Hands on with the Just Speccy 128 by Zaxon
Jan25

Hands on with the Just Speccy 128 by Zaxon

Whats wrong with a normal Speccy anyway? As anyone who ever owned a ZX Spectrum will testify, loading from tape could sometimes be a frustrating affair, what with misaligned heads, dropouts and all manner of other things causing the dreaded ‘R Tape loading error, 0:1‘. Loading times were another bugbear – being able to make yourself a cuppa whilst waiting for your favourite game to load sounds useful, but I didn’t drink that much tea when I was 11 to be honest. Yes, there were various disk drives, microdrives and wafadrives available but those of us that were bought ZX Spectrums because of financial constraints (and I’m guessing that was a lot of us) were never going have those expensive peripherals hooked up to our humble micros. Sound was another issue, with early rubber key Spectrums only having a beeper – the brunt of many a Commodore 64 owner’s joke. We had to wait until the 128 hit the shelves to get AY chip sound effects in our games. If we wanted to use a joystick with our 16/48K, a joystick interface had to be added, the list of compromises goes on… In truth, that was what the rubber keyed Spectrum was. A compromise machine made to a low price point. We knew that and embraced its many flaws. So what is the Just Speccy 128? Fast forward 34 years and the ZX Spectrum scene is very much alive and well. In fact growing. Some very clever people are developing new hardware, enabling those compromised machines we once knew to do all the things we always wanted them to do and often exceed it. The list of new peripherals is almost endless but some have gone further still, producing Spectrum clones that fill the gaps in functionality that Sir Clive left in the originals. I chose to purchase one such ZX Spectrum clone made by Zaxon (Piotr Bugaj), going by the name of ‘Just Speccy 128’ after seing his posts regarding it in various Sinclair Facebook groups. I hate the whole idea of the ZX Spectrum computer being reduced down to a plugin TV game (see ZX Spectrum Vega in its diminutive little ‘controller’ size case) and one of the main reasons I was drawn to this particular board, apart from it’s enhanced functionality, was because it had been designed to fit in an original 16/48K case or 48K+ (with some modification). I never minded the otherwise much-maligned rubber keyboard on my original Spectrum and had a spare unworking 48K as a case donor so this seemed ideal for me. At least this way it would still look and...

Read More
The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game
Aug19

The Bear Essentials: Developing a Commodore 64 game

Part One: Initialising and moving a sprite I find it absolutely incredible that the Commodore 64 development scene is alive and well.  Thanks to companies like Psytronik there is still a healthy stream of games arriving on the C64 25 years after I first got my machine in 1990. I was fairly late to the Commodore party, having had my first 8-Bit computer experiences on my Dad’s ZX Spectrum 48k.  I loved every minute I spent with the little rubber-keyed beauty, but eventually wanted to branch off into a territory of my own choosing…  I wanted a computer of my own. I chose the C64 after reading about a recent price drop and an influx of new cartridge releases which promised to give the 64 a new lease of life.  This didn’t turn out exactly as Commodore had planned though, and it wasn’t long after I first owned the machine that the 8-Bit computer scene gave way to the 16-Bit computers and consoles. I never once regretted my decision to follow the C64 route though. Like all 8-Bit computer owners, my first programming attempts were in the BASIC language, but I soon grew frustrated that I couldn’t make the type of games I wanted to make as BASIC just wasn’t fast enough.  And so, armed with an Action Replay cartridge and the Commodore 64 Programmer’s Reference Guide, I taught myself the basics of 6502 machine language. My first creation was a Boulderdash / Repton clone called RockMaze, written mainly in BASIC but using the speed of machine language for scrolling the screen and copying levels in and out of memory.  It was a fun little game to make (and play), and even had a level editor. After this, I was determined to write another game, but this time made in 100% machine language.  For this, I decided it would be better to use a very simple concept, and created a clone of the Snake game (which was later made very popular by a certain mobile phone company!) My bedroom programming time soon disappeared in favour of the usual teenage pastimes (pubs and girls if I remember correctly!), and the games I made were destined to be forgotten at the back of a dusty loft. Fast forward to 2015, and after joining the Lemon64 community, I was asked if I would like to give RockMaze and Worm! an official release. Wow!  Finally my games would actually get played by somebody other than myself! After some rummaging in the loft for the old tapes and converting the games to run on disk, they were uploaded to the Commodore 64 Scene Database...

Read More
Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600
Jul22

Spotters Guide to the Atari 2600

Have you played Atari Today? The Atari 2600, arguably the most iconic and enduring of all games consoles is also possibly the most confusing to collect. Not surprising really, when you realise it comes in eight official Atari branded versions (including the Japanese 2800) along with a whole host of clones spanning nearly a decade and a half of production. From the original 1977 CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ through to the all-black 1986 2600 ‘Junior’ the differences were such that almost everything about the console changed (except the chips). This makes the 2600 almost unique as a console in that you can spend a long time searching out and collecting all the variants. The 2600 has stood the test of time well, better indeed than most consoles of the early 80s period and remains popular with collectors, gaming enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. This popularity is fed with a booming home-brew scene and the recent(ish) production of ‘TV games’ by companies such a Jakks Pacific. For the purposes of this article I will keep things simple and will only be listing the official Atari models, not the Sears versions, Japanese version nor the many clone models available. Oh, and ignore the dates on some of the YouTube videos, I’m pretty sure they have them wrong. CX2600 ‘Heavy Sixer’ (1977) Also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’, this was the original Atari VCS (Video Computer System), not yet known publicly by its 2600 designation. In fact the first 2600 to be officially called the 2600 wouldn’t be for another 5 years with the release of the black 4 switch ‘Vader’ model in 1982. Usually the most sought after by collectors, the first CX2600 differed from later models by having a thicker plastic lower casing and contrary to what you may read elsewhere the extra weight is solely down to this, there is no extra RF shielding inside and all Heavy and Light Sixers have the same RF shielding. The casing is also visibly different in that the plastic molding that runs around the back and sides is wider than on the 1978 ‘Light Sixer’ and has softer curves as opposed to the more angular second model. There are also other minor differences to the bezel etc. if you know what you are looking for. Manufacture of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ was done mainly in Sunnyvale, California – and, although I have never seen one myself – were also reportedly produced elsewhere. Sears released their own version of the ‘Heavy Sixer’ under licence called the Sears Video Arcade (Rev. A). CX2600 ‘Light Sixer’ (1978) This model also known by collectors as the ‘Woody’...

Read More
Emulation on the cheap using original XBox – Part 1 – What it can do
Jun15

Emulation on the cheap using original XBox – Part 1 – What it can do

As some of you may know I am not only a big fan of gaming on original systems but also like to dabble in the dark art of emulation. Yes, I know many purists will be hitting the back button in disgust – but I am of the opinion that emulation has a place in every retro gamer’s life. Emulation lets you experience games in near pixel-perfection that you may not ever be able to afford or find and from a historical perspective it is a great way to archive and catalogue titles that would otherwise disappear. My choice of emulation tool is a self-modded original (some call it ‘classic’ now) Microsoft XBox. I have been asked on numerous occasions about how to mod an XBox and what a modded XBox is, so in this series of posts I will show you the capabilities of my 2 units and show you how to go about getting your own. I chose to use this particular hardware after stumbling across websites run by enthusiasts and finding just how big the XBox mod scene still is and what a capable machine they are for emulation purposes. Almost every emulator ever made has been ported to XBox and in most instances has been enhanced still further by enthusiasts with the addition of video sets and artwork. Many of you will have already heard of or use XBMC on other hardware (Apple TV etc.), well it all started on the humble XBox hence it’s name (XBox Media Center). Of course you can use an XBox as a great networked Media Centre and it does many more things besides but as this is RGC I will concentrate on the subject of retro computer and console emulation. A modded Xbox is my choice over PC/Mac emulation for the following 6 reasons: 1.  The XBox is relatively easy to mod yourself (soft-modding a standard 8gb XBox takes minutes once you know how and have the tools/software) 2.  The unit fits under your telly, unlike a PC 3.  A classic XBox is cheap, I saw them being sold with a controller for £14.99 recently at my local GameStation. eBay is another good source of cheap XBoxes. 4.  I use Macs, have done since 1988 (Mac Plus, SE-30, IIx) and as Mac users will know we are the poor relation to PC users when it comes to emulation. 5.  Unlike an Xbox 360, the original Xbox is very reliable – almost bombproof. 6.  The developer scene is still going strong and new versions of popular emulators are released weekly A modded XBox also has the following advantages: 1.  Region...

Read More
How do I get my Retro Console to work on a modern TV?
May12

How do I get my Retro Console to work on a modern TV?

As an ex retro game store owner, I got a lot of pre-SCART retro consoles and computers sent back to me with reports of them not working. Upon testing, 9 out of 10 of these would prove to be working just fine, leading me to the conclusion that one or more of the following points apply: the cartridge they were using was faulty/needs cleaning (see this article on how to clean your cartridge) they had a modern ‘auto tune only’ TV (some of these cannot tune the weak RF signals that older computers produce) they didn’t understand the difference between analogue and digital signals they didn’t know how to manually tune their TV With the advent of HDMI, USB and Wi-Fi the current generation of tech-users rightly expect their kit to just plug in and ‘work’. Unfortunately for me and them this wasn’t always the case and old tech needs a little more preparation and understanding of how it works before you can start using it. From the mid 90’s consoles started to use an AV SCART lead and most modern TVs still have SCART connections so these consoles aren’t usually a problem. It is when we go back to RF output that problems begin to show. An RF signal is analogue and a modern TV has to be put into ‘analogue mode‘ in order for it to be tuned. Then you can usually allocate a channel and set it to auto-tune. If auto-tuning skips past the signal (usually Channel 36) then you may have to set it to manual tune. Some modern TVs don’t have manual tune. If this is the case, and it didn’t tune using auto tune then I’m afraid you won’t be using that particular TV to play pre-SCART consoles on. So to clarify: Tuning a pre-SCART console/computer Use a cartridge that you know works (or clean your cartridge following these instructions here) and make sure your console is switched on Make sure your RF co-axial aerial cable is connected to both the console and TV If the RF cable has a built in switch box make sure it is switched to ‘game‘ (or equivalent) Make sure your TV is set to analogue mode (consult your TV instruction manual if not sure how to achieve this) Pick a channel (nowadays most people are watching digital channels so just pick any) If it gives you the option to manually input a signal channel choose Ch. 36 If you can’t, try an auto tune If this hasn’t worked and your TV will let you, try manually tuning the signal If that doesn’t work buy a Commodore Pet...

Read More
Got a video games cartridge that doesnt work?
Jun22

Got a video games cartridge that doesnt work?

We’ve all had it happen, whether on our Philips Videopac, NES, MegaDrive or Nintendo 64. A cartridge that refuses to work. It happens to us collectors most frequently, we are after all, more likely to get hold of stuff that someones just pulled out of the loft after 20 years of doing nothing but gathering dust. But don’t fret. In my experience you can nearly always get that grimy old cartridge to work, so don’t go binning it just yet! The main cause is just natural oxidisation of the contacts, either on the cartridge itself, the cartridge slot on the console or in some cases both. In this article I will assume that you know the console is OK (by testing with a working cartridge) and it is only the cartridge at fault. “Yeah, OK dude, but how do I get it to work?” I hear you cry. If you are lucky… If the oxidisation isn’t too bad, repeatedly inserting and removing the cartridge (with the power OFF!) will reinstate enough contact between cartridge and console to get your cartridge working again. Be patient and gentle, it might need doing for a few minutes before you bring life back to that old game and ramming it in won’t help but may just damage your console or game beyond repair. If you weren’t lucky and this didn’t work then you need to clean the contacts. Cleaning Step 1 – Give it a blow Don’t ask me how or why this works. It just does. Especially with NES cartridges for some strange reason. Give the contacts a good short hard blow, trying very carefully not to transfer spittle into the cartridge while you do it. It may need to be done a few times but this really does work (sometimes). Cleaning Step 2 – Alcohol You will need to get some rubbing alcohol (90%+ alcohol if possible although 70% will do) and some cotton buds (q-tips to our American cousins). Dip the cotton bud in the alcohol and gently rub along each contact back and forth a few times. You will be amazed just how much oxidisation is removed on a cart that has been unused for a while and the cotton bud will get quite dirty. Repeat this until the contacts are clean and shiny. Wait for the contacts to dry and try the cart, hopefully all will be well and the game will play, but if not… Cleaning Step 3 – Ink Eraser Non abrasive methods haven’t worked so it’s time for the big guns. You will need an Ink Eraser and a small brush (a half inch paint...

Read More