Archive for the Commodore Category

Six months ago I was contacted out of the blue by a friend-of-a-friend (I don’t even know his real name) who asked if I was able to archive some old Commodore diskettes for him. I told him I could. I asked him what type of data was on the disks and he told me they contained programs he had written in BASIC and custom levels for games he had created almost 30 years ago. I gladly obliged.

Unfortunately when the diskettes arrived in my mailbox the were unreadable. This happens. I don’t know if the disks were ruined from being stored in sub-optimal conditions (old floppy disks stored in attics and garages for two decades don’t seem to be faring well) or if something happened to them in transit, but none of the disks were readable. I tried multiple devices and multiple floppy disks and couldn’t retrieve any data from the disks. I felt bad about telling this guy his data was lost.

This same individual found another batch of floppies a few weeks ago and so we tried again. This time I suggested that he write “MAGNETIC MEDIA — DO NOT BEND!” on the outside of the package. I don’t know if that makes the post office treat the package any differently en route, but it made us both feel better. When the disks arrived last week, I crossed my fingers, inserted the first one, and gave it a shot. Success!

Out of eight double-sided disks I was able to archive fifteen of the sixteen sides with no errors. One of the disks contained some read errors; through cleaning and multiple retries I think I got a working copy of the diskette, but I’m not 100% sure. As you can see in the picture above, the first disk contained saved characters from the game Mail Order Monsters and a level created for the Electronic Arts game Demon Stalkers. All of the data on all of the diskettes consisted of user-generated content. The data on these disks exist nowhere else. Before last week the only copy of this data existed on these floppies. Now they exist in D64/G64 virtual disks and can be accessed and played through modern emulation.

I don’t know if this friend-of-a-friend plans on publicly sharing these disks or not. I hope he does just so others can see the types of things that we were creating on Commodore computers 30 years ago, but if he doesn’t that’s okay too. I was just glad to do my part in saving a few ones and zeros from disappearing forever.

A friend of mine tagged me with the following challenge on Facebook:

10 games that will always stay with you. Rules: Don’t take more then a few minutes. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works of the gaming industry, just games that have affected you in a positive way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.

If you know me you know simply making a list isn’t enough, so I added some additional information and links to videos. Although many of these games appeared on many different platforms, I included the ones that my memories were most closely associated with. I also extended my list to 12 games, and you’re lucky I didn’t make it 50. Without further adieu…

01. Wizardry / Bard’s Tale (Apple II/C64)

Wizardry was one of the first dungeon crawlers to be released for home computers, and the first one I ever played for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia it was the first color dungeon crawler and the first true party-based Dungeons and Dragons-style game. Released in 1981, this was one of the first games I can remember my dad and I playing at the same time. He would play at night and make maps of the game’s dungeons on graph paper, maps I would use the next day to advance further in the game.

Just a few years later, my buddy Jeff and I would spend an entire summer playing Bard’s Tale in largely the same fashion. Although the graphics were slightly better, the gameplay of Bard’s Tale is largely identical to Wizardry. RPGs in the 80s got too large to keep my interest, but I greatly enjoyed (and miss) this era of dungeon roaming.

02. Lode Runner (Apple II)

The recent passing of Doug Smith has this game on my mind. Lode Runner was an early platform game with just enough tricks to keep it interesting. The goal was to collect all of the packages from each level while avoiding the “bunglings.” The game’s original gimmick came in the digging of holes, which could be used to bury your opponents or dig your way out of trouble. The original game only came with 50 levels, but there were sequels and also a level editor that allowed you to easily create your own levels. Lode Runner was fun in 1984 and it’s still fun in 2014, and I still play it occasionally.

03. Gauntlet (Arcade)

The first arcade games were one-player only. Then there were two-player games that required the players to take turns. Then came two-player head-to-head games. Gauntlet may have been the first four player game I ever played in an arcade, and unlike most games at that time, the goal of Gauntlet was for players to work together. Sure, occasionally Warrior would shoot Elf in the back while Wizard stole the food, but ultimately gamers learned they could get deeper into the dungeon (and more bang for their buck) by working together.

I have many wonderful memories of playing Gauntlet with my friends. Because of this, Gauntlet II was one of the first arcade games I purchased when I began collecting arcade games.

04. Dragon’s Lair (Arcade)

I will never forget the first time I saw Dragon’s Lair in an arcade. If you were there in the 80s, I doubt you have forgotten it either. Seemingly overnight we went from blips and bloops to actually controlling a cartoon. It was awesome! It was incredible! It was… not that much fun. And it was hard to play. Several laserdisc games (including Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace) came and went over the next few years. Ultimately they did not change the gaming industry in the way they had hoped to, but it was still pretty awesome. The takeaway from Dragon’s Lair ultimately was that graphics aren’t everything; gameplay is king.

05. Doom II (PC)

While I had experimented with playing games online with other human beings, Doom II was the first game I ever played against other people on a local area network (LAN). I actually learned how to network computers together just so we could play Doom II. The graphics in the video below make me cringe a bit, but back them the gloomy dungeons and atmospheric sound effects set the tone for an amazing game. It took what worked from Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D before that), added multiplayer, and delivered an unforgettable gaming experience. Doom II was so good that the gaming industry has been applying new coats of paint to the concept and re-releasing it for 20 years now.

06. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Donkey Kong is a light-hearted game starring a pre-Mario Mario in which he climbs ladders, jumps barrels, and saves his girlfriend level after level. It’s simple… or is it? Once you start to learn how to “control” the barrels, how to control where fireballs appear from and how to run up your score thanks to several glitches, it becomes and entirely different game. Adding to the pressure is the game’s infamous “kill screen,” a point where Mario dies for no apparent reason and the game ends. Suddenly the goal switches from “how high can you go?” to how many points can you score before the game crashes. For someone who doesn’t play a lot of Donkey Kong, a respectable score is in the 20-30k range. My high score is just over 100k. The current world’s record is 1.2 million. If you have a couple of hours, you can watch a recording of it below. Donkey Kong is an example of a seemingly simple game that is still revealing secrets 30 years after its release.

07. Paradroid (C64)

This game captured my interest back in the mid-80s and I still enjoy it today. In Paradroid you control a floating helmet and your job is to take over other robots by challenging them to a game of electronic switches which… eh, it makes more sense when you play it, I guess. This game has been ported to a few other machines including the Amiga and Windows, but the C64 original is still my favorite. There’s no other game like it.

08. 720 (Arcade)

In the futuristic Skate City, one must learn to “Skate or Die” and do it quickly. There are so many great things about this game: the boom box mounted to the top of the cabinet, the one-of-a-kind joystick, the awesome music, killer bees, exciting levels and challenging competitions. If you were into skateboarding in the 80s, this was the game to play.

I fell in love with this game in the 80s. When I began collecting arcade machines in the 90s, I put this on the top of my “must have” list. It took me fifteen years to track one down, but I finally found one. It’s still out in my garage today, calling me.

09. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

If I had a dime for ever minute — heck, every hour I spent playing Super Mario Bros. 3, I would be a rich man. Jeff, Andy and I played this game for so many hours that we could navigate some of the levels with our eyes closed. One of the greatest platform games of all time.

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation)

THPS2 did what no other game had done for me; it accurately portrayed skateboarding. I lost myself in this game for months, chaining together huge combos and pushing the points on every level to the max. There have been several sequels, but none of them captured my attention the way this one did. For years I owned two PlayStations and one had this game in it at all times.

In addition to gameplay, THPS2 had an incredible soundtrack, a new concept in games back then. It’s so good that I still have it on my phone today.

11. Impossible Mission (C64)

“Another visitor. Stay a while… staaaay forever!” This was one of the first (if not the first) game I ever saw for the Commodore 64, and what an introduction to the machine it was. Puzzles aside, the speech samples and smooth animation was enough to capture a kid’s imagination, and it did. For years I didn’t know what the goal of this game was and it really didn’t matter. We had fun running around, avoiding the robots and the “killer black ball” and couldn’t have cared less about “winning.” When it came to graphics and sound, this game set the Commodore 64 apart from the competition very early on.

12. Rogue (DOS)

Ever heard of a “rogue-like” game? This is where the term came from. Originally designed for mainframes, Rogue made its way to home computers in its original, ASCII format. The combat was rudimentary (you just ran into creatures to attack them) but the game offered a ton of things to discover, from magic scrolls and rings to cursed items. The game’s maps are randomly generated every game and items are randomly placed, so every game is different. You’ll need patience and skill to make it all the way through the dungeon, but you’ll also need a bit of luck; since all items are randomly placed, that includes food. Occasionally, through no fault of your own, you will die of starvation.

Rogue taught me three things: sometimes success depends on luck, a good game doesn’t need good graphics, and sometimes life isn’t fair.

I’m very close to completely converting all of my old physical C64 disks into D64 disk images, a project I started roughly 10 years ago — not that it takes 10 years to convert ~600 floppies into D64 disk images (it only takes a minute or two to do a disk), but there have been a lot of stops and starts. Along the way I’ve used three of four different methods (x1541 cables, the FC5025, the Ultimate 1541, and my current method of choice, the ZoomFloppy) and experimented with several different tools and methods to ensure that I’m getting the most data possible from these old floppies.

Now, most of the floppies I’m capturing look like this:

In my digital collection, that’s “Disk 009,” and I’ll end up with two files (009A and 009B, one for each side). But occasionally, I run across old disks of mine that look like this:

Not all glue was created equal, and many of the labels I used for numbering disks have dried up and fallen off, never to be seen again. This bothers me to no end because now I don’t know what to call this disk image. Right know it’s called “Unknown-034.”

While rummaging through these old virtual warez I ran across a disk labelled “DCMR.” DCMR stands for “Disk Catalog Manager/Reporter.” I vaguely remember using it in the mid-80s. After converting the disk over to a D64 file I loaded it up in an emulator and found that not only did I apparently use it extensively, but that it contains a nearly complete list of every program from every disk. Hey, this could be useful!

The first thing I did was make backups of my old lists and put them on the same disk as DCMR using DirMaster by Style. (If you do anything with D64 disk images, you should download DirMaster immediately. It’s an invaluable tool that I rely on for cleaning up disk images and moving files from one image to another.)

With all the files on one disk, I loaded up DCMR…

…and was able to search for the first game on that mysterious disk. Apparently, this was originally disk 381!

Wahoo! One mystery solved, and I plan on using this newly discovered data to figure out what the rest of those disks with missing labels originally were. Man, this is awesome!

Get ready for another picture-intensive post that documents my family’s visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California! The Computer History Museum is divided into 20 numbered rooms, which advance their way through the history of computers chronologically, and starts with a pretty old computer — the Abacus.

From a historical perspective this makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t do a good job in convincing a couple of kids that this museum is not going to be boooooring.

At least the first 10 rooms of the museum cover computers that were made before I was born. There were large sections of ENIAC…

…along with a large UNIVAC…

…and several other old computers. One room covered the development of transistors and another showed old analog machines designed to track trajectories. Again, all these things were historically interesting but did little to keep the kids’ attention.

One of the things that I found really interesting was this Enigma codebreaking computer from World War II. There was a short video playing next to the machine and the kids did think that was cool.

Another historical computer on display at the museum was this Cray 1. When I was a kid all I knew about Cray computers was that they were used in creating the graphics in The Last Starfighter. It’s cut off in the picture, but this Cray contained 32k of RAM and cost between $6 and $10 million dollars.

If you are a lady and think this museum sounds boring, then check out this computer from 1969!

This computer was designed to appeal to women and was designed to store recipes and live in your kitchen! For $10,000, owners would get the computer, an apron, a cook book, and a two-week course on how to program the thing. All the recipes were stored and presented in binary, which might explain why these kitchen computers from Neiman-Marcus did not sell well.

Also on display was this IMSAI 8080 computer. I don’t think anyone knows what this machine actually does. People only know it as “that computer from Wargames!”

The first room that really captured the kids’ attention was the one that focused on robots. There were several robots on display, from small toys to industrial machinery.

Then, as my dad would say, “this is where I came in.”

Starting with this Apple 1 (signed by Woz), the museum got into what I think of as the birth of home computers. While I know hobbiests dinked around with Altairs and other home machines, it wasn’t until they had monitors, keyboards, and simple storage that home computers came in to their own.


TRS-80 Model I


Retro Row


More Retro Machines

This was the first point in the museum where I could say, “I had one of those!” (Or in some cases, “I still have one of those!”)

One room contained a large display of peripherals, from early mice and keyboards to all kinds of controllers. Here are a few I recognized! Of course I owned (and own) Atari Joysticks and that Wico stick on the right, but that Archer joystick in the middle is the one we had for our Apple computer growing up as well.

The next part of the museum focused on computers in arcade machines. Two very famous arcade machines were on display at the museum.

Computer Space is, of course, the first coin-operated machine.

This was the first Pong machine (a prototype) that was put on location at Andy Capp’s. If you have ever heard the story about how the first arcade machine broke down because it was so jammed full of quarters that it would no longer operate, this is that very machine.

This room got more into computer software. As you can see by these games on display, this area focused on text adventures. A kiosk running Zork was on display and Mason spent a few minutes working his way through the first couple of screens.

There were three playable machines in the “computer game” area running a text adventure, Pac-Man, and Pong. All three were noticeably running emulators.

As quickly as the tour began, it ended. The last room focused on the “dot com” revolution. The coverage felt a little uneven with a lot of focus on early machines and not much on modern history. The kids would have liked more interactive exhibits (kids love pressing buttons and watching videos). Overall the museum was very enjoyable and we did learn some things. Seeing the old historical machines was exciting.

There was one last exhibit on display at the museum but I’ll be saving that for a separate post of its own.

Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.

My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.

Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.

This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.

After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.

If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.

Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.

The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!

Link: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds

The Bedford Level Experiment, a band describing themselves as performing “indie geek folk-rock songs about sci-fi and the soul, Commodore 64 and the mind, and flat earth” on their Facebook Page, has released a new song about the Commodore 64.

The song, “History (Commodore 64),” is an autobiographical song written by Robin Harbron. If that name rings a bell it’s because Robin worked on the Commodore 64 30-in-1 plug and play joystick, and his company p1xl games has released several “retro-style” games for iOS including RPG Quest: Minimae, PiXl Party, and 4NR.

“History (Commodore 64)” features Robin on guitars/bass/vocals with his daughter Rianna on drums and the Commodore 64 itself, adding some sweet SID sounds to the mix. The video for the song was recently shown at World of Commodore 2013. Even if you don’t care for this style of music, retrocomputing fans will dig the video which contains lots of retro hardware. See if you can spot it all!

I currently own two cases for my Raspberry Pi. One is the gigantic red plastic case that came with it. The other is one I made out of a plastic Pop-Tart I bought at Big Lots. You can see both of those cases here.

Enter my friend Aardvark. Aardvark is a very talented guy who plays guitar and once made a remote controlled phone. Aardvark also does CNC milling, and when he saw my terrible attempt at making my own Raspberry Pi case, he decided to take a stab at making one for me. The day after we had this conversation, Aardvark sent me the following picture:

Now truth be told, I would have been the happiest nerd to simply receive an aluminum box with the Commodore logo on it and use that as a case, but Aardvark had bigger plans. “I need a few pictures of a Commodore 1541 disk drive,” he said, and so that night I took a few and mailed them to me. The next day, I received the following:

With those rough designs, Aardvark went to work and did his thing. The next picture I received was of a rough Raspberry Pi case without any access holes cut out.

To cut the holes, Aardvark said he needed an actual Pi — and so I mailed him one. Paid for it with Paypal and had it shipped directly to him. With the Pi in hand, ‘Vark was able to make the necessary cuts for all of the Pi’s ports. I don’t presume to know how any of this is done. I’m pretty sure black magic is involved.

Thursday when I arrived home from work there was a package waiting for me from Aardvark. Could it be? It was! The case is held together with four tiny flat-head screws. I opened the case and dropped a Raspberry Pi into it. Perfect fit!

I was surprised at how small the case was, but the Pi fits perfectly inside. Here’s the 1541-Pi case assembled, sitting on top of a real Commodore 1541 disk drive.

Food for though: Commodore 1541 floppy disks hold roughly 180k of information. The SD card hanging out of the front of the Raspberry Pi in this picture is an 8gb card which can hold approximately 48,000 Commodore 64 disks.

This weekend I hope to slap a coat of traditional “breadbox brown” paint on the 1541 Pi case, finishing it off. There’s just enough room on the front to add a couple of small red and green lights as well. Old habits die hard. :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Aardvark for this awesome case. I feel compelled to tell you that Aardvark would not accept any money for the case. He only made two of them, and I own half of them. Personally I think ‘Vark should start a Kickstarter to get his own CNC mill for the house. If he does, I will keep him in business for many years to come!

Joe Barlow over at SwordOfPixels.com posted a review of Commodork on his website recently (yesterday).

I wrote and published Commodork back in 2006, so it’s always interesting to see new reviews of the book pop up. Joe’s review echoes what a lot of reviews of Commodork have stated, which is essentially that their personal stories of growing up with calling BBSes mirror my own. I have had people in Germany e-mail me just to tell me that they could totally relate to some of the stories in Commodork. I love hearing things like that.

Joe added Amazon links to Commodork at the end of his review, but you can also order signed copies of the paperback ($14.95 + shipping) and DRM-free PDF copies ($2.99) from my own website at the following link: robohara.com/Commodork

Joe’s Review: http://www.swordofpixels.com/2013/07/book-review-commodork-sordid-tales-from.html

A couple of months back I bought a flat screen television to use as a monitor for some of my old computers. After posting the following picture, the number one response I received was, “nice milk crate.”

While digging around in the garage this weekend I found some scrap wood left behind by the previous owners and decided it would make a nice shelf for the television.

I decided the perfect height would be “two Commodore disk drives, plus an inch or so.” Not very scientific, I know — rounding up, I decided on 8 inches. Once the sides were screwed on I attached a back brace and slathered the entire thing in some white paint that I found out in the garage (also left behind by the previous owners).

After an hour or two of drying out in the sun, it was time to move the shelf inside. Goodbye milk crate, hello shelf!

A couple of months back one of my online friends (Mikey) mentioned to me he was looking to buy a Commodore 64. The next morning I went out to the garage, got one of my remaining spare Commodores, boxed it up and mailed it to him. Although I have run out of spare 1541 drives, Mikey had little trouble picking one up on eBay.

It just so happens that Mikey lives about 10 miles away from the hotel I’ve been staying in for the past several days. Mikey expressed an interest in obtaining some more disks for his his new Commodore system, so I told him while I was out in Greensboro, I would hook him up. In the car I brought with me an additional 1541 drive and my ZoomFloppy. To make sure everything was in working order (and to make sure I remembered how to do it!) I hooked the spare 1541 up to my netbook using the ZoomFloppy and transferred a d64 disk image over to a real floppy.

With everything working properly, I packed everything back up and headed over to Mikey’s house.

Of course when I arrived, my 1541 broke. Of course it did. I mean, why wouldn’t a drive I’ve owned 25 years keep working one more day. Ugh. Fortunately, we were able to use Mikey’s drive to make disk images, even though that turned into a steady stream of swapping cables back and forth since we were making disk images on my rig and testing them on his.

Some of Mikey’s requests included Little Computer People, Wizardry, and Alternate Reality, along with a few skateboarding games (Skate or Die and California Games). Before two long we had a nice pile of floppy disks adding up. This was like a real life old school copyfest!

After several hours of copying, playing, and just chit-chatting, I packed my stuff up and headed back to the hotel, leaving behind me a pile of Commodore warez for Mikey to enjoy. I only brought two boxes of 5 1/4 floppies with me (and no disk notcher — dummy!) but hopefully Mikey will enjoy the games!