VIC-20 Overload – Penultimate Cartridge, Pentagorat, & Planet X1


Last month one of my fans sent me a Penultimate cartridge. This is a modern-day cartridge for the Commodore
VIC-20 and it does a lot of different things. So in this episode you’re going to be seeing
a lot about the VIC-20. And why not? This computer holds a special place for me
because it was the first computer I ever owned when I was six years old. And I think a lot of the time it is completely
overshadowed by the Commodore 64. So it doesn’t get nearly the attention it
deserves in the world of retro computers. There’s so much I want to say about this computer,
but I’m going to have to restrain myself because I’m actually scripting out a full and complete
episode, very detailed, on this computer. But, for the time being, suffice it to say,
it was a fairly successful gaming platform with over 300 games available for it. That’s more games than the ColecoVision, the
Intellivsion, the Atari 5200 or 7800, the Sega game gear or the TRS-80 color computer,
or even the turbo-graft 16, and many others. And from a hardware perspective, as a gaming
machine what was the competition like in 1980? I mean, you had the Apple II and the Atari
400 and 800 machines, The Intellivision, the TRS-80 Color Computer, the VIC-20 and the
Atari 2600. That was essentially the gaming market in
1980. So, the Apple II was $1,298 just for the machine,
but honestly if you were going to play any games they’d have to load from tape or more
likely disk, so you’d have to spend even more money. And if you wanted a display you’d need to
buy a monitor or buy a separate RF modulator for your TV. So getting into an Apple II was a considerable
expense, and it still had no sound synthesizer for games. The Atari 400 was a more reasonable proposition
at $440 and could play cartridge games like a real game machine. So this would have been serious competition. The Intellivision was priced competitively
at $299, but it was just a game machine, not a computer. The TRS-80 Color computer was barely competitive
at $399, but it had that annoying chicklet keyboard and really a lack of any brand-name
commercial game titles since it was only sold in Radio Shack and they didn’t allow selling
anything in the store back then with names like Atari, Activision, or Parker Brothers
on the labels. The VIC-20 itself sold for $299, and the only
other serious competing game platform of the day would have been the Atari 2600, which
was sold at a good price, but was already out of date and the VIC-20 beat it in both
graphics and sound, plus it was a real computer. So, now that I’ve set the stage of the VIC-20
as a gaming platform, you are about to see a LOT of games. Because the penultimate cartridge is crammed
full of games. You might be able to compare it to one of
these all-in-one cartridges for the Nintendo. But the penultimate cartridge is also quite
a bit more than just a games cartridge, which I’m going to get into after I show you the
games. For the moment, let’s talk about the games! There’s 40 of them in here! Let me help you visualize what that many VIC-20
cartridges would look like. By the way, almost all of the games for the
VIC-20 were, in fact, distributed on cartridge because it had so very little on board memory. OK, so I’m going to insert this beast into
the computer. By the way, VIC-20 games are notoriously difficult
to insert, but on the bright side they almost never have issues with making good contact. I’ve never seen anyone having to blow into
a VIC-20 cartridge! I’ll also connect a joystick since the vast
majority of these games require one. This is the perfect cartridge to just hook
up your VIC-20 to the living room TV and just sit back with a joystick. You don’t need a disk drive or any other
clutter, just like a game console. The first thing you’ll see on power up is
a menu. You can use your joystick to scroll through
the list of games. You can also use the cursor keys to jump entire
screens and then type the number of the game you want. Ok, so I’m just going to take these one
by one in the order they appear, starting with Aggressor. Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen this
game before. It appears to be some sort of Defender clone. And I guess visually, it looks okay. I looked it up and saw that this was an early
game by Jeff Minter, or Jeff Minter, I’m not sure how to pronounce that, who later
also founded Llamasoft. The next game is Amazing Maze, and unfortunately
this game doesn’t really get my blood pumping either. I’m honestly surprised it was included. Next up is Avenger. Ok, if it isn’t obvious, this is definitely
a space-invaders clone. And I’ve actually never seen it before until
now. Normally, I am not a big fan of clone games,
but in the case where the original game is not available on a platform, a good clone
is okay in my opinion. And this is exactly the case here, as space
invaders was not available on the VIC-20 or C64. This clone is actually really well made, right
down to the bases, the aliens, and the little flying saucer that sometimes comes across
the top. So, definitely a great game to be included
here. Next up is Battlezone, which everyone is already
probably familiar with. This is one of the first first-person shooter
type games. This version is a bit blocky on the graphics,
but seems playable enough, however I must admit I’ve never really been fond of this
game. Here’s centipede. This is another official Atari licensed version. And it seems fairly true to the original arcade,
I have no complaints about this game! Next up is Choplifter. I actually used to play the C64 version of
this game as a kid. It turns out the VIC-20 version is almost
identical in game play, with just slightly chunkier graphics. I accidentally hit one of the function keys
when I started playing that changed the foreground color. So let me pick a different color. Believe It or not, that is a common feature
on a lot of old VIC-20 games, that you can change the foreground color since many of
the games operate essentially as monochrome games with some different colored background
areas. So I’m going to rescue my guys here and
try to get away before that tank shoots me! OK, so this is defender. I showed a clone of this a few minutes ago
called Aggressor, but this is the officially licensed version here. I’m not sure which is best. I also find it ironic that one is called defender
and the other is called aggressor. Anyway, not much to really talk about on this
one, so on to the next. This is Demon Attack. I’ve never played this game until today. And it seems pretty obvious how to play it,
it’s sort of like space invaders or Galaga maybe. But for some reason it isn’t really gripping
me much, so I’m going to move on to the next. Next up is Dig Dig, and it should need no
explanation. The gameplay here is pretty true the arcade. As expected with this machine, the graphics
are a bit chunky, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to play! Next up is Donkey Kong. So, this is an officially licensed Nintendo
game for the VIC-20. Most of the games I’ve shown so far have
been Atari games. So you get to see the character of Mario and
Princess Peach here, although I don’t think they had been officially named at this point
in history. I don’t have a top 10 games list for the
VIC-20, but I probably should make one. But if I did, this game would definitely be
on the list. I think it’s one of the most well-made games
for the system. I would also like to point out some of the
challenge in producing a game like this on a system that has no sprites and colors confined
to little cells on the screen. Most of these games are really impressive
from a programming standpoint. So this is the official port of Frogger from
Parker Brothers. While this game is playable enough, it is
clear the programmers on this one were a bit lazy or perhaps less creative than some of
these other games I’ve shown, as you can see black squares around everything, a sure
sign they are just moving characters around on the screen in a grid rather than trying
to move anything pixel by pixel. And here’s the official port of Galaxian
from Atari and you can clearly see the objects move much smoother, pixel by pixel. So again, some great work went into this. And this is a great port of the game, in my
opinion. You can even hear they made good use of all
of the voices on the sound chip too. Next up is Gorf, and this is an officially
licensed port. And it’s pretty decent except for the movement
of the aliens. Next game is Jelly Monsters. I’ve never actually played or even heard
of this game. Apparently it can be played with the keyboard
or joystick. This is obviously a Pacman clone. And you know, it’s not bad really. The movement on this game is so fluid I could
almost forget the machine has no sprites, except when you see two objects of different
colors get close you can see the color-cell clash. But I can’t fault the programmers, as that’s
a hardware limitation. Next on the list is Jungle Hunt. I am not going to lie, I’ve never been a
fan of this game on any platform. And so it’s hard to really judge it here
because I hate the game one way or another. Sorry, I’m biased but at least I admit it. And here’s Jupiter Lander. Admittedly, I’ve never played this and I
can’t quite figure it out. I thought it would be similar to lunar lander
but the controls don’t seem to make any sense. Besides, how would you land on Jupiter in
the first place since it is a gas giant? OK, so here we have Lode Runner, I think the
first Broderbund game I’ve seen on here. I’m not a huge fan of this game, but I see
a lot of love for this game over on the Apple II Facebook page, so I’m curious what they
think of this port. I mean, it seems decently well made. Next up is Lunar Leeper, by Sierra Online
in 1981. Admittedly, I didn’t know Sierra ever made
any VIC-20 games, I guess I was wrong. Anyway, I’ve never played this game before
either. And at fist I wasn’t even sure which creature
I was supposed to be playing. I saw the little leaping critters so I thought
with a name like Lunar Leeper, that I’d be playing the leeper. But, apparently I move the flying saucer. The animation is really smooth and I think
one of the reasons they were able to do that is they are just treating the play area like
a monochrome bit-mapped screen. However, I can’t quite figure out how to
play this, so I’m going to move on. OK, so now we have Monster Maze. It’s a first person maze program, it’s
a little hard to navigate as I seem to run into walls faster than I expect. And the whole game clearly runs in text mode,
just using various line characters. But, it actually looks pretty decent, despite
that. Still, I couldn’t quite master the game
play, I think I’d need to read the manual. Next up is Moon Patrol. This game looks better than the Atari 2600
version, but that’s about it. The animation is pretty smooth, which again
on the VIC-20 is always a challenge due to lack of sprites. It is one of the few VIC-20 games with a sound
track, although the music is just on one voice and the sound effects are on the other voices. So, while I am not a big fan of the official
Pac-Man port, I think they did a much better job with Ms. Pac-Man. The game looks kind of blocky compared to
other systems, due to the low resolution on this system, but otherwise this game plays
really well and I would definitely include it in my top 10 games list for the VIC-20. This is another Jeff Minter game called Attack
of the Mutant Camels. So at this point we’re already seeing his
love for Camels and Llamas. I don’t know if I’m playing grid runner
of centipede. I don’t see anything that actually looks
like a camel, but that’s probably due to the low resolution. Next up is Omega Race. This game is sort of special to me because
it’s the first cartridge game I ever owned for the VIC-20 back in 1982. I’ve only ever seen this game on the VIC-20
and Commodore 64, but apparently it was first an arcade and was also available on the Atari
2600 and the Coleco. I always felt the game was sort of like playing
asteroids, but a little more involved. And one of the things I learned early on was
that it was best to move only in one dimension and try to shoot the aliens.. The moment I started moving the ship in a
second dimension, I’d always crash into something. This game is essentially monochrome, other
than the title screen. It’s possible the original arcade may have
been a vector based CRT like asteroids, which would explain the monochrome choice. Anyway, I spent many hours of my childhood
playing this. OK, so next on the list is the official Pac
Man port from Atari. To be honest, it isn’t all that great, although
I guess it’s definitely better than the Atari 2600 version. So, moving on. Let’s have a look at Pharaohs Curse. This is another one I’ve never heard of
until now. The game reminds me of Montezuma’s Revenge. And it’s definitely a game that would require
some practice to ever get very far, but it looks like it could be fun. On to the next. So this is the official Pole Position from
Namco. There’s not really a lot for me to say here. I mean, the game looks and plays fine considering
the limitations of the system. But for some reason, I just don’t find it
to be any fun. And.. Here’s the official port of Q*Bert for the
VIC-20. Unfortunately, I have nothing good at all
to say about this port. Not only does Q*Bert not move.. I mean he just sort of appears on the next
cube almost like he teleports around instead of jumps. But there are black squares around the characters. This is because the game essentially runs
in text-mode and they’ve just re-defined some of the characters. I think this may actually be the worst port
of Q*Bert on any system. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the limitations of this machine
and there’s a lot of problems to overcome not having any sprites, especially with the
diagonal lines crossing through color cell areas. But, even if they had to make the game monochrome,
I would have preferred some animation over the extra color. Anyway, rant over, onto the next. This is Radar Rat Race, which is unique to
the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64. The game is obviously a rip off of Rally X,
but I always sort of liked the little rats chasing after the cheese and avoiding the
cats. The game is ridiculously simple from a technical
level, and this would be super easy to code. But oddly enough, this was a decently fun
game from my childhood. Next up is Robotron 2084. I never actually cared much for this game,
I think I preferred Berzerk, which had a similar type of gameplay. This is Shamus, a game I’ve never heard
of. I kept waiting to see Alfred Hitchcock walk
across the screen or something. Anyway, This seems to be another sort of Berzerk
or Robotron type game, although the graphics are a little more interesting in this one. Next up is Star Battle, another one I have
never played before. It is most definitely a Galaxian clone, although
I definitely prefer the official Galaxian port over this one. I tried playing Submarine Commander, but I
honestly couldn’t figure out how it works so I’d need to find the manual and read
it, I suppose. Super Slots is pretty much what it sounds
like. And there’s not a lot I can say about it,
other than it’s a lot machine. Next up is Threshold, and it’s another Sierra
Online game made back in 1981. I’ve never played this before, but I still
get the sense this is another Galaxian or space invaders clone and it’s just not gripping
me. Next up is Tutankham. I hope I’m saying that correctly. Never played this one. The game looks kind of interesting, but I
definitely need some practice to get very far with this. So the last 4 games on this cartridge are
all Scott Adams adventure games. These were quite popular back in the 80s on
a variety of computer platforms. These are just text games, and so the gameplay
is going to be pretty similar regardless of which computer platform you play them on,
so there’s not a lot really to show here. OK, so now that I’ve covered the games..
and by the way, there’s a lot more games for the VIC-20 than what was on the cartridge,
but I do think that most of the best games for the platform were on here. But what else does the cartridge do? Well, for one thing it adds more memory. So, you know the original VIC-20 only had
5K of RAM, only 3 and a half available to the user. Commodore officially sold 3K, 8K, and 16K
RAM upgrade cartridges and they also had the super expander which was 3K with an enhanced
BASIC to go along with it. I did a whole episode on that one, but anyway,
the penultimate cartridge can upgrade the VIC-20 all the way to 35K. Plus it has a menu driven system do allow
you to pick a variety of memory banking configurations, that some software would require. So, I’ve shown you a bunch of older games,
but what about newer games? Yes, people are actually still writing new
games for the old VIC-20. Myself, included. Back in 2009, I actually wrote as an experiment
game called Planet-X1, Ironically, I’ve never actually seen the game work on a real
VIC-20 because I wrote it on an emulator and the game requires 32K of RAM, which I didn’t
have a 32K Ram expansion card before. Well, now I can, so now I’m going to play
the game on a real VIC-20 and see if it works. So, how do I get the game over, well I have
one of these SD-2-IEC adapters, which works on any Commodore machine, including the VIC-20. Oh, and guess what, the penultimate cartridge
actually supports this device directly, as you can see right here on the menu. So, let’s give it a try. So this is a directory of what’s on my SD
card. Most of these are C64 games. Anyway, here’s planet X1. So you can see I wrote this in 2009, and that’s
my old yahoo email, I don’t even use that address anymore. By the way, this is actually just text characters,
I wanted this game to all fit in RAM and there wasn’t enough room for a lot of fancy bit-mapped
screens. So even the main menu here is just colorful
text characters. So I’m going to have it generate a random
map, this actually takes a little while. This is likely the only real-time strategy
game ever made for the VIC-20. Somebody sent me a screen capture from their
cell phone, by the way, where apparently this game was shown on screen of the TV show halt
and catch fire sometime in season 2. But I haven’t watched the whole season yet
so I haven’t figured out which episode it was from. Anyway, it looks like one of the enemy bases
ended up right next to me, so I’m going to blow his base to kingdom come before he
has a chance to build anything. So now you can see the enemy number has reduced
to two. So I’ll need to scout around the map and
find the other two. And wouldn’t you know it, I ran my tank
right off into the lava. I still have one tank left so I’ll switch
to that one, and go see what I can find. Now, while I’m searching for the other bases,
they will start generating enemy fighters which will come looking for my base, so time
is sort of the essence here. The map is really big and so it could take
a while. And well, crap, I just lost my second tank. The game is eventually over, even though I
never really added any code to end the game. So, I never actually finished coding Planet
X1. It was really going to do a lot more things
than it ended up doing. It was more of an experiment really, and at
the time I made it back in 2009 there seemed to be zero interest in the game. So I just kind of finished it up to the point
I was satisfied that it completed my experiment. But, for those that are interested, it is
available free for download on my website. I was also sent this game on cassette tape
to review. It’s called Pentagorat and it’s distributed
on cassette tape. But notice it says is requires a VIC-20 +
32K of RAM. I know that’s a little hard to see. Anyway, so I should be able to use it with
the penultimate cartridge. So heck, I’ll just give it the maximum 35K
and see how it works. OK, so they’ve given us a little fast loader
system with a countdown, which is nice because most games just sit there saying loading and
you don’t know if it is even working or not. Oh wow.. This is definitely the nicest loader screen
I’ve ever seen on a VIC-20 game. It’s actually amazing that they can do all
this while still loading the game too. OK, well, I’m not going to make you sit
here for the entire thing.. let’s skip ahead! OK, so this is interesting. The first thing I notice is that they are
using 40-columns text, which has to be generated on a bit-mapped screen because the VIC-20
hardware only does 22 columns. And it’s surprisingly readable. Keep in mind this is coming from a real VIC-20
computer, not an emulator. Even these sound effects are impressive because
while the VIC-20 does have 4 voices, they can only do noise or square wave with no ADSR
envelope. So they are really manipulating some registers
to get these effects! OK, so this is the game. It appears I’m some sort of 3D jelly creature
or something and I’m trapped in a room. The graphics are very impressive, even though
they are monochrome. OK, so the door is locked. So, I guess I have to figure out how to get
out of this room. OK, I eventually determined that jumping on
this grating will get me out. OK, so are these killer smiley faces? I don’t know, either way the animation is
impressive. Well, whatever I did, I died. Well, this is certainly a game I will need
to spend some more time playing. It’s actually really impressive for the
hardware it’s running on. So, for those that are interested, I did put
a link down in the description field for where you might be able to go purchase a copy of
Pentagorat. I think you can download it for free if you
want to use it in an emulator. So anyway, that about wraps it up for this
episode. So, stick around for the next one!

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