Sunday, 21 August 2016

VISUAL COMMPENDIUM (2ND EDITION) AND ME

It's finally time.  Way back at the beginning of the year I was enjoying the first volume of Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium and the second edition had been successfully funded on Kickstarter within a few hours of it going live.  I pledged to help too and as anyone who has used the site before and supported any of the crowd-funding attempts will know, there's usually a few different pre-set minimum amounts to choose between, each with a different set of rewards.  Well it's finally arrived and in advance of reading the book (and obviously reviewing it here on the blog) I thought I'd give you a little preview, as well as a look at the goodies I received... and a look at something I'm hugely excited about from inside.

I'm sharing page space with Trenton Webb and Andy Roberts!

VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION...

So the book itself is just as glossy and shiny as the original, is ever-so-slightly thicker with an extra twelve pages (hey, every little counts) and is jam packed with all the pixel art you could possibly wish for.  The cover is of a similar design as the first edition with twenty-six little diagrams depicting each letter of the alphabet, immediately pulling you into a game of working out what each one is.  It's both familiar and excitedly new at the same time, but it's on the inside where the big changes have occurred.

Can you name all the references?

With the first edition we had a collection of pixel art from cover-to-cover to savour, backed up with some box art and intro screens, but this time Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books has gone to town on the extra content.  The C64 Visual Commpendium (sic) was the first in what would become an ongoing series of such books, all funded through Kickstarter.  After the Commie came books for the Spectrum and Amiga, with the Nintendo NES being the latest he's working on.  This will explain the "1" on the side of this second edition, as the two volumes go together to form one giant tome, which looks even better when slotted together into the heavy board slipcase which I received as part of my backers' pack.

Impressive, isn't it?  What an item for 64 fans!

Inside, along with the wealth of double-page spreads of C64 graphics there's now interviews with coders and graphic artists, profiles of those classic companies, a look at some of the biggest Commodore magazines of the time, as well as a look at the Ocean Loader, the demo scene and unreleased games.  The original was the perfect coffee table book, so will this extra content dilute that vision and take anything away from the purity of that original idea?  Or will it add to it and create the perfect package for C64 hobbyists?  A review will be coming soon right here after I've finished the book myself, so look out for that next month.

As for the goodies I received with the book, these are very special indeed.  There were others such as a cartridge game for the 64 itself which was only added to the selection after I'd already pledged, and I couldn't add a certain amount of money to my donation to receive it myself (the only solution being to buy two books if I'd wanted to), but on hindsight I'd still have chosen the option I did anyway because it saw me contributing to the book myself!  I'll get to that at the end, but here's what else I received alongside the slipcase and all very professional it is too.

My new running music right there

A copy of the Galway Works CD of new rearrangements of Martin Galway compositions, made exclusively for this Kickstarter, is an astonishingly brilliant thing indeed.  You can see the track listing above (poster and a rather lovely CD box and booklet also included) and it's all brilliantly arranged by Allister Brimble, with additional work from such legendary Commodore composers such as Jeroen Tel, Chris Huelsbeck and Mike Clarke.  I'll admit I never owned any of these games but the CD is a joy to listen to, kind of like a melding of Jean-Michel Jarre, Joe Satriani and the C64 SID chip.  Yes, it's that different and that good.  I actually have it blaring out of my TV as I type.

There's more C64 music brought bang up to date on the next, rather ingenious addition to my package.  Affectionately called the "covertape" is this wonderfully designed USB stick chock full of great stuff.

Brilliant design, even better contents
(the multicoloured card is a Commodore loading
screen bookmark, another little treasure)

I'd actually forgotten about the promised contents of this, which I'd obviously read back when the Kickstarter project was active and it's just wave after wave of surprises:

  • A brand new C64 game (the same as the cartridge for other backers): Caren and the Tangled Tentacles - regular readers will know I'm not a fan of emulation but I'll give it a go as it's on my wish list for C64 games for the actual computer, so I'll view this as a preview personally
  • Season One of the 64 Bites project: 50 minutes of BASIC and assembly tutorial videos, source codes and exercises
  • All 9 issues of Reset 64: I've only read a couple of issues of this superb eZine and, while it's all available from their website for free, it's great to have it all here on the covertape as I can now download them to iBooks and read them on my iPad, which is much more natural than a desktop monitor.  Can't wait to get stuck into all of these before the next issue is created online
  • There's a good bit of music too: samplers of Project Sidelogie and Symphony 64, the latter of which is an astonishing symphonic (as the name would suggest) rearrangement of classic Commodore tunes (and it's only 60-70% arranged!). There's also a Matt Gray Outland 64 track on there and an electronic copy of the CD
  • There's a C64 Loader sequence screensaver and some wallpapers from the Retrospecs app which is available on iOS and converts your photos to C64-like pixels
  • Throw in a PDF of the book, a Chris Huelsbeck interview and a short Jon Hare video on the creation of Wizball taken from the Bedroom to Billions documentary and this is worth the entry price alone!

Okay, so I had to raise my Mac Mini up because of the shape of the USB stick, but inserting a cassette into the back of it does bring with it a wave of nostalgia!  Couple that with the CD I'm listening to and what year is this, 2016 or 1992??

Sorry Sam, it was the first thing that came to hand to raise it up!

After all of that it's time to get on to the one thing I'm most excited about in all of this and that's my own little, tiny contribution to this wonderful package.

... AND ME

Previous to this blog I wrote The Oink! Blog for nearly three years, covering every issue of that superb title and it reignited my passion for writing in ways I hadn't experienced for years.  I even had three articles published on the huge Down the Tubes comics website and I was thrilled beyond belief, it was a complete honour.  I started this blog not knowing where it'd lead me and now I'm in a position where there's writing opportunities appearing thanks to my beloved C64.  Indeed, back in the day I'd started a disk-based magazine on my original Commodore and it kind of feels I'm coming full circle now.

At the very start of this year I didn't know any of this was going to happen, but then the Kickstarter for Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium Second Edition appeared and one of the options (although the most expensive one) was to donate money to the sum of £100 and have a 100-word review published inside!  Right there alongside the snippets from all of my Commodore heroes!  There were only five of these available and within hours of it going live it was already down to its last one.  How could I resist?

Well, I couldn't.

Sam gave me the chance to list five games so he could pick the one he'd most like to see in his book and lo-and-behold he chose my very favourite videogame of all time, Creatures 2: Torture Trouble.  The original Creatures game had already featured in the first book and the quote had been supplied by none other than one half of the game's creative team, John Rowlands of the extremely talented Apex Computer Productions.  Now I was to follow on with the sequel.  No pressure then!

The review was to be no more than 100 words and you'd think this would be a piece of cake but it was actually extremely difficult.  That was because I'd gone and made a list of about half a dozen things I wanted to mention and was determined to fit them all in.  Writing the review for the 2000AD documentary Future Shock for Down the Tubes paid off (click here) as I'd had a word count there too of 750.  I'd taught myself how to properly edit myself, reword, rephrase, cut and all that stuff until the review fell within that limit.  I found it to be a great exercise and the end result was a lot better than I could've done without a limit (hence why these posts are so long and probably driving you mad by now; no limits!), it flowed better, there was no waste in the words and it was a great learning experience.  The same happened with this book too, but on a much bigger level!

I wrote a few sentences, noticed I was already way over, cut them down, added some more, cut it down... this went on.  I'm very happy with the end result, packing in everything I wanted to say about this spectacular game, and would you believe it I'm sharing a double-page spread with John Rowlands!  I didn't know that was happening until Sam emailed me the page to check a couple of months ago.  Wow!  Just... wow.

It may only be one small piece but it's my first bit of published writing in printed form.  I couldn't be happier with the end result and the fact it's in such a superb book series devoted to a computer which is very, very dear to my heart.

My own little dedication to Creatures 2!  I'm absolutely thrilled
to be in here, and to have written about this game

Well there you go, a sneak preview of what promises to be a book that's even better than the original and no, that's got nothing to do with the page above; that's just my own personal delight!  A review of Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium Second Edition will be coming in September on the blog, but until then you can check out my review of the first book in the series by clicking here.

Also, check out www.bitmapbooks.co.uk to see their full list of stunning titles dedicated to the very best in retro machines.

A new chapter has definitely opened for me.  I've had to keep this quiet for so long, but expect me to be sharing more over the rest of the year as my future plans start to come together.  Exciting Commodore times ahead, that's for sure!    


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