Ghosts of Christmas Presents – 1993

There’s not a lot I can say about this that I haven’t already said. This was the year my life changed for the better. I got my Amiga 1200! I think I’ve rambled on about this now so much that all I can do is repeat myself, but… I think it’s worth going through again in case I missed something out. Plus, I’m sure my old readers have got bored of these and buggered off by now. This will be the last one, so months of silence will once again prevail, I’m sure.

So, 1993 was the year I’d made friends with a lad called Ste. He had an Amiga 600. At this point, I was either still beavering my way through the stack of C64 disks I had, or fumbling by way through my ageing ZX Spectrum tape collection. I was still stuck in the 8-bit era.

Ste had introduced me to the Amiga, and the greatness that lay within. There was, of course… ahem… “Dulux Paint 2” and its picture of Tutankhamun. It was more the games I was interested in, however. I was blown away with ‘Indianapolis 500’, and the fact the cars actually smashed when you hit them. Little polygon bits would fly about the screen. Also, the floppy disk load times were immeasureably quicker than the Commodore 64 that had a well-documented bug that slowed the loading times from disk.

Ste had the A600. Imagine my surprise and delight when Iripped open the wrapping paper on December 25th 1993 and found the model up, the A1200 staring back at me! This was everything I’d dreamed of, and more. More colours, mome memory. More keyboard! It looked, and felt like a proper computer.

The included games were…. naff. Two of them, namely ‘Oscar‘, and ‘Dennis‘. Those links open longplays of both games if you’re *really* bored.

If you can’t be arsed clicking, Oscar was a character with a weird shaped head, where you had to go around collecting film cannisters in a platformy universe. It was okay, I suppose. My favourite of the two. Dennis, however, was just a waste of two disks. It was based on the American version of “Dennis the Menace”. Some blond haired kid always getting up to mischief, trampling his neighbours flowers and inane stuff like that. It was not entertaining, and I’m pretty sure I formatted the disks shortly after, and used them for something else.

For me though, it wasn’t about the games, it was more about the utilities. The machine game with Dulux Paint 3 (yes, I know it’s Deluxe Paint, but that misnomer still makes me laugh to this day) which was a a step up from the previous version. My ‘expanded’ Amiga meant I had 256 colours to choose from. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was the first thing I loaded up on the machine. There was also Wordworth. A word procrssor. Not exactly exciting back in the day, but coupled with a printer I got much later, this became an essential application.

At the first opportunity, Daddykins and I went and got the ‘essentials’. My Christmas money went on 40 blanks disks from Argos, a copy of Amiga Format, issue 55, an Amiga guidebook, and a copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music! 1986” on cassette. I’d hazard a guess that this particular issue of Amiga Format was their biggest ever seller. For those of you who follow the blog on a regular basis, I buy batches of disks off ebay occasionally, and there’s always a copy of that coverdisk amongst them, namely Diskmaster II. A pretty basic file manager, used for copying files and stuff like that. Not the most exciting piece of software. The guidebook was also pretty useless. I don’t think it told me anything that I didn’t already know within 15 minutes of operating the machine on my own.

Another friend, also called Ste Ilet’s call him Ste 2), introduced me to the world of games a few days later. I remember being around his house when he slipped in some disks named “Cannon Fodder”. The disk drive clicked enthusiastically. He turned the speakers up… “WAR! Never been so much fun!”. If my mind was blown away by Flimbo’s Quest a couple of years prior, I think I’d just gone even more bong-eyed than I already was. Essentially, a full song played digitally from a floppy disk.

Ste 2 has, of course, moved on, but he lived on the main road through Hartlepool at the time. I still pass his old house on a daily basis, and think of that very moment.

Personally, I’d go so far as to say this was the best Xmas gift I ever received. It was unexpected, it got years worth of use. It certainly guided to where I am with computers today. As the years went on, I got a hard drive for it, and as you know, I’ve created an image of that hard drive which still exists to this day.

Sadly, the Amiga itself is not a well puppy.It’s got some type of graphics fault. I took these photos back in 2007, the last time I switched it on.

This is supposed to be the boot-intro to Spindizzy Worlds. My Amiga, during storage, has developed a fault in the video side of things, so all you see is this mix of colours, with an unstable screen
Everything else works, as the sound continues to play.
I’m yet to find out whether it’s a terminal fault which can’t be replaced. I hope not

And that’s that. If you’re reading this on the day it was published, many thanks for taking the time away from your family to sift through my inane ramblings. I wish you and yours all the best for the rest of the festive season, and of course, 2024, where I’m sure I’ll bore you senseless with more inane crap!

Ghosts of Christmas Presents -1991

This was a special year for me. I was the lucky recipient of not one, but two major presents this year. It’s also bittersweet, as we didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the last Christmas where we would all be a family. Anyway, the two big prezzies this year were my first proper hi-fi, and a Commodore 64.

1991 was the year that I first started collecting music properly. My dad used to install and fix TVs for a well-known rental company. Every so often, he would get some old electronics that a previous owner was going to get rid of. In the summer of 1991, he brought home an old cast-ff music centre from the 70s. I had clearly shown my interest in music at the time, so this was given to me, and it stayed in my room. Just like the tape player a couple of years before, I got some old hand-me-down records from my dad, and I’d play them all the time.

In August 1991, I bought my first ever record to play on it, ‘Secret Garden’ by T’Pau.

It was clear though that this needed an upgrade. It sounded horrible, and it probably took a small power station to run it. So, with the music bug now firmly implanted in my brain, and a small stack of records to call my own, I asked Santa for a new Hi-fi.

Thankfully, he provided, once again somehow managing to squeeze this massive box down our then newly-built chimney. And here’s me, Xmas day 1991 with the hi-fi in the big box behind me.

And here it is, in all its glory.

I’ve talked about the hi-fi on here before, so I won’t go too in-depth. It had the ‘Alba’ badge on it, and anyone who recognises this name will know that it was built on a budget, shall we say. Still ,it worked, and I absolutely loved it. My first big hifi, and one with a record player that didn’t sound like someone eating a bag of crisps through a mattress. It consisted of a record player, digital radio (which wasn’t exactly digital – you still changed frequency by an analogue wheel, but the output appeared on a red 7-segment display), a graphic equaliser (fancy!) and two tape decks (count ’em”) No CD player, but there was space for one, with phono inputs on the back.

As I said, I didn’t really have a big record collection at the time. My pocket money never really stretched far enough for albums, so they were mainly just singles. As was tradition at the time, we went over to see my late aunty Linda, who kindly offered to loan me some of her old singles. It was the first time I’d heard of some of these songs, namely “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, and who could forget “Shaddap You Face” by Joe Dolce. All new songs to me on that very day! This started my rrecod collecting off en earnest. I’m pretty sure I got some records off a relative at a later date, the majority of those I still have.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention. I gone one tape with the hi-fi. I believe this was from my cousin Julie. A copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music! 20”. I loved this album, and it still remails my gavourite Now album. To be honest, I think everyone’s first Niw album is their favourite, but this one has such an ecletic mix of songs, it’s hard to put it into words. I still have the tapes, and in fact, I managed to pick it up on CD earlier this year.

And onto the Commodore 64. It was a machine that had been out for 9 years this point. Every few years, they’d ‘revamp’ it, and try to make it relevant again. O believe this one was one of the last versions released before it was discontinued.

It came with 4 games on one ROM cartridge. Flimbo’s Quest, Klax, Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top O’Fun and… International Soccer, I believe.

I instantly took a shine to Klax. A puzzler, a bit like Tetris, where blocks come at you from a conveyor belt. You have to drop them into a hopper below, then rearrange them to make matches of 3, 4 or 5, causing them to disappear. You can only hold 5 on your paddle at one time, so it’s a clever balancing act of getting blocks you want to make a line, holding on for ones until later, and making sure no blocks fall over the edge. Drop three over the edge, and the game’s over. This was colourful, and fun to play. I still fire the arcade version up in MAME every so often.

Flimbo’s Quest was a revelation to me. It was the first time I’d heard the SID chip in action. After growing up with a ZX Spectrum with nothing more than a tinny beeper, it was a world apart. The title screen music still remains one of my favourite bits of computer music to this day.

Fiendish Freddy’s big top o’ Fun wasn’t exactly fun. It was more of an act of frustration than an actual game. Compete in events such as diving into a pool of water, but the pool gets smaller each time. You have to guide the diver left and right and fire just as you’re getting close to the water. That was just one of about 6 or 7 events. Think ‘Daley Thompson’s Decathlon’ but set in a circus. It wasn’t great.

The least memorable was “International Soccer”. A very basic football game, with chunky graphics and barely any gameplay to think or. It certainy didn’t push the machine to its limits, however small they may have been. It was as if there was only a small abount of ROM left, so they just threw in any old crap from the archives. 2 great games, one mediocre, and one space-filler. Apparently, it also came with “Tau Ceti” on tape for some reason, a game that I never quite got my head around.

Despite the limitations of the C64 at this time, I did enjoy it. I ended up getting quite a few games, mainly off covertapes and budget releases.

At some point, either later that year, or early the next, we got another C64, mainly because it had the 1541 disk drive advertised with it, and an absolute shed-ton of floppy disks. I don’t think I got to the end of exploring the disks when that C64 died. It would just show an unsynched black screen. Apparently this was a common failure in the old C64s and usually just needed an IC replacing, but still, I had the new one. The old one did eventually get repaired again, but it wasn’t lokg before it blew another IC, and this time it was curtains. The local computer shop had stopped repairing them, and the internet didn’t exist back then (not to me, anyway), so getting it fixed was also impossible.

The newer C64 soldiered on for a while longer before it developed a keyboard fault, with two columns of keys not working. I did open it up and try and fix it, just in case it was the ribbon cable or something, but alas not. I have no idea what happened to that C64. I don’t think I kept it. I wish I had though, it’d probably be fun to get the old hardware out and give it a blast again.

Cleaning Amiga floppy disks – success!

It seems an extremely long time since I’ve updated this with any Amiga stuff, so I thought I’d do a quick update.

It’s a disgustingly wet August Saturday, and I’ve recently been accumulating more Amiga disks off ebay, and imaging them with the good old Greaseweazle, which is still going strong.

As part of the process of imaging them, I’m also grabbing the file listings off the disk, and putting them into a database. This is, so far, a long laborious procedure, and at the moment, I don’t know what purpose it’s going to serve, but doing this at least gives me a chance to test that the disks have ripped successfully, at least to a point.

Anyway, as the afore-mentioned weather is cack, I thought I’d spend an hour or two goiung through some of my recent images and getting rhe file listings. Anyway, after about 4 disks, I got the dreaded “read error” message one one of the disks I’d imaged.

Not fun. I loaded up hxc to check the disk image in a more thorough way, and sure enough, there were two bad sections of the disk, one on each side.

I went through and checked the disk, and there they were… mould spots.

Ugh. The bain of any old media collector. It’s just something that happens. These disks must be… oooh, dunno. 30 years old now, so any slightest but of organic material that’s crept on the disk in that time has obviously been taken over.

I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on this when the disk was getting images. A mould spot this severe would have definitely created a tell-tale noise when the disk was being imaged – a definitive click-click-click as the mould spot makes contact with the head, about once every 1/20 of a second.

Anyway, I had hopes of resurrecting this one. I took a tiny bit of IPA on the end of a cotton bud, and very lightly rubbed the surface. You don’t want to put any pressure on at all. The surface of the disk needs to be perfectly flat, and any slight ripple in the surface will render the disk useless and the data gone.

I didn’t get any pictures of this, so I don’t think you need much of an imagination to picture what I did.

Thankfully, the mould was no match for the IPA, and within seconds, it was lifted. I used the dry side of the cotton bud to remove any possible residue, and left it to dry for a couple of minutes. Obviously, IPA dries on its own really quickly, but the last time I tried this, I must have put far too much on and ruined the disk, and possibly didn’t help the drive much either.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is worth two in a bush, so did the disk actually work after I’d tried all this?

Oh, I’d say that was a success.

As a side note, I know I was holding the disk myself. I’m aware that you can buy little disk cleaning cradles that will hold the shutter open for you while you do this. I actually have one, but didn’t have it to hand when I did this.

Back To the Greaseweazle

A title that makes this sounds like either the greatest movie of all time, or quite possibly the worst. Anyway, as the title suggests, I have returned to imaging some more Amiga disks that turned up on ebay. I think I’m up to my 7th batch, and they seem to get better with each iteration. The last ones I purchased appeared on ebay a few weeks ago, and some of the disks themselves sertainly piqued my interest. They were slightly different to the normal batches of copied disks and coverdisks. I have plenty of those now, but these looked like they actually had some “productive” stuff on them, at least some interesting utilities that I could install.

There was one disk, however, that certainly piqued my interest…

3,000 database records… the previous owner had even taken the time to say how full the disk was, and how long it took to load. Sadly, no mention of what software was going to be used to open it.

The box arrived. I feverishly opened the box, and looked for this particular disk. There is was, in all its shiny blue glory. The Greaseweazle let out a little cry of pain, as I stuck the USB cable into its back passage. I fired the software up, and within minutes, I had an image of the disk. I loaded it up, aaaaand….

Yep, the previous owner had thoughtfully formatted the disk! I could have cried. Ofcourse, anyone who knows anything about computers knows that formatting a disk doesn’t actually delete anything, it simply clears the areas of the disk such as the file allocatuion table, or whatever the Amiga equivalent was. The data is usually still there.

Aware of this, I opened “DiskSalv”. As the name suggests, it salvages data from disks… no other way of making that interesting, really. I let it work its magic, and within a minute or so, it had recovered the files!

This is where the trail went slightly cold. I had the files, but didn’t know how to open them. the file names didn’t ring any bells, it certainly wasn’t anything I’d used before. Helpfully, the next disk in the box was labelled as the following!

Now, I won’t waste much time on this, because… the disk was once again formatted so I went through the same procedure of salvaging, but sadly, the only file on the disk was unusable. I might dig into it a bit later, but I have a feeling the file is corrupt.

About 5 seconds of forensic investigation led me to find that the database would open in a package called “Mini Office 2″…10 seocnds of downloading, and 10 minutes of trying to get the bastard thing to boot. Eventually, there it was! Mini Office in all its glory, and the database turned out to be someone’s music collection!

Oddly, the majority of the records appear to be duplicated over and over again.
Maybe the previous owner was using it to “benchmark” his Amiga, hence the writing on the lebel?

Of course, this is very likely something I’ll never find out. There’s plenty more disks in this box for me to go through, but I doubt they’ll be as interesting (for want of a better word) than this one. Meh, it kept me entertained for a few hours at least.

I bought a new Amiga!

In the year 2022, you’d think it’d be impossible to walk into a shop, and pick up a brand new Amiga 500 off the shelf…. Well, that’s what you’d think if you don’t follow the world of the retro reproductions, but yes, last year, a company called “Retro Games” brought out a mini Amiga, much in the line of similar devices, such as the mini archade machines, and mini consoles that have came out over the last few years.

Now, I’ve known about this for quite a few months, and watched quite a few videos on it, but have never seen one in the shops until this weekend. Besides, a certain chain of betting shops have been very good to me recently, and due to the sad news of our dear old Queen Liz passing, and my place of employment wanting some poor saps to cover the bank holiday (this wasn’t through choice, might I add), I have a little more disposible income this month., so I’m considering this a gift to myself…

So, as the box says, it comes with 25 games, a mouse, a joypad, and the dinky little Amiga itself. It does come with a USB-C power cable, but no adapter. To be honest, if you’re interested in this product, you’re going to be swimming in the bloody things anyway, so I don’t consider this an issue, and neither should you.

So, let’s take a first look at the games themselvles.

Soem classics, some in there that I’ve never played. The one obscured by the light reflecting of my fantastic photography is “Alien Breed 3D”.

Out of these, I’d say I’ve played about a third of them. There’s lots of Team 17 ones in there, and this, to me, isn’t a bad thing…. Arcade Pool is in there, and if you follow this blog, you’ll know this is where this whole love for Amiga emulation was rekindled a couple of years ago.

“Worms: The Directors Cut” was also another one I bought back in the day. I had great fun with that, and some of my level designs even still exist on Aminet.

There were a few more that came to me with… ahem… “handwritten labels”, shall we say. Qwak was one of those, a cutesy little platformer.

Anyway, I don’t want to get bogged down too much on the games for now. I’ll do that in a follow-up post. For now, I’m just going to blather about me opening the box and exploring its contents

I broke the seal to display a rather charming piece of kit…

It’s almost 30 years since I caught eyes on something so beautiful… that fateful day on 25th December 1993, when I opened my Christmas presents to see an A1200 staring back at me…. Despite this being an A500, I still got a lump in my throat. It was a beautiful moment.

Despite my permanent Amiga being an A1200, I did own an original A500 for a very short amount of time. I think we got it given, possibly for spare parts I remember my dad powering it on, getting the picture, then a plume of smoke coming out of one of the chips. Ooops. It did live on, however. I assume the drive went on to replace either mine of my dad’s floppy drive… I swapped one of the keys out on my A1200 to keep its memory alive, and to this day, one of my keys is slightly yellower than the rest. Finally, the ROM went into my mate Wayne’s A500+. He’d inserted the ROM incorrectly in his, frying it, so he ended up with the only A500+ I’m aware of that ran the 1.3 workbench,

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit now. Back onto the star of the show. It comes as no surprise that the keyboard is just for show.

There is, however, an official keyboard, limited to a run of 500 units, which I have, of course already ordered too…. That was about 6 months ago, and I’ve heard very little from them, so I’ll be interested to see if and when that arrives. Sigh.

Also in the box are the mouse, controllers and associated cables, all neatly packaged.

I can’t decide if the mouse is slightly smaller than the original. It’s certainly lighter, as it’s obviously optical now.

On the back of the unit are the ports. There’s a full-size HDMI port, three USB ports, and the USB-C power port. Got to admit, three USB ports is a bit of a quiz, and maybe the first oversight. Maybe there’s a reason that I’ve overlooked that they couldn’t add more, but to use the system to its fullest extent, you’ll need the mouse, joypad, external keyvoard, and a memory stick, taking up 4 ports. I’m reliably informed that you CAN use a USB hub to support all of these, but it just seems a little bit odd…

Onto the pickiest gripe of the lot, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if I hadn’t stuck my macro lens in places where it shouldn’t have been, but in some places, the printing/etching looks a little “unfinished” between the keys.

I do, however have to applaud the Caps Lock key (words I thought I’d never type), but despite the fact the LED is just printed on and will never illuminate, the printing texture they’ve used has made it appear to have the “Rowntrees Fruit Gum” texture of the original… an accidental bonus there!

Wow, I have no idea how / why any of the last two paragraphs ended up in the final edit.. Well, I do, I have the photos there and didn’t want to waste them, but let’s just go to part 2 where I stick a power supply up this puppy, and see what she can really do….

Super Plorrds. It’s super.

Ahhh yes, the Greaseweazle is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m happy to report that I’m not the only one enjoying its greasy goodness.

You may remember, waaay back in the early days of the blog (in a post that’s probably hidden now) , that I talked about an Amiga game I used to play, called Plorrds. It came free on an Amiga Power coverdisk, and I loved it. Played it for hours. I even partially put it down to my crap GCSE results, as I spent so many hours staying up and playing it. Of course, the real reason might have been that I’m just a bit thick, therefore I like to blame the former.

Back in 2001, I started a job at a (now long defunct) company. The first person to introduce me to the company, was a bloke called Glen. At some point over the next few years, myself and Glen got talking about the Amiga.

At some point, the words “Plorrds” got dropped into the conversation. “Oh Yeah, I remember that!” I said, excitedly. Glen responded with “Well, I programmed it”. If there was a sound of a jaw hitting a desk, it would be a sort of “fop” sound. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the midst of a celebrity.

Fast-forward a couple of months or so. The date is November 5th, 2001. I had just invested in a shiny new Amiga 600 (shiny and new aren’t exactly words I’d use for it, but at least it worked), and was rooting through some of my old disks. Out popped Plorrds. “Huzzah!” I thought, as I plonked the disk in the drive, and waited patiently for the menu to come up…. aaaand “Disk read error”. Oh. It turned out the disk was completely ruined. 

At some point during the intervening 21 years, Glen mentioned there was a “Super Plorrds”, but it had never got released. After my (many) posts about the Greaseweazle, Glen contacted me and asked if they were worth getting, as he had a large amount of disks from back in the day that he wanted rescuing.

I advised that it was exactly what he was looking for, so he rushed out and bought one… Or rather, sent away for one.

A week or so later, he sent me a message confirming it was all working. Of course, my next question was if Plorrds still existed.

“Even better than that”, he replied. “The unreleased Super Plorrds still exists”, and I could have the exclusive first look!

As promised, an email plopped into my mailbox a short time later, with a disk image attached.

I fired it up, and I was transferred back to 1995, albeit with more music, different colour scheme, and even different gameplay.

The premise is extremely simple. You start with a grid of numbers, half with plus figures up to 10, half with minus figures up to 10. The trick is, one player can only move horizontally, and the second player can only move vertically. The winner is the player with the highest score. Obviously. The game ends when all of the squares are gone, or a player can no longer move.

The trick is to plan ahead. You COULD go for just the highest value square, but before you know it, player two could lure you into a row of negative points. The real trick is to plan ahead, even sacrifice a few points, if it means your opponent can do nothing than lose more points than you. It gets trickier when you start running out of possible moves, and your massive lead could be wiped out within a matter of moves.

If you play the CPU, there are a number of difficulty levels. I’ve been playing the game for almost 30 years and I’ll be lucky if I can get past level 4 or 5. I don’t think I’ve ever played another human at it. It’d be great if that was a thing, as after almost 25 years, I still royally suck at it…

QUICK UPDATE: If you’re wanting to try this out in WinUAE and don’t have an official Amiga ROM, it appears to work just fine with the AROS ROM that ships with WinUAE. I’m not sure if Glen’s actually put a link to the game up yet, but I’ll update this if/when he does.

The disks! They’ve arrived!

I’m happy to report that the disks were handed to the guards at Mercuryvapour Towers, and not just thrown over the portcullis. I now have in my possession 100 floppy disks, Woohoo!

I rushed hurriedly upstairs, with my precious cargo under my arms. I ripped the cellophane off, to be confronted with a nice neat cardboard box with “MISC BACKUPS” written on the side. No signs of mould / damp. No smell like they’d been rotting in a pool of water for 20 years. Things were looking promising

The sellotape holding the box shut looked like it had been there for a long time. This was a good sign. Someone had clearly backed these disks up, then filed them away. I guess it meant that they hadn’t been touched, and had data on them.

I was even more impressed when I opened the box. 10 neat boxes of 3.5 floppies. All of the same make. I was even more impressed when I opened the disk, and found that each disk had a protective sleeve on them too! I couldn’t wait to try them. Each box even had a little label on them saying what was in there…

On goes the PC. The Greaseweazle lets out a little squeak as I stuck the USB cable up its grundle. We were good to go.

Firstly, just a random disk. Just to make sure it was all going to be working. Everything sounded perfect. Not a single unexpected noise from the drive. These disks were perfect. time to fling it into hxc and take a look what’s on them…

Waaaaaait, what? Why does that disk look like it’s only formatted on one side? Was the drive dead? I stuck in my test disk, and it came back fine. Both sides read correctly. I’d noticed that it had actually recognised the disk as a 360K formatted disk. I didn’t even know this type of thing existed. One thing had became very, very clear… These disks waren’t going to be reading in my Amiga emulator any time soon.

I read a couple more. These came back as 720K disks, so I checked the files. They might still be of use if they had PC compatible stuff on them…

***** EASY TEXT v 1.23 from zzSoft *****

This version of EASY TEXT is suitable for high res AND medium res

Oh, well isn’t that just effing marvellous. I now have a nice box of 100 disks that are only useable in a computer I have absolutely no interest in owning or emulating. Well, there’s my night’s entertainment (and £30) down the bloody kermit. I suppose I could still image them and stick them somewhere. Don’t know what I’ll do with them after that.

So, this post is a lot shorter (and infinitely more disappointing) than what I was anticipating. Still, some you win…

FOR SALE: APPROX 100 ATARI ST DISKS…. anyone? £31?