Thursday, 15 December 2016

Welcome to my C64 blog!

Hello and welcome to the first blog post on my newest blog dedicated to the Commodore 64 Computer!

I should explain that it is well known that I have a strong Amiga background, which is easy to see following my well known Amiga blog here, but I also have a long history with the C64.

Originally my first system was a Intellivision in 1980, and after that I got to use my family's C64 back in 1982 to 1987 when we then upgraded to the Commodore 128 for one year before moving on to the Amiga 500. Here is an early photo of me playing the Intellivision and C64 in those days!

It was during my C64 years that I really got into computers and decided it was what I wanted to do with my life.

Of course these days I am much older but I love mucking around with computers every bit as much as I did back then. Except of course now I can afford to get all those things I always wanted to get for my C64 back then (and today too of course!)

Being a kid back then I was more into the games than anything else, copying games with my friends after school to try out the newest games that I had no chance of affording or getting!

As a kid, I got into Basic programming on the C64 learning from the famous DK Screenshot 4 volume programming the C64 series of books, which was very interesting.

Originally we just had a tape drive, so as I was learning to program I was saving my work to tape. My mother also typed in games listings from magazines so that we had some games to play on the C64 since we couldn't afford to buy many games.

Later on we got a 1541 disk drive which made a huge difference to how much I could use the C64 since loading times were so much better.

I loved playing Pitstop II, Rock and Bolt, Wizball, Hot Wheels, The Last V8, LED Storm, and a bunch of other classic C64 games!

As mentioned we traded up to a Commodore 128 in 1987 which seemed like a logical step at the time, but it was not for long (less than a year), and we soon traded up to an Amiga 500 in 1988 and my 8 bit days were behind me...for a while anyway.

In 1997 I was heavily into Retro system collecting, so I decided to buy another C64, this time a C64C and went crazy buying boxed game software for it from the local Cash Converters here in Adelaide, when C64 games and systems were really cheap as they were not Retro collectable back then. I even got a Commodore 128 too! Here is the C64C with 1541-II floppy drive and tape drive I bought at that time:

I was still a relatively poor University student at that time so there were limits on what I could do, but I enjoyed playing the C64 and C128 again - though it was mainly the games as my interest in programming the C64 had waned by then.

In 2003 I decided to get rid of a lot of Retro system I had collected since 1996 including all my Atari systems, the C64, the C128, Amiga 600/1000/500/1200 and all the stuff I collected for them. I did this to focus on the big box Amiga systems and raise money for my Amiga 4000T dream machine which doing this allowed me to finally buy!

The decision to get rid of the C64 stuff though I regret to this day as getting them back again was way more expensive!

In 2015 I decided to get back into the C64 scene again, motivated by the release of the SD2IEC, Chameleon64 and 1541 Ultimate II, which allowed me to avoid tapes, cartridges and disks and use the C64 in a legacy-free environment.

This is the breadbox version of the Commodore 64 I bought in 2015, and as you can see it is in good condition with no yellowing to speak of:

This C64 also has a sd2iec add on installed inside the C64, which also allows loading C64 disks from SD card - and the previous owner has made a small slot for the SD Card on the left side of the case to allow easy transfer of additional image files to the C64 as new demos and games are released.

The other modification made to this C64 is a AV out conversion. Normally the C64 has RF out only, which is annoying to setup on a TV these days. With this AV out conversion there are new ports on the rear of the case for standard S-Video, RCA video out, and left/right RCA audio out cables to be connected to a modern TV.

I had some issues with the power supply when I first got it - it wouldn't power on at all. I traced the problem to a blown fuse in the power supply. Once swapped for a new one, the C64 was ready to go!

Initially I tried out the sd2iec built in sd card loader, by typing in load "FB",8 and typing Run. It then loads a menu of games to choose from, reading from the contents of the SD card inserted into the side of the C64.

I choose Wizball, and here it is running:

But, the sd2iec is limited in some ways, and loading times are the same as for normal floppy disks unless you have a Fast Load cartridge installed as well (which I don't have). On the positive side it is more compatible with disk images as a result.

What I do have also though is a Chameleon 64 Cartridge. This cartridge can operate as a C64 re-implemented in FPGA on it's own - no C64 needed. This is how I have used it until now. It can even run other cores to be a complete Vic 20, Atari 2600, Atari 800XL, Amiga, and other computers too!

But it can also be plugged into the real C64 cartridge port and open up new functionality, such as being able to load tape, cartridge and floppy disk images as fast as possible from a SD card.

The Chameleon 64 also supports internally a Retro Replay network card expansion (which I have already and plan to add into it soon) that with a new operating system called Contiki allows the C64 to be on the network, have internet access and act as a web server like this one! Never tried it and very keen to do so soon!

After installing the cartridge and turning on, it quickly boots into the familiar Chameleon 64 menu to choose cores or browse C64 disk/tape/cartridge images to load up, but now running through the C64 display rather than it's own VGA out port:

Demos or Games?

Shot of the Chameleon 64 plugged into my C64:

This shot shows the Chameleon 64 and also the AV ports a bit better.

 Games it is - and Mutants is the game to try out via the Chameleon64 - it loads really fast!

I also ran a Razor 1911 demo from Revision 2014 too from the Chameleon64:

And another demo - Pimp My Bento, by Noop, released recently at Assembly 2015:

I was very glad to get this C64, and with the modern SD2IEC and Chameleon 64 hardware with AV out it is legacy free and wait-free! However it started having problem in early 2016 with the graphics output which I couldn't fix.

I also wanted a 1541 Ultimate II for better compatibility for running demos (the chameleon 64 is not so good in this area). I preordered it in 2015 and eventually got one in 2016.

I then replaced the Breadbox version of the C64 with my current C64C, purchased off Ebay in 2016.

The 1541 Ultimate II is using a micro sd card to store thousands of games and scene demos from the C64 and play them on the 1541 Ultimate II exactly as they would have played back in the day, but without the slow loading, and thousands of disks and tapes to store somewhere. It is a new Retro world!

This is my C64 on display at a recent Adelaide Retro Computing Group Event in late 2016, a group that I am heavily involved in as Vice President, celebrating all Retro computer systems!

Without the Chameleon64, SD2IEC and 1541 Ultimate II development I doubt very much if I would have got back into the C64 scene again. But I am really glad I did as I have now discovered a fascinating C64 scene, with new games and demos being released, and many years of classic demos and games to catch up on during my time away!

Unfortunately I missed out on the BBS era on the C64 - I primarily experienced that on the Amiga systems later on. I have however made up for that in the last few months with the addition of the C64 WiFi user port expansion.

This Wifi expansion allows me to use my iPhone as a Personal Hotspot to connect my C64 to C64 BBS's run over the internet from the other side of the world - how fantastic is that!

I demonstrated this capability of the C64 at the Adelaide Retro Computing Group meeting and I got plenty of questions and excitement from people wanting to buy a C64 just to try this out!

In addition the 1541 Ultimate II opened up a new world of REU (Ram Expansion Unit) functionality I didn't know existed on the C64 back in the day, but is now being used for some amazing demo scene demos and applications, like movie players!

Needless to say the REU functionality blew me away, especially the demos that used it:

I also found out about the great work of RGCD, bringing brand new games to the C64 in 2016 and for many years in the past, releasing them on Cartridges:

My latest acquisitions for the C64 from RGCD is the recently released Jam It, Moonspire and 2048.

Having brand new cartridges to play with on the C64 is awesome - and getting the .crt cartridge files included that can be loaded on MicroSD on the 1541 Ultimate II is even better!

I have to say that Moonspire is a particularly impressive game, and got a lot of attention at the Adelaide Retro Computing Group events:

Here is Jam It, a basketball game released by RGCD in 2016:

Last but not least is 2048, a puzzle game that so far has me genuinely puzzled how to play it!

I always enjoyed the classic SID tunes from Fred Grey, Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway amongst many others, and having a sid player on the 1541 Ultimate makes it easier than ever to playback all my favourite SID tunes using the SID chip on the real C64, how it should be heard of course!

Having the Adelaide Retro Computer Group meetings has allowed me to meet many other C64 fans like Robert Bernardo and others below and learn a lot more about C64's that I missed out on, and I am still learning!

Seeing Alexis efforts in writing a Basic game for the C64 for the Basic themed event in October 2016 has inspired me to try programming the C64 again soon!

I got to see the new C64 cases and C64 Reloaded boards, SX64, DolphinDOS modified systems (South Australian upgrade!) and soo much more!

I am afraid the C64 bug has bitten me hard and I am very keen to keep learning more and trying out the latest and greatest things the C64 has to offer still in 2016 and beyond!

I hope you'll follow along as I experience new and wonderful things on the C64!

To finish off this first blog post is some photos from some recent X-2016 demos for the C64 that I have really enjoyed watching - I hope you check them out if you have not already done so.

See you again soon!

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