Ziggurat

Occasional ramblings on games, generally retro related

​When my parents brought home a ZX81 one day (complete with wobbly 16K RAM pack, of course) I discovered the joy of programming. But it wasn't until I got my hands on a ZX Spectrum that my obsession with games really began, which continued with the C64, Amiga, right through to this day. The 80s and early 90s were an amazing time for games, not just for the games themselves but for the fascinating people behind them - it was truly a time of pioneers and creativity.

I myself have spent the last (almost) 20 years working in the games industry on all manner of platforms, most recently iOS. Ziggurat Development Ltd is my company here in NZ that provides contract programming services.

C64 Reloaded mk2 Board

Updated with info about the remote control menu

I have a reasonable collection of C64s - 3 breadbins and 2 C64Cs - but out of those only two are fully functioning, so I've become quite aware that these machines are getting flakey in their old age. I've sunk quite a lot of hours into attempting to diagnose the faults and finding replacement bits online, with mixed success. Given that it's no surprise that I was eagerly awaiting the release of the C64 Reloaded mk2.

In order to get started with one of these boards, you'll need to source a few items:

  • CPU 6510 or 8500
  • two CIA 6526(A) or 8521 chips
  • VIC 6567, 6569, 8565 or 8562
  • one or two SIDs - 6581 and/or 8580, two can be used at the same time for dual SID audio!
  • 12V DC poer supply (don't forget this! I managed to get all the chips required, went to set it up and realised I forgot the most easily found item...)

The build quality is very good, and setup was a doddle. The ZIF chip connectors mean it's simple to insert and remove chips - no more nervewracking levering! The board even auto-detects what's installed which means no need for jumpers.

One thing I have yet to do is try connecting to the Remote Menu. We only have Macs at home, and the Reloaded mk2 wiki contains some dire warnings about using the USB driver on OSX.

Caution: The Prolific driver for macOS is really crappy. It keeps your system from shutting down, crashes if you insert/remove the USB connector a second time, and since there is no automatic de-installer, it is hard to remove from the system. You have been warned: We do not recommend to use this driver.

I need to try setting up a Linux VM to see if I can connect via that.

Overall I've been really impressed. Going forward this will be my C64 workhorse, and I look forward to getting into the more advanced options. The one thing that is a bit annoying is that when placed inside a breadbin case, the power switch is too close to the bottom edge which makes powering on/off and resetting tricky - I'm sure I can figure out a way to improve this though.

Update

Fearing the consequences of installing the USB drivers on my Mac, I setup an Ubuntu VM and that worked a charm. I followed the wiki's advice and used minicom. Once the USB is connected and you power on the C64 you get a little welcome message (I'm pretty sure you can connect it at any time). The menu allows you to configure a number of things, including the behaviour of short & long holds of the "reset" button (power button down is off, up is on, and there's a further debounced up position which by default resets the machine), and enabling dual SID mode. You can even upload custom kernal and character ROMs.

I changed the reset button to switch between my two SID chips and discovered with some delight that these can be switched at runtime without interferring with whatever is running. This is very very cool as it means I can go back and forth between the 6581 and 8580 chips and hear their different characteristics.

Details of the chips installed.

Details of the chips installed.

The various SID config options.

The various SID config options.

Confidential Magazine #6 August/September 1989

This month's mag included:

  • A rather depressing Editorial which opened with "Boom-time for the computer games world is over, at least for the next few years." The Japanese consoles were wiping the floor with computers - the 8bits were barely hanging on, the ST not far behind them. There looked to be some life left in the Amiga, but it was the IBM PC that stood the best chance of lasting. Perhaps the grimmest thing about this was the high entry bar for console development - what would happen to all the small UK devs?
  • In other not so happy news, the once great Infocom had been assimilated into Mediagenic (prev Activision). The office was moved to the West Coast, but it seemed no designers or developers relocated with it. Steve Meretzky and Dave Lebling were among the most recent to quit.
  • An interview Level 9's Pete Austin about their upcoming Scapeghost. He was rather coy about their plans beyond this one, but now that we have the benefit of hindsight and know that it in fact would be their last, it did seem like they saw the writing on the wall.
  • A look at "Ranch Wars" which was a Play By Mail game except it wasn't - it was an "on-going graphic adventure that comes through the post" and was a "strange amalgam of interactive fiction, graphical war-gaming and strategy all mixed together".
  • The Encyclopedia Frobbozzica - an indepth reference of all things Zork.
  • An interview with Joe Dever, author of the Lone Wolf books.
  • A look at Role Playing Play By Mail game "Calvana".
  • Was the icon driven Infogrames "Kult" the future of adventure games?
  • Sandra Sharkey presented some general musings on writing adventures.
  • Confidential went on a bit of LARPing with "Mythlore".
  • A short story by Ian Urquhart.