AZ to UP!

So, how is everybody? With an opening question like that I would know doubt get many different answers. Sincerely though, I do hope whoever is reading this, is well and coping as best as they can with life and the world around them. Always remember to chat with a trusted friend or family member if there is something troubling you or seek professional advice or help if you need it. You deserve that at the very least! But how about you then, Alex? Each day to me is pretty much the same with the only difference being looking forward logging off at the end of the each working day, appreciating the weekend and days off. The current pandemic situation feels like an eternity with a lack of hope, but this won’t last forever. We will all have to do our best at doing and looking at things differently. The ways of life have pretty much changed for some and I can clearly see the retail industry has accelerated towards an online presence. You could see this slowly happening years ago and now that the “human malware” as some have named, has appeared, staying and working from home is now the new normal. Sometimes change is good, hopefully it will be a positive one for all.

During the week of my birthday, I had an invitation to have a COVID-19 vaccination. The local health centre were using the AstraZeneca vaccine, so on the day, I partly drove and walked the rest of the way. The injection was pain free and quick. In no time at all, I was back home and rewarded myself with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. I did take a couple of Paracetamol as a precaution, just in case I developed a headache. Within 24 hours I felt quite lethargic with only a slight headache. I know others have experienced various symptoms after their vaccine jab. What’s most strange, is that on top of my under active thyroid symptoms of fatigue, I felt even more tired with the long haul flight feeling of travelling to America or Australia. You just can’t instantly snap out of it! For many months I have felt tired, even long before the pandemic. Perhaps it is just me getting older?

Creativity has been key over the last few months and I have managed to code on the ZX Spectrum Next. With thanks to CSpect by Mike Dailly and a NextBASIC extension by Remy Sharp in Microsoft Visual Studio Code, two mini game projects have been created. As a first attempt I thought I’d have a go at ‘Arista Blasta’, using part of the Commodore 64 as a basis and then change parts to get it working. Of course, NextBASIC is much more powerful, especially with sprite commands. With thanks to Andy Spencer from Retro Computer Museum and Lee ‘Legion’ Smith, their advice and guidance have helped me progress further. I hope to finish the project at some point, but being it is the first attempt in a programming language I am not accustomed to, I think I did okay. ๐Ÿ˜

A couple of weeks ago, I started another NextBASIC project which is based on an old GameMaker Studio project on PC from 2016. It’s called ‘UP’ ( Keeping the Momentum ) and the aim of the game is to keep up the momentum of the object on the screen by pressing a button or tapping the screen if it is on a smart phone or tablet. It was coded with the Retro Computer Museum in Leicester in mind. The game might sound strangely familiar to ‘Flappy Bird‘ where you fly through a series of pipes and try and keep in the air without flapping yourself into a frenzy, so I guess there may well of been some inspiration from this whilst ‘UP’ was being created.

PC – UP Intro Screen
PC – UP Title Screen
PC – UP In game

By spending just the odd hour or two over a weekend or a few minutes during the week, I started to pixel draw some sprites for the NextBASIC verision of ‘UP. I initially wanted to join a few sprites together to make the objects bigger in the game. 16×16 was good, but 32×32 was even better and my art program of choice was and you better believe it, Paint Shop Pro 8. Years, ago on the Commodore Amiga, I used Deluxe Paint II, until Deluxe Paint IV. If we go back even further, and again on a Commodore platform, the Commodore 64 it was Tony Crowther’s 3 in 1 Editor and Commodore Disk User Paint I’d use. I didn’t own a mouse with these programs and only keys or joystick were used at the time.

ZX Spectrum Next – Up Title Screen
ZX Spectrum Next – UP In Game

At the moment, would say that ‘UP’ on the ZX Spectrum Next is about 50% complete with the addition of a couple of levels to add and some more tweaking. I think it’s a nice little mini game, where you are against the clock and have to avoid the moving platforms. I am hoping to release the source code for ‘UP’ and ‘Arista Blasta’ at some point in the future with the code annotated so anyone can see how it works. Even though my code won’t be ground breaking, it will be a contribution towards the ZX Spectrum Next community. It will be awesome to play this and many other titles on the real hardware which will hopefully be shipped in the latter part of 2021. ๐Ÿคž๐Ÿ˜Š

Years ago on the Commodore 64, my first home computer in 1983, I used to buy computing magazines of the day. It wasn’t until 1985, I started to periodically buy Zzap!64. This helped me choose some games after reading the reviews. Zzap!64 also sold games through mail order, one of which was Kikstart from Mastertronic. I remember sending the magazine actual coins in the post taped to a piece cardboard. At the time I wasn’t able to send a cheque or postal order. Still, I received the game and loved playing it! ๐Ÿ˜Š

So, when I heard about Zzap!64 making a comeback in a form of an A5 sized magazine, I subscribed. There was also an annual available too…

Zzap!64 – A5 Magazine
Zzap!64 – 2021 Annual

The ZX Spectrum love is still there and the Crash magazine issues continue to flow…

Crash ( Micro Action ) – A5 ZX Spectrum Magazine
Eight Bit Magazine

Also, not forgetting ‘Eight Bit‘ magazine which contains a great tutorial series by Darryl Sloan with a type-in called ‘Infestation’. Each part of the code is broken down into understandable sections with an explanation throughout. The magazine also has great content and issue 9 contains a special on the ZX Spectrum Next.

To think that retro computers would continued to be a love of mine and owning both a Commodore 64 ( Ultimate 64 ), ZX Spectrum+ and forthcoming ZX Spectrum Next in 2021 is pretty awesome. ๐Ÿ˜Šโค๐ŸŽฎIronically, I still use emulators as well! ๐Ÿ˜

Back in 2020, read and watched reviews of the new Raspberry Pi 400. I already owned Pi 4 and mainly used it for Raspberry Pi OS and Retro Pie. This was accompanied with a wireless Keyboard, Mouse and Game Pad. The interface was simple and easy to get on with. As a birthday present to myself, I decided to go ahead and buy a Pi 400.

Raspberry Pi 400 ( in the middle ) – Press any key, but which one?

I will predominately use the Pi 400 for emulation and more likely have an additional emulator, in the form of the Amiga. At the moment I am running, as per what I had on the Pi 4 and I am loving what it has to offer. I have noticed that AmiKit now offers it’s project for the Pi 400, so it maybe worth checking out how it runs.

Over the last year, I have used a couple of Joysticks with Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. These were an Atari 2600 replica purchased from Amazon and at first they served their purpose until the rubber cover over the plastic centre started to slip off and eventually came away altogether.

Atari 2600 Replica Joystick

Would you believe that I bought three of these? At first I thought it was fault during manufacturing, but it appeared to be a design fault. Upon taking the Joystick apart I found out it didn’t have microswitches and only a plastic mechanism with a padded circuit board for contact. I only wish I had taken a photo for proof! ๐Ÿ˜ฒ So, if you come across a replica, be aware!

By chance, I was watching a video by RMC – The Cave about Monster Joysticks. Now, these are really amazing and are in kit form. I purchased one in early February and decided to go with a ” Clear BASIC Mini Monster Retro Gaming Joystick Kit with Cherry Red Buttons “.

Clear BASIC Mini Monster Retro Gaming Joystick

The kit took about 90 minutes to put together with the majority of the time taken by peeling off the protective covering from each piece of the case. The Joystick itself is responsive and the buttons have nice clickable feedback. As an added bonus there is a switch near the cable connector port allowing the second button to be mapped as a jump button for games that use ‘up’ as jump. I have tried this with many games, on both the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum with good results.

Lastly, I found this book on Amazon for ยฃ4.01 ( delivered ). Okay, it’s Commodore 64 related item, but for what it is, I thought it was pretty cool even though today you have many game design tools on computers than can achieve the same thing.

Commodore 64 Sketch and Design book

Years ago, I used to design my own pixel art on graph paper…

A scanned page from my old book of graph paper from the late 1980’s

The above design theme appears to be a Scramble clone in works and yes! There is a Kangaroo at the bottom of the page as well. ๐Ÿ˜Š

I have just noticed that it has been three months to the day since my last blog post, which to be honest wasn’t purposely timed. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ It’s better to have a few things to mention and gives me an opportunity to vary the content a little. Until the next time, stay safe and take care! โค

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