Friday, 24 August 2012

Microsoft Updates its Logo for the First Time in 25 Years

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled its new logo - the first time the company has changed it in 25 years.

The first I knew about this was when the announcement was tweeted by the excellent (you really should subscribe to it if you're not) @computerhistory Twitter feed, which directed you towards a nice little article on the Business Insider web site.

Naturally, the short article devoted a paragraph or two to the new logo, but what was of more interest to me was that it then took a look back at the evolution of Microsoft's logo since 1975.

Point your browser here for a look back through the years, Microsoft style.

A big thank you to @computerhistory for the heads-up on this one, and for pulling the different logos into one place.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Bristol's First Raspberry Jam

Before someone comments that this post isn't retro, please read on. It 'is' retro related.

I've been a Raspberry Pi owner for a couple of months now. I bought my unit with the intention of teaching myself some basic Python, as it looked to be a powerful but fairly simple programming language.

Due to one thing or another I've so far managed to find little time to get stuck in, but am hoping that when the winter months roll round and I'm stuck indoors, this will change.

Anyway, I digress. Since getting my Pi up and running I've been keen to see what others are doing with their systems, and last night, at the first Bristol Raspberry Jam, I finally had that opportunity.

Hosted by Broadcom, and held at the wonderful Bristol and Bath Science Park, the event saw over 100 Pi and prospective Pi owners get together for two hours of talks, demonstrations, and generally be inspired to get stuck in and have a go.

I was amazed at the range of people at the event. Sure, there were the geeks, but there were also students, university lecturers, teachers, people from local businesses, and even a decent number of children, all keen to learn more about this amazing device.

With the surroundings of the stunning Bristol and Bath Science Park, the event looked more like something out of Silicon Valley than the South West of England. In fact, it made me think that this probably wasn't far off the atmosphere found at the computer meetings back in the early to mid Eighties, or at the now legendary Homebrew Computer Club, where such luminaries as Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak attended.

Retro-heads like myself were well catered for at the event. One speaker demonstrated a new version of BASIC he'd ported over to the Pi (and was running a version of Pong), and another gave a brief walkthrough of the much-loved RISC OS, which had been converted to run on the system, and was going like the clappers.

If even that was too modern for you then perhaps the setup by members of the Bristol Hackspace would have been more up your street. Here, a BBC Micro and a Pi were linked, enabling the BBC to send and receive tweets via Twitter.

Unfortunately, with the hardware of the BBC being somewhat older than those in the Pi, the Beeb had decided to blow the capacitors in the PSU, meaning an actual demonstration was off the cards. That didn't stop a good number of people crowding around the machine to see how the hardware went together, though.

Still, there's always next time. As the event was so popular it looks like a second Bristol Jam will be taking place in the not too distant future. Watch this space.

And with that I'm off to fire up the Spectrum emulator on my Pi and see if I can finally get past The Abandoned Warehouse on Matthew Smith's classic platformer, Manic Miner.

Wish me luck!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Memories of my Local Computer Shop

Established in 1988, R.J Computers was a family owned and run computer business based in Downend, Bristol, and Between 1990 and the shop's closure some 14 years later this was my gaming mecca.

I first discovered R.J Computers (RJ's) when a flyer came through the door around late 1990 or early 1991. I'd not long had my Amiga, and was keen to make the most of it. With a specialist computer store only a short drive away from home this seemed to be a marriage made in heaven, and I wasn't wrong.

Back in the early 90s RJ's supported almost all the popular platforms - Spectrum, C64, Atari ST, Amiga, PC and SNES, to name but a few. Sure, an excellent range, but for me, this was 'the' place to go if you wanted to buy brand new Amiga games. They always stocked the latest titles, and they were slightly cheaper here than if you bought them at Game or Electronics Boutique.

As an Amiga owner I found RJ's to be an amazing place to visit. It was the place where I bought my 512k upgrade for my Amiga 500 (£39.99!), the place where, through a trade-in scheme, I part exchanged my A500 for a brand new A1200. I bought my first A1200 RAM expansion from RJ's, and experienced the joys of entering the CDROM revolution, when I purchased a Zappo CDROM drive (£225 for a 2x CDROM!) from there.

The staff were fantastic. They were always on hand to give advice, and nothing ever seemed to be too much trouble. One Christmas I received a Commodore inkjet printer, but no matter what we tried my father and I couldn't get it to work properly. We took it down to RJ's, and even though we'd not bought it from there they hooked it up to one of their Amiga systems and spent a good 40 minutes troubleshooting it until they'd got it working. All this was completely free of charge. How many places would offer that kind of service these days?

Following the demise of Commodore in 1994 RJ's started to move away from the Amiga, and concentrate on the blossoming PC market. They started selling their own custom built machines, and although they may have been slightly more expensive than the online retailers, you knew that if anything went wrong with yours or you had a problem they'd be more than happy to take a look at it.

In 1998 the company I work for set up a scheme where you could purchase components to build your own PC through the business, where you'd have access to massively cheaper components than if they were bought from a high street shop, and you could pay the cost back over a period of 12 months.

With a decent PC costing over £1000 back then this seemed like the best way for me to move away from the dying Amiga market, and so I jumped ship, bought the components, built my own computer and packed up my trusty A1200.

Over the next few years I still popped in to RJ's every now and then. I didn't purchase much - perhaps the odd adapter here, the odd cable there. The place was full of PC systems by this point, and while the staff were as friendly and chatty as ever, the excitement I used to get when walking through the door of the place just wasn't there anymore. The hustle and bustle had also gone. What was a heaving haven for 8 and 16 bit gamers some 7 or 8 years prior was now a place where often I'd be the only customer in there.

In early summer 2004 I had the need to pop in to RJ's again. I was after something for a PC I was building, and I didn't want to order it online and have to wait for it to arrive. It'd been a good 12 months since I'd last popped in there, and I was quite looking forward to seeing the place and catching up with the staff.

I parked up outside the shop, got out, and was gobsmacked. The RJ's I'd known was gone, and in it's place was a fish and chip shop. I can only assume that the electronic retail chains and online stores had been the nail in the coffin. Others like me had no doubt found that items could be purchased online from the comfort of your desk and a couple of mouse clicks. It was easy, and often it was cheaper, too.

Stunned, I got back into the car and made my way home. "Perhaps they've just moved", I said to myself, and so I decided to go on to their web site to see if that had more information on the closure.

The site had been updated, but the news wasn't good:

As of the 12th June 2004 R.J.Computers has closed.

We would like to express our thanks to all our customers who have used our services and supported us over the years.

I'll never forget those Saturday's driving (or being driven, when I was too young to drive myself!) down to RJ's. Most of the time I wasn't going down for anything particular. I simply enjoyed the buzz of getting down there and wondering what new hardware or software they'd have in stock.

It's clear I'm not the only person who has fond memories of visiting their local computer shop, as this thread over on the English Amiga Board shows.

With the rise of the online stores offering massive discounts compared to your bricks and mortar independent, I can't ever see the days of the indie returning. It's sad really, as they offered something the online stores never will be able to - service with a smile and help that was second to none.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Donkey Kong Inspired Retro Shelving

I don't mind admitting that I'm rather partial to a bit of retro related furniture and tat for the home. We've seen retro framed pictures, retro inspired t-shirts, more recently the Tetris lamp, and now, Los Angeles designer Igor Chak has designed and produced a set of Donkey Kong shelves.

A set of Donkey Kong Shelves? Yes indeed, and here's how the basics of the idea took shape;
... I came across an old scenario that has been embedded in my childhood memory...The colorful steel beams of Donkey Kong and I started to wonder, what happens to all those video game props when games become old...Do they get stored away in a digital world or do they fade away with time?

The famous steel beams from Donkey Kong have served their time but I could not pass by such an ingenious design...So as a designer I though how can I encourage Mario to take this back.

I’m sure with popularity of Mario he is not a simple plumber anymore and he wouldn't want some rusty beat up steel beams at his place but he would probably need some kind of sweet looking wall to put his awards and trophies on.
Mimicking the style of the first stage from Nintendo's classic arcade title, Donkey Kong, these not only make great bookshelves, but they look absolutely fantastic, too.

At present it doesn't look like these shelves are for sale. However, Igor has already designed and built a Space Invader style sofa, which he now sells from his web site, so perhaps these will be next.

Keep those fingers crossed!

A selection of photos showing the shelves in all their glory can be found in the industrial section of Igor's web site.

Thanks go to Twitter user @chut319 for giving me the heads-up on this.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Out Run Serial Number Project

I've been a proud owner of an upright Out Run arcade machine for a good 12 or more years now, and after all this time it's still one of my favourite games.

It features great graphics (for the time), a selection of stunning music tracks, and offers the type of gaming that's ideal for short bursts, when you've got a spare 5 or 10 minutes to kill.

When I purchased the machine I noticed that in the corner of the screen bezel, under the monitor glass, was an official Sega hologram serial number sticker, and it got me thinking "Just how many Out Runs are still out there and what stories do their owners have to tell?"

A thought was all this remained, until, a year or so back, I stumbled upon the Spectrum Serial Number Project over on the World of Spectrum Forums.

My thoughts returned to the Out Run serial number mystery, and this time I decided to do something about it, and so, over the past 18 months I've been contacting known Out Run owners, or people selling them on Ebay, in an effort to obtain the serial numbers and information about each machine.

I've currently got information relating to 11 different Out Run machines, and am always on the lookout for more.

The list can be found on my (very much under construction!) Retro Ranch web site, and you can get to the list directly by going HERE.

If you're an Out Run owner or know someone who is, and the machine's not currently listed, or has changed owners, please get in touch and let me know.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Amiga PD Interviews Top Hat Willy Author

If you were an Amiga user back in the late 80s to mid 90s you'll have doubtlessly enjoyed the thriving public domain scene which was prevalent at the time.

Demos, games, utilities, images, music and more were all available for free, or at least for the price of a floppy disk and postage & packing (remember, this was before the internet crept into homes up and down the country).

The great thing is that the Amiga still plays host to a public domain scene to this very day. Although this is a far cry from the days when the Amiga was still being sold in the shops and through mail order, there's still a steady stream of demos, utilities and the odd game seeing the light of day.

Some truly wonderful games were released into the public domain, and one of my all-time favourites is Top Hat Willy, which I still wheel out to play on my trusty Amiga 1200 on a fairly regular basis.

For those of you not familiar with the game, it's basically an Amiga rip-off of Matthew Smith's Spectrum classic, Jet Set Willy. Yes, it's a rip-off, but it's been done so well, that it easily stands alongside the 1984 title it's clearly influenced by.

So, why am I waffling on about this ancient Amiga platform game? Well, earlier this week, Christian Clarke, maintainer of the excellent web site, (a site devoted to not only highlighting the best PD games the Amiga has to offer, but also features interviews with many of the programmers of those games) revealed that he'd just published an interview with Top Hat Willy Programmer Tero Heikkinen.

It's a fantastic little interview, where Tero reveals how the game came together, subsequent projects, and even some background info and screenshots on the sadly cancelled Top Hat Willy 2.

If you've not played Top Hat Willy, I urge you to give it a go. It's such a cracking little game.

You can find the interview with Tero, HERE.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The (C64) Music of Tim Follin

Throughout the 80s I was a proud Spectrum owner, and apart from an occasional play on a C64 owned by a friend, the lovable breadbin pretty much passed me by.

Towards the latter part of 1990 my parents house was burgled, and my Spectrum, along with a good proportion of the games I'd amassed over the previous years went West. Thankfully, not only did the people who broke in receive a six year prison sentence (they'd broken in to around 40 houses) the insurance payout gave me the chance to move over to the Amiga.

It's on Commodore's 16-bit machine where I enjoyed the output of a certain Tim Follin, and I rank his Ghouls 'n' Ghosts music as some of the very best the platform has to offer.

I was fully aware that Tim cut his musical teeth on the Commodore 64, and so, enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon I trawled YouTube for some examples of his output.

Some of the best uploads relating to Tim's work have been put together by YouTube user DarkgreenOrange, who's compiled a set of four videos containing some of his best work.

The uploads cover a whopping 20 tracks, and run for over 40 minutes. Not only that, but the sound quality is excellent, and the tracks have been indexed, so you can skip along to your favourite tunes with ease.

Part 1/4 Running time 10:24
- Gauntlet III-1
- Bionic Commando-6 (Stage 2)
- Ghouls n Ghosts-8
- Ghouls n Ghosts-11
- Gauntlet III-2

Part 2/4 Running time 10:54
- Raw Recruit-1 (Game Music)
- Bionic Commando-5 (Stage 1)
- Ghouls n Ghosts-10
- Bodyslam-1 (Game Music)
- Agent X II-1

Part 3/4 Running time 10:35
- Black Lamp-1 (Game Music)
- Qix-11
- Bodyslam-2 (Title Music)
- Bionic Commando-8 (Stage 4)
- Agent X II-5

Part 4/4 Running time 10:14
- Sofware Creations Music Demo-25 (Wierd 2)
- Bionic Commando-1 (Title Tune)
- Black Lamp-2
- Ghouls n Ghosts-1
- Bionic Commando-10 (Game Complete)

The above collection of tunes has shown me just what I've missed out over the years, and I'm now hoping to add a C64 to the collection before too long.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Arcade UK's YouTube Channel

The blog's only four posts in, and already, coverage of my rubber-keyed chum (the ZX Spectrum) takes up 50% of all subject matter! It's time to fix that, so here's something that may interest the arcade gamers and collectors out there.

Over the years you've probably stumbled into an amusement arcade only to see a game switched off, or quite possibly left on, but displaying complete rubbish on screen. It's obvious that the game's not happy, but what's gone wrong with it, and more importantly, how does someone go about fixing them?

Well, like a magician who reveals some of his best tricks, arcade collector Luke Wells has his very own YouTube channel which attempts to show just what can go wrong with arcade games and how he goes about fixing them.

Arcade UK is Luke's little corner of the popular video sharing web site, and it features numerous short PCB (printed circuit board) repair videos that have been put together in a light hearted and informative way.

Each video starts off with Luke explaining a little bit about the game he's going to fix, a short demonstration of the problem showing itself, some details relating to his troubleshooting investigation, and then a final wrap-up where we're shown the game up and running and back to its former glory.

Each video runs on average for 3 or 4 minutes, so they work brilliantly as bite-sized snippets of viewing. Not only are they enjoyable to watch, but you may learn something, too.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Could Mire Mare Finally See The Light of Day?

Regular readers of Retro Gamer magazine will surely be aware that issue 105 (Daley Thompson cover) featured an in-depth investigation into Ultimate's long lost title, "Mire Mare".

Along with the disappointment readers will no doubt have felt in learning that the title most likely failed to get further than some artwork and a few basic design details, it was exciting to see some fantastic mock-ups of just how the game may have looked had it surfaced.

These wonderful graphics were drawn by World of Spectrum forum member BiNMan, who was asked by Martin Carroll to simply draw a sprite. Thankfully for us he got a little carried away.

Here's what BiNMan had to say;
[This was] done as a favour for MartynC, he only wanted a sprite!! But to keep it looking and feeling like an Ultimate game, I reused some graphics from Sabre Wulf and Pentagram, font and menu is from Underwurlde (but this wasn't used)

The sprite's an original inspired by the GBA version of Sabre Wulf, as is the loading screen which I tried to do in a similar style to Nightshade and the border around the gaming screen, Martyn was of the opinion that the main character would be a large detailed sprite exploring a map that would scroll from left to right (and vice versa) but would flip up and down.
For the in-game mock-up, BiNMan explained that he'd simply placed an energy bar at the bottom of the screen. However, prior to the screenshot appearing in Retro Gamer, this had been replaced with a location - "The Foothills of Mount Sol", by Martin. Ex-Ocean Software artist Mark Jones, spotted the mock-ups on The World of Spectrum Forums, commenting;
That's a fantastic job. You should do a game based on those graphics. I would if they were mine!
This quite clearly got BiNMan thinking, as he responded with;
It would need a good story line that would fit into the Sabre Man universe and tie up the other games etc

Hmmm. I can envisage a sprawling map centered around a lava lake in a mountainous region, according to the article and what MartynC came to understand (said this in an earlier post) that the game would scroll left to right but would be flip screen going up or down but the game would be more like Sabre Wulf than the Knight Lore or Underwurlde.

[I] need to read the article again to see if he gleaned a back story or what the object of the game was.
Clearly these are very early days. This may not get anywhere at all, but with Mark Jones showing an interest, some excellent graphics (albeit stills) already put together, and a keen community, perhaps Ultimate's long forgotten title may finally see the light of day, even if it's a fan made production.

We'll have to wait and see!

The full thread can be found here on the World of Spectrum Forums.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Making of Jet Set Willy

Here's a nice article I stumbled upon during my usual rummage around the internet for something interesting and retro related. It's an article from the Edge magazine web site, interviewing the legendary Matthew Smith, author of classic platformers Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy.

If memory serves me well, I'm pretty sure that this originally appeared in the print version of the magazine some years back.

The dynamic of designing, coding and testing had its own lolloping momentum. Smith would draw rooms by hand on large sheets of graph paper, six rooms to a page. (He actually hung on to these first drafts of the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired mansion right up until the mid ’90s, despite his mother’s dog having urinated on them during the previous decade.) He would then type the relevant numbers into a Tandy TRS-80 Model 4 and any actual coding was done on this machine, before being ‘squirted’, a favourite Smith phrase, on to the target machine: the Sinclair Spectrum.

There's some really interesting stuff to be found here, and it's a must read for any Miner Willy fan.

Thanks go to World of Spectrum forumite Dan, for giving the heads-up on this one.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

From Bedrooms to Billions - Under $5k to go!

For those of you who've been sitting under a rock for the past few months, "From Bedrooms to Billions" is the name of a 90-minute documentary, which hopes to tell the tale of the British games industry from 1979 to 1996.

Currently in the pre-production stage, the producers, husband and wife team, David and Nicola Caulfield, have turned to project fundraising site Indiegogo to help raise the $35k needed to make this happen.

As of this morning, the project has 10 days left to run, and needs just under $5k of donations to reach its target.

Full details regarding the production, and how you can help fund this project can be found on their Indiegogo page.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Nolan Bushnell: Gaming's Absent Father

1If you only read one retro related article today you could do a lot worse than spending ten minutes on this.

Thanks go to Stuart Campbell for the heads-up on this as I'd have missed it otherwise!

Eurogamer reporter, Simon Parkin, spends time with the legend that is Atari founder Nolan Bushnell;

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari on June 27, 1972. But 40 years later, where many of his contemporaries are still active in games, Bushnell is an absent father to the medium he helped establish. In fact, he sold Atari just four years after he created it for $28 million. But not before he and his designers had defined the basic vocabulary of video games, proto-verbs the industry still uses today. The company was the first to view game designers not as production line workers but as creative artisans tasked with defining the language and boundaries of this new medium.

The full article can be found here.