Oh, what a fool am I!
Literally the day after I finish this blog, the 2600-daptors that I ordered a few days prior arrived. These little beauties let you use original Atari sticks on modern hardware via USB (you will need a printer-style ("a-to-b") USB cable but those are like $4 on Amazon.)
Combined with good joysticks - like the pair of Epyx 500XJs I got off of Ebay for cheap - and you have a much improved gaming experience. In general I'm not a "has to be on original hardware" hipster, but these games were really designed for this kind of control, not the NES-like and old-school Gravis pads I used in making this blog. (You could probably write essays on the change from joystick to gamepad culture, and the implications in terms of popular styles of gameplay - not to mention how interesting it is that a predominantly right-handed culture has formed a preference for game control via the left thumb.)
I had looked into the original stelladaptor but it was no longer being made, and am kicking myself for not finding out about these earlier. (Also, I learned the hard way to avoid the Retrolink Atari-USB Cable - it seems like a cool idea, allowing 2 connectors at once, but I couldn't get it to play nicely with the various emulators I was trying to use.)
(Also, avoid the Atari-like PC joysticks - I got a set to run with my Atari 2600 game Loaded4Bear - one came broken, and the others lasted about ten minutes of gameplay. It's not very often that I say "this product is garbage" but it's pretty close to literal truth in this case.)
Again, a hearty endorsement for Tom Hafner's 2600-adaptor ii - and any decent Atari controller you can find on Ebay, either the classic CX-40s or something with microswitches, like the Epyx 500XJs.
The final issues of Gazette. In some ways the programs and columns got stronger past the heyday of the mid to late '80s, but when your penultimate feature article's description is "Take a Look at Line Numbers. They Can Make BASIC Programming Easier" you know your magazine is not in a place of great strength. (Also, they offered old magazines and disks for sale in garage sale fashion; they're not really allowed to charge, just for labor and shipping.)
The final editorial mentions some of the long term contributors over the 15 year run: Fred D'Ignazio and Jim Butterfield were involved from the beginning to this very last issue. (I remember Jim Butterfield's name showing up on a lot of Commodore software scene stuff way back when... sometimes it seems weird to think of how much expertise he had, )
That editorial is really sad, there's a lot of confusion about how they'll be handling the unfinished subscriptions. And the way that most of the articles are written in an unsuspecting business-as-usual kind of way is rather melancholy as well.
No original games these final issues, just some PD stuff.
I'll be wrapping up this blog soon as well, then. I am making plans to do that "playtest all the 2 player only games" thing I keep talking about (to get rid of those "Tentative Ratings") and I might do a special edition about the 6 games I gave a full 5 stars to.
Like the Commodore scene itself, this blog started feeling like it was going on a bit long (318 games in all - that is a lot!) but I've really enjoyed the history of it, finding new game ideas, enjoying how the programmers worked with the limitations of the machine, and charting the rise and fall of Commodore as a force in geek culture. Overall, definitely some of the most fun I've had with video games this year.
Bounce - Maurice Yanney
Also, Q-Link (I think previously called Quantum Link) was closing down - the article calls AOL (my current employer!) Q-Link's "parent service" but I think AOL was Q-link rebranding itself for PCs and Macs, but keeping the original name for its Commodore stuff (which was ten years old at that point, and had run the really intriguing LucasFilm projects Habitat and Club Caribe, predecessors to today's MMORPGs in a chatroom kind of way.)
The feature is "Making the Most of SpeedScript", the word processor from the early 1980s. I haven't written too much about it- it's so hard to imagine using a word processor that didn't have built-in spellcheck (they had some later, but getting the data files was kind of a challenge.)
Chute Shootout - Ligia Latina
More hours were spent in the programming cubicles playing Biplanes than any other Intellivision game. Although it's one of the simplest, many programmers felt it was the most challenging and fun of the two-person games. The first time you deliberately stall, go into a free fall, then pull out with a backward loop at the last second to blast your opponent at pointblank range is a joy!So this game starts with that idea... 2 planes on opposing runways. Just getting airborne is weird challenging... you have to press up at the end of the runway (and make sure you let go of the fire button for some reason) and you're very prone to stall, even more so than the original, at least til you've gained some speed (though after that it's like your engine is in a higher gear? and you can do loops with ease). Anyway, this game ups the ante in that it's not primarily a shoot out - you win by landing three paratroopers on the enemy's base. Controls are kind of odd: left or right sends out a trooper, and then once the parachute has deployed you can still steer him with left or right, even as up and down and fire are still operating the plane... multitasking! You can only send out one trooper at a time, so if you mislaunch you have to wait til the other one hits the ground (and explodes, oddly enough). Another one I really want to playtest with another human; the controls seem odd and the physics not quite as good and maybe the whole thing is too complex, but high points for trying to expand on such a cool idea. Tentative Rating:4/5
Follwup: as I put this game into my archive, I realize that even though the name on disk is "Ligia Latina" there must be some connection to "Ligia Latino" who has made several previous games...
The 8-bit Commodore market has often been called "mature." Well, it seems that those of us you use [sic] those computers are also mature. The average Gazette subscriber is 48 years old. There's a 94 percent chance that he's male, and he's subscribed to Gazette for about 5 years.
While these are the averages, it's interesting to note that more than 40 percent of you have subscribed to Gazette for more than 10 years and our largest number of users (31 percent) are more than 65 years old.
The teenager blasting aliens with his 64 is no longer the average Commodore computer user! In fact, less than 1 percent of you want more games in Gazette. The number requesting more utilities is 40 percent, and the number who want a mix of both is 56 percent.First off, I have to worry about selection bias... each of these numbers is "of people who bother to send in reader surveys for disk-based magazines." I'm bummed these fogies are signalling they don't want more games... but given how much hand-wringing there was about Commodore vs Nintendo, by this point the gaming world had moved on to SNES vs Genesis.
Spots - T.L. Flynn
One-on-One Backyard Basketball - David Garner
I found a place to download a cracked copy...
Pogo Stick - Maurice Yanney (Commercial Release)
It's funny, I wonder if some of the poorer Yanney games in Gazette are like prototypes he decided weren't quite worth commercial release? Maybe that's a bit cynical of me to think.
Followup: the Lemon64 (great site!) forum post that pointed me to a copy of the game had a guy who talked to Yanney, and says he only sold about a dozen of the game, which is some of why he left the Commodore scene... kind of sad, but again, Yanney is no Steve Harter.
Anyway, onto this month's included games:
Going to the Dogs - J. J. Hromdik
Ketchem - William F. Snow
People keeping up with this blog have seen most of my thoughts already, but for my UI blog I did a complete overview of the UI of the COMPUTE's Gazette disk menu. (Along with the old thoughts about the text reader)
Wanaka - Shawn Menninga
I kind of gave up tracking the PD Picks, especially whe they're not games, but Globe by John Crider is pretty amazing, that thing is is rotating and you can use the joystick to swing it to various angles:
And also, it was not a great month for games:
Space Pirates - John LeDoux
15 Solitaire - Arthur Moore
The editorial overview goes into the path of Gazette to this point, and how an increase in printing costs kicked them out of their nestled in COMPUTE role. They do mention "All the ads on Gazette Disk generate barely enough revenue to pay for one of the programs that I purchase each month"... so my guess that it was more advertiser funded than not was incorrect. And with the subscribers that switched "it looks like Gazette Disk will be around for some time." Good to know, cough cough. (The article also mentions Commodore's tailspin.)
I am a little weirded out that "Super-Alarm III" (a PD pick to turn your computer into "a device similar to a clock radio" -- meaning a clumsy alarm clock that can play .MUS files) is written by one Kirk Mook. I thought "Kirk Israel" was a weird enough name, but I am jealous that he has only 4 letters for both first and last.
Wizard's Demons - Troy Heck
There's a review of "C64S", a C64 emulator that runs under MS-DOS. They say it works pretty well, and being able to save and restore state was pretty cool. I had forgotten emulation was starting to happen back then. Kind of odd to be using an emulator on a Mac to read an article about an emulator on PC.
Balloon Bash - Joseph Sheppard
Sunday Driver - Maurice Yanney
They tweaked the menu system, getting rid of that odd slightly-graphic-y initial loader page I wrote about before, and just adding more levels to their old reliable:
They're also back to having a "Table of Contents" text file.
I was thinking about what I found irksome about that previous menu. For one thing it was function-key driven, which makes it slightly more annoying on a modern computer... the function keys are still there for backwards compatibility, but they've been repurposed so on a mac you have to hold "fn" to make them work. Overall "function" keys are falling into the dustbin of history - things are menu-driven and mouse or touch now and when there are keyboard shortcuts, people have figured out that mnemonics make more sense. (Man anyone here remember Word Perfect, and those little bits of paper you'd put over your functions to remember what key combos did what?
Back to Gazette... I suspect the old pretty menu was a bit slower to load, as was that weirdo faux-GUI they had for a long time.
Berries - Gus Vakalis
Contact--Switch On! - Bob Markland
Spell Maze - Michael Bolin
Here in the waning days of Gazette, I thought I'd make one comment on their loading program. Every time you go to run their text file reader, you get this screen:
A. It's goofy that they despite all these commands they don't have a simple convention for "next page", like maybe space bar- just scrolling one line at a time via the arrow keys. I think the "more" program had been available on Unix since like 1978?
It reminds me of this Dilbert cartoon, also from 1984:
B. It would have been more sophisticated to just have a simple, permanent bar on top of the screen with like "SPACE -NEXT PAGE : CRSR - MOVE UP/DOWN : M - MENU OPTIONS". Having to always go through the same page for every article is just clunky.
So I don't mind bad UI when it reflects limitations of tech of the time, but I don't think that this is one of those cases- it's just a lack of thoughtful imagination. (But it's nice that they tend to keep the main menu in memory, so there's not disk access to return to it.)
Setz! - Larry Cotton
Trail Blazer - Gus Vakalis
By the time you read this, I wonder if Commodore itself will even be around. As I write this in the autumn of 1993, Commodore has just reported a $359 million loss for the financial year that ended June 30, 1993.One, poor Commodore, and 2... what kind of lead times did this thing have? February done in Autumn? I guess it's a combination of how much a magazine's release date always predates the cover date, and then what it takes to pull something together, but still...
(They also mention this month's 128 game "Starship Battles" took up one whole disk side almost, but took an apologetic tone for having fewer programs with a "I know many of you say that you don't like games". Which always surprised me, because except for programming and some light word processing, I didn't know the C64 did much except games.)
I might be doing something wrong, but it seems like the 128 situation viz a viz the disks is kind of messed up: the C128 side no longer seems to know how to boot properly.
Ice Mountain - Maurice Yanney
Starship Battles - John LeDoux
So, the brave new post-print world of Compute's Gazette...
UPDATE: after I had about finished this blog, I was amazed to find out that Martijn Schols' computerarchive.org not only had (dot-matrix?) printouts of the text contents of the disks, but paper covers, in what looks to be Print Shop-generated art (kids of the 80s might remember that program...) As far as I can tell they didn't come with the disk, so maybe they're homemade, by the same person printing out all that text? But each is seasonally appropriate, and I dig 'em, so I'm putting them here.
There's a new pre-menu screen:
Most of the ads are boring text documents but a few use flashing colors and a few have some nice PETSCII art:
(Side note, when I was young and bored I remember checking out some of the ads on the mid/late-80s disks I had access to. A few were kind of impressive, with animation or interactive elements. I haven't been paying as much attention through the course of this blog, however.)
The disk is now "two-sided", but only the front has the menu, and all the columns and features require flipping the disk - kind of a pain in the butt for your loyal blog-editor, but no price too great for all the fame this will bring me, eh? Fred D'Ignazio's column talks about the Newton MessagePad. Funny how that reference is kind of bridging the gap into the modern era of computing, with its frequent emphasis on mobile.
Blox Trot - Arthur Moore
64 Dimensions - Eric J. Bryant
Link 'Em - John Cameron