Back to the Rochester place!
Time and cash constraints meant that we were only able to carry out a
partial re-run of the very successful 2003 Jagfest weekend this year.
Nevertheless, Felice and I resolved to make the best of this situation, and
it was at the horribly ugly hour of 06.00 on Saturday morning of the 12th
June, that I started on the dusty road to St Neots.
About forty minutes later, I find Felice ready to go and add his Philips Mk1
CM8833 to my hardware mix of CT60 Falcon and classic slightly yellowing STe.
Ten minutes after that sees us on the second part of the road trip to
historic sunny Rochester.
The road trip was straightforward to the point of dullness, WAKE UP THERE!
And the direction-finding part of my brain remembered enough about Rochester
from last year, to make finding the Medway Hotel very easy. I even managed
to find the rear entrance car parking spaces at the back with only the
single false turn. We got there about quarter an hour or so ahead of my
target arrival time of 09.00hrs.
Inside, the show was alive, but only just, the majority of the overnight
guests still wiping the last dribbles of egg yolk off their chins (curses! I
really like the sort of breakfast that is cooked by someone else!) We did
find Shiuming and Matthew Preston of the MyAtari crew in the process of
setting up, just a short paperclip flick away from the 'Commodore Scene'
area, which had been invited down on the strength of their impressive Retro-
Zone showing at last November's Micromart show. We also found the Mad
Butcher, who had stumbled out of bed and into a different country from the
one in which he usually lives!
Shortly after we unloaded our bags, Nick Harlow, the organising genius
appeared, and among the other half a dozen things he was trying to organise
simultaneously, he directed us to set up in the other room, which we did
quickly, checking to make sure that both computers had survived the trip
over. One little glitch nudged its way forward at this point, as I found
that the hurriedly borrowed from Nicky external peecee speakers hadn't come
with their power supply. This absence sort of knackered up about 50% of what
I was going to do with my stuff that day, such as mp3 and ogg vorbis
playback, graoumf and Ace tracker escapades and so on. Still, never mind. We
then went to check out the rest of the Jagfest, now that people were turning
up in force.
This year, the original two rooms had expanded to three. In the furthest
corner, Shiuming, Matthew, and assorted computer and console gear were set
up on one table. Next to them were the Cheshunt Computer club with a similar
display to last year, and with the addition of the other CT60 at the show.
Next to them, magically preserved since the final Stafford ACC show several
years ago, was the Portfolio Club, with much the same stuff on sale as they
had back them. And finally in a crowded room, jostling for position against
a load of vibro-massage beds that had been dumped there, was the Commodore
Scene, and an intriguing presence from one of the people behind the 'Retro
Gamer' magazine, a real glossy newsstand magazine on sale in the shops, all
about retro-gaming and old hardware. This person was Shaun Bebbington.
The centre area contained the bar as before, and the 'shop' area for 16/32
Systems. There was also a Milan '060 running a version of the online
catalogue. I managed to have a dabble with it later on. It had a 60mhz rated
'060, which wasn't too bad, but when Kronos was run, it compared
unfavourably with the CT60, let alone things like Magic Mac. We think that
it had a cut down '060 with a crippled FPU. The one area where it did score
over mine, was with the enhanced screen modes, brought about by the addition
of a peecee third party graphics card. I didn't have a lot of other success,
managing to provoke one '060 exception error whilst trying to run what
looked like the fabled level demonstration of the enhanced Milan version of
'Running'.(That missing FPU again?) I left it at that.
The third room, where we had located to, contained the bulk of the Jaguar
based action, with several big screens running a mixture of Jagfest
favourites, such as Worms, Tempest 2000, Battlesphere and so on. There were
some new developments, which to be honest, I only caught passing glimpses
of. The consoles spent most of their time involved in a round of
tournaments which we weren't able to join in with, only being there for the
single day. Shame, as I fancied my chances on the 7800 console based
Next to us, was the other computer based entertainment in the room, the ST
Gamesbase emulator frontend project. This was being run by Rob Perry, who I
remembered very well in several diverse roles, from being my second earliest
Falcon contact after Sh3, through to the System Solutions dude with a very
high spec TT, and even his early days in the STOS demo crew 'Dentrassi'! He
was doing an amazing job showing the frontend via a very high-tech system,
and a huge flatscreen (which tilted into portrait mode later on for an
arcade emulator!) Lethal Excess really looked the business on that screen!
To set against that grandeur, we had the Badger demo! Well actually, that
came a fair bit later. For now, the STe was running a themed collection
(gasp!) of classic frenchie demos, early hits of Hemoroids, Equinoxe, the
Flipo demo and so on. There was also a plan for a further theme of STe-only
stuff, but we never quite got that far, a long showing of the Paradox High
Res colour slideshow aside. Maybe for the next one?
The CT60, handily labelled as such for those people who might doubt that
such a thing could exist in a stock ST/Falcon case, did attract some
attention during the day. An early companion was Matt 'Neo' Smith. His
experiences with the CT60 were considerably less happy than I'd have
expected from him even to the extent of not running long enough to see the
likes of 'Deeztort', 1.0' and 'Traal' running. so I happily obliged. We even
got so far as running some of the Atari 130XL finest moments of classic
demos on the Atari 800 emulator, some of them running a bit faster than the
I also got speaking to a guy who remained nameless, but was one of the new
batch CT60 customers awaiting delivery, so he was naturally very curious
about mine and how it worked. It turned out that he may have been Jan
Thomas, who is working on a DSP port to USB cable adaptor, according to
Rodolphe's developer list! If so, it didn't crop up in conversation, damn,
another missed opportunity!
I had some previous misgivings, based on the very hot and humid weather we'd
had a couple of days earlier, when my CT60 ran about 3 degrees celcius
higher than normal, and started to throw up errors in Aniplayer. Happily,
the ambient air temperature behaved itself, and so did my CT60. Rodolphe
Czuba was down as provisionally as a guest, but he was unable to make it
here in the end.
Checking out the 16/32 stall, I spotted a preponderance of Jaguar and Lynx
stuff. There was a generous supply of hardware and games for both systems.
There was also a sizeable collection of stuff for the ST/Falcon range, but
nothing really standing out as a must-buy item for me personally. I doubt
this stopped other people though, as I remember Matt Smith stuffing an
armful of Jag related goodies in his VW camper van. The only purchase I
ended up making, was for a copy of the english translated French 'ST
Magazine'. This will be reviewed in a separate article elsewhere in the mag,
but initial impressions are favourable. We await the next issue with
To make up for that, Nick had generously laid on some freebies for the
partygoers. Everyone ended up with a Jagfest keyring, and a copy, with a
nice manual, of Oxyd Magnum. I remember something of this game from my very
early days with a Falcon, and it still plays as well as ever, including
running happily on a CT60. The freebie count did not stop there, as I next
paid a visit to the combined Commodore Scene/Retrozone magazine stand.
There was quite a bit to look at on the Commodore stand. Allan Bairstow was
playing with an uncannily GEM-like GUI on his 20mhz Super-CPU expanded C64,
which I remember describing in the Micromart show report. They had a wealth
of printed material including what looks like the entire back issues of
their magazine collected into a ring binder. This featured an impressive
amount of demoscene related material, including someone's all-time top-ten
ranking of C64 demos, and screenshots from the C64 version of Doom! (This is
very blocky, but still recognisable.)
In the end I ended up scoring another freebie, a copy of the Retrogamer
magazine, with a cover-mounted CD, with loads of cd-audio original C64 SID
tunes and a whole bunch of remixes of these. I got as far as having a
substained go at the C64 Bomberman game with Shaun Bebbington, sort of
muddling through to a points victory before we both gave up on it.
All this retro excitment whisks the hours away until my stomach grinds to
remind me that its last food was an unscheduled toast stop at Felice's place
very early on. Lunch, in the form of a buffet selection arrives, and is
stripped clean within a handful of minutes by the hungry crowd. Fortunately
I manage to pick up a plateful of sandwiches before this happens, smugly
munching them beside my CT60. This is a good start, but a small group of us
are going to town to see what we can pick up to eat in any case.
Shuiming, Rob, Felice and myself head into town in Rob's car, not a huge
distance apart from the vertical bit in the middle. Rob and Shuiming are on
some informal ex-Systems Solutions staff reunion. We park up and wander the
sunny streets, managing to find the pseudo-southern fried chicken place with
a memorable late night atmosphere that we partook of last year. Inside, the
town drunks can be glimpsed practicing football chants. We sampled the
pastry wares of a local baker, transferring these to our mouths as fast as
we could. There wasn't a lot more to detain our interest, so we returned
back to the party shortly after, which was a good thing.
Almost as soon as we got back, the sky darkened and angry black clouds
appeared. Then it rained, a stinging downpour that threatened to wash away
the car park. This was ominous in view of our evening food arrangements,
which was going to be a barbeque. What price waterlogged sausages now? But
eventually the rain slowed and stopped.
James Haslam of the Cheshunt Computer Club remembered that there was another
CT60 in the building, and he searched us out. I was happy to show him what
he had been missing so far, which was probably quite a lot, bearing in mind
the Cheshunt CT60 is probably a dedicated seriousness terminal ;-) From the
reactions, I guess he was impressed with what he saw, including a few non-
CT60 specific Falcon goodies of more recent vintage, and a re-run of the
classic 'Delta' demo which dominated last years proceedings. An air of
desperation appears in his eyes when the Dildo Fatwa stuff comes out for
another showing... Eventually he makes his escape.
The afternoon carries on in much the same easygoing vein as the morning, I
fetch up at the recased Falcon of Ian Smith, an Alt party survivor who
drifted in with the Cheshunt contingent. He is on hand to explain that is it
a bit of a mystery machine, as he purchased it from someone in deepest
Yorkshire, he has had it for two or three years, but with two Falcons
already, hasn't really got down to looking at this one closely until now! So
we start to take a look.
The mystery machine has a Nemesis, tends to lock up when trying to change
the screen resolution when it is active. Poking around in the auto folder
soon uncovers a full Magic and Jinnee installation, and a maximum screen
resolution pushed a bit beyond 1024 x 768 with Videlity. It turns out that
it is packed with tons of software, including a spare partition that was
hidden under TOS mode. Nothing has been removed from this machine, even the
emails are still on there! I think he might have cleared those off at least?
There is nothing that explicitely refers to the friends of Bin Laden on
there, and we chuckle at the couple of 1998-era proto-spam emails, early
droplets harbinging the tidal wave of crap to come.
It also has an insane partitioning scheme on a 1 gig drive, with randomly
sized partitions solely designed to use up all the available drive letters.
This has the effect of 'hiding' the built-in CD-ROM under Magic, and
stopping access via the file selector on TOS, so the only way to get at it
is via the desktop icon! The contents can be summarised as plenty of GEM
stuff, a number of ST games that were being stored, and amazingly bearing in
mind it is a Falcon after all, no audio-related applications at all! (In
fact, I don't think there was anything that used the DSP at all? I guess
that the original owner was really seeking a cheap TT, and his next Atari
purchase would have probably been a Milan?)
This genteel tinkering takes us the rest of the way through the afternoon,
until some point later on, a cloud of smoke billows into the building,
setting off the hotel fire alarms, to summon the partygoers and tell us that
the barbeque is to hand!
Nick has set up a "Hells Kitchen" sweary chef working area at the bottom of
the pub garden of 'Fagins Retreat'. Several barbeque pans are going at once,
and assorted forms of meat are being charcoaled to death. A hungry crowd
gathers, and the first burgers are judged sufficiently cooked (ie completely
black!) to be safe. The barbeque proceeds smoothly, suffering a slight mid-
session breadroll failure, for which Peter West of the CCC volunteered
himself to bring in further supplies. Eventually as the fires start to
slacken, hunger is sated, and the crowds gradually disperse. At time of
writing I don't think anyone went down with violent vomiting fits after, so
that worked out okay then.
The final evening session fills a few gaps. I spend a bit of time at the bar
with Felice, Ian Smith and James Haslam, the European cup has started, with
the first matches being played. I return downstairs, and Tyrant, one of the
hardcore Jagfans takes an interest in what I'm doing. He is interested in
the CT60, and then I boot up the Badger demo! Otherwise known as the MJJ
Productions killer app!
This attracts a lot of attention for the STe, which has largely sat ignored
in the corner during the day overshadowed by the more glamourous CT60.
Reactions are favourable, with people remarking on the coolness of this
Flash animation being converted to the humble ST. Of course when it has been
running a while, people attempt to kill it, via the reset button! I shared
that little "joke" with a lot of people.
Eventually, with a 10.00hrs departure time hanging close by, we end up
spending some time in the MyAtari enclosure chatting with Shiuming and
Matthew. I get to try out the fabled "2600 VCS games built into a joystick"
unit. This plays a respectable game of asteroids, and quite a good version
of the more complex 'Gravitar' as well. Shuiming has an insane plan to
review one of these, as in *completely* review it, stripping it down to
reveal its inner workings, and comparing it directly with a classic vintage
Atari 'dumb' joystick. After that, we are all too soon packing and making
the return journey home.
I got back home at around 01.00hrs on Sunday, having had a relaxing journey
back, going to bed I almost got to sleep, when I was awoken by football
related shouting from some premature idiots three streets away. (Very
premature as it turned out, with reference to England vs France on that
first Sunday evening!)
The headache, which appeared without any heavy drinking beforehand, waited
until the following morning to kick in.
The end bit::
We managed to make the most of our day in Rochester. It is unfortunate that
we weren't able to stay for both days. Still we managed to cover the 'main
points' very well, and I hope that this report manages to convey that.
The Jagfest managed to maintain the momentum from last year, keeping its
place as the premier Atari-related event in the UK. It even managed to
expand from the past year, to include a large guest presence from the
Commodore 64 community, who were nice guys and fondly remembered from last
Autumn's Micromart Retro-Zone. Nick Harlow seemed to be working even harder
this year, to make sure we all had a good time, and we did. The Saturday
evening barbeque was a great success, and the weather played its part by
staying away for just long enough! A repeated vote of thanks for Nick making
the considerable effort once again, is in order at this point.
We managed to remake a lot of old acquaintances, which are all nicely
described in the main body of the report, but particular mention is made of
Shuiming Lai, and Rob Perry, and also Shaun Bebbington, who made sure I got
a close up chance at the Retro Gamer magazine.
We had a reasonable success with the CT60, although a little bit more to
show it off with, would have been nice, still, I'm sure there will be next
year to come back with a greatly expanded menu of goodies. I won't say any
more about the Badger Demo, as mere words will not be enough!
CiH for Alive Mag,July '04