Past memories of Dover

As a kid growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there wasn’t a great deal to do in my home town of Dover.  Money was also low, so as kids we used to get up to all sorts – playing ball games in the street and also playing down a dis-used coal yard out the back of our houses.

The ‘Coal-tip’ used to be a storage area for moving coal to the furnaces to generate energy – built around the 1930’s / 1940’s – before then it was just a large field.  Around I think the 1970’s, the furnaces were demolished and the land emptied and left.

For years as kids, we used to hang out down there – as there was a concrete path that went all the way around which we could ride our bikes,  there were trees and bushes where we could create our ‘bases’ or ‘camps’ to then have fake wars with other kids.  My dad even used to walk the dogs around the track as well.

The back of our house even backed onto a bit of land (a grassy area with some trees/bushes) which just came off from the coal tip – and where we also had many bases and trees to climb.  Alongside was an allotment which my dad used to maintain.  Often we used to cut through our back garden and through onto the coal tip – as the end of the Coal Tip would cut onto one the streets going into town.   My dad used that as his route to and from work.  I even used to cut through to get my copy of Commodore Format from the newsagents.

Although there was no coal any longer, there were remnants everywhere, and walking down there when it was raining would result in black puddles and staining of clothes.  I used to remember some old guys who used to go and collect coal to take back for their fires.  There were other things to salvage from down there – there was a cooking apple tree which we used to collect from, a Katkins tree and also a flurry of blackberries every year from one of the hedgerows.

1993 was a sad time for me, as in previous years there had been machines brought in to test the land for suitability of building on.  It was decided to turn the dis-used land into a housing estate, and during around October 1993 – the diggers came in and cleared everything.  Demolishing the camps, trees and everything we enjoyed until it was just clear chalky land – we sneaked onto the land after it it was cleared during the evening, and it was like a ghost land – hardly recognisable.  Not long after, all the houses were built and the coal tip was no more.

Now almost 20 years on, I still miss the place – but have very fond memories.  Unfortunately, although my parents have a few photos from the grassy land just out from the back of the house,  we have none of the coal-tip in the form that we remembered.   A friend of the family very kindly dug out some old photos they had of the coal tip before and after it was build – dated from around the 1930’s to 1940’s, which you can see below.   The first photo shows the area before anything was built – even it seems my old school St Radigunds Primary!

The second shows more what I remember – but filled with stacks of coal and the factories in the background.  It’s hard to really see how we could have played on that land, but emptied there was a large oval shaped land to run riot.

In 2015, it was flagged up that satelite pictures from 1990 were added to Google Earth, showing Dover and the Coal Tip area!   So here are some photos which show exactly how it was when I was a kid!  It was amazing seeing the place again, though I still wish I had some pictures from within the grounds.  Mapped to the contours of the hills on Google Earth, browsing around was quite un-nerving, and felt like I was back there again – apart from the flat buildings!…

Then finally in November 2015 – i’ve dug out the photos showing the green land that was out the back of us.  Sadly I don’t have any photos from within the actual coal tip area, as why would anyone take a picture in there anyway?? 😉

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Unreal maps, demos and Quake demos

During a bit of a tidy up, i’ve dug out a bunch of Unreal 99 Maps that were produced by myself and colleagues at my old work place back in 2005/2006.

Also there are some recorded demos in both UT and Quake… all of which can also be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/user/fgasking/videos

Here are the files for downloading:

10th anniversary of full time employment

I can’t quite believe that it’s been 10 years already since I started my very first full time job, and probably one of the best jobs I could have ever started with back in January 2005.  This post is one my usual annual reflection posts on a particular past event/time period, this time (with it being 10 years this month) on my very first proper job and the challenges involved…

I had just graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University in July 2004 with a 1st in my Computer Science degree, still not entirely sure how – as this was all done whilst bringing up our daughter and not getting a huge amount of sleep for about 2-3 years.  Since late 2000, I had been working at my local Co-Op, and gradually increased the hours after I moved out and set up home with my future wife and child.   For a small period after graduation, I was offered the chance to begin teaching part-time on the very same Computer Science degree I had just graduated from, as well as running a multi-media class on the HND Multimedia course being ran at the time.  The hourly rates were very good, and it seemed ideal to teach something I had just been freshly taught myself.

Before that I had been applying to quite a few jobs over the summer without much luck – many jobs wanted the experience part, which I just did not have.  It was a pretty stupid situation, but I was gathering experience at least in CV design and interview skills.  I did almost get a software development job in Chatham for a company that specialized in Rail timetables, but with a lack of experience – I was initially only offered a tester job – which wasn’t quite enough to cover the travel costs and leave much left over, so I had to turn it down.

I was doing OK after a month or so into the lecturing, though I felt completely out of my depth to be fair in the new role.  As it was just part time, I was still doing my student job at the local Co-Op every Saturday and Sunday.  My lecturer and friend Dr David Bennett kept telling me that I shouldn’t just stick to doing teaching, and should get out there and do a real IT job to get the experience under my belt.  He then one day dug out an advert for a new job in the Web Team at Christ Church University, which looked great and right up my street.

Although I hadn’t no work experience in the field, I was a graduate from the University and had done a fair chunk of web work for myself and as part of the course, as well databases and general programming.  The team were now looking to expand.   Stupidly, and I don’t know why – I didn’t get my CV in straight away – and it took a kick up the backside from David for me to see sense and go for it.  I got my submission in (after a little help from David), and to my surprise I was granted an interview!

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Sound of the colossus

Just recently i’ve been speaking with Gari Biasillo regarding some of his past C64 work.   You see, I grew up with most of Gari’s work on the C64 and have particularly fond memories of Target Renegade (brought from a now long gone newsagent which had a rack of budget titles for £2.99 each – with a “Star purchase” label on them).

One thing about Gari is that not only did he code, but he was a great musician too – the likes of Slayer, Steel, Basket Master and Target Renegade all featured tunes by himself.

Gari is still producing tunes today – and recently released a superb album released called Sound of The Colossus, which you can check out here:

http://soundofthecolossus.bandcamp.com/album/sound-of-the-colossus-ost

Maybe some day Gari will do some reproductions of his old classic tunes? … we’ll see!

Dizzy Returns – Kickstarter project

After seeing the iOS reboot of Dizzy – Prince of the Yolkfolk, I was even more excited (yes, I resisted an egg related pun there..) to learn of a whole new Dizzy game being proposed by the original developers The Oliver Twins.

Dizzy Returns is a new Kickstarter project which seems to be full of promise for the Dizzy fans out there, but also for the new generations who never experienced the somersaulting egg during their youth.  Recently i’ve been of the opinion that the whole “Kickstarter” idea has become over saturated, but I can’t help but give something towards this project.  If anything, the Dizzy series on the Commodore 64 had a huge impact on my childhood – swapping tips with friends in the playground and trying to get past that Dragon with the sleeping potion…

If you too grew up playing the various adventures, then this might be one you’d like to see as well.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theolivertwins/dizzy-returns

Happy 30th birthday, Commodore 64!

This month is the 30th anniversary of the Commodore 64 – which was unveiled at the 1982 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in the January of that year.  Approximately 17-20 million machines sold in its commercial life time which was between 1982 and 1994, and was a remarkable amount for the budget 8-bit machine.

Although the Vic 20 was my first personal brush with the Commodore range, it was the C64 which inspired me the most.  With its characteristic features such as the SID chip, the machine holds many fond memories for me – of which I continue to relive today via retro gaming (and following those who continue to develop for the machine today).

Saving up pocket money for the likes of Zzap 64 and Commodore Format magazines, awaiting the likes of the new Dizzy games and Codemaster releases back in the early 90’s was a big highlight.  I was lucky enough to just about catch the machine before it commercially declined to a point of a comic strip-like magazine and no games to review – being able to visit the likes of John Menzies, Boots and various second hand shops to purchase my games.

It was a sad day when it’s last commercial presence (in the form of Commodore Format magazine) disappeared from shelves at the end of 1995 – but the machine continues to live on today with a healthy amount of game and demo releases each year – an example of which can be found here: http://www.rgcd.co.uk/2011/05/c64-16kb-cartridge-game-development.html

Here is to another 30 years – and hoping that the hardware continues to survive 🙂

 

 

Unlocking game preview secrets

I’ve always been fascinated with finding hidden messages/sprites and other assets within games, either via a particular SYS call, or via hacking with an Action Replay cartridge. It was ever since I was given a SYS call which pulled up a demo called “Daring Dots” by Ash and Dave, which was hidden away in their Fruitbank game and when my friend Jason Kelk gave me a SYS call which pulled up the complete intro sequence to his Reaxion game when Commodore Format froze it just after a particular effect had ran.

Then there was the famous “Trap” demo tucked away in the game of the same name by Tony Crowther. The hidden messages within the Ocean Loader before a game fully loaded in. There were many, a good few we have documented here:

https://fgasking.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/hidden-secrets-in-games/

As well tales of unused sprites/assets in Paperboy on the C64:

http://www.gamesthatwerent.com/2011/01/27/paperboy-c64-un-used-assets/

If it wasn’t in a desperate way of filling up space, it was leaving left overs behind due to a lack of space (which was the case with Paperboy anyway).

A recent part of my weird “curiosity” has been looking back at the previews and demos which companies gave to magazines to put on their covermounts back in the day.

I have found that in some instances, demos come with some extra screens and bits tucked away (or even plain on show). There are potentially tunes in the previews which are not used in the final version – two examples of which I found recently with the Flying Shark demo from Commodore User magazine and also from Nobby The Aardvark from Commodore Format.

There are instances where the preview has looked fairly different to the final version. The very well known example is of course R-Type which CVG released, which was infact a completely different development to the final version that surfaced – which you can read more about here:

http://www.gtw64.co.uk/Pages/r/Review_Rtype

Another more recent finding with visible differences has been with Dragon Ninja’s demo from ACE magazine – containing a rather different main character sprite than the final version, as well as a completely different score panel and position. See below for the comparison!…

ACE preview of Dragon Ninja
Final released version

But what I have enjoyed far more is discovering that some previews contain far more than they should have done. Pretty much giving away the entire full game, just with only certain small segments unlocked to create the illusion of a “preview”.

My first discovery of such a thing was with the Arnie 2 preview on Commodore Format. The preview was a small segment of Level 1, before it cut away with a “Buy the game if you like it… blah blah…” type screen. Several months after the preview and game was released, one of the magazines produced an interesting tip which showed how you could exploit a flaw in the background graphics to slip past a barb wired fence at the very start to then just edge round a corner to complete the first level.

Slipping through the fence to Level 2... whoo hoo!!

I didn’t have the full game, as I really hated the sequel compared to the first game, but I just wondered what would happen if I tried the tip on the preview. Would it crash?… What would it do? … To my shock and surprise, the level was completed and I was suddenly playing Level 2!! The programmer had practically given the entire game away and just locked down specific parts. The second level was fairly glitchy, and you randomly died – but with cheats enabled – you could go all the way to the end of the game and complete it. Only the rocket at the end was missing, but you could still shoot where it was and get the congrats message.

I hadn’t really discovered anything similar since then, apart from some half finished extra levels in Fuzzball’s demo for GTW. But then recently I learnt of a demo of Bubble Bobble which was given away on ACE magazine’s covermount. Infamously ACE had accidently given away the full version of the Spectrum version on the same tape, but luckily recalled most tapes before too many copies sneaked out. However, I had wondered if the C64 demo was much different to the final game as I had never seen a demo of the game before.

Stephen (Mort) Stuttard kindly dug out the TAP image of the game and I took a look. Initially there was nothing obviously different – sound, graphics and the 5 levels in the preview were exactly like the final game. However, oddly the levels were out of sequence – they jumped from 1, 5, 8, 10, 15. Was there a possibility of the other levels being tucked away?

I passed the preview over to Vinny (C64endings) Mainolfi, who has been prolifically hacking various games over the past 6 months or so and producing some excellent crazy hacks to extend the life of games which had otherwise ran out of life. I knew that he would be able to discover if there was more to this preview, and he didn’t disappoint!

Last level within the ACE preview

After a bit of hacking around, Vinny discovered that pretty much all 100 levels are tucked away in the game. Below is a screenshot of the last level from the preview. At present a bit more work is required to get a full game working, as the characters are jumping randomly – but at the moment I can now set pokes to set the 5 levels to be whatever I want. When I have a bit more time, I hope to compare levels more closely to the final game to see if there is much (if any) difference.

It is pretty awesome to think that many people who had the preview, in fact had a near enough complete game without ever realising. Had the crackers at the time realised this, then it could have caused a bit of a stir 24 years ago. The awesome creator of the game was probably rushed, and didn’t have chance to strip assets – and maybe the jumping of the characters is part of a protection measure which was done quickly. It doesn’t matter – no-one found out until now 🙂

The discovery (thanks to Vinny Mainolfi) has stirred my interest into finding out if other previews also have more content tucked away, and so another job on the list to dig out some old covermounts! Vinny had better get ready for some more files going over his way! 😉