Those disks are dying….

It’s hit me recently that we are really up against it at the moment in the world of digital preservation.

At present i’ve spent on and off around 5 months in my spare time backing up a load of disks from an ex-C64 developer – probably about 300 disks to be precise. Normally in the past it would take a good few weeks to back everything up, but with this particular batch it has a been a painful process due to bit rot on the disks and the surface starting to degrade on most of the cheaper brands of floppy disk.

Luckily through the use of head cleaning fluid and cotton buds, i’ve managed to get most of the data off the disks – but some disks were just far too damaged to get anything useful off them.

It seems to be a growing trend as I get new batches over time – with bit rot becoming very common and time taken to recover data and preserve it taking far longer as a result. Unfortunately there is only so much that any few people can do in their limited free time, so we just have to persevere and hope that we save as much lost software as we can.

In a way it is a shame that there are not more full time preservation projects dedicated to this kind of thing. There are pockets of preservationists for all kinds of media, like political cartoons or even old TV shows (thinking of the recent documentary on Bob Monkhouse and his collection of shows being preserved) – but nothing really as high profile for gaming media.  There could well be in time – but by then it could be too late.

It could mean that for GTW64, we lose many a title, not down to the disks being binned – but purely for the fact that the disks may not be readable soon. It’s a sobering thought if you are into this preservation and posterity lark like I am! 🙂

Metro-cross (C64) – Retrobyte

Sometimes when i’m not entirely sure what game to play next, I dig out a bundle of Zzap/Commodore Format mags and flip through to get “inspired”.  Again this helped me to produce a small list of titles to dig out.

Metrocross was one of those titles, and yet another game which gives me some fond memories – picking up the budget version of the game second hand many moons ago.  I remember that the game didn’t look that much on the front cover or the back, but it was a new title in the second hand shop and worth a try for a quid.

The c64 version

The game itself is a conversion of a Namco title which doesn’t get as much attention as maybe it should.  The idea of the game is simple – control your futuristic man and get him racing from left to right across a checkered floor to the finish line within the time limit.  However, the checkered floor comes covered in hazards such as holes, obstacles and squares which slow you down.  There are objects to aid your progress, such as skateboards to scroll across even slow tiles at speed, springboards to propell you further along in the game and over holes and collectables that stop the timer, help you speed up and give bonus points.

The game automatically scrolls, with your character always running.  All you have to do is move your character around the race area and across 32 courses in total.  It’s pretty different to most games you may have played back then, and still holds up today – though its a shame there is no simultaneous 2 player mode – which could have increased the fun scale.

As a conversion, I never really knew how accurate it was at the time – mainly because I had never seen the arcade itself.  It wasn’t until thanks to MAME and one of the Namco classic collection packs that I managed to see just how close it was.  Zzap’s 53% grading is very harsh indeed, and something that should be ignored.  Although the graphics are a bit blocky, with sprites being expanded – the game plays brilliantly and is an extremely accurate conversion (Though music could have maybe been beefed up a bit).

I’m off to play it again now, so if get the chance – check it out for yourself (It should be available on various retro compilations, but also may even be on one of the virtual consoles of the big 3).

Additional trivia – The general format of the game was never really cloned to the heights of Pacman.  Actually it pretty much wasn’t cloned at all, apart from one C64 game which never fully materialised.  Inspector Gadget was a licenced game of the cartoon series by Melbourne House – although an arcade adventure game did surface, there was an earlier version of the game which was a blatant clone of Metrocross and can be checked out here on GTW64.

It’s actually quite fun, although buggy – and would have been more welcome than the terrible game that eventually got a release.

Other games being checked out today

Pretty much a day of C64 (Though a bit of PS2 after to test out a donated console from my nephew that he was getting rid of).

The Muncher (C64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=5083&d=18&h=0

A Rampage sort of clone with a very large main godzilla character breaking up cities – including a level named “Nintendo village”.  Great little yelps when you pick up people and eat them, or crunch sounds when you jump and land on them (Considering the 8-bit pixalage, not as gory as it sounds 🙂 )

Bedlam (c64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=715&d=18&h=0

Never played it before, though always seen the adverts – thought i’d give this Xevious clone a whirl to see if it as average as the magazines made it out to be.

Forgotten Worlds (C64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=2874&d=18&h=0

Stunning conversion by Arc Developments.  Graphically superb and very accurate conversion.  Really good use of hi-res and multicolour backgrounds.

Roughing it up with Speedball 2 (C64)

Continuing a semi-regular highlight of gaming titles, today I spotted mention on a retro forum about the love of Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2 – which in turn prompted me to dig out Speedball 2 on the Commodore 64.

Title screen - thanks to Lemon64.

 

Generally when sports games are highlighted on the C64 and which are the best, generally for football you get the likes of Microprose Soccer and Emlyn Hughes International Soccer listed. For Golf, World Class Leaderboard and for multi game events, pretty much all the Epyx titles.

Sadly Speedball 2 has never really received the full attention it deserved, which might be due to the fact that it was released so late into the C64’s commercial life when many had upgraded to the likes of the Amiga or 16-bit consoles in 1991. It was also one of the last Imageworks titles before Mirrorsoft went under.

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Retro byte: ‘Switchblade’ (C64)

A bit of a quick entry this time round, as time is short and there are games to play rather than talk about them all the time 😉 …  A new title to highlight this time round is the relatively unknown ‘Switchblade’  (With focus on the Commodore 64 version).  My first experience of this was via a small demo on issue 11 of Commodore Format – and I remember quite well being blown away by a title which was very NES’esq in its style.  It didn’t take me long until I picked up the full version back in the day.

Start of the game on the C64.

In the game, you control Hiro, the last of the bladeknight warriors who must find 16 pieces and reassemble the legendary Fireblade to destroy an evil creature called Havok.

The game starts out with you above ground and kicking some bizzare scorpion creatures and picking up bonuses, until you reach a disused lift shaft which going into will result in you falling into the underground complex (Called the Undercity) – where your mission begins.

Undercity

The Undercity is a labyrinth of ladders, platforms, various monsters and traps throughout – which you must explore and discover all of the 16 pieces.  At particular points in the game you must destroy 16 larger creatures to progress to further parts of the game map.

One of the fun aspects of the game is kicking parts of the map and discovering little bonuses dotted around, and upgrades to your weaponry.   The creatures can get a bit annoying after a while, but trying to push further on in the game is compelling.  The only downfall is that things can get a little repetitive in terms of look and feel, but overall its a huge game and very surprising that they managed to cram it all into a single load.

Graphically the game varies – in some parts it is pretty awesome.  Animations are a bit iffy however, and the red landscape at the start is not very well defined.  Sonically the game comes with some of the best Ben Daglish music i’ve heard on the C64 (And which sadly happened to be his last work on the machine too).  The presentation is also very good, featuring a neat intro sequence and a great title screen with a superb animated logo.

The Amiga version
The Amiga version

It’s worth also checking out the 16-bit versions – but the C64 is a solid conversion overall, that the only thing you get are some improved graphics.  Additionally check out the sequel if you can, which is a very different game overall and well worth checking out.

Trivia:  The same developers later re-used the game engine to produce a cheap budget game for Codemasters in 1992 called Stryker in the Crypts of Trogan, which sadly was nowhere near as good as Switchblade.

Growing up with Dizzy

It’s all getting a bit too weird now … each time I encounter someone of the age of 18-24 and bring up the Dizzy series of games, then they sort of give me this bemused look like i’m talking a foreign language (And also with the concept of loading games from cassette tape – sigh!).  Sadly its true that since the last of the Dizzy games were released back in 1993/94, the franchise has been lost to the midst’s of time and new generations mostly haven’t had the opportunity to sample the simple adventure delights of the series.  My own daughter loves the games, but only discovered them through my retro gaming past-time and general reminiscing.

Dizzy

Inspired by the recent Dizzy article in Retro Gamer magazine this month, I felt like writing some of my recollections of growing up with the Dizzy games (With a C64 specific spin – due to my roots) and why it seems sad that new generations are missing out on the little egg on legs…

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My trip to ‘Retrovision 2010’

Last weekend saw Retrovision 2010 come and go, and what a brilliant 3 days it was. Plenty of retro gaming, socializing, eating and drinking all in one, it has been an experience i’d like to do again next year with Retrovision 2011. Apart from getting bad Laryngitis on the day we arrived, it has been a big highlight already for 2010. (Full set of my photos can be found here btw)

Based in Oxford at the Follybridge Inn, travel was a bit of an issue for me as I come from all the way in south east Kent. It meant having to get up at 4am and leaving the house at 4:20am to get my 5am coach to London Victoria. After a bit of a wait at the station, I was on the next part of the journey to Milton Keynes where I met up with Vinny [Mainolfi].

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