Jason Scott Reminds Us Of Software On Cassette Tapes

I had one of these, although it got pretty decrepit later on. Images here from the article on the Internet Archive.

Commodore users of a certain intersection of class and age will remember the Datasette, a custom tape player that early Vic-20 and C64 users could use to load and save their programs on standard “Compact Cassettes.” This was a very slow process, that was so timing intensive that the C64 had to blank its screen during it, because its graphics chip demanded exclusive access to memory while it got the needed data each frame to render graphics. Of course things were rather different in Europe, where cassette tapes were a much more viable medium, and tape loading could actually be faster than the 1541 disk drive (a notably flawed and slow design).

The Atari 8-bit counterpart to the Datasette

Scott walks through this unique period of home computing history. I still have tapes of old Commodore software lying around (because I rarely can bring myself to throw such things out). Maybe some day, if I can get my old Commodores working and displaying again, I’ll try them out and see if they work.

But fortunately, for commercial cassette software archived on the Internet Archive, you don’t have to go through such lengths! Although you can still wait for software to load if you want to! The IA offers emulated software for both the Sinclair ZX-81 and Commodore 64 that are supplied on virtual tapes, so you too can experience the exciting process of waiting for programs to load. In Scott’s words: “Incomprehensible! Mysterious! Uninformative! Welcome to home computing in the 1980s!

I notice that much of the Commodore 64 software mentioned in the article actually had tape loading graphics. I can’t explain this. It kind of makes me feel cheated, from the many times I sat watching a blank light-blue screen. Presumably the UK coders who made much tape-based 64 software had, in their tape-loading bag of tricks, a way to overcome the VIC-II’s timing issues. I wouldn’t doubt it.

The Easy Roll and Slow Burn of Cassette-Based Software (Internet Archive)

St1ka Points Out Neglected 8-Bit Games

St1ka is an interesting Youtuber from Portugal who often covers the Brazilian gaming beats. I should link to him more often when he does videos on his standard beat, as the gaming scenes outside of the US, Europe and Japan don’t get nearly as much exposure as they should.

This time though he is looking at retro gaming with a more general focus, pointing out interesting titles from decades past. They’re not making nearly as many 8-bit titles as they used to, so finding a cool old game you’ve never tried is almost as good as if they were making them now!

The games covered are:

  • Konami’s Getsu Fuuma Den, Japanese horror for the Famicom,
  • Rod Land, a single-screen arcade platformer with a good Famicom port,
  • Kickmaster, a deep combat action game for the NES,
  • Lunar: Walking School for Game Gear, a Game Arts-produced spinoff JRPG of the main Lunar series that doesn’t have much to do with its origin, and has a happy slice-of-life anime feel,
  • Psychic World for the Sega Master System, a neglected platformer where you pick up magic-like powers as you progress, which got a Game Gear port with unexpected differences, and both deriving from a Japan-only MSX version with its own differences,
  • Power Blade and Power Blade 2 for the NES, and the Japanese version of the first one, Power Blazer, stylish action platformers akin to Mega Man, but staring an Arnold Schwarzenegger clone who wields boomerangs, except in Japan where you play as a serious-looking little kid,
  • Cave Noire, a roguelite game for Game Boy that I’ve written about in the past, and personally vouch for,
  • Daikatana for Game Boy Color, a 2D and rather improved version of the infamous 3D PC game,
  • Power Strike II for the SMS, or its Game Gear remake that’s completely different, but they’re Compile shooters so you know they’re going to be awesome, and really you can’t go wrong with any Power Strike/Aleste game, or ZANAC or The Guardian Legend on NES come to mention it,
  • Queen Fighters 2000, a bootleg game for Gameboy Color that outright cribs the style from Gals Fighter for NeoGeo Pocket Color, but also includes a bunch of random characters from other properties for the hell of it, since being a bootleg game anyway why not,
  • Aliens Neoplasma is a 2019 release for the Spectrum that makes excellent use of that system’s graphical quirks to increase the game’s atmosphere,
  • the action RPG Dark Arms for the NeoGeo Pocket Color,
  • early survival RPG Survival Kids for the Game Boy Color,
  • Phantis, a cross-genre sci-fi game for the Spectrum,
  • Shatterhand for the NES, which feels inspired by Batman on the same system, and
  • Kabuki Quantum Fighter, also for the NES, which also seems inspired by Batman in its play style, and was also developed by Hal Laboratory.

INCREDIBLE 8-BIT Hidden Gems You Never Played (Youtube, 41 minutes)

40th Anniversary of the ZX Spectrum

“What do you want from us? We’re evil! EVIL!”

Lee Reilly on The GitHub Blog offers a long post about the ZX Spectrum on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its release. Wait, 40th anniversary? (does some math) That puts it in early 1982, the year of Donkey Kong!

To give to some incentive to click through, some of the projects linked are:

  • A Spectrum emulator written in Rust, and another one in JavaScript
  • A port of Spectrum game The Great Escape to C and current platforms
  • Tools for working with archives of Spectrum cassette tape images, including to convert one to mp3 to facilitate transferring to a tape for play on a physical ZX Spectrum
  • A Visual Studio Code extension for working with Z80 code
  • And small program to convert image files to the peculiar limitations of the Spectrum’s graphics hardware, to give your portraits some of that loading screen flair.

That last one I tested out a bit, here’s some results. I discovered it’s best if you resize the images to around the Speccy’s 256×192 resolution before processing.

Richard Speed of The Register also wrote a nice rundown on the ZX Spectrum’s history.

Link Roundup 4/24/22

Patrick Klepek for Vice, about Melon Han-Tani releasing the player movement code for his game Sephone.

Sam Machkovech for for Ars Technica, reviewing geometry puzzle game Tandis.

Alana Hauges of NintendoLife on the forthcoming Zero Tolerance Collection, which includes an unreleased sequel to the original Mega Drive/Genesis game.

Alana Hauges also informs us of preorders for a vinyl release of Ace Attorney music.

Keema Waterfield for Wired writing about playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with her five-year-old daughter.


Ryan McCaffrey on IGN tells us about an upcoming RPG, Arto, with a very interesting look to it.

Stephen Totilo, Axios, on the return of Ken and Rebecca Williams, founders of Sierra On-Line from years ago, and their attempt at a comeback.