Busy Saturdays, Cricket, and great finds...

I've done lots of stuff in the last week, but haven't got around to posting. I guess this'll mostly be a "what I did" post.

Saturday was a really busy day. Woke up before 7:00 a.m. to help set up for our yard sale (after helping set up most of Friday night too). Then I took off to the men's breakfast at my church. Richard Pepper joined me, and we played his "Caffeine" song (a parody of "Cocaine") and did some worship-type tunes too. Then back to the yard sale, where I mostly entertained the kids with some cricket practice, and throwing Rianna's hoola-hoop into a tree - it's stuck about 30 feet up now. Then I went back to my church building, and cleaned it with help from my dad and brother-in-law. Then I went to the First Baptist basement, met Richard again, and we did some music there for the folks, and got another free meal.

Sunday afternoon/evening I got to play Cricket again, for the first time in several years. Many of the people there were affiliated with the university, and all (except me) were part of the Pakistani community. They were very welcoming and friendly, and I never felt out of place, despite them speaking their native language to one another 80% of the time. It was great being around other people who share my love of this game.

We played two 12-over games, and one 6-over game at the end - in total, that took about 4 hours. My batting was fairly good - I stayed in for a reasonable amount of time all 3 games. However, I was feeling overly confident about my bowling, and took the 2nd over of the first game. My line was *awful* my first two bowls. Then my line improved, but my length and pace were off. I was facing one of the better batters, and he knocked my short-pitched, slow deliveries all over the field. I'm sure I gave up 20 runs that over, and pretty much caused my side to lose the first game. I wasn't asked to bowl again that day, and that was fine. I'll be working on that, and hope to return to my old form - when on a good day, I felt like I could put the ball wherever I wanted. And boy, were my legs and right side and arm sore Monday and Tuesday!

Tuesday was a great day of video game finds. First, at Winners I found the PC "Atari Revival" that I had been passing on for a few years at higher prices. At $3, I couldn't pass it by - it's Combat, Missile Command and Warlords all re-done. Then, at Cash Converters I found Omega Race for the Atari 2600 - it's really rare for me to find a 2600 game I don't have "in the wild" nowadays. I also bought a big shrink-wrapped pack of Genesis games, nearly 30 of them, for $20. Hardly any of them were doubles for me!

Then, the best find of all (lots of boring details, but it's all part of the little coincidences that led me)...

Returning from lunch to work, I happened to bump into a cow-orker I hadn't seen for a while. We got talking about Monday's federal election. Then he talked about something he had just heard on CBC radio. I mentioned, yeah, I was just listening to that too. So we went to our own respective areas. A bit later, he came down to ask what the website address was for the local CBC radio station so I brought it up to show him. He took off, I started reading the web page. I noticed a particular article about a gym and clicked on it - not really sure why. I started reading the article, and noticed something about "all the old arcade games were being pulled out into the back yard along with all the other junk..." - then I realized that this guy was renovating the old arcade I used to go to when Carla and I first got married and moved into our first house. I guess the arcade owner just left all his old stuff there when he went out of business or whatever. So on a whim I drove over there, down the back alley, and sure enough! There were loads of old arcade machines there, just lying around, exposed to all the rain and bad weather we've been having - but this was Tuesday, and they had only been pulled out on Sunday, and were just waiting there to be taken to the dump.

Anyway, it seemed most of the units had been gutted in some way - I'd guess that the owner had already sold off the most valuable stuff before he moved out. But still, I found a Tetris cabinet that was mostly complete (but no PCB), and a Super Pacman cabinet that was missing the PCB and the control (joystick) panel. But still, great! So I somehow managed to get two of them up in the back of my truck (dropped one on my foot in the process, unfortunately, though it appears I didn't break anything as the pain isn't too bad now, 30 hours later).

So, now they're sitting in my garage, and I'll have to see what I can do with them. At the very least, the cabinets are in pretty good shape - nothing a bit of paint and filler can't fix. The Tetris unit actually looks pretty good, but I have no idea if the monitor or power supply or anything works - I've got a lot of researching and learning to do. Maybe restore one right to a working unit? Or maybe make a MAME cabinet out of one? Who knows? But what a great day of finds...


Hey, Hey, 16k!

Here's a very fun song (with video) that just about says it all. Please check it out - Hey, Hey, 16k!


Collections, Tree Wave, and Minigames

I've been slowly but surely listing all the computer and video games I own into an Excel spreadsheet. My main motivation is to have a handy list that I can keep in my PDA for reference when I'm out thrifting. My collection is large enough that I can't remember everything I have. I've got almost 700 entries so far, and I've still got quite a bit more to enter. But I've reached a milestone - I now have all my cartridge and CD based software entered. Next thing to tackle is all the disk based stuff, like 3.5" Amiga and PC, and 5.25" C64, and other miscellaneous bits. Anyway, you can check it out here, if you feel inclined.

I've gotta put in a plug for a band I like a lot. Tree Wave is a duo, boyfriend and girlfriend, I believe. She sings, and he programs and plays a bunch of old computer and video game gear, like an Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and a dot-matrix printer. Their sound isn't nearly as electronic as you might think, and it certainly doesn't fit in the hip-hop or electronica categories as they might be traditionally defined. Sleep is my favourite track - I totally dig that rhythmic riff played by the printer. Their CD is finally available for sale - I just ordered mine today at Atari Age.

I've had a bit of time to code lately, so I've been working on some sprite rotate code for an entry into this year's Minigame Compo. The game (in part) will be an overhead car racer, so I need 32 (possibly just 16) images of a car rotating around in a circle. Each frame will take 64 bytes, and I want two sprites overlaid, so that's actually 128 bytes per frame. 128*32 positions is 4096 bytes, and that's how big the entire game is supposed to be! Admittedly, compression can help a lot, but still, a rotation routine that takes, say, 512 bytes would be a lot better, and more versatile too. I've been warned that it'll probably look like garbage, but I'll just have to see for myself.


Commodore Group Survey

I found this survey from a company calling itself the "Commodore Group", and it sort of seems like they're trying to start selling Commodore computers again, apparently new ones. After going through the survey, it seems they just want to sell plain old PCs with a Commodore sticker on them, or something.

This is pretty disappointing to geeks like me, who would like to see a new computer with some personality, like so many of the old machines that still interest me.

You can check out the survey here, if you want to send it in yourself: Commodore Survey

Well, I filled out the survey anyway, and sent it in - here it is (long!):

1)What type of computer do you have now?
My newest computer runs Windows ME, with an AMD 2200XP+ processor, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. I've got dozens of other computers, not sure why you're assuming I only have one.

2)What year was your computer made?
2003. However, I've got computers going back to at least 1980.

3)What model computer?
Not sure what you mean that isn't dealt with in #1.

4)How long have you owned it?
Since 2003.

5)Do you prefer Desktop computers or Laptops?
I own far more desktops than laptops, but appreciate each for their own uses.

6)Where do you usually buy you computer?
"you computer"? I usually buy you computer online, in the last 5 years or so anyway.

7)Did you purchase you computer online or dial a toll-free number or buy it from a brick & mortar store?
See answer #6.

8)List three main reasons why you would buy a brand-new Commodore?
If it's just another Windows or Linux machine, I'm really not interested. Maybe a cool Commodore related case would interest me, or some interesting hardware - but then, couldn't I just buy the case and hardware (like, a PCI card or something) right from you?

9)Would you pay more to own a new Commodore?
A bit more, if it was interesting, yeah.

10) What is your age?

11) What is your sex?

12) What is your household income?
$0.97 per unspecified unit of time.

13) What is you favorite radio station?
You favorite radio station is CBC Radio 1.

14) What is your favorite TV station?
The Score.

15) What is your favorite TV show?
Hockey Night in Canada

16) What is your favorite newspaper?
The Chronicle Journal.

17) What is your favorite magazine?
Transactor. You didn't say "current magazine" but if that's what you mean, I don't have one.

18) What clubs do you belong to?

19) What are your three favorite web sites?
(computer related)

20) What type of work do you do?
Computery stuff for a telco.

21) What level of education do you have?
University graduate.

22) Do you want the new Commodore to look similar to the original color scheme of the Commodore 64, or would you prefer a completely different color scheme?
There's been a couple color schemes. Most computers today have a similar color scheme to the 64C, so that's nothing special. I guess you're asking if I want a brown computer. Sure. I want a brown computer.

23) Do you want the new Commodore to look similar to the original Commodore 64, or would you prefer a completely different design?
If you could fit a PC in a breadbox, yeah, I'd be somewhat interested. More interested than just a PC in a case with a C= sticker on it.

24) What made Commodore special?
That it was different. That's what made the whole era special - there were a bunch of computers out there, and they had different processors, different video and sound, different operating systems, different games.

25) What amount of memory do you want it to have? 256MB, 512MB, Higher?
You're releasing this in 2006? My budget PC I bought last year has 512MB, if you're trying to compete with that.

26) What size hard drive do you want it to have? 80GB, 100GB, 120GB, Higher?
Whatever is the best size for the $ in 2006. I'm sure 120GB would be the smallest available by then.

27) What Video Card do you want it to have?
I don't want a video card, I want a video chip. Like a VIC-III. But you're just buying parts off the shelf? This is just going to be another PC clone, isn't it. Bah. Radeon then.

28) What Sound Card do you want it to have?
I want it to have a SID-II chip. Make that two.

29) Do you prefer Flat screen monitors or CRT monitors?
I'd prefer not to buy one from you if I can help it. Unless it's going to be "Commodore monitor" which would be okay. I'd buy a 1703, I guess.

30) Do you prefer AMD or Intel?
Out of those two choices, AMD.

31) What processor do you want it to have?
Something neat and new.

32) Who do you consider to be our competition?
The thousands of other companies putting out the same old stuff. If you do something neat and new, you will have just about no competition.

33) Where would you expect us to advertise?
Where you would reach the most prospective buyers.

34) What programs would you like on the new machine?
A programming language to hack with.

35) What three games would you like on the new machine?
Autoduel II, Delta II and Wizball II.

36) Would you like to see the original Commodore 64 games on the new system?

37) What are your favorite current games?
Tron II, Farcry, NHL 2004, if I understand "current games" correctly.

38) What three things you want for sure to be included on the new machine?
9 pin joystick ports, SID-II, and VIC-III.

39) Do you like the original Commodore logo or should an updated logo be created?
I like the original.

40) Who or what should Commodore's new spokesperson be?
Kiki Stockhammer or Jim Butterfield.

41) Who or what should be Commodore's new mascot be?
Kiki Stockhammer or Jim Butterfield should be Commodore's new mascot be.

42) How much would you be willing to pay?
If it's just a PC, a wee bit more than a comparable PC. If it's something neat and new, we'll see.

43) Do you have any other comments? Try to be as detailed as you can.
The context of this questionnaire should have been explained better. Most everything I read here makes it seem like you're going to build another Intel/AMD box with parts off the shelf, and put a C= badge on it, and perhaps cater to the C= crowd a wee bit more by including an emulator or something else sort of "retro".

When a rebirth of Commodore is talked about, people are hoping for a neat new machine in the vein of the C64 or the Amiga or something, but that isn't what appears to be going on here.

Robin Harbron



12 minutes, again.

I got together with some friends and watched Terminator 3 for the first time last night. I really enjoyed it, laughing out loud many times both at a good percentage of Arnie's one-liners, and at many of the over-the-top and imaginative action sequences. However, I didn't find the story itself as interesting as the first two Terminator movies.

I think getting the audience laughing with the film early on is best with these big action-blockbuster type movies, as I think we'd be laughing at it otherwise.



Did a "run" again today. 12 minutes this time. I think my definition of "run" is: To move quicker and further than I otherwise would.

And remember kids: "Unix doesn't just let you shoot yourself in the foot, it helps you aim."


Gyruss, and What Ifs?

I actually managed to wake up and get out of bed before 7 a.m. this morning, so I had time to do a "run" around the block, which is a bit more than a mile long, if my truck's odometer can be trusted. Last year I was able to do this in under 10 minutes, this first attempt was nearly 15 - it was more like a fast walk with occasional jogging. I live in a good area for this sort of thing - I didn't see a single vehicle on the road. So I figure I'll work at getting my time down to under 10 minutes again, and maybe even better. 8 minutes? 7? Ouch :)

So, readers, why don't you bug me occasionally to see how I'm doing with this?

And back on topic, I'm now playing Gyruss on my GBA. It's a space shooter, where your ship flies in a circle around the perimeter of the screen, always pointed towards the center, like it's in a DS9 wormhole. The enemy ships gather deep down in the tunnel, and then take runs at you, getting larger as they come closer.

The hook in this game is that every two or three stages (called "warps" in this game) you arrive at one of the planets in our solar system, and then get a bonus stage. You start heading towards Neptune, then get progressively closer to Earth (or possibly the sun?). I've managed to make it to Mars, and one or two warps away from Earth. I want to keep playing to see what happens when I arrive on Earth. Maybe something special will happen? Or will it just keep going towards the Sun? What happens when you arrive there?

Anyway, this kind of progression really appeals to me - the "what ifs?". Reminds me, I've wanted to write about the idea of pushing the boundaries in games. For example, when you get to the top of the first level of Donkey Kong, the natural thing to do is to go rescue the girl. But what if you run past, and touch Kong? And what about those double ladders he climbs up when you finish the level? Can you climb up those if you try? More on this later.


Frogger update! So last night I finally managed to beat that really difficult level 5, and at about the same time, hit 20,000 points to get the extra frog. Level 6, surprisingly, is about as easy as level 1, except the snake is there, complicating the river crossing. And sometime between level 6-8 another snake appears, so there can be two on the big log in the middle of the river, making it completely unpassable (I guess all you can do is wait for it to get off the log and go by the river bank instead.

So after finally getting past level 5, I managed to make it all the way to level 8 or 9, when things start getting difficult again. While I don't mind the game getting easier for a while, it does make me think a little less highly of the design of the game. I've always thought game difficulty should ramp up fairly gradually and consistently. It doesn't seem right that my high score, which had been creeping up from about 12000 to 18300, is suddenly at 28200.

Well, if this 5 level cycle holds, I wonder what level 11 is like?
Time Pilot time! But first, during my regular bit of vanity surfing, I found I'm #1 on google.com for "classic computers blog" and #5 for "classic video games blog". Pretty cool, eh?

I always thought Time Pilot was a really tough, complicated game, totally unlike my thoughts on Frogger a while ago. Well, at least on the Gameboy Advance version, I was really wrong. At first Time Pilot did seem difficult, but soon I figured a couple things out.

First, always head up. This keeps you above most of the planes and their bombs they can briefly shoot upwards (on level one). More importantly, this moves you more quickly towards the bonus parachutists. The first one you pick up is worth 1000, then that increases by 1000 each time until you reach 5000 points each. The really strange thing is that there are apparently unlimited parachutists available in the GBA version of Time Pilot.

So here we get into the "free life factor". First one arrives at 10,000 and then every 50,000 points after that. If you avoid finishing the level and just keep blasting away, picking up the parachutists, you can collect many extra lives. Only up to 8 are displayed, but internally it keeps track of them. I got up to 700,000 points before I accidentally finished the level. I kept the same strategy on the second level and managed to max out the score, at 999,900. So much for being too tough a game!

So I then barged ahead with my stockpile of extra ships, and managed to make it to level 5 before I ran out. This "fly up" strategy doesn't work on levels 3 and 4, as the aircraft shoot heat-seeking missiles that will catch up with you. The best strategy I've found so far is to shoot the ships before they can shoot at you, and to get comfortable making tight turns to evade the missiles.

Typically I'd be interested in getting to the higher levels of Time Pilot to see what new things were there. However, sticking around the first level allows you to build up loads of extra ships, so you are better equipped to go further in the game.

FWIW, the arcade version of Time Pilot is more difficult, at least when I tried it in MAME. The game runs faster, and more importantly, there are a limited number of parachutists to pick up, so you can't run up the score (and the extra lives). However, my practice on the GBA still helped, as I was able to get to level 4 on my first try.

And there is no witty ending to this blog entry.


I've got a bit of writer's block re: "Car Battler Joe" (aka Car Battles at Joe's Repair, thanks Richard :) I played that game like crazy for a week, and I think I'm worn out with it now. Quick review - it's a great game, very much a modern remake of one of my favourites (Autoduel), and is the closest yet to my "dream game" I want to make one day. I'll try to get into it's strengths and shortcomings sometime.

After I finally pulled CBJ out of my Gameboy Advance SP, I started playing the only other cartridge I have for the GBA, called "Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced". It was less than $20 at Superstore, and it has 6 classic Konami arcade games on the one cartridge. The games are "Frogger", "Yie Ar Kung-Fu", "Time Pilot", "Gyruss", "Scramble" and "Rush'n Attack". Each game appears to be an extremely faithful recreation (or more likely, emulation) of the actual arcade game.

Before I get to a couple ideas about a couple of these games, I want to explain a couple of other ideas - sort of video game theory (for couples? Unlikely.)

At the Midwest Gaming Classic, Twin Galaxies (apparently the leading record-keepers for video game world records, such as who holds the highest score in Pac-Man) was there, doing their thing. My friend Jason mentioned that he doesn't play for score, he plays to progress through the game. You might think that high scores and progressing through the game would go hand in hand, but depending on the design of the game, they can be two very different goals.

If you are playing for a high score, you're going to make the most of every level, trying to squeeze every last point you can out of it while you're early in the game, because most games become more difficult as you progress, and those extra points will be harder to obtain later.

If you're playing to progress through the game (like, get to a very high level) you probably won't bother getting those points as you're risking your lives/turns by lingering on the level - this risk could be better applied to progressing through the next level. I tend to play to progress as well - I really like seeing what's new in the next level - new abilities, new enemies, new scenery, whatever.

The other game theory ties in here - some games reward you with extra lives/turns when your score reaches a certain level. "Extra man at 10,000 points" (and possibly "and every 50,000 points after") is a typical message displayed during an arcade game's "attract mode". The difficulty in obtaining these extra lives can vary immensely. I wonder how the game designers decided on this factor.

So back to my Konami Arcade Advanced cartridge. Funny how I could be so wrong about a couple 22 year old games. Frogger is a game I always dismissed as being too easy, or at least not having enough depth to be challenging. Strangely, I thought this without playing it all that much. Time Pilot, on the other hand, seemed like an extremely difficult game.

So I found myself playing Frogger a lot, even feeling somewhat addicted for a few days. There's a lot more to this game than I had previously realized. It's quite cool how crossing the road, and then crossing the river are opposites of one another. On the road, you're avoiding the moving objects, while on the river, you must stay on the moving objects. Particularly while crossing the river, there's all sorts of quick planning and pattern recognition that has to be done on the higher levels. The snake and crocodiles and disappearing turtles all add that little bit of extra variety and challenge. And trying to get into that top left "frog home" can be really difficult. Plus, there's a time limit (maybe 50 or probably 60 seconds) per frog, to get them home. There's a neat twist that you can collect the female frog (?) and (possibly) the fly at home for 200 points each. On the other hand, you get 10 points for each second remaining on the clock when you get home. So if you spend 20 seconds trying to get either of these you end up breaking even. This game has an interesting balance to it - a lot of time must have been spent balancing the scoring in this game.

Frogger is a game that has me playing both for score and for progress too, because there's little seperation between the two, mainly because of the time limit.

However, I think the extra life being awarded at 20,000 points is way too difficult. I've gotten a lot better at Frogger in the last week, often making it to level 5 (which is really difficult) and my best score is only 18,230.

On to Time Pilot later...

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