Friday 19 September 2014

A 1980s childhood brought to life - A book review

GamesYouLoved synopsis: 
Diary of an 80s Computer Geek
By Steven J Howlett 
As a child growing up in the 80s you would have seen dramatic changes occuring in technology along with music, movies, toys and fashion.  

In the Diary of an 80s Computer geek, Steven J Howlett brings this to life through the eyes of a child and the world around him changing before him. 

The wonderment of change and a life dedicated to computers started early for our protagonist. From the longing for the simple ZX81 in 80s Britain, where the individual had a chance make something from new if they really wanted. To the idea that this could even be a job or career.  Could this 'hobby' of computers and gaming become something more?

From the playground where cassettes could be bought and sold on the black market, to programming line after line of code to create simple games Stephen was on a journey that no other generation had encountered. 

This diary takes you through the 1980s with how Steven dabbles in ventures which from a simple hobby using the ZX81 becomes more to him as the years go by. 

We won't spoil the overall plot and detail, but some of the highlights of the story are as follows:

- upgradings of one machine to the next and what this meant at the time!
- computers at school and the games you loved and played
- computer magazines and how we trusted and cared for them
- the evolution of computers from 8-bit to 16-bit, and the high and lows of this

In summary when reading this book - cast your own mind back and think about computers and video games in the 1980s - what kind of memories does it conjure up? 

It might be quite different depending where you are in the world but nevertheless it was a time of great innovation and ground breaking products.  There was also an air of mystery around gaming and computer companies in the very early 80s - with no internet we relied on magazines, newspapers and limited TV channels to serve up information and in some countries (including the UK!) it came much later than 
others such as the USA and Japan. 

Whatever memories you had - the Diary of an 80s Computer Geek is sure to unlock some happy thoughts and will having you looking on ebay or googliing after reading it!

Diary of an 80s Gomputer Geek is available in print format & digital format here:

You can also follow it's author Stephen on Twitter here: @sj_howlett  

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Castlevania Review

A Dark Beginning for the Immortal Franchise - Castlevania NES

By Ben “Blinge” Cataldo

If somebody were to name the most famous 2D platformer franchise, the most common responses would be Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog or maybe Megaman. Lurking just outside the window however is Castlevania, one of the oldest series still enjoying new releases today. The original Castlevania was released by Konami on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987.

In Castlevania you assume the role of Simon Belmont, a hero of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters. You have a simple mission; battle your way into Castle Dracula and kill its owner. Although he's Dracula in all but name as the manual simply refers to him as "The Count."

Castlevania was one of the first horror themed console games and achieves this end beautifully. While earlier NES games often looked more primitive than their later 8-bit counterparts, Castlevania remains visually impressive, showing variation in each stage despite the entire game taking place within the castle itself. The NES' colour palette is used tastefully, the backgrounds are detailed enough to avoid being repetitive and the foreground elements pop out enough to be distinct from the backdrop.

As Belmont progresses through the castle he encounters new themes in each stage. First, a zombie infested entrance, an ascent through crumbling stairs and hallways, a race across rooftop parapets, an underground cavern, a grim laboratory and finally the iconic clock tower that has since become a staple of the series. The whole game is replete with gothic imagery and these surroundings are suitably aged as to look like a still-living ruin: the castle itself seems undead.

Indeed the place is teeming with un-life, packed with monsters that aren't exclusively from the vampire mythos. Castle Dracula is described as a "doss house for every monster from every mythology ever" by notorious reviewer Yahtzee Croshaw.

Castlevania arrived on the NES amid a total saturation of 2D scrolling games, but what distinguishes Konami's flagship platformer was its slower pace. Belmont can’t jump on enemies to kill them, neither is he fast enough to avoid the castle denizens, even attempts to jump over enemies will likely cause him damage. Slamming into a crowd of enemies to try and force your way will often lead to death as well. The player is encouraged to take each new enemy or obstacle as its own challenge, whether by using the range of Belmont’s whip, or by experimenting with the various secondary weapons you can find in the castle. 

A great example of this is the throwing axe, which can be found shortly before the first boss – a large vampire bat. The bat usually stays above Belmont before swooping down to attack: while it’s possible to whip it during this dive attack, using the axe and its upwards arc is a more reliable tactic. This is an example of player training as the player should learn that using the different sub-weapons yields better results.

The slow pace contributes to player training again in stage 2 when you find a Bone Pillar waiting at the top of a staircase. This static enemy stands in place like a turret and repeatedly fires two projectiles at a slight interval, but Belmont can safely stand on a lower step beneath the fireball’s trajectory. An observant player should see the Pillar’s pattern of attack, and that it’s possible to hit it safely with the whip from slightly below. Carrying this knowledge into the rest of the game will make future Bone Pillars easier to deal with, as will using the environment to gain an advantage over enemies, thus a slower pace encourages intelligent play, and intelligent play is rewarded. Let it be known however that rushing through Castlevania is possible, as is only using the whip, though this requires a real mastery of the game.

Trial, error and slower gameplay is also the main source of difficulty in Castlevania. While a modern gamer may dismiss Belmont’s sluggish movement as old games having bad controls; slower movement and lack of agility is integral to the balance of the game, and the controls are precise enough to be suited for this purpose. It is usually a player’s rash actions that get them killed rather than Belmont’s speed.

Another source of difficulty is the much bemoaned knockback: upon being hit, Belmont will be stunned for a fraction of a second and stagger backwards. Sometimes this can be disastrous, you might be hit and knocked backwards into an instant death-pit, or bounced between several enemies, taking a lot of damage in the process. However there is a positive aspect to knockback: you’re invincible for the duration of the stun period and slightly longer, saving you from taking fatal levels of damage too quickly and in the second scenario mentioned above, it would be possible to jump to safety or launch a counterattack.

Standard practice for many games at this time was to give the player a limited number of lives and continues; once they’re gone it’s game over. Castlevania offered a concession here as you can continue infinitely from the beginning of the stage you’re on. Stages are made up of smaller sub-areas, dying resets you to the beginning of an area (with 0 ammunition) and continuing after a game-over takes you back to the first area of that stage. 

When considering Castlevania’s difficulty, this is a good system that rewards progress and encourages the player to continue without fear of losing that progress.

Overcoming frustration and learning how to deal with a difficult section to the point where you can beat it every time and progress further is an immensely rewarding experience, it’s what makes Castlevania such a good game and the essence of why we enjoy challenging experiences.

Castlevania’s atmosphere is a fusion of the 2D action game with gothic spookiness, so it can’t be called a pure horror game, despite drawing upon gothic imagery throughout. However, encouraging a new player to take things slowly provides ample time to build some measure of suspense. Music plays a huge part in creating the game’s atmosphere; the brief intro builds tension as Belmont approaches the castle gate, before giving way to the opening blast of Vampire Killer, the catchy and iconic level 1 song. The theme of the whole game is summed up here: a foreboding build up, then straight into the action. In keeping with the gothic atmosphere, the boss theme sounds like classical music through the NES soundchip, which works surprisingly well. That same boss melody is worked into the stage 5 music, Heart of Fire: the perfect example of the feel of a classic Castlevania game.  

The soundtrack does go for a full horror approach when Belmont finally reaches Dracula himself, the final ascent up a long staircase into the Count’s throne room with the music constantly cranking up the tension must have been mind-blowing for somebody playing it for the first time in 1987. The fact that many of these songs have been re-used and rearranged in later games in the series is a testament to the quality of their composition and their popularity among fans. 

The NES revolution brought something that console gaming hadn’t seen before; the ability to pick a theme and run with it, fashioning a coherent gaming experience from that theme. Castlevania does this with gothic horror, it does it with spooky imagery and sounds but doesn’t detract from the fun of a platformer/action game. The gameplay itself even feeds into that theme by encouraging the player to take their time and think about how they’ll tackle each challenge. Many design elements in modern games can be traced back to this pioneering time, or Castlevania itself. One could go as far as to suggest that this game was the Dark Souls of its time.

Come then ye children of the night, those vampires aren’t gonna slay themselves.  

This extended review by Ben “Blinge” Cataldo

Also the web review can be found here: 

Saturday 13 September 2014

Putty Squad to get a physical Amiga release after 20 years!

Set to be used as special pledges in an upcoming Amiga book Kickstarter campaign, 100 physical replica copies of Putty Squad for the Amiga are set to be produced!

These 100 copies will come in authentic replica packaging on actual Amiga floppy disks. Bitmap Books have gained exclusive permission from System 3 to produce these copies of Putty Squad and will work with them closely to ensure that the final packaging is as near as possible to how Putty Squad would have looked if released in 1994.

50 of the 100 copies will be signed by the original Putty Squad development team.

Commodore Amiga: a visual commpendium
Commodore Amiga: a visual commpendium is Bitmap Books follow up to their hugely popular debut book; Commodore 64: a visual commpendium. Following on from the C64 book, the Amiga book will focus on the visual side of the computer featuring stunning pixel art, game maps and box art. It will also showcase the best software houses on the Amiga and is set to feature the Amiga demo scene.

The Kickstarter campaign starts on the 13th October and runs for 30 days. So far, some really exciting contributors are lined up and Commodore Amiga: a visual commpendium is set to be Bitmap Books biggest project yet.

Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books says ‘Putty Squad remains the Amiga’s most famous unreleased game. To be able to take Galahad’s 2013 release and produce physical copies of the game is hugely exciting. Huge thanks to System 3 and Galahad for allowing this to happen.”

About Putty Squad
Putty Squad was developed by System 3 and the follow up to 1992’s insanely good Putty. Set to be released in 1994 but this famously never happened due to the twindling Amiga market, but a pretty much full game remained in the System 3 archives. Fast forward 20 years and thanks to English Amiga Board member Galahad, in 2013 a version was released as a Christmas gift on System 3's website as free digital download.

About Bitmap Books
A new publisher specialising in beautifully designed and produced books all about video games. Commodore Amiga: a visual commpendium is the second book by Bitmap Books.

Follow on Twitter @mrsidc64

Thursday 11 September 2014

My top 5 movie licence games by Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books

Everyone loves a good movie licence game tie-in. 
Back in the day, all it took was a mildly popular film and before you knew it a game was released.  
Sam Dyer - Author.

Here are my top 5. 

5. Platoon (C64) 

Ah, an 18 rated film made into a video game for kids! Set in the Vietnam war, Platoon was an Oscar winning film directed by Oliver Stone starring Charlie Sheen. A classic war film that is full of violence, guns and death. Sounds like the perfect ingredients for a children's video game. The Commodore 64 version of Platoon was programmed by Zach Townsend and the awesome soundtrack was by Jonathan Dunn. The the actual game is a series of mini-games. The first is a platform shoot em up where you must find your way out of the jungle maze whilst killing enemies that come at you from all directions. Its really tough but great fun. The later levels then turn into a really impressive first person shooter style game. Platoon on the Commodore 64 offers great graphics, expert programming, plays really well and overall; does not feel rushed. Lost hours playing this pretending I was a war hero in the Vietnam jungle. Platoon was also released on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, PC DOS and ZX Spectrum. All of which look like pretty decent versions.

4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (C64) 

If there was a fast buck to made and a game to be rushed, you know that US Gold would have to get in on the act. In 1989 they released Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the back of this hit film which starred Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Now I may be wearing my rose tinted spectacles, but I really like this game. Its a platformer that sees you control Indy and must go in search of the Holy Grail. The plot stays pretty faithful to the film and it sees you start in a series of caverns. You must make it to the surface in the pitch darkness but collected torches that enable you to see where to go. The torches burn down so you much grab another before it does. You can you your whip to kill enemies. Once you make it out of the caverns you must then make your way across a train roof. The game style changes slightly towards the end which adds variety. It plays great and is really good fun. So it it's not massive (4 levels), the sprites are poorly drawn and it feels a bit sluggish. The magazines didn't rate it either but for some reason it holds a special place in my gaming heart. I have not seen any other conversions but oddly, the Amiga version was an excellent point and click by LucasArts. Well worth checking out.

3. Robocop (C64 and Spectrum) 

Another ultra violent film made into a game for 9 year olds! Released in 1987, the film of Robocop saw cop Murphy brutally (almost) killed by a gang of criminals and is then brought back to life and turned into a robotic policeman. Robocop then embarks on his one man fight against crime. A great film and a real classic. Released in varying forms on pretty much every system known to man, it was the Commodore 64 version that I actually owned. The games also changed across each system too. The arcade version is a different game to the home 8-bits. The Spectrum, Amstrad and C64 versions have differences. The NES and Gameboy versions also differ. Now, in hindsight the Spectrum version of this is much much better but back in the day, the C64 is the version I played. Jonathan Dunn is responsible for the epic soundtrack. It stays pretty faithful to the film plot. It even mimics the rape scene in the second level where you have to shoot the bad guy whilst missing the woman. Overall the presentation is great. The sound, gameplay and graphics all felt polished and well thought out. The Commodore 64 version got played so much when I was younger, it had to included in this list. A really cool film and a really cool game to go with it. Robocop stayed top of the game charts for months and months and was a massive hit when released.

2. Batman the Movie (C64 and Spectrum) 

A member one of my family who is no longer with us brought me this for christmas 1990 so it's very nostalgic for me. I remember been really impressed with the striking box art and couldn't wait to give it a go. I have reviewed this game before and i'm sure everyone knows it well. As a whole package, I think its the best game on the C64. After recently seeing and playing the Spectrum version, this is also very very good if not better than the C64 version. From the box art to the music to the graphics to the gameplay, it really stands out as a game that pushed these systems to their limits. The most impressive part was that it followed the film plot almost exactly. Level by level it followed the film. This showed great attention to detail and real creativity. The Amiga version is also worth a shout out as it looks amazing. Batman games are still been produced to this day on modern systems which really shoes the strength of this movie franchise.

1. Goldeneye (N64)

As a massive bond fan, none of the Bond games that preceeded Goldeneye really did it for me. From the average View to a Kill to the awful The Spy who Loved me.They were ok but just not amazing. There was a gap in the market for a video game that actually was as good as the amazing films. So when Goldeneye came along in 1997 on the Nintendo 64 it blew me away. The only first person shooter id seen previously was Doom and Duke Nukem and Goldeneye was a massive step forward. The graphics were out of the world and the playability was so addictive. I was a little older when it was released so I would hang out with my mate, usually up to no good and spend hours and hours playing muliplayer battles. It featured characters from the film and also classic bond good and bad guys. Its a classic game that behind Mario 64, defined the N64 and helped sell them by the bucket load.

So that concludes my top 5 movie licence games. Do you agree or disagree with my list? 
Thanks, Sam 

PRE-ORDER Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium now:

View the Kickstarter: 


Twitter: @mrsidc64

Friday 5 September 2014

Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium – A Review by GYL

For those growing up in the early 80s in the UK the Commodore 64 was a monster of a computer in so many ways. Sure we owned a ZX Speccy and even an Amstrad CPC 464 - but this was an American Dream machine. 

From the look of the computer to the amazing array of games and fun they gave us - this was the closest we could get to the arcade.

So when Sam Dyer – he of Commodore addict and Retro Asylum key member, announced his Commodore 64 Book Kickstarter - we were pretty excited to say the least.  

After result of a very Kickstarter successful campaign we had the final printed version in our hands and what a great feeling this was to see this come to life. Over the last few days we have poured over this respectful and entertaining tribute to the C64.  

From amazing graphics used in the artwork,  the games chosen of which there are many - to the mini-review write ups. This is a C64 fans dream.  

In terms of coffee table luxury books on the art and the subject - there isn’t anything like this out there of this quality and it's great to hear there is a next book on the Amiga too to follow up for another Kickstarter beginning on 13/10/14.

For more info on this Amiga book go to: 

Some of our favourite spreads in the book (as well as the GYL spread of IK+) entries are as follows: 

  Activision's Ghostbusters – which has the commentary of  the game written by its creator David Crane  

  Wizball – which is a crazy and fun game with cool graphics in the entry described by Jon Hare of Sensible Software  

Alongside the pixel art on many gaming spreads is original artwork by Oliver Frey provided by Games industry Legend, Roger Kean of Newsfield Publications and Zzap!64. This all adds to the quality and endorsement of industry games people who still really care about the Commodore 64 and its legacy.

Finally its worth mentioning the quality of print and finishing on this job. Sam is clearly  graphic designer who cares about the final detail of colour repro, the paper stock and quality binding of this job. It even uses spot UV varnish both on the cover and dust cover to great effect. 

This is something to love and be proud of.