Archive for July, 2011

Courtesy of Hitch

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As alluded to previously, this game is notable to both my beloved Boffin and myself as we both had the game on our trusty C64′s back in the day.  I however did not own the game, I think I borrowed it from a friend who never liked it much, eventually hoarding it never to return it :)

Rambo – First Blood Part II was an ocean game released in 1986, and was one of those early games responsible for my starting to stalk the games that Martin Galway composed the music for, often regardless of the quality of the game in question… the music was the thing of importance! :)

However, Rambo itself was an entertaining, if somewhat short game, or at least it was for me due to an inexplicable exploit I found in it – more about that later though.

As previously mentioned I very quickly became a fan of Martin Galway’s music, and so it was with much joy that I encountered the loading music in Rambo.  Successfully guessed that it was Martin’s work too after it loaded based on former listening to Green Beret , and to a lesser extent Kong Strikes Back ! Accompanying the loading music ofcourse was the loading screen – still a wonderment to me coming from the BBC Micro only earlier that year.


ARGH! His face be melted!


Trivia: The loading tune includes morse code spelling out the names of the game’s production team – and not just done as music, actual code that converts the text into the musical morse as the tune plays!






Upon loading the aural treats continue with a dark title theme that took direct inspiration from the Jerry Goldsmith actual film score – tho I didnt realise this until later, after bizarrely seeing the film after encountering the game!

Starting the game you are confronted with a Taito Hypersports style high score name entry screen for you to enter your name on, accompanied by a superb sounding electro-drum beat :)  After the first 14 second play session followed by death, one tends to just skip name entry however ;)

Bang! into the game, which is a multidirectional scroller with our little hero Rambo ambling about a sparsely vegetated jungle :)  For such a totey wee sprite he looks good tho, with his ickle-little high res overlay :)  Baddies fare less well with their little blocky- selves, and their bullets that move.. well.. in bullet-time :D  But this is a good thing, as this game is HARD.  You die in seconds, and thats it, game over!  This is due to a single energy bar thing that decreases if you come into contact with enemies or their bullets.


Energy and alternative weapons (toggled by spacebar) are depicted quite neatly by a sprite overlay going over the main screen near the bottom.  This allows the entire screen to be given over to the view, which is nice.


You are expected to proceed north, finding extra weapons if you’re lucky, getting thwarted and downright enraged by sticky foliage that you have to feel your way around, whist still dodging the ADHD suffering baddies and their slo-mo bullets.

Supposedly you need to find the enemy camp to the north, find a way in (I found going all the way to the back of it and in from the there easiest) where you must dodge Davros-a-like baddies firing from the top of watchtowers – tho you can blast them with your explosive tipped arrows (I originally thought they were bazookas, until I saw the film)

Nipping a bit into the camp you find a wee dude tied to some poles, you release him by walking over him.

At this point my memory got fuzzy, and I assumed I needed to continue into the camp to FREE THE rest of the CAPTIVES! I spent a good while in the emulator cursing the game when I found the little prison shed I remembered they were kept in, trying to remember how to get them out… then I remembered that in fact I had to head way north and GET TO THE CHOPPA!

At this point I’ll mention the in-game music which is ofcourse also fantastic, albeit sounding like a slightly confused version of Ennio Morricone’s “The Good, the bad, and the ugly” – but is in fact a pseudo-cover of the Jerry Goldsmith score from the film.  Its a fantastic piece of music with some really memorable hooks, but you need to be an awesome player to hear it in its entirety (but not too awesome, as at the breakpoints in the game it interrupts the tune and restarts it) or cheat, or play the SID in sidplay :)

Anyho0!  We GET TO THE CHOPPA! and are treated to another Goldsmith inspired Galway-ditty which sounds superbly sinister, along with a message:









So… south! south Miss Teschmacher! – er I mean Rambo!  So off we fly in our beautiful balloo… choppa… to a convenient little “H” helopad.. tho in theory you could use this opportunity to fly aboot unmolested and listen to all of the tune :)




But no, land we must, and there we are out and about in the camp vulnerable again.. but THIS time we can go down to the little hostage shed, and free their ghostly little ickle spriteages.

This is accompanied by one of the more memorable jingles covering Goldsmith’s score.




So off our wee hostage chums trot offscreen – presumably to the helo – and we proceed to follow them.  Upon entering the chopper another breakpoint screen informs us that the baddies have sent a gunship to chase us down.

This is accompanied by a RUSSIANS ARE BAD MUHAHAHAHAHA tunelet :)

Sooo…  at this point we are expect to fly North to where safety awaits at the end of the map, and/or to take down the gunship when it finds you (which it does after about 4 seconds!)

The enemy gunship hounds you like an angry wasp however, buzzing around you and ending your little quest faster than.. something really quick.




I’ve never been able to destroy the enemy gunship, but nor have I been able to legitimately avoid it either…  but I’ve completed the game ;)

Dont ask me how I could possibly have discovered this, as I have no memory of how I found this out at all but…

If you have two joysticks plugged in – one in port one, the other in port two (the one you play the game with) – when you get to this point in the game if you push one forward, and the other back and maybe a little diagonally you cause the game to have a wee bit of a seizure… and propel your helo northwards at Airwolf turbo like speeds… often whilst facing backwards!

I’ve tried this in an emulator just recently when I was writing this blogpost… and it works in the emulator too :D  - tho its a bit more difficult to do using the keyboard emulation! :D

Interestingly this seems to be a hardware bug in the C64 somehow, or maybe the programmers use the memory locations the other joystick port represents for something since its assumed to not be in use.  I remember Green Beret had a similar – tho less useful – result by pushing right on one, left on the other: Our green beret does the moonwalk!



when I shared this post with one of my friends whom I grew up with who was also a C64 nut in the day, we shared the following conversation:

  [14:36:34]  John says:
heh i believe it was i who discovered the joystick bug in a fit of rage
 [14:36:43]  Kate says:
lol no way :D 
 [14:38:25]  John says:
rage from playing ended up in joystick being thrown and as it was a cheetah 128or 
somecrap they weight of the base pushing against the stick created the downward
direction. then seeing it intermittantly turbo when pushing up on the live stick
ended up in further testing 

So! Credit goes to @Johnfeshie for the hacktastic find of olde! :)

So with the aide of a hack, we fly north, reaching the base, and saving the day, only to be told that more POW’s need our help and must go back and do it all over again :)

RAMBO was an entertaining game, though very limited in long-term appeal due to its simple structure, and frustratingly easy rapid deaths.  It was another one of those games however that you were happy to own on the merits of its music.  I remember an issue of Zzap!64 posted a little program listing you could run which allowed you to play all the music and soundeffects outside of the game.


By the way, whilst all right-thinking individuals quite rightly would only listen to the music in-game, there was an option for Sound Effects… which had the best baddy-death sound EVAR. “Blewewewewerg”


One last little Kate-specific quirk for you – before I got myself a C64 disk-drive, i endured tape-loading just like everyone else… and Rambo turned out to be quite the swine to successfully load.  It seemed fine for a while.. then would refuse to load…. unless….

..and I’m not making this up…

..and dont ask me how I discovered this either…

it wouldnt load unless I – rather than doing the normal C64 SHIFT+RUNSTOP combo to shortcut the load command – typed in:


*AND* I turned the datesette upside down for loading.










If I did both those things… it would load.  If I didnt… it wouldnt.

Yes, I was a troubled youth…. but thats 100% totally the TRUTH!

Trivia: The loading music from Rambo was selected to be on the earliest example of C64 remix albums – DATAHITS – where it was rendered with reverb/chorus, drums, and some more instruments :)




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I recently realized that I must be officially “old”.  Why?  Because here I was, dismissively passing judgement on all the “youth of today” with their abysmal fandom and taste in movies with regards the Twilight films.  Its like – seriously.. what the hell? what a load of poo, sparkly vampires, undersaturated colourization, teen pop rebel tunes… get a grip!

Then I remembered being 12/13.. and being obsessed with a certain film in the cinema – so much so that I think I went to see it five times, learning the songs, memorizing the script… at one point even contemplating stashing a tape-recorder into the cinema with me so I could record the soundtrack – certainly a very early example of movie piracy that would have been lol.

David Bowie hadnt been on my radar at all up until that point, aside perhaps from being mildly keen on ” Ashes to Ashes ” after seeing the video on an episode of the Kenny Everett show !  However… suddenly here was this beautiful man dancing with muppets, and singing songs that really “got me” lol.

So!  Just like the twilight fans of today I wanted to sook up everything to do with this film that I could – and when Activision released a game based on the film for the C64.. I didnt wait for reviews (I had just started to read Zzap!64 around this time) I pleaded my Dad to buy me the then quite extortionate £9.99 for the game on tape (I wouldn t get a C64 disk drive until around 1990)

Fortunately, I was besotted with the game.. at least at first, its delivery mechanism would ultimately be its downfall for me!

Labyrinth as a game is quite groundbreaking.  It is really the first of what would become the defining genre of game for LucasFilm (or LucasArts as they would later call themselves) – a genre that was tweaked and improved a year later for the likes of Maniac Mansion .  Essentially a point’n'click adventure featuring big bold colourful graphics, and very varied scenes of the like that hadnt really been seen on the C64 (or anywhere!) before.

The game was notable also for having somewhat odd diversionary introduction.  It played out much like a then standard text adventure, but with selectable choices of verb and noun through an interface.  This saw you navigating your way through a street to a cinema, choosing a film to see.

UPDATE: Twitter chum and cool Captain-Kirkalike avatar’d Paul_Monk informed me that this intro section was written by none other than the late great Douglas Adams! 0.O

Eventually Jareth – Bowies character would appear in a lovely full-screen graphic, talking to you via text bubbles, before whisking you away to the world of the Labyrinth.

Here the graphics of the game come into full play with your chosen character (quite unusual and great for me back in the day was the choice of male or female character!) appearing on screen in a large form which you controlled with the joystick (in port 1, weirdos lol)





In the game proper it presents you a cool instant familiarity with the film, in that you are standing outside the walls of the Labyrinth, which go on forever (looping around) – you can tell this from a handydandy little radar display strip at the bottom which shows you in relation to notable items or NPC’s – and later on, exits/doors.  Below this you still have the verb/noun interface thing (Try adumbrate Jareth!)

The character animation is pretty good, and the scrolling also smoothly done.  Here knowledge of the film does you well with regards figuring out how to proceed into the game.

At this point I need to tell you that I had to be very very patient with the game.  Playing it from disk has enough delays as it is – but I was playing it from tape back in the day, and the multiload was a nightmare, as you might expect from a game with such big graphic use.  In particular the fact that the next scene starts immediately after load without warning, leaving you enough time to see that you’re in a new place, and a goblin guard who immediately moves to capture you.  If he does, its into the oubliette with you!

Inserting a nickle into the handy slot provides you an escape back into the labyrinth, and onwards – this can happen a lot!









Now here’s the tragedy of the tale.  Not only did I have to endure the abysmal loadtimes of tape, but I alas encountered a flaw only a couple of weeks into play.  Not long after progressing past hoggle, the brick hallway, the hedgemaze, the wise man, and the bog of eternal stench – I ran into “The persecution of Hoggle” – a section where you have to pac-man style run around a pseudo-3D maze, toggling floor panels in order to free Ludo, whilst avoiding the goblins – this section only ever loaded once for me EVER.  A problem with the tape, or possibly the heads of my C64 datasette (this was before I knew anything about head alignment) prevented it from loading in future.  Exasperated I got Dad to take it back to the shop for another copy.  Alas, they didnt have another copy, but allowed it to be swapped for another AAA class title.  Dad, not knowing what to do, accepted this option – what else could he do? – and selected another game.

Starglider .

Not at its best on the old 64 that game, but it was at least an entertaining package, featuring a novella that padded out the story and allowed you to imagine the game to be greater than it was (much as I had done with Elite on the BBC previously – playing the game from my “control room” (bedroom) and retiring to my sleepchamber (bed, which also doubled as my escape pod) when safely docked!)

However, I always wished to have Labyrinth back again so that I could finish it.. but ofcourse I never did, and whilst my Labyrinth fandom would continue for many years afterwards – eg the delight I had at finding the CD soundtrack in HMV’s Oxford St. store in London when I worked there in 1994!) – I would forget about the game until fairly recently when I popped the disk image into an emulator.

Curiously, I found the game still tediously slow in the loading dept (about 1 minute between sections – bearing in mind it can quickly(?) bounce between them) – but this was eased in Vice64 by a CTRL+W to engage 2000% warp speed emulation!  Despite this I found the game could be frustrating, especially the goblin-avoiding sections, where you would have to emerge from corridor doors sufficiently ahead of them and start running lest you get bunged into an oubliette!

My attention span is not what it was, and I got as far as the Ludo section again, in a kind of triumph… but havent yet gone back to progress further.. I hope to tho, its like one of those things I must do before I’m 40 !

A word on the game’s technical merits or otherwise:

Graphics are pretty excellent – large, colourful and full screen – very nice to see such good use of large sprites on the screen – and not chunkovision expanded ones either.  Also, a good sense of 3D is created via the use of some nice forced perspective scenes (see the Ludo in the maze bit)

The graphics come at the cost of heavy multiload sections tho.  This game was really unworkable on tape, at least in its basic design.  The game has a non-linear nature about it that cannot really work well on a tape load.  The game was designed for disk in the first instance, and is best played there.  Its a shame that C64 disk drives were so prohibitively expensive in those early days (especially in the UK) – had they been provided by default or cheaper it could have accelerated and changed a lot about how the C64 developed as a commercial gaming platform.  Disk plays well enough, though even then the load is slow.  Even better would have been a cartridge version of the game!

Audio is minimal in the game, as most information is relayed as text bubbles spoken by characters, with just the odd sound effect for footsteps etc.  The music is pretty abysmal from a technical point of view, but from a “THATS SO COOL!!” point of view of a 12/13year old at the time it was awesome since it was the music from the much loved (by me anyway!) film :)

Russell Lieblich would compose much more interesting music in other projects (ALIENS dropship level for example) but retain a simplicity of instrument/synthesis that was highly prevalent in a lot of the U.S developed games for some reason.

I’ll come back to Labyrinth some time to finish it, but for you I’ve provided a fantastic youtube C64 longplay video so you can see it.. I refuse to watch it as I dont want to spoil the game ;)



…and yes… I *did* want to be  Jennifer Connelly in that ball gown, dancing with Jareth!






Video of the game being played start to finish:


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First of all…. 10 is not enough LOL :D

Matt Gray: The Last Ninja 2 – Level 1 (subtune2)

What? Lame to start the same as part 1? NO! In the same way that LN1′s first level theme was so defining of the game, so it is also true of Matt Gray’s hitting the big time with his massive scores for LN2.  The loading tune is almost a prelude to this piece, but this is so much more powerful, and such a different approach to a soundtrack than the first game.  I dont think any of the pieces in the first game featured drums at all per se…. here Matt’s HUGE drums bash the beat of the modern day adventures of our Ninja mate into your head :)

Honourable mention goes to the level 2 loading tune as well, which I have always had a soft spot for :)

Now, to cheat a bit – Reyn Ouwehand also did a completely amazing set of music for the 3rd game in the series with his own unique style, but closer in mood to the first game’s ambience. Level 2 (“Wind”) is probably my favourite.


Two amazing remixes come to mind.  One is Reyn’s own Asian Legends but my own favourite is Markus Schneiders cinematic take on several themes from the games – and that goes for all the ninja games :)


Wally Beben: TETRIS


(Recording courtesy of Stone Oakvalley !)

You have no idea how annoyed I get when I hear people talking about the “birth of 8-bit music becoming popular” in reference to Nintendo’s incarnation of the game.  First of all… It WASNT, you f***s, and secondly there is only ONE Tetris soundtrack.. and that is Wally Beben’s C64 18+ minutes opus for the 1988 game.

A very odd piece, feels like a kind of post-modern futureretro Native American chant, with a mystical, ethereal quality, yet underpinned with a grungy dirty sound that defies proper description.

C64 Tetris was my first encounter with the game, and as such it remains my favorite, but mainly because playing the game was an almost Zen-like trance experience because of the music.  It was a magnificent artistic choice on the behalf of the programmers of the game to have music at all in the game, since by the game’s nature it could end up being repetitively annoying . To combat this Wally Beben made a score epic in length.  I had in mind it was about 10 mins long, but its in fact closer to 20, and has distinctive tonal, ryhthmic and melodic changes throughout its length.

My favorite moments are the slow build,the lonesome whistle in the first minute, then at 3:00 this impossible sounds kicks in.. is it a guitar? is it a chord? It’s a sample (4th channel) is what it is – tho this was completely lost on me back then – its such an odd sound, its more like something that would be created by bonding 2 or more SID channels together with a filter.. and that’s maybe why it works so well.  5:58 – everything goes up a notch, with a sense of urgency conveyed by the querulous lead instrument.  My favorite moment occurs @ 9m:30s another change of rhythm, a pounding beat punctuated by those chords.  More lush progression @ 11:28ish – and thats what this piece is all about – progression, the closest non-chiptune I can think of might be Tubular Bells, or something by Phillip Glass.  14 mins in we get something akin to a Morricone style, pseudo-western.   The use of the 4th channel samples here is magnificent – carrying all the rhythm and beat through its use of staccato and held notes.  The piece loops around 19 mins or so, which is nice for the game, but I would have loved it suddenly ceasing with a “sudden cessation of sound” ;) with some sort of pseudo-echo/reverb signifying the loneliness of the piece… but maybe thats for a remixer to do ;)


Well – not a tune popular with remixers as such judging by how few have attempted , but then the piece is a huge commitment – it wouldnt work just to remix a part of it.  My fave of the bunch tho is Kraku’s stab at the piece – he’s covered the first half of it (stops just before my fave bit :( ) and has done so pretty respectively, but not definitely in my opinion – no one has yet.  I might have a go yet myself.. but my wee brain has a hard time trying to imagine what instruments would do justice to those big sounds.


Jeroen Tel: HOT ROD (Subtune 1 + 2)

Another 4-channel piece… and you might have thought I’d gone with Turbo Outrun… but no.. I prefer the tune and melody of this piece.  Samples are sparser and more subtle than TOR’s title piece (tho another special mention to the glorious titlescreen of said game! )

No, for me the combination of the sampletastic intro tune, and the wondrous bouncing beachbuggy of a tune that is the main title hit the nostalgia spots in me just right :)


Only one I can find – the late and wonderful Skitz did a fairly low-key arrangement , but it hits all the right spots with its authenticity – the choice of piano lead later on in it is magnificent.

No-one has yet tried the title theme.  So many tunes, too much lazy moi :D


Steve Barrett: Trojan Warrior (subtune 1)

Download/listen to the MP3 – courtesy of Stone Oakvalley


No, really!  Its a bit out-there I know, but in terms of tuneful quality its a beautifully constructed piece of music.  

I remember buying the game (it was a £1.99 job back in the day) – an odd Nemesis clone featuring a dude on a flying horse if I remember correctly.  I seem to remember the horse being superbly animated.  But it was the music that won me over instantly.  Both the title theme and in-game piece were very good, but it was the title in particular that has stuck in my head all this time.


Obscure tunes rarely get remixed, alas. (I’m just as bad, what I remix is about *my* nostalgia, no-one elses lol)

Dr Future did one tho – and its pretty good (aside from HORROR THE HORROR! – an incorrect chord in the main section, should be a minor, not a major) and I’m grateful for the remix, but I’d love a more authentic take on it.


Oh god oh god I’m up to my 10th tune on this stupidly small number of faves… hmmm… what shall it be….

Jammer: Mr Marvellous

A contemporary (2006) C64 tune ! :)  Some of the things these heroes of the retro revolution are pulling from the olde C64 are just amazing.  This is one of a few tunes that had me agog when I first heard them, completely nonplussed as to how they could do this.

Cheating again, I’ll group in some more in No.10:

and most especially 0.O:



…. Yes.. I’ve ommitted Wizball, Phantoms of the Asteroid, Monty, Platoon, Batman, et all.. but 10 tunes! and to make them a mix of the obvious and not so obvious… HARD! :D

Let me know your faves, and why :) – and not just C64 either – I plan to talk about Amiga tunes later on :)


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