Big plans going nowhere

Ever since I found that ‘cheap’ Commodore 64 online I’ve been wanting to try something. The machine came with a tape drive, so I ordered some ‘cheap’ reproduction tape game, to see if it worked.

1530 mech

While it almost works, it sees the program on the tape, the thing stalls out. Granted it being dated to 1991 probably means the belts are beyond usable. I am having a friend proxy some belts for me as nobody will ship them to Hong Kong (pandemic didn’t have any real effect there).

While this machine is a newer ‘C’ model, I’ve had seen this auction pop on and off on Ebay from time to time advertising a refactored and improved CP/M cart advertising that it works on all models. I’ve read somewhere that post 128 that they finally had figured it out, far too late to matter. But maybe with this new cartridge things could work?

I managed to get a SD2IEC board delivered from Germany, which uses external USB power, so it won’t tax the C64 PSU (I should look, is there an ATX to C64 PSU?). I can load some silly games and stuff seemingly okay. I haven’t bothered with GEOS, as I used it far too much when I had to, and it’s just far too slow to even dream of being usable. Anyways with the SD2IEC it came with ZERO instructions but I did find the page with the needed firmware, and the ‘FB64.PRG’ program to have it browse the SD card and mound D64 images as needed.

I have to admit, ever since I did that article about “Running CP/M on the Commodore 64” I’ve been dying to try this on real hardware. With all the excitement in the room, I mounted the CP/M disk, and held my breath as the *’s went across the screen….


And, well something isn’t right. I tried a bunch of images I could find online, and they all do the same thing. They print far too many characters on the screen from time to time. Clearly it’s some timing/IRQ issue. Something to do with the VIC chip.

Despite the screen being corrupt, it is running, and it does let you run commands, it’s just the output is being doubled (or 10x!) up.

So I tried the soft80 program which will setup an 80 column CP/M experience. It didn’t matter what version I used, the old one from the 80’s or the patched up one from Luis Antoniosi, they all do the same thing, which is run at a blistering 1cps.

I thought it’d be fun to stream this old beast playing the CP/M version of planetfall, but at 1cps I just can’t do it. Which is just a shame. I haven’t tried a regular C64 Infocom game, as the 40 cols was always crazy, but I guess it’s the fallback.

I know these things are so rare, but I had high hopes for this thing.

So close, and yet so far away.

Edilbert Kirk’s Z-Machine for CBM computers

I never heard of this one before, but it’s legit!… As long as you have expanded your RAM, Edilbert’s Z-Machine opens up the world of Infocom to a whole host of machines:

  • C64
  • C128
  • CBM 4032
  • CBM 8032
  • CBM 8096 / CBM 8296
  • VC-20 (32K / 40K)
  • +4
Sweet looking 8296 from xAD / nIGHTFALL‘s post on

I’ve never seen the more advanced ‘European Business’ PET’s before, I’ve only dealt with the incredibly limited PET 2001-8C Chiclet keyboard models that were so insanely limited. It wasn’t until much later I saw the dual disk drives (4040’s??) that could have helped those machines so much more, but that was that. I’d been asked as a kid to make an electronic card file on an 8kb machine with a single tape drive. Sadly 8 year old me didn’t know about loading and saving sequential records on tape. Or maybe luckily as I can only imagine how insanely slow this would have been, and or tedious to not only save and update, but find things.

Anyways I thought I’d fire up some mythical 8296 beast with 128Kb of RAM. Attaching the disk image, and firing up “LOADER”, you can watch it load up as much as possible into memory:

And once it’s loaded up, the Z-Machine is active!

Now granted I don’t have a PET to test with, but using VICE, I can happily say that for an 8bit machine, this is incredibly fast. Maybe it’s the disk subsystem interface, as the VIC-20/C64 have an absolutely dreadful interface, but yeah wow playing HHGTTG on a non C64!

You can find downloads over at “PET FOOD“.

Anyways this is pretty neat, and all new to me. Just like the Tandy CoCo 6809 interpreter source being found was as well.

Internet archive to fully open up during “Covid19/SARS 2/武汉肺炎”

To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. 

During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.  

This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.

This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitized.  Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.

“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”

Public support for this emergency measure has come from over 100 individuals, libraries and universities across the world, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  “Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries. “In a global pandemic, robust digital lending options are key to a library’s ability to care for staff and the community, by allowing all of us to work remotely and maintain the recommended social distancing.”

We understand that we’re not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs; our collection, at 1.4 million modern books, is a fraction of the size of a large metropolitan library system or a great academic library. The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook.  This means that while readers and students are able to access latest best sellers and popular titles through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, they don’t have access to the books that only exist in paper, sitting inaccessible on their library shelves. That’s where our collection fits in—we offer digital access to books, many of which are otherwise unavailable to the public while our schools and libraries are closed. In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive also offers free public access to 2.5 million fully downloadable public domain books, which do not require waitlists to view.

We recognize that authors and publishers are going to be impacted by this global pandemic as well. We encourage all readers who are in a position to buy books to do so, ideally while also supporting your local bookstore. If they don’t have the book you need, then Amazon or Better World Books may have copies in print or digital formats. We hope that authors will support our effort to ensure temporary access to their work in this time of crisis. We are empowering authors to explicitly opt in and donate books to the National Emergency Library if we don’t have a copy. We are also making it easy for authors to contact us to take a book out of the library. Learn more in our FAQ.

A final note on calling this a “National Emergency” Library.  We lend to the world, including these books. We chose that language deliberately because we are pegging the suspension of the waitlists to the duration of the US national emergency.  Users all over the world have equal access to the books now available, regardless of their location.

How you can help:

  1. Read books, recommend books, and teach using books from the National Emergency Library
  2. Sponsor a book to be digitized and preserved
  3. Endorse this effort institutionally or individually
  4. Share news about the National Emergency Library with your social media followers using #NationalEmergencyLibrary
  5. Donate to the Internet Archive

If you have additional questions, please check out our FAQ or contact Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries

Amongst all the DooM and gloom, DooM 64 was released for PC!

I guess I missed all the excitement of the new DooM whatever, but Bethesda decided to dig up that N64 ‘DooM 3’ aka DooM 64. It’s a unique game unlike all the other console ports that were straight ports of the original DooM, although some like the 32x (Mars) or Jaguar versions that had a bunch of details removed from the levels to either spare the limited processors, and/or save precious cartridge space.

At $39 HKD, it’s $4 USD, so it’s a bit ‘pricy’ for something that is a 23 year old game, but at least I guess it’s out in the wild in a legal format. No idea if it made it to as that whole thing collapsed quicker than Fallout 76 became a meme riddled disappointment.

Anyways I know I’m late to the party, but it’s all new to me.

Bare Metal Vice

From the site:

BMC64 is a bare metal fork of VICE’s C64 emulator optimized for the Raspberry Pi. It has 50hz/60hz smooth scrolling, low video/audio latency and a number of other features that make it perfect for building your own C64 replica machine.

I had to pick up some bits and bobs as there is some circuits I wanted to try to build, and oddly enough the electronic store I went to had some Pi’s! I bought 2 zero’s and 2 three’s! They aren’t cheap, sadly but I honestly doubt any zero’s actually ever sold for  £5, and these cost me $168! Each! (just under £20!).

Anyways since I had nothing to do with these things, I already ordered a 1541 hat for the Commodore 64c, so I’ll need a 3 for that, but I was looking around and ran into the bmc64!

You do have to drop in your BIOS files manually, which is the only tedious bit, then dump over your taps’ and d64’s. My 3 boots up in a few seconds straight to the BASIC screen, like it’s 1983!

I was expecting it to be a lot of work, and it really was a SNAP. Not that I have any shortage of machines, or tiny machines to run VICE, but this running on metal is honestly kind of exciting.

I’d have loaded it on the zero, but it uses some mini HDMI port, and all I have is regular HDMI cables. I also picked up some heat sinks for the CPU’s as no doubt, no idle loops means it’ll get toasty.

It’s something I’d encourage people to check out, if anything to see how versatile a bare metal program can be for the pi’s.. Although apparently they screwed up the 4, it’s too different from the 0/2/3 for some reason.


Anglofying & running Japanese Lemmings for Windows

On one of my later trips I picked up this fun title, Lemmings!

And looking at the back of the box, what fun it contains!

Support PC-98, Epsons, IBM’s, IBM PC/AT.. Probably FM Towns as well

One interesting thing about 1995, is that with the rise of Windows 95, this marked the end of the specialized PC market in Japan. Just as WING/Direct X basically killed off the DIY driver/extender environment on MS-DOS, by being able to abstract the hardware it removed any meaningful difference between an EPSON PC vs a PC-98, FM Towns, or even the lowly IBM AT/386.

This being a Win32 includes both WING & Win32s. A perfect snapshot of an early Win32 commercial game circa 1995, as you needed to cater to that massive Windows 3.1 install base, although so many were rushing to Windows 95. Naturally this also means that the setup program is a Win16 app, once more again to preserve that bridge of the Windows 3.1 & Windows 95 world.

Well the obvious thing to do is just install it on a legacy 32bit OS, and what better than Windows XP?

Lemmings happily running under Windows XP via VMWare.

Now to run it on something like Windows 10, it’s just a matter of copying the WINLEMM.INI into %sysroot%, along with placing a copy of WING32.DLL into the %sysroot%\SysWOW64 directory and you are good to go!

Japanese Lemmings on English Windows 10

Sadly the character encoding in Windows is still really lacking and doesn’t render all that great. However that had me thinking as almost a decade ago I did find a demo of Lemmings for Windows. Could it be possible to just overlay the executables & DLL’s to produce an English commercial version?

Surprisingly the answer is yes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s as simple as that!

The game is mostly playable, some parts are just coded to run as fast as possible, as no doubt nobody was imagining 1+ Ghz machines. So the intro, warp & suicide are almost instant.

It’s something to keep the kids entertained for a day in recent events. It’s been a LONG CNY.

Philip Pemberton’s 3B1 emulator moved

It’s been a while since I played with Philip Pemberton’s excellent emulator, however the source code has been moved to github

As a nice bonus it’s been updated to build against the newer source drops of Karl Stenerud’s Musashi.

The Makefile is so nice it chains in c files from sub-directories to build, which unfortunately it doesn’t work so well with the latest Musashi. Like a bull charging into the China shop I just smashed together a build script, and got a working exe:

And it’s so nice to see it actually boot up.

Things like the C compiler still break, apparently the 6100 had an actual physical memory buffer for IPC? It’s all so confusing.

Not that mine is all that great but my crap fork is here:

The price of Commodore 64’s is getting out of control.

I’ve been looking on and off the last year, and they all seem to be $100 USD minimum for one that is either ‘as-is’ or broken. Good working ones are selling for double or more.

I’ve been disappointed, as I haven’t played with one in years.

Commodore 64 C

And then as a fluke I found an auction for a kind of beat up Commodore 64c for a mere £40! Naturally shipping it to Hong Kong was going to cost more than that, and with all the Wuhan Flu thing going on, I really didn’t expect it to show up any time soon. Yet, one week after I bought it, the Commodore arrived!

It’s a little dirty, but overall it feels okay. I was a bit nervous if it would even turn on. However as it was in the UK, the power supply is already 220v, and the TV I have in the office is PAL (it should have had SCART too, but they sent me the UK one, not the continental one ….)

Now for those who have never setup a PAL Commodore before, they output to CHANNEL 4. The cable to the TV (LEAD, lol!) has 2 different ends to it, so only one side goes to the TV, and the other to the equipment. Unlike NTSC, there is no channel 3/4 select, nor is there an external RF modulator, it’s all contained in the 64c’s chassis.


I had to wave my phone around for a bit to get the TV to scan the analog band with the Commodore powered up, but after 5 minutes, it finally had done it’s scan and I could behold the hew of the blue screen.

It looks much better in person, but yeah there it is. I haven’t’ had time to do much else, but I wanted to share this quick bit.

I also got a datasette with it, but I’m oddly enough out of audio cassettes. It feels so weird to have no software for a machine.

Asking some suppliers I was able to get some 10 packs of 60 minute tapes for 元 27.5, or approximately $3.75 for a pack of 10. If this were 1982 I could be a media mogel! But in 2020 I suspect that I can measure the demand for new tapes on one finger.

I have big plans for this little thing. Although amateur surgery may be part of it.

Thanks to LGR I just found out about SimCity for palm pilots was a thing!

I only owned one palm, the Palm VII which was the first taste of 2007 from back in ’99 or so.

Palm stumbled however delivering such a low powered low memory, low storage and amazingly out dated 68000 based machine, but what set it apart from all the rest was the integrated cellular modem. Raise the little antenna and you could send and receive emails, “browse” websites all from the palm of your hand. It really was fantastic, until I got the cellular bill. AT&T saw this as an ultra premium device and service, not something for normal people and priced it as an ultra niche thing. And it’s a shame as the future was right there, in the plam of your hand so to speak.


I looked on google play and picked up PHEM, and downloaded some ROMs. I started with the VII ROM out of nostalgia, but sadly the VII ROM I found is version 3.5

And naturally SimCity won’t work.

I kind of remember this being another issue with the VII, that it was basically a dead end evelotionary branch, not a vision or path forward. It was a fluke.

Version 4 devices were back to needing rs232 docks.

For me the future wouldn’t come back until 2002 with the first Windows CE phones, that features an ARM processor, expandability and a more robust OS.

I always thought there was no good full featured games back then, it’s amazing playing SimCity, even under emulation. Although if anyone wants to try, modern android phones run it far too quickly.

Are you Japanese?

On my latest trip, I managed to find a copy of Zork 1 for the PC-98! And let me say, let the adventure begin!

I went to Beep and the place next door I always forget it’s name, and I found this burried in the back for a mere ¥2,860! Not exactly what I thought would be a bargain, but flipping it over however…

Zork 1 for the PC-98!

¥7,800 YEN! From 1991!Honestly I don’t even know what is up with the price of software in Japan! Clutching this thing in my hands for the ¥2,800 makes it feel like a steal so of course I buy it!

Contents of the box

Nice to see that opening of the box gives me a catalogue, a manual, minimal map, registration card and a diskette! And I’m hoping I can read it using a USB drive.

Now I have no pc98 gear in Japan, and I’m trying to not have a mountain of hardware here, the i7 desktop and 30″ cinema display are already feeling ‘too big’ for this place anyways. I go to hardoff and pick up 2 USB floppy drives hoping to read the 3 1/2″ diskette.

Now I bought an IBM & some weird iMac looking drive, I was hoping between the two drives, maybe one would work. And I was right for buying the two. The IBM drive didn’t read the disk AT ALL.

However this iMac looking Logitec LFD-31US did the trick!

Apparently you need what is known as a “3-mode USB floppy drive”. Whatever that means. Although I can read the disk fine from Windows 10, winimage was unable to make a disk image. Disk Explorer is another option, which also specializes in the PC-98’s weird 1.2MB on a 1.44MB disk, however it couldn’t read the disk either.

I write a simple C program to read 512, 1024, 2048 blocks from \\.\A: (the physical drive), however it was cut short after 138kb. Maybe a hidden bad sector? Xcopy ran without issues, so who knows.

Looking at what I could dump, it does look like a bootable image:

and the xcopy did pick up MSDOS.SYS & IO.SYS. I though Microsoft was so against people redistributing MS-DOS, but then again aren’t most PC98’s floppy only?

I was able to cobble together a DIY disk image, and it doesn’t work fully on Neko Project II sadly. However Annex86 works fine.

On boot there is a nice graphical logo, and animation as the door opens. Really cool I have to say. Searching through zork.exe there is some interesting strings

  • Are you Japanese?
  • MS Run-Time Library – Copyright (c) 1988, Microsoft Corp
  • Original copyright (c)1988 Infocom Inc.
  • Used under license from Activision. All rights reserved.
  • (c)1991 SystemSoft
  • Copyright VACS Corp./ASCII Corp.,1986-90.
  • @(#)sunedit.c 1.0 07/03/1989 by VACS Corp.

Well that’s interesting. I was wondering how to trigger the ‘Are you Japanese?’ and well it turns out it’s pretty simple:

I’d have to figure out how to type in things like eat/sleep take… Although it is a twist on the old Infocom style. Now could this have ‘saved’ Infocom before their sale to Activision? I guess there was a market for Infocom games in Japan, although probably far earlier than 1991.