Monday 18 March 2024

Pomera DM30

I've discussed my appreciation of 'distraction free' word processing in a few of my previous posts here on the RGCD blog, as it not only highlights a real problem that we have in this always-online world, but also (in terms of hardware word processors) they’re an odd technological dead-end that are seemingly going through a resurgence.

If you are in your mid-forties (like me) then you may remember having typing lessons at secondary school; a class during which the students tapped away on electronic or mechanical typewriters in a often vein attempt to learn the art of touch typing. In my school, before these classes were eventually axed and replaced with computing or IT classes, they actually introduced hardware word processors. These were essentially the same as the electronic typewriters but had a small screen on which you could type and edit your text before eventually printing it out. At the time I had my Atari ST at home with a copy of 1st Word Plus and I remember thinking how odd it was that we were using these weird, single-purpose devices instead of computers. But now, 30-or-so years later, I think it finally makes sense.

Jumping forward to the present day, distraction is everywhere. I find typing anything on my main PC a nightmare - even from within the zen-like confinement of tools like Calmly Writer - because regardless of my good, productive intentions, fun and excitement are always just an Alt-Tab and a double-click away. My Chromebook is even worse, almost constantly pinging with notifications from various social media platforms. The whole way the internet is designed now is to keep you scrolling; just open up a web browser tab and immediately you are presented with algorithmically curated websites to visit. A five-minute break or a pause to look up something soon becomes a 20 minute procrastination session, and before you know it you've completely lost your train of thought or even forgotten what fact you were looking to verify in the first place.

It's no surprise then that a company like Astrohaus has found recent success with their range of (admittedly hipster looking) distraction free typing devices. Over the past few years I have often fought the temptation to reach out for my credit card and buy the Freewrite Traveller, but ultimately I have been dissuaded from doing so because as a dedicated writing machine they are comparatively overpriced and the screen just looked too small to be really usable. However, with my interested piqued in finding a portable typing device for jotting down my thoughts or bashing out a blog post whilst on my daily commute, I ended up going down a rabbit hole that ultimately led me to the Pomera DM30 that I'm typing this on today.

Released in Japan back in 2018 (or so), King Jim's Pomera DM30 was clearly designed as an ultra portable memo or note-taking device for business use, but it works equally well as a neat little distraction free word processor. With its fold out keyboard, reasonably sized e-ink screen, fantastic battery life and ability to save to standard SD cards, the DM30 actually has some serious competitive advantage over the Freewrite Traveller et al - especially so when you consider the difference in sale price. Although it is no longer in production, you can still pick up second hand units on Japanese eBay for around £200-250 including shipping - a fraction of the cost of Astrohaus' competing machines.

The first thing to talk about of course is the design, or to be precise, the way the thing unfolds. The notebook PC size keyboard is hinged on both sides so that it folds in upon itself a quarter and three quarters along its width. This folding mechanism even activates two stabilising legs on each side, and despite having a somewhat utilitarian design this aspect of the device is certainly a head turner when demonstrated. To complement this, the second unique feature is the decent sized e-ink screen, comfortably fitting 20 lines of 75 character-long text when used in full-screen mode without the menu or status bar. There's no backlight or anything, but it's still totally usable even with ambient indoor lighting, and positively vivid when used in daylight (unlike a typical laptop screen).

Every time I have used the DM30 in public, people have come over to ask about it - the retro-futuristic aesthetic gives it a cyberpunk vibe unlike anything else commercially available. It's a real shame that King Jim moved away from this design and later revisions of the Pomera feature a more standard clamshell format with an LCD display. But that's enough about looks - what is it like to actually type on?

To be honest, the keyboard is just ‘average’. Nifty fold up features aside, it feels cheap, like what you would expect from a £20 Bluetooth keyboard on Amazon. Unlike the Astrohaus products, the keyboard is certainly not a selling feature; it's completely usable, but does not offer the user an ‘enjoyable’ typing experience. In addition, the layout is slightly off (neither standard US or Japanese) and the spacebar is not quite as responsive as what I'm used to on my mechanical keyboard at home. Oh, and there's no pound sign, even in the character palette, which is disappointing.

I can't touch type, so my eyes are mostly watching my fingers whilst working, but even at an average speed it takes the screen a second to catch up. That is typically the trade off with e-ink screens though; their low refresh rate. Again, it's not brilliant, but it works and feels adequate enough. I have found that I can compensate for this when editing by counting my keypresses to keep track of where the cursor should be.

Despite these shortfalls, the Pomera DM30 still arguably trumps the Astrohaus devices with its software, particularly in terms of file management and actual 'word processing' ability. I totally understand that these devices are supposed to be used for drafting and flow-of-consciousness style writing, but personally that's just not how I roll. I like to continuously edit as I type, and although it's not easy to do that on a slow e-ink display, it's still totally possible on the DM30 thanks to its dedicated cursor keys, the large body of text displayed on screen at a time and its standard Ctrl-C/V/X/Z shortcut functionality.

By default, the DM30 runs in Japanese, but after switching it on for the first time and hitting the Menu key, you can change the whole user interface over to English - the 'language' option to do so is literally the only thing written in English. Then under the ESC key is a button that switches the key entry from Kanji to Roman text input (but again, there's an option in the menus for this too). After that, aside from perhaps setting the date and time you're ready to go. Unfortunately the backup battery door on my unit doesn't open (there's no battery in there, and the screw mechanism to open it is damaged), but these settings take less than a minute to update after changing the bog standard 2x AA batteries that the device runs on.

File management and importing/exporting your work is an absolute breeze; you have the option of saving files to either the internal memory (a staggering 6GB, which is complete overkill for text) or an SD card. You can easily copy to and from each location, manage folders and delete files as well. It's all very comprehensive. There's even a QR export function that sadly I've not been able to use; it requires a companion Pomera Link app on your phone which doesn't seem to be available for iPhone or Android in the UK. Without this, the QR code just seems to default to adding your typed text to a search string in the web browser (at least that's what it does on my phone).

Whilst editing there are a number of viewing options; you can turn on lines (which seem totally unnecessary) via the 'grid' option, and you can even invert the screen to work dark mode style. The 'outline' option is a really neat feature; it opens up a narrow window with tiny text on the left hand side for titles/headings, and you can split your text with embedded headings and sub-headings by starting a new line of text with one or more hashes (#,##,###). These strings of text are then treated like headings in the outline window and you can then jump from one section of text to another by Alt-Tabbing into the adjacent window and selecting the appropriate heading from the list. It's almost like working in a code editor with markdown text, and really useful when working on larger documents.

The only obvious omissions from the editor are the lack of a word count (although there is a character count instead) or an English spell checker. There's also only one fixed-width font (in a variety of different point sizes), but to be fair I actually find the system text pleasing to work with so I have no complaints on that front. One odd hangover from its Japanese heritage is the DM30's apparent confusion when it comes to apostrophes - it treats them like a space or punctuation mark, so the editor happily splits words like it's or don't across two lines (which can affect readability on the device).

In conclusion, it's really hard not to recommend the DM30 as a portable writing device. It is a one-of-a-kind machine and I feel like I'm an extra in Blade Runner or something when I fold it out for use in on my morning train commute. The keyboard might be a little lack-lustre, but it is usable and after a little practice I am able to hit a pretty high words-per-minute rate (albeit with some bogus keypresses and typos). The real benefits of the DM30 are its portability, small size, easy daylight readability and insane battery life using bog-standard AA batteries; I can imagine someone travelling with this and working in the field for weeks on end, picking up extra batteries as and when required.

The DM30 fits into my workflow perfectly and I think that anyone will know if it is or isn't for them upon first glance. Like many of you reading this, I have a passion for odd bits of hardware and they don't get much quirkier than this!

As a final note, if you are interested in getting one yourself then your options are pretty much limited to Japanese sellers on eBay or checking in on the r/writerDeck group on Reddit (where you will occasionally find one for sale in the Western market). With regard to using the DM30, most functionality is pretty straight forward, but someone has taken the time to translate the the full Japanese manual to English (available here) if you'd like a better understanding of some of the more advanced features.

JASWORD (Commodore 64)

When I purchased my first C64 back in 2006, I had no idea of the adventure that lay ahead. I fell in love with the machine almost immediately and the daily release of new homebrew games and demoscene releases kept me thoroughly entertained. However, as the Commodore 64 is a computer (in contrast to a games console), I also wanted to find some way of putting it to productive use, as perhaps it may have been during the machine’s heyday.

At the time I was still actively writing game reviews for the RGCD blog, so the obvious choice was to use the computer as a distraction-free word processor. Without the immediately accessible temptations of the internet and social media, I have always found it easier to maintain my focus when typing on vintage hardware, and the C64 certainly has a much nicer keyboard than the mushy one on the Atari ST. Seriously, the keyboard on the ST is so terrible that Atari's GEM operating system actually includes a short chirp sound that is played upon every key press to provide some sort of tactile feedback to the user!

On the downside however, unlike the Atari ST, the C64 provided me with a couple of hurdles to overcome with regard to typing text; namely the PETSCII format and the 40 character wide display.

After trying a few recommendations, I initially settled for a while on GEOS and it's integrated WYSIWYG Word Processor GeoWrite. I even typed a blog post about it, using GeoWrite itself. However, loading up the OS and application took a fair bit of time, and actually getting the text out of GEOS and onto my PC for publishing was a nightmare involving multiple steps and additional conversion software. Although an admittedly impressive piece of software, the novelty of GeoWrite soon wore off and I sought a simpler solution.

Standard text, when printed, tends to be around 80 characters to a line, so quite obviously typing on a 40 character screen means that text is either truncated or scrolls horizontally as you type. This is far from ideal, so I knew that I wanted an editor with 80 character support. I immediately found that my options on this front were extremely limited, and the few that I did find used some really archaic interfaces and non standard key functions. To add to the problem, very few could save or load modern PC readable text files. Others, like Interword, hogged so much memory that there was barely anything left for typing text! So, for years, I relied on the Final Cartridge III's Notepad and the 'print to file' function of the Ultimate1541-II, which although totally usable, felt like a bit of a cheat. Oh, and although Notepad is arguably impressive with its non-fixed width characters and mouse support, the fact that you couldn't overwrite a file when you saved your work drove me absolutely nuts. My longer documents ended up with many revisions saved to disk as separate yet similarly named files, causing a great deal of confusion upon trying to continue my work at a later date.

Jumping forward to 2021, by complete chance I came across Dr. Franz Kottira's JASWORD - and following extensive use I can happily say that it is far from being 'Just Another Stupid Word-processor' for the C64. In fact, JASWORD is a modern, lightweight and impressively FAST 80 character text editor with some amazing functionality. It ticked every box, but one; there was no English version.

After struggling with Google translate and manually typing in the German text from the many menus and help screens, I managed to teach myself how to use JASWORD and knew that it was the word processor that I'd been searching for. To save others from having to take the same steps, I figured that I'd try my luck in contacting Dr. Kottira and enquire if there was any chance of an English version - I even offered my limited help in translating the menu screens now that I had taken the time to work out what everything did. To my surprise, Dr. Kottira replied and explained that I wasn't the first to ask about an English version, and that a C64 user by the name of d3bug was already assisting him with a translation.

So here I am, in 2024, typing this review in an English version of what I consider to be the perfect text editor for the C64. Well, to be more accurate, today I'm actually using the C64 core on my MEGA65, with its beautiful mechanical keyboard and crystal clear HDMI output, but I digress; of course JASWORD works just as well on my everyday, workhorse C64.

Before the budding retro wordsmiths out there get too excited, there is a hardware limitation that needs to be addressed; unless you have a decent display and video cable, JASWORD will be almost impossible to use. An old TV and RF cable is just not going to do; you really need a decent monitor to read 80 character mode text. I luckily sourced a 15mhz compatible LCD panel with S-Video when I first got my machine, but I appreciate that many C64 users out there still struggle with bleeding colours and wobbly pixels.

That out of the way, people with decent monitors will find a lot to love about JASWORD, starting with its small memory footprint. Unlike many other editors out there, JASWORD leaves you with a relatively massive 32KB of memory to hold your work as you type - with a super helpful 'percentage-free' reading that is displayed on the status bar. At the time of typing this, I'm currently at 85% free - meaning that each document can be somewhere in the region of 10 pages of text. In fact, the English manual that came on the disk worked out at 8 pages long when copied over to my PC and formatted for printing - and that file still had memory to spare. Quite the achievement for a 64KB 8-Bit computer from 1982!

Obviously, with this sort of limitation, JASWORD won't be suitable for writing a novel, but for bashing out a few thousand words for a article or blog entry it proves itself to be totally usable.

So, if you're not sold on it already, let's take a deeper look at some of the functionality and menus (accessible via the F-keys). First up, F1 pulls up the help screen, listing all the useful keyboard shortcuts (navigation, formatting, special characters - that sort of thing). Then F2 pulls up the colour options - although I'd argue that the default settings are already very easy on the eye. F3 is the layout settings, where you can set margins and header/footer sizes, and F4 pulls up the extras menu, with its find/replace function.

Loading and saving (F5 and F6 respectively) presents you with the option to use conversion tables (so you can save and load PC readable text, for example) and you can even load a file into the body of your existing document. Additionally, JASWORD has a directory browser for loading, so you haven't got to remember the file names - and most importantly - saving allows you to overwrite files and verify the save! The F7 print menu is again comprehensive with more options than the majority of users will require, but for me it was the final option, F8, that really got me excited - this is where you can set the text format to ISO8859-1!

JASWORD comes with a number of conversion tables and presents the user with the option to create their own. By selecting the relevant conversion table, you can then flag the load and save menus to use this table when loading and saving, the only slight workaround being that for saving this way you must highlight/select all the text in your document first (SHIFT-RUN STOP) and select 'Save marked selection'. Apart from that, it really is simple and surprisingly fast to use.

So what's left? Well, there's the ability to access Basic from within the editor and actually send up to 80 characters of text to the interpreter by ending a line with CTRL-RETURN (although only 1KB of memory is reserved for this). I'm not sure why this might be useful other than for inserting directory lists into your document, but I'm sure that someone will find that it serves a purpose. And talking of directory listing, it's also worth noting that you can not only view the disk contents from within the load menu, but you can also perform some useful functions such as renaming, copying and deleting files.

Finally, did I mention the price of this marvel of editing software? JASWORD is completely free, so you have absolutely NO reason not to download the disk image and give it a go yourself - perhaps even use it to type an email or letter to Dr. Kottira on your C64 and express your thoughts!

Download JASWORD here (from Dr. Kottira's website).
Run it using VICE (free software).

Sunday 17 March 2024

Back from the Dead

It's been almost three years since my last update on this blog, and all RGCD products have been out of stock on the website since Summer 2021. What's been going on? Whatever happened to Yoomp! on the Amiga? What about EFMB or Retaliate DX for the C64? Is James Monkman dead?!

Well, first off, the good news - I'm not dead or ill, nor have I been kidnapped or gone into exile. The truth is a lot less interesting to be honest, but as several concerned people have reached out me during my extended absence I'm going to take the time now to bore you all with the details.

Early in 2021, my family and I decided that we'd use the stamp duty holiday in the UK to move a step up the property ladder. Stamp duty is a land tax that is payable every time you purchase a property here in the UK, and to stimulate the housing market during the COVID outbreak the Government put a temporary exemption against it. We had outgrown the terrace house we had in Exeter, and after a year of lockdown we all really wanted a change.

My wife is a social worker and her office arrangements had changed from personal work areas to 'hot desking', with her now spending four-fifths of her time at home or on local visits. On the other hand, my railway planning job had evolved to me only being required in the office for 2-3 days a week, meaning that I was also at home for pretty much half of my working hours. With us both in key worker jobs during the outbreak, it didn't take long with five of us all working and schooling from home for the place to start to feel very, very small.

However, even with the tax break, we couldn't find anything suitable in Exeter, so we started looking further afield - Exmouth on the coast, and Crediton further inland, both towns that are connected to our places of work by train. After a couple of months, we found a house in Crediton that suited us - but unfortunately that purchase fell through following a terrible property survey (and the seller refusing to budge on the price). So there we were, looking again with only a few months of the tax break left, when I found a house that seemed to be too good to be true (spoiler; it was).

I grew up right in the middle of Devon, in a small, medieval market town called Hatherleigh that dates back to around 1081AD, and one day on my random property searches I came across a five bedroom house in the town with an attached two bedroom cottage that was almost within our budget. I went for a viewing and couldn't believe what I was seeing - for roughly the same price as our four bed terrace house, here was a larger property with a garden and courtyard, a separate cottage, two sheds/workshops, off-road parking and loads of potential. A forever home.

We pretty much threw caution to the wind and immediately made an offer, and after a few negotiations we had an agreement and began preparing for the move. With a train station opening in nearby Okehampton we were still mostly connected to the rest of the UK, although my commute is now a total of four hours a day! Looking back, I think we were all blinded by the promise of a healthier countryside life and the extra living space for our extended family to use on visits. We had a survey done on the property that resulted in a list of problems almost as thick as a telephone directory, but we didn't care - the house had been standing for centuries, so it would surely manage a few more years without any major investment from us?

As it turns out, not so. Within the first six months we had to completely renew the central heating system and change tens of metres of dodgy wiring in the main house (all the lights stopped working upstairs a few days after moving in). We spent a fortune on repairing leaking windows, lining the chimneys and recommissioning fireplaces - and that was just to get us ready for the first winter! In the meantime, we had to also deal with getting the kids admitted into new schools, rodent and moth infestations, painting and decorating and taking about 50 car loads of junk to the dump... And then, just as things started to settle, the exterior wall of the attached cottage collapsed!

Built in 1650 (or thereabouts), our house and the adjoining cottage mostly comprise of a mix of stone and cob. Cob, for those who don't know, is a blend of straw and clay-rich red mud. Unfortunately, on a side of the cottage that we lack access to, a gutter had been blocked and water had been running down the wall and into the cob through a crack in the exterior render for almost a decade. What happens if you add water to mud? It turns to a slurry and loses what few positive attributes it has as a building material. So, there I was, on my 42nd birthday in November, digging up a mountain spoiled clay and render from all over our neighbours garden and packing it into rubble bags for removal. In the rain, natch.

Following this disaster (and the huge expense of our initial renovations on the main house), my wife and I turned our attention to the two bedroom cottage. We had a second property here, albeit in very poor state of repair (with a collapsed exterior wall, remember!) but also with potential to become a future source of income to help us climb out of our financial hole. Our neighbours had a similar, beautifully renovated property on the square just around the corner that they rented out on Airbnb, and it was pretty much booked out on a permanent basis. With a little work, surely we could do something similar, right?

The renovation took us over two years to complete. Two years of working nearly every weekend in a building site. Two years of builders and tradesmen coming and going. Two years during which our mountain of debt grew and grew and grew.

It turns out that we were incredibly naïve in our aspirations to 'quickly' renovate the cottage. The first step in the process was to have an electrical safety test carried out - and unsurprisingly it turned out that the insulation score was the lowest our electrician had ever seen. This was mainly due to the shoddy 1980's installation, with wiring that ran unshielded and non-trunked through the thoroughly damp, mud walls. A complete rewire was in order if we had any hope of legally renting the place out. In addition to this, the boiler was not installed to a legal standard either, so hey, if we're rewiring we might as well redo all the plumbing, right?

We ended up borrowing and spending a small fortune on the work, but wow - that little two bedroom cottage now really puts our own home to shame. Everything was redone. All new plumbing and electrics, additional insulation in the vaulted ceilings, every wall re-plastered and decorated, oak floors put in downstairs and new carpet upstairs. We installed a new kitchen and a new bathroom. We even restored the original cottage entrance that at some point had been converted into a window. However, one thing we didn't do was to put it up on Airbnb.

Just days after the work was complete, one of our neighbours was evicted from his home (through no fault of his own). Hating to see an senior citizen and his dog thrown out on the street, we decided to help him out by offering our cottage as a rental property. It's taken some adjustment, but I feel that it was ultimately the right decision and we all get on well. Apart from our cat Bertie, who is not a fan of Lenny the dog.

It's taken me a few months to recover from all this - and we still have a lot of refurbishment left to do in our own house, so the work is far from over. In fact, we're currently in the process of fitting a new bathroom suite, with a bathtub currently residing in the dining room, waiting for installation (and raising eyebrows whenever we have visitors). Also, my day job has changed a great deal over the past four years. Since COVID my workload has almost doubled; where I used to be able to crunch my hours into four days and have a day to myself for RGCD activity, now I'm regularly working the equivalent of six days a week just to keep up.

My wife and I have also had to deal with helping our three kids to establish new friendships and integrate into the community. My eldest (Millie) has really flourished here - she's now studying art and philosophy at college and is out all the time with her new friends. However, my two younger sons have found the move a little bit more difficult and it's taken a lot more time and effort to settle them. This is probably also another consequence of COVID; they seem to be far more addicted to their screens than Millie - despite the endless opportunity for outside activities and adventure that living in the countryside offers.

From my perspective, moving to this small yet active rural community has been a really positive change. We have friends and neighbours whom just randomly call round for a cup of tea and a chat, and we are regularly out at each others houses for dinner and barbeques in the warmer months. We never had this in Exeter; despite having a great friendship group there, it was never so relaxed as to just have unexpected visits - I guess mainly because of how spread out across the city we were. In these days of smart phones and constant communication, there's something quite nostalgic about an unexpected knock at the door and a welcome, friendly face greeting you on the other side.

The unfortunate consequence of all this activity over the past three years has been that I've had zero time left in my schedule for sitting in front of a computer until very recently. In fact, I'm sat typing this on my Commodore 64 right now, and it must be the first time I've turned the poor neglected thing on in about six months.

So here I am, finally sat in front of an 8-bit machine bashing away on the keys with a grin on my face. I'm well aware that the C64 scene has evolved a great deal in my absence; I have a lot to catch up on and working relationships to rebuild. RGCD’s cashflow is currently zero, so I'll need to sort out my accounts and then promptly finish off the few outstanding tasks on projects that were already in the pipeline so as to bring funds back in to the business. Additionally, Brexit has introduced some major challenges for small businesses selling products outside the UK, so I'll have some work to do on that front, possibly resulting in me moving the RGCD shop away from Big Cartel.

In conclusion, there's a lot of work ahead of me, but rest assured, RGCD is back. While I labour away in the background, I also intend to update the blog a bit more frequently than one post every three years, so you'll probably be hearing from me again soon. Please note that the RGCD email inbox is currently backed up with thousands of messages (mostly spam), so until I catch up, if you want to drop me a line the best way is probably via a message on Facebook.

Monday 5 April 2021

Coming Soon! Retaliate DX & Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Commodore 64)

It's been crazy busy here at RGCD for the past month or so. Not only have I been ramping up production of Monstro Giganto, but I have also been working on preparing a number of other games for launch, including Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Retaliate DX. Oh, and I've assembled and flashed 150 copies of Icon64's Arcade Daze for backers of the Zzap 2021 Annual Kickstarter by Fusion Books as well!

One of these games - Retaliate DX - I have covered in some detail before. Since the last update, apart from the usual pre-launch fixes and tweaks, the only significant change has been the addition of a SNES pad control option (using the TexElec adapter). We're just waiting for the manuals to come back from the printers and a new delivery of GMOD2 to arrive and the game will finally be available to buy in our online store.

However, I've just realised that this is the first time I have made an announcement about Endless Forms Most Beautiful for the C64, so really I need to rewind a little bit and explain what this project is all about.

As explained in this article here, back in 2012 RGCD worked with Locomalito to remake David Hughes' modern ZX Spectrum homebrew game EFMB for the PC. More of a re-imagining than a straight remake, Locomalito's version carried his distinctive 1980's coin-op style - and with it's two-player mode it was really more akin to games like Snow Bros or Bubble Bobble than original. Back in the days when CD releases were still a thing for the PC, Locomalito even released a limited edition physical version of the game (which I proudly have in my collection). In short, if you haven't already checked it out, I strongly recommend you do so.

Jumping forward to 2019, one of RGCD's regular customers dropped me an email asking if I'd seen this new game called Endless Forms Most Beautiful on the Commodore Scene Database. I immediately assumed that it would be a port of the ZX Spectrum game - after all, that would make sense. But no, here was a game that was actually a demake of Locomalito's remake - making it a C64 demake of a PC remake of a ZX Spectrum game!

The C64 conversion of EFMB is really impressive and succeeds in staying as true as possible to Locomalito's vision. In fact, I was so enamoured by the game that I contacted Locomalito and suggested that we work with the developers to create a physical cartridge release. And that's what we've done - complete with packaging that has remained as faithful as possible to Locomalito, Gryzor87and Marek Barej's PC CD release.

Both EFMB and Retaliate DX are in the final stages of production and should be available to purchase soon!

Saturday 3 April 2021

Monstro Giganto Available on Cartridge! (Commodore 64)

Well, it's been hell of a couple of days. To coincide with the launch of the Godzilla Vs. Kong movie, on the 31st March RGCD & The Pirates of Zanzibar released the much-anticipated MONSTRO GIGANTO for the Commodore 64. With only 70 GMOD2 PCBs left in stock here at RGCD HQ, I tentitively opened up sales with an initial batch of 50 copies - and within hours, all of those had sold. With an order of 100 more PCBs already placed with Individual Computers, I decided to re-open sales again as a pre-order for a second batch (with a shipping estimate for the end of April), and here we are, two days later on the verge of selling out again. This makes Monstro Giganto one of our fastest selling and most popular games to date!

I already had a head start on building the physical packages (before even opening sales I had 50 flashed and assembled cartridges), but of course there's more to shipping out an order than just that. So far I've put together 100 internal packs (manuals, stickers, badges etc. in polythene bag), assembled 50 boxed games and physically shipped 25 orders before running out of bubble wrap and packing peanuts. It was areally sunny day yesterday (for a change) so I moved the entire operation out into the garden - I didn't want to waste the opportunity for sun and fresh air by being cooped up inside my cramped office - but I do wonder what the neighbours must have thought with the patio covered by a mix of game packaging, cartridges, packing materials and about three loads of family laundry!

I hope to ship out another 25 copies early next week, and then the rest as soon as my incoming GMOD2 shipment arrives. I'll be keeping the pre-orders open after the second batch sells out, but please note that there will be a significant delay before these arrive at their final destinations!

Anyway, enough talk about logistics - here's the game launch blurb!

Brought into existence through human misadventure, four gigantic beasts have emerged to duke it out toe-to-toe in an epic brawl across the continents!

Take control of the monster of your choice and battle against the AI or another player in this furiously-paced PESTCII party-puncher! Who will be hailed as the King of Monstros in the MONSTRO GIGANTO hall of fame?!

Developed by Antonio Savona, Lobo and Aldo Chiummo of The Pirates of Zanzibar, MONSTRO GIGANTO is a one or two player brawler of epic sized proportions! Featuring relentless arcade style gameplay, huge and highly animated player characters, 101% PETSCII graphics, over 250 words of digitised speech (your Commodore 64 has never been this chatty!), a killer sound track, on-cartridge high score saving, unlockables and full PAL/NTSC compatibility, MONSTRO GIGANTO is a game worth fighting over!

MONSTRO GIGANTO is an RGCD Production. The cartridge version of the game is presented in a custom RGCD banded three-part cardboard box with a glossy outer sleeve. The cover art was illustrated by Lobo and the game comes complete with a professionally printed 20-page A6 manual, vinyl RGCD and MONSTRO GIGANTO stickers, a 4-piece badge set, post-cards and a 170gsm matt-finished A3 poster. The GMOD2 PCB is housed in RGCD branded black cartridge shell with a 3D domed label.

MONSTRO GIGANTO was programmed to run exclusively from cartridge, as it continuously streams data from the ROM during play. For this reason, a D64/Disk version is not available. Instead, a downloadable .CRT is available in both GMOD2 and EasyFlash format with every purchase to use via emulation or on real hardware devices such as the Ultimate 1541-II. Please check that your hardware is compatible with these formats! (Note that a stand-alone digital download of the game will be available to buy soon).

Finally, and this is VERY IMPORTANT. MONSTRO GIGANTO will sound DREADFUL if played on an Ultimate64 without a real SID Chip. I'm sure the Ultimate's emulation will be improved in time, but for now, it just doesn't cut it. It does however sound great on both the MEGA65 and even TheC64!

The All-Important Links:

  • Buy the cartridge version HERE for £35 (from RGCD).
  • Buy the download version (COMING SOON!) HERE (from The Pirates of Zanzibar).

Saturday 13 February 2021

Making of Monstro Giganto (Commodore 64)

Following hot on the heels of last year's BoxyMoxy, the Pirates of Zanzibar are back again with a new game; 'Monstro Giganto', a furiously-paced PETSCII party-puncher! Coder and long-time RGCD member Antonio Savona started work on the project (with his fellow sea-dogs Lobo and Aldo Chiummo) during the 2020 Christmas holidays, aiming to knock out a fun little proof of concept based on some PETSCII art by Lobo. And now, just over a month later, Monstro Giganto is a near complete game that already takes up 480KB of ROM space on a GMOD2 cartridge.

But what is Monstro Giganto? Lobo came up with the idea of a PETSCII based brawler last summer inspired by a series of monster drawings he penned over 20 years ago based on Godzilla, King Kong and other giant beasts. It was initially planned as a comic book in which an army of monsters duke it out, but one thing led to another and the project ended up becoming a game instead.

"I made the first PETSCII tests of Gorgo and Jojo back in May/June 2020. Since I wanted to make a brawler with the largest characters possible the PETSCII approach seemed to be the most reasonably practical method to pull it off".

Indeed, that seems a sensible starting point when making a monstrous sized beat-em-up, but Antonio ended up with quite a few challenges to overcome as a result.

"The greatest challenge was nailing the game mechanics, given the constraints of working with large PETSCII based characters with a limited set of moves in a claustrophobic arena. On the technical side the only really complex part was keeping a steady frame rate and snappy controls. Those big monstros might be made up of PETSCII but that doesn't make them any easier to animate than other types of heavy, non-sprite based graphics. There's a good reason why the VIC-II offers sprites as a hardware capability, which becomes evident as soon as you choose to develop a game without using them!"

By the time I joined the project, Monstro Giganto was already a fully playable game with four playable characters and both a single player and two player modes. The music was in, as well as a load of cool sounding digital samples ripped from Mortal Combat. "You should hire a voice actor for this. Have a look to see if there's anyone suitable on Fiverr", I suggested. This was no more than a week ago - and now Monstro Giganto has grown to enormous size, with over 250 professionally spoken words of dialogue(!)

"Roughly 250KB are now used by samples. It could have been much less than that, but the good thing about variable rate speech compression is that you can adjust the rate and trade quality for memory footprint. There was a lot of cartridge space available and there was no reason to not use it, so I turned the knob up to 'maximum quality'. Overall, it's over 250 words accounting for around three minutes of speech (and roars). Most of the speech is contained within the unlockable origin stories for each of the four monstros, and there's a few words spoken in the intro. As much as I like talking in games, I think that speech should not be invasive or prominent, but rather something to complement the action."

Of course, it's worth mentioning at this point that to truly appreciate the game you really need to have a real SID chip in your Commodore, or at least a really good clone like that in the MEGA65 and of course the VICE emulator.

Monstro Giganto has evolved considerably from its humble beginnings, but Tony's to-do list now mainly consists of bug-fixes, polish and 'easy' code rewrites. It's exciting to see it all come together so quickly, and there's even been tentative talk of a sequel addressing some of the suggestions and ideas that came too late to shoe-horn them into the current framework. However, the journey from prototype to near finished game has seen many progressive refinements to the design, as Antonio explains;

"In the beginning I had only three attack moves per character (plus one defensive block) and a single screen arena that was barely large enough to contain the two monstros. Tremendous artwork and a decent concept, but very basic in the gameplay department. The first change to be made was to add the endless scrolling of the arena to break free of the limitations of the single screen; it's important to note that the arena has no end or invisible walls like most fighters - the players do not have an absolute position in space, just a relative one. Each monstro exists in a space relative to their opponent - you don't move left or right around an arena, but rather just move away or towards your enemy."

"Then came the hit detection; a punch only connects if you hit a specific point on your opponent, and each monstro and attack has a different reach, so the challenge is not about getting closer to your opponent but rather positioning yourself at the right distance for a specific move. I guess this is no different to what games like Exploding Fist have been doing egregiously for the last 35 years, so there was no point in not doing it in Monstro Giganto."

"Finally, I wanted to avoid the common problem that plagues many fighting games of having a one-move-kills-them-all, like the low-kick in Exploding Fist. So, a tiredness meter was added to address this issue by forcing the player to adopt a strategy instead of mindlessly bashing the fire button. The more you fight or block, the more your tiredness increases until you are eventually exhausted and your opponent gets an opportunity to strike you while you are defenceless. So it's important to time your attacks and rest accordingly if you want to win the fight."

"With these mechanics in place the game became really fun to play. It was even fun just watching my AI driven monstros skilfully beat the crap out each other in the attract mode! I've also given each of the characters specific skills and stats to add further variety to the game. For example, Eyeye is the fastest monstro and he doesn't tire easily, but his main attacks have a shorter reach and he is somewhat weaker. On the other hand, Mojo is a heavy hitter with an impressive reach and can stand a few more punches than your average puny lizard, but no matter how fashionable, the fez-sporting oversized gorilla is the slowest of the lot!"

Although there is no real end to the game (you continue to fight the four main opponents over and over until you lose) your stats are recorded in the hall of fame and there are unlockable rewards in the form of origin stories for each character - and there's even a couple of secrets thrown in there for good measure. But all that aside, the real test of a fighting game is how it plays when facing off against a human opponent - and if the reaction of my two gaming addicted kids is anything to go by then Monstro Giganto deserves to go platinum.

With development now in the final stages and print material in the process of being ordered, Monstro Giganto should be available for your Commodore home computer in late March/Early April.

MEGA65 Devkit - First Impressions

So, here I am in February 2021, typing a blog post in GeoWrite running on a never-released Commodore prototype from 1991 - or at least the nearest thing to it. Of course, I'm referring to the still-very-much-WIP MEGA65 from the Museum of Electronic Games and Art (MEGA); an FPGA based re-imagining or continuation of Commodore's ill-fated C65 prototype.

Those of you familiar with the Commodore 65 will be well aware that the few prototype machines that leaked into the retro computer market now exchange hands for tens of thousands of pounds - absolutely crazy money for an only partially-functional computer with no software. I mean, even if I had that kind of money to burn, there honestly would be no reason for me to have one. However, unlike it's predecessor, the MEGA65 is no overpriced, lame duck. In fact, I believe that the MEGA65 has the potential to become the Commodore's answer to the Sinclair Spectrum NEXT; an enhanced, future-proof 8-Bit machine (I know, what a contradiction!) with backwards compatibility and a strong focus on 'what could have been'. After all, the C65 was a machine that sat somewhere between the C64/128 and the Amiga 500 in terms of power (you can read more about the enhanced specifications on the project web page). It's an odd beast that sits between the 8-bit and 16-bit generation machines, and reminds me a little of the SAM Coupé in that regard - but with a far, far better starting point than the bloody ZX Spectrum!

I was one of the lucky few (100, to be precise) Commodore fans to obtain one of MEGA's build-it-yourself devkits that were made available to buy last year. In contrast to the final design, these devkit versions have an Amiga 600 style form factor and use a transparent plastic PlexiLazer shell (much like that used by my daily driver customised C64). In fact, this was one of the main reasons I favoured the devkit over the final design - it just looks incredible and at only 35cm wide it fits far easier on my desk.

However, good looks alone do not make a good computer - and as with the prototype C65, currently there's very little native software available for the MEGA65. That's unlikely to remain the case of course - especially if the activity on the discord channel is anything to go by. I imagine that by the time the final model rolls off the assembly line there will be a fair sized dedicated library - enough to whet people's appetites at the very least. Personally though, I had another reason to get involved with the early access of the machine - not only was I interested in testing and assisting with the final polish of the MEGA65, but I was hugely curious as to whether or not any RGCD releases (past, present or future) would run on it. In fact, I even proposed to the MEGA team that if they can improve the machine's backward compatibility to support RGCD's releases, then they can bundle them for free with their machine when it goes on sale.

As it stands, compatibility with C64 games - especially modern-era ones - is low on the current firmware. The main issue seems to involve the use of illegal opcodes; those dirty shortcuts and tricks that modern day developers often use on the C64 to squeeze out the best performance from the machine. These are especially common in demos (I have yet to find any that run on the MEGA65), and the reason is simple; these opcodes are aimed at the C64 chipset - and as the MEGA65 currently has no way to force itself to become 'the lesser' machine, the C65 CPU fails when they are called. This could (and probably will) be fixed in the majority of cases, but it will take time. So those of you were are gutted that they missed out on the devkits last year - I expect the wait for the final model will be worth it. (Edit: since writing this post the MEGA team have already got the previously non-working Super Bread Box running on the machine from cartridge, so compatibility is improving all the time!)

On the plus side, having a devkit has been a bonus for RGCD as I've been able to assist in getting some of our future releases up and running on both the C64 and the MEGA65! In particular, this past week I've been busy helping Antonio Savona and Lobo with their PETSCII brawler 'Monstro Giganto', a game that you'd think would have no issues running on a machine as powerful as the MEGA65. However, until this evening the game was full of illegal opcodes and the game pretty much crashed and burned within seconds of turning the machine on. Thankfully, Antonio was willing to rewrite these sections of his code (mainly so he can make the proud claim of releasing a MEGA65 compatible game) and now Monstro Giganto runs perfectly. This process was quite painless - even when done remotely via Facebook messenger - because of the MEGA65's excellent built in freezer and memory monitor. I was able to take a photo of the monitor screen whenever the game crashed so Antonio could see what was causing the problem and work around it.

Whilst discussing Monstro Giganto it's also worth mentioning the performance of the MEGA65's dual soft SIDs - something that is especially important considering the 250+ words of sampled speech the game contains. Honestly, the MEGA65's SID emulation is one of the best I have heard on a hardware C64 clone to date - far superior to TheC64 and cleaner sounding than the otherwise brilliant Ultimate64. So whatever the MEGA team are doing on that front, they're doing it right!

With regard to RGCD releases on the platform, there's nothing currently planned in the immediate future, but at the very least I'll be encouraging the developers I work with to support the MEGA65 going forward. Antonio has said he might look into porting P0 Snake over as an experiment, and Marcelo Cabral has suggested that he could attempt a MEGA65 version of Retaliate DX (a WIP C64 game that already works great on the MEGA) - so who knows? There might be a couple of games from us before the year is out.

One of the most interesting things about the MEGA65 is that being an FPGA based machine it has the ability to run different 'cores'. There's already a ZX-UNO core that runs on the MEGA which turns the computer into a ZX Spectrum clone, and work has begun on Atari ST and Amiga cores as well. Similar to the popular MiST FPGA, this means that your MEGA65 could eventually become your one-stop retro computer covering a variety of platforms, with the bonus of being beautifully packaged in the shell of a classic computer (and having one of the best keyboards I have ever used).

If I get time I'll happily share any new developments or interesting info about the MEGA65 here on the blog, but for now I hope that this has served as an introduction. If you want a more detailed guided tour of the machine then I strongly recommend you check out the recent video posted by Nostalgia Nerd - I really feel his pain about snapping the top part of the case during assembly!

Friday 12 February 2021

Tiny Quest Available on Cartridge! (Commodore 64)

Far, far away, exists a weird and wonderful world of right-angles and crazy geometry. In this land populated by square trees, square clouds and square people, Mr Cube has fallen in love.

However, our hero's love interest is on the opposite side of the world - and between them lies a land full of hazards, obstacles and dangerous critters! Not only that, but Mr Cube is flat broke and he needs to raise enough cash during his quest to ensure that he can pay for safe passage home for both himself and his sweetie!

Oh, did I forget to mention that time is incredibly tight? Mr Cube will have to run and jump as quickly as he can if he's to make it before his energy runs out. He'll need all his stamina for the ceremony of geometrical pairing!

Steady your nerves, prepare your reflexes, grab that joystick and help our hero on his TINY QUEST!

Coded by Andrea "Wanax" Schincaglia, with graphics by Raffox and music by Gaetano Chiummo and Stefano "Dustbin" Palmonari, TINY QUEST is a game that requires lightning-fast reflexes, excellent memory, advanced planning skills, perfect timing and (a lot of) self control. You have been warned. There will be times when things appear hopeless - but you have our word - even the hardest screens are possible to beat with practice!

I was first introduced to Tiny last year by Federico, and after a quick play of the preview I immediately offered to assist with a release alongside BITMAP SOFT. The game is deceptively challenging - each single screen level might on first appearance appear simple, but there's real skill required to collect the coins and get to the exit before the time runs out. You have quite literally seconds to beat each stage, and no reprise between. It's a relentless challenge, and with only five lives and a temporary password every 15 levels (and there's a LOT of them to beat - the title is clearly ironic), TINY QUEST was designed to be beaten in a single sitting - but my kids and I have yet to achieve that as yet.

RGCD's cartridge version of the game is presented in our custom RGCD banded three-part cardboard box with a glossy outer sleeve. The cover art was illustrated by Simon Butler and the game comes complete with a professionally printed 12-page A6 manual, vinyl RGCD and Digital Monastery stickers, RGCD badge, post-card and a couple of code sheets to record your passwords on. The 64KB PCB is housed in a bright red cartridge shell, with a 3D domed label.

Note that purchases of the cartridge will (soon) include a downloadable copy of the *.CRT version of game for free for use via emulation or on real hardware devices such as the Ultimate 1541-II. However, as the game is not available digitally yet we have opted meanwhile to include a printed download link within each boxed copy of the game.

Note that due to COVID-19, international postage is still a real mess with huge delays, but parcels ARE getting through (albeit very slowly). If you are concerned, please consider buying insurance and tracking for your order before you hit the checkout.

The All-Important Links:

  • Buy the cartridge version HERE for £32 (from RGCD).
  • Buy the tape or disk version HERE (from BITMAP SOFT).

Six Monthly Update

Hi all - I hope you are doing OK and you and your families are well. It's been a nightmare six months here since my last update, with further lockdowns, home schooling, busy jobs and the stress of Brexit. I'm sure it's been no easier for the rest of you, but I've had very limited time for running RGCD lately and I've had to really juggle with my work and life balance. Here's hoping for a more positive and productive 2021!

The good news is that some progress has been made (albeit slowly) on a number of projects here and I have several announcements and releases lined up for the near future that I'm really excited to share with you. I've also recently become the proud owner of a MEGA65 Devkit which has been an inspiration to start writing on this blog again - so expect a future post about that soon.

Sadly I've been unable to set aside any time with fellow RGCD member Jamie to finish the new website. Although mostly complete, we had planned to spend a week together last year finalising the site functionality and fixing/updating the 500+ blog posts here after migrating across, but for obvious reasons that has been impossible (I actually spent all of 2020's annual leave home schooling my kids). Hopefully we can get to that after COVID-19, but before COVID-20 ;)

Frequent visitors to our online shop may have noticed that I've also gradually been replacing the packaging to some of our games; LuftrauserZ, Super Bread Box, C64anabalt, Bomberland and Aviator Arcade II have now all been given the upgrade treatment, and I hope by the end of the year to have discontinued the use of Universal Game Cases. The new three-part cardboard boxes are available to buy sperately so you can upgrade your own collection, and as Universal Game Cases are selling for around £2-3 each on eBay there's always the option of making some of your money back ;)

Actually, on the subject of Super Bread Box, imagine my surprise when Richard McManus tagged me on Facebook to say he'd just seen the game being played on Channel 4 daytime TV by former professional footballer Chris Kamara whilst Peter 'Nostalgia Nerd' Leigh talked about the wonders of 8-bit computers. However, I'm not sure that Kammy knew how to hold a joystick - he was pretty terrible at the game! On the plus side, I can now proudly say 'AS SEEN ON TV' when it comes to promoting Super Bread Box again in future. Nice one Nostalgia Nerd!

Back in a bit!

Thursday 20 August 2020

Boxymoxy Available on Cartridge! (Commodore 64)

The stupid old Wizard had cast a wrong spell, creating an invasion of chattering skulls and now no one can sleep! Two cats, Boxy and Moxy, are set to clean up this mess. Using their combined powers, you will traverse 60 levels over three areas in order to destroy all skulls and restore the beauty sleep to the people of the old Kingdom!

Developed by Antonio Savona (of P0 Snake and Planet Golf fame), designed by Lobo and with a soundtrack by Aldo Chiummo, Boxymoxy is a fiendish (or felineish?) puzzle game for the Commodore 64 unlike anything else you have ever played. Inspired by Lobo's cat Gelsomina, with a little Sokoban and a tiny dash of Angry Birds thrown in for flavour, Boxymoxy is a game about moving cats and smashing skulls using the power of logic.

Featuring 60 challenging puzzles, unique gameplay, a player performance-graded progress system with on-cartridge saving, 15 digitally-sampled and distinct meows from 12 cats and full PAL/NTSC compatibility, Boxymoxy is guaranteed to keep you entertained for hours in the purr-suit of that perfect or even under-par score! Simply put, it's the cat's whiskers!

Antonio and Lobo put this neat little game together incredibly quickly - I hardly had an opportunity to play it myself before a near final version landed in my inbox, hence why there's not been a mention of it here on the blog or in the mailouts! My kids and I have spent quite a few days during lockdown together working out the optimum solutions to the puzzles, and although we quickly unlocked all the worlds, we still have plenty of levels to get the three star award on. To quote my son - "it's all about getting those meows!"

Boxymoxy is an RGCD Production. The cartridge version of the game is presented in a custom RGCD banded three-part cardboard box with a glossy outer sleeve. The cover art was illustrated by Lobo and the game comes complete with a professionally printed 16-page A6 manual, vinyl RGCD and Boxymoxy stickers, Boxymoxy and RGCD badges, post-cards and a 170gsm matt-coated A3 poster. The GMOD2 PCB is housed in RGCD branded black cartridge shell, with a 3D domed label.

Boxymoxy was programmed to run exclusively from cartridge, as it continuously streams data from the ROM during play. For this reason, a D64/Disk version is not available. Instead, a downloadable .CRT is available in both GMOD2 and EasyFlash format to use via emulation or on real hardware devices such as the Ultimate 1541-II. Please check that your hardware is compatible with these formats!

Note that I'm currently swamped with orders and international postage is a real mess with huge delays, but parcels ARE getting through (albeit very slowly). If you are worried, buy insurance and tracking for your order before you hit the checkout. Also, I am well aware that postage prices have gone absolutely bonkers since COVID-19 due to reduced air traffic, but I am actively looking into other options.

The All-Important Links:

  • Download the game HERE ( (.CRT image format only).
  • Buy the cartridge HERE for £35 (from RGCD).

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Grid Pix Available on Cartridge! (Commodore 64)

"Grid Pix does stand out from the crowd." - 88% Retro Gamer magazine issue 198

"A splendid little Picross variant." - 82% ZZap! 64 Annual 2020

Welcome to Grid Pix! An exciting new world of logical puzzle solving awaits you, courtesy of Carleton Handley, Ilija Melentijevic, Hasse Axelsson-Svala, Andrew Fisher and Pierre Martrin!

Featuring 100 chunky pixel-art puzzles (and the option to load in more via future DLC packs), beautiful high-resolution graphics, multiple music tracks to play whilst you think (silence is also optional), PAL/NTSC compatibility and on-cartridge saving!

There are no annoying time limits or anything to distract you from the challenge ahead, just 100 hand-pixelled nonograms with only a single solution!

It's been quite a while since I first wrote about the development of Carleton Handley's Grid Pix and previewed it to players at Exeter's GAME>PLAY festival, but I'm proud to say that the final game has most certainly been worth the wait! A joint production released with our good friends at Psytronik Software, Grid Pix is available to purchase over at our online store on cartridge now! (In fact, it was actually first made available a week ago and announced first on Twitter and Facebook - so be sure to follow our accounts to keep informed!)

The cartridge version of the game is presented in a manufactured custom RGCD banded cardboard box with glossy outer sleeve. The cover art was illustrated by Ste Pickford and the game comes complete with a professionally printed 16-page A6 manual, holographic vinyl RGCD and Grid Pix stickers, Below The Tower, Psytronik and RGCD badges, a 10-page puzzle design notepad, post-cards and a 170gsm matt-coated A3 poster. The GMOD2 PCB is housed in RGCD branded black cartridge shell, with a 3D domed label.

Please note that Pystronik Software will be selling the game on 5.25" diskette very soon! Grid Pix is also available to buy as a downloadable .D64/.CRT/.T64/.PRG image to use via emulation or on real hardware devices such as the Ultimate 1541-II.

Note that I'm currently swamped with orders and international postage is a real mess with huge delays, but parcels ARE getting through (albeit very slowly). If you are worried, buy insurance and tracking for your order before you hit the checkout. Also, I am well aware that postage prices have gone absolutely bonkers since COVID-19 due to reduced air traffic, but I am actively looking into other options.

The All-Important Links:

  • Download the game HERE ( (.D64/.CRT/.T64/.PRG image format).
  • Buy the game on disk HERE SOON! (from Psytronik Software).
  • Buy the cartridge HERE for £35 (from RGCD).

Tuesday 18 August 2020


Hey all - I hope you are all staying safe and well. It's been a while since I last wrote here and so much has been happening that I really don't even know where to begin! Firstly I guess I should start by writing about the two new games that we released last week, but before that I think I need to rewind a bit to cover everyone's favourite subject. Videogame packaging.

OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration as I'm sure that no one really wants to discuss packaging at all, but it's a subject that has taken up so much of my time, effort and finances lately that it would be rude to not give it a brief mention here on this blog at least. So first of all, let's discuss the problem. Those of you whom are into collecting retro games are probably familiar with the Universal Game Case - the same case that RGCD has used for the past few years as packaging for our cartridge releases (with a custom made foam insert). Until recently these were both affordable and widely available, but since COVID-19 kicked in, they've become rarer than rocking horse shit. This has resulted in delays to RGCD game releases and restocking issues, so I had to find a solution.

However, I was reluctant to look of another off-the-shelf packaging option, as since starting RGCD back in 2006 I have already been through six variations of packaging already - so this had to be a final solution. One package to rule them all, etc.

One of the issues I have had with Universal Game Cases is that they are a bit too small for holding anything other than a cartridge and a thin game manual. Add anything else to the package and they bulge slightly and are difficult to keep closed. I resolved this for the last couple of projects I worked on (Dragonspire and Argus) by adding an outer sleeve, but the cost of doing this for every release would be prohibitive. It did however, put me on the right track.

During a discussion about this with long-time RGCD contributor and graphics-maestro Steven Day, we began to reminisce on the game packaging of the home-computing golden years. After covering the pros and cons of a variety of big box style games released on the Amiga, PC and C64, Steve noted how clever Microprose had been at using the same box packaging across all formats, utilising a generic inner box and an outer sleeve with stickers to highlight the target machine. I replied that I held a particular fondness for the Renegade/Bitmap Bros packaging on the Atari ST and Amiga, which again had an internal box that used an exterior sleeve but was a slightly smaller size. So, with this concept in mind, I looked into manufacturing costs while Steve knocked up a template.

You see, the main issue with any sort of custom made game packaging is the fact that it is only *really* affordable when ordered in large quantities. And by large, I mean thousands, or tens of thousands. Now, obviously this was no problem back in the 80's and early 90's, but shifting thousands of copies of a game for a retro platform in 2020 is a lot to ask, so some corners have to be cut in order to keep the costs down. After all, what is the point in beautiful packaging if it drives the price up to a prohibitively expensive level? Clearly the Microprose/Renegade 'sleeve' concept was the way to go. The final design from Steve was built up of modular components; a matte base with a removable insert (for holding a cartridge, or not), a matte lid with spot varnish RGCD branding and finally a glossy outer sleeve. My initial order was for 500 inner boxes, and 500 sleeves spread across five different designs. This resulted in a high quality box that was only slightly more expensive than the previous UGC, foam and printed insert combo (and definitely cheaper than current Game Case prices and the aforementioned additional outer carton option).

So there you have it, a few months after starting out on this journey and I'm proud to announce that Grid Pix and Boxy Moxy have both been launched debuting the new design (and best-sellers LuftrauserZ and Super Bread Box are the first older titles to be relaunched with it). The beauty of the new packaging is it's modular nature; if a particular game sells less than the predicted target, the majority of the packaging costs are automatically reallocated to a more popular game. In addition to this, just removing the insert immediately makes the package suitable for Amiga or other platforms as well, without detrimentally reducing the strength of the overall package. Oh, and of course there's the obvious environmental factor and storage space saving; 500 flat-packed boxes takes up half the volume of my previous solutions - even more so when you factor in all the different options I already stock.

Finances permitting, I hope to be able to continue to relaunch titles from the back catalogue with the new boxes on a monthly basis, and have even listed them as a product in my shop so people can upgrade their previous purchases (sold at cost price plus shipping). If fact, considering the going rate for second hand Universal Game Cases on eBay, you might even be able to make a profit!

In conclusion, I really, really hope you like the new boxes and I assure you that with the level of investment involved, these really will be the 'final' revision of RGCD game packaging. I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so leave a comment below or drop me a line via the contact form.

P.S. - Fun fact; the images shown within this article are actually of a non-final sleeve which had to be re-ordered. I'd accidentally signed off the proof with a matte finish when it was supposed to be gloss. As a result, all 500 sleeves ended up in the recycling shortly after these photgraphs were taken! However, the final_final_final sleeves were really worth the additionally incurred cost.