Categories
C64

New C64 Adventures

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the Commodore 64 for many years. It was my family’s third computer, after a Vic20 and 48K ZX Spectrum. I don’t count the Telesport, I couldn’t program that! The C64 was my main computer from 1989 to about 1994 and I went from programming in BASIC to exploring the depths of the machine with an Action Replay cartridge and programming demos in assembly. Since the late nineties I contented myself by using different emulators like PC64, Frodo and Vice but in the last year or so I’ve wondered about owning one again.

What I would consider the first resurgence of the C64 world for me was finding the Commodore Format blog. There’s also Zzap64.co.uk which has been going for ages but it’s an invaluable archive site. The CF blog has regular blog posts about this old magazine and features about new developments and I love it. I could blame the community of C64 fans on Twitter, the C64 sub Reddit and various C64 groups on Facebook. They’re always going on about playing this game or that game on “real hardware”, or how a certain demo doesn’t look perfect in an emulator. But really, I’d say it was the fanzine FREEZE64 that finally piqued my interest again. It’s a great read and Vinny, who publishes it, is always posting photos of the things he’s doing on the machine. The fanzine brings me back 30 years to when I first got the machine.

Peer pressure finally won. I bought a C64 on eBay and it arrived yesterday!

I’ve always wondered if it was possible to use a modern controller with the C64 and there are a few adaptors to do that. One of those is the TOM Rev2 adaptor and extension cable. It’s due to arrive at the end of the month, so fingers crossed it works well.

I have a 1541 II disk drive in the attic but there are better storage solutions available for the C64 now. One of those is the SD2IEC, an SD card reader for the machine. I bought the thefuturewas8bit SD2IEC and Fastload Cartridge. Conveniently an 8GB SD card can be purchased which is enough room to fit practically every C64 game on it!

The C64 produces a composite video signal and a video signal that was s-video before that was even a standard. My monitor doesn’t have either RCA/phono sockets, SCART or s-video port but it does have HDMI so I needed a converter. Scouring websites and forums for information about the best way to connect a C64 to HDMI is exhausting. Recommendations to buy one converter are followed by discouraging remarks from others about the same device. In the end I checked Amazon reviews and this Ex-Pro video converter seemed to fit the bill. It has phono and s-video sockets too!

Finally, I needed a video cable. I messed up and bought a C64 DIN to phono/RCA cable instead of s-video, but it works well enough. The screen image is nowhere near as clear as an emulator like Vice but I’ve ordered a similar cable with an s-video plug that I hope will be better.

The first thing I tried was one of my demos, Bits ‘n’ Bobs and it was amazing to see it run! The picture isn’t perfect and especially on this wide monitor everything is stretched. 4:3 it is not!

In a later demo, the CFORCE demo, I displayed a FLI picture in one part. That picture annoyingly bounced up and down which is probably a result of displaying on a modern monitor. On an old CRT it was fairly solid, apart from the usual fuzziness when displaying FLI pictures.

Getting it all set up was a challenge, mainly to find space for it, but I made room. Using the “picture in picture” mode of my monitor the display is smaller and the effects of the component cable less noticeable.

The SD2IEC and fastloader cartridge are a game changer. No more fiddling with ageing physical disks that are likely to be unreadable. I’m already missing the Action Replay though. F1 to load and F3 to list a disk is just that tiny bit more convenient than the Epyx Fastloader equivalents.

I just bought an Over Voltage Protector as I’m paranoid. This machine came with a Micro Mate power supply but power supplies fail and the C64’s chips are sensitive to more than 5.5V. This should hopefully stop that happening if the PSU fails.

Now I’ve got one of these machines I want to get an Ultimate 64. It’s a fascinating bit of kit, and the price of it put me off before, but it’s actually cheap when you consider everything it does!

So, what games should I play on it? I’m without a joystick or controller so it’s keyboard only. I asked on Twitter and I have to try Thrust, The Sentinel, West Bank, Skooldaze and the recently released Neutron on it as they all support keyboard. I already played Stunt Car Racer which brought back plenty of memories. 🙂

Edit: The s-video cable arrived and the video quality is much better. There’s still faint vertical lines but I can live with those.

Edit on 12th June: I just received this female RCA to 3.5mm earphone jack and I can finally hear the SID on decent speakers! The sound from my HDMI monitor is woeful so I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Categories
C64

Retro Reading in 2019

Reading about retro computers in 2019!

You can be nostalgic about something for a lot longer than that thing was current. So it is with the Commodore 64, the Speccy and early computers in general.

I had a rubber keyed Spectrum 48K for a couple of years followed by a C64 that I used every day for another 4 years or so and here we are in 2019 and I’m reading about those ancient computers. I’m not the only one. There are vibrant communities around both computers and it’s great to see!

Somehow I can’t see myself feeling the same way about Windows 3.1, but I have to admit I have maybe not so fond memories of tuning autoexec.bat to get a few KB more memory in the DOS days…

What are the books I’m reading and where can I get them?

  1. The latest issue of FREEZE64 fanzine.
  2. Crash Annual 2019.
  3. The story of the Commodore 64 in pixels_.
Categories
Games

I found my first computer: Telesport SD 050C

Telesport SD 050C

Many years ago I mentioned the first computer system that came into my family home. I couldn’t remember what it was called and it had been thrown out years before. I had searched retro console sites, looking through “history of computing” Youtube videos, and more but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

That was until Saturday afternoon while out on a photowalk in Cork City! In the window of the retro gaming shop on North Main Street was a sight I had last seen more than thirty years previously. I couldn’t believe it!

Now that I have a name, the Telesport SD 050C I could look it up and I found out that it was one of a number of Pong clone machines released in the late 1970’s. The 050C family aren’t very rare and aren’t worth much but it was a strange nostalgic feeling looking at it there after all this time.

It’s a Pong clone. The screenshots above are basic but in the early 80s it was a lot of fun. I don’t remember the model we had having that many colours. Must have been an earlier model I guess. Here’s a brief history lesson:

The world was undergoing “PONG Madness”. It seemed only natural that developers would create advancements to the original AY-3-8500 chip to incorporate color and even more games. This explains the amount of PONG systems since each machine contained a different chip. However things were handled different in some areas particularly in Europe.

Europe did not see the release of the Intellivision and Atari 2600 till the early 1980s. This allowed Pong to have a longer success. Rather then creating a new machine for each new chip, developers took the General Instruments popular line of chips and slapped them into cartridges. These carts were not like ROM carts used in later systems. They simply housed a specific General Instruments processor chip with pin outs to interface with a console. These were the PC-50X line of cartridges (see the Games section for specifics).

With the PC-50X cartridges available, console manufacturers were able to produce a machine that could play several games and market them at a low cost. The units were made in various countries and were marketed by Creatronic, Hanimex, ITMC, Rollet, GrandStand, Soundic and lord knows how many other manufacturers. There are literally over two hundred console variations that utilized this technology.

The initial model SD-050 varied in terms of outward appearance (colors, etc), manufacturers names and slight modifications. However each unit had the same overall design with two detachable controllers with 10 buttons located on the top of the machine. These 10 buttons, which clearly identify a PC-50X based console, were used to select the different games available on each cart. The SD-050 model only produced black and white video.

New models such as the SD-070 and SD-090 appeared and sold well into the 80s since the units were far cheaper then the newer consoles making waves in the US and Japan. These newer models played the same carts, but added additional settings, sound and SECAM color (4 colors).

There were far too many PC-50X cart accepting consoles and it is difficult to list them all.

More links to read up on the PC-50X cartridge and related machines:


I found one video on Youtube featuring this machine!

I resisted the urge to buy that machine last weekend. I may have a CRT TV in the attic but the games are so simplistic it’s best to leave them in the past where they belong. The machine architecture isn’t emulated but the games could be remade easily by anyone interested. Hmm, maybe..

Categories
Tech

Building the BBC Micro

I never used the BBC Micro much but it was a prominent feature of schools across Ireland the UK in the 80s and early 90s.

I love that Professor Steve Furber’s admitted they didn’t know why certain chips worked or the work arounds they needed to get other bits working!

Categories
C64

Dinosaurs of Computing

The Dinosaurs episode of This Developer’s Life struck a chord with me. Not because of Fortran or Dataflex although hearing about developers dealing with small memory constraints or attempts to convert an archaic piece of code into something shiny did make me grin stupidly.

No, there’s a bit about the Commodore 64 in there and some great SID chip music throughout the podcast. That sealed the deal for me! 🙂

Categories
C64

17,827 Euro for a Commodore 65 on Ebay

The Commodore 65 was a prototype computer produced by Commodore between 1990 and 1991 to be an improved Commodore 64. I’ve hardly ever come across it online and never heard of it back in the day, but when Commodore was liquidated they sold the prototype machines. If you have one and are willing to part with it you could be in for a nice surprise!

c65 on ebay

This one on Ebay went for €17,827 last month. It’s not as if much can be done with it as it was never official released but I guess you can run it in C64 mode.

Anyone got one or played with one? (via)

Categories
C64

Huge 6.5GB of C64 demos, games, music and stuff on archive.org

Well, this is quite amazing. Jason Scott is archiving all the programs found on The Old School Emulation Center on archive.org.

That means there is now a gigantic collection of retro computing history on archive.org. There’s lots of stuff from the C64 to the Speccy, from the Apple Lisa to the TRS 80 there. I’m bowled over by the huge Commodore 64 collection and even found some tunes ex-Ozone member Merman created in the late 90’s. None of our demos there yet though.

One name that caught my eye was Derbyshire Ram, a swapper/cracker I have a vague recollection of. He died a few years ago but others put his huge disc collection online. I wonder if I should do the same with mine? My collection is much smaller and I think I’ll need to check any notes for personal messages but someone might find it interesting. I’m not the only one either.

Go have a look, you may find something you remember from your childhood!

Categories
C64

C64: Wanted Dead or Alive

Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” as played on a real Commodore 64. The song was digitized on an Amiga, downsampled to 4 bit audio and copied onto a 3.5″ inch disk that the Commodore 1581 drive could read from. The song data was streamed in realtime from the drive to the tiny 64Kb of memory in the computer and fed to the SID chip for our aural delight. I presume the screen has been blanked to save processing power, or the data for the sample gets dumped into screen memory.

This did require an Amiga with the Perfect Sound digitizer. I hooked up the CD player to the digitizer and then using a custom routine on the Amiga, my brother would convert the data to a 4 bit sample. Then we used a null modem cable and Novaterm with a cartridge port adapter to transfer the data to a 1581 floppy. Quite a bit of work went into this.

20 years ago I recorded my own voice onto a cassette saying the word “Ozone” (the name of my demogroup) and I figured out how to sample my voice using the Commodore cassette deck hooked up to the C64. I can’t remember now what memory register it used, I’ll have to search my disk images or examine a C64 memory map one of these days. The quality was terrible but if you knew what was being said you could make it out. It had to be kept short because I’d ran out of memory! I think I used it in the last part of my demo “Awareness of Reality”. (via)

Categories
C64

Commodore 64: 8 Bit Legend

Impressive video showing off some of the most popular games of the C64 and the biggest or most famous groups in the C64 demoscene. Must have taken ages to make.

Skip forward to 10:00 into the video for a message from Jim Butterfield. Though recorded in the 80’s I presume, the message still applies. Programming can be fun.

(via Jaz)

Categories
Games

Play Speccy Games Online

Ah no, not another retro post? Oh yes! ZX Spectrum.net will give you a reason to run Java again if you were a fan of the rubber keyed micro. Thanks Paolo for the link!