ZX Spectrum Repairs For Fun?

Since the last couple of reviews I haven’t really done much updating here, although there has been plenty going on. I’ll start with the venerable ZX Spectrum stuff I have to report. In a box of Spectrum stuff I received last year were two Spectrum 48k + which are now both working but weren’t before, additionally there were two very sorry looking boards, one an issue 2 and one an issue 4S. Visiting the Spectrum4Ever Facebook page regularly and seeing people repairing Speccys gave me a taste for giving it a bit more of a go so I dived in. Here are the two boards, Issue 2 on the right was the one we decided to repair..

Spectrum Board before repairs were started
So first things first I used the Initial Tests video by JoulesPerColoumbe on YouTube to determine the first steps to repair. One of the first things on old computers and equipment is always to replace the capacitors so I ordered some from Ebay, you can find complete kits of caps to save time hunting for the individual ones so I did that. Once the capacitors were all new, I did the tests and found that mostly all of the power circuit was screwed, probably due to the damaged coil you can see in the picture. So that was TR4, TR5, (ZTX transistors) and the 5v (7805) regulator and that coil to be replaced before any power was applied. While the soldering iron was hot I also added a cable to carry the video signal, as the RF modulator was missing, linking it to the points on the board where composite mods are usually taken from. Now the board looks like this
 ZX SPECTRUM AFTER REPAIRS
Going back to the initial tests, they were much more like the readings in the Youtube video. The board was now ready for power to be applied, on plugging in there was a loud buzzing but that is normal, voltages were close to the expected ranges (+5v, -5v, and +12v) so on with the next step which is to plug it into a composite TV input. There was a picture (good sign) but it was only a green border and black inside with red flecks (not so good). This brings me to one of my recent purchases, a Retroleum supplied SD Card adapter and also diagnostics board which was perfect for this project. I tested it on one of my other working Speccys first, and it reported that it had an upper memory fault, and even tells me which IC would need replacing, excellent more repairs to do. On plugging it into my newly repaired board I managed to get a picture while it did its testing and told me lower ram chip IC10 was faulty (that would explain the display because apparently lower ram is where the display is stored) and also an upper ram chip IC17 is duff.
Having tried unsuccessfully to remove some ram ICs from the other board, I bit the bullet and ordered some from http://www.bytedelight.com/  so the wait is on.

 

 

Review of 3D Stock Car Championship on ZX Spectrum

3D Stock Car Championship by Firebird on the ZX Spectrum comes in a 48k version, and isn’t a game I’d heard of until recently. So firing up the trusty 128k +2A I loaded the game from the SD card in the PICODIVSD which I recently got. The first thing you see once you set up the controls is that there isn’t much 3D involved, at best it’s Isometric, at worst you could call it a strange viewpoint on a racing game. So the countdown to the green flag starts and then you’re off.

The game has a top down racer quality to it, but a very strange idea where acceleration requires bashing of the throttle button repeatedly to increase and maintain speed. That one detail almost made me stop playing after missing out on 3 races, but I held on in there and had another attempt when I found out how to go fast. Then it becomes a fun racer, as you battle with the other opponents (computer controlled in this case but you can have other friends playing). Added in are the car handling “physics” which are actually quite good and add to the experience as the rear of your car slides if you go too fast into a corner, but can be corrected with opposite lock, a nice little fun touch to the game. After a few races you learn how to block the other cars as you turn in, force them into the fences, and how to crash a lot too.

3D Stock Car Championship does not have the best graphics ever seen on the Spectrum, the cars are a little small, and a little basic, but it is an early game so that can be forgiven, as can the lack of sounds apart from a few clicks which get faster to indicate engine revs and a kind of crash sound when cars hit each other. Basic Spectrum stuff then really.

Firebirds attempt at a Stock Car simulation may be lacking in some departments but the gameplay is actually quite addictive once you get started. Sliding and controlling those slides is fun, blocking and pushing the opponents is fun. Winning a race and going onto the next track, and then the next adds a challenge as the tracks become trickier. Overall, 3D Stock Car Championship is worth a little play and will supply a little fun

Score 7/10

New AddOn For My ZX Spectrums

Having just purchased a PicoDivSD from Zaxon on Sellmyretro.com I was trying it out with some demos. It is amazing what the old Speccy is capable of when pushed.

The PicoDivSD looks like this in the Spectrum +2A

as you can see it’s very compact, and barely adds to the Spectrum footprint at all. The hardest part of using it is setting up the SD card with some files, after that plug it in and hit the button to load the menu, choose a game, utility or demo and you’re playing instantly.

VIDEO0004

And your Spectrum could be doing this

Haiku Demo

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Additions

Over the last few weeks I have been getting a few bits and pieces together for my various retro computers and consoles. So here’s a quick rundown of the bits and the results good or bad.

Commodore 64:

This is a tape interface which you can use to load from MP3 players, phones etc. I got it, plugged it into the C64 instead of a Datassette and tried loading a file from my phone. Tried various volumes, various files, loaders, players on the phone, and couldn’t get a thing from it. I’m not blaming the interface as it is likely the C64 is playing up even though it has had a new switch as the supply to the tape deck kept going away. I need to try again but the Commodore 64 and me ain’t friends.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum:

Back to the good old Sinclair ZX Spectrum, one of my old favourites as this was where it all started for me with home computers (well technically the ZX81 was but moving on) and it’s nice to get back to something which works. Firstly I have been bringing another 48k plus back from the dead with a new keyboard membrane, and an adjustment of the modulator (which you should never touch but I did and it tuned into the TV) and another Speccy brought back to life, and a composite mod done on it for good measure using the videos and tutorials found online (Mark Fixes Stuff Youtube and Retro Games Collector UK tutorial)

.

Next was a deal too good to pass up for a ZX Spectrum DivIDE MMC on a pre-order from Zaxxon on SellMyRetro for about half the price of other similar products

As soon as it arrived I put some software on a microSD card and added some Spectrum software and plugged it into my 128k plus. Wow, what an amazing piece of kit to add to a ZX Spectrum, as soon as you turn it on and hit the small button on the card you have a listing of what’s on the SD card, select a .tap or .tzx file and click enter and it loads, instantly. This was a bargain, I would recommend this to any Spectrum owner, follow the link to SellMyRetro and seek out Zaxxon for one of his DivIDE MMC boards.

Also on the Spectrum I purchased a Sinclair Lightgun which is a nice addition to the Speccy for playing the few games which use it. It works as well as most lightguns from the 80’s, pretty accurate and fun to play with, I just need to find a few more games to use it with.

Commodore Amiga 1200:

For my Amiga fix I have several machines, A500, A1200 and a CD32. For the 32 bit Commodore I recently purchased a Gotek Floppy Emulator from Ebay.

This morning I opened up my A1200, disconnected the internal floppy drive and connected the extended leads which came with the Gotek kit I bought and put the leads through the floppy drive hole and closed the Amiga back up. Once I’d added some software and a couple of games (Putty Squad the legally downloadable ADF’s thank you) to a USB thumb drive it was time to fire the Amiga up. After a few seconds the loader software has done it’s job and you can use the on screen gui to load .adf files into virtual disk drives on the Gotek. Reset using the on screen display and it loads up the game. Another brilliant buy well worth the money. I also ran Pinball Fantasies from it …

That is all for now, hopefully some more updates will come soon..

Santatlantean For PC Engine and Turbo Grafx short play mini review

Santatlantean for PCE TurbographxSantatlantean is a new homebrew game from Aetherbyte based on Atlantean also by Aetherbyte. A very nice little side scrolling shootemup with a Christmassy theme is the quick and dirty way to describe it. But to go a little further what we have is a beautifully drawn background using the themes from Christmas that we know and love, you can see the toy workshop, and the snowmen dotted about the landscape along with the gingerbread men and a suitably night time background for Christmas eve. All very lovely and festive.

The challenge comes with the other classic Christmas ornaments coming along to kill you, everything from bells to holly leaves will kill poor old Santa, Even the candy canes will crowd around to give you a taste of death, but Santa Claus isn’t unarmed either. This Father Christmas is a bit of a Mother when it comes to blasting the evil bah humbug ornaments, and takes them out with his laser beams. From my short play time it is a lot of fun to pick up and play, with enough challenge to keep you playing to beat your high score.

So how about those all important graphics and sound, I hear you wondering. I’ve got to say the graphics on the PC Engine / Turbografx 16 never cease to amaze me, and this is no different, some very nicely drawn sprites, which all move very fluidly in play. The sounds are also of a good quality with a nice background music which won’t get annoying at all when played for a while (about 10 minutes should do it) and some decent shooting and explosion sounds adding to the christmassy feel.

Santatlantean as a free download is a worthwhile few bytes to wait for, obviously you will need a way to play it (emulator or TurboGrafx with an Everdrive) but it is a little bit of festive fun to play during the holidays.

Score 8/10

Commodore 64 Woes And More Sinclair ZX Spectrum Repairs.

Again a huge gap between posts, but once more here is an update for you on what I have done in that period when I wasn’t writing here.

To start at the beginning, I recently retrieved my Commodore 64 from the cold dark and damp garage, before I realised I didn’t have a power supply for it. I bought a power supply from Ebay, but it was the wrong one (seller had listed incorrectly as a C64 one) when I got the right power pack, and once the Commodore 64 had warmed and dried I plugged it in, and lo, it still worked. I bought a Datassette drive from Ebay, and started looking forward to some more retro gaming goodness.

While I was waiting for the cassette drive, I stripped the C64 and cleaned the insides Commodore C64

and the outsides and cleaned the connector strips for the cassette interface.

Cleaned Commodore 64

Once the Datassette had arrived I plugged it in, and nothing. It wouldn’t turn a tape, and so nothing loaded. After much head scratching and talking to knowledgeable people in the Mark Fixes Stuff Facebook page we stripped open the Datasette and spent ages trying to find out where a loose wire had come off from. As I was messing with a Spectrum too, using a phone and a cassette adapter I tried that in the C64 with Tap Dancer, and something started loading, and then the tape wheels started moving too. I still got nothing to load though, so I sent away for a Cassette adapter card which takes the place of the Datassette and loads from any phone etc (allegedly) then I found there was intermittent power to the motor supply lines for the cassette deck as the power light sometimes lit and sometimes didn’t on the interface.

Tracing the 9V supply, I found we had a dodgy power switch, making a good 5V connection, but a very poor one for the 9V side of things. I ordered a switch, and soldered it in place (the poor C64 has been apart more times than a travelling fairground ride). Now the tape spins, the interface lights, but still nothing loads up. Is it time to give up on the Commodore 64?

In other news, I tested a second one of the ZX Spectrums I got in the big box of stuff, and although nothing showed on the screen, it did click when a button was pressed.I opened it up and twiddled with the screw in the RF modulator unit (which you should never ever do) and suddenly I had a picture on the TV. Checking the buttons, a few are not working, so it’s another membrane required. I have decided to composite mod this one using Mark Fixes Stuff Youtube video, results to be announced here later.

Finally I got to opening up the box and plugging in the ZX Specrum +2 128K machine I’ve had for a while, another tape loading problem here though. It would start loading then a buzzing would start on the TV speakers, and I suspect it was interfering with the tape sound into the Speccy too. I picked it up a few inches and dropped it, and then it loaded stuff from tape as it should, another fix I don’t think is recommended by people who know anything though.

That’s it for now then. Bye

A short update – Spectrum – Pi – stuff

So what have I been doing recently you never wondered as you haven’t even given me a thought in the last few weeks. Well I’ll tell you anyway, I’ve been doing very little apart from making excuses not to do any of the stuff I should be doing. But recently that changed when my wife found a huge bundle of Sinclair ZX Spectrum stuff being given away on a local Facebook page, and the angel she is, she went and collected it for me. There was a huge bundle too, including 2 Spectrums which had been taken apart, two mainboards and some peripherals to stick in the expansion port (Cartridge and joystick ports).

Having tested the Speccys, one actually worked but had a naff keyboard, so I ordered a new membrane and sets of screws from Dataserve in Tamworth and today it got fitted as per the pictures below…

ZX Spectrum +2

I took off the top to expose the ribbon cables which had to be unplugged from the board. Note the dark traces which seems to be a common cause of failure I seem to recall from my early Spectrum tinkerings.

Open ZX Spectrum +2

Next we have to remove all the screws from the rear of the keyboard pad

The ZX Spectrum Keyboard pad exposed

Then we align and fit the nice new membrane (supplied by Dataserve remember)

New membrane fitted

And refit the plastic bit which holds it all in place firmly and the two ribbon clamps.

Refitted keyboard backing plate to Spectrum +2 keyboard

After slipping the keyboard ribbons back into their prospective slots it’s time to put the whole lot back together with the new screw kit

New screws fitted to the case

And we’re done

ZX Spectrum back together

In other news, namely Raspberry pi related, I recently bought the pre loaded Aeros on a SD card for the Raspberry. The Aeros is a Linux based O/S for the Pi which includes an Amiga bias and a pre-built emulator. It’s a nice little setup but has little in the way of instructions so it took a while to get Amiga emulation running on UAE4All which is included on the setup. After finding where to put my (legally paid for via 2 or 3 lots of buying Amiga Forever and owning several actual Amigas) Kick roms to make it work, I found it played A500 games quite nicely, tested with Turrican, SWIV and Golden Axe ADF files. It looked pretty good on a big HD screen too until my wife came home and made me stop.

Final note, Debian is still rock solid on my PC. Windows 8.1, however, is still very flaky on my wifes laptop even losing the drivers for the wi-fi network adapter recently and causing plenty of headaches, I can tell you. Now to go test my Spectrum out on some nice fast loading cartridge games…

Retro review of T2: the Arcade Game on Sega Megadrive

T2: The Arcade Game on Sega MegadriveT2 The Arcade game is one of the few games out there which works with the Sega Menacer light gun, and at the start screen, you are given the option to play with the joypad or the Menacer. Firstly, playing any kind of shooter which uses crosshairs (or in this case a box) to aim is a no no with a joypad, it’s like repeatedly bashing your haid against a solid object i.e. some others around you may be amused by it, but you won’t. So I plugged in my Menacer to test this game out. The Menacer was Segas light gun for the Megadrive (Genesis) and uses a small box on top of the TV to trace the Menacers aim and works OK considering it predated the Wii by a long time.

I digress, the game here is T2, and it’s set in the future with you cast as the good terminator trying to save Sarah Connors son from the robot army yada yada, you know the story of Terminator and all that so that’s all the introduction you should need. In the future the skies are tainted red and humans and robots are battling for control of the Earth, you come along to help the human resistance. At first you are firing on the legions of silver terminators to assist two human soldiers resist the onslaught, dug in behind the wall aim, fire, kill, repeat. Every now and then a rocket or an extra close terminator comes at you and you need to react quickly to shoot them down too.

As the game progresses you will have big bad bosses to defeat, firing salvos of rockets and grenades at you, you will be required to protect John Connor as he attempts to get away in a pickup truck, which is a scrolling shooting section where you have some fast running bots to dispense as well as the incoming rockets from the skynet sky patrols. Various sections adding new chalenges keep on coming along to test your speed, aim and accuracy. The game is made more difficult by the fact you have limited ammo which has to be kept topped up by shooting cases at the bottom of the screen, then shooting the contents to get them added to your armoury. It’s a tricky balance to keep the ammo up, but not lose your life doing so as the onslaught never seems to slow down to let you have chance to restock.

Graphically, the dark backgrounds work well, and the terminators look scary in the flesh (and out of it as you shoot it away from the more advanced models) with some brilliant looking antagonists. The explosions are great too as bits of terminator fly away from the fiery death you just dealt out, although the bosses can be a little poor in a single colour with little to really flesh them out. The Soundtrack is suitably fast to keep the adrenaline flowing too, explosions are very satisfying with a great sound effect accompanying the flash as another Terminator is wiped out. The addition of Arnie telling you you got terminated is nice even if the digitised speech is a little lacklustre.

As a Menacer title, T2 The Arcade Game is a good addition to your collection if you have the hardware, if you don’t have a Menacer it may be a little annoying (it may be just me though who can’t aim with a joypad), but graphics and sound are all above the average so it isn’t just relying on the Menacer to make it work. All in all, a fun shooting game with a nice movie tie in, and in this case I will be back to play again.

Score 7/10

Making chocolates with Phoebe

Following on from our recent chocolate mould shennanigans we ordered all the moulds and today had another session of being choclatiers (well pouring chocolate in moulds), here is my step to step guide of chocolate moulding with a ten year old daughter.

Step 1 order moulds from Amazon. Change card details when Amazon uses an expired card for anything from an Amazon shop even though they manage to charge everything they sell to the right card.

Step 2 After a few days have passed explain to 10 year old daughter why all your moulds are here already but their Doctor Who one hasn’t arrived yet.

Step 3 When the wife asks if there’s anything you need at the shop, tell her to pick up lots of chocolate bars.

Step 4 get a microwave safe bowl and break up a chocolate bar into the bowl. Remove ten year old daughters fingers from bowl while some choclate remains.

Step 5 place bowl in microwave and nuke at full power for 30 seconds and check to see if the chocolate is melted and runny, repeat until chocolate is melted and runny..

Step 6 open Microwave and check bowl to ensure fingers don’t get burnt (or use an oven glove). Use feet to keep ten year old away from you and to ensure fingers are kept out of bowl of melted chocolate.

Step 7 give spoon to ten year old and tell her to use it to put the melted chocolate in the mould. Remove spoon from ten year olds mouth and explain again that the chocolate has to go in the moulds, not the mouth.

Step 8 give ten year old the job of breaking up more chocolate while you try to get melted chocolate off the worktop, moulds, cutting boards, drawer handles, fridge, microwave. Then spoon what is left of the almost set chocolate into the moulds.

Step 9 check on ten year olds progress with breaking up chocolate as the laughter has the air of a warning to it.

Step 10 get a dustpan and brush and pick up 3/4 of a bar of bits of chocolate from the floor before the ten year old picks them up and uses them anyway, and before the dog eats enough of it to get really ill.

Step 11 break up more chocolate into the bowl and write mental note to get extra chocolate next time.

Step 12 melt chocolate in the microwave and finish filling the moulds (or as many as possible with the leftover chocoalte which hasn’t been eaten, dropped or smothered over every surface in the house).

Step 12 walk chocolate filled (semi filled) moulds to the fridge, with help from a ten year old to carry one across.

Step 13 pick up mould from the floor and wipe up gooey chocolate from the floor tiles.

Step 14 wait 2 minutes until Ten year old asks if the chocolate shapes are ready yet, tell them no and they must waiti about half an hour at least.

Step 15 repeat step 14 every 1-2 minutes for as long as you can stand to do it. I lasted nearly the full 30 minutes but finally cracked.

Step 16 remove moulds from fridge and try to remove chocolate shapes while fighting off multi armed chocolate dependant ten year old.

17 just let the ten year old at it, and tell them to wash their hands, face, and change clothes when they’re finished.

It was a lot of fun though and we made these

Choclate filled moulds Doctor who, pacman and spaceinvaders

Doctor Who Dalek ChocolatesDoctor Who chocolate shapes K9 Tardis

Space Invader, Pacman, Doctor Who Tardis, K9, Angels and Cyberman

For links to the moulds to make these just go to this blog post