Monday, 29 August 2016

EIGHT BIT x 2

A few weeks ago I published a little write-up on here about the brand new fan-produced magazine, Eight Bit.  As mentioned at the end of that piece a second issue was already in the works and would be appearing on crowd-funding site Kickstarter.  Well, lo-and-behold it has and the news couldn't be better!

It's official: Eight Bit is here to stay

When it popped up for funding I was surprised the target was so low at only €200 but this was all that was needed to ensure at least another 12 issues after the success of issue 1.  However, it's testament to its quality that with twenty-one days still to go at the time of writing the pledges for this next edition currently stands at €2,564, already exceeding issue 1's final total.  In fact the goal was smashed in less than a day.  What John intends to spend this extra money on I've no idea but I'm extremely excited to find out.

The second issue is promising 68 pages and a special edition full of programming tricks and tips for those of us lucky enough to still be using these classic machines in our day-to-day lives.  Of course I'm particularly looking forward to seeing what people contribute towards it in regards to the C64 and if you've got some particularly good techie information you can get in touch with John via the official Eight Bit website, where you can also purchase the first issue if you haven't already.

Just a glimpse at some of the gorgeous design of issue two

Over 400 copies of the premiere issue have already sold which is a fantastic achievement and I hope John can build on his success so we can look forward to a long and healthy lifespan for this cracker of a mag.  Personally I've pledged €36 for a six-issue subscription, though I'm not sure how regularly it'll be delivered, as John hasn't stated whether it'll be monthly, bi-monthly or (most likely) as soon as each issue is ready.  I'm sure he'll keep fans up-to-date on his site.

If you want to pledge towards the second issue you can do so with the minimum amounts starting as low as €6 here.

Expect a full article about the final issue once it's delivered.  Now I'm away to write about an oft-overlooked Commodore 64 title, one of my very favourites, for a future issue of Eight Bit!  Exciting times.    


Sunday, 21 August 2016

VISUAL COMMPENDIUM (2ND EDITION) AND ME

It's finally time.  Way back at the beginning of the year I was enjoying the first volume of Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium and the second edition had been successfully funded on Kickstarter within a few hours of it going live.  I pledged to help too and as anyone who has used the site before and supported any of the crowd-funding attempts will know, there's usually a few different pre-set minimum amounts to choose between, each with a different set of rewards.  Well it's finally arrived and in advance of reading the book (and obviously reviewing it here on the blog) I thought I'd give you a little preview, as well as a look at the goodies I received... and a look at something I'm hugely excited about from inside.

I'm sharing page space with Trenton Webb and Andy Roberts!

VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION...

So the book itself is just as glossy and shiny as the original, is ever-so-slightly thicker with an extra twelve pages (hey, every little counts) and is jam packed with all the pixel art you could possibly wish for.  The cover is of a similar design as the first edition with twenty-six little diagrams depicting each letter of the alphabet, immediately pulling you into a game of working out what each one is.  It's both familiar and excitedly new at the same time, but it's on the inside where the big changes have occurred.

Can you name all the references?

With the first edition we had a collection of pixel art from cover-to-cover to savour, backed up with some box art and intro screens, but this time Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books has gone to town on the extra content.  The C64 Visual Commpendium (sic) was the first in what would become an ongoing series of such books, all funded through Kickstarter.  After the Commie came books for the Spectrum and Amiga, with the Nintendo NES being the latest he's working on.  This will explain the "1" on the side of this second edition, as the two volumes go together to form one giant tome, which looks even better when slotted together into the heavy board slipcase which I received as part of my backers' pack.

Impressive, isn't it?  What an item for 64 fans!

Inside, along with the wealth of double-page spreads of C64 graphics there's now interviews with coders and graphic artists, profiles of those classic companies, a look at some of the biggest Commodore magazines of the time, as well as a look at the Ocean Loader, the demo scene and unreleased games.  The original was the perfect coffee table book, so will this extra content dilute that vision and take anything away from the purity of that original idea?  Or will it add to it and create the perfect package for C64 hobbyists?  A review will be coming soon right here after I've finished the book myself, so look out for that next month.

As for the goodies I received with the book, these are very special indeed.  There were others such as a cartridge game for the 64 itself which was only added to the selection after I'd already pledged, and I couldn't add a certain amount of money to my donation to receive it myself (the only solution being to buy two books if I'd wanted to), but on hindsight I'd still have chosen the option I did anyway because it saw me contributing to the book myself!  I'll get to that at the end, but here's what else I received alongside the slipcase and all very professional it is too.

My new running music right there

A copy of the Galway Works CD of new rearrangements of Martin Galway compositions, made exclusively for this Kickstarter, is an astonishingly brilliant thing indeed.  You can see the track listing above (poster and a rather lovely CD box and booklet also included) and it's all brilliantly arranged by Allister Brimble, with additional work from such legendary Commodore composers such as Jeroen Tel, Chris Huelsbeck and Mike Clarke.  I'll admit I never owned any of these games but the CD is a joy to listen to, kind of like a melding of Jean-Michel Jarre, Joe Satriani and the C64 SID chip.  Yes, it's that different and that good.  I actually have it blaring out of my TV as I type.

There's more C64 music brought bang up to date on the next, rather ingenious addition to my package.  Affectionately called the "covertape" is this wonderfully designed USB stick chock full of great stuff.

Brilliant design, even better contents
(the multicoloured card is a Commodore loading
screen bookmark, another little treasure)

I'd actually forgotten about the promised contents of this, which I'd obviously read back when the Kickstarter project was active and it's just wave after wave of surprises:

  • A brand new C64 game (the same as the cartridge for other backers): Caren and the Tangled Tentacles - regular readers will know I'm not a fan of emulation but I'll give it a go as it's on my wish list for C64 games for the actual computer, so I'll view this as a preview personally
  • Season One of the 64 Bites project: 50 minutes of BASIC and assembly tutorial videos, source codes and exercises
  • All 9 issues of Reset 64: I've only read a couple of issues of this superb eZine and, while it's all available from their website for free, it's great to have it all here on the covertape as I can now download them to iBooks and read them on my iPad, which is much more natural than a desktop monitor.  Can't wait to get stuck into all of these before the next issue is created online
  • There's a good bit of music too: samplers of Project Sidelogie and Symphony 64, the latter of which is an astonishing symphonic (as the name would suggest) rearrangement of classic Commodore tunes (and it's only 60-70% arranged!). There's also a Matt Gray Outland 64 track on there and an electronic copy of the CD
  • There's a C64 Loader sequence screensaver and some wallpapers from the Retrospecs app which is available on iOS and converts your photos to C64-like pixels
  • Throw in a PDF of the book, a Chris Huelsbeck interview and a short Jon Hare video on the creation of Wizball taken from the Bedroom to Billions documentary and this is worth the entry price alone!

Okay, so I had to raise my Mac Mini up because of the shape of the USB stick, but inserting a cassette into the back of it does bring with it a wave of nostalgia!  Couple that with the CD I'm listening to and what year is this, 2016 or 1992??

Sorry Sam, it was the first thing that came to hand to raise it up!

After all of that it's time to get on to the one thing I'm most excited about in all of this and that's my own little, tiny contribution to this wonderful package.

... AND ME

Previous to this blog I wrote The Oink! Blog for nearly three years, covering every issue of that superb title and it reignited my passion for writing in ways I hadn't experienced for years.  I even had three articles published on the huge Down the Tubes comics website and I was thrilled beyond belief, it was a complete honour.  I started this blog not knowing where it'd lead me and now I'm in a position where there's writing opportunities appearing thanks to my beloved C64.  Indeed, back in the day I'd started a disk-based magazine on my original Commodore and it kind of feels I'm coming full circle now.

At the very start of this year I didn't know any of this was going to happen, but then the Kickstarter for Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium Second Edition appeared and one of the options (although the most expensive one) was to donate money to the sum of £100 and have a 100-word review published inside!  Right there alongside the snippets from all of my Commodore heroes!  There were only five of these available and within hours of it going live it was already down to its last one.  How could I resist?

Well, I couldn't.

Sam gave me the chance to list five games so he could pick the one he'd most like to see in his book and lo-and-behold he chose my very favourite videogame of all time, Creatures 2: Torture Trouble.  The original Creatures game had already featured in the first book and the quote had been supplied by none other than one half of the game's creative team, John Rowlands of the extremely talented Apex Computer Productions.  Now I was to follow on with the sequel.  No pressure then!

The review was to be no more than 100 words and you'd think this would be a piece of cake but it was actually extremely difficult.  That was because I'd gone and made a list of about half a dozen things I wanted to mention and was determined to fit them all in.  Writing the review for the 2000AD documentary Future Shock for Down the Tubes paid off (click here) as I'd had a word count there too of 750.  I'd taught myself how to properly edit myself, reword, rephrase, cut and all that stuff until the review fell within that limit.  I found it to be a great exercise and the end result was a lot better than I could've done without a limit (hence why these posts are so long and probably driving you mad by now; no limits!), it flowed better, there was no waste in the words and it was a great learning experience.  The same happened with this book too, but on a much bigger level!

I wrote a few sentences, noticed I was already way over, cut them down, added some more, cut it down... this went on.  I'm very happy with the end result, packing in everything I wanted to say about this spectacular game, and would you believe it I'm sharing a double-page spread with John Rowlands!  I didn't know that was happening until Sam emailed me the page to check a couple of months ago.  Wow!  Just... wow.

It may only be one small piece but it's my first bit of published writing in printed form.  I couldn't be happier with the end result and the fact it's in such a superb book series devoted to a computer which is very, very dear to my heart.

My own little dedication to Creatures 2!  I'm absolutely thrilled
to be in here, and to have written about this game

Well there you go, a sneak preview of what promises to be a book that's even better than the original and no, that's got nothing to do with the page above; that's just my own personal delight!  A review of Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium Second Edition will be coming in September on the blog, but until then you can check out my review of the first book in the series by clicking here.

Also, check out www.bitmapbooks.co.uk to see their full list of stunning titles dedicated to the very best in retro machines.

A new chapter has definitely opened for me.  I've had to keep this quiet for so long, but expect me to be sharing more over the rest of the year as my future plans start to come together.  Exciting Commodore times ahead, that's for sure!    


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

VOLUME TWO OF COMMODORE 64: A VISUAL COM... ARGH!!

Okay so it's no secret the second volume of the Commodore 64 Visual Commpendium series is almost upon us.  In fact it's in the post to Kickstarter backers right now!  I've been eagerly awaiting this since the beginning of the year and reviewed the first edition here on the blog.  I've contributed a lil' somethin' somethin' this time around and am excited to see it in print at last, plus the backer goodies and extras aren't exactly decreasing the excitement levels any!

Creator Sam Dyer emailed backers last week to say they were finally on their way out into the post and yesterday I came home from work to find.... well, not the book anyway:


Argh!  So close!

The depot is blooming miles away too and I don't drive so I've had to reschedule it for this Friday.  I'm taking the day off anyway that day as I await a new mattress (I'm stupidly excited about that) and watch the awesome Rio Olympic Games all day before going for an Olympic-inspired (though not in length, duration or indeed skill) swim that night, so this arriving should just make it the perfect day.

Once it's arrived I'll give you a little preview and a review will follow once I've devoured it!  In the meantime you can check out Sam's Bitmap Books at bitmapbooks.co.uk and the Kickstarter page for volume two in his C64 series by clicking here.    



Monday, 8 August 2016

EIGHT BIT: BRAND NEW MAGAZINE!

No, you didn't misread the post title.

The editor, John Kavanagh did make a joke in the
email to Kickstarter backers about the typo, so we'll
forgive and forget

Not only do we have a brand new magazine dedicated to the 8-bit microcomputers but the very best one is gracing the cover to the premiere issue.  Successfully funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, Eight Bit was marketed as a brand new retro magazine title but with a focus on the earlier machines of the computing age, from the usual suspects such as various Commodore, Amstrad and Spectrum machines to lesser known brands like Memotech or the Yugoslavian Galaksija which is covered in this issue.

Originally billed as a 48-page read, it grew during the funding process as more pledges came in, taking way beyond the original €600 goal and ending up with a whopping €2464 instead!  As a result creator and editor John Kavanagh from Ireland increased the page count first to 60 and then to 70 pages (which isn't a mistake on my part, I know it's not divisible by 4 but that's what we have here).  Not only does it focus on the 8-bit machines unlike other mainstream titles, it's also not just about the games as, uniquely, it was always planned to have more lengthy technical and programming articles and machine/company features, with games having a supporting role rather than the only one.  Indeed it was aiming to have the kind of technical features we'd have been used to reading back in the 80s and 90s, creating that feel for the modern day users of the actual machines all over again.  So has this been achieved?

I wonder what the rest of this user's furniture
looked like!

First up, it's wonderful to see an actual printed publication instead of a digital one.  There are some superb C64 eZines out there but there's nothing quite like holding a published title in your hands and it certainly adds to that feeling of nostalgia.  However, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed to see it's A5 in size as I was expecting a full-sized magazine.  As such it initially comes across as much more of a fanzine than I'd imagined, but John has really made the most of the space available and there's still a meaty read here.  When you flick through it that initial feeling dissipates and it comes across as more professional and certainly with enough to read to rival any professional A5 magazine you might find in a shop or as part of an expensive fan club.

In fact, when the Commodore's commercial life came to an end printed fanzines such as Commodore Cracker and Computer Scene (anyone else remember them?) came to the fore and Eight Bit immediately feels like a modern take on those titles.  They were exciting ventures at the time with a fresh and vibrant feel so different from the mainstream, with a buzz and excitement about them as they were getting publicity in the final issues of Commodore Format and so this was the first time such fanzines had access to a national (and sometimes international) audience.  This was way before widespread internet remember, and that exciting feeling I had back then returns with Eight Bit; it really does have that same sense of someone forging ahead with their own fan-based magazine but for a mass market, even moreso thanks to Kickstarter and the marketing social media provides.  A modern take on those days indeed.

Fascinating interview that has led to me downloading (they're
all free!) some back issues of Scene World

So what can you expect when you splash out a mere €6 on 70 pages of Eight Bit issue one?  It all kicks off with a superb feature from Martin Grundy on the genesis of the computer scene we'd all come to treasure so much, taking a look back at the years between 1972 and 1983.  While I had read about most of this before in a few books several years ago there's a lot of interesting information here, plus the occasional new nugget, all written in a lovely and relaxed style; professional and informative while feeling friendly and chatty.  It's a writing style which continues throughout Eight Bit and if it manages to develop along these lines with future issues I can see it really engaging with a regular readership, which hopefully will in turn translate into good sales and continued publication as a result.

Also included is an interview with Joerg Droege, founder of C64 diskzine Scene World, but while a technical article on one of the Amstrad computers could've left me somewhat cold (it was obviously written with users in mind, of which I'm not) it was written in an engaging way and provided a nice insight into using one of Lord Sugar's machines.  There's a couple of small news articles squeezed onto one page which I'd have liked to have seen elaborated upon, especially the Spectrum Next, as well as two games reviews, the E.T. Phone Home one being three pages in length and providing an interesting read on a game I'd never laid eyes on before.

The Cylons found hacking the Battlestar's
mainframe easier than expected

While the cover article is a collector's guide to the C64 my favourite elements are actually not associated with my computer at all.  There's a fascinating look at the Apple II range of computers to mark the company's 40th birthday, which I found to be a great read since the computer wasn't such a success this side of the Atlantic and as such I've read very little about it before.  The other favourite was the feature on the aforementioned Galaksija machine which was completely new to me and writer Zarko Zivanov has written a piece which left me wanting to read more about other obscure computers, so hopefully that's an angle Eight Bit can continue with in future issues.

There are a couple of articles which seem misplaced, such as a programming one which tries to cover both BASIC and assembly language across all formats with only two pages to play with.  The scope here is just too big for such a small piece and the same could be said of the one-page news article and a one-page game review.  With the magazine being smaller is physical size one or two pages really isn't enough for much of anything, never mind what was being attempted here.  The magazine lends itself to lengthier features much better and I'm happy to say that's mainly what it sticks to.

The C64 article starts off well but has a couple of little errors fans will spot, while some grammatical and spelling mistakes do make their way into a few pages here and there elsewhere, but for the most part it's professionally put together while retaining that exciting, fresh fanzine feel.  Definitely a high bench mark for other fan-produced print mags to reach for.

As you can see, for some reason Eight Bit
includes news on Nintendo's new "innovative"
controller.  Not really

One neat touch is the inclusion of several Q-code barcodes throughout, which you can scan with your mobile device to be taken straight to a multitude of online resources to follow up on what is covered within the pages.  A particular highlight here is the video of Ralph Baer's Brown Box computer game system from 1968, so kudos to John for including these little extras, adding further to Eight Bit's value for money.

Overall the presentation is crisp and clean, text is large enough to be comfortable and lose yourself in while also giving you plenty to read in the larger articles with two columns per page, although the smaller features use three columns and this just produces more empty space and less text.  Plenty of original photographs from various collectors and resources are superbly reproduced, though it'd have been nice to see more screenshots rather than just one computer after another.  But this is only a small gripe, after all this is a mag which has introduced me to computers I was unaware of and I always like looking at this retro hardware, but maybe we can see more of what they could produce too.

Overall Eight Bit is off to a flying start.  It'd be unfair to give this a Phil Rating score as it's an ongoing venture, but needless to say when each new issue appears I'll write them up also.  Speaking of which John explains issue two is going to go "big" on the technical tips and tricks and I'm keen to read more.  While the two such articles in this first issue were probably my least favourite, with more room being given over to such features next time they'll have the scope to go more in-depth for users who own each machine and to give a more fascinating insight on what they're like for those who don't.

It's always going to be tricky balancing a multi-format magazine of 70 or so pages, never mind an A5 one but I think John's off to a cracker start.

To purchase the premiere issue just nip on over to its eBay page by clicking here, the full cost being €6.00 (roughly £5.09 or thereabouts) plus €2.00 for postage.

"A proper retro mag for 8-bit owners"?  It certainly
is!  Well said, that man

The second issue is going to be funded on Kickstarter too from mid-August, with all subsequent issues being self-funded from sales of previous issues and subscriptions will also be an option if you decide to donate.  I'll definitely be pledging again and John was able to divulge the next one will be ready in September and on top of all the technical tips and tricks (of which they're looking for reader contributions, the best winning prizes) there's also going to be a main article on the Sinclair Z81 and a number of (hopefully larger) programming articles.
With more printed ventures on the horizon on Kickstarter it looks like John has started something here and you really shouldn't miss out on the premiere issue of the premiere magazine in this new genre.    

Editor: John Kavangh
eBay shop: clicking here
Price: €6.00 (plus €2.00 flat rate)