Saturday, 24 December 2016

MERRY CHRISTMAS & MORE TO COME

Okay so you may have noticed I haven't exactly stuck to my Twelve Posts of Christmas on this blog, as opposed to The Oink! Blog where everything has gone to plan (so far).  The difference between the two blogs is key: the Oink! one was always about planning ahead and writing up about each issue on the date of release in much the same way as I am with Commodore Format here.  Those sorts of posts are easy to plan ahead as I have a specific publication and a set amount of pages to write about.  By doing so on the original dates gives me an easy way of scheduling them and working around them.  Usually.  I have been dangerously close to missing the deadlines on more than one occasion!

But as for everything else being covered here on Recovering From a Scratch the scope is so much bigger.  It's okay saying I'll review a game on a particular date, but that game could take a completely different amount of time than a previous one to play enough before I can give an opinion.  I really want to make this the very best blog I can so I don't want to cut corners, nor do I want to stress over deadlines for huge tasks like that.  In fact I'd hate if it did become a task instead of the most fun you could possibly have with a hobby!

Best of all, it's already become a much more personal experience than I could ever have possibly imagined.  I should've realised that'd happen after it did with a funny old 80s comic about pigs!  But now I'm planning so much for Scratch that's more personal and I'd like to keep it that way.  It just feels natural and with the feedback I've been getting it appears it's this which sets the site apart.

So, for example, tomorrow on Christmas Day I was going to put a post up reminiscing about my very first Christmas with my original Commodore 64 way, way back in 1991.  My Christmases are very traditional and I don't think they've changed that much over the years, but have they?  I got excited at the prospect of taking loads of photos over the holidays with my new iPhone (this year's gift!) and then comparing the Christmas of 2016 to the one a quarter of a century ago when that wonderful little computer first popped into my life.  Obviously I can't compare them until this Christmas Day is over but the idea excites me so it'll be a couple of days after The Big Day when you'll see that post after all.

I think with a blog like this it's important to keep it flexible and personal, even the Commodore Format ones will take a more personal slant when I start covering the issues I had as a teen (albeit it on the right dates).  So no Dizzy review yet as I simply haven't had the time to play it as much as I'd want yet and tomorrow's post will be even better in a couple of days.  Replacing Dizzy will be a special post next week when I'll go into some detail about my plans for 2017 too.  It's going to be a big year for both my blogs!

Now, remember my "Commodore bunker" I showed off a while back?


Well here it is now at the back of my living room!


The view from the bunker at night :)

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all!


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

COMMODORE FORMAT #4: LIVING ROOM LIGHTS, iPHONE CAMERA, C64 ACTION

My write-ups of each issue of the greatest C64 magazine ever continues as we reach the first Christmas issue, though you wouldn't be able to tell!  Instead, movies were the name of the game(s) but the best issue to date still made a great stocking filler.


The January issues of CF after I started originally collecting it were always Christmas-themed.  They may have stopped short of putting snow on the logo as my comics had, but the writing team always made a big deal out of the fact that this would always be the final issue before the holidays.  They were always chock full of reviews for all the Christmas releases we could bug our parents for, had extra pages and at least would talk about the time of the year within the pages and wish the readers a Merry one.  Not so here, strangely.

I read this issue for the first time at the start of this year and I was surprised by the lack of such content, although it was always 100 pages at this early stage so I wasn't exactly expecting any more.  There are a lot of games reviewed in here though I have to say.  Quite clearly these were all the big holiday releases for the games publishers and in particular the big movie-based games would be huge sellers over this period of the year.  In a roundabout way, when you think of Christmas being synonymous with big films and the TV schedules packed with movies day and night, you could begin to think of this as a festive feast of reviews.  I guess.

Anyhoo, back to the positives of this issue and there are a ton!  Easily the best issue so far (yes, I'm aware I've only covered three others) it is filled to the rafters with great content and it all kicks off with the cover feature.  Now Showing at a C64 Near You may be a very clumsy title for a feature but the article itself is fascinating.  It takes an in-depth look at the computer gaming sector of the time and how it worked hand-in-hand with the movie industry.  We're all used to this these days with endless games coming out tied in to the latest blockbuster, swiftly followed by a Lego version of the same title to weed out a few more notes from people's wallets and purses.  But back in 1990 this wasn't always the case.

While it's true games based on TV shows and films wasn't anything new, in the couple of years before CF's birth the occasional title had been replaced by a wave of games cashing in on what was hoped to be the next big craze on cinema screens.  It really was the "new thing" amongst computer games players at the time, although already they were being received with mixed opinion, as you'll see in the  Love 'em or Loath 'em section in the article itself where readers shared their views.  Today they're generally seen as quite lazy money makers, slapping the name and likeness of a film onto a mediocre game and hoping it'll sell on the link rather than the game quality.

This issue seems to go out of its way to show this didn't necessarily have to be the case, with some superb tie-in games being given very prominent space, but this is somewhat balanced out with one or two duffers.  The section I mentioned above shows that it all depends on an individual's opinion on whether these games were a good or bad thing in general, but what can't be disputed from this issue is that they were here to stay and shouldn't be dismissed so easily, as there were some corking teams who made sure they matched (or even surpassed) the movie event by focussing on the gameplay.


So basically, just like any other game if the hard work is put in a cracking game can be produced.  But add in the deadlines set by cinema releases and the wish to ride the coattails of a movie while it's generating as much money as possible and it's clear how things can sometimes go wrong.  Surely a great game released late would be better appreciated than a rushed game you could buy on the way home from the cinema?  Of course.  But would it make as much money?  Hmm, that part is negligible and at the end of the day the creators are part of a business.  But at least the magazine made the point of saying it's not simply a matter of churning out rubbish which would almost con people into buying it.  It's just all the stuff outside of the developers' control which lends that air of uncertainty to them.

The main game leading up the charge in this special issue is one which was not only a very accomplished game in its own right, it was miles better than the movie upon which it was based.


I can remember watching the original film as a young teen on a rental VHS with the family, after my sister had warned my mum about the language and violence but assuring her I'd enjoy it (and how I'd probably just end up seeing it at a friend's anyway).  My mum did tut and give off a little to begin with but it wasn't long until she herself was sucked into the very human story behind the gore.  I've very fond memories of us watching the great TV series in the mid-90s together every week on Saturday afternoons, but less fond memories of RoboCop 2.  I watched it with another sister at her house and it was pretty dire.  Everything I loved about the first one was missing (the humour, the brilliant character in Murphy) and instead it was just stop-motion robots fighting and the supposed "upgraded" RoboCop was terrible!

But, on the flip side of this Ocean released a simply sublime cartridge-only game in time for Christmas.  Remember this was the first (and in the end, the only) holiday season the C64 Games System console would be on sale, so the idea was that high quality games like this could only help bolster it.  I actually own this game these days and it's a blast!  The multiload would probably ruin it somewhat on cassette plus they wouldn't have added in the lovely between-level scenes and extra presentation.  It's a Corker no doubt and shows off exactly what the 64 was capable of, especially with the extra instant-access memory and I challenge anyone to think the 8-bit consoles were any better than this at that time!

Another nice thing about the movie game reviews in this issue is the fact there's little extras thrown in here and there to keep up the "special movie tie-in issue" theme.  Next to the review for Bond game The Spy Who Loved Me is a list of the movies made so far (although it includes a few errors this Bond fan finds irritating), there's a quite negative round-up of the plots to RoboCop 2 and Days of Thunder, a fact-file on Red October and for Navy SEALs is this below.


I love 80s movies as it is but too many have slipped me by, including this one.  With what sounds like a brilliantly fun cast it was a surprise to read that despite that, and it being a quality action flick it didn't perform well at the box office.  CF was right, we never did see a sequel but just from this and the game review itself I think I'll have to track it down in a HMV sale or something and give it a go!  I certainly will also do so with what sounds like a quality cart-only platformer, if Robo above is anything to go by.  Another game for the wish list which will be added to future CF posts in 2017.

But there's one game here I don't own but which I have played before and this is a strange instance.  Let me explain.  I've never seen Days of Thunder but I did play the game on the NES back when I was 17 or 18.  Now I do remember there were only left-hand turns and it ran rather slowly but with interesting and fun pit stops.  It was difficult to overtake and the corners were tricky to keep your place in, but somehow it kept me hooked for a while.  I played it with my brother-in-law, taking it in turns to try to win our way up the list of teams.  While the graphics here on the 64 version are a little bit better, it's not by much so it took me right back when I saw them.  But then I read the review...


Sometimes taking the rose-tinted glasses off can be a horrible thing.  Don't get me wrong, sometimes retro games can be just as much fun as in the past, or sometimes they can be even better with the gift of many more years in between lending us more patience or skills to play with.  But often they can hide a multitude of sins, or a game can simply not date well and we have to do with the fond memories instead of being able to enjoy it all over again.  But I haven't played Days of Thunder since then.  Reading this review was enough to put me off!  The positives they glean from the game I remember, but I also remember the frustration at the rest and while I was able to forgive it for these shortcomings when doing that whole male bonding thing with my bro-in-law, I don't think I'll bother today.

I think it was only a few years ago when I saw the movie the next game is based on for the first time.  It always passed me by, but joining Netflix at the time brought with it a huge amount of 80s and 90s films I was eager to catch up on.  One of the very first ones I discovered on my Wii U (Netflix being about the only thing I was using it for at the time, thus it was sold not long after) was The Hunt for Red October and it was a class act.  Tension, a superb cast and a story which kept me guessing all the way through, with that classic 80s feel.  Loved it.

When I read this issue I was thrilled to see there was a game for the film and even more so that it didn't follow the usual platform routine of the time.  It's definitely on my wish list and looks like it'd be the perfect 80s (well, 1990) game to match the film.  Here's the full review along with that mini fact-file column I mentioned above.


I'll come back to the movie-related stuff at the end of the post but let's have a look at what else is in here.  There's one regular contributor who I haven't shown yet.  While in this issue he's quite tame compared to what he'd become later on I couldn't go any longer without mentioning The Mighty Brain!

As a teen more-often-than-not the letters pages of my comics would be answered by a fictional character.  In The Transformers comic from Marvel UK they gave the honour of replying to the young readers to a different Autobot or Decepticon every 100 issues or so.  This allowed the team to (for want of a better phrase) hide behind this persona, resulting in some hilarious responses to some very innocent questions.  In much the same way, TMB in Commodore Format could become very cheeky, as he was meant to be an all-seeing, all-knowing being from another dimension and this had gone to his head (figuratively speaking of course).  If someone wrote in to complain about the magazine he'd give an answer which to us sounded very funny, but now as an adult it's very clear that the editor was venting against the complaint with comedy.  Silly questions were made fun of and sarcasm abounded amongst all the genuine answers too.

Given how the target audience was a teen one, he could get away with more than the comics could, even though they did cut very close to the bone at times, but in all those publications we especially loved it when we got such funny answers.  They could be better than the actual reply we were looking for!  It's the reason so many of us wrote in.  Only much later in CF's lifetime did I eventually write in, but I'll cover that when we get there.  Here's what he looks like and as I continue my read-through I'll highlight any especially good comebacks I spot.  There should be plenty.


As a side note, The Mighty Brain and indeed CF as a whole was so successful that the main competition, Zzap64 ended up relaunching itself as a kind of CF clone!  'Commodore Force' also included a character called The Mighty Brian on their letters page in every issue of their short run.  Oh deary me.

Back to the present.  Well, the present 26 years ago.  When I joined the ranks of readers at #14 the topic of the internet never cropped up in the mag.  It was only inside its final year when it was reduced to 24 pages and was focussing almost entirely on serious software, programming techniques and new hardware that it started to talk about modems and connecting your C64 up to the World Wide Web.  I knew people had been able to do this already with the 64 but that it was prohibitively expensive, costing a monthly subscription to whatever service you wanted to connect to, plus a charge for what you used, plus your landline carrier would charge a connection fee, plus a charge per minute of use... it was insane and there was simply no way I could pay for that.  However, you can read about what happened with my first internet experiences, or rather my first internet phone bill, in last month's CF post here.

With those final issues I thought CF was covering it for the first time, trying to help readers expand their home system and get them to use their 64s for more creative uses.  It really was a great, if brief, read and was responsible for my own ventures in creating for the Commodore and, as a knock-on effect, for this blog many years later and anything I may do in the future.  I'll go into that at another time in a new series of posts in 2017 (but starting during the final week of this year) but I've been surprised the online features from the first issues are still going strong in #4.  Despite the costs CF obviously felt this was something to pitch towards those younger readers.  I wonder how many parents went along with it though!


In the previous issue Future Publishing gave the readers what can only be described as a simply amazing gift of a covertape!  On it had been Vidcom 64, a full and complete commercial art package.  For no extra money.  Paying less than the price of a budget game for it was awesome on its own, never mind the fact it came with games, demos and a whole bloody 100-page magazine to read!  Instead of just giving a simple set of instructions and expecting the readers to get on with it like some other publications of the time, Commodore Format went out of its way to actually teach the audience how to get the most out of the software they gave us.

Now obviously they couldn't reproduce the full manual or else there'd be no space left in the magazine, so to whittle it all down to a few pages must've been quite a daunting task.  In later issues they'd repeat this idea and sometimes give an introductory feature in the magazine but give us the opportunity to send away for the full manual.  At this early stage though this wasn't an option to the team or the publisher and so instead they took a full manual and reduced it down to four pages across two issues.  This is the second part and they've certainly crammed a lot in, even having to use smaller fonts in order to be able to do so.

They were clearly dedicated with providing as much information as possible to their readers and they've done a fantastic job of distilling a huge book into this space.  There's a lot of detail here, yet it's not daunting in any way.  That's a huge achievement in and of itself, but add on the fact they've probably got a dozen or more pages of manual info here in this spread alone and it's quite remarkable.


The last feature I'm going to look at this month is the start of a new series looking back at a huge list of classic C64 games, for better or for worse; the Commodore Format A to Z of Classic Games.  This wasn't just a 'best of', Gordon Houghton was going back over half a dozen years or more of some of the best known titles out there.  Most are classics and he'd advise they should be tracked down, but he'd also throw in some games which readers may have heard of but which were not-so-great or downright turkeys.

Nowadays it's easier than ever to track down original cassettes, disks and cartridges thanks to online retro stores and, of course, eBay.  But back then if a game on this list had been "deleted" it was simply a matter of trying bargain bins and car boot sales.  Sometimes they'd be on compilations, but while this feature was interesting it must also have been quite frustrating.  At least readers coming on to the 64 scene fresh would be able to compile their own wish list and in that regard the A to Z has proved invaluable to me now.

This ran for a whopping 6 issues!  So my own list grew exponentially while reading these so I can only imagine how the eyes of new C64 owners would've been wide-eyed at this first two-page section, never mind the whole series.  With CF coming much later to the scene it was only natural it had to cover the thousands and thousands of games which had come before, but how on earth could they?  The competition had many years of a head start after all.  Having a list like this which wasn't a Top 100 or anything like that was inspired.  It was just as important to warn readers of those popular games they may have wanted to chase down but which were actually crap.  Doing an A to Z was also a great way to organise such a vast library and it reads so well.  What is essentially a huge list like this shouldn't be as much fun to read as it is!


I have to say for the next five issues I will include this feature as it was the section I looked forward to the most on my read-through!

Okay so that's us, just time to share the poster for this issue.  With no original cover art to speak of you'd think they'd either reproduce the film reel from the front page or just not bother at all.  After all, it may have been good for a cover but it's not exactly poster material.  Somehow they managed to end up with something even worse, though that may be with those aforementioned rose-tinted glasses taken off.  What do you think?

Do you remember those Poster Magazines we'd get as kids?  They were the same size as our mags and comics and had a good bit to read, but instead of individual pages they folded out into a giant poster, with the main image on one side and all the reading content on the other.  Often they were based on movies and were simply either the cinema poster (good) or a selection of random stills with rushed graphics and text thrown on top (bad).  Guess which one of these seems to have 'inspired' the CF team?


Right that's us folks.  The next issue to be covered will be with you on Tuesday 17th January 2017 but in the meantime there's been a change to the running order of the blog.  There'll be no Dizzy review tomorrow as Christmas has proved so busy that I haven't had time to play it as much as I wanted to.  So I didn't feel a review based on the little time I've had with it would be very fair and so I've delayed it.  You're still going to get your six posts before the end of the month though, it'll just be something different between Christmas and New Year instead, but it's one which I'm looking forward to.  So stay tuned.


Friday, 16 December 2016

EIGHT BIT MAGAZINE #2 AND ME


Before you read on, this isn't the full write-up for the second issue of the superb Eight Bit magazine, that'll come in January.  I've discovered that while my Twelve Posts of Christmas have been working a treat for The Oink! Blog, here it hasn't been plain sailing.  This is simply because some of the posts I'd planned are monstrous affairs (two of the biggest were to be side-by-side too, one day after the other) and I've discovered now it's not really the kind of blog I can plan ahead a whole month's worth of posts for.  Simply because this is a hobby and with hobbies we like to potter about with them and do as we please in a relaxed style.  They should be stress and deadline-free.  I do plan to write at least one post a week here in 2017, but I think I'd prefer to be more flexible with it than I have this month, but I'll go into that at another time.

For now though, this lovely little magazine slipped in through the letterbox this week and I was hugely excited.  Not just because it's a great read and this is the first of the now-regular quarterly issues, but also because I'm in it!  A few months back editor John Kavanagh asked if I'd like to contribute and I leapt at the chance to be published in a future issue.  Originally I'd plans for a feature about the modern day C64 scene, or how to get to grips with creating games on it... a myriad of ideas ran through my head but none were working out.  But then one day I sat down with a notion to play one of my very favourite Commodore games from my original time with the machine and it hit me: here's what I could write about.  I was passionate about this game and it was one which was never really covered on C64 sites or in retro mags.  With the regular Blast from the Past feature already having established itself in the first issue by covering a little-known E.T. game (not the infamous buried-in-the-desert one) it seemed like the natural thing for me to write about.

Nope, you can't zoom in and read it, you'll have to buy the
magazine for that

When we write with passion and about something we ourselves would like to read I always feel it comes across in the text.  I hope I've been able to do so too.  There are two Jaws games for the 64 but it's the other title which gets all the coverage and it was never really any good.  This version from Screen 7 came later on in the computer's life and didn't get as much coverage, remaining largely forgotten ever since.  That's such a shame as it's a superb game, if incredibly difficult.  But persevere and it's by far my favourite film licence videogame and a perfect example of how to do them on the old 8-bit machines.

I have to say John's layout is great, I love it!  I didn't know how it was going to look and I simply supplied him with all of the text and scores etc., as well as a scan of the tape inlay and some screenshots.  These were taken by me in the same way as I did for the Fantasy World Dizzy review for the blog earlier this year.  By that I mean they were taken the old fashioned way of using a camera in front of the TV screen.  As I've discussed before I wanted to do this as using emulation or running the 64 through my Mac produces screens which are 'too perfect' and they end up looking incredibly blocky.

Wow, I'd no idea he'd refer to the blog like this in the title of
the review.  So hello to any new readers out there!

Instead I used the Manual app I reviewed this year and my iPhone, along with a small tripod I also covered here and took as many screenshots as I could, keeping in mind what I'd discussed in the review.  Using my old CRT TV screen gave them a truer representation of how they were intended to be seen on a Commodore 64.  The screen blurs edges slightly and the graphics just look better and so much more authentic.

I have to say I'm amazed at how well they turned out on the pages here as I was worried about how they'd reproduce for John.  But he's done a marvellous job and they look really professional, just as they might've done in the pages of gaming magazines of the time.  It's really made me want to get stuck in to reviewing my games for the blog and with a mind to a future printed project I might yet follow through on in the next year or two.  Add in John's brilliant idea of using the famous Jaws poster art as a background for the whole of the three pages and I have to keep pinching myself that this is my review!  It just looks so professional and it's right there in an honest-to-gosh magazine, available to actually purchase by actual people through mail order!

So proud of how my iPhone shots have turned out on the page

At the start of the year i didn't know what I wanted from this blog but at the very least it was going to be fun to share my time with this computer again.  But it wasn't long before I wanted to write more and more about it, in much the same way as I'm currently exploring a project for Oink!.  I ended up donating to the Kickstarter for Commodore 64: a visual commpendium Second Edition and getting a small contribution published there, which you can read about here.

I had a grand writing project planned for the machine, my own Kickstarter of a regular C64 magazine actually, but as I delved deeper I realised there's a much, much larger 64 scene out there than I could ever have predicted!  It's also being covered wonderfully through eZines such as Reset 64 and Scene World, both of which produce physical copies of their 'wares (the former on paper, the latter on diskette) and then there's this great, regular multiformat title for us fans of the eight-bit machines.  If I was going to do a project I'd need to completely rethink it so it'd be more unique and I could bring something new out.

A screen you'll see a lot in this game, but
accompanied by the theme tune it's a funny
Game Over sequence

But in the meantime I want to spend 2017 developing my knowledge about the current scene, building the blog with lots of quality (hopefully) writing and expanding my presence in the aforementioned scene.  After all who would want to buy into my Kickstarter if they haven't a baldy if my writing is any good or not?  For example, there's a great retro website that has asked me to contribute on a rather large scale but I've yet to get around to doing anything for them and I feel so bad about that.  That's definitely going to change!

A stressful life situation did get in the way of any creative work for a while there but now I'm looking forward to what 2017 will bring.  Not might bring, I mean will bring!

So this Jaws review is symbolic in a way of where I'm headed and it's a great start.  I couldn't be happier with how it turned out and I'm so thankful to John for the chance and for the work he put in to make it look so great in the magazine.  Eight Bit #2 is available now and a reprint of #1 is currently seeking funding.  For all the latest news and information head over to the Facebook page here right now!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

12 POSTS OF CHRISTMAS: SURPRISE ENTRY!!

Hi all, well today was meant to be the day I posted a write-up about Reset 64 but that plan has now changed somewhat.  Don't worry, the write-up is still going to be... well, written.  But it won't be with you until the New Year.  As you all know my two blogs have been somewhat dormant for a while and I was using the blogosphere's 'Blogmas' idea to schedule twelve posts across the festive season, six on each.  This is proving to be a mammoth task, as there's certain ones which are always quite lengthy such as the Commodore Format post due next week alongside the overdue review of Dizzy.

However, something has arrived in the post which I simply have to cover as it's personally very exciting for me!  It's the perfect example of what I'm passionate about and hoping to achieve through this and my Oink! blog and when you see what it is I'm sure you'll understand.  The thing is I just don't have the time to write up a thirteenth post this month, so I've had to rescheduled the Reset 64 one for now, but tomorrow expect your next Post of Christmas about something dear to my heart on many levels.

Here's a snapshot!


As this is a last minute decision you'll have to give me time to do a quick bit of writing and I'll have more information tomorrow.  Needless to say "excited" is my keyword tonight!    


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

NEW BLOG ADDITION: C64 WISH LIST INTRODUCTION

I've mentioned a "wish list" a few times on here lately, in particular when discussing Commodore Format as I've been covering each issue on the date of their original releases.  Normally C64 fans simply write up a list of games (or even just keep it in their heads) all in one go and stick to it as they try to track down their favourite games from those they can remember, or those recommended by others online.  Or some just simply buy everything in sight!  Well I don't have that kind of money available to me.  So a wish list it is.

But I'm doing mine differently, slowly, bit-by-bit and am going to be sharing it with you every month.  You see, at the start of this year I began to read Commodore Format from #1, a magazine I'd originally read from #14 at the time so the first thirteen issues were brand new to me.  From the first review (Time Crystal, see below) they ever published I knew I had to keep track of all the great games I'd want to eventually add to my collection.  So I started a list on my iPad.

These two innocent pages have started a mammoth list!

The idea is that when I read a CF and a game tickles me pink/takes my fancy* I simply write it down and then on my semi-regular jaunts onto eBay or elsewhere online I've a reminder of what I'm looking for.  With so many C64 titles produced during its lifetime (10,000+!) it's easier than you'd think to forget which ones appealed more than the rest.  Hence the wish list.  But there's a rule to this one.

I'm not collating the whole list at once by rushing through my magazine collection, it's strictly issue-by-issue.

That's right, I'm keeping this retro by letting CF recommend the games to me just like they did in the 1990s, only this time I've a bit of disposable income.  I'm in no rush and I'm enjoying discovering the titles this way, just as originally intended.  Now of course I'm currently way ahead in my read-through compared to the write-ups on here, as I didn't consider writing them when I started.  But I've got it covered and when the new year begins you'll see a new addition to the blog and to the CF posts.

Easily the first game on my wish list and already
reviewed on the blog - click here
I'm going to add a page to the site where you'll be able to see my wish list as it grows and as I amass those titles I so desperately want.  This latter aspect will be a slow process so bare with me!  But as I read ahead in CF you'll see the list grow and I'll reference which issue the games were in, in case you want to check them out yourself.  Then, within every write-up I'll add more info on how these games were covered and why they earned a spot on my list.

It'll be the first new addition to the blog when 2017 hits but it won't be the last by far.  The CF series has already started (you can join in with the introduction here) and my recollections of my own personal journey with the C64 first time around will begin on Christmas Day, naturally.  But in the New Year the story of Parallel Logic will also join the party!  Yup, 2017 is a big year for me across both my blogs and I hope all you C64 nuts will come along for the ride on this one at least.

* delete as applicable


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

COMMODORE 64: A VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION

After the success of the first edition, Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books expanded his Commpendium range to include the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore's Amiga, before returning to the best home computer, naturally.  But how does the sophomore album compare to the debut?



Last Christmas I received the first book in the series and eagerly devoured it, reviewing it in February right here on the blog and giving it a Commodore Format-esque Corker rating and a 95% score.  It was superb!  The only real negative point I could come up with was that it'd have been nice to have had more to read, but I was very aware it was intended to be a coffee table book, the likes of which are meant to be browsed and the visuals enjoyed first and foremost.  The clue was in the name after all.  But with the sequel Sam has upped the written content.  Will the changes improve the book over the original or will it dilute the successful formula?  Let's begin by taking a look at what's the same.

The visuals pop right off the page just as much as before.  Going back to the same starting point of 1982 and working through year-by-year until the end of the C64's commercial life, circa 1993, the giant pixels do look beautiful on the high quality glossy pages.  This is coming from someone who doesn't like emulation because the games end up looking too crisp and blocky on modern TVs and monitors compared to how we viewed them on old CRT TVs, how they were designed to be seen.  The same goes for modern gaming magazines when they look back on the classic machines.  But the style perfectly suits these books.  Their whole purpose is to celebrate each pixel, the design of the graphics and the work of those talented individuals responsible for them.  As such, they're a beautiful journey through this part of the Commodore's lifespan, full of bright colours and bold designs.

Any C64 fan will be itching to get on eBay to buy one all over
again after taking in all of this book's glorious visuals

That's not to say there aren't some strange choices in here.  Not in the choice of titles, that's pretty much a perfect selection, but with the choice of some of the images.  There's some occasions where the quote from the graphic artist or programmer talks about a certain aspect of the game and yet the image chosen has nothing to do with it.  Also, while the first book did have a mix of full screen shots and some close-ups of certain sprites etc., there's some instances here where the images chosen to zoom in on are a little... strange.  Some stunning looking titles are reduced to looking like Atari 2600 games, although this is kept to a minimum and the idea is the same as in the first edition and is sound.

Having a second volume also means there's a chance to remember some of the lesser-known titles which may have slipped through the cracks in the old grey cells.  Early games such as Lazy Jones and Pogo Joe sit comfortably alongside blockbusters like Hovver Bovver and Forbidden Forest.  We also get the chance to see some of the superb sequels often forgotten in favour of the original games, even when they improved upon what had come before.  After the first book covered some of the originals, obviously, here you'll find such wonderful and fondly remembered sequels as Creatures II: Torture Trouble, Mission Impossible II and Manic 2049er amongst others.

Coin-ops and licenced fare also make welcome appearances so fan favourites like Golden Axe and Zoids pop up here in various guises, which just wasn't possible in the first volume.  Also returning is the gorgeous Oliver Frey artwork of some of his Zzap 64 covers.  The one for the aforementioned Zoids is particularly fantastical and would've made for an amazing cover on the old Spider-Man and Zoids comic from Marvel UK back in the 80s!  Superb work and as always he's a welcome addition to the book.


Right up there with the best of our comic covers
of the 1980s is this!

Matt Wilsher and Chris Daw provide some more stunning (yes, I'm gushing by this point) double-page photography spreads too.  The three different 64 models, namely the original bread bin, the sleeker C64C and the C64 Games System console were the stars of these last time, but now everything from joysticks, ports, the datasette and even the Koala Pad drawing tablet get the star treatment.  This culminates in a lovely selection of sixteen small photos across two pages right in the middle of the book covering the gamut of hardware we all grew up with.  I hope my photograph of it can do it justice.  This alone would make for a stunning large framed print.  (Hint, hint Sam!)


Seriously, is it wrong to use the word "beautiful" when describing
photos of a decades old computer set up?

So far, so good.  To be honest if this had been simply a new book covering different games in exactly the same way as the first edition I'd be marking it with the same score, most likely.  The first book was pretty much the best book out there on the market and close to perfect.  But that formula has been tinkered with here and more features have been added.  The main ones are company profiles and developer interviews.  On the surface this sounds like a great idea, although I did have some trepidation as I loved the flow of the first book, but I was all for having more to read and the design of these were definitely in keeping with the rest of the pages.

While there's a couple of tasty bits of information to be gleaned from some of the interviews, for the most part the questions are unfortunately rather basic and formulaic.  Asking how people got started programming for the 64 is all well and good, but just as with other questions such as favourite games etc. aren't really original.  What's worse is that each interview asks exactly the same questions no matter who's answering.  To this end the interviews lack personalised questions and I found myself wishing for more queries pertaining specifically to each individual.  It actually results in some loss of personality in the answers, which is a shame as the Commodore scene was full of big characters.

The company profiles are more like a long list of titles, release dates, review scores and their success or failure in the marketplace, but written up like a narrative of the timeline.  It's an interesting idea, but again each company is given exactly the same treatment of 'name the next title, year, reception and success', then on to the next.  They can become a little bit monotonous, crying out for a more tailored write-up for each.  Companies like Thalamus were so unique and their output equally so, but fans will have already read the basics before now and this doesn't add a lot more that's new.


Llamasoft's story is complex, very adult and extremely
amusing, but unfortunately this doesn't come across

Don't get me wrong, they include some great screenshots, it's always nice to have a little more to read and for those reminiscing about a long-forgotten time both the interviews and profiles will make for fun little additions.  But I just couldn't shake the feeling that, while what's there is fine, so much more could've been done with the idea, especially with the expectations set with knowing these were to be extensions of the original Visual Commpendium idea.  Add in some spelling/grammar errors that have been missed during proof-reading and they're not my favourite sections of the book.

However, there's some other inclusions unique to this book which are more successful, such as the demo scene which you can read about in the box out below.  Rather than being additional features they're more of a replacement for the original book's loading screens and box art.  Fan-produced games released between 1993 and the present day aren't given as much space here but are included, however what's even better is the large section about unreleased ones.  There are plenty of games which were previewed in magazines of the day but never saw the light of day.  There were many reasons such as the developers moving on to the newer computers and consoles, companies going bust or a game simply being no longer viable commercially.  Titles such as Daffy Duck, Fuzzball (a particular favourite Commodore Format covertape demo of mine) and Escape from Colditz have become almost mythical in the intervening years and this section is particularly fascinating to read.  As is the inclusion of a spread dedicated to the Ocean Loader and the foreboding eye of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I simply love the inclusion of Invade-a-Load, the little Space Invaders clone we could play while some games loaded, as a full entry in the visual trip through the Commodore 64's software.

The infamous Ocean Loader kept many a young games player on their toes

- - -


PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF COMMODORE AFFECTION


The C64's Public Domain scene never really gets a mention these days.  Alongside the commercial titles there were still bedroom coders knocking out great software, all free of copyright which they put out into the ether and let people share to their heart's content.  Postal Public Domain libraries were set up which would collect together all of this greatness and sell on, charging only for the cost of the disks and the postage.  I set one up myself and I'll cover it soon.

Games were only one aspect though.  Demos weren't interactive and instead were basically coders showing off what they could make the humble C64 do.  Stunning graphics which shouldn't have been possible, wonderful sound, mesmerising animation... they had them all!  The book  goes into some depth on the scene, which never went away, and includes some classic pieces of art.  Just look at some of these!  No trickery, those were produced on C64s.  Even Commodore said back in the 90s they were amazed at what people were creating on their 8-bit.  I've chosen some of the best here, but there's some rather strange choices here too (a yellow screen with one word in black?  Why is that included in a book celebrating the 64's visuals?) but the majority just have to be seen to be believed.

- - -

This volume also includes a few pages about the magazines the Commodore 64 owning public enjoyed, showing off the covers alongside quotes just like the games and for once it's nice to see more than Zzap covered.  Commodore User and my beloved Commodore Format are in there too and I was really looking forward to these in particular when I bought my copy.  You can imagine my disappointment when I got to those pages and realised there were no quotes at all for CU, the Zzap ones were taken from C64 fanzine Reset 64 and the CF ones were simply copied from interviews on a fan website.  I felt quite cheated if I'm honest.  They were well chosen and again for many they'll make for a great read but personally it was a let down for me, as I'd already read the full interviews.  Oh well.

Remember I'm covering this superb magazine here on the blog!

Above you can see the Commodore Format logo redrawn as an actual C64 piece of graphic design.  There's a few of these throughout the book from Robin Levy and they're a treat to have, especially for the individual magazines themselves and the unreleased games.  It's unfortunate that the most-likely-superb one he designed for the introduction to the magazine section has come across as overly blown up and pixellated, so much so that it's quite hard to make out all the lovely details (unless you hold it quite far away and squint a little).

Hang on 'til I take my glasses off... ah!  Superb!

This really is a superb book, don't get me wrong!  The first volume was a hard act to follow and it's only natural to want to pack in even more with any follow-up.  In my heart I wish they'd kept closer to the original; the profiles and interviews add some more lovely visuals and a couple of bits of new info but I could take them or leave them.  The magazines and demo scene sections are a welcome chapter in the same way as the loading screens last time, and expanding on the coverage with unreleased games is a stroke of genius.  Fans of not only the C64, but of retro computing in general too will absolutely love this book for all the exact same reasons as the first edition and it's certainly worth every penny.  Even better, buy the combined Extended Edition of both books edited together!  (See the picture link to Bitmap Books' website at the bottom of the post.)

Last time I said the Visual Commpendium was the best Commodore 64 book out there and while that may not be quite as true this time, the only book which betters this is the one it's following on from!  I really can't overstate how much of a recommendation that is.    

(click to enlarge)
Sam Dyer
244 pages, softcover with jacket
Publisher: Bitmap Books
£24.99 (£10 PDF available)
Also available as a combined Extended Edition (both volumes)


Check out the full range of Bitmap Books by clicking on the image below.

Friday, 2 December 2016

TWELVE POSTS OF CHRISTMAS

Howdy all.  Well it's finally here, Christmas time is upon us and I hope you're all eager to get the festive season started.  Regular readers will know this is my very favourite time of the year and I eagerly look forward to it.  All of December is Christmas to me, not just the one day and this year it's even more special as I've decided it's the perfect time to kickstart my two blogs.

It's about time, as both of my sites have been somewhat neglected for a while now.  So, inspired by the blogosphere's current trend of writers dedicating a post to each and every day of the month for what's been named 'Blogmas', I'm doing my own Twelve Posts of Christmas.  Nope, I'm not doing thirty-one posts!  I'm not that crazy.

Instead this blog and The Oink! Blog will each have six posts apiece (the introduction for Oink! went up yesterday) to get me back into the swing of things.  Sometimes life takes a hold and leads us off in other directions whether we like it or not and it's important to find a way back to what we love.  Setting deadlines for my posts with each and every issue of Oink! (and now the issues of Commodore Format here too) was a great motivator to keep me going and I'm immensely proud of what I achieved here over nearly three years.  So with that in mind, what can you expect to see coming up on Recovering From a Scratch?

7th: VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION REVIEW


Finally another review! Yes it's been a very, very long time and there's still only the two of them on the site, but that's about to change.  I've covered this second volume in the Commodore 64: a visual commpendium series before when it arrived, including my excitement at seeing my name in print in an actual book for the first time.  However, that little inclusion will not stop me from giving this the impartial once-over the first volume received when I reviewed it early this year.  Will it be another corker?  Find out on the 7th.

Wow, I've just realised I received this second book way, way back in August and have yet to write it up!  It really is time to remedy such things.

14th: WISH LIST

As I mentioned in a previous post I have a wish list which is being added to with each issue of Commodore Format I read and I'm going to start covering it here on the blog.  To begin with I'll be listing the games I had as a teen which I'd like to get my hands on and it'll interesting to see if they match up to the memories.  There's also those classics which I'd always wanted but never did get around to buying.  Then there's the games I read about every month in the aforementioned magazine and craved but again, mainly due to not exactly having disposable income at that age, I went without.

Now as I work my way through CF I'm patiently adding titles one at a time from each issue as I read their reviews or special features.  While I'm up to #16 at the moment, I'm going to go back to the start and write up the 'new' games for my wish list after each month's edition has been covered, along with some scans or photos of CF.  To begin with on the 14th I'll cover those games that were added before I even began reading CF; the ones from my childhood I just have to have again.

16th: RESET 64 FANZINE GOES INTO PRINT


Reset 64 is a popular online C64 fanzine edited by the talented Kevin Tilley in Australia.  Currently on its 9th edition each issue gets released simply when they're ready.  It's available for free on their website but for the latest issue Kevin decided to try his hand at a physical printed copy.  The result is a gorgeous, shiny 84-page magazine packed to the brim with the latest in Commodore 64 news, reviews and special features.  I'll be taking a much-overdue closer look at this on the blog on the 16th.

20th: COMMODORE FORMAT #4


The first regular feature of Scratch is the read-through of the simply awesome Commodore Format and this month #4 is a little treasure-trove of classic reviews, with a movie tie-in special and coverage of some truly brilliant games based on the cinema releases of 1990.  Movie games get a bad rap and it's usually justified these days, but it certainly wasn't so back then and I'll be showing some off on the date of the issue's original release, the 20th.

While I've tried to incorporate other features from each issue so far in order to introduce you to the format (no pun intended) of the mag, this time I will be focussing on the games and it makes for fascinating reading when you consider the cheap cash-ins players are subjected to today.

(Well, when I say "fascinating" that's me as a C64 fan reading this issue of CF, not necessarily your experience reading my post!)

21st: DIZZY REVIEW


Another review?  They're like buses aren't they?  What feels like an age ago I reviewed a childhood favourite in the guise of Fantasy World Dizzy and then purchased the first game in the series and promised I'd be working my way through them.  Finally it's happening and thanks to a friend there's more sequels awaiting my joystick in the new year too.  At the time the Dizzy games were sometimes criticised for being too similar to each other, while others would praise them for a winning formula and consistent gameplay.  Which side will I come down on?  I'm interest to find out after only ever playing one game before and loving it.  I'll start the journey on my birthday too on the 21st, which is the 25th anniversary of the purchase of not just my first Dizzy game but my first ever C64 game!

Old.  So, so old.

CHRISTMAS DAY: MY C64 STORY

For many of us our first experience with our own C64 was on some distant Christmas Morning, running into the living room and seeing it sitting there waiting for us.  We all have fond memories of unpacking it for the first time and maybe a soft spot for those first few games we played.  I've always intended to go back and write about those times and the days of Parallel Logic, the software "company" a friend and I set up in the latter days of the 64's original lifespan.  What better day to start this story than on Christmas Day?

There you have it, hopefully lots to look forward to if that doesn't sound too big-headed.  There's certainly a lot for me to do across these two blogs and I'm looking forward to a lot of writing surrounded by Christmas decorations while I drink out of my Rudolph mug and listen to Shakin' Stevens.