MFX Ramblings, Welcome to the Geekdom

Commodore 64 memories

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First I want to start this off by saying farewell to the late great Sir Terry Pratchett who passed away as of this writing after battling the effects of Alzheimer’s for the past eight years. Terry was gifted writer best known for his “Discworld” series, a long running series of comedic fantasy novels set in the aptly named Discworld which is a flat pizza shaped world that rests on the backs of four elephants who in turn sit upon the back of a giant space fairing turtle. Discworld was a strange and hilarious place and was one that helped me through a lot of dark points in my life for you see much like our own Brock Ryhsner I also suffer from depression as well as social anxiety(I develop panic attacks in new or uncomfortable social situations) that combined with being a geek growing up in a era when that wasn’t as accepted as it seems to be now(I may do a  blog entry about that someday) Terry’s books helped me a lot by helping put a smile on my face and laughter in my soul when I needed it the most.

Despite knowing he was suffering from such a horrid disease like Alzheimers and having had worked in healthcare before taking care of those who were left as vacant empty shells of their former selves from it. I knew that he was living with a rapidly approaching expiration date so to speak, since he had made it no secret that he was not going to let the disease rob him of who he was and so had every intention of checking himself out before that will happen.  Yet I honestly couldn’t think of him leaving us, yet here it is as I am writing these words you now see before you, he is gone and the world seems a just a bit more of a sadder and less jovial place without him.

So farewell Terry, thank you for all the joy and laughter you brought me and many others over the years I only wished that you could have been with us a little longer.

With that I leave this part of my post with this quote from Death one of the many characters Terry brought to life in the pages of his work which is fitting seeing how Terry left us. “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH” -Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Right, now on to more happier things. First off let me start this blog off proper by saying Welcome to the Geekdom a whenever I get around to it blog about all things well geek or geeky that I personally find interesting be it gaming both of the table top and video variety, cult cinema, tech, books, tv shows. Think of it as the jack of all trades and master of none blog for the MFX website.

I am your humble writer Jason Z but as the name attached to this blog will tell you just call me Chris Stern.

Wait why am I calling myself Chris when my name is Jason? Well think of Chris as my pen name. The name actually originated from a character I used to play as back when I e-fedded which was basically a wrestling based role-playing game to put it simply. A Dungeons and Dragons but minus the sword and armor and instead sweaty muscular guys in spandex and rings, so basically Triple H’s wet dream…

I decided to keep the name after I stopped actively e-fedding since for one most people in the MFX community here know me by this name and two I also liked the sound of it and decided to keep it as a sort of pen name and no I do not have any self-esteem issues while I have depression and social anxiety I sure as hell don’t have that…most of the time…half the time..but seriously I just like the name and it’s easier for people to pronounce then my long polish last name plus if this blog stinks I can always claim it’s not really me.. wait I just mentioned my real name didn’t I? I really didn’t think this through to well.

But Jay or Chris, whoever you are, isn’t there already blogs on this site that already talk about this stuff? I hear you say. Yes they do but there is plenty of room here for others to talk about the same subjects as everyone sees things differently and have different viewpoints and thoughts on said subject or subjects that they will bring to the table. Mine is just another one of those albeit it a possibly long winded and rambling one.

Now I admit I had a hard time settling on what my first topic of discussion would be for my first post here. I thought about what I should talk about after mulling over a number of topics ranging from the original Gojira/Godzilla from 1954, ranting about fanboys, and a few others but after talking briefly with my buddy Erik I decided to talk about my first real home computer the Commodore 64.

I say first real since technically I did have a computer before I had a Commodore 64, a TRS 80 Color Computer 2 to be exact also referred to as the Trash 80 since well it was a piece of trash as far as computers went back in the early 80’s.

Ahh the Commodore 64, the third home computer released by the Commodore computer company in 1982, the second one being the Vic-20 which shared some similar hardware as the c64 and the first one being the Commodore PET, the C64 has gone down in history as the best selling home computer of all time. I know that sounds weird especially since now a days the vast majority of computers are PC standard or Windows based PC’s but today’s PC’s are not a specific brand of computers but rather a label to identify computers that use x86 and x64 processors, previously what we come to call PC’s were known as IBM clones as IBM’s were what people referred to as PCs back in the old days. Also I bet you didn’t know that the C64 was also had the longest life span of any 8-bit home computer system? seriously the system launched in 1982 and it’s production run ended in 1990 and even then the brand name as well as the hardware was reused many times after that including a c64 based home console in 1991 called the c64gs which flopped due to it only using carts and had no optional tape or diskdrive the two formats the vast majority of c64 games were released on. In 1998 the brand name was used for a web based computer called the c64 web.it and the name c64 was used again for a Intel x86 based home computer which flopped since it couldn’t play actual c64 games except through a poorly coded emulator.

The C64 was a impressive machine for it’s time(Warning tech specs incoming, feel free to scroll ahead if this part is going to bore you) when it first launched to the market boasting a whooping 64k of memory, a 8-bit MOS Technology 6510 microprocessor which has a 16 bit address bus, 1 to 2 mzh clockspeed and a 6-bit internal I/O port that in the C64 is used for two purposes: to bank-switch the machine’s read-only memory (ROM) in and out of the processor’s address space, and to operate the datasette tape recorder.

The computer also boasted a custom graphic’s processor called the Vic-II which allowed the computer to display 16 colors, eight hardware sprites per scanline, scrolling and two bitmap graphics modes and a max resolution of 320 X 200 . This was impressive when compared to the Apple 2’s  two pixels per subcarrier cycle capabilities and the fact it could really only truly produce 6 colors at a time and simulated more colors through a special color smudging technique similar to CGA composite monitors for IBM PC’s where the 4 colors(PC CGA) would be overlapped and blurred to make it look like more colors with a max resolution of 280 X 192. I would post the graphical specs of the Atari 8-bit line of computers(800 and 600) but the Atari 8-bit line basically were just a atari 5200 in a computer shell.  Needless to say Graphically speaking the c64 was ahead of the curve when it launched.

and to top the system off it also featured a custom music and soundchip called SID which was a custom synthesizer chip which at the time of it’s initial development rivaled most high end synthesizers that were on the market. SID has three channels, each with its own ADSR envelope generator, ring modulation and filter capabilities.

This gave the C64 a unique sound unlike anything else, It’s hard to describe but at the time many home computers that had either sound card add ons like the Apple 2’s Mockingboard or had built in sound chips gave the music a very chip tune sound to them, think of the type of music you would hear in a NES game and you get the type of sound I am talking about. In other words it sounded like something you would hear from a computerized sound chip but the music you would hear from the SID sounded like a real synthesizer because that is what it was. Thus giving it it’s unique sound, a sound that many c64 music legends like Ron Hubbard, Matt Grey and others utilized to make some of the most amazing game music I ever heard till the later NES and SNES eras of gaming.

The C64’s OS was based on Microsoft Basic the idea behind that was to make the system a easy development platform for would be programmers and hobbyist.

So pending that you didn’t fall asleep during the large text dump of specs I just got done posting, let’s continue shall we. I promise that should be the last of the technical stuff.

The Commodore 64 became and stayed my favorite computer of the 80’s era because of the games it had. While I was born in the Atari 2600 era of home consoles and had one growing up but the Commodore is where most of my favorite earliest gaming memories were formed. I don’t recall when my dad decided to get us the Commodore 64, as I said we already had a computer in the trash 80 color computer 2 but maybe it was the fact that the Trash 80 wasn’t good for much and decide we needed a better computer for practical purposes and to let us kids play games on since by this point the home console market had complete crashed due many factors but many primarily point the finger at Atari who were owned by Time Warner by that point releasing a awful, rushed and butchered port of Pacman as well as the widely considered worst game of all time ET as well as a flood of crap games from outside companies since Activision a company founded by disgruntled former Atari employees had successfully won a lawsuit against Atari granting them the ability to produce games for that system thus becoming the first ever third party developer and by proxy the ruling also would allow anyone to produce games for the system so long as the Atari 2600 and good lord did they ever. But this is a story I will have to continue another day.

So my father came home with the C64, a monitor, a 1541 disk drive and a large case filled with games that he got from a co-worker most of them pirated from BBS(bulletin board services, a pre-cursor to the internet) and disk swapping parties(it where people would go with a stack of blank disk and another stack of games and other software and everyone copies everyone else’s stuff) and after playing around with his new toy he eventually let me and my two siblings try it out and needless to say me and my older brother were hooked.

 I played with that computer so much I actually had every single game we had committed to memory and not just that but also what disk and side it was on, you see the c64’s disk drive allowed you to place data on both sides of the floppy but due to the way it was built you had to manually flip the disk over to access the data on the other side.

And oh what games we had for that big brown box. Ghettoblaster, Gates of Dawn, Summer Games, Jumpman, The Way of the exploding fist, Impossible Mission, Castles of Doctor Creep, Lode Runner, Burning Rubber, Spy Hunter, Satan’s Hollow, Mr. Mephisto, Raid over Moscow, Montezuma’s Revenge, Spy vs Spy, Popeye, Hard hat mack, Zaxxon, Sheamus, Potty Pigeon(a game where you play a pigeon and get to shit on passing cars), Beach head, and so many others. Plus our father would get us every month Compute’s Gazette a Commodore focused magazine which I don’t remember much off outside of the diskette of free games and other software. Let’s be honest I only cared about the games and would have code it yourself programs in the magazine, I loved that part almost as much as I loved getting the free games since I was learning to make my own games and wanted so badly to be a programmer and make my own games like my hero Richard Garriott who at the age of 17 went on to not only start the video game RPG with Akalabeth World of Doom in 1978 and it’s follow up the Ultima series but also head of his own studio Origin Systems. But sadly that dream never came to pass. But obviously I wouldn’t of known that then.

That commodore 64 stayed a big part of my gaming life and was a wonderful transitionary platform from the simple endless play arcade style games on the Atari 2600 and the later more complex style of games of the NES and beyond, even after the NES came out and help revive the home console market in the US. Yes I had a NES and yes I played the hell out of it but I still played the c64 and the mountain of games we had acquired for it. That was until one faithful day in 1988 when the 1541 Disk drive finally went and eventually my father wiped out all the old disk we had to make room for whatever silly crap he wanted to save on our newer intel 486 dx2 IBM PC we had. For years I thought I would only have my memories of that brown bread box and the great games I played for it, sure I could of acquired on with a working disk drive and hunted down or downloaded all the games I had and many of the ones I never got but the problem is that floppy disk have this bad habit of deteriorating after a few years and so whatever data they had would become lost and the disk useless. But then in 10th grade I discovered rather by pure chance a little thing called a Emulator which was a program that would simulate or emulate the workings of a particular system through computer code(to put it simply)  and after a web search I found that someone had coded a emulator for the Commodore 64 called C64s and to make it even better there was a FTP site filled with image dumps of old commodore game disks, carts and tapes(tapes were mainly a europe thing), I was in heaven. Now while C64s is dead and FTP arnold is a ghost town I can still find my c64 fix with the Vice c64 emulator and Gamebase 64 which has even more games than FTP arnold ever did.

Isn’t technology grand, we got all this advanced technology and one of the best uses of it is to use it to play old 8 bit computer games.

So on that note I am going to call it here, sorry for the odd opening I wanted to try to be clever and also I haven’t written anything in sometime so if this first entery sucks I am sorry and I promise it will get better. And if you like to check out the Commodore 64 grab a copy of the Commodore 64 emulator Vice and hop on over to Gamebase 64 and click on the GBC tab you will find almost every c64 game ever made there and many more get added when a quality copy becomes available and I will leave you here a list and some information of some of my personal favorite games for the system and if people want I can do a follow up to this and just focus on more of my favorite games for the c64.

Raid over Moscow – Created by Access software Raid over Moscow is a fun little cold war era game where you are a operative for a anti-nuclear weapon defense force, your job is to monitor any possible attacks from the USSR and respond when one does happen this is done through a series of mini games the first of which is guiding your plane out of the hanger of the orbiting space station, just make sure you remember to open the doors first I learned that the hard way, and then head to the launch site before the nukes hit their target, from there you play a side scrolling flying game where you guide your ship through enemy lines to reach the launch silo and destroy the controller before the bombs land. After you destroy all the launch sites in the USSR you then play a new mini game where you infiltrate the secret nuclear reactor hidden inside the walls of the Kermiln there you have to try and blast your way inside by firing mortar shells at various targets and enemy soldiers once you complete that you will play the final mini game where you are throwing disks at the reactor ala tron to try and cause it to explode.

Bruce Lee – This game doesn’t look like much but it’s a blast. A platformer with slight beat em up elements developed early in the c64’s life span. This has you take on the role of Bruce Lee as you guide him on his quest to find the wealth and immortality inside a wizard’s tower you do this by collecting lanterns scattered throughout each screen while battling or avoiding the Sumo wrestler Yamo and his evil ninja counterpart. It’s a blast to play even now.

Beach Head – Another game from Access Software and it plays much like Raid over moscow in which it’s a game made up of various levels that are actually smaller mini games. Your goal is to reach and storm the beach head(hence the name) of a evil dictator you can do this one of two ways a direct assault by guiding your fleet straight toward the beach where you will be stopped by the dictator’s fleet leading you to a ship to ship combat mini game where first you have to shoot down the enemy planes and then blow up the enemy ships or by pass this by guiding your fleet through a mine filled cave, based on how many ships make it to the beach you then are given X amount of tanks to help storm the beach from here you guide the tanks through the beach and jungle till you reach the dictator’s stong hold and destroy it.

Beach Head 2: The Dictator strikes back – Much like it’s predicessor and Raid over moscow this is, you guessed it a collection of mini games but unlike Beach head 1 and Raid over moscow there is no over arching game or plot tying the mini games together. Instead you can play any mini game at anytime in any order which was dissapointing but on the plus side it did have two player head to head mode where the one player would play the good guys and the other would play the bad guy trying to stop them which made it a blast to play against a friend and it also the disk version had full synthesized speech so during the allied assult mini game where one player had to air drop troops and guide them pass the artiliry gun trying to mow them down you can hear the troops scream “medic!”, “I’ve been hit”, and “Mommy!” when killed or during the hostage rescue where the allies have to use the artillery gun to protect hostages as the try to escape, if they get shot they will yell at you “Hey don’t shoot me”, “watch where your shooting” and all that. A fun game but more so with two people.

Realm of Impossibilty – A game created by EA, yeah EA actually used to produce some great games.. the goal of this game is to guide your little guy through 13 dungeons to recover the stolen crowns from a evil wizard, now not all the dungeons have a crown but instead a key these keys open the way to other dungeons which may either have another key or one of the crowns to make matters harder each dungeon is filled with poisonous snakes, zombies, killer balls, spiders, and other monsters and the only thing you have to defend yourself with is crosses which will block your enemies but can also hinder you if your not careful you also can find magic scrolls that will give you temporary invulnerability, freeze monsters, heal you and trust me you need those since your health doesn’t regenerate until you leave the dungeon and how much is dependent on how well you did in the dungeon. Fun but can get frustrating.

Epyx’s The Movie Monster Game – What self respecting geek wouldn’t love the idea of taking on the role of a Kaiju(Giant monster) and level a city or two? well then if this sounds like fun then you may want to check this game out you pick from one of six monsters Godzilla(yes that Godzilla), Mr. Merguinge(a stay puft marshmallow man clone), Trantus, The Glog, Sphectra and Mechatron and then you choose what city you want to play in(though outside of one or so landmarks they look pretty much the same) and then the scenerio berserk, search(where you have to find something), escape(where you try to escape the city), destroy landmark, or lunch where you have to eat your fill of poor saps. Fun game but can get repeative.

Gi Joe – this game is basically like having a virtual Gi Joe toybox and is broken down into two scenarios one is a one on one where you pick your Joe and then the computer will pick a Cobra operative and you battle it out in a area till one side gets two wins. The second is where you pilot one of the joe vehicles and try to destroy the base with the cobra operative inside of it. I always sucked at the vehicle parts.

Impossible Mission – This is a platformer where you play a operative sent in to stop the evil Dr. Evlin Mindbender from taking over the world. You do this by searching his underground lair, avoiding his deadly robots and searching for the pieces to the puzzle that will reveal the secret password to enter his control room where he has hidden himself. To make things even trickier you have 24 in game hours to do this and everytime you die the clock adds X hours to the clock and the puzzle pieces for the code have to be matched up but there is a in game help system that will tell you if you got some of the pieces assembled right. For years I honestly thought this game was unbeatable but I was wrong. It’s just very hard. Also I still get chills hearing that computerized voice say “Another Vistor..Stay Awhile..Staaaayyy Fooorever”

The Last Ninja Trilogy – A series of amazing isometric action adventure games from System 3 who made some of the best games towards the end of the c64’s life. These games were not only fun to play but for the time looked amazing and had a amazing soundtrack, probably the best music done on the c64 save for the remix version of Last Ninja 2..just play the orginal version. If there is one complaint I have well two actually is the jumping sections in the first game are a pain in the ass and two the controls take a little getting used to since the game is played from a isometric perspective the controls are mapped for that perspective so they feel weird at first but once you get past that they are excellent games, I especially get a kick how in the first game you avoid the enemy ninja’s they often will commit ritual suicide. Also the intro to the Last Ninja 3 was nothing short of amazing. Look it up sometime.