Solar Jetman on the C64

Solar Jetman

This is a game I’d forgotten about until recently when I saw someone playing it on Twitch. Solar Jetman came out on the NES in 1991, and conversions were made for the C64, Speccy, Amiga and Atari ST. Unfortunately due to poor sales of the NES original the conversions were never released.

Luckily the team at Games That Weren’t were contacted by Martin Holland, someone who knew about the game’s development.

GTW got to work and began to search for this elusive conversion, and started with Haydn Dalton, who sadly could not find anything of the game after some searching. Two years later, and a month or two after the site relaunch, efforts were made to find the game’s programmer, John Buckley as a last ditch effort. After tracing John down to PlaypoolUK, GTW got the news it dreaded.. John hadn’t got any of his old disks no longer…
But a week or two after almost giving up hope of finding the game, Haydn Dalton was one day searching through some things at home, when he stumbled upon a disk with the label missing. The label was in there too, and stated “Solar Jetman Disk 1”, and after a bit more digging, Haydn found the second disk.

GTW

It’s a fascinating story of digital archaeology and the game now be found in various places including the Solar Jetman page on GTW! You can play the original version on archive.org, but Triad released an excellent version that packed the game into one disk side, and trained it too.

The game itself is like Thrust or Lunar Lander, but it came later and is much better than both! Controls are easier and enemies are more varied so if you liked those games you need to try Solar Jetman.

The conversion is missing a few things present in the NES version, and apparently the maps are a little cut down from the original. I need to download the NES version and give it a spin too!

Blow the Cartridge

What do you see when the game ends? Vinny has the answer and posted it on the (old) C64 Game Endings site here.

I discovered an interview with John Buckley, the developer who worked on the C64 version.

What were your first and last ever productions on the C64?
The first thing I did on the C64 was called Jeep Command. I did this in my spare time including the graphics and sound FX. If you have seen it, you will know I ain’t no artist! I sent it off to Bug Byte I think, and they put some music on it and shipped it out. The last thing I did was Solar Jetman, which never got released… until now.

Out of all the games you have worked on, which were you most proud and disappointed with?
I can’t say I am disappointed with anything I worked on. Most of them were conversions, some I wish I hadn’t of worked on but such is life. I liked working on Solar Jetman on the C64 but overall I am most proud of PLOK on the SNES.

Interview with John Buckley on C64.com

Before I knew about revision control

Going through some of my old C64 discs and I found a bunch of “work in progress” demo parts and routines I was playing with.

Back then I didn’t know about revision control but it was a pleasure to find these bits and pieces of code that I had completely forgotten about. Here’s a few screenshots from Vice, but it’s shocking the difference between Vice and real hardware. The cascading Ozone logo is very pale compared to what I see on another screen. Could it be the screen? Or is it the emulator?

These were found on disc 23, side 1. All those discs are littered with small files, chunks of code that I was working on before throwing them together in the Action Replay monitor.

Kids these days are spoiled with their fancy editors. 🙂

Rebooting the Apollo Guidance Computer

If you can’t get enough of the Apollo missions after my last post watch as the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) is booted up. See inside the machine at the ropes used to store information and marvel at all the little wires that made the landing on the Moon possible.

For more check out this playlist on Youtube.

If that’s not enough I highly recommend listening to episode 220 of The Oribital Podcast. It has an excellent interview with Ron Burkey that will have you enthralled (well, maybe, if you’re like me and find the archaeology of old software interesting!)

The episode show notes link to scans of the original source code and transcribed copies of the code on Github!

Find scans of the source code above on archive.org and the same code is on Github too!

WP Super Cache 1.6.9: security update

WP Super Cache is a full page caching plugin for WordPress.

Version 1.6.9 has just been released and is a required upgrade for all users as it resolves a security issue in the debug log. The issue can only be exploited if debugging is enabled in the plugin which will not be the case for almost all users.

The debug log is usually only enabled temporarily if a site owner is debugging a caching problem and isn’t something that should be left on permanently as it will slow down a site.

If there is an existing debug log it will be deleted after updating the plugin.

This release also improves the debug log by hiding sensitive data such as the ABSPATH directory of the WordPress install and login cookies. Unfortunately in the past users have copied the log file data into forum posts. A warning message has been added asking the site owner not to publish the debug log.

Details of the security issue will be added to this post in time to allow sites to update their plugin.

Dune Legacy: a modern Dune II game

Dune II, a real-time strategy game released in 1992, was as you may guess based on Frank Herbert’s second book in the Dune series. I didn’t play it at the time as I still owned a C64 at the time but I did play it before the decade was out.

In the game the player must harvest spice, return it to a refinery to convert to credits which are then used to build more harvesters or military units. Your military units are used to defend your harvesters and buildings and also attack your opponents. You control one of three opposing houses with the ultimate aim of conquering the other two.

Dune Legacy is a modern Dune engine that will allow you to play the original game with modern controls and higher resolution graphics. As well as Dune Legacy there’s also Dune Dynasty based on OpenDUNE.

They all require the original game to run but if you search carefully you’ll be able to find it online.

I haven’t played much of the game yet but it plays much the same way I remember in the past. Go get it if you’re a fan of RTS games. When you’re finished with that have a look at OpenRA, an open source implementation of Command and Conquer: Red Alert.

An Intro to 6502 Assembler

In the bad old days of the 80s and 90s computers weren’t as fast as they are now. You had to fill ’em up with leaded fuel and they were noisy and hot and you had to keep the windows open to let the fumes out.

Well, maybe not. They weren’t as fast as the handheld machines in our pockets now but I’ll bet that a larger percentage of users back then at least tried to code something. People had to because it wasn’t always easy to get games. You had to go down the shops and get out of the house to buy any new software! You had to open the manual to find out how to load anything!

So it was that I figured out that I’d rather be coding than playing games, and with the purchase of a book on assembly (that has sadly gone missing in the last year) I got busy and created a bunch of demos on the C64.

I wish I’d had this video to watch when I was starting out! If you’ve done any sort of assembly programming it won’t be anything new but it’s presented in an easy to understand manner and is worth watching if you’re at all curious about how computers work because a lot of the terminology is going to apply to other systems too.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of this series. I want to get back to doing some assembly programming. There’s plenty of documentation out there but it’s a matter of finding the time and energy to do it.

If you love “13 Minutes to the Moon”

13 Minutes to the Moon is a BBC podcast telling the story of the first Moon landing and all that led up to it and it’s gripping listening featuring recordings from the time, great music and great story telling.

However, if you want to dig deeper into the Apollo missions I would recommend the Omega Tau podcast episodes about the Apollo missions. I already blogged about them but it’s worth repeating since there’s probably a whole new audience that will want to hear more!

Episode 83 is an interview with W. David Woods about his book How Apollo Flew to the Moon:

… where he describes in great length all the detail a geek wants to know about how the Apollo spacecraft and the flights to the Moon worked. In the episode, we basically go through an Apollo mission and discuss aspects such as the mission structure, the workshare between the crew and mission control, communication and telemetry, guidance and navigation, approach, landing and re-launch on the Moon as well as re-entry and landing on earth.

In episode 97 he returned to talk about exploring the Moon!

This is the long-awaited follow-up to the first Apollo episode, once again with W. David Woods, author of How Apollo Flew to the Moon. In this episode we cover that part that we omitted in the first episode: the time on the moon. We talk about life support, the various scientific instruments and experiments as well as the technology and use of the lunar rover (about which David is actually writing another book).

If you’re really interested in the Apollo Guidance Computer you’ll love episode 167.

This episode is a mix between computer architecture, programming and (historic) space flight. We cover the ins and outs of the Apollo Guidance Computer. Our guest is Frank O’Brien, who wrote an incredibly detailed book about this machine. In the episode we cover the hardware architecture, the instruction set, the various layers (native, executive and interpreter) as well as some mission programs.

Follow those interviews up with episode 218, A Life in Apollo where Markus interviews George Knudsen about the Saturn 5 launch vehicle and Apollo.

George Knudsen started working in 1958 on the Redstone missile, and moved on to working on the Atlas ICBM. Later he worked on the Saturn 5 launch vehicle, where he was responsible for the fuel tanks. He was on the launch team at Cape Canaveral for various Apollo missions. In this episode with talk with George about his work in this fascinating period of science and engineering history.

The Omega Tau podcast has been going for many years and they have episodes on all sorts of engineering and scientific topics. For other episodes related to Apollo have a look at this search on his blog listing many more episodes.

Tunnel Vision by OMG

Tunnel Vision, C64 demo

So, apparently this is the first demo by this developer and it’s amazing. Hell of a fire effect.

I discovered this while testing the SD2IEC on my C64. Assembly64 has a “One File Top 200” directory that I was working on because the disk images have characters the filebrowser has trouble with. This small bit of bash shell script will sanitise it before viewing on a C64:

for i in *
do
  mv -v "$i" "echo $i|cut -c13-|tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]'|tr -cd ' a-z0-9'"
done

It changes the filenames to lowercase and then removes anything but a-z, 0-9 and space and also cuts out the first 13 characters . There are still a few shortened filenames but it looks much better now.

Edit on July 8th, 2019: The SD2IEC is slow when there are lots of files in a directory, plus the directory contained other directories so I decided to move everything into directories named after the first letter of each directory with this code:

for i in *
do
    new_dir=echo "$i"|cut -b 1
    mkdir -p ../1/$new_dir
    cp -v "$i"/* ../1/$new_dir/
done

Everything’s in sub directories of a new directory called “1”. There are multiple demos in each directory but not enough that it’s too slow. 🙂