Tag Archives: Commodore 64

Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 2

See Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 1, if you haven’t.

There is a contention that tax is theft. If anyone else took your money in such a manner, if would be called theft, but our glorious overlords have decreed that it is legal for them to do it, so that makes it all ok.

Sarcasm aside, I was alluding to this in the charity analogy last week. If you don’t pay your taxes, some government agents (probably armed) will take you away and lock you up against your will.

But let’s set that aside for now, and even set aside “are you getting value for money?” (spoilers: no), and take a look at tax.

In history class, we might learn of crazy things like “window tax”. People were taxed on the basis of how many windows their house had (and possibly how big those windows were. The assumption being that rich people would be living in bigger houses with more windows (class warfare is nothing new). Naturally, as people don’t like to pay tax, this led to a lot of people living in gloomy houses.

So silly, we think, but people back then didn’t pay the sheer amount of tax that we do today.

So, you work, you pay income tax.

You drive, you pay vehicle tax, road tax, fuel tax (which corresponds to how much you use the vehicle), possibly mileage tax on top of that in some places (because fuel tax Just Isn’t Enough).

You go to the store (probably in your car, invoking the list of taxes above) and buy stuff (using money from your income that you’ve already been taxed on). The bulk of your shopping might be food, and there might not be sales tax on food. But included in the food cost are wages for workers at the store, and so there’s their income tax etc. Also included is transport costs for getting the food to the store from the distribution center, so all the driving-related taxes you have to pay for yourself (plus the truckers’ taxes). Property tax for the store and the distribution center. Same again of all of the above for manufacturing places that assemble many of our foods, and for farmers who grow the ingredients.

And then there are other things you buy that do have extra tax. Physical stores in the UK were quickly outclassed by online stores when it came to DVDs, several online stores set up in Jersey and Guernsey, which took advantage of a tax loophole. At one point, retail stores were selling the Extended Edition of The Two Towers for retail price: somewhere around 45-50 quid. An online store, at the time, was selling it for 15.99 (does that count as “tax evasion”?). A shopowner friend of mine lamented that that was less than he was paying _his_ supplier for them. No wonder the High Street/Main Street is in trouble.

The UK has VAT, Value Added Tax. One place produces the raw materials, and sends them on to the manufacturer for (cost + labour + profit + tax). The manufacturer makes something from the raw materials and sells them for (cost + labour + profit + tax). Depending on how many stages it takes to get to the finished product, a big chunk of change can be added to what you have to pay, just in VAT. And ultimately, it’s you the consumer who pays it.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrase, “it’s turtles all the way down“. Well, it’s taxes all the way down. You can go past the farmer to his suppliers, or tax added at several stages with VAT… it’s like fractals.

Fractals observed in nature are a finite pattern, so perhaps the branch looks like a smaller version of the tree entire, or the rock like the mountain. The pattern is similar, but not exact. On a computer, fractals are usually perfectly-repeated patterns, potentially going on forever (presumably system resources can become an issue). I remember a type-in program in an issue of Commodore Format, that took rather a long time to run.

Seems taxes are more like the computer version of fractals than the natural one.

Property tax. I touched on it in the “store” section. Say you have managed to buy your own house. You own the land and the building, there’s nothing you owe on it. Good job. And then some level of government comes in and charges you some kind of property tax.

Then tragedy strikes, and you’re at a point where you’re unable to pay your bills. You concentrate on things you Really Need (water, food), and cut as many things as you can. So you cut property taxes. Your dire situation goes on long enough, and they can come and take your property out from under you.

Seems like this isn’t a new thing. I was researching a castle in England, that various kings had given and taken away from various people (“An Englishman’s home is his castle: constantly under threat by the State”).

I recall a list of human needs, food, water, shelter. I have a problem with threats against those, whether it’s a government commandeering part of your property so it can widen the road, kick you out because you can’t afford the tax, or demolishing your planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

You know what I mean.

Of course, there’s many more taxes. Death taxes. Import duties. Carbon tax. TV license, in the UK. I’m sure you hear of “stealth taxes”, I’ve heard of inflation referred to as a hidden tax. You’ll find big lists pretty easily if you search the internet for something like “list of taxes”. It’s kind of a scary thought just how far and wide the tentacles reach.

I find it hard to believe that anyone who would consider adding new taxes, or raising them, has any idea of the extent of taxation already in place. It’s like, you’re already the batteries in the Matrix, and there are people who want the batteries drained faster? It’s hard to ascribe good intentions to such people (other than invoking the adage about a certain road that’s paved with good intentions). Even if they have good motives, how much do those motives really count for?

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, bringing us another angle.

Some Notes On Emulation

I grew up around different games systems. Atari 2600 for a while (every so often we’ll still drag one out). Commodore 64, with my first experiments in programming, but mainly lots of games. And friends with their Spectrums, Atari CPCs. BBC Micro at school. DOS, Windowses (precious). Master Systems, NESes, MegaDrives, SNESes. PlayStations, DreamCasts. A brief encounter with an N64. Most of these not mine, and some of the ones that were mine, I picked up long after the heyday.

I have played with a bunch of emulators, some to a larger degree than others. For some systems, you can find a vast array of games to download, others I haven’t really looked.

Much as I played the Commodore 64 back in the day, I haven’t really played very much with the emulator. Perhaps all that time glued to the joystick makes it a very different experience playing those games on keyboard.

I found a while ago that some games from various consoles are available to play on archive.org – I did try Sonic The Hedgehog for both Master System and MegaDrive – you can really see the difference between the two systems, but keyboard worked for the Master System version and not for the MegaDrive version. I think you need a controller that connects to the computer, rather than rely on keyboard.

I picked up a BBC emulator, trying to hunt down a game that I played in school all those years ago (not Granny’s Garden, I remember that). Emulator worked, but I didn’t find the game. The game had levels of different types. I remember one where there was a sentinel, or a guardian, something like that, and you had to colour it with two or three colours, the catch being that you couldn’t put a colour in a segment adjacent to one with the same colour. I think it was the same game that had you trying to drive to the castle, and you had to program the instructions in advance (west 5, etc), and not accidentally go off-road. If you have any ideas as to what it was called, let me know.

DOSBox is THE go-to DOS emulator, and it can be fun to brush up on one’s old DOS skills to write .bat files to streamline mounting and running the games.

Also an emulator of sorts, the SCUMMVM program is an easier way to get a lot of old point-and-click adventures working on more modern machines: the kids mainly use it for Humungous Entertainment games like the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam series. I’ve also played Discworld and Discworld II with them, on it.

Probably the emulator I’ve used most, is ePSXe, which lets you run games for the original PlayStation. Actually having a bunch of PlayStation CDs lying around, I haven’t felt the need to look for any PlayStation games online. I’ve got through Final Fantasies VI, VIII and IX on there, a little of I, II, IV and V, and a chunk of VII. Games like this, where it’s good to save early and often, benefit from virtually infinite memory card storage. Plus the Griever and Memoria save-game editors for VIII and IX are rather nice, when you’ve played through the game a few times already and don’t want to grind too much.

It’s kinda funny, cos the older two kids were playing Rayman on a real PlayStation 1 earlier this evening.

ePSXe itself can take a bit of configuring to get it running just right, and sometimes I’ve just needed to try a bunch of different settings until it looks good. It was mainly the display settings, though some games needed the CD drive plugin to be adjusted, too. A down side is that it doesn’t save these settings to the ePSXe folder, it saves them in the operating system’s configuration files, so if you reinstall, you lose it all.

A week or two ago, I went looking for a PlayStation 2 emulator. I happen to have one lonely PS2 disc, that I had never got to try before. I decided it was time to see if I could give it a go.

The disc came with Final Fantasy VI (PS1), and was a demo for Final Fantasy X (PS2).

The emulator I tried was PCSX2. It seemed like it didn’t need as much configuration as ePSXe, but there weren’t default keyboard controls for Controller 1, so I needed to go and set those manually, which took a bit of time. The game ran without displaying oddly, so I was glad I didn’t have to go through all the display plugin settings like I did with ePSXe.

The PCSX2 site lists all the games they’ve tested the emulator with, and state the relative compatibility. Some games can be played all the way through, some suffer from particular bugs that mean the game can be played, not completed, some play as far as the menu, some only play an intro, and others do Nothing At All. But they warn that even games that can be completed, can suffer from slowdown at points.

FFX was listed as a game that could be played all the way through. The demo was not listed, but if the full game runs all right, the demo stands a fair chance, doesn’t it?

The FFX demo came with an intro movie, and two playable segments. I’ll talk more about these tomorrow, and stick to performance today.

The intro movie played all right. The first segment had quite a few FMVs, which really struggled at times. The gameplay didn’t seem to suffer any trouble.

So there you go, some experiences of emulation. The past… in the future.

Game Clones

I was pondering writing about Abandonia, a site that covers old games (primarily DOS games), lets you know if they’re abandonware or not, and if they are, provides downloads of them, or if they’re for sale on somewhere like GOG, provide links to there.

But, as it’s been rather a while since I browsed Abandonia, and I don’t think I’ve even opened DOSBox since installing Windows 10 (and often played stuff I still own when I did, and abandonware downloads surprisingly little), I’m not sure I really have much to say on that front.

From back in the day, I do recall a trend of the same game coming out on many different platforms (which you still see today in the console market, just with less platforms generally supported). And, of course, games that were only available on one system.

But there was another trend, which seems like an oddity now: clones. A game released, that is basically a copy of another game.

This was a thing, and you wonder how they got away with it. I mean, to borrow a movie example, it’s more than just Armageddon and Deep Impact coming out not-too-distant from each other.

I mean, how many different versions of Breakout, or Space Invaders, could there be? (answer: lots).

I recently watched, with my wife, a series of short YouTube videos about graphics in videogames, and one game they highlighted was an arcade game from 1981 called Defender. I had up to that point never seen the game, and so not played it either. But I had played a C64 game called Dropzone, I seem to recall hearing it referred to as a “Defender clone”, though it does seem to have its differences. Looking up Defender on Wikipedia, it lists Dropzone in the “Remakes and Sequels” section.

But it gets more interesting. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s Defender page: “Defender was Williams Electronics’ first attempt at developing a new video game; the company’s earlier game was a Pong clone.”

For those of you not familiar with the videogame industry of the ’80s and early ’90s, the era was mostly not games that were copies of other games, and there were some very creative uses of the limited power of machines of the time. That being said, there were an incredible amount of games, so a certain amount of games-that-were-similar should not be surprising.

Through all of this, I only heard of one instance where similarity led to trouble: the infamous Great Giana Sisters was very very close to Super Mario Brothers (the similar titles going some way to suggest just how similar), the first level was apparently almost identical. It’s commonly understood that Nintendo brought legal action, but according to Wikipedia that’s not quite correct: Nintendo was apparently responsible for the game disappearing from the shelves, however. The article suggests that’s not the only game Nintendo sabotaged (though I don’t think such sabotage was entirely unfair, it does suggest that Nintendo had a different ethos than other companies of the time).

In fact, thinking about other media, books, movies and so on, the only industry that I’ve really noticed multiple high-profile cases of litigation for copying, is the music industry.

The game clone concept hasn’t entirely gone away: I’ve seen quite a few versions of 2048.

Old Computer Magazines

The Internet Archive has a section on old computer magazines, which might interest some people I know.

Personally, I’m happy to be able to browse all the issues of Commodore Format, most of which I have stashed in the garage, rather the worse for wear after years of use (and not-use, and ab-use).

But I have friends who have (or had) Amigas, ZX Spectrums, Amstrad CPCs, and I know people who talk about TRS 80s and Atari STs. There are old PC magazines listed.

I smile when I think about the tongue-in-cheek style of British computer magazines of the early ’90s. And I recall that a lot of the staff of Commodore Format came from, or went onto, other computing magazines.

Waiting ten minutes for a program to load, or typing in programs from a magazine, letters pages hosted by unembodied brains, one wonders what future generations will make of it all.

Be a hell of a history lesson, though.