The Commodore 64 turns 30

Commodore 64 photo courtesy Bill Bertram, Wikimedia.

FIle under “this makes me feel REALLY old”

The Commodore 64, one of the first affordable home computers, turned 30 this week.  With a whopping 64 kilobytes of RAM, 16 – count ’em, 16 – colors, and a disk drive that was slower than Christmas, it was nevertheless a minor revolution in home computing.

Launching at the relatively low price of $595, which dropped to $200 in under two years, it sold between 12 and 17.5 million units, making it the best-selling single personal computer model of all time.

Besides being a great programming machine, it allowed you to do your home finances, write letters to Grandma, and… wait, nevermind. Who am I kidding?

Everyone who had a Commodore 64 knew it was first and foremost an awesome game console.

With several thousand games published over the course of a decade, it blew away everything that came before, and gave later consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System a run for  their money with the ability to provide deeper gaming experiences due to it’s keyboard, greater storage capacity, and superior sound (thanks to the Sound Interface Device, or SID).

But time marches on, and today’s dumbest smartphone has far more computing power than the Commodore 64. BBC’s Mat Allen showed a working C64 to some schoolchildren to get their impressions of this classic bit of technology:

Pac-Man CE DX & Choplifter HD free on Playstation Plus

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

At E3 last month, Sony announced their Instant Game Collection promotion for Playstation Plus subscribers.  Basically, it entails a rotating collection of 12 downloadable games, ranging from “excellent” to “meh” which are yours to keep for as long as your subscription remains current.

For July, they added Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, which falls on the “excellent” side of the scale.  A follow-up to 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition, both games successfully bring the classic Pac-Man gameplay into the 21st century.  Highly recommended.

Leaning more to the “meh” side of things is Choplifter HD with a thoroughly mediocre Metacritic score of 71%.   The arcade version of Choplifter was one of my favorites back in the day, so I’m willing to give it a bit more latitude.  It’s a decent update to the classic Choplifter gameplay, and worth a look if you’re a fan of the 80s incarnations, but ultimately it’s nothing special.  Here’s hoping developer inXile will be bringing their A-game for the upcoming sequel to Wasteland.

Atari’s Greatest Hits – 100 free games, today only!

As part of their 40th Anniversary celebration, Atari is giving away their Greatest Hits collection (iOS) for free, today only.  That’s 100 classics (and quite a few not-so-classics), normally $9.99 as an in-app purchase.

Download the app from the iTunes store, then launch the app and download the games.

The catch is, once you delete the app from your device, the games are gone as well, unlike normal in-app purchases.

There’s also an Android version of the app, but I can’t tell if the free games are available on that platform or not.

Atari is also giving some swag away via a Facebook sweepstakes.

Indiana Jones Blu-ray collection arrives in September

While that fourth movie (which shall not be named) has been available on Blu-ray for a couple of years, the original Indiana Jones trilogy has not been available in HD until now.  Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures arrives on September 18 in remastered HD, with particular attention given to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From the press release:

In June of 1981 director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas introduced the world to Indiana Jones when the unforgettable Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted in theaters. Exploding to instant acclaim, the film has now been carefully restored, alongside remastered versions of the archaeologist’s other thrilling adventures—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Prepare for excitement, adventure and snakes—why did it have to be snakes?—all with pristine picture and sound when INDIANA JONES: The Complete Adventures debuts on Blu-ray September 18, 2012 from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Supervised by director Steven Spielberg and renowned sound designer Ben Burtt, Raiders of the Lost Ark has been meticulously restored with careful attention to preserving the original look, sound and feel of the iconic film. The original negative was first scanned at 4K and then examined frame-by-frame so that any damage could be repaired.

The sound design was similarly preserved using Burtt’s original master mix, which had been archived and unused since 1981. New stereo surrounds were created using the original music tracks and original effects recorded in stereo but used previously only in mono. In addition, the sub bass was redone entirely up to modern specifications and care was taken to improve dialogue and correct small technical flaws to create the most complete and highest quality version of the sound possible while retaining the director’s vision. The result is an impeccable digital restoration that celebrates the film and its place in cinematic history.

The installments in the franchise have won a combined seven Academy Awards®. Relive every heart-pounding thrill like never before as all four films arrive together, for the first time presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio accompanied by a collection of documentaries, interviews, featurettes and new bonus features.

There ya go. Thankfully Spielberg is overseeing the Raiders restoration rather than Lucas (I can just imagine him trying to replace Short Round with a CGI Shia LaBouf or some other such nonsense).  Then again, Spielberg did replace guns with walkie-talkies in E.T. – so who knows.

Preorder Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures [Blu-ray] from Amazon.com

Queensryche announces new lead singer

Queensryche

Whoa – I haven’t been following the latest Queensryche drama, so I really didn’t see this one coming.  Eddie Trunk reports that prog-metal band Queensryche (sorry, ain’t doing the umlaut), best known for their 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime and 1990 follow-up Empire, have replaced lead vocalist and founding member Geoff Tate with Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre.

Never heard of the new singer, but he certainly sounds the part:

I loved Queensryche back in the day, but after Chris DeGarmo left (first creatively, then physically), they lost the spark. Even Operation: Mindcrime II was a pale shadow of their former glory. Apparently Geoff Tate had been calling most of the shots over the past decade (to the point where Michael Wilton was barely involved with 2011’s Dedicated to Chaos), causing the rift that led to today’s events.

Now if they could just get DeGarmo back…

Worlds of Ultima games available for free!

Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire title screen

As a youngster, some of my favorite computer games were those in the Ultima franchise.  After the disappointing series finale of Ultima 9, Electronic Arts killed the franchise (save for Ultima Online), and shut down Origin – the developer of the Ultima games – for good a couple of years later.

Between Ultima 6 and Ultima 7, Origin released two “Worlds of Ultima” games: The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, which were side stories that took place outside of Britannia.  While the games were well-regarded by fans, they did not sell particularly well and eventually became collector’s items.  I found a copy of The Savage Empire in a Wal-Mart bargain bin for $5 in 1995, and eventually sold it on eBay for nearly $150 a few years later.

They have never been re-released in any form – until now.  This week, both games showed up on GOG.com – for free!  (and yes, they are completely legitimate)

If you can get past the 20+ year-old interface – which really shows it’s age – there’s a lot of good gaming to be had in these two forgotten gems.

Download Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

Download Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams

‘Rock of Ages’ sinks like a stone

Rock of Ages

Looks like the movie adaption of a musical named after a Def Leppard song is a box office bust – opening in the third spot behind Prometheus and Madagascar 3.  With an estimated budget of $75 million, it only took in $15 million it’s opening weekend.

From Deadline Hollywood:

 …New Line/Warner Bros’ Rock Of Ages (3,470 theaters) fell to earth with a thud. Which Hollywood expected because the pic had been tracking poorly for weeks (and even went down at one point week to week). The studio felt the 1980s period piece was a hard sell to younger moviegoers. I suspect the problem was casting. Russell Brand has been repellant to moviegoers, while Tom Cruise as iconic rocker proved just too incredulous for audiences. The PG-13 musical is looking to open to only $15M this weekend after taking in just $5.3M Friday and $5.4M Saturday. Given that the pic was based on the Broadway warbler, it did worse than the studio expected and far worse than Mamma Mia which with the same pedigree opened to $27M. Warner Bros was holding out hope for this $75M-budget pic, thinking that a good CinemaScore could generate great word of mouth and therefore great legs for the film. It didn’t materialize: audiences only gave Rock Of Ages a mediocre ‘B’. There’s just no way to save this s(t)inker with hack director Adam Shankman at the helm: in fact, weekend gross may fall below $15M by Monday.

I haven’t seen it myself, but the movie adaptation was going to have a hard time bringing in a large audience for a number of reasons.  Few fans of 80s rock have any interest in hearing those songs butchered a la “Glee,” for one.  Not to mention Tom Cruise is pretty much box office poison at this point due to his loony antics a few years back, and simply isn’t believable as a “rock god” – when I saw the trailer in a crowded theater last year, there was an audible groan from the audience as the camera whipped around to reveal Stacey Jaxx for the first time.

Def Leppard re-records classic hits

Def Leppard has been rather busy these days, looking to capitalize on the movie adaptation of “Rock of Ages” coming out this week.  They start their summer tour with Poison and Lita Ford this month, and performed on The Tonight Show as well as YouTube Presents:

 

Last week they released re-recordings of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the song from which the movie/play got it’s name.  From the Associated Press via Pollstar:

AP: Why did you decide to release re-recorded versions of “Rock of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” this summer?

Joe Elliott: Our work is not available on any digital domain, except for the last album, the Mirrorball album, because it’s a catalog issue with the record label, so we just wanted studio versions of those songs available for this summer because of the film coming out.

AP: What was it like re-recording those classics?

Joe Elliott: We had to be really careful that we actually studied them, literally like forgeries. It’s like Donald Pleasence in “The Great Escape” doing passports. It’s got to be exactly the same to fool the old German guard. That’s the same thing with these songs. We wanted them to have the same energy, that youthful exuberance we had in ‘83 and ‘87, so people that are sympathetic to our cause listen to them and say, “Wow, they’ve still got it. They can perform the songs the way they did back then.”

While purists may think it’s sacrilege, I’m generally a fan of bands re-recording their classic material – off the top of my head, Chicago, KISS, and Foreigner have all re-recorded some of their biggest hits in the past few years.  I’m a production snob, and recording techniques/equipment today are (usually) far superior to what they had access to decades ago.

And there’s usually a financial incentive for the bands who do this as well – in Def Leppard’s case, they are in a struggle with Mercury Records (their label up until recently) to get their material released on iTunes, Amazon, etc.  So they went into the studio on their own dime to re-record the tunes so they don’t have to deal with their former label.

The Leps played it straight with these new recordings, attempting to duplicate the 80s versions as closely as possible. Of the two cuts, “Rock of Ages” sounds more like the original than “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”  It’s a much more straightforward song; Mutt Lange’s production on “Sugar” (and all of the Hysteria album for that matter) was so over-the-top, it would be nearly impossible to duplicate it perfectly.

It will be interesting to see if they continue to do this with more of their hits.  A full-length album, perhaps?

Buy ‘Rock of Ages’: Amazon | iTunes
Buy ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’: Amazon | iTunes