The Notorious Death Of Doommlord The Legend

feanor's mud gossip

I continue to work my way through the box of old Commodore 64 floppy disks that I recently uncovered in the loft.  A number of the disks are barely readable and I’ve been employing a number of tactics to retrieve the files.

Although the disks don’t appear too dirty it’s clear that in some cases multiple passes of the drive head over the disk surfaces have been successful in scouring through the muck and reaching the data.  Of course that muck has to go somewhere and some of it inevitably ends up on the head.

The 'Thumb' Technique

The ‘Thumb’ Technique

I have therefore also taken the opportunity to carefully clean the heads with isopropanol alcohol a couple of times during the process.  Some of the disks that at first attempt would not even give up their directories are now yielding recoverable data.

For some of the more stubborn files I’ve employed a further technical solution, judicious use of my thumb.  At the first sign of problems when attempting to read a file, usually disk thrashing, I push the disk up in the drive with my thumb and this will often allow the read to continue.

I still have a few files that seem unrecoverable, however I may try multiple passes with Starcommander running on my PC as a last throw of the dice.  Fortunately the surfaces of the disks are not, at least to the naked eye, deteriorating too much.

Modem Internals

Modem Internals & Dirty Contacts

Some of the files are of the .SEQ variety and these are tied in to the built-in editor of the Commodore Communications Modem which was required to connect to Compunet.

Initially my model of this modem was not working correctly so I was unable to view the files.

However Crys over at the Compunet Facebook Group suggested cleaning the contacts on the modem with a pencil eraser.  This did the trick and on reconnecting the modem to the 128 (forcing it in to 64 mode) I was greeted by the Compunet Terminal boot up page.

Recovering Files

Recovering Files

Typing ‘Help’ brings up the list of available built-in commands:-

  • EDITOR
  • CONNECT
  • CNLOAD
  • CNSAVE
  • HELP
  • OFF

EDITOR, unsurprisingly launches the on or off line editor for creating, storing and uploading pages.  CONNECT, also self-explanatory, will request the required phone number and dial Compunet.  CNLOAD will if I remember correctly restore your last saved session and connect to Compunet.  CNSAVE creates the CNLOAD file which contains the link software that would otherwise have to be downloaded on each connection.  As yet I can’t remember what OFF does although I assume it turns off the modem and restores the 64 to its normal boot state.

Compunet Chess Tournament

Compunet Chess Tournament

Launching the editor allowed me to load up and start browsing through the collection of saved files I’d recovered.  Most of the pages were related to M.U.D. including back ups of my M.U.D. gossip page and some in-game logs.

There were also some Compunet e-mails many of which were chess games I was participating in.

Chess Game In Progress

Chess Game In Progress

Games could be played via e-mail by sending a graphical representation of the board to your opponent including your latest move, they would in turn edit the file with their move and send it back and so on.  There was an ongoing tournament and some of the players were very good indeed.

An Incoming E-mail

An Incoming E-mail

Once I’d reached Wizard in M.U.D. I spent a fair amount of time just socialising with other wizards within the game and watching other players.  It was possible to log your sessions for viewing later and it occurred to me it would be quite fun to produce a weekly round-up of the goings on within the game, hence Feanor’s Mud Gossip.

One particular ‘scandal’ revolved around the death of Doommlord the Legend.  Legend status was one level shy of becoming wizard and achieving immortality.  To get to such a level required many hours of play, and at £1.75/hour it was not a minor investment.

The death of a legend was pretty upsetting for the player involved, fortunately I only endured it once.

Feanor's Mud Gossip

Feanor’s Mud Gossip

In this case added intrigue was born from the suspicion of foul play.  Doommlord was a murderer, and a very successful one at that, there were many players out for his blood.  I happened to be snooping on Doommlord (you receive their game feed as well as your own) when he met his bloody end.

Weakened by a fight with a strangely powerful skeleton, Doommlord was set upon by two or three other players.  It seems likely that an immortal ‘frigged’ the skeleton.

UCAT

UCAT

This involved changing the statistics of the mobile (in-player character) to make them a lot stronger than usual.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I’ve included a video of the game log below.  I appreciate this will be of limited interest but you never know, an ex-player may chance upon it one day.  Further below I’ve also added a video showing the 64 with the Compunet modem attached and a video of files being loaded into the editor.

Commodore 128D, Flyer & Iffy Jiffy

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Despite having bought it over a year ago, my Commodore 128D has not found its way onto my workbench as often as I’d intended. There are two specific reasons for this, the built in 1571 disk drive is temperamental to say the least and the fan that cools the machine’s power supply is not only noisy but cursed with a tedious whine.

Commodore Flyer

Commodore Flyer

Using the 128D therefore has been an exercise in irritation and frustration when it should be an enjoyable experience given the unit’s multiple computing personalities, a Commodore 128, 64 and CP/M capable machine all rolled into one.

I then became aware of the Commodore Flyer.  This superb piece of kit acts as an internet modem and disk drive emulator, thus allowing me to forget about the flaky 1571 and transfer software into the 128D at my heart’s content.

I ordered a Flyer  from Retroswitch and it arrived promptly from the States.  It’s a really nicely engineered solution and I was quickly up and running, updating the firmware and pulling down disk images from the Commodore Online cloud service that I’d previously set up.

Flyer Telnet Client

Flyer Telnet Client

The guys over at Retroswitch have also written a Telnet client which works with the Flyer, although it will only run on a C64 or 128 in C64 mode.  I loaded this up and pointed it at my BBS.  It’s a little rough around the edges but it worked well enough for me to log in and check my mail, pretty cool with a C64!

As the Flyer is JiffyDOS compatible and the standard Commodore serial transfer rate is so woefully slow I decided to order a JiffyDOS upgrade kit for the C128D.  On arrival this consisted of two chips, one to replace the kernel on the main board and one for the 1571 drive.

Once the kit had arrived I headed over to Jim Brain’s site and downloaded the installation instructions for the C128D.  However it soon became apparent these instructions were meant for the C128DCR (cost reduced) model which differs considerably from the C128D internally.

JiffyDOS Kit

JiffyDOS Kit

I hunted around but couldn’t find installation instructions for my machine so I decided to trust my instincts and see if I could locate the relevant chips myself.

The drive chip was pretty obvious, being the only socketed chip of the correct size on the drive’s daughter card.  Mine was labelled as a 310654-03.  I gently prized it out with a flathead screwdriver and popped in the replacement.

I then discovered what I presumed was the 128’s Kernel chip, labelled as a 318020-03.  Again I replaced the original chip with the new replacement, reassembled the case and powered on.

JiffyDOS On The 128D

JiffyDOS On The 128D

The first thing I noticed was that the 1571 was not springing in to life as it usually does on boot.  However the 128 screen came up and there indeed JiffyDOS V6.01 (C) 1989 CMD was displayed.  However there was no flashing cursor.  I decided to completely disconnect the internal 1571 and try again.  This time everything appeared to be working fine.  A quick test using the Flyer to download a program from the cloud server saw an increase in speed from 45 to under 8 seconds, very nice.

I decided to replace the original drive chip and try again with the 1571 reconnected.  Again, no cursor without a Runstop/Restore and even then no joy with either the Flyer or the 1571.  Incidentally the C64 mode was working, but with no JiffyDOS support.

Concerned that in my haste I’d installed the chips in the wrong sockets I headed over to the excellent Lemon64 forum.  There I learnt from the always helpful and knowledgeable members that the 128D requires the same set of chips as the plain C128.  The chips I had were intended for the C128 DCR which is unfortunately also known as the 128D in America, despite being very different from the real European 128D.  As with the C128 the 128D requires replacement chips for both the 128 & 64 Kernel, I believe these are combined on the 128DCR.  Fortunately the original vendor has agreed to send me the correct chips at no extra charge.

Replacement Fan

Replacement Fan

Somewhat disheartened for now I removed the JiffyDOS chips and replaced the originals.  As if that wasn’t irritating enough, when I rebooted the machine I was greeted with a black screen in 128 mode.

I consulted R Carlsen’s excellent document on common c128 faults and decided to swap the 6526’s in the U1 and U4 sockets.  However on closer inspection it looks to me as though a previous poor repair to the U4 socket was a possible cause and it looked unlikely I’d be able to remove the chip without causing further damage.  There’s melting to the actual socket, presumably from a soldering iron and some less than expert soldering to the board.  I’m guessing that all that levering out and replacing of chips in the nearby U35 socket has damaged what was already a rather tenuous repair.

New Fan Installed

New Fan Installed

While I had the case apart I took the opportunity to address the other issue with the 128D, the deeply irritating fan noise.  I found a replacement fan that purported to be silent and quickly replaced the original, which is mounted on the underside of the power supply.  On restarting the reassembled machine there was a considerable improvement.  Silent no, considerable quieter and less whiny, definitely.

So for now I have what is essentially a rather bulky Commodore 64.  I may attempt a repair, although I do have a flat C128, which rather ironically doesn’t work in C64 mode.

Still a Commodore 64 was exactly what I needed as I’d recently found a box of old Commodore 64 floppy disks in the loft…

Commodore 128D and CP/M

I shall be away for the beginning of this year’s Retrochallenge, so in order to hit the ground running when I get back I thought I’d make sure all my machines were primed and ready for action.  To that end I’ve recently sorted out the batteries in my PX-8’s and today my attention turned to my Commodore 128D.

The machine is in pretty good condition, the cassette port is a bit flaky and the built in 1571 drive seems to read and write to disks reasonably successfully.  My interest lies in using CP/M on the C128 and I really needed to secure a way of getting data into the machine in this mode.

This has caused me some considerable headaches, in its native or C64 mode the machine uses Group Character Recognition (GCR) to write data to the disks in the 1571.  The 1571 is also capable of writing Modified Frequency Modulation (MFM) disks as used by CP/M and under CP/M disks using the following formats can be read:-

With third party software such as Juggler even more formats are supported.

Armed with Big Blue Reader, the original CP/M system disk, a clutch of DSDD disks and my bridge machine running DOS and 22Disk I thought I was well prepared.  However no matter which combination of disks and formats I use I cannot successfully format a disk with the 1571 nor the 1581.  I’m pretty sure the disks are OK, they seem to work without problems with the Epson TF-20 and PX-8 and the 1581 and 1571 drives appear happy to do everything except format.

More in desperation than hope of success I put one of the disks that I’d formatted with the TF-20 and PX-8 in the C128, typed DIR.  To my surprise and excitement the C128 came up with some text at the bottom of the screen reading Epson QX-10.  I pressed return and the drive chugged away, thought about it for a while and came back with ‘No file.’ uh, there were definitely files on the disk.

I had a search around and discovered that when the format description comes up at the bottom of the screen you can cycle through different options.  So I tried again and using the right arrow key found the next selection was ‘Epson Euro’ I pressed return, the drive chugged away and up popped the disk contents, yipeee!

I loaded PIP quickly just to check it worked, which it did and I then formatted a fresh disk in the TF-20, copied the text adventure Snowball onto it and put it into the C128.  On the first attempt I got a BDOS error but on the second attempt it loaded.

So I now have a way of getting software downloaded from the Internet into the C128 in CP/M mode, albeit a somewhat circuitous route via the PX-8 but a way nonetheless.

I currently have the C128 hooked up to an IIyama LCD panel via the s-video port which means I can only run in 40 column mode however I do have a cable that will allow me to connect via Scart and run in 80 column mode which I shall try next as much of the software I’ve tried assumes this mode.

So now hopefully I’ll be able to get on with things as soon as I return, try some CP/M software on the C128, hopefully get it talking to the Epson PX-8 via RS232 and I have some unused 3.5″ DSDD disks on the way which I’m hoping I’ll be able to format successfully with the 1581.