Making Of Reset C64 Intro

By Andrew Burch

While immersed in Syntax 2015 and beginning work on an intro for Hokuto Force (which went on to be released as “Technic” shortly after), I was approached by a familiar face. Unkle K sat down and we had a great chat about family, the C64, my intros and naturally, the Reset magazine. During the chat, he asked if I was interested in doing an intro for Reset64. Given Reset is an Australian magazine and I loved the work they put into it, how could I refuse? Time passes too quickly these days and it would be another 9 months before I’d start to form the basis of the intro. But once started, it came together quickly over the following weeks and I was pleased to be involved in the Reset #10 release with an intro and this write up to accompany it.

Rather than just put a bunch of things on screen, I like to focus on the design of my intros so the effects fit with the music and there is a smooth flow to the experience. Because I have so few SID contacts to help with the music, I begin most of my intros using sidplay2 and HVSC (High Voltage SID Collection) to look for existing tracks which I think I could design an intro around. Often I have an idea of how much memory I want to allocate to music, so this means I can focus on SID files of a certain size. I have a simple script that digs through the HVSC folders looking for SID files under (or between) a certain size and then copying them to a separate folder. I then create a play list from that folder in sidplay2 and explore for suitable tracks. This allows me to create a short list of music, which I will then listen to on repeat as I begin designing the flow of the intro. For this intro, I ended up settling on a track from ECO (Raik Picheta), which I had been wanting to create an intro around for quite a while. I’ve used a few of Raik’s tracks now and love what he creates.

My goal was to create the biggest (and hopefully best) Reset intro to date. I wanted the intro to be more than just a simple greets list, scroller and logo. This meant it had to have multiple parts instead of a single screen. The chosen music track suited a multi-part intro, so I was keen to flesh out something larger than the normal intro that accompanies each issue of Reset. Because this is a milestone release, the intro should celebrate the previous releases in some form and also acknowledge the Reset64 staff. A nice transition of some kind from the start screen to the intro is always a must for me and something I would incorporate into the intro. When designing the flow of the intro, I don’t necessarily know exactly how each part will appear on screen. Mainly, I focus on what each part will represent and build on that. With these few things in mind, and the music track selected, I came up with the flow to use:

  • Transition from BASIC to intro
  • Introduce Reset intro
  • Reset team credits
  • Show logo
  • Intro credits
  • Final part (continuous play)

With some design down for the intro, I now got cracking on writing the code. With every intro I’ve done, I always have multiple parts under development at the same time. I find it a good way to avoid getting stuck on a certain bit for too long and it also helps give an early idea on how well the implementation matches what I envisioned. Each part is developed within its own assembly file, which helps avoid working in large files. For some of the larger parts, I will even split them into smaller assembly files and code each sub effect first before bringing them together. For example, the final part which has a logo swing, cycling text, scroller and border sprites started life as four separate “effects” which were eventually brought together with their own transitions into a single assembly file, which then got merged into the final release file. I’ve found this method allows me to tweak and tune parts and their transitions easily before considering them complete and ready to move into the intro. It also makes it easier to sort out bugs before intro parts are merged together. An added bonus to this is it means I can quickly test each piece in both PAL and NTSC modes too. The final intro file will contain a small section at start up that detects NTSC mode (by peeking at the value in $02A6) and adjusts some variables & instructions to improve stability under that mode.

The assembly files won’t run themselves though and need to be compiled. My choice in compiler is win2c64 which was written by Aart Bik. There are more flexible cross assemblers around, but I found Aart’s to be very easy to use and haven’t had a reason to switch. For code writing I use Sublime Text 2 and a custom syntax colouring scheme I wrote (which I could not live without!). I make use of several common C64 cross development tools like Timanthes, CharPad, SpritePad, Sidplay2 and of course VICE.

Another tool I make use of is Beyond Compare 4, which is great not only for comparing source code changes, but also comparing images. I used this in the Reset intro where I had run the logo data through some conversion routines and wanted to make sure that the before and after output was the same. So before and after screen shots were taken from VICE and fed into Beyond Compare, which can then highlight pixels (bottom panel) where my conversion had faults.

A final piece of software I make frequent use of is Fraps. This tool allows me to capture the intro running in VICE to a video file for playback. This is extremely handy when graphical glitches occur on screen and you can then go back and watch them frame by frame to help diagnose the cause. This was used a few times on the Reset 10 intro where the transition code between parts had some conflict, which resulted in brief graphical glitch flashes and some cases where rasters were flickering. I often find the cause is usually raster interrupts fighting or a timing issue.

Along with the software mentioned, I also have a library of Lua scripts I have developed over the course of my C64 projects which are used to export and transform data into a state ready to be used in one of my assembly files. This includes things like data exporters for sprites, fonts, music, logos and scroller message formatting. There are some days where I spend more time tweaking and improving my tools than I do coding intro parts, simply because of the benefit they offer to the current and future projects. My choice in Lua is simply because, at the time I got back into C64 coding, I was working in the games industry on PS3 & X360 games and used Lua daily. So I found it quick and easy to get my early script library together. I’ve not yet had a reason to switch to something stronger.

I always like to see a transition in an intro from the start screen as I think it’s a nice presentation touch and starts the intro off nicely. For this intro I settled on fading each line of the screen to black (in a pattern), while leaving a nice bright RESET tag in the lower right corner. I use a colour table to ensure that the fade to black looks reasonable no matter what the colour ram, background and border colours are at the time the intro is run. It does however make an assumption the colour RAM is consistent across the screen. You’ll note that the border colour for each 8 pixel high character line also fades out with it, which requires raster interrupts all the way down the screen. It’s actually the same interrupt repeating all the way down, with each row containing its own indexes into the colour table. It’s a simple transition, but gets the intro off to a nice start and something I felt lacking in previous Reset intros.

With the transition done and the intro now starting, I wanted to include something that acted as an “intro to the release”. Reaching issue 10 is a nice milestone for Reset and something for Unkle K and the team to be proud of. I thought it might be good to look back at the previous releases, to see the important dates in their journey so far and then acknowledge their latest release date as part of that. There’s nothing too tricky in terms of code in this part, although originally the dates were not animated using the hardware scroll register. I added the animation to give the screen a little more life as each date fades in and out.

I wanted to dedicate a part of the intro to the team behind Reset who put it together for us to enjoy. It can be thought of as a shout out to the guys who “power” Reset64. This part went through a few design changes before the final was settled on. Originally it started a lot darker, with the scrolling text lit up using white and greys. The colour cycling was also intended to be more of a light source, circling around the text. The names were always going to glow in colour and it was hoped the darker background would put strong emphasis on the name. But the lack of colour felt dull and the “lighting” effect not as good as I imagined it would be. The light source was changed to cycling the colour RAM and brighter colours added. The scrolling “RESET64” text is achieved by rolling character data left and right, which is more efficient than using the hardware scroll and actually scrolling 12 lines of screen data. It leaves plenty of cycles free to scroll the colour ram instead. The top and bottom borders are also open, with sprites waving within. This is actually a really easy trick to perform, and requires you to switch the screen mode to 24 row mode just before the bottom border begins to render. This tricks the VIC into thinking the border is already being rendered, so it doesn’t bother starting it at raster line 250. You simply need to restore it to 25 rows somewhere in the next screen update (I usually do this as part of the frame set up in the top border).

The intro was really starting to come along at this point and I was in need of a logo. Unkle K put me in contact with Shine. This was excellent as I had been looking forward to working with him for a while. Because I wanted to swing the logo (along with bouncing it with Flexible Line Distance), I was keen for a 3 colour logo that could be converted to a character set. Keeping it at 3 colours means the colour RAM does not to be updated during the swing effect. This allows me to spend time doing other things on screen. However, this then places an annoying limit on any artist, but Shine did well to put together a logo (40×8 characters).

The logo arrived in the form of a bitmap, which I then wrote a conversion script for that converted it into unique character data and also a display matrix that could be used to render the characters to screen. This resulted in a set of 194 unique characters for the logo. Part of the conversion process was to also standardise the use of the character colour and the two multi colours. Because the logo started as a bitmap, the multi colours and character colours were not uniform across the logo. An inspection (and adjustment) of the bits for each character byte was done as part of the conversion to ensure the colours were standardised. Beyond Compare was very useful here to verify the output against the original and would highlight where bits had not been converted properly.

Although the logo would be bouncing and swinging across the screen, it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to give the logo a little more life and decided to add some animation to it. Getting another colour on the logo might be good too, so I added sprites that flash across the letters and Shines tag. I also decided to animate the stars that appear in the top left and right of the logo.

Next I thought about how I could introduce the logo onto the screen. When it appears in the final part of the intro, the logo will swing across onto screen – so that one is easy. But I want to introduce the logo earlier, right after the Reset team credits have been shown. There is a perfect part of the music where this can happen and from the first time I heard the track, I had a mental picture of a logo vertically scrolling up. I settled on using a small “trick” of the VIC hardware, which stops rendering colour and simply renders black if you have both multi-colour and extended colour modes enabled at the same time. Putting this together with a Flexible Line Distance effect, I could make the logo begin to appear from half way down the screen. This was then finished off by rendering a line which the logo could appear from, bounce on and then disappear behind again. You’ll notice in the final intro that the word “MAGAZINE” appears in the bottom half of the screen in a wave pattern. These are sprites and are not affected by the multi-colour + extended colour “trick”.

This trick was used again for the intro credits part, but this time it also hides sprites by having their colour set to black. This way the role and credit can appear from the line in different directions. One is hidden by multi-colour + extended colour being enabled and the other is simply sprite colour changing at a certain raster line. To make the sprites appear, their y position is simply updated. The text appears by again using FLD (Flexible Line Distance) to push the character data down.

With all these parts getting to their completed state, I was able to begin creating the “final” assembly file. This is where all the parts get merged together for the final release of the intro, which means I now need to think seriously about memory layout. For this sort of intro, memory size isn’t an issue – I’m not going to run out. But I’m forever conscious about what memory I’m using and where it makes sense to compress or optimise things. The code will start at $0810 and I’ll have exomizer prefix it with an auto run block on the final build. I’ll be using memory around $0b00 to $0fff for sprite data and some table data. Music will live at $1000 and the logo character set at $2800. The main 1×1 font will live at $3000 and is made up of 64 characters. The larger 1×2 font will live at $3200, followed by animated characters used in various parts. I know I’ll need to allocate a little more space for sprites based on my estimates, so will set aside some memory here for those too. I want all graphics data sitting before $4000 so I don’t have to think about bank swapping. I built in some buffers to each of the key areas to allow for change right up to the last minute. In the end those buffers will either compress right down using Exomizer, or I’ll juggle some data tables around to fill them. The rest is free for code and data tables. With that decided I create a new assembly file with the above memory mapped out, ready to start merging parts together.

Merging everything and their transitions together can be tedious work. It can also be rewarding as you see the intro finally coming together in its final form, but it can be slow going as you realise the transitions you’ve created don’t gel well with the previous part, which then requires some juggling. Or new bugs get introduced, which can be “fun” to hunt down. I’m also more mindful at this stage of memory alignment with certain code blocks and where some bits best fit together. As I bring each piece together I test both PAL and NTSC modes. This way I can see early on where there is flicker (usually in NTSC mode) and do my best to get both running well so by the time the intro is completely together there are minimal changes required to have it run under either mode.

At this stage the intro was really flying along, but I still need to code up the final part. The final part will remain on the screen until the system is rebooted. This screen will contain a few different effects, all happening at once. It’s probably one of the trickiest parts to get complete as you not only need to get each effect running, but they have to run side by side with everything else going on screen and everything needs to transition in smoothly. I manage this with some raster interrupt juggling as each effect transitions on screen until finally it just loops forever.

When designing this part, I knew it had to have the logo and it would swing and bounce (using FLD and the hardware scroll register). This would take up the first 10 rows of screen display. When using FLD to bounce the top section of the screen, you need a second FLD effect further down to balance it out. As the top FLD increases in height, the lower FLD decreases. That way the lower section of the screen remains stable all through the bounce.

In the bottom section of the screen I wanted to put the scroller and settled on a 4×4 scroller. Instead of taking up more memory with a new 4×4 font, I wanted to dynamically create a 4×4 version of the 1×1 font already in use. Creating a scroller like this isn’t too difficult (I’ve created a tutorial on my site www.0xc64.com for those that are interested). It requires 16 characters, which make up every combination of 2×2 pixel data. Then using a bit mask and some shifting as each 2×2 bit block is processed, the scroller code creates an index into those characters to build the required 4×4 version.

That left the middle of the screen empty to do something with. I thought it might be nice to show off what features would be appearing in the release. Originally this was just a blue background with colour cycling over the text. It felt too dull and as always I wanted to put more on screen. I ended up with a parallax starfield, which was split in the middle of the screen. This had stars rolling left on one side and right on the other, keeping the flow of the colour cycling on the text. Because the new issue would contain many features, I rotate through new features every so often. With the old feature being hidden with blue colour. The update code detects this and then begins to render the next feature while the colour ram and background colours match. This way the next feature smoothly transitions on to screen.

As a final touch for this part, I opened the top and bottom borders again and added some sprites with a subtle wave to give them some life. Once all the pieces of the final part were brought together (with their transitions), it was added to the final release file.

Quite often as parts evolve, I have to juggle where updates and transitions occur, as adding more things to the screen takes up more raster time. I use a simple method of changing the border colour using an inc and dec on $d020 to see roughly how many scan lines certain update / render routines are taking up. In the screen shot below for example, the final part has several interrupts performing update and rendering for various things going on in the frame. The big gap at the top is reserved for the music, frame prep and top border sprite set up. As you see down the screen, the border changes colours at certain spots, showing the rough start and end raster lines for different routines. Often these will increase and decrease depending on what code is executed in the update. Where I have routines that execute on alternating frames, I can combine these into 1 block to try and get more effects into each screen.

At this point, the intro was ready. The scroller text and feature text are placed right at the end of the intro, which makes them easy to update. I always put these sorts of things at the end since they are variable in length and I don’t want to have to shuffle code or data around if their length exceeds what I had allowed for.

Working on the intro for Reset #10 was a great experience. It came out better than I had planned and certainly hope everyone can enjoy it. Congratulations to Reset for reaching 10 releases and let’s hope there are many more to come.
One part that you’ll never see in the intro is this one. Originally it was going to form the basis of the final continuous play part of the intro. A parallax star field, with a huge vertical logo on the right. It was intended the logo be made of multi-colour sprites, which could be moved around separate to the starfield. Text would be displayed on the right, acting as the scroller. It was ditched as I wanted to do far more on the screen and felt limited by the design. The white lines at the bottom is the raster time the star field animation is taking up.

Pre-order the latest issue of RESET C64 right now from Binary Zone!

 

Reset Podcast Episode 01: The Hewson Episode

reset_podcast_eps1_hdrIf you have ever wondered what shenanigans go on behind the scenes in creating a retro computing magazine, then you are in luck! For those of you in the know, the Reset magazine crew got together for the inaugural podcast of the same name to chat about the making of Reset issue #9 (it was the Hewson Consultants theme issue).

If you weren’t in the know, now you know! Listen in and make sure you grab the issue for free over here!


source: Reset on Soundcloud

 

Blast From The Past: Hewson Consultants

BFtP_Hewson_HDRThere were a number of big name publishers back in the day that had multiple chart toppers with an equal share of stinkers on the Commodore 64. The exception to this rule was Hewson Consultants (or simply Hewson as we affectionately called them). With absolute classics like Uridium, Paradroid, Ranarama, Cybernoid (this list could get quite exhaustive, such was their pedigree), Hewson was always going to leave a delectable and an ever lasting legacy on the C64. Their games had an undeniable quality to them which is probably why they are still spoken of so fondly even to this day, which is testament to the top notch software they pumped out for the 8-bit Commodore behemoth.

With a ton of games to choose from, our favourite Hewson title was the 1987 hit, Nebulus! We were suckers for brain teasing platform games, and Nebulus provided a mind bending experience in spades. The central character, Pogo was so damn cute and yet so very deadly – once we took control of him, we were addicted. Moving Pogo and jumping over obstacles to try and get to the top of each tower felt as natural as breathing. We remember the first time we saw the tower spin as Pogo walked left and then right, we were all wide-eyed with mouth open as if we were swallowing flies! This innovation was refreshing and executed inch perfect, which only Hewson could pull off.

To read the rest of this story, grab Reset #9 now and turn to page 28! Oh yeh, Reset is totally free!

For the latest on Hewson Consultants projects, check out their Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight now!

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Reset C64 Magazine Issue 8: It’s Adventure Time!

Reset_issue8_titleReady, (Re)Set, Go! Rejoice C64 fans as issue 8 of the world’s most awesome free C64 magazine, Reset, is out now! Grab yours right now and go on a great adventure down memory lane.

In this issue, the Reset team take a look at Heroes & Cowards (Protovision), as well as Caren and the Tangled Tentacles (PriorArt) and Knight ‘N’ Grail (Psytronik). Ant Stiller delves deep into the murky depths of the D42 Adventure System and Ray Carlsen returns to tell us all about his replacement PLA chip. Martin Grundy makes his Reset debut, taking us back 30 years to January 1986 in his Reset Reloaded column. All your regular columns, news and reviews are still in there for this issue, so don’t miss out!

 

Blast From The Past: A Zzap! Retrospective

reset64In issue 6 of Reset, it was abundantly clear which C64 related magazine the staffers held most dear – the one and only, Zzap!64. How apt then that we are celebrating all things Zzap for this issue of Reset!

While indulging in Zzap!64 nostalgia, we take the staffers down Memory Lane to reminisce about this once-mighty British gaming magazine and how we discovered it all those years ago. The first cab off the rank with their story is me!

Upon discovering micro computers in the mid 80s, I was thirsty to learn more about these new machines and their wares. Once I found out that there were magazines filled to the brim with news and game reviews dedicated to these computers, I knew I had to hit my local newsagency to see what was on offer. Since I had a C64, my natural inclination was to look for the latest C64-centric magazine. Being in Australia, it meant that the latest British magazines were always three months old. We didn’t care about this, we just wanted to get our grubby mits on the latest issue, no matter how old it was. Among the gaming magazines on the newsstand, one mag stood out head and shoulders above the rest – well, its cover stood out! The magazine in question was Zzap!64 (oh those beautiful Oli Frey covers!). All wide-eyed, I immediately grabbed the issue and started flicking through its pages. The newsagent wasn’t impressed with me being in there for over an hour reading the magazine cover to cover. The secret to the Zzap!64 formula was its great writers – they knew how to draw you in and hang on their every word, guys like, Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall, Paul Glancey, Gary Penn and Gordon Houghton were wordsmiths like no other. To say I was hooked, would be a great understatement. From that day forth, Zzap!64 became my monthly bible for C64 information (well, it was till its demise).

As we keep traveling down Memory Lane, I realise I have rambled on for too long and ask the rest of the Reset staff to share their personal Zzap!64 stories. Here we go!

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Rob Caporetto: Coming late in the grand scheme of things (1989), I missed a lot of the early buzz around Zzap and it’s early peers. So, the first time I heard about it was after buying some other mag, which after showing to my ‘cool’ cousin at the time, told me was rubbish and I should have gotten Zzap instead…

Advice I’d forgotten about… until early 1992. I was at one of my local newsagencies, and I saw Issue 79 – the first of the post-Newsfield issues. Seeing that Oli Frey art (tying into the Smash TV review in the issue), and of course Megatape 23, with Boulderdash 4 (and Construction Kit) & Spy vs. Spy 2 both giving me plenty of play time.

As a kid without much pocket-money, especially in an era where finding C64 titles to purchase was becoming tougher, it rapidly became my source for reading about the newest releases & other aspects of C64 life. Plus, the Megatape

Whilst it had its ups & downs, when it made the transition into Commodore Force, it stabilised and became a solid read each month. Despite the name not having the same character, features like “Back to the Feature” covering earlier years of the C64’s history (and some of the hits & misses of the era), along with peeks into the demoscene, and the return of “Diary of a Game” to cover the development of Lemmings.

I’ve been lucky to read some of the early issues recently, and whilst I’d have loved to have been old enough to enjoy it during the C64’s heyday, I think it’s as special in its own way to be there at the C64’s twilight.

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Cameron Davis: I blame my baby brother for all of this! He was born in 1985, and I was eleven years old at the time – a once-promising smart kid who had been bitten by the gaming bug and spent his weekends alone in his room writing imaginary BASIC programs on dozens of exercise pads. I didn’t actually own a computer, but I excitedly studied those Usborne “write your own game” books for every technique I could find and entertained the notion I could make my own games one day.

My parents had heard that older siblings often felt left out when a new baby arrives, so they bought me my very own Commodore 64 to help keep me entertained. It was the C model and had a tape drive and I could plug it into the dodgy 14” TV I was given a year previously and I could not think of anything I could ever want more again. I told my parents that the only games I would be playing on it would be ones I wrote myself. They smiled politely and had no idea what I was talking about. I guess they were just glad I wasn’t riding BMX bikes to breakdancing parties while huffing paint or whatever kids did back in the ‘80s.

I spent that summer holiday laboriously typing in all those BASIC games I wrote, trying to run them, debugging them and then saving them to tape. They were all terrible. Text adventures that were more like simple Choose Your Own Adventure stories with worse writing. Overhead racing games that stored every possible outcome as a separate screen (what the hell was I thinking?!). A strategy game where you choose which country to nuke and then saw where the radiation cloud went (I worried about Chernobyl a lot). And so on. Rotten stuff but good God I was a happy camper for the first few weeks.

It seemed like half the kids in my school had gotten a C64 over the Christmas break – schoolyard conversations changed from Ghostbusters the movie to Ghostbusters the game, and copies of Commodore User, C&VG and Zzap! 64 were passed around and devoured like they were made of curry, hot dogs and pizza at the same time. This was valuable intel. Nobody seemed to know where the magazines came from, but we knew they were full of powerful secrets that we had to keep safe at all costs.

Curious, I started peeking over people’s shoulders while they read the latest issues. It wouldn’t hurt to see what games are out now, right? Just for research purposes of course, to inspire my game programming skills.

I didn’t know what most of the games were about, but I quickly learned which ones were worth playing, and which magazines were worth reading. Those wacky reviewer heads and in-jokey cartoon drawings of Thingy and Rockford in each Zzap! 64 review were so much more inviting than the text-heavy competition. C&VG felt like a bore in comparison. Heck, CU felt more like a games-themed issue of Smash Hits magazine than a gaming publication. Zzap! 64 was filled with photographs of reviewers and developers hanging out and playing games all day – how cool would that be to do, we all thought!

I started playing the real games that got the coveted Sizzlers and Gold Medals. I had to know. How were such amazing things as sprites and sound effects and scrolling possible? I kept hoping that if I pressed Run/Stop I could get a LISTing of all the program to study. I had no idea about Machine Code. There were no books in my library about this stuff and I didn’t know anyone I could learn from. I quickly hit a wall in my fledging game programming career so started picking up the joystick for a quick game of whatever I could find or borrow more and more often.

C64 magazines started appearing next to the comics at my local newsagent. The first issue of Zzap! 64 I picked up was issue 35, with Apollo 18 on the cover, and it was a revelation. All these games I could buy! All the lingo to learn. Shmup. Aardvark. Coin-op conversion. Oh man.

Every month a new issue of Zzap! 64 appeared, containing all the reviewer’s worldly wisdom that I just had to know. What games were cool now? Which ones were to be avoided? In the wild west of early computer gaming, Zzap! 64 was the lawbook, and I was a devoted reader. It’s hard to pin down my favourite era – I stuck with the mag from that point on – but it’s hard even now for me to put down an issue from the Gordon Houghton era. The energy, humour and giddy enthusiasm for gaming is still infectious, and the C64 played host to some tremendous games that I still fire up today.

My career as a game programmer was clearly doomed from that point on. On the upside my brother and I got to spend years playing all the great games that Zzap! 64 introduced me to.

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Frank Gasking: I was very late to the Zzap party (as I was to the C64), and didn’t discover the magazine until issue 78, where the cover depicting Terminator 2 had grabbed my attention. I was starting to get into magazines, as being on a small budget – the cover tapes were a real draw, and Zzap’s was no exception that month. It was here that I discovered Spy Vs Spy for the first time and fell in love with the series and then got to enjoy a magazine which was very different to Commodore Format (which I had also started getting around the same time). The magazine felt glossier compared to Commodore Format, but the content not quite as good and seemed to be aimed at the older reader. What I didn’t know at the time was that Zzap had been on a decline and wasn’t anywhere near as good as it used to be.  Still, I enjoyed the magazine and took to the idea of getting both Zzap and CF every month. Issue 78 was ironically though to be the last issue published by Newsfield, so when I couldn’t find the next promised issue – I had assumed it had died a death. A few months later, and missing an issue – I discovered the magazine had resurfaced.  So my (short) journey with Zzap began.

Things got a little crap unfortunately with the inclusions of Miss Whiplash, but I managed to see a period where things improved vastly. The magazine went full colour, and then expanded in page size and doubled its cover mount. Due to mostly buying the magazines for their cover mounts, this was my favorite period of Zzap at the time – where I discovered games like Silkworm, Cops and Ninja Warriors for the first time and for a bargain price. The journey was short, as issue 90 was to be the last ever issue of Zzap. Next issue saw a transformation into Commodore Force, which was an era I actually enjoyed very much (even though the ardent Zzap readers were not so keen). The cover mounts were even more impressive, but little did I realize was it down to the dwindling market! It wasn’t until the later years that I picked up back issues and saw the amazing 1986/87 era, where the pages were full and alive and so many games were coming out every month.  It was then I realized the truly great era of Zzap and just how much I had missed.

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Andrew Fisher (MERMAN): We got our first C64 in 1985, and we’d read a few issues of Your Commodore. Then one evening Dad brought home a different mag – issue 18 of ZZAP!, with the gory Beyond the Forbidden Forest cover by Oli Frey. It looked cool and there were so many great games reviewed in that issue, including Super Cycle. But it was almost a year later when I next bought a copy – while on holiday, issue 28 was purchased and read repeatedly. That issue had two amazing games, Head Over Heels and The Last Ninja.

In issue 28 there was a subscriber’s offer – buy 12 issues and get a FREE Quickshot VIII Joyball. This looked like a giant trackball but acted like a stick, rocking in four directions. Our subscription started with issue 31 and the 3D tips supplement.

Fast-forward to a much later issue and a reader’s survey – what did readers want? A suggestion for a technical column lead me to write to the editor Phil King, suggesting I could write it – enclosing a dummy column illustrated with pictures cut out of back issues. Steve Shields replied, telling me I would start work when the magazine rebranded as Commodore Force. I wrote as Professor Brian Strain for 16 issues, then made my reviewer debut in 2005’s Def Guide to ZZAP! (given away with Retro Gamer magazine).

My favourite era has to be 1988, culminating in the immense Christmas special (issue 44). A great year for games including Armalyte and Great Giana Sisters, plus so many great features alongside the reviews.

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Kenz / Psytronik: I was a big Sinclair ZX Spectrum fan before I got into the C64 scene and was an avid reader of CRASH magazine.  This was until a friend of mine showed me his C64 and I was totally blown away by games like Uridium and Paradroid etc.  From that moment I desperately wanted a C64 but life dealt me an unexpected card – my dad bought me an Amstrad CPC!!  Although it wasn’t the C64 I craved I duly immersed myself in the Amstrad scene and migrated from CRASH to AMTIX magazine.  I eventually saved up enough money myself and bought my beloved C64.  It was a very exciting time for me as I was now officially a C64 owner and so I went out and bought the current issue of Zzap!64 that was available – issue 13 (the one with the zombies on the cover).  I still have that very issue (carefully stored in a proper Zzap! binder) and still get a buzz looking through it as it brings back memories of when I first became a proud C64 owner.

My favourite era of the mag is definitely the early few years (the Julian Rignall / Gary Penn / Gary Liddon era), those early issues had a great sense of fun to them and I loved the wacky photos depicting the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes, it looked like everyone involved with the mag was having a great time!  I would buy every issue as soon as it came out and scour the reviews to see what C64 games were worth buying (usually anything with a sizzler or gold medal award).  I would also pay particular attention to the rating the sound received as I was (and still am) a huge SID music fan.  There are plenty of games in my collection that I bought purely because Zzap! gave the music a high rating – including some dubious games with AMAZING soundtracks (Knucklebusters, I’m looking at YOU!).

Something else that comes to mind when I think about Zzap!64 are the AMAZING airbrushed covers painted by Oliver Frey.  I was lucky enough to meet Oliver (along with Newsfield co-founder Roger Kean) at the Revival retro events and it was great to chat with them both about the good old days of Zzap!64.  One of my proudest moments in the running of Psytronik Software has been getting permission to feature amazing artwork by Oli on the Psytronik releases ‘Ultimate Cops’, ‘the Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set 3’ and the upcoming releases of the ‘Kung Fu Maniacs Trilogy’ and ‘X-Force’!

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Kevin Tilley: I first discovered Zzap!64 after exploring a newsagency in Ocean Grove after a school excursion. At the time, I had no idea there were magazines like Zzap!64. Instead, I was used to the more serious nature of mags such as Compute! and Australian Commodore Review. This was just about the time I was earning my own money from my first part time job while still at school, and I was beginning to buy my own original C64 games from the local K-Mart after years of pirating (not having any clue of how naughty it actually was!).

I remember in the weeks before at a computer club meeting my father had taken me to, some of the older guys were demonstrating the brand new, just released C64 Terminator 2, and I was blown away. THAT INTRO!!! Well, imagine my surprise when I saw that cover, Zzap!64 issue #78, with Terminator 2 on the front and a tape!! Yes, a freakin tape, they were giving away games!!  Jackpot! After flicking through the mag, I was stunned at the amount of games there were and I felt like I wanted them all! In the months to come, I actually bought a few from that very issue! But, it was Terminator 2 that I wanted, and loading up that tape and seeing that intro on my own C64 was a magical moment. My next original game purchase was indeed Terminator 2, which I still proudly have on my shelf to this day. Zzap would only last another issue or two before Newsfield went under, so I think in the end I only ended up with a handful of issues, maybe a few more when it reappeared under the Europress banner.

My favourite Zzap era? In retrospect, having read through the classic issues years later, the best era for the mag is clearly when Jaz Rignall was at the helm. However, those few issues of Zzap I got  will always remain prized possessions, given that they introduced me to C64 games magazines and opened up a whole new world for me. After that, it was Commodore Format all the way, although I did also get Commodore Force for their excellent cover-tapes *smiles*

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Anthony Stiller: I always loved going to the newsagency. Comics, magazines, books. I could spend hours in there.

Our family had only just bought our first C64 (ok, our second as the first was faulty) which in itself was a bit of a story. I loved it dearly and the games on it, even the bad games, were amazing.

But, while my friends also had C64s (except for that one guy with the Speccy) they weren’t really into it like how I was. I read every scrap I could about it and the games on it. I wanted to know what was being made for it. Who made them. How.

I’d seen other “personal computer” magazines, of course. Some seemed very adult and business-like and boring, others were full of listings and short reviews and that was great and all but …

Oh, what is this? Glossy. A beautiful painted cover of spaceships and explosions. Zzap! 64? That sounded … exciting. It looked like a comic book. But for the C64. That cover art. I flicked through the magazine. Immediately found the Elite spread. I already knew that I would love that game.

Onwards, blurring through the pages. Stopping at more sketches of people, like in a comic book. Wait. Those are the reviewers! It’s like I knew them already. There’s the grumpy one and there’s the cool one.

Back to the cover. The Elite review. Back to that beautiful cover again. I reached for my thin wallet.

As time passed I would continue to cherish each Zzap! 64 mag and I can still recall the anticipation of hoping to see a new Oli cover standing out on the shelves.

The Houghton era would be the one that I would come to love the most. The gang seemed just like regular people, like they could be your mates, having a bit of a laugh while you play Spindizzy together.

But for now I paid the newsagent five dollars and took my Zzap! 64 issue 1 and stepped out of the store and into the sun.

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Ah, the love of Zzap!64 shines through and through! Even after 30 years, everyone that remembers the mag speaks fondly of it – that is a true testament to a great magazine! Zzap! (and everyone involved with it) has always been deserving of all the plaudits thrown its way. The mag always knew how to engage with its target audience and by doing so, it was an expert at extracting your hard earned out of your pocket to feast your eyes on its pages. Long live Zzap! (and Reset)!

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image source: Reset and The Def Guide to Zzap!64

Reset C64 Magazine Issue 7 Out Now!

Reset_issue7_TitleExtra! Extra! Read all about it! Get your Reset issue 7 now, it is totally free! Extra! Extra!

Just when you thought that the free C64-centric magazine couldn’t get any better. Pow! Right in the kisser! Issue 7 of Reset celebrates the 30th anniversary of Zzap!64 with an awesome front cover by Ant Stiller channeling Oli Frey, and contributions from former Zzap!64 writers and editors, you will not be disappointed. All your regular columns, news and reviews are still in there for this issue, so don’t miss out, go and download the mag now!

Reset_back_coverimage source: Reset

 

C64 Game Review: Rocket Smash Ex

Rocket_HDRGET READY Commander 64! Fly up, down, and all around, avoid the aliens or pew pew pew them with your screen penetrating laser! Scramble around the stage to collect rocket pieces to reassemble your rocket to freedom. But wait, there is more! Once the rocket is assembled, it will need to be fully fuelled (via dropped fuel cells) so you can make your escape and land on the next challenging stage!

To keep things interesting and to get the adrenaline pumping, you will need to get the objectives completed before your oxygen runs out. Alas, oxygen cells do fall from the top of the screen, so grab them to ensure you keep going, otherwise, it is curtains for Commander 64! Oh yeh, if you collide with an alien, it is instant death! Sounds all easy aye? With three difficulty levels, you will probably find yourself playing Rocket Smash Ex in either easy or normal mode. For those sadists among you, try the hard mode!

Enter the Charlie-Bravo-Mike system if you dare. Rocket Smash Ex is a frantic shoot’em-up come semi-puzzle-assembler where your twitch reflexes will be tested to the max. The control is sublime and feels second nature. The single screen gameplay is complimented by satisfying music (you’re feet will be tapping in no time) with awesome meaty sound effects. Rocket Smash Ex is exactly what your C64 is craving for – it is simply brilliant!

For more information on Rocket Smash Ex or to download the game, visit RGCD.

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image source: RGCD