Hugi Magazine 32: Say It With Flowers

hugi 32 header graphic

CPC in the year 2005 (Michael Kargas aka Optimus/Dirty minds)

ORG &4000

And here we are again for the 6th presentation of what's going on in the CPC (Colour Personal Computer) this past year. I guess I'll never stop writing this one. I've been so tired from real life lately; unmotivated, preferring to waste my time playing games or surfing on the net instead of being more creative, though I started getting hot by thinking of CPC. But acting on it? Mmm, I guess it comes right after my exams. These days I can hardly push myself to even write this article. Fortunately, it will be finished soon...

So, what really happened on the CPC during 2005? I had a pessimistic view during November when I realized that the year was almost over and I had only 2 demos(!!!) on my hard disk, although 2 more (small ones) came to my attention just before the end of the year. Needless to say that by the time of writing, 2 more quite nice demos have been released and the new year has not even started yet! (Add 2 more now = 4! THE CPC IS ALIVE!!!) Perhaps the lack of releases in the past year might result in an overabundance in the next.

You can't really say that the CPC was dead this year, judging from the number of new utils, apps, games, hardware and OSes released. 2005 has actually been quite impressive, now that I am checking the list of my CPC software. Two(!) new OSes for the CPC, two really great PC disk utils for easier DSK handling/writting under WinXP (someone was hearing my cries!), image conversion tools, more tools and libs for disk handling and repairing on the CPC, some stuff using the CPC Booster+, two new emulators that caught my attention, an adventure game creating editor, two quite professional looking games plus several other ones, and some new sites and mags that again caught my attention. It seems like this year is a good one for the CPC, not concerning the demo activity, but the other things that keep the CPC alive.

The CPC Demos

Still, some of the new releases from the demo community are quite amazing. Specifically the release of the long awaited demo DemoIzArt. While the demo is not as amazing as the story behind it, it still remains a cool unveiling from Arkos and nominated as the best CPC demo of 2005 by your local majesty Zlad Vladko of yer Molvanian Kingdom located in the outskirts of the Cluevilage. Or I just don't know what to write. DEMOIZART IS OUT! MAN YOU HEAR ME FUTUR3 KR3W SI D34D AHHAA HA HAA AHA HA!!! ZE BLAST!!!!!!!

Ok. I think I left teh Prozac in the fridge..

And yet we have DemoIzArt here, who would believe it? Perhaps the most delayed demo ever on the CPC!!! The whole project started in 1996 and there is a big story of its evolution (planning, canceling, replanning, recanceling, the (un?)usual stuff ;P) during the final parts of the demo (quite big and interesting/funny read ;). So it's had perhaps 9+ years of delay. On the CPC, such records will be broken soon though :). I think CRTCs megademo called Palatine started at a similar time as DemoIzArt and there is still talk about an upcoming release! I even hear some strange rumors about a CPC+ demo called Asic Inside, but I know jack shit about this one and have never been to a French meeting to check the previews. We (at Dirty Minds labs) once said that Ovation 6 will be released when DemoIzArt is released, though we are seriously thinking of breaking the record, so let's see how Palatine or Asic Inside goes and then we'll discuss it again =). Seriously, our Ovation 6 project started maybe in 2000. Unseriously talking, the way things move we'll have to release it in 2008 in order to break the upcoming records that are not yet broken =)))

I'm wondering if there were similar delays in demos from other machines? I think there was Fantasia on ST (10 years) and another one too. I knew it, the Atari ST scene seems to have more similarities to the CPC scene than I first thought! :)

Enough of this crap talk about records though. Where was I? On DIA. Well, I'd say we have 3 times less stuff than originally planned/announced. Several parts/effects not included in this demo will be released in the future as separate demos. One game was planned to be included in the demo and was already released just after. The rest? Two old school scroller parts (The Twister is the best of them and features a rotating logo upon a big mix of sine distorted scrolls that is claimed to be pure software! I am still not sure how is it supposed to run so fast...), one part with a single picture and a tune with cool digidrums (which is a part I actually liked because mixed modes/split raster colors/interlace all together to show an "impossible" picture on the CPC is something rare.), and then my favorite parts — the intro and gates to delirium (only the twister beats them). There is a presentation, a flow, the usual stuff I like and the CPC misses. Especially the last one is unique and could hold as a single demo release alone (finished in 1997 but never released till now?! Ugh ;P). Its parts might seem a bit old by today's standards -- sine dots (but nobody coded them with color trails before! Where are you scene?!), 3d sine dots (again with color trails, also called delay dots), interlaced shadeblobs (Also, nobody thought of that before, where were you scene! Although, it doesn't make them look any better than some of the other shadeblobs I've seen and I think I can try another interlace version with a special dithered shade sprite that might make it look much better! I think interlace on the shadeblobs wasn't exploited here because the flat color of the shade sprite was flickering), 3d dot scroll (not seen before on CPC, but somehow unreadable and somehow it didn't leave me with a very good impression), 3d blobs with floor shade (nice, minimalistic) and my favorite effect here, quite cool looking and animated wave dot flags at the end! Wow. But then, WAS THAT IT? You understand when you have expected more. Though it is a nice demo and there is a final part with lots of text, history of almost 10 years of development, frustration, change of plans, etc. Quite interesting historically if you are really into the CPC. I dig the quote at the logo below. "Legends may sleep, but never die."

This one was released on April. And the next one in November! There was a big gap there...

Hopefully this one is also a hit. DTC is its name and it means something nasty in French. There is a lot of wordplay and jokes in the French scene I've heard. Pity I can't grasp the language for a change and have the same fun :/

The demo has two parts. I really, really incredibly liked the first one. The second is quite impressive too. It comes at the end of the first one and there is no way to skip ahead, so you either need to enjoy the first one or set your emulator on full throttle to reach it. It's just a software distortion of a big colorful logo. Neat! The first part kicks ass!!! Line splitting effects are quite common on the cpc, and are the kind of effects you commonly see, though this is the first time that some clever patterns are generated for the effect, giving the impression of parallax moving sine raster bars, real translucent wave plasmas, etc. And there is a scroller interrupting two screens in between, bouncing from one to another. There are several patterns here and are quite well designed with a variety of colors. You should see that on the real thing where the colors mix perfectly! While it's a typical kind of effect, (well... in a special way not seen before that could make up for not being a new effect) it left me with such a positive impression that it made me exaggerate (and perhaps not) my vote in the review on my CPC demoscene site. We've got a hit here!

And then, a little xmas demo by Demoniak came to my attention this December. There are some rasters and a little background of a closed box with a present. The box opens and an xmas lady comes out, walks, dances and removes her clothes. Quite a cute animation, kinda converted and the pixel juggies are spoiled, perhaps some more fixing would do fine here. Nice nevertheless, animation is something rare on the CPC, and this demo left me with a positive impression because of it.

Last but not least, Nicky One of Semilanceata decided to release an old unfinished demo called Wired. And this, just one day before 2006!!! Nice one, a typical screen with plasma and raster, though I like the plasma shapes there and the little 3d raster bar is cute. The logo by Beb is also really great :)

Besides that, another nice surprise came this year. A new cracking group from Finland was born! Fatality. I don't know many crackers in CPC (I also know Chany who is still cracking demos and stuff). What's to crack? you say, but it's the tradition and there are still a lot of crackers in C64 who also don't know what to crack and they just make better cracked versions of the old games. I've seen four cracks by this group with two different cracktros already in a half year. They're not very impressive but nice gfx and they've transfered the great tune from one of my favorite Speccy demos, loosing Victoria, yey! Those space invaders aliens are cool there! I can't wait for new cracktros from this group. CPC sceners from new countries is a bliss. I don't know who these guys really are, if they were active in other computers in the past, but they seem to be afraid to say more because of the cops as they say in the scrolltext :). lol. Let's wish them good luck on their CPC trip.

I almost forgot another surprise release this year. Overflow once released some previews of his various projects before he left the CPC a long time ago. Along with the impressive Shadow of the Beast parallax scrolling, there was a part (the 5th one in the disk) with a precalculated 3d logo animation. I didn't know that there was more than that! Recently, someone decided to release three different versions of the same preview with other 3d objects; a cube, a boat and a spaceship, all based on the same concept, just different data. It's been a really long time since he showed these previews in an old meeting and they finally got released! Quite cool for my CPC demo collection. I hope we will see something new from Overflow in the future now.

Searching for more on the genesis8bit site, I found some more demo news that I missed. I'll mention them here briefly. There was a party coding competition at the CPC AT WORK meeting called the ROM Orange contest with some nice entries. The first place was taken by Grim and Targhan, with an entry that uses the CPC Booster+ and a microphone. Unfortunately, I haven't checked this out yet (I do have a CPC Booster+ here but my CPC is not on the desk now and I need to find a microphone. I am really curious to see (hear? ;) that...). The second place was taken by a Herve/MJJ prod. Rasters and a funny face. Hey, an Atarian has tried something on the CPC? Great! The third place was taken by Plissken, with a nice wobbler effect.

Also, at the Demoniak site you can find some really nice ASCII art animations for the CPC!

I think I wrote too much text for the demos alone, so let's move on...

"Impossible" OSes

Apparently, the most important release on the CPC in 2005. The first working beta version of SymbOS. It's really amazing what can be produced on the CPC by one man given time! The project started in 2001. And here you have a working GUI based OS that runs quite well on a CPC with 128kb (but at least 192kb are recomended). The look and applications is copied from windows :). The windows are drawn quite fast for an 8bit, several apps can be open, like the Control Panel, Task manager, SymSee (like ACDsee, loads SCR and also SGX, a special format used by SymbOS), SymAMP (like WinAMP, plays StarkOS and Soundtrakker128 files), SymShell (DOS shell) and SymCommander (like Windows/Total commander!). Most of the things work well there, you can open several windows, kill apps from the task manager, see how much resource do they eat, you can check/change several things on the Control Panel, like the background screen, the screensaver, detecting your CPC, changing the file extensions apps will run, etc. You can switch the desktop in all 3 resolutions (Mode 0,1,2) and change the palette. Except from the desktop windows gfx which can be coded from an API, there is a fullscreen mode which gives the coder direct access to the videoram. This is already used for the screensaver and the fullscreen mode of SymShell. It's a really impressive work!!!

I have already seen a screenshot of an application for SymbOS; a tetris game actually. I think more apps will be released for it soon. That was quite a bit of news and several people are interested about this OS in the CPC scene. It's amazing! Even more amazing is the tool called SymbOS studio. It's a PC application that let's you visually create your window app and then write the Z80 asm code for it. Then it compiles and saves your programm in a DSK file automatically! Still, I have to read the documentation to understand with which calls I can refer to some elements of the window or enable that fullscreen direct access mode. Probably I'll just try to port some of my effects into screensavers for the moment ;)

Other than that, there are hardware releases that can boost up this OS. One is the Symbiface IDE 2 that lets you connect a hard drive up to 128GB to your CPC, 512kb Ram, 512kb Rom, realtime clock and a PS/2 mouse connector! The other one is CPC TREX, which is a CPC board with the Symbiface IDE 2 functionalities (except from the RTC) plus it boosts up the CPC to 12Mhz!!! Imagine working on SymbOS with this! You will need at least 192kb, cause with the regular 128kb, even without the desktop background I could only open 1-2 applications ;P Some of them couldn't work, e.g. if I could open SymSee or SymAMP, it was useless because there was no more memory for opening a picture or playing music. Even the control panel is hardly usable with this ammount of memory. So you definitely need additional hardware to enjoy SymbOS.

Going on with news, Kevin Thacker has ported Contiki to the CPC. I have hardly checked it out (something was going wrong the last time I tried) so I can't say much about it. Also, there is another OS on the CPC that has been maintained for years by TFM. It's called FutureOS. Lately, a C library called FIOLIB was released for it. Now you can write C programms on CPC for FutureOS. I use FutureOS just to read FutureMag (the German version of the 4th issue is just released and features some really big texts from me ;). Interesting OSes, though now there is SymbOS, I can hardly look to something else.

Disk tools, there you are!

Hey, I was asking for decent disk tools for WindowsXP in my older articles and it seems like they listened to me ;)

From one side we have CPCDiskXP which can write a DSK to a 3,5" disk for CPC or read a CPC 3,5" disk on your PC and create a DSK from it. Then ManageDSK is another tool for editing the contents of a DSK and saving files from inside the DSK to the PC or transfering files to a DSK from the PC. Both utils are frequently updated and are still in very early versions. That's good news! Exactly what I was asking for! The older disk tools didn't worked well under WinXP and modern motherboards -- there were those strange timing problems while trying to write to the disk. I also had to resort to various command line tools that were sometimes buggy and produced erroneous data. Finally, this gap is filled! What the CPC is now missing is a gfx tool on the PC (and CPC) for interlace, raster or overscan pics...

...but wait! There is another tool out there that could perhaps move towards that direction! ConvImgCPC is another frequently updated utility that made its appearance this year, this time for converting PC images to Amstrad CPC. What made me think of that last statement in the previous paragraph is that I first dreamt of such a program after trying another PC program for C64 gfx conversion called ProjectONE. That one, instead of just converting (and there are various interlace and raster modes there to choose), it also gave you a pixel grid editor for final repixeling. You could perhaps use that to also draw pics from scratch on the PC. Right that day, I was dreaming of a similar program but for PC images, especially letting you edit pixels in interlace modes. I originally was thinking of a gfx program on the real CPC, though that would take much more time to code. But then, ConvImgCPC came first! The latest version also features a grid for retouching your converted gfx! Comparing my thoughts about ProjectONE and the inspiration for a similar tool for CPC, the latest (0.11) version of ConvImgCPC came to fill the gap. It seems like it's following a design similar to the one I originally dreamt of -- to be more than just a converting tool. At least that's the way it feels, even if I don't know the coder's plans. Would it start supporting interlace and editing in special modes? CPC sceners might finally start creating their own interlace pics instead of transfering them from other machines. I'd really want to see how good drawn interlace pics would look on the real CPC. Let's hope this tool evolves into something like what I had in mind..

Going back to disk tools, I'd like to say that we are not over, as the two ones mentioned above are not enough. I tried a tool from Arkos, which is called WriteDSK. It runs on a CPC and reads a DSK file from a PC disk and then writes it to a CPC disk. Fortunatelly, it works fine even if you have just one drive (I've a 3,5" PC diskdrive plugged into my CPC). The latest version also uses the CPC Booster+ hardware for transfering the DSK file from your PC through the serial port. Another tool is ReadDSK for doing the exactly opposite job. Lately, Arkos released a ROM file which includes WriteDSK, ReadDSK, GetFile/SendFile commands (to transfer any file from the CPC to the PC and vice versa), SetBoot (Hmm, interesting. To define a file as 'boot' and a simple CAT command running this file!), also includes a CRTC test at boot. Great!

The return of CPC gaming

A surprising amount of CPC games (for a dead scene) were released this year. Some of them are quite good for a one man release. Take for example Justin by CNGSOFT. It is an isometric 3D game like Knight Lore or any other game of its kind with really good gfx and interesting gameplay, though pretty hard to play. Then Ishido, a pretty good puzzle game by Arkos which was the game that never made it into DemoIzArt. Pretty gfx, music and addictive gameplay. Other games I've tried are a CPC remake of H.E.R.O. (Atari 2600) by Flynn, Zblast by Nicholas Campbell (nice shoot'em up) and a demo of a platform game by ESP soft. Those are the less nice but still quite playable games here. I am not familiar with the Atari2600 version of H.E.R.O. but I got the concept, while zblast plays nicely even if there are extreme slowdowns in a level with a large amount of sprites. As for that ESP demo, I found the gameplay (controls) a bit annoying and I didn't check it out much. Other good news is the release of a French editor for making your own CPC adventure games. This resulted in a nice amount of new adventure game releases (Citadelle, CPC-Aventure, Planete Mysterieuse to name some), of which I have tried none because they are in French. Though I've recently read in some news that an English version of Planete Mysterieuse has been recently released. Gotta check it!

The rest

Well, I am only mentioning some things, either because I want to finish this article or because I can't say more about them. I am more into CPC demos than games, utils and stuff, though the latter are starting to show a living CPC scene and this year was more about OSes, tools and games than demos. They were the major breakthroughs on the CPC and I felt like I had to mention them.

A new German CPC site called cpc-forever has opened. It also publishes a PDF mag with the same name, which has reached the 2nd issue by now. Luckily I can read german and had a look at it. Quite promising with good news, articles and interviews. There is a new CPC site called CPC Games that weren't trying to imitate the similar C64 site. Interesting. Only games that were never released in the public or had only previews and screenshots are here. Last but not least, I tried to update my CPC scene page by correcting \ to / and taking care of the uppercase-lowercase so that CPC demo downloading links work well in Mozilla too. Crap, those web differences! It took me a lot of time and there are still some mistakes. Web updating is not for me anymore ;P. And then I opened a map in frappr for cpcscene. Slightly more than one hundred sceners are there. Almost as much as the ones in the C64 frappr map :)

For the end, I'd like to mention that there are 3 new emulators released, CpcAlive, PC-CPC and CPCE. Well, I am ok with winape32 or Caprice32 and the newer ones still doesn't emulate several things well, so what? But at least CPCE has a record feature, where you can record your CPC gameplaying or anything and watch it again. It produces some really small files and seems like it's recording the memory for the first frame and then keystrokes, etc. which it emulates later in the replay. I recorded some nice plays from KungFu Master (especially great, no life loss!), Barbarian (funny) and Target Renegade (the usual stuff) lately ;)

Phew and 2006

Ugh. It's finished. I am not satisfied by this article, my English really sucks and I don't care what I write; it was done in a hurry because of the usual routine that I still have (and sometimes like) writing this report. Also my exams are getting very close so I had to hurry this up. Sometimes I get tired as the years pass...

I thought 2005 was bad, though that's only when looking at demo releases. The impossibility of programs like SymbOS, the great amount of helpful disk and gfx tools, the impressive amount of homebrew CPC games and the CPC hardware produced showed off a strong CPC! 2006 seems to be more promising for demos, since 1) it's January and there are already 4 releases out there, 2) Dirty Minds are planning to finish their second trackmo for Forever06 (There are CPC competitions held this time!) and I am 78% sure I'll finish something cool (It's the year of Dirty Minds, b3w4re =). Several people are still working on their demos that didn't managed to release inside 2005, like the parts that didn't make it in DemoIzArt, Palatine demo and several other demos from various French sceners as I hear about but never see. I am also curious to see the first apps for SymbOS being released. I'm leaving my lame CPC in the year 20xy article now, of a year I thought was the worst but proved to be one of the most promising according to non-demo releases.

Optimus/Dirty minds