't worked.  Nope, still nothing.  I was worried about the tape drive, as this cassette had come from a reputable online shop, not eBay!

A quick try of a tape from eBay and it worked perfectly.  I'll be staying away from that shop in future then.  I can't return it thanks to waiting this long to open it and test it, but still I had thought better of such a website and so I'd spent a bit more on it, safe in the knowledge it'd work.  I know cassettes won't last forever but I'll stick with eBay and the likes in future I think.  At least if it doesn't work I won't have lost as much money.  Another Dizzy has been ordered and I can't wait for the little fella to arrive.

Everything else seems grand and I had a great session on the public domain game Sensitive which was on one of the Commodore Format PowerPacks.  As a teen this great little puzzler with simple but effective graphics and really catchy music had me hooked and I can feel it getting its claws into me all over again already.  I'll be covering it in more depth soon, but for now it really was like Christmas Day and I spent time also perusing over the magazines and manual, the hardware and the games packaged with it.

So this post is just a quick run down of the day and what I have to begin with, with more in-depth things to come as I get stuck in to each individual title, piece of reading material and coding.


Like a child (or a man dangerously close to some sort of mid-life crisis) I opened the box of extras in bed this morning and was greeted with lots of brown.  But inside each envelope was a little gem of something I'd ordered months back and I'd actually forgotten about some pieces so it really was a nice surprise.


Commodore Format #14 was my very first issue and so I simply had to have it, backed up with a bunch of earlier editions including the premiere one!  The same manual I had was hunted down too, there's the PowerPack with Sensitive and other games I remember well on it, a double-pack containing one of my very favourites Paradroid, the non-working Dizzy and finally Castle Master which is one of those slow-moving but absorbing 3D games made with Freescape (a belter of a 3D engine at the time).  Even though I never played this game at the time I've a particular reason for purchasing it now, which I'll get to at a later date.  Add in a RF lead and that's the lot.

After breakfast it was time to unleash the big box!


The Commodore itself was in a large cardboard box all sealed up with parcel tape as it was falling apart.  It had originally been the Light Fantastic bundle, coming with a C2N tape deck and a lightgun, something else I'd never had before so that was a surprise on opening it.  Yes, my memory for what I bought just three months ago really is getting bad at my age.  Inside there was also a very pink joystick, the shape of which became forever linked with the C64, so much so that you can buy a black version of it in the shops now with loads of Commodore games pre-installed to plug straight into your TV.

The actual boxes the computer and tape deck were in were in great condition and even contained the original polystyrene inserts, but my word they stank of smoke!  That's one thing I really don't like about buying second-hand online (even though there's not much choice), when something comes from a smoker's home and it reeks.  It seems to have clung to the polystyrene in particular and while the computer etc. have been refurbished they certainly weren't cleaned on the outside, as they're a bit discoloured and will need washed down to get rid of that smell.


But that's only a temporary bad point and not something I'm worried about.  After all, the last time I purchased a C64 it was much more discoloured and a good scrub with some Flash wipes had it gleaming like new, so I'll just do that.

I also have a handful of games which came with the original bundle which I was simply going to sell on, but I'll see which ones use the lightgun first and I'll check them out first.  They don't look that great but I was never interested in them anyway, I just wanted a refurbished 64 and to start buying exactly what I wanted for it instead.  There's some great lightgun-compatible games out there and I had some before which were just too difficult with a joystick, so it may be interesting having this little peripheral this time around, you never know.

So there's my system as it stands on day one.  I've a busy weekend ahead and so it's going to be left for a few days to begin with, but what a magnificent and addictive start to the holidays!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

CHRISTMAS EVE COMES EARLY


Yes, of course I wrapped them up!

Thanks to a kindly donation from a friend who was about to fire them into a skip I've got a cracker CRT Philips (coincidentally enough) TV and the coolest retro-futuristic remote I ever did see and I'm all fired up and ready to go tomorrow morning.

A few years back I tried out a Nintendo GameCube and a Panasonic 3DO on my HDTV and the quality was atrocious, so I kept a hold of my old widescreen flatscreen for them but at 28" and a hefty woofer and speaker system around its casing I don't think my dining table would've coped.  These older systems were built with the TVs of the time in mind, obviously, and always look better on these screens.  Of course there's some clever Commodore fans out there who have built devices so you can use your new TVs with an excellent (even improved!) picture, but I'm keeping it purely retro.  At least for the time being anyway.

So tomorrow morning is the big unwrapping.  I just hope it all works!  It is a completely refurbished C64 etc. and it came with a ten-day guarantee at the time of purchase, but that's run out somewhat, what with it still being in the box it arrived in way back in September, never having been taken out.  But the eBay seller had a perfect track record of selling refurbished classic systems for years now so I'm sure I'll be grand.

Everything I've bought since receiving the computer has been briefly checked to make sure the right thing was in each envelope but apart from that they haven't been touched either.  So, with saving everything until the first day of my Christmas time off from work, I thought I'd go the extra mile and wrap up my presents to myself.  Why not?

I'll be back tomorrow to show you what all I've purchased, hope you can join me then.  I can't wait to finally get my hands on everything.

Monday, 16 November 2015

THE COMMODORE COUNTDOWN


THE ADVENT OF THIS BLOG
- IT WASN'T ACCIDENTAL TIMING -

An advent calendar?  Yes indeed, one of two I've purchased this year and if you read the first post on this new blog you'll probably have worked out what this is all about by now.  The blog itself popped up here on 11th November, exactly a month before what I've dubbed Commodore Christmas Day for myself, the first of many days I have off work this festive season and the day I've chosen to wait to until I can open up my 'brand new' Commodore 64!

Well I always buy an advent calendar every year, usually one with chocolate inside, to count down to my favourite time and this year is no different, with a Malteaser one waiting patiently for 1st December.  However, with the start of my Christmas vacation (I'm not going anywhere, it just makes it sound grand) being the big Commodore day I thought why not count down to that one too with more chocolate?  I'm sure not many would argue with that logic.

With twenty-five days in these Thorntons ones, today was the first day to open it up and bite down on the first step towards the first of two big days this year.  Yes I know the twenty-fifth one is meant to be opened on the day you're counting down to, but who ever remembers to do so with all the excitement of Christmas Day?  I certainly wouldn't!  I never did understand that about such calendars, so in this case I'm ignoring the rulebook and using that extra day to start early.

What a rebel.

With having secured a CRT TV for the computer too this weekend (more on that soon) my excitement levels are building!  Can't wait to share everything with you in just twenty-five days.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

OFF WE GO

I'M GOING TO PARTY LIKE IT'S 1991
- A NEW COMMODORE 64 BLOG -


Welcome to the start of a brand new adventure for me and it all starts with this above, still currently within a combination of its delivery parcel and an old Sky+ box and waiting to be unwrapped to see what develops.  A bit like this blog really, the design of which is deliberately basic at the moment because it's going to be based around what's in those boxes, but you'll see what I mean when the time comes.  First up, what's this all about?

HOW I GOT HERE

Over two-and-a-half years ago I started a fun little experiment to read each and every issue of classic 80s UK comic Oink! on the date of their original release and write them up on one of those blog things.  Originally intended to be a small endeavour which would be finished within a couple of years, it soon grew into something much bigger than I'd ever anticipated.  It became hugely popular, I befriended other pig pals (how readers of the comic were addressed by fictional editor Uncle Pigg at the time) and got to chat with many of the extremely talented writers, cartoonists and editors who worked on it; even becoming good friends with some.  I started covering more than just the original issues and it very organically expanded over the past two-and-a-half-and-a-bit-more years.

Something I definitely didn't see coming was how it ended up reigniting my passion for writing, which I'd had at various points in my younger life but never followed up on career-wise.  One of those times was actually a diskzine for the Commodore 64 too.  Now I'm heading into 2016 with big plans for an Oink! book and wanting to develop that writer trapped inside me and see where it all leads.  The key here is to emphasise how this all came about perfectly naturally.

You see, in my past I've had a habit of latching onto an idea and being completely obsessed about it for a while, before my attention span moves on to something else and whatever I was working on would be left to collect dust in the foggy parts of my memory.  This is what happened with several writing projects in the past, along with a lack of confidence, and indeed with some things I developed for my original Commodore 64 back in the 1990s when a friend and I set up Parallel Logic.

But with The Oink! Blog I didn't set out with any grand plan, instead I feel like I've grown too and am now following that dream at my own pace instead of making the same mistakes.  The professional writers and cartoonists I've become acquainted with have also been extremely supportive, their words about my writing giving me the great boost in confidence I needed.  This is where Recovering from a Scratch comes in.


WHERE I'M GOING
(I DON'T KNOW YET, BUT THAT'S THE POINT)

This isn't the first time I've bought a C64 since my youth, however that's a story for another time.  Concentrating on the current occasion, this past year or so has been tough at times; I'd previously been in debt, cleared them, then a bunch of us lost our jobs and I ended up unemployed for about half of last year and the debts piled up again (I love signing up for cards and payment plans just before losing a job, don't you?).  I've spent this year getting on top of them and at the end of September I paid them off - debt-free just in time for Christmas, my very favourite time of the year.

I'd been reminiscing about my writing, programming and game creating on my original 64 and, after the experiences of The Oink! Blog and where it was leading me, I decided now was the time to branch out and, alongside developing a writing career, why not also flex those creative muscles with a return to an old hobby?  To celebrate the final debt payment I purchase a refurbished Commodore 64C with a few extras and set about collecting a few magazines, the manual and just a small selection of games to get me started, all chosen very deliberately.  The computer has stayed in its packaging and the other bits 'n' bobs I bought were put into another box, sealed away and there's a reason I'm waiting patiently.

The Oink! Blog winds down its initial concept this year before I relaunch it in January, but there's a good bit still to do and I wanted to concentrate on that first.  Also, I've been able to book a tremendous amount of time off work this festive season, so exactly one month from the date of this post, on the morning of Friday 11th December I'll be up at the crack of dawn on my own personal Commodore Christmas Day and unwrapping all the goodies for the first time.  There's a lot to be said about anticipation for something when you know you'll be able to set the proper time aside to enjoy it.  This is something I do often, for example my first iPhone last Christmas (and my Apple Watch this forthcoming season) was very kindly paid for by my family all pitching in, the money used by me to buy it several weeks in advance.  But I kept it out of my sight until I could give it to my parents and sisters to wrap up and keep for the big day.


A few years ago I acquired an iPad and then when my laptop went to Microsoft heaven a really good friend of mine called Andy bought me an astonishing present; a Mac Mini!  He said he saw great potential in the blog I was writing and didn't want me to stop, but more than that he wanted me to keep on developing what I was doing as he said he saw a bright future in it for me.  Basically, he was seeing what I wanted to do before I even knew myself.  Thanks to him I've been able to carry on.  Adding the TV and phone to the package (though the iPad was traded in) resulted in me enjoying my writing more and more; the research, the interactions, the designing, the artwork and of course most of all the writing itself.  I hadn't enjoyed working with technology and developing an affinity with it this much since the days with my beloved Commodore 64, and now the two are to meet.

When I first got my hands on a C64 as a quite computer-illiterate 14-year-old I had no idea the potential inside its lovely beige casing, nor how it'd grab me and not let me go for many years, how it'd become my life or how it'd start me on a path which could've led to the career I'm only seriously chasing now.  Life can repeat itself and I'd also no idea how the simple change from an old laptop to the Mac would have the same effect.  Though Andy did.

My life with this 'new' Commodore will be covered on this blog and the whole point behind this site is quite simple.

RECOVERING FROM A SCRATCH

This isn't going to be a blog about me collecting loads and loads of games, so many that I can't possibly play them all.  It's not about tracking down and spending a fortune on rare titles.  It's not going to be a place to catch up on the very latest C64 news (and yes, there's plenty out there).  Nor will it be a site where you'll get loads of technical specifications and programming tutorials, or hundreds upon hundreds of game reviews.  All of those and more are already out there for this wonderful home computer and they're great!  No, this is going to be something more personal, it's going to be my journey to... well, I don't know yet.

- - -

When I got my C64 for Christmas in 1991 I had no idea that by those final days of school my time with the Commodore would have me on the cusp on something great.  It all just developed and happened but I was young and didn't realise what I had and what I'd achieved!

When I started The Oink! Blog in April 2013 I had no idea that by the time I finished covering all the issues I'd be addicted to writing again, wanting a career once more and be on the cusp of starting a book about a beloved subject.  Again, it all just developed and happened but this time I'm getting on a bit (I'm in denial about those couple of grey hairs that popped up a few months back).  While I'm always surprised at the feedback I get, especially from professional writers, it's taught me to realise what I have and what I've achieved this time.

- - -

So now it's time to reset the clock and restart my Commodore 64 adventure again, albeit it with some hindsight.  I have no idea where it'll lead.  Could I end up making the killer 3D Construction Kit game I always wanted to do?  Could I end up creating some regular writing work or a book out of it?  Could I end up programming a new game or utility from scratch?  I have no idea and that's the fun part!  I'm starting again from scratch and that's the focus here.

I'll be starting out like I did the first time round and it's going to be a fun ride.  That much I do know.