Amiganuts! POWER!

Today, I saved the life of my Amiga 1200. And I’m slightly relieved.

I’ve typed on here several times about my love of the Amiga 1200, the computer I received on Xmas Day 1993. But what do I mean about saving its life? I removed the battery. Yep, that’s it. I took the battery out. “Hang on”, says both of the Amiga aficionados reading this, “The Amiga didn’t have a battery”. Well, mine did, because I bought a memory expansion which also shipped with a real-time clock, and obviously, a battery backup for it.

Back in 2007, I dragged my Amiga out for a quick play, to see if a problem with the video circuitry had fixed itself in the 10 years it had been in storage. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t and my screen was still just a jumbled mess. OH WELL. Back in the cupboard it went.

Years went by, and that cupboard fell pretty much out of action. Certain room reorganisations, and knowing there wasn’t much stuff in that particular cupboard meant it wasn’t really accessible anymore. But my Amiga was safe in storage.

Fast forward to 2013. Dave Jones, aka EEVBlog, posted a video about an old Archimedes computer he’d been sent. The video was going great, until he’d opened it up and found that the RTC battery had leaked, completely eating away at most of the circuitry, including the ROM sockets and keyboard connections, turning the machine into a beautiful, yet pricey paperweight. My heart sank. I knew my Amiga had what looked like the same battery, and although that machine was older, it wasn’t MUCH older, and the clock battery in my Amiga hadn’t been changed since I installed the expansion board in 1995, pushing it up to 22 years. That thing must have been a goner.

I spoke to Daddykins about something random, and I mentioned about my Amiga and leaking batteries. I was surprised to find the cupboard now slightly more accessible. Enough to squeeze an arm in, and pull out an Amiga, anyway. Maybe he’d realised I was right, and the little Miggy was worth saving!

I precariously opened the underside door on the machine to see what grotty state the board was in…. Aaand.

Not a speck of corrosion. And yes, I’d taken the battery out before I’d taken this, but it was still in there, and came out perfectly shiny.

So, my Amiga might live to fight another day. If I can get that graphics issue fixed.

I have much more to say about this fantastic machine, so stay tuned for some more inane rambling shortly… Bet you can’t wait.

The Speccy turns 30!

Happy birthday to what must be Sir Clives’ greatest invention, the ZX Spectrum. Originally rubber-keyed and with 16K of memory (I’ve written longer blog posts!), the Speccy went on to be one of the largest selling computers during the 1980s, and to a lesser extent, the 1990s.

But, you already knew that, and as Glen suggested on Farcebook, I should write a bog about it. I’ll base it around my own memory, and quite an extensive one at that.

I remember Daddykins coming in from work with a huge box under his arm. It was meant to be for my upcoming 5th birthday, but seeing as I’d already seen it, I was given it early. Imagine my excitement. I was fascinated by Ceefax (RIP) at such an early age, and to be able to have my very own computer at that age was a dream come true. It was probably this, that made my parents get me the computer. I’d received it with a load of “educational” games such as ‘Learn to Read III’, “Alphabet Games”, “Magnets”, “Make a Chip” and a number of other games. I could probably name them all, but I’d be here all day, and I’m going to the pub in a few hours, that’s not going to happen.

The first game that was bought for it, came on the same night we’d received it. It was a simple, turn based strategy game called “Viking Raiders“. Daddykins had picked it up from the local newsagents. Imagine that, buying a game the same time you buy a paper…

I’m amazed at such an early age, how much I taught myself about programming, entirely subconsciously. There’d be many times I’d press the Break key and alter games to make them easier. One of these was the afore-mentioned “Alphabet Games”. If you altered one of the lines which contained the graphics of the mouse character and placed it with a load of nonsensical gibberish, you could score a whole load of points more than what you were supposed to. This game also became the first time I had ever experienced tape-tangle. Cassette tapes were never the sturdiest of media, and obviously I know that now, but the noises it made when it went funny, and the sight of loose tape everywhere scarred me for a good few months. I remember having to get Daddykins to load my tapes because I was scared I’d break it again. I’m happy to report that the game still worked, and I’d like to know if it still works, except I have no idea where my tapes are.

Next up on the “games bought” list was a compilation… “They Sold a Million“, with Sabre Wulf, Beach HEad, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Jet Set Willy. Each of them classic games in their own right. Only two of the games worked properly. Beach Head suffered from bad mastering which meant the Speccy rarely picked up the signal on the tape, and Sabre Wulf suffered some tape damage, though this was several years into owning it. One of my last Speccy memories involve actually fixing the tape and getting it to play only once.

Of course, it wasn’t long after owning the machine that Daddykins started getting interested in it too. He would often spend a night or so using it to type in program listings from magazines. He also knew friends with Spectrums, and lots of games, therefore our collection of C15s was started.

The permanent home was in the kitchen. It started off on a little white B+W TV, (you know the type if you were a child of the 80s), eventually, the TV was upgraded to a portable colour Saisho variant. This was where I spent many happy days during my childhood…

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Of course, my time with the spectrum was not all fun and games. At some point, during 1987 / 1988, I’d discovered the brilliant colour effects you could get if you pulled the joystick port out of the back while the system was on. I wanted to show this to one of my friends at the time, William. He came over, and I said “Watch this!”.. On went the system, out went the joystick port, flash went the funky colours. He seemed stunningly unimpressed, yet I enjoyed the light show. I’d do what I did many times, and unplug the Speccy to reset it. I did this, and…. garbage. Instead of getting the familiar RAM test (black bars, red lines), all I got was yellow garbage on the screen… another power cycle, another set of garbage. I could have cried. In fact I probably did. I was good at crying back then, as Chad often points out on here.

What was I going to do without my beloved computer? Thankfully, Chad’s parents step in and offer my parents their old Commodore 16 while my Speccy was away for repair. Around the same time, Chad also received a Spectrum 128K. It was the superior version of the 48K I had, but with an extra toast rack on the side. I’ve always wanted to own one of those particular machines, but as they were as rare as rocking horse shite (his was the only one I ever saw “in the flesh” for want of a better phrase) I suppose I never will. This meant that the rest of my childhood were spent playing Soccer Boss with his brother, Scott, and receiving dodgy C90s filled with the latest games which I’d never be able to afford, and being mocked by Chad because the cassette tapes I used stunk of cheese. No, they really did.

So, it’s 2012, 30 years ago today, people would have been queuing up to get their hands on Mr. Sinclair’s rubbery offerings. 30 years on, I’m proud to still be a Speccy owner, and although I don’t use my Spectrum anymore, I still have it, and will never part with it. Unfortunately, too many Spectrums will have met the same fate as this one…

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Here’s to you, Clive Sinclair, and of course Daddykins, who also shares his birthday with the machine. Happy birthday Dad!

An update on my Steam purchases

Wow, I never thought, that at any point, I’d turn part of this site into some type of games review. I’ve never had time for them. I’d buy the odd game, and then never play it. I still have games I bought years ago, still wrapped in their plastic. Armed and Dangerous, anyone? I have that. On my shelf, still sealed.

Since my discovery of Steam a while ago, I’ve purchased many games. Quite a few of them cheap “indie” games, but a couple of full-price ones too.

You may remember my post a few months ago regarding my recent purchases from the afore-mentioned software distribution site… well, there’s been more since then.

Altitude – £3.49

I’d previously downloaded the demo, but didn’t rate it, probbaly because you couldn’t do much. Back then, it just looked like a cartoony shoot-em-up involving planes, with a bit of a dodgy control system.

Football was on the television the other day, and I needed something interesting to do. There was a “free weekend” of Altitude, where you got the full game for a weekend. It’s not a powerful game, so I was able to install it on my laptop. Even better was the fact it actually supported the Xbox 360 controller, meaning that my previous worries about the control system were solved.

I played through the training levels, and found myself actually enjoying the game. I connected online for the first time, and found myself enjoying the game even more. The more I played, the more I killed and unlocked new planes. A small sense of achievement was… erm, achieved, each time a plane fell out of the sky thanks to my gunfire.

Longevity is a bit of a question with this one, though. Will I still play it in a months time?

Just Cause 2 – £18.44 (inc. DLC)

No multiplayer in this one, but as a question of longevity… why, yes, I’ll still be playing it in a month. I’ll probably still play it in a year. It’s one of the best games I’ve played.

There’s no point going into the storyline. I could do, but I’d be here for literally minutes. The storyline, to me anyway is… blow shit up and kill the guys in uniform. And there’s a lot of shit to blow up. This game is absolutely massive. For some reason, it was half-price on Steam, and I really shouldn’t have bbought it. The demo ran awfully on my machine. It wasn’t until I’d clicked the “purchase” button that I realised how bad it run. Despite uttering “fuckshitpiss” for the entire length of the download process, I ran the game and found that yes, it also ran awfully. 30 seconds later, after adjusting the graphics settings accordingly, I had a working game!

This one suited mouse/keyboard controls, so I was able to get into it pretty quickly.

I’ve never experienced a time-eating game, but a few weeks ago, while Daddykins was away, I literally lost an entire day. The house was empty, so I didn’t bother getting dressed. I sat in my computer chair, naked, at approximately 8AM. Next time I looked at the clock, it was 4PM, and I was still naked. None of you needed to know that, I just thought I’d add the “cannot be unseen” element to this post.

You can also get mods for it, apparently.

I’ve just realised I’ve not described the gameplay at all in these few paragraphs. never mind, eh?

Chime – £3.99

Literally, a new release, coming out on September 6th, I bought this, oddly without downloading any demo, or knowing anything about the game, except the fact I knew I would like it. My instinct was spot on, I love it.

Gameplay is hard to describe without referring to Tetris, and a little-known arcade game called “Block Hole”, released by Konami in 1989. The premise of *that* game was to make quadrangles of any size – partial shapes would fall down, and you’d fill them in to make quadrangles.

Chime is similar in that you have to make quadrangles, enough to fill a large grid the size of the screen. Each piece you lay is 5 grid blocks in size. Make a quadrangle over some of the squares, those grid blocks are filled in. Ultimately, create a quadrangle on each block of the grid, you complete the level.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as that. You have 6 tracks of different tempo to choose from, each with its unique speed, grid shape, and block shape. Certain elements are controlled by a visible white bar that sweeps across the grid.

As I mentioned, each block is 5 grid sizes in length. If you complete a quadrangle, you get a certain amount of time to add pieces to it, building your score. After that time, if you fail to add to the quadrangle, you score the points, and you can’t add any more blocks to those grid locations until the white bar passes over them. You then get a limited amount of passes of the white bar before you lose your multiplier bonuses, and the pieces disappear.

Thankfully, the white bar also does good. If you have an active quadrangle, you will get an extra sample of music, adding to whichever track you’re playing. Sometimes this is a good thing, fitting in perfectly, but sometimes, it can sound like, as someone else described it, “a baby hitting a keyboard”.

Some of the music is pretty awesome. Now, I know that coming from me, that’s a bad sign, but I really mean it. Tracks are included by some well known artists, such as Moby, Philip Glass, and one of the guys from Orbital, Paul Hartnoll. The latter is my personal favourite track.

A lot of you will remember the “bonus” track featured in the PC version… “Still Alive” by Jonathan Coulton. I’m a bit amazed to notice that my version of Audiosurf also came with this track, which I’ve only just noticed a few seconds ago. Anyway, you should remember this was the end music in the original Portal. I’m shit at that game, so I’ll probably never complete it.

If I’ve not explained any of the above very well, then tough. Buy it. It’s simple to get into, and infuringatingly difficult to master, and some of your money will go to childrens charities. 5% of it… which works out at.. 20p?

Actually, speaking of Portal…

Portal – £0.00

Well, I got it free, and got up to level 15, then found it too hard. Still, I can listen to the important part of the soundtrack in two other games, so there’s no incentive to complete it.