MAX Machine – Kickman, Super Alien, and Road Race

The guy who had listed Kickman for the MAX Machine at 14,800 yen suddenly dropped the price all the way down to one yen! With a more standard auction situation like that, I was able to buy the cartridge at not too bad a price at all.

And in September I picked this item up after bidding on a MAX Machine for a friend, which included this in the lot. It was my first time to see this sort of plain-wrap packaging.


Software Collection

I am much more of a hardware collector than software. But I do have a fondness for certain software brands, machines, or particular titles. So I’ve assembled a mish-mash of stuff.

For example, the Commodore branded cartridge manuals. This was initially the only thing I was going to collect. This collection has grown recently. I’m only interested in the ones with the fun artwork, so Gorf, Dragonsden, etc. aren’t really of interest to me. I know I still need Avenger,which I think my friend is holding on to for me, and maybe a couple more.

I also have some of the boxes, which I never actually intended to collect, but lucked into a couple of batches of them in good shape, so I guess I’ve started collecting them, anyway! When it comes to the boxes, as opposed to the manuals, I definitely want Dragonsden and Gorf and… well, you know, all of them. My friend has about ten of these for me, too, but some are duplicates. I also added my MAX Machine boxes because it brought more balance to the arrangement.

Next are my arcade classics (and Bop ‘n Wrestle, because it didn’t really fit anywhere else). Not likely to expand on these too much because boxes for Atari’s C64 releases were kinda boring, and that’s where many of the classics are.

My ratty Plus/4 carts. Nice artwork, though!

And finally, my RPG/fantasy stuff. Taking this picture, I feel like a sucker for settling for the small Shogun clamshell. I expect to add Knight Games to this collection, and if I can ever track down a nice Alternate Reality: The City or The Dungeon box, those too.

The Bard’s Tale Series

I don’t buy a lot of software, but Bard’s Tale II was the first Commodore 64 game I ever owned, and I also really loved Bard’s Tale III. I found this for a reasonable price on eBay, so I nabbed the whole series. I hardly ever play on real disks anymore, but for games like these, it is great to flip through the manual while playing, and having to use the real codewheel gives it a sense of authenticity. I also really enjoy the box artwork.

There’s a large patch of wrinkles on the front of the Bard’s Tale box, but from a distance the box looks quite clean.


There’s a bit of a dented section on the front of the Bard’s Tale II box, but the image itself looks nice.


The Bard’s Tale III box looks fantastic!

I also got a pair of clue books.

I’m still currently playing through Alternate Reality: The Dungeon, but I am thinking of playing all three of these in order next!


GEOS 128

This is the first time I’ve used GEOS. I wanted to use the Commodore 128 version, but the REU (RAM Expansion Unit) doesn’t support the 128 and I still don’t have an 80-column monitor. Perhaps the Commodore 64 version is better right now, but I still had some fun with the 128 version!

The default is black and white, but it supports 4-bit color.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever used a mouse on a Commodore. I cleaned the rollers a bit but it’s still quite a pain to use!

Even with this uncooperative mouse, I still managed to use the art program to make this beautiful, Monet-esque picture.

It’s not precisely multi-tasking, but you can load a couple of simple apps on top of your current main application, such as a calculator or a notepad.

More than the paint program, I really wanted to check out the Write application. With my 1541 Ultimate-II+, it can print to a file and that file may be used on a modern PC. But I need to get 80-column mode working first.

Comparing speed

Just a personal experiment out of curiosity. I wrote this little program on my Commodore 128 and then again on my Commodore 16.

I was curious about the speed:
3rd place: Commodore 128 executed the code in 1 minute, 55 seconds before adding lines 5 and 135.
2nd place: Commodore 16 executed the code in 1 minute, 34 seconds.
1st place: Commodore 128 executed the code in 55 seconds after adding lines 5 and 135.

So clearly lines 5 and 135 are key. The FAST command blanks the screen and doubles the CPU speed. Output is revealed after the SLOW command is issued. This is only useful in 40-column mode. In 80-column mode, the CPU is always double speed!

I was also surprised by the color palette selected on the 16. I’m pretty new to the 264 series of computers. I know it has a bigger selection of colors than the 128. It seems like you can access more vibrant colors by issuing a third argument to the COLOR command. The default 16 colors in the graphic mode seem so… Easter-ish.


Shortly after I posted about my Japanese Commodore 64, I found another one up for auction. I don’t need two, but this is the first one I’ve seen that has come with a Japanese-language user’s guide. For its age, it’s in amazing condition! By chance, the number-two bidder is in the same Facebook group as I am. When he read that I didn’t need anything but the user’s guide, we worked out a deal for him to buy the main unit directly from me.

Penultimate Cartridge for the VIC-20


PENULTIMATE CARTRIDGE(ペンカートに以下省略します)になります。ペンカートとはVIC-20の有名なゲームを40個内蔵した使いやすいメモリー拡大カセットになります。いつものVIC-20のカセットの形していてカセット端子にさしたらすぐ利用できます。VIC-20の本体の電源を入れるとこのメニューが現れます。



ゲームだけではなくほかの機能もあります。例えば、VIC-20のBASIC 2.0からBASIC 4.0に変更できます。スーパーエキスパンダーも内蔵しています。

BASIC 4.0を起動して27KBを足したまま





Japanese Commodore 64

This is by far the most unique piece in my collection. I struggle to find exact numbers, but empirical evidence points to it being far rarer than the MAX Machine. In the year and a half I’ve been monitoring Yahoo Auctions, I’ve seen numerous MAX Machines. Sometimes there are up to four MAX Machine auctions running at the same time, in fact. I’ve probably seem around fifty so far. By contrast, this machine has only appeared twice.

From a distance, it looks like a standard Commodore 64. In fact, the product name is just that: Commodore 64. But this is the Japanese edition. What’s the difference? Well, in some ways they are very similar, but in other ways, they are night-and-day different.

If you crack open (not literally!) the machine, you’d think you’re looking at a regular Commodore 64. Don’t think there’s any component in here that you couldn’t find on a standard Commodore 64. CPU is the same, SID (6581) is the same, PLA is the same, VIC-II is the same, and I gather the smaller ICs are also the same. The contents of the character ROM and kernal ROM are different. We’ll look at how that pans out later.

Put the cover back on, and with a more careful look, some differences are apparent. Probably the most eye-catching thing initially is that the shift-lock key has been replaced with what we’ll call “C=-lock” (and verbalize as “commodore-lock”). Off in the opposite corner, the £ key has been replaced with the ¥ key. But take a look at those characters on the fronts of the key caps. On almost every key is a Japanese katakana character.

Before we start, we have to turn on the computer. And that’s when we see another set of differences: at the BASIC screen, the colors are different, the font is different, and the amount of free memory is different (more on this later).

Katakana is usually used for writing or typing loan words from western countries, but it contains every sound of the Japanese language, meaning you could type an entire document or book with it. It would be a nightmare to try to read a large body of text that way, but it would be possible. When you type, though, the alphabet appears. How do you access the katakana? First, you must enter the second character mode, by pressing C= + shift (lowercase mode on a standard Commodore 64). After that, it is the same way you access the petscii characters in those locations on a standard Commodore 64: by pressing C= and typing the characters. By extension, it makes our C=-lock key quite useful — far more useful than the shift-lock key would be.

Although they are not visible on any key cap, there are also three kanji that the system can produce. They are directly accessible by pressing shift and typing the +, -, and ¥ keys. All of the katakana and kanji characters are handled by a one-to-one replacement in the character ROM.

What about operation? Well, we are led to believe that operation is completely different. Before I bought the system, I’d read that software written for the standard Commodore 64 is not compatible with the Japanese Commodore 64.

When I read that, I had my doubts that it was completely incompatible. Surely, cartridges must work, right? They bypass BASIC and carry their own ROM, so I imagined they would work. And they do! Generally. If a cartridge uses the default characters, then indeed you might find katakana characters where you might expect alphabetic characters or petscii. And the game Centipede does some weird doubling effect with the text. But games should function correctly, possibly excepting any text adventures loaded onto carts.

But indeed, if you try to load a standard Commodore 64 game from floppy on the Japanese Commodore 64, it will not work. The reason seems to be due to the difference in free memory when you launch the machines. The standard Commodore 64 has 38911 bytes free, while the Japanese Commodore 64 has 36863 bytes free. Why? Nobody seems exactly sure. Some people far more clever than me have disassembled the Japanese C64 kernal ROM and examined it, and discovered that it loads BASIC from a location offeset by 2KB from the standard kernal ROM. But nobody has come up with a conclusive reason why there is this difference.

But actually, the compatibility situation isn’t as bleak for the Japanese Commodore 64 as I’d been led to believe. I have been able to load games in three environments. The first is easy and universal, working with all floppy-based games that I’ve tried so far. The second is quirky and seemingly offers limited compatibility. The third is downright weird and so far I have only managed to make one game work.

Environment 1: This requires a quickload cartridge. The only physical quickload cartridge I have is the Epyx FastLoad cart, but I also have a few other quickload images accessible via my 1541 Ultimate-II+. This environment can make your Japanese Commodore 64 100% compatible with standard Commodore 64 software, with the exception of some character replacements in games that use the default font*. But to make it 100% compatible, your quickload solution has to be able to turn off its quickload feature, while still loading the cartridge itself into memory. I don’t know if Epyx FastLoad can do this, but Action Replay and Final Cartridge both seem capable of it. If you can’t turn off the quickload feature, you are limited by your quickload cartridge’s compatibility.

It seems that quickload carts come with their own kernal rom, or possibly their own routines that perform some tasks before turning over control to the kernal rom. In any event, if you use a quickload, it restores the expected amount of free memory to 38911 and from there, everything works like a standard Commodore 64. You can load floppy disks and play them like it’s 1985 again.

*Admittedly, this might make text adventures completely unplayable, but they would still load properly and function correctly if you cared to decode the characters one at a time.

Environment 2: But environment 1 is so easy and universal! Why bother with anything else? Well, reason one, this requires absolutely nothing! You can turn on your Japanese Commodore 64 and load some games from floppy disk without a quickload cart. Reason two, It iis like a treasure hunt, trying to uncover each game’s secret, if it indeed has a secret at all. I don’t think it is 100% compatible, but who knows? If you poke at it long enough, any given game might work.

The first game I got to work in this environment was Archon. I issued my standard LOAD”*”,8,1 and let it load. Waiting. Waiting. It came back with READY. I typed RUN, and it didn’t work. But by chance, I hit run/stop + restore and suddenly Archon started! I about fell out of my chair. Turned it off and verified that it wasn’t some fluke, and that you didn’t need to type RUN. Indeed, you just load the game and press run/stop + restore and the game works.

The second game I got working was Bop ‘n’ Wrestle, or Rock ‘n’ Wrestle as it’s known in Europe. This is a cracked version, so I am not sure yet about the real version. But if I load it using LOAD”*”,8,1, it doesn’t work. Typing RUN doesn’t work. Pressing run/stop + restore doesn’t work. But if I load using LOAD”*”,8 (no ,1), then type “RUN”, it loaded fine.

Environment 3: This has only worked with one game so far, and the way I came upon this was a total fluke of combinations of things I try for no apparent reason when a game won’t load on a standard Commodore 64. I think this method of loading is just plain bizarre, but it may be an even more extreme treasure hunt than environment 2. This was with my 1541 Ultimate-II+ plugged in, but no quickload cartridge loaded. The free memory available was registering as 36863, same as a stock Japanese Commodore 64.

I tried Archon. I loaded it with LOAD”*”,8,1 and it came back to me with READY. RUN did nothing. run/stop + restore did nothing (although this worked in environment 2). But I typed SYS 49152 and THEN pressed run/stop + restore and the game worked! I am pretty sure I did fall out of my chair for that one. Although at the time of typing this article, it is the only game I’ve gotten to load this way, it seems quite unlikely that this game is the only game that would work this way. Or perhaps there are other values to try with SYS that may work. Perhaps knowing the memory location (stored in the first two bytes of every program, but I don’t really know how to access those bytes) is the key to this one.

It’s not terribly important for me to get this working, as my Commodore 128 and 1541 Ultimate-II+ is by far my most compatible environment due to being PAL, but I love tinkering with all the different variables here to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

As I mentioned before, this system is rare. You might wait for another year or more before this turns up, and when it does, you might find it terribly expensive. I didn’t pay this much (although I did pay a lot), but one of the systems I saw on Yahoo Auctions went for 130,000 (approximately $1300USD). But don’t let that stop you from experiencing the hair-pulling adventure that is a Japanese Commodore 64. All you need is an emulator that supports it. WinVICE 3.0 is such an emulator. Select the Japanese system from “model settings” and you’re good to go!














アベンジャーバージョン .01のタイトル画面

アベンジャーバージョン .01。みんなが知ってるゲーム。

アベンジャーバージョン .02のタイトル画面。

アベンジャーバージョン .02。まだバージョン .01との違いが見つけられませんが、何かあるでしょう!まぁ、右下にバージョンが映るところだけで違うかもしれません。