Category Archives: Kickstarter

The ZX Spectrum Next meddles with the primal forces of nature and cooks an egg

No.

 

This isn’t right.

 

Not at all.

 

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Olifiers. And you will atone.

What we have here is the ZX Spectrum Next (which has been talked about previously at Retronauts towers) showing off the benefits of its new, larger FPGA — which it reached thanks to achieving its first stretch goal. Because of this, they’ve been able to add some more functionality to the system…part of that being the ability to play with (or emulate accurately) a SID music chip. The SID is, of course, the chip that was used in the Commodore 64 to make some of the best game music of the decade — created by Robert Yannes, it was a technical marvel that still baffles people somewhat today, considering that most other computers at the time (including the Spectrum 48k) possessed little more than a single-channel beeper in terms of sound. The Spectrum 128k upgraded its sound to an AY chip — the same sort of thing you get in a Game Boy — but still, the SID was the undisputed champion in the world of ’80s computer sound.

Even though I myself belong more to the Spectrum crowd than the C64 crowd, hearing a ZX Spectrum playing SID tunes so effectively is almost wrong, as if the streams have just been crossed. Of course, it is just a cool little bit of functionality and emulation — the Spectrum Next folk are not busy cannibalising old C64’s and cutting out their SID chips in order to stick them into the Spectrum Next (something that actually can happen to C64’s that you buy on Ebay due to the chip’s value as a synthesizer), but the feeling this brings is strange, as if someone managed to get a Mega Drive cartridge to run on a Super Nintendo. We truly are in an odd dimension.

In other Speccy Next-related news, the system has already managed to secure itself a big name character — one that may be familiar to anyone who grew up in the era. Dizzy is an egg with hands and feet, and the ability to roll around all over the place collecting objects, solving puzzles and saving his kinfolk from evil wizards — he was one of the most popular characters around back in the UK computer days with several big games under his belt, although there’s a chance that Americans may know him from Fantastic Dizzy, which did come out for both the NES and the Mega Drive/Genesis. It has been announced by the creators of the series, Philip and Andrew Oliver (better known as The Oliver Twins), that a brand new Dizzy game directed by themselves and made by a team that remade Crystal Kingdom Dizzy — one of the more maligned entries in the Dizzy canon — will be released onto the ZX Spectrum Next, not for two pounds nor for three pounds, but for free as a way of commemorating the success of the project. After several false starts and failed Kickstarters, said new game will be the first official Dizzy title in 25 years, ending a pretty long wait.  Speaking of the project, there are four days left to run on the Next’s Kickstarter, and it stands at over half a million pounds — if you fancy sticking your two’pennorth in, then don’t hesitate to do so.

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The ZX Spectrum Next Stretches out to 400K on Kickstarter

The ZX Spectrum Next. Pretty little thing, innit?

Following 10 days of campaigning, the ZX Spectrum Next has proven to be something of a big deal on Kickstarter, earning its £250,000 goal in just 24 hours and now standing at over £400,000 with just under 3 weeks still to run on the campaign. It now seems that the project — an FPGA-based attempt to recreate the classic British computer — could well end up creating a much stronger computer than its original inspiration. The project has already breezed through one stretch goal to upgrade the FPGA chip inside the system, and is on course to reach a goal that guarantees the possibility of memory expansion. Other stretch goals are still to be announced.

Reviving the ZX Spectrum is something that a fair few people have either tried to do, or have projects on the go for — there’s a pretty high demand for it in the UK, and as worldwide awareness of the classic games available on the system has grown more people outside of the UK have expressed their desire to get into the system… however, the system can be something of a pain to play for people outside of PAL regions (later, I’ll write a post letting American folks know of the best way to play Speccy games). Most efforts so far have been largely ARM-based system on a chip affairs that concentrate on emulation, but the Spectrum Next is different — because it’s FPGA-based, no emulation is involved at all. That could make the experience that little bit more authentic for some people.

Midnight Resistance is pretty awesome on Speccy, and Jim Bagley programmed it.

The Spectrum Next, a project led by Brazilian-based retro hackers Victor Trucco and Fabio Belavenuto, original ZX Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, Jim Bagley — developer of classic ZX Spectrum titles such as the Ocean Software ports of Midnight Resistance and Cabal — and Bossa Studios co-founder Henrique Olifiers, is not something that has just appeared overnight. Public comment on the project dates back to the start of last year, when the system was announced with full specifications and Dickinson’s sleek modern-yet retro design already in place; crowdfunding was always set to be part of the project, and after a year or so of quiet hype, the team’s labours are paying off.

What exactly are the Spectrum Next’s intentions, then? It is aimed to be compatible with most classic pieces of Speccy hardware, so there’s no need to throw away any old Kempston Joysticks, SpecDrums and Currah Microspeeches you have lying around — and it does have the all-important HDMI-out feature, with the help of a Raspberry Pi Zero, so it’ll look reet nice on your modern telly. If you wish to have something shiny and snazzy looking to bust out yer 3D Death Chases and Manic Miners on, the new system can do that comfortably with SD Card storage — and if the thought of not waiting at least 3 minutes for a game to load is as troubling to you as it is to me, don’t fret; you can still dust off your old external cassette deck, hook it up to the Next, and load up games the old fashioned way. The board has even been designed so that it’ll fit neatly inside an old ZX Spectrum 48k case.

Castlevania: Spectral Interlude is one of the best examples of the games that are still being made for the Spectrum right now.

However, the Spectrum Next is designed with more than just the old classics in mind; it is a continuation of a trend that’s seen hardware hackers and demosceners do things with the old Spectrum that’d make Whistlin’ Rick Wilson’s trousers fall down. The Speccy has always had a popular homebrew scene, one that’s occasionally turned heads with the likes of Castlevania: Spectral Interlude, an excellent fan-made take on the series with a unique Spectrum touch — but away from variations on popular games, a great deal of new Spectrum titles are still being made for the 35 year old computer. The Next is made so that these projects can go even further, with the team openly wondering on their Kickstarter page about what hackers could do with it and thinking that we might see an OpenGL Spectrum in the future… it’ll be a while before the power of this system is truly unleashed, but the Next may well be a good buy if you’re looking for new games with an old computer twist.

At this stage, it seems as though the Spectrum Next is now the clear frontrunner out there when it comes to projects that bring the old system back to life, particularly as the more game-focused Vega+ handheld — a project backed by Sir Clive Sinclair himself — has continued to struggle with delays, controversy, in-house bickering and angry backers demanding news on when the beleaguered system will actually be done.  It helps that Henrique, Jim and company are actually able to show off the board itself, immediately dispelling any notion that the Next would be just another emulator-based system. Backers have the option of pledging for just the board at the cost of £99, while the finished computer is available at the £175 pledge level, with delivery estimated for January 2018. The case design and the board are already there then, and the Next as a computer exists — what remains to be seen now is how the vagaries and difficulties of creating molds, mass production and shipping will affect the product.  But the team have a plan to make the ZX Spectrum relevant well beyond its 35th year, and there’s a definite chance that they will succeed.

You can even play Doom!

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By request, we explore the Chrongaming mini-craze

So, I feel that it’s really important to preface this post with the disclaimer that this episode is a Kickstarter backer request (one of the last in the slushpile). I mention this because otherwise this episode will seem almost offensive self-indulgent and navel-gazing. While many Kickstarter backers requested we tackle one of a variety of episode topics, Sean Clements had but one demands: Talk about chrongaming.

Chrongaming, of course, would be the practice of exploring a console’s entire library in chronological order; the best-known venture out there is Dr. Sparkle‘s Chrontendo, which catalogs the history of Nintendo’s NES/Famicom in exhaustive detail. So of course we asked the good doctor to join us again, following on from his appearance in our very first Kickstarted episode. (Although as we learn here, Dr. Sparkle calls it “chronogaming,” not “chrongaming.” Live and learn, Sean!) Less famous, but rather closer to home, is my very own Game Boy World project, which aims to do the same thing as Chrontendo, except for the Game Boy platform, which is much less popular as a retrogaming topic than the NES. Even Dr. Sparkle wanted nothing to do with it!

So, needless to say, it’s the two of us and Bob jabbering about our own work for 80 minutes. Or airing out our sick personal obsessions, if you prefer. My apologies to all, but the people demanded it. Or at least one person. The tyranny of crowdfunding, eh?

Can a podcast be self-indulgent if the topic was provided by someone else? The famous Dr. Sparkle joins us to fulfill Sean Clements’ Kickstarter topic request: Chrongaming. Join us as we psychoanalyze our own obsessive-compulsive behavior!

Listen or download here:

Libsyn (1:52:00 | MP3 Download) | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes | RSS | Support the show on Patreon

Music in the episode comes from NES “brototype” game Shatterhand, which I’ve never really played… but damn does that soundtrack rock.

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A Rare opportunity for education with Episode 35

episode 35 cover

Hi everyone, it’s Monday. And we all know Garfield hates Mondays because he hates awesome podcasts about video game history. But since you enjoy such things, you’ll be delighted to know that the latest episode of Retronauts is now live. Perhaps you’ll even be chuffed, given that today’s episode takes us to jolly old England to explore the history of one that land’s most legendary developers, Rare.

Ye olde description:

UK ex-pat Jaz Rignall joins Bob and Jeremy to discuss England’s crown jewel: Rare. From their early era as Ultimate Play the Game to their N64 glory days, we cover the full history of this enigmatic developer. By request of Kickstarter backer Michael Lee!

And the usual shenanigans:

Libsyn (1:49:23 | MP3 Download) | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes | RSS | Support the show on Patreon

Incidentally, we’ve just about wrapped up all our Kickstarter episodes with this — just a handful more to go! Drop us a line if you were a backer at the episode or co-hosting level and still haven’t told us what you want, OK? And the backer-exclusive content hasn’t been forgotten about! Expect good news on that front soon…

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Retronauts on USgamer: The tale of Capcom

Hey, everyone. I’d like to chime in and thank everyone who has signed up for our podcast Patreon campaign already — a mere two days in and we’re already to the second tier of funding (biweekly episodes, mini episodes on the off weeks, and streams aplenty) and about a third of the way to the next! That’s really fantastic, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support.

While that ticks along, Bob and I have already started to plan Retronauts content for USgamer… and by “plan” I mean “publish.” Today I’ve posted a Kickstarter backer-requested article on USG. The original plan was to put it here on the blog, but it makes more sense to put it on a site where it’ll get more eyeballs, right?

capcom-header

This particular piece comes to us at the behest of Greg Spenser, who wanted us to write about Capcom’s 8- and 16-bit eras. And that’s exactly what has happened — so please, enjoy this brief look back at the evolution of Capcom during the NES and 16-bit days. And, of course, please continue reading USG and our Twitter feed for more Retronauts-related content to fill your brain with old things as we build up toward the new season of podcasts that kicks off December 1!

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Daaaarliiiing, it’s Retronauts Episode 22

Actually, despite the art and blog post title, this episode really has nothing to do with Lum or Urusei Yatsura. It’s just that we got sidetracked by a tangent about anime of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and lacking any particular cohesive theme for this episode I decided to use that brief distraction as an excuse to draw Lum. I believe this makes for a “deal with it” kind of situation. So sorry.

retronauts 22 cover

This episode’s theme ended up being… well, let’s just say we played fast and loose. Kickstarter backer Jonathan Anderson wanted us to talk about misplaced nostalgia or nostalgia for things we never experienced, and we did our best to fulfill this mandate. I’m not promising we succeeded, but by god we gave it a shot.

Also of note: Long-time Retronauts contributor Chris Kohler finally makes his Vol. III debut. Huzzah!

This episode’s soundtrack selections come from Final Fantasy V, which we discussed somewhat at length near the beginning of the show. And my apologies if the sound quality isn’t perfect this week; I edited and assembled this podcast on a cross-country plane flight, so I can’t tell if the incessant whining sound was the plane engines or something in the podcast itself.

Anyway, please enjoy. Especially you, Jonathan Anderson.

Listen and download, fleshy mortals:

Direct download (MP3) | SoundCloud | RSS 

Finally, please consider leaving us a nice review on iTunes Store, because it’s an easier (and less creepy) way to express your enthusiasm for Retronauts than hunting us down and hugging us.

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Timelines on the occasion of our Kickstarter anniversary

Oh, why hello there. Did you know that we kicked off the Revive Retronauts Kickstarter campaign a year ago today, based on what Bob tells me? It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. But that’s because I’m old, and for old people, life is an ever-accelerating freight train hurtling toward death.

Though Vol. III of Retronauts didn’t begin in earnest until July 1, we wanted to pause a moment today to take stock of where this whole mad campaign has been. On the whole, I feel pretty good about how things have gone – the most important element of all this, the podcast itself, hasn’t missed a beat. Episode 18 Pocket goes up tomorrow, which is the… 39th episode overall, I think? Despite all the upheavals and changes we’ve had to deal with over the past year (including Ray finding a cool job and my being exiled to the East Coast), we’ve still managed to deliver a show every week since July 1. And we even produced a bonus episode for the holidays. The “third season” of Retronauts is on track to wrap up July 14, but we’ve actually decided to extend it slightly and produce a 27th episode and 27th Pocket episode so you get an even mix of the three different hosts filling your earholes. That means Vol. III now comes to an end on July 28th.

And then what? Well, we’ve decided we would in fact like to keep things going beyond that. Alas, that means we’ll need to drum up additional funding; between equipment needs, travel, studio rentals, and of course taxes, the coffers will be running low by the time we wrap the show. We haven’t pocketed the cash for ourselves; to be totally transparent, we agreed to set aside a very small amount for ourselves per episode, but I’m the only one who’s actually taken his stipend from the bank… and I used that money to pay for an extended Tokyo stay after TGS so I could record Dan Feit’s backer-requested episode. There’s been no looting, profiteering, or diving in the money bin like it’s a swimming pool. Basically, every cent we earned has been used for Retronauts. Thankfully, the original Kickstarter paid for all the equipment we need, so going forward any funds we source will essentially cover intangible expenses (rentals, event travel, web hosting, software licensing, etc.).

But! Before we consider how to extend the life of the show (which won’t necessarily happen with another Kickstarter campaign – we have a few possibilities on the table), we still have some other things we need to sort out first. The podcast has remained on track, and we’ve sent out T-shirts and stickers and such. However, there are still some unfulfilled matters to take care of, and we would like to present you with our hard deadlines for completion. These are promises to you.

  • DVDs and books: These will be completed and ready for production by July 1
  • Art rewards: These will be completed and ready for shipment by June 1
  • Charity livestreams: We’re a little vague on these still as we need to sort out the logistics, but sometime in early May and early July are our targets
  • Article rewards: These will be written and publishers by May 1
  • Two extra episodes: These will go up July 21 and July 28
  • Video commitments: These will be fulfilled by August 1
  • Final live panel: We’ve committed to an event, but Ray will announce that in due time. It’s 100% set, though!
  • Next wave of funding: Whatever form it takes, we’ll announce it no later than June 30
I hope that helps clear up any concerns! We’re 100% committed to living up to our word. Unforeseen real-life complications have slowed us down, it’s true, but at the end of this campaign, we will have done everything we said we would. Just… maybe a bit later than we had planned in some cases. And we understand those delays are frustrating, and that it’s easy to assume the worst about Kickstarter projects. We’re not sure yet how we’re going to fund future episodes, but if we decide to go the crowd-funded route, we won’t be holding out our hats until we’ve lived up to our existing commitments.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments. And thanks for your support! Speaking for myself, it’s been an interesting and often difficult year, and your feedback has helped me keep going when things get rough. So thanks again.

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I guess Retronauts Pocket Episode 16 is a success! This is the way!

Sorry this episode is a little late. The Rood Inverse is a real pain in the butt to recreate in Illustrator, as it turns out.

Retronauts Pocket cover

Direct download | SoundCloud | RSS
If you leave us positive reviews on iTunes, you will become irresistibly sexy.

Yes, this week we have the counterpart to last week’s Yasumi Matsuno episode, a less game-oriented and more story/mythology-focused discussion of Matusno’s Ivalice games (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII) and the Ivalice games that came after (Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and some others not worth mentioning here). We even talk about Fortress, the Final Fantasy XII sequel that never was. This week’s topic comes to us courtesy of Jeff Tibayan.

Exciting times, friends. Hopefully you’re not sick of this topic yet… but if you are, well, take comfort in knowing that next week’s conversation will be on a very different subject.

Anyway, now all I want to do is just replay these games over and over again. The simple act of splicing in the Giza Plains theme from Final Fantasy XII made me twitch. I don’t know what it is about Matsuno’s creations, but they have a way of getting under my skin like few other games. I don’t know if that enthusiasm actually translates into the show thanks to my apparent inability to emote, though. Oh well!

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Status report: Physical rewards

Almost since we started publishing the podcast, lots of people have been asking us what’s up with the physical rewards; if we’ve asked for shipping info, and so on. Though we’ve been responding to many of those people directly, we probably should’ve been saying something more public. And that’s what this is!

Basically, we haven’t forgotten that we’re on the hook, and in just the past week or two, we’ve made a renewed effort to get it all done. At the risk of slinging excuses, the launch of the podcast and the almost-immediate trip to the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo threw us off-balance for a little while. So right now, we’re pushing forward on producing the relatively easier-to-produce merch (shirts, etc.; thanks again to our friends at Fangamer for giving us a hand there), and doing pre-planning on the more custom stuff (namely the DVD and book projects), which will naturally follow a bit later.

Crowdfunding projects often deal with people moving and changing addresses before the project is fulfilled, so we’re trying to minimize that as much as possible by making sure we’re ready before we ask you to be ready. All that while re-settling ourselves in the groove of making the podcast — which, of course, is the product that matters most, but we’re not about to leave anyone hanging.

Long story short: We have not asked for anyone’s address yet, but we will when we’re ready. You will get an email, and we will post updates all over the place. Nevertheless, thanks for all your kind words so far, and for sticking with us. See you next episode!

Bob, Jeremy, Ray

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Come see us live this weekend

We’ll be at the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo Sunday afternoon at 1, talking about… a mystery topic. But there’ll be audience participation! Yes, our presentation will be recorded and posted as a bonus podcast, but really, don’t you want to step up to the mic and share your darkest gaming secrets with the world? Of course you do. Come see us. It’ll be good times.

We’ll also be putting in live appearances at a couple of other events over the next 11 months or so, but we’re not sure which ones yet! (We’re still waiting on confirmation.) So, Seattle is your sure bet.

Sunday. 1 p.m. Be there.

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