Monday, 25 April 2016

JOBY GRIPTIGHT GORILLAPOD

"A what now"?  Well maybe if I showed you a picture of it out of its box that would explain it better than I could.  After all a picture paints a thousand words, right?

Um... it's a.. oh dear

Hmm, maybe not.  That looks rather more like something which could get this blog an adults-only rating.  But never fear, it's simply a device to help me with the screenshots for reviews and the like.  Here, look at the box if you don't believe me.


There we go, that's much better.  When I wrote about Fantasy World Dizzy (click here for that) I was able to take what I felt were perfectly fine screenshots of the game as I played it thanks to the iOS app Manual (click here for more info), albeit by stopping play, taking each photo and then going back to the game again.  Not ideal but it was fine for that game.  But what if I were playing a title where I wanted photos of the game in motion such as driving sims or shoot-'em-ups, or of certain parts of a game where taking my hands off the joystick could result in game over?  In that Dizzy review there's one picture taken where he's somersaulting towards the crocodile and it was a right royal pain to take that shot, having to clamp the joystick between my legs (careful now) so it wouldn't budge when I made Dizzy jump, while at the same time holding the iPhone perfectly still in my other hand and playing thumb gymnastics on the screen to take the snap without moving the device.

The camera on my phone is superb and the Manual app is great for removing those wobbly lines it picks up on this old CRT TV I'm using with my Commodore 64.  As I've explained before it was also a lot cheaper than forking out for a webcam or similar device, however I now wanted to be able to take photos instantaneously without having to stop playing the games.  Having the phone in a preset position could make for much better action screenshots in some cases, as I'd just need to quickly reach over and tap the phone before returning my hand to playing the game.  It'd also cut down on editing such as with Dizzy when I'd a lot of straightening up, cropping, sharpening etc. to do afterwards.  Plus hopefully it wouldn't take half a dozen attempts to get one non-blurred photo while still playing.  (A CRT screen and my shaky camera hands aren't a great match for each other.)



As you can see this great little device is just perfect for the task at hand.  I'd previously played around with arranging the chairs and some books to lean the phone against but it wasn't ideal and could slip about, sometimes without me realising until it fell over mid-play or took a photo of half the TV and half the wall.

The Griptight Gorillapod from Joby looked interesting when I laid my eyes on it in the Apple Store.  It could hold the phone steady without it having to be clamped down on something in a way that could potentially damage furniture.  Remember, I'm still using my dining table at the moment as my temporary Commodore desk!  I liked how it looked simple to use and best of all was both physically and figuratively very flexible, and could be used in many situations that could present themselves in the future, C64-related or not.  For example those red feet are magnetic and the legs pretty much wrap around anything (I said careful now!).

It was incredibly easy to set up yet it still wobbled slightly but I realised that was my own fault, as I was being too gentle with it, as I normally am with any new device.  It really is highly durable and I was able to push hard on the joints to ensure it was wrapped extremely tight around the back of the chair in front of the TV.  The rounded nature of all of the components on its three legs, with no sharp edges or right angles of any kind ensured it wouldn't damage the wood.  Clicking the iPhone in resulted in the setup looking rather professional I have to say.  Especially for me!

All geared up and ready to go play games

Take some time to do a search online for "Gorillapod" and check out the incredibly inventive ways people are using these for iPhone photography.

With a great camera, a great app for CRT screens and this great little tripod-esque stand I'm set.  Well, I've got one more unboxing to go of a new Commodore hardware addition and then that should do me, for a while at any rate.  That's up next and I'm looking forward to taking plenty of games for a test drive now too.    

Creators: Joby
Price: £29.95 (Apple Store)


Sunday, 24 April 2016

MAYHEM IS ABOUT TO KICK OFF!

For once the postman actually read the label

I'd been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this package for a couple of weeks and had become concerned when I hadn't received it when the website stated the turnaround for orders was just a few days.  But a quick email later and they got straight back to me to explain and I have to say I'm glad it got held up.  Why?  Well, each disk is made to order and they'd just had a couple of brand new(!) Commodore 64 releases which had proved very popular, which then had a bit of a knock-on effect.  To me, that's wonderful news so I didn't mind the delay at all.

I'm talking about Psytronik Software, a brilliant software label for my very favourite computer which not only releases brand new games but also repackages some of the classics, making them readily available to own on brand new tapes and disks instead of hunting down second-hand ones on eBay and the like.  I'll definitely be doing a write-up on them and their site soon!

Where the magic happens

If you read my post on the purchase of the Commodore 1541 MkII disk drive (which you can read by clicking here) you'll know I ordered up two absolutely corking games, Mayhem in Monsterland and Creatures 2: Torture Trouble, games I enjoyed immensely back when I had my original 64.  Psytronik rereleased both of these games a while back in both premium and budget editions.  The former came complete with a proper box and inlay, the latter is simply the disk and instructions, but with professional printing and labels etc.  Both games are now only available in the budget version, but when they arrived I was blown away by their quality for only £4.99 each!

I can't begin to explain the excitement upon opening this!

On the Mayhem one you can see it says "Premium Edition" but it's not.  It does include the disk inlay card but this is because the instructions are on the back, so either this budget version just leaves out the case or they ran out of instruction sheets like the one that came with Creatures 2.  That's not to say the sheet that came with the other game is inferior though.  I expected professionally printed instructions but I never realised they'd come on such glossy, high quality paper.  The exact same can be said of the disk sleeves and labels, which even when these games were released commercially in the early 90s were only ever matte paper and basic stickers.  Here they've got a lovely finish and it's clear that while these may be in the budget range Psytronik don't skimp.


Both of these games really show what the Commodore was capable of, with bags of inventive gameplay, superb and innovative graphics, the best bop-along music and huge amounts of humour.  Mayhem even received 100% in Commodore Format, something which was simply unheard of.  However it's Creatures 2 which remains as my very favourite videogame of all time and I don't say that lightly.  After the 64 I moved on to the 3DO, Gameboy Advance, GameCube, Wii, Nintendo DS and Wii U systems and while Metroid Prime comes such a close second that it's sometimes hard to call it, Creatures 2 still beats everything I've played elsewhere.

No prizes for guessing which of these two will be reviewed first then.

What other game ever had me joyfully listening to the 'Get Ready' screen between levels almost as much as I did actually playing them?  I've been playing this game for a couple of days now, laughing at the cute and over-the-top cartoon gore, enjoying the boss fights and scuba diving levels, and also wracking my brain on the devilish puzzles of the main levels, the torture screens.  "Gore" and "torture" may give the impression this is an adult-esque game but it's all very comical and set within a brilliantly-animated cutesy world, with the torture being akin to something from the Looney Tunes.  The so-called "gore" also raises laughs with splashes of bright red from the tops of a baddie's head when you drop a rock on him for example (complete with them simply looking at it with a sad expression) or a little cute skeleton jumping out of an acid river when you're not quick enough to stop a Fuzzie being pushed in.

Oh, and the Get Ready screen has been having the exact same effect on me again. Well, can you blame me?  Here's a little something I filmed this evening:


(Now I'm itching to get back and play it!)

Just before I move on, I'm constantly reminded in work by Pierce that I'm old and he's young.  (Though I'm in better shape.)  Previously he's been confused about old videogames only having a set amount of lives, or how the Commodore's graphics weren't just Space Invaders-like, amazed it can produce actual colours!  He was also rather shocked to hear of the size of the floppy disks we all used and how they were actually floppy.  So just for his benefit, or for anyone else of a younger age who is maybe getting into retro gaming here's a size comparison of one of these disks sitting next to my Apple Magic Mouse.

Mayhem in Monsterland in all of his 5 1/4 inch glory

Yup, there's also completely exposed parts of the disk which you had to make sure you didn't touch.  Also we'd to make sure we didn't store them near speakers or anything else which could've given out magnetic interference back then.  Even though I got my original disk drive in 1992 and my school had already started using the small, hard 3 1/2" Macintosh disks these still felt like cutting edge to me when added to my previously cassette-only system.  I also loved their size and growing up on 80s TV shows like Knight Rider etc. these felt like using proper disks, the kind I'd seen on TV.

But enough of that.  A couple of other purchases have been made this last week or so which I'm only getting around to writing about now; one is a modern piece of equipment which has been bought specifically for the purposes of this blog and the other is a classic accessory for the C64 which will require its own unboxing just like the disk drive.  I'll be writing these straight after this one so look out for them.

But just to finish off I also tracked this down on eBay.

Double the value or twice the price?

I used to buy Retro Gamer a long, long time ago when it first appeared but gave up after a year or two.  This bookazine, as they're called, surfaced in 2012 and I did buy it at the time which as you can see was the 30th anniversary of the release of two classic computers.  One half of the book is dedicated to one machine, then you could flip it over and start reading what felt like a completely separate magazine about the other computer.  Each one had over 100 pages dedicated to it, made up of reprinted features from previous issues of the monthly title.

I'm currently reading through the C64 half and I'll be reviewing it here once I've completed the whole shebang.  Why review it?  Well there's a wealth of books (okay this is a 'bookazine' but I'm counting it) about the Commodore out there on auction sites and in online retro shops and just like the games I'm buying I'd like to share my own personal opinions of them as I go along.  Are they worth splashing out for?  If so, how much splashing should they command on auction sites where the words "rare" are all too often used to hike prices?  Again, just like the games, it'll just be my own opinions and hopefully you'll be able to enjoy the reviews and then make up your own mind as to whether they're something you'd like to buy yourself.

Ok, I'm off to rescue Fuzzies and then start unboxing something else really rather exciting.  For me, anyway.    



Sunday, 10 April 2016

DRIVING ONWARDS

Lovely message on the front, which was completely
ignored by the Royal Mail as there was a large hole in
the back!

What's this?  Another large box has arrived bringing much joy to this big kid, but this time I'm not wrapping it up and waiting months until I can open it.  If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about take a trip back to the very beginning of the blog when I purchased the C64 itself, wrapped it up in Christmas paper and tried my own patience.  But right now I'm concentrating on this goodie!

When I had my original C64 it was only a few short months later that my dad's workplace was privatised and he found himself in a new job for the first time in many years.  But in making their staff redundant the previous job had paid out a bit to its staff as usually happens in such circumstances and my dad asked us if there was anything we'd like, with the extra money he wanted to treat each of us to something we wouldn't normally be able to afford ourselves.  This was around Easter time 1992, much like this time around I've just realised, but I'd already eyed up something for that forthcoming Christmas and I thought I'd chance my arm.

I wasn't thinking for one moment they'd say yes but they wanted to support my computer usage and they'd seen me do more than play games already, so they agreed!  Ordered up from Datel Electronics in an advertisement in Commodore Format, my Commodore 1541 Mk-II disk drive was soon winging its way to me!

It may have been more expensive than the C64 bundle itself(!), but
with eight games it was still great value

I remember being in awe at it, especially for multi-load games where each level would load in separately.  This may not sound like a big deal to people used to consoles constantly accessing the internet or a game disc these days, but back in the 80s most C64 games had to fit into that small amount of memory and one way around this was to have it load in chunks.  This meant much bigger games but it also meant having to wait a few minutes between levels when loading from cassette, or rewinding tapes and reloading the first level if you'd died later on.  It could be a pain in the arse at times, as I'd discovered with Creatures 2: Torture Trouble when I bought it on cassette, having to flick the tape over midway through loads.

But with the games I received in the disk drive bundle this was no longer a problem.  I even went on to buy Creatures 2 again, only this time on the large 5 1/4-inch floppy disk.  Now the Commodore took care of all of the multi-loading automatically, it could load in things in whatever order it needed and all much more quickly too.  Again, this may not sound like a big deal today but back then it was revolutionary to me!  Yes I'd played consoles such as the NES and Master System but the C64 was a much better system, had better games and now with the disk drive (and the 64's own cartridges, which I'll cover at a later stage) the one thing my console-owning friends criticised was no longer an issue.

Now fast-forward to another Easter, but this time we're back in the present day of 2016.  Quite a few years ago when I was into Nintendo in a big way during its GameCube and Wii days I remember seeing all those strange "unboxing" videos on YouTube.  Why on earth would anyone sit down to watch people take a new console or game out from its packaging?  Well apparently this is a thing.  A very popular thing which actually makes money for people online!  If you're like me and find that all rather weird, well check out this article from The Guardian in 2014 because it's not just videogames.  Weirder and weirder.

But hey maybe I can get in on this?  Well not really, as I haven't put adverts on the blog yet, but just for the fun of it I thought I'd take some "unboxing" photos of my own.  So here you go folks, me unboxing a decades-old disk drive for your pleasure glands:

Okay, I was being sarcastic about the unboxing thrills, but I do admit
I always prefer buying hardware in original boxes, there's more chance
of the equipment being in good condition if they've gone to the
trouble of keeping the box.

Very pleased to get the manual with it.  I can remember the basics of
using the drive but having a look inside it can do a lot more than
I thought.  Plus there's another reason.

It's rare to get a complete set like this judging from what I've seen on
eBay, so I'll admit I was very pleased to see this when I opened it.

It may look antiquated to some, but I think it's still
a thing of beauty after all these years.

As I mentioned there was another reason I was happy the manual was included.  Indeed, if it hadn't have been I was going to hunt it down and buy it separately like I did with the C64's, and not just so I could read up on all it can do.  There was actually something inside the manual which my fellow Commodre 64-owning pal at the time, Colin McMaster pointed out and which we both found absolutely hilarious.  Please remember we were fourteen years of age at the time.

You see, when you deleted a file from a diskette Commodore didn't just use any old terminology, no.  They called it "scratching".  You'd think this would refer to damaging the exposed part of the diskettes but instead the Scratch command was how you'd erase files you no longer needed, but just as today there was a way to recover deleted files, albeit it only if the disk hadn't been used in any way since and only by a skilled professional.  You can probably see where this is going.  Thus, the way of saving a deleted file became known as...


When I set up this blog there was no other name even considered.  Yes, from the wording in my very first post you may have thought the fact I'd had the itch to go on to multimedia and consoles, but had returned to my roots and was starting from scratch was the explanation for the title.  The post was worded deliberately to give that impression because it kind of works in that way too, taking on a proper meaning in the context of this site, but this is the true origin; a fond memory which was just too good to pass up.

I have to say it arrived in remarkable condition and unlike the C64 it didn't stink of smoke, which was a good start.  It does make a rather excitable noise when I turn it on, though nothing which causes concern and with the technology of the day there could be some differences between identical pieces of hardware.  My original (as well as the one I bought about seven years ago and sold on) made a lovely quiet hum as you turned it on, this one is more of a "Yey!  Let's do stuff!" noise.  Maybe he's just excited to be getting used again.

Even though it was obviously well looked after I still gave it a good going over with Flash wipes and it's all ready for use.  So here's how my setup looks so far:

Not a bad start at all.

So let's get down to some game playing on it, shall we?

Well, that's a problem.  That thing you can see inside the mouth of the drive is actually a piece of card in the shape of a diskette.  These came with the drives in order to protect their parts during transit and I don't actually have any games yet.  Or actually any software, or even any blank diskettes to program with.  Um, it does look good on the table though?

This is a problem which is in the course of being solved very shortly.  There's a wonderful website called Binary Zone Interactive which I simply have to cover on the blog.  As well as selling brand new games for the 64 they also repackage classics and sell them on brand new disks and tapes in a variety of ways.  Like I said I'll go into more detail on the site soon, but for now just know I'm very eagerly awaiting two things arriving in the post and I'm trying my patience more than ever with this order!


I was really hoping they'd have been here by this weekend but I'll continue to rush home from work every day now until they arrive.  Then I'll not sleep for several days.  I'm incredibly excited to have the disk drive again as there's some wonderful new titles out there which are only available on the format, as well as it simply being a much better way of experiencing the original games and saving programs for myself too.  Exciting times are very much ahead and I expect my collection to expand quite substantially as a result.  Look out for a post very soon (I hope!) when this next parcel arrives.

Good times.    


For those considering one yourself expect to pay in the region of
£100 on eBay for a 1541 MkII in good working condition.
This one cost me £102 plus £12.95 postage.