Updated Jan 20, 2015: My RetroChallenge Entry for January 2015

Elite for the Commodore 64

Twice a year, I enter the contest known as RetroChallenge. It is an informal challenge for all participants to do something with retro computers for one month. The next “Winter Warmup” challenge starts New Year’s Day, 2015.

Although there is a contest aspect to the event, it’s really rather ungoverned or scrutinized as a contest. Prizes and honorable mentions are awarded, but those awards are based more on the overall impact of the entries than the challenge. Besides, it’s a great excuse to break out that retro computer and do something with it for a while! So go ahead and enter the contest yourself (click here). It’s never too late to join!

Elite for the Commodore 64
Elite for the Commodore 64

My entry is more of an excuse to play than to try something new with my retro computer. Recently, I joined in on the resurgent release of Elite:Dangerous for Windows, an intragalactic MMORPG of combat, exploration, and commodity trading. If you’re into simulating the perceived realities of space travel over one millennium from now, then I recommend the new Elite game.

Elite had humble beginnings as a 1985 release Commodore 64 game (amongst other platforms). So, my RetroChallenge will be to see how far I can advance in the Commodore 64 version of Elite (game manual here).

Update 18 January, 2015

Much of this Retrochallenge month involved getting Elite to run in the WinVICE emulator. I originally intended to play the game on a real Commodore 64, but I wanted to have video updates. It was either tap the NTSC output of the Commodore and digitize it, or record directly from WinVICE. So, I decided to record from WinVICE.

Recording from WinVICE requires a working set of .DLL files from the FFMPEG project. That wasn’t easy to get working. WinVICE is supposed to instantly recognize the FFMPEG files in its directory. Mine kept coming up with the video recording options greyed out. I had WinVICE 2.2 and the latest version of FFMPEG. No luck. I upgraded to WinVICE 2.4 and STILL could not get it to record video using the latest FFMPEG. I ended up finding a working combination of WinVICE and FFMPEG at a website that posts complete working builds of WinVICE. After installation, I was able to video record my Commodore 64 sessions in crisp detail.

Now that everything was ready to go, I could now play Elite. I’ll tell you one thing, nearly thirty years away from the game really made a difference in my skill. It was also quite the reminder of why I didn’t play the game very much back in its heyday.

The control scheme is rather complex in Elite. Yes, you can use a joystick for your basic spaceship flight attitude, but there’s more to the game than shooting aliens and pirate ships. You have to survive by earning money through the trading of goods and/or collecting combat bounties. You require fuel to move in the game. You will run out of money buying fuel before too long if you are unable to earn more.

I recorded my first attempt at playing Elite for the Commodore 64 and put it on YouTube. Here is the video:

You will notice that I had a slow start in getting the game running, starting with the loading portion. Commodore 64 drives are notoriously slow and I have the emulation in WinVICE set to be as original as possible, for that TRUE experience. Throughout the video, you will notice where the game action seemed to pause. That was when I was consulting the instruction manual in an attempt to remind myself what I needed to do in those various situations. I didn’t get very far in the game, but it all slowly started coming back to me. I will soon post a new video, perhaps with a lot more action and less “pause” as I go through the motions with the return of the original experience.

Update 20 January, 2015

Well, as the game controls all come back to me, I was successful in traveling between the stars and planets in the galaxy. So, I recorded another video to demonstrate some of the basic gameplay. This 30+ minute video has better annotation and more fluid “flow”, and will show you the style of interaction with the game environment. In some cases, the gameplay appears to be bereft of action, but it depicts rather well the reality of space travel in that space is HUGE and it takes a lot of time to travel from place to place outside of a constant use of a fictional “warp drive.”

Stay tuned!

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