A couple of weeks ago I was extremely honored to be invited into the beta testing team for a brand new Commodore 64 game currently in the final stages of development: Hired Sword 2.
This game is being brought to us by the kick-ass crew at Doublesided Games - the same folks that recently released Vegetables Deluxe, L’Abbaye des Morts and other hits for the Commodore 64, VIC 20 and Amiga.
Hired Sword 2 has been described by Roy Riggs, the game’s designer and developer, as an “RPG-Lite” mixed with the subject matter of Leisure Suit Larry. I’m not kidding. And it’s so unexpected and refreshing, I’d argue this game is one of the most innovative games in the C64 scene due to its content. Just be aware you might want to play this one with the kiddos in another room.
At first it looks a lot like Ultima on its face except it's much prettier. It’s also much more of a hack-n-slash and is intentionally a very linear game. Gamers must deliberately proceed in a specific order to progress from point A to point Z and finish it, which I have done in an early pre-release build. As such this game is very accessible for most gamers, even folks who typically shy away from RPGs.
And as one solves quests, the reward is a full-screen 3D rendering of a partly clothed woman digitized to the C64’s palette. Those screens are even saved to a Gallery you can revisit whenever the urge arises.
I told Roy at one point that the game made me feel like a 16 year-old kid again, and he remarked later it was one of the greatest compliments he could have ever received. It'll remind you what it was like to be a lust-crazed teenager at times. I’ll talk more about the game at a later date in more detail. Right now I just wanted to share my own personal test environment, which i think is fairly unique to the testing team.
A lot of team members are actually running VICE which is the very popular and very feature-rich Commodore 64 emulation platform.
I actually wanted to use real hardware. I landed on a mixture of both new and old. But I had to set things up in such a way so that I could easily add new builds on a very regular basis and not let the hardware become too much of a burden.
I wound up solving this problem while also making it a really fun experience not just to test this game but to ultimately play it and finish it.
This is a walkthrough of the hardware choices I made as I put together my beta testing environment for Hired Sword 2, and possibly more games and software in the future.
I decided to go with one of my favorite Commodore 64's that I built recently. It's a C64 running an Individual Computers Reloaded MK2 motherboard. In this new motherboard I'm using all original chips that came from two broken NTSC breadbins. It also uses an original 6581 SID chip. It has original brown double-shot keycaps, and a nearly-new 64C-style Kickstarter case that I picked up on Ebay a few years ago for a paltry $24. Those days are over…
I also invested in the glorious Mechboard for this computer, which uses a brand new keyboard and provides Yellow Cherry MX switches. Frankly, it types better and more crisply than some of my Amigas and modern keyboards. It’s awesome. I’m also using a 1541 Ultimate cartridge, which is a cycle-accurate 1541 floppy drive FPGA. It Includes an SD Micro flash card where I can save and load thousands of C64 files (d64, CRT, cartridge ROMs and more) with very little power consumption. Being cycle accurate means it’s also just as fast or slow as an original drive or cartridge. The one in my current testing environment is an original II, not the II+ (which I also have, but currently am running the II with this computer). That's how I was able to make this process relatively smooth whenever I got new builds from Roy rigs and the DoubleSided games crew.
I also decided to use my 1702 color monitor which looks amazing just like the day it was bought from the store. And I'm also using a 1541-ii disk drive as well as a brand new RetroGameboyz controller pad. My preferred joystick and the one that I've been using since back in the day - the Suncom Tac-2 - every now and then would double-fire when I hit the buttons. I’d never really noticed this behavior on any other game before but in Hired Sword 2 a lot of the game is menu-driven.
Having to go through various menus and and text dialogue screens, a double-firing joystick button would jump past screens and options making things very frustrating. So, the swap to the new controller was a no-brainer. Once I did, the precision of the new button’s micro-switches made that issue disappear instantly.
When I would get a new build from Roy I would basically go through the following process.
I would first turn on the 1541-ii, monitor, and finally the C64 with the 1541Ultimate plugged in. Next, I would tap into the cartridge’s SD card where all of my various files are stored. I decided to store the HS2 builds at the top level to make them easier and faster to access.
When I first started testing the game I would receive a single D64 file. This was the game file, and on the game file it allows ones to save up to six save states. You could use three save slots on a Drive 8, and three save slots on Drive 9 - if you had a secondary drive attached.
In the early days I started playing and saving everything using Drive 8, which is the 1541Ultimate default drive setting. Playing from and saving directly to the Ultimate cartridge was an extremely easy and really cool user flow.
However as I was getting a new build from the dev team every day or every other day, and loading them from Drive 8, I would lose saved games. In the beginning, I was just trying to figure out how to play the game and understand the mechanics. But by the third build I started to really want to get further into and not just retest the the beginning stages.
After talking to the the DoubleSided game team it was suggested I hook up an additional Drive 9.
That way I could continue to install new builds on Drive 8 (1541Ultimate) and load my saved games off a separate disk in Drive 9. Perfect!
More Support for a Second Drive
Really quick let me just explain why hooking this up the way I did not only had value to me as a beta tester on the but it also might have value for some of you out there as new games are continuously made for the C64.
First of all the 1541Ultimate cartridge can only be one device ID (disk drive) at a time. It’s either the default 8, or you can set it up to be 9, 10 or even 11.
Most things are looking for files off of Drive 8. Save files though are sometimes coded to look elsewhere, like drive 9. And if they do, there are times when using that extra drive has heavy benefits.
Now, I'm not saying it's gonna happen with this game, but it could happen with other games in the future like this:
Imagine you’ve got a brand-new C64 game in your sweaty hands, and a month after you've been playing it the company that produced it says, “You know what guys? We found a couple of little added features that we wanted to put in here.” Or maybe there was one strange little glitch they wanted to get rid of and release a new version of the game after it's already gone out to customers/
It could happen.
Well, if that's the case, you would download that new file And if you're only using the cart, you would download that file and put the new D64 on your drive and… if you saved your previous games to Drive 9, you’d be able to play your old saves!
You're not even gonna miss anything; you're gonna be right back where you started when you when you last saved.
Bonus: You get that nice satisfying sound, as my son would say: “Ah I like the sound of the original drive. That's a satisfying sound isn't it?” Yes, yes it is.
In my case it's not just nostalgia;I really needed to keep my save file separate from the new builds
Connecting a Second Disk Drive to the 1541 Ultimate
Assuming you just have an Ultimate plugged in with the typical short serial cable, disconnect that cable and source 2 longer ones.
One cable needs to go from your Ultimate cart to the back of your disk drive, and another cable will go from that drive to the serial port on the back of your C64. You’ll also change the dip switches on the back of your drive to ID 9, where the left switch is down and the right switch is up.
Creating the Save Disk (or a formatted blank)
Once you turn your machine on, drop to BASIC (in my case, tapping F3 does the trick).
Put a blank floppy disk in the disk drive, and format the disk in Drive 9 as follows:
In the statement above, “9” tells the computer to format the disk in drive 9.
Code: Select all
OPEN 1,9,15,”N:DISK NAME HERE,00”:CLOSE 1
And now, with this setup, I can use my “old” hardware but easily load new builds as I receive them and keep my game saves intact.
Pretty. Danged. Cool. Now if you’ll excuse me, a new build just dropped!