The Single Button Joystick

Commodore 64

Suggested journeys for video game pilgrims

by on Sep.25, 2014, under Amiga, Commodore 64, Modern, PC, Retro

Pope Francis wishing for the return of Microprose.

In the last decade, a seemingly wonderful transition has occurred. We no longer need to go to shops to bring home boxes filled with manuals, keyboard overlays and booklets advertising ‘coming Spring 82!’. As much as part of me wishes for those days to return somehow, it’s an important change and it needed to be made. The move to digital is well underway and it doesn’t seem like anything can stop it.

But what of those days of yesteryear? More importantly, where did the games come from? The ideas behind these video games come from people’s imaginations, naturally. While those out there of a religious bent might make pilgrimages to the important place of faith, perhaps the most discerning, dedicated or clinically insane of those video game lovers may wish to follow in their footsteps.

The home of fun!

The home of fun!

Perhaps the first, and most commonly trodden ‘pilgrimage’ is that of to Kyoto. Nearly everyone knows Nintendo and what they represent. While, perhaps for the more serious gamer, Nintendo has come to be a little stale and predictable, there will always be a place in most gamer’s hearts for this Japanese company.

For those who are maybe a bit older, or just followed a different video game path, the old Commodore HQ would be a perfect place to pay your respects. Sadly, Commodore hasn’t existed since the mid 90s and the site is no longer video game related. If I ever visit her, I will leave a 3½ inch disk with a read write error on the grounds and think of the better days. The address is 1200 Wilson Drive, West Chester, Pennsylvania and is now a place where they film cooking advertisements. Oh, how the great have fallen!

The gold C64!

The gold C64!

GSC Gameworld, sadly no longer exists. The creators of the Cossacks and (more famously) the STALKER series were based in Kiev from 1995 to 2011. What I enjoyed about these games were that they used their own country as the setting. Cossacks had a campaign of 17th century Kiev trying to win independence from Poland and Russia. Stalker created an incredibly fleshed out world based on a decaying post Soviet landscape with amazing creatures, atmosphere and even politics. GSC proved to the world that Eastern European developers can make some of the best games available. They are missed. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find the address for their old office, so instead I recommend visiting the crumbling reactor of Chernobyl, around which the game is based. Safe and easy I’m sure.

Oh, I just need to take the lift!

Oh, I just need to take the lift!

If you’re in the area of Kiev, maybe head over to Stockholm and visit Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio. I know they aren’t really nearby, but Paradox have done much to keep hardcore PC strategy gaming alive. Although difficult to get to grips with, the Europa Universalis series has taken historical gaming to new heights, however it is probably with Crusader Kings 2 that they have won my heart. Running a dynasty through assassination, good breeding and blinding your prisoners? What more could you want? I’ve spent at least 3,000 hours playing your games, you wonderful Swedes.

There are countless other minor places to visit, many are companies still in business. Rockstar North (makers of GTA) have their HQ in the middle of Edinburgh, but perhaps you could head further north in Scotland to Dundee. Before the 2000s, Rockstar were called DMA Design and were well known for their breakout game, Lemmings. Pay a visit to Dundee, wear a green wig, climb up a building and get arrested.

BNLAA real pilgrimage for all video gamers would be to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. It is here, that the very first electronic video displayed game was created. William “Willy” A. Higinbotham, a nuclear scientist who’d worked in the Manhattan Project, designed a game in a few weeks for an exhibition. The game, Tennis for two, was a big hit then and at the following year’s visitor’s day. However the game was packed up and forgotten about for over 20 years. It simulated drag, velocity and the angle of the ball when hit. It is a more complicated game than Pong, despite being 20 years older. Tennis for Two is the birth of video games.

Higinbotham’s contribution to the video games industry was recognised in the 80s when Magnavox tried to patent ‘video games’. A lawyer working for Nintendo discovered Higinbotham’s contribution to video games while researching the case. Before his death Higinbotham wished that he be remembered for his work on Nuclear Non Proliferation, rather than an almost accidental contribution to videogames. Truly a person who had their priorities right!

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Got 64 dreams (But a disk drive ain’t one)

by on Mar.31, 2014, under Commodore 64, Retro, Short updates

GizaAncient history is one of my stronger subjects and the study of times long past is fascinating to me. For video game ‘ancient’ history, the end of this period would be ushered in with the release of the behemoth that was Commodore’s ‘64’.

As any retro game fan/computer historian will tell you, the Commodore 64 broke ground when it came to having a computer in the home affordable for everyone. Roughly, the C64 was about ⅕ the price of the contemporary Apple Mac, it was able to do colour and was sold with video game peripherals. Its affordability, capabilities and eventually huge software range would make the C64 the first true mass market computer. It was a very important piece of hardware, as the video game industry had crashed in the USA back in 1983. The C64 filled the gap, by providing a mix of games and office applications. A household could feel that they were buying more than some video console fad.Platoon

My experiences with the Commodore 64 ran well into the 1990s and I often found myself wanting to use this older machine, and not my much newer Amiga 500. Perhaps it was an early wish to be more ‘retro’ on my part, but I remember being slightly disappointed when Dad told me he’d decided to get an Amiga over the older Commodore. As you, dear reader, would be aware, this was not a choice either of us regretted.

Cover SupremeSo it was that my C64 playing would be limited to at my cousin’s, and at a school friend’s house. All in all, I think I’ve spent less than 20 hours playing on a C64, which is not very much at all! Sadly, about 10% of that time would be consumed with waiting for games to load. Yeah, it’s slow.

Two fantastic games I remember were Platoon and Impossible Mission. They had in common a very high level of difficulty! Although Platoon was released on the Amiga, as was the Impossible Mission 2, the C64’s version had a special charm. The step from C64 to Amiga is similar to that of the NES to SNES. The crisp chiptune sounds were generally traded in for a higher quality but still rudimentary set of digital effects. It’s hard to explain, but although the Amiga and SNES are technically far superior, the result is often less lovable.

Pit Stop 2 was also fantastic, although I always blew out my tires and only rarely could I beat my cousin. I have mentioned this before, but the Epyx games on the C64 had some fantastic covers, some of the best of all time in my opinion.

I may end up buying a C64 in the mid term because I feel like I missed out on this formative part of video game playing history. I had better make sure to get a disk drive version or the loading times will have me pulling my hair out!

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A World of Chesscraft…offline.

by on Mar.04, 2014, under Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM and Compatibles, Retro

I always loved this screen.

I always loved this screen.

She sits at the top of the high places above the city. She is restless and determined. She girds her loins with strength. Her feet stay not in her house. She moves in every direction and into every corner. Her evolutions are wonderful, her spirit untiring. How comely are her footsteps as she moves diagonally, one step after another, from square to square!

-12th century Spanish Hebrew text,

 

Battle Chess (BC) was a stalwart of my earliest Amiga years. Having no set of my own, this game served to be my only regular outlet for my chess needs.Battle Chess

This game has been with me my whole game playing life, likely one of the first games we got from my uncle upon purchasing an Amiga. I mean, Chess is one of the oldest games, so why not make it one of the first you own on your new computer box?

The BC AI was always difficult to beat (more on that later) and it could be relied upon for a challenge. Since I am an only child, this was very important! What set BC apart from other Chess games was its animation.

She could move where she wanted!

She could move where she wanted!

When moving a piece, they walk around like people. No bases, no sliding along the board, just straight walking. Pawns are little Squires, Knights are literally armoured knights and so forth. The most interesting piece in an aesthetic sense is the Rook. Rather than simply use a moving tower, the developers decided it should become a hulking rock monster, resembling a golem. Many Pawns have met their doom at the hands of this monster.

This brings me to BC’s crowning achievement, the combat. When a piece is taken a brief (sometimes not) animation takes place, representing the combat. Rooks smash, Knights slice and Bishops can often show their crafty side with a ninja like display with their crosier. The King, in the rare occasions when they take a piece, show a variety of tricks, from a box of magic powder to a 16th century style pistol.

Fittingly, it is the queen who is the most entertaining. A powerful sorceress, she shoots fireballs and can shrink her opponents to a more manageable size. It is also hinted that the queen is a dragon. What a twist!

I am Bart...

I am Bart…

However, I feel this game  provided a great disservice. By making some of funniest and cleverest animations for when pieces are taken, Battle Chess made the game more about setting up moves, eg Pawn takes Queen. and not playing and learning the real game of chess. Maybe I am just bad at looking more than one move ahead.

 To make sense of the title, Battle Chess was one of the earliest games that Silicone and Synapse went to work on, making a version for windows and the Commodore 64. They would later call themselves Blizzard.

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Bundle in a Box strikes again with the Deep Space Bundle!

by on Sep.22, 2012, under Amiga, Commodore 64, Modern, PC, Retro

This looks easily as good as the last bundle! So impressed with the new version of Armalyte, it was already getting old when I was a new Amiga owner.

Only a week left!

In space no one can hear you bundle. In Deep Space, however, you can definitely enjoy eight excellent indie games for a pay-what-you-want price as the second bundle by Kyttaro Games(http://www.kyttarogames.com) , Bundle In A Box: Deep Space (http://www.bundle-in-a-box.com/) finally got released. It’s the only thematic bundle around, will last for 14 days and offer all games as DRM-free downloads (but not exclusively so; most games are also available on Desura and/or Steam ).

Bundle In A Box is about …

… exclusive new games making their debut.

Gamers will for the first time get to play Rob Fearon’s Death Ray Manta; a psychedelic and fully customizable arena shooter specifically created for Bundle In A Box.

…  great indie games.

Paying anything above $0.99 will get gamers:

Death Ray Manta (PC/Mac)

 

 

 

 

 

-Llamasoft’s demented Space Giraffe (PC/Steam)

 

 

 

 

 

-frenetic space-combat sim The Wreckless (PC/Mac/Desura)

 

 

 

 

 

surreal RPG/adventure Dark Scavenger (PC/ Mac/Desura)

 

 

 

 

 

-the official remake of the Commodore 64 classic Armalyte (PC).

 

 

 

 

 

…  even more games.

Paying above the average price will allow gamers to enjoy three more excellent games and a selection of interactive Armalyte extras. Said games are:

-stunning space-shooter Sol: Exodus (PC/Steam/Desura)

-just released 2.5D arcade offering Miner Wars Arena (PC/Mac/Desura)

-humorous platformer RobotRiot (PC/Mac/Desura).

…  directly supporting upcoming game developers.

$10 will be added to our Indie Dev Grant for every 100 sales and the whole sum will be awarded to a developer selected by vote; no strings will be attached as to how the grant will be used.

… charity.

5% of all revenues will be shared with the Hellenic Centre for Mental Health and Treatment of Child and Family.

What’s more, for each 1000 bundles sold new extras will be unlocked for everyone, including the premier issue of the PlaySF sci-fi gaming magazine, the brand new Dark Scavenger soundtrack, the soundtracks of Sol: Exodus and Miner Wars, and an eclectic selection of books, artbooks and storyboards.

As an added bonus, all who purchase the bundle will get access to exclusive content for Droidcape: Basilica (http://www.kyttarogames.com/?page_id=384); KyttaroGames’ own upcoming game for iOS and Android. The top 10 contributors will also get a free copy of the game itself upon release, whereas the Droidscape: Into the Basilica book will be made available as an unlockable extra.

Oh, and do expect a few surprises down the road too…

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Jack Tramiel 1928-2012

by on Apr.14, 2012, under Commodore 64, Retro

Last week, the computer industry lost one of its heavyweights. Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International, died aged 83. Unlike Steve Jobs, who was taken decades before his full run, we can marvel at the gamut of Tramiel’s achievements, knowing (as far as we can) that he finished his work on this Earth.

Wow, I didn’t know this would turn into a philosophy blog!

Tramielwas a very colourful and divisive character during the earlier years of the Personal Computer. Born in 1928 into a Jewish family in Poland, he survived the Auschwitz death camps, but like so many others lost most of his family. After

Commodore Tramiel

working for the US Army repairing typewriters he decided to go into business for himself.

He’d founded Commodore as initially an importer of typewriters, then adding machines. However by the 60’s he’d worked out (correctly) that there was soon to be no use for these products and that Japan was too difficult to compete against in these areas.

While much is made of the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it was really Tramiel and Commodore who began the pricing war that made personal commuters affordable. ‘For the masses not the classes’  Tramiel once proclaimed and it is something he pushed very hard. A Commodore 64 was US$595 on launch, expensive but still within the reach of most Americans, West Europeans and Australasians. The Apple Macintosh, released two years later was priced at an alarming US$2,495, affordable by only the four richest Kings of Europe, if my knowledge of the 1980s is correct. Apple did not take part in the price war, but it ended up nearly ruining Commodore. However they were in a commanding position for the rest of the eighties having surged ahead of all of its competition.

The Tramiel pricing war finished off Atari in its original form, but surprisingly, he ended up acquiring it in 1984 as Tramiel had left Commodore earlier that year. He effectively resurrected his former rival and was running the company while Atari developed their ST, the BITTER rival to the Commodore Amiga.

So I will pour one out to this amazing man. While he was not present during the Commodore’s Amiga years, I doubt there would have been an Amiga without his vital input and drive. Affordable home computing owes much to this man and his aggressive marketing and shrewd business sense.

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An Underhanded Undersea Odyssey.

by on Sep.27, 2011, under Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM and Compatibles, Modern, PC, Retro

He turned to look at me, put his finger to his lips and said ‘shhhh, depth charges.’

Noise free, proud to be.

I remember walking into the study (a tiny room from which I am typing) and seeing my Dad, a submarine captain. Japanese Destroyers were above us and nearly sunk our sub over the next ten minutes; Ten minutes where we only spoke in whispers. I don’t know if the whispering helped our cause, but Dad managed to pull the damaged sub away from the Japanese and made for home. This scenario happened a couple of times and it enforced the mentality: Silence ruled under these simulated waves and it was something I wanted to try. Thus began my first foray into this undersea world with 1987’s Silent Service. The Amiga version that took me into the briny deep was a significant upgrade on the C64 and Spectrum versions from two years, though the graphics and sound still left a lot of work for the imagination. At the time, these limitations made no difference to the tense atmosphere the game created. The variety of ships to sink was very small, and disappointingly battleships were not included, but as a result I now love me some submarines.

As a weapon of war, they are often misunderstood in the media.  Australia is still shocked that a single Japanese mini sub penetrated Sydney harbour and missed a stationary USS Chicago with two torpedoes. This is common knowledge to almost every Australian, but I’d wager next to no-one would know about the hugely successful United States Navy submarine campaign. Even with hugely defective torpedoes for the first 18 months of the conflict, the “Silent Service” brought Japan’s resource empire to its knees. However it was a conflict I grew up with, because of my beloved Amiga 500.

A decade later I can still sink em'!

The aptly named Silent Service II: Serve Silenter* continued my love for underwatery adventures. It was an excellent game and sequel, improving on its predecessor in all areas. Disappointingly, the game ran too slowly, as my old A500 was showing its age. I didn’t really go crazy for it until I found a copy for my first PC several years later. The smoother experience and quicker loading times really allowed me to get deeper into the game and actually play it properly.

Although I had many successes with SSII, one particular encounter stands out. I had found a large convoy fairly close to Japan, the war was still going fierce so it was probably 1943 sometime. What made this convoy special and unlike any other I had seen, was that it had only one troop ship, being escorted by around six destroyers of varying size. I managed to evade the escorting ships and sink the troop transport, making my escape undetected. After reviewing my combat log, I found that the Troop Ship was worth nearly over 1,200 points 25% more than the Super Battleship Yamato. It left me wondering WHO was on that ship? Hitler meeting Emperor Hirohito with Mussolini doing the cooking.

My Captain would have looked similar

Soon after this amazing patrol, when that career ended, my Captain had amassed a truly dazzling array of medals and commendations; Five Naval Unit Commendations, Five Presidential Unit Commendations, twice awarded the Medal of Honor and a whole host of other award. With this level of heroism, even Mormons would shout this captain a beer. In that last campaign, I was playing it on near realistic difficulty and the rewards reflected that, however it was hardly a difficult game once I had it ‘figured out’.

In stark contrast, my experiences with 2005’s  Silent Hunter III on the PC were bathed in horror. By no means was being a submariner in the US navy an easy job, but in comparison, Uboating for the Germans was a death sentence. 30,000 of the 40,000 that served in the Uboats did not return home. Despite knowing this, I’ve started four or five campaigns and they’ve mostly ended up the same way. I do really well and sink many-a-ship in the first 18 months, then the fun turns to repeated deaths at the hands of the professional submarine killers that are the Royal Navy. Its sequel, the sadly buggy Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific took me back to the almost friendly atmosphere of the Pacific, where the Japanese will lose, no matter what you do.

It is easier to play on the side that won the war.

Who knew?!

*not the real title

 

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