Friday 7 June 2019

Introducing the RGCD Megatape

I've been looking at getting some RGCD branded USB sticks made up for a few years now, but could never settle on a style that I was happy with. I figured it would be a nice extra to add with our physical cartridge games so that they can be played on TheC64 Mini or Ultimate64, but the cost price was always so prohibitive - especially so when in comparison with what value they'd add to the buyer. I mean, a 4GB USB stick holding a few kilobytes of data just seemed wasteful.

Then recently those cool guys at Hewson Consultants launched a (successful) Kickstarter for a collectors 'USB cassette' release of Puppy Games' Droid Assault (a game we championed back in 2009, when RGCD was still a CD-based magazine). I'd previously seen Hewson's USB cassette of Hyper Sentinel and I thought the format was a cool gimmick for an indie game, but seeing the Droid Assault Kickstarter aping the style of vintage game cassettes for the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 made something click... and the concept of the RGCD Megatape was born.

I (like many of you) have an Ultimate 1541-II cartridge with my Commodore 64, and over the past decade I've built up quite a large collection of games, demos, artwork and music releases, all of which are now neatly stored on a single USB stick. However, it takes time to build up this sort of hand-picked collection, and with the scene being currently swamped with hundreds of new users thanks to devices such as TheC64 Mini (and the Ultimate64), I figured that a nicely packaged RGCD collection would possibly be well received.

The RGCD Megatape will not only compile all of our past releases and RGCD competition entries in one place, but will also act as a platform to showcase some of our favourite modern-day freeware C64 games and various stuff from the demoscene. The format of the USB cassette itself not only fits in perfectly with genuine retro game collections, but it's also super easy to use with modern hardware (although I may need to provide an optional short USB extension cable looking at how tightly it fits when used with the Ultimate 1541-II cartridge). In fact, if you want to impress your work colleagues, you could just bin the contents and use it as your regular work USB stick in the office! ;)

As you are no doubt aware, RGCD release C64 games exclusively in cartridge format - although we of course have collaborated with Psytronik and Protovision for floppy and cassette versions of some titles. However, compared to other media, these cartridge games are a little more expensive - which makes the Megatape an ideal way for people to add a physical RGCD release to their collection at a more affordable price. And what's really cool is there's no need for a 'Volume 2' - the contents will be regularly updated on a yet-to-be-built website (currently proposed as and ultimately free for anyone to download. Consider this our gift to the scene.

So, when will it be available? And how much will it cost?

There's still a lot of work to do. In some ways, I jumped the gun in asking Christina Antoinette 'Castpixel' Neofotistou to assist with the design and amazing illustration, but I was eager to see what the samples would look like before investing too much time in putting the contents together. Dr. Martin 'Enthusi' Wendt has also been hugely helpful in re-purposing his amazing diskmag engine for use as a note viewer - from the start I wanted to ensure that any readme texts were accessible as stand-alone programs (I don't think TheC64 Mini supports text files, although the Ultimate 1541-II and Ultimate64 do), so I've been busy writing them using a most 'unique' toolchain...

Enthusi's diskmag engine only compiles on Linux - an operating system I've personally failed to get to grips with. However, RGCD's Jamie Howard already had a Raspberry Pi on his network at home acting as a 'smart-doorbell', so we opted to just put the assembler files and scripts on there. So every time I want to compile a note I have to WinSCP the files across to the other side of Exeter, have a chat with his doorbell via PuTTY to compile it before finally transferring back to me. Yes, that's right, the Megatape README.PRG's are compiled remotely by a fucking DOORBELL. I don't think the inventors of the Raspberry Pi ever imagined their hardware would be used this way! :D

So, we're a few months off at least, but I hope to have the the first build of the Megatape available in our store by Autumn. I'll be at Nova Party in a few weeks and will be working on it there (between beers, smokes and socialising), so hopefully I'll have a better launch date estimate after that. Cost wise, these cassettes are not exactly cheap to have made as a short run, but I'm aiming for a price of around £15 plus postage. However, the RGCD Megatape is being developed more for fun than profit (the £2 mark-up per unit is literally just to cover the cost of the artwork), so I'll do my best to keep the price as reasonable as possible.

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  1. Loving it, can't wait for its release, cheers!

  2. Looking forward to it's release, can't wait

  3. Looking forward to it's release, and hope we see more megatapes, great idea!

  4. Any news on the megatape? It's almost autumn ...