May 22 2020
As you might have seen in previous posts, my stuck-in-quarantine project has been restoring my C64 so I can play around with it. Part of that involves figuring out what you can reasonably use such a venerable computer for in 2020.ev, besides playing old games. Word processing and suchlike are a given, though I strongly doubt that I could get my Commodore playing nicely (or even poorly) with the laser printer in the other room. Also, the relative scarcity of 5.25" floppy disks these days makes saving data somewhat problematic (though I've got a solution for that, which I'll touch on later). Ultimately, the utility of a computer of any kind increases exponentially when it has a network connection of some kind due to how much data isn't kept on one's workstation these days but on remote servers, be they one room over or across the planet. Plus, running applications on more powerful systems is thankfully still a thing, marketing making people forget all about that to the contrary.
Along with the other Commodore equipment I've been hauling around with me over the years is a Commodore 1670 modem that used to scream along at a spritely 1200 baud and a copy of Bob's Term Pro v1.9, gifted to me by a work associate of my mother's many years previously. I also still have an acoustic coupler attachment that plugs into a modem's phone line jack which, at one time anyway, worked decently well for mobile communications in the days before wifi. I don't have a landline anymore, just DSL and a mobile phone, so I decided to try an experiment. A grand experiment, if you will, an attempt to get my C64 online and calling BBSes once more.
May 20 2020
A couple of days back I posted a writeup of how I restored my old Commodore 64, from taking it apart to putting it back together and firing it up for the first time in over 30 years. As I am wont to do, I periodically took photographs of my progress. Well, here they are. I didn't do a full how-to because folks more experienced than I have already done so (that's how I learned how to do this in the first place). I'll put more stuff online as I make more progress. Enjoy.
May 18 2020
You've probably been wondering where I've been since my last update in the latter half of April. I mean, where would I reasonably go right now when most of the country is locked down and only a relatively small number of people with more memes running inside their heads than conscious processes are running around with mall ninja gear and weapons (some props, most unfortunately not) doing their damndest to cut the population by infecting everyone around them with covid-19? Well.. when I haven't been working (as one does) I've been reconditioning my old Commodore-64 computer, the first computer I ever used as a kid. I've been carrying it around with me just about everywhere I've moved but it's only recently that I've had the time to really do any messing around with it (for obvious reasons). It has been a learning experience if nothing else, because much of my knowledge of how to do stuff on a 40 year old computer has faded and been overwritten as technology has progressed. It's also given me a lot of appreciation for how much things have changed for the better since the days of LOAD "$",8 and LIST. Computers may not come with their own programming languages anymore, but the ones we have are significantly more featureful, significantly cheaper (I vaguely recall seeing an advertisement for a C compiler in 1986 for the Commodore 64 for the low, low price of $275us or therabouts), and way more accessible thanks to the Web and open source software.
This was not a quick process. I worked on this project in my spare time, in between working from home, going on supply runs for my family (and decontaminating afterward), taking care of stuff around the house, and waiting for orders of components, cleaning materials, and sundry things to arrive so I could proceed. What with supply lines being all screwed up by the coronavirus quarantine, sometimes an order from Los Angeles would take two weeks to get to northern California but an order from Massachusetts would show up two days later due to unexpected overnight shipping. It was also a labor of considerable monetary investment; I think my parents bought my C64 for something like $500us back in 1984.ev, and I easily sank that much money over the course of a couple of weeks into this effort. Not that it's been in vain.
The first thing I had to do was clean everything up. 40 years of use, dust, and gunk can wreak havoc on any kind of electronics and I figured that I'd have my work cut out for me. The first step, and arguably the most fun was taking the whole thing apart layer by layer. I used old pill bottles and some tiny test tubes to sort all of the screws by purpose (hold the case together, hold the keyboard on, hold the keyboard together, and so forth) to make it easier to put everything back together later. I also took copious photographs every step of the way, of which I will put up a gallery a little bit later. It never hurts to know how things were put together before you started messing with them, right? Working on the keyboard involved dismantling it into its constituent layers. Popping all of the keys off required just a flathead screwdriver inserted under the key and using the shaft of same to pop them loose like a lever. The springs and screws I soaked in vinegar for 24 hours to dissolve the rust; only one spring was rusted enough to break but that was near one of the ends, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The sheer amount of crap under the keys, however, was nothing short of hair raising. A can of compressed air didn't really accomplish much. I wound up putting the plastic body of the keyboard into the kitchen sink and working it over with dishwashing detergent and a pot scrubber to remove decades of cat hair, dust, dry skin, and crumbs. The keys went into baggies full of warm water and hand soap overnight, agitated every two or three hours to get most of the gunk loose. Afterward I scrubbed them in the sink with an old toothbrush to get them looking nice again.
Jan 14 2017
UPDATE (20170120): The game may have been found!
Many years ago, maybe a year after 321 Contact magazine merged with Enter magazine, there was a review of a video game which seemed like it was a tie-in for the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact. The scenario was that you'd just gained access to the USS Discovery, and you had to repair all of the systems on board the ship to win the game. As I recall, a free hint in the review was that you should repair HAL-9000 first, because he could help you figure out how to fix the rest of the ship. I don't think I ever saw it in a store (then again, it's been over 30 years), nor do I recall reading about it in any of the other Commodore magazines I was reading at the time. It may have been vaporware - an early review copy could have been sent out but it never actually hit the shelves. I've searched for information about this game periodically over the years, and I've had searchbots prowling around looking for information about it as well (even dozens of permutations of likely titles for the work), and none of us have found anything even vaguely talking about it.
Oh, Internet hive-mind... did this ever actually exist? If so, where could I find a copy? And, most importantly, what was the title of the game?
As mentioned above, I think the game in question has been found. Jarandhel succeeded where I kept failing. He was able to determine that the game's title is actually 2010: The Graphic Action Game, and it's not a Commodore title, it's a Colecovision title. The screenshots certainly seem to match what I remember seeing in a magazine, and the game mechanics definitely fit what I recall. The entire game has been described as being one big hacking minigame (warning: TV Tropes link). Chances are there's an abandonware version of it floating around someplace, though I'll need to track down a Colecovision emulator to play it.