Friday, 16 April 2010

Amstrad ACTION!

Greetings Humanoids!

It's always exciting when new releases get added to the Psytronik catalogue (well, I get excited about it anyway!) and it's even MORE exciting when it's releases for a new format that I haven't supported before. I was particularly pleased to add two titles for the Amstrad CPC to the Psytronik range this month as I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Amstrad (and I'm not talking about the marsh at the bottom of the garden - Badum-tish!)

Anyway, I actually got into the Amstrad CPC kind of by mistake originally. Before I owned an Amstrad I was an avid ZX Spectrum user. I LOVED playing games on my Speccy and I can't imagine how many HOURS I used to wile away playing classic Ultimate games and various other Speccy related goodies - until one fateful day I went round to my friends house and played on his Commodore 64. My little computer-mad mind was blown apart by the beige wonderbox. I had NEVER seen a C64 in action until that moment. One of the games he showed me was Uridium and I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Stunning bas-relief arcade style graphics, absolutely silky smooth scrolling and THAT music. And so started my love affair with the Commodore 64 and its awesome SID sound chip. From that moment on I was certain of just one thing ... I WANTED A COMMODORE 64! I lived and DREAMED about C64 games, I listened to C90 tapes filled with the latest Commodore 64 tunes that my friend compiled me and spent many a happy Saturday round at my friends house playing on his C64.

And then my Dad decided to buy me a new computer to upgrade my ageing Speccy. He obviously sought advice from Mr Computer Store bloke as to what computer to get me - and I can just picture the bloke in the store saying THIS computer comes with a colour monitor, a built-in tape deck, a better version of BASIC, stereo sound and MORE colours. You don't want to buy your son a Commodore 64, you want to buy him THIS computer ... Which was an Amstrad CPC 464 ... And so he did. Instead of zooming around in my Manta class starfighter blowing up dreadnoughts in Uridium what did I get instead? Roland on the sodding ropes!!

This is NOT Uridium!

BUT, before all you Amstrad fans start typing angry emails, fear not my retro chums. I stuck with this strange machine that my Dad had given me and after a while I discovered some real gaming gems were available for the Amstrad. I have many happy memories of playing delights such as Get Dexter, Tempest, Mercenary (faster than the C64 and higher-res too!), Feud (with THAT tune that blows away the C64 version), Knight Lore, Alien 8 and Head Over Heels (4 colour bitmap screens - NICE!) I even began to appreciate the AY-3-8912 sound chip thanks to the likes of David Whittaker and Dave Rogers who churned out some great tunes. It was those years spent dabbling with the Amstrad that game me a certain amount of fondness for the machine.

This computer is NOT s**t with sugar on top.
(see what I did there?)

Of course, all that came to an abrupt end when I eventually bought myself a C64 and sold my Amstrad, but the Amstrad love still remains to this day. :)

Now flash forward to 2010 and my little Psytronik Software label is churning out releases like billy'o. I received an email from Paul Koositra, an Australian programmer who was looking for a publisher for the 128K version of his awesome Star Sabre shoot 'em up and forthcoming title Dead on Time - both for the Amstrad CPC. I naturally jumped at the chance to support the Amstrad CPC once again and so we worked together on the Psytronik release of the games. Thanks to the wonders of email it was easy for Paul to send me Beta versions of the games but things got a bit more tricky when it came to actually mastering the games. The first obvious problem is that Paul lives over 8000 miles away from me. The second problem is getting hold of a supply of blank 3" disks - which ended up with me fighting in my PANTS on eBay over a box of the mythical (and rather pricey) 3" disks. The disks I received then had to have gooey labels removed (not a result of my pant-fighting, I might add), shiny new Psytronik labels added and then the disks had to be shipped all the way to Australia for Paul to copy the game onto them. The disks then had to be shipped all the back to the UK (a round-trip of over 16000 miles!) before I could add the Star Sabre disks to the Binary Zone store.

Only one other problem remained. I always like to test any Psytronik games before they go in the post. This wasn't a problem for Dead on Time becuase, in a moment of retro weakness, I had actually obtained an Amstrad CPC 464 with a colour monitor, and although it had been languishing in my shed for a while, it was nice to set it up once again so I could test the Dead on Time tapes.

My CPC 464 - no longer based in the shed!

BUT ... Star Sabre is a DISK game - and it's 128K only. So, in ANOTHER moment of retro weakness, I managed to win a CPC 6128 on eBay. A bit of a risky purchase I might add as it was an untested machine (and it cost me a tad more than I expected!) Luckily for me, the Amstrad itself worked fine. The built-in disk-drive didn't work however - but Paul warned me that the CPC drives were prone to the drive belts breaking. I followed the CPC Wiki guide to opening up a CPC in order to replace the drive belt, and sure enough, the belt had completely disintegrated! So after an hour of faffing about I managed to clear out all the bits of broken belt-belt, removed the gooey bits that were stuck to the spindle (what IS it with Amstrad disks and goo?) and I managed to fit a new drive belt. I reassembled the Amstrad, fired it up, inserted a Star Sabre disk and you know what happened? It only bloody worked!! This meant I could test the disks before they went in the post. Yay!

Red-hot CPC disk loading ACTION!

BUT, the CPC game saga didn't end there! Star Sabre was originally meant to be packaged in a 5.25" disk case - and I actually produced an inlay to fit inside one of these cases. As Dead on Time was a tape game Paul asked me if the game could be packaged in one of those clear twin-tape boxes that were popular with 8-bit games back in the day (I'm not quite sure why exactly so many single-tape games were released in double tape boxes, but I'm pretty sure it's just because they looked cooler on the shop-shelves). Anyway, when I put the two Amstrad games together it looked a bit strange having them in mis-matched packaging - but as a 3" disk will easily fit into a twin-tape box I decided at the very last minute to re-package the game so it would match Dead on Time. Phew!!

And that, my friends, is how the Amstrad CPC titles were added to the Psytronik range. It involved a heck of a lot of time, a lot of faffing (that's my word of the day) and a lot of cash outlay which I totally don't expect to get back with the sales of the games. But hey, that's not what Psytronik is about. It's putting those nice packages containing shiny Psytronik releases into the hands of retro gamers that makes it all worthwhile. :)

One last thing ... If there's anyone based in the UK who would be willing to duplicate some Star Sabre disks for me, please get in touch - ... It would sure make things easier than sending the disks 16000 miles to be duplicated! The first batch of Star Sabre disks have now sold out but as soon as I sort out a way of getting more disks duplicated I shall make the game available in the Binary Zone Retro Store once again.

Thanks for reading, see you ... IN THE FUTURE!

Kenz / (16/04/10)