Pushing Hardware to its Limits (Commodore 64)

I decided to try playing Commodore 64. I somehow started to admire this product of computer industry. It started as I tried to figure out something new, again, something new that I yet haven’t discovered as a gamer or player. I was born in the 80s. But you would have to be a teenager back then if you picked a Commodore 64 up and really started fiddling with it.

There were just so many possibilities for a person. You could just play or you could learn BASIC and ultimately if you were good at it and had some sort of flow and interest in this technology you could go real far. You could actually learn how the thing works and program it to do whatever you wished to. This can be accomplished with Assembler programming.

My minor experiments are nothing compared to what some witty persons have accomplished. With this in mind I am going to begin. First I watched a video on YouTube that introduced me some games. It had 30 games on it. I picked the ones I found most interesting. Then I did a Google search and found this site . Just to give you a clear picture of what Commodore 64 is capable of doing I am giving you some names of some of the best games that I tested. The games are Amalyte, Bubble Bobble, Commando Arcade, International Karate, Katakis, Lode Runner, Prince of Persia, R-Type and Wasteland.

I have stumbled to Prince of Persia and Bubble Bobble way back when I was using our family’s PC so I already had a picture of what these games are like. They definitely didn’t look visually bad at all. You have to consider what kind of a device was in use. What were it’s capabilities of running games. I could just state here its specifications like processors speed and memory, ROM and RAM, that it had but that isn’t going to tell you much.

Commodore 64 was not so powerful. It is mind blowing how engineers and designers used everything they had to deliver games to consumers. There were many limitations to be taken in consideration. This made it a tough job for graphics designers, programmers and even hardware electronics professionals. They had to split the work depending on their own field of expertise. This is important also today when someone is trying to bring a product to the markets and available.

How did I feel after I tried to play some 1980s games? The limitations are there. As I was playing Commando Arcade I figured out some basic tactics and I find it to be real close to some modern shooting games. The action was fast. I had a modern game pad so it helped a bit. Bubble Bobble was nice. It is almost too familiar to me. And then there was R-Type which is a very nice space shooter. You can forgive the poor graphics because the playability is very good…and also fast.

If you are interested to find out more I suggest you use first your favorite search engine and find an emulator. I really didn’t have any hardware to test these games with. I am not sure if these games are available anymore and I think it’s okay to try them out. Later you can get familiar with hardware and you can actually also build your own C-64 if you have time and knowledge or maybe even both. I find even a small possibility of developing some or any software to Commodore 64 very interesting.

There’s Something About Space Shooters

There is a genre of video games that is called “shoot-em-ups” or “shmups” for short. These shooter types of games have been in my mind since I was a child. I am not sure where I picked up these memories. It was probably from some arcade, restaurant, bar or some other place that I spotted a game or few that were about space, shooting and monsters. The game I have in my mind, or the memory of it, takes place in some space related environment. There are blinking dragons and a flying star fleet ship that is shooting that thing.

Of course this isn’t any real game. It was some unknown game that I had seen somewhere. It is however true that there were games like this, space shoot-em-ups, in the end of the 80s in arcades (for example). When the hottest gaming device was Sega Mega Drive they marketed the gaming console with a promise that it would bring arcades to living rooms of our homes. Maybe the graphics weren’t as impressive but they were something at that time. They were a bit more detailed than those NES games we had seen some years earlier. And the sound that was generated was better in pure quality also.

The screenshot that is related to thisĀ  blog post is taken from a game that is called Gynoug. I’m not sure if it is qualified as a space shoot-em-up but it for sure is a shoot-em-up. This game represents the genre. Playing this game can give some view about the it. It is often said that Mega Drive games are hard to play and that they repeat themselves a lot. I am mentioning also the fact that there was no way for the player to save the game and this caused the game usually to be very repetitive. I can understand this better when I think about what kind of a deal it was to design and program a game in 1990s. So the game development methods weren’t as advanced as nowadays. Maybe someone should desing more new games for Mega Drive today?

The influence these games gave to the whole industry of game development is undeniable. The key to success inside space shoot-em-ups is to move to correct direction at correct time and shooting all of time and accurately. I can already see how programmers coded the behavior of the monster you are shooting. Often you can recognize the pattern. Then you move according to where you see you have the position that enables you to not get hit by a missile or any other particle that is headed at you. This can be fun. Nowadays you do see the limitations of the games designed in the past. Althought there is a lot to learn from these games. I definitely recommend you to play some shooter game like this. This game can be Zero Wing, M.U.S.H.A. or Gynoug but there are also other good ones.

Sega vs Nintendo – What was it all about?

Nintendo released a maximum mega hit gaming console back in the 80’s. It was called NES or Nintendo Entertainment System. Atari had released gaming consoles targeted to use inside customers living rooms. It was about the time when arcades were quickly challenged by these kinds of devices you could easily set up inside your own home. The trend was there. Personal computers, PCs, were becoming more and more popular also.

While Sega Master System wasn’t a very bad console it couldn’t fully challenge NES. Sega knew they had to release a better, more powerful, gaming console to compete with Nintendo. Mega Drive, or Genesis as it was called in the USA, was released at the end of 1980’s and in Europe right at the beginning of 90’s.

I remember clearly the commercial of Mega Drive. It was a promise to bring arcades to homes. It delivered graphics and sound at 16-bit quality instead of earlier gaming consoles 8-bits. If Master System didn’t have so many hit games Sega promised also to bring good quality software in the form of great games. Sonic The Hedgehog and Golden Axe II were some of the most popular titles back then with not forgetting some greatness that was brought to paying customers by games like Splatterhouse, Streets Of Rage and for example Kid Chameleon.

Nintendo had Super Mario. Can someone say seriously that Super Mario wasn’t a great game? I think no one would say or think that way. So he was the mascot of the whole NES and also Nintendo. The battle for the gamers hearts (and money) was ultimately bloody and sweaty. You can have, if you wish, a great debate about which console had better games then the other.

As the battle continued Nintendo seemed to take in consideration how violent some games were. They started to deliver fighting games with no blood, hockey games without fights and cute characters that might seem to appeal to younger audience. Sega instead was reaching for customers that wanted this kind of rawness in their games. They didn’t remove the blood or the violence. You have to remember that things were a bit different back then since games in general weren’t so realistic. Sega was also paying more attention to the packaging of their games since Master Systems games were catching critic on that issue.

So who won the battle? You can definitely say that both consoles and companies were doing great. Sega was successful and so was Nintendo. Later, Sega made some bad decisions and started to be in trouble. The last console that was released was Dreamcast. Nintendo instead has been bringing gaming consoles up to this day as Switch is their latest console. Dreamcast was released in the end of 90’s and Switch was released 2017.


Service Games – The Rise and Fall Of SEGA (Book review)

Sam Pettus wrote a book about “the rise and fall” of Sega. This book was published in 2013. Sega has been releasing some games but the latest console was DreamCast. And it was released in 1998. So the book is some years old but if you think of this subject, how Sega conquered and commanded the markets first with Mega Drive and later with other consoles, you find out that this content is not outdated. It might be currently relevant as being part of console gaming history. And in my opinion – this is something that every gamer should know about. So what was and is Sega and what kind of an impact it made on gaming and how it can be seen even today?

This book begins the journey to Segas history from the beginning to the fall. The first console released was SG-1000. I have never seen this console. The breakthrough for Sega came as Master System, a well-known gaming system, was released. This was the beginning of console war between mainly Sega and Nintendo. This happened in 80s as there first appeared to be two greatly popular gaming consoles on the same market. Atari 2600 was already considered older console and it was replaced with these newer consoles. Atari had its consoles but they couldn’t compete with Sega and Nintendo.

Sega was active and brought many machines to use in arcades. As Mega Drive was released at the end of 80s Sega promised to bring, finally, arcade quality gaming to mainstream consumers homes. The war raged on and the battle continued. Nintendo brought SNES to markets a few years later. These systems all failed to compete with PlayStation that conquered home gaming console markets from the middle of nineties to the end of the decade. But that’s enough of 3D gaming and PlayStation. Let’s get back to what happened inside gaming world in late 80s and 90s.

So Sega had Mega Drive, that was called also Sega Genesis in some parts of the world, and Nintendo had to compete with its NES that was not as powerful as Mega Drive. NES challenged Sega by making some quality games as Super Mario was the main character to lead Nintendos effort to beat Sega. Sega later came up with Sonic that was the main character and represented Sega in this battle. Nintendo tried to make games that were more propriate for children. Their main focus was to bring high quality games and make them be as non-violent as can be. And in some way they succeeded in this. Sega released games also that had violence in them.

Sega had its success with Mega Drive. They had a bad strategy with pricey products that consumers weren’t so interested in. So there was SNES released by Nintendo. Sega released 32X and Sega CD that both failed to gain popularity. After that Sega came up with Saturn that had a tough job to compete with PlayStation. And after that Sega gave its very strong effort to bring to the markets potentially the best console ever made. And some definite fans of Sega are saying that they accomplished just that.

DreamCast did sell but it didn’t sell enough as Nintendo had released N64 and PlayStation 2 was on it’s way. DreamCast ended up selling “only” 9 million consoles worldwide. For a comparison I can tell that PS2 sold more than 100 million consoles. So PS2 sold more than ten times more. So it clearly was a failure for Sega. They ended manufacturing the console as it had only been in the market for just a few years. At the same time PS2 sold steadily and continued in producing. There are many reasons why Sega failed. And many of them were not that they made mistakes but in fact the case was that they had to compete with some very good console manufacturers like Sony and also Microsoft that released also their console at the beginning of the century.

This book is very good. I had fun reading it. It tells you the whole story of Sega as a company and opens up some ideas of how they succeeded and finally failed badly and left the gaming console industry. If you are a Sega fan this is an important piece of gaming history. I am myself a big Mega Drive fan beginning from games and music that was made with and for it. This is not, I repeat, a paid or other type of commercial but more like a recommendation for gaming and Sega fans around the world reading this blog. We will be back, soon, with the next article.

What exactly is chiptune music?

What means chiptune? Chip reminds of electronic component while tune brings in mind a simple musical melody. This even now popular genre became known when game developers, back in 80s, needed music and sound effects for their games. First very popular system that had decent music was Commodore 64 which came to markets in 1982. It had a chip called SID (“Sound Interface Device”) that was responsible for producing the sound for this system.

You can find chiptune also on NES (“Nintendo Entertainment System”), that was released in 1983. 16-bit systems that were later released also could produce music that would be categorized as chiptune althought they were of higher quality as systems moved from 8-bit to 16-bit. First very popular console that had sound quality very close to CDs was the first Sony PlayStation. You can argue for hours about which has better sound – vinyl or CD, but we are not going to go there. So chiptune was originally popular in video games from 1980s to, I think, 1995.

Today chiptune is still very popular. You can find artists that have been strongly influenced by this type of music. Usually chiptune is strongly associated with retro games or the games that originally had chiptune as their background music. As retro gaming is popular chiptune is alive even today. Some artists are producing chiptune with modern tools such as software synthesizers that are just basically virtual instruments with some presets and the ability to create various sounds, your own presets, and can run inside any kind of DAW (“Digital Audio Workstation”) you can imagine.

Since I started with this topic I have to write also more about so called tracker music that first made its way to home musicians sometime in 1980s. So tracker is simple application that runs on computer that allows you to make music. Amigas computers were first devices that made this functionality available for music production. Inside tracker you can define your songs tempo, basically just how fast the track is flowing, and add drum sounds and melodies that are created using small digital samples of audio. Trackers are used also today but they are not as powerful as music applications such as FL Studio for example. Some now popular trackers are Renoise, a very good one, Mad Tracker and OpenMPT. Some older ones are Scream Tracker, Fast Tracker and Impulse Tracker. You can find many great trackers and please comment and let us know if you have a suggestion for readers of this blog.

You can listen to some chiptune songs for example here:

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