The truth about the Amstrad CPC

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Most users owned one only retro computer system or only a couple of them from one brand. We got in touch with other systems, but not in detail. So a bigger part of our knowledge about other systems are prejudices. We liked them in the past, because they were an excuse to keep a closer look on other systems. In this article, I put all my prejudices against the Amstrad CPC on the CPC-Forum [1]. Thanks to the open mindness of the people there we had a very good discussion and I think that most of my prejudices were wrong.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: There were no good Joysticks around for the Amstrad because it had a own joystick standard

Octate / CPC-Forum: The CPC uses a standard 9-pin SUB-D connector, so you can connect all standard joysticks to it. However, it only has one port so you need a joystick adapter to add the second port. The missing 5V power supply on the SUB-D port prevents auto-fire from working, but, as already said, you can connect a standard joystick (e.g. I’m using a Competition Pro).

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Ok, there were other computers that had no joystick connector or only one (the Spectrum for example). Now I know what the CPC switch on some joysticks meant. It was the autofire. Thanks for the answer, it extend my horizon.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The 3 inch disks were exspencive like hell and no CPC user owned a floppy drive

Octate / CPC-Forum: Only the CPC464 and 464 Plus had no floppy drive, the 664, 6128 and 6128 Plus came directly with an inbuilt floppy drive. It is also possible to connect a 3.5″ PC floppy drive to the CPC which is the standard today.

TFM / CPC-Forum: Most of the CPCs had a floppy drive built in. Further most of the CPC users use an additional external 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive with inexpensive discs. Since the CPC had a standard drive adapter, nearly every drive can be connected. Even some actual PC 3.5″ drives can be connected.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: But every school kid had to deal with drugs on the schoolyard to be able to buy at least one 3″ disk to get some pirate copies for his 664 or 6128, they were so expensive, so in reality everybody used datasettes I guess.

Almasys / CPC-Forum: indeed, I had to use cassettes when I was in school. One pack (10 pieces) of Panasonic 3″ disks had to be enough. But on the other hand, a normal cassette player was much cheaper than a 5,25″ disk drive.

Octoate / CPC-Forum: I got a 5,25″ drive soon after I bought a 3″ drive for my CPC 464. The disks were cheaper of course. A bigger problem for me was, that nobody else owned a CPC at that time. Most people owned a C64

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: All CPC died after half a year because the floppy belt got broken

Octate / CPC-Forum: Not half a year (it lasts longer), but we can’t deny that it is the main cause for a hardware failure of the “CPC”.

TFM / CPC-Forum: have a CPC running, bought in 1987, it still uses the original floppy and drive belt. Had never a need to change a part.
The drive belt problem only appears if the drive is not used for a long time.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Is it hard to get a replacement?

Alamsys / CPC-Forum: Not at all, I get them from a local TV & radio repair shop

Octoate / CPC-Forum: There are enough Ebay auctions around, to get one.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The Z80 CPU suxx because even with more MHz a 6502 machine had the faster 3D graphics

TFM / CPC-Forum: The original prototype CPC had a 6502. But this CPU was too weak, so Amstrad decided to switch to the powerful Z80 CPU. Look at Starglider with 3d Vector graphics or Driller for 3D solid graphic. The CPC versions beat every other system, especially the slow and ugly c64 versions.
When looking at the game Mercenary the Atari 800XL and the CPC versions were superior compared to all other so called home computers (16 bit machines excluded).

Cpt_void / CPC-Forum: A friend (hardcore C64 user) throw the joystick away after playing Elite. He said, it unplayable, it’s to fast.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The CPC was not able to scroll as good as the other 8 Bit machines

Octoate / CPC-Forum: Well, have a look at the Giana Sister Remake [2] by TFM and Tolkin. It has smooth scrolling in overscan mode. I guess that this prejudice is caused by the bad Spectrum game ports. It’s much better on a real CPC, cause the CPC monitor had hardware antializing.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Are there other examples then this Giana Sister Remake ( Or is the real reason you mention it the fact that the ST version of Giana Sisters did not scroll🙂 Is it hard to code a scrolling?

Octoate / CPC-Forum:

  • Prehistorik II
  • Super Cauldron
  • Axys
  • Warhawk

that are example for good Hardware Scrolling. To code scrolling, you need some OUT orders to some registers of the CRTC and you have to keep an eye on the screen border. It’s more complicated if you use the overscan mode.

TFM / CPC-Forum: Take an old game of the old days… TLL! Watch TLL (Tornado Low Level) once on a CPC and you will never talk about scrolling!!! Really! Watch it !!! !!! !!! Bye the way, it’s not hard to code scrolling. Look at all the demos Wink

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: There are no demos around for the CPC

Octate / CPC-Forum: Have a look at the demo section at Pouet [3]. There are a lot of them…

TFM / CPC-Forum: Take a look at the web and you will need about 99 years to watch all demos Wink

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: I expected to get names from really good demos from you, are there none?

Octoate / CPC-Forum: Of course there are interesting demos, but not as much as on other systems. Of the newer ones, I like

  • From Scratch
  • Pheelone
  • Backtro
  • PHAT
  • PHAT 2
  • Demoizart
  • Hate Beats
  • Midline Process
  • A step beyond

Of the older ones, I like:

  • das Ultimate Megademo
  • The Demo
  • Voyage 93.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The most unsuccessful Amstrad machine was the Joyce

TFM / CPC-Forum: Wrong, the Joyce was in fact one of the most successful systems for word processing. And in the time of its release it was superior to the PC.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: I heard, that Amstrad sold 8 million Joyce, so they even sold more units than ATARI with the ST range.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: Nobody used CP/M in the old days

TFM / CPC-Forum: CP/M was the standard OS in the old days like Windows today.
And it provides still a trendemous software library.

AMSi / CPC-Forum: Thanks to CP/M, applications like WordStar and dBase II were available right at the launch of the CPC. Turbo Pascal was also very popular. The ability to use CP/M was one of the reasons of the success of the CPC.

Nilquader / CPC-Forum: I had computer science at school and we had to write programs in LOGO. The school had to upgrade almost all of their computers to run PC Logo, but I could do my homework on the CPC. Thanks to CP/M and DR LOGO.

Many thanks to the people at the CPC-Forum to understand the intention behind the questions and to cooperate in that great manner. See you soon at a party guys.

Links


1. CPC-Forum
2. Gianna Systers Remake playable via a emulator online
3. Pouet

11 Responses to “The truth about the Amstrad CPC”

  1. Xerus Says:

    I learned things with this little ‘FAQ’, thank you🙂
    The crocodiles fans defend well their computers😉

  2. ThorN Says:

    One thing I really like on the Amstrad scene is that its so familiar to me as an atarian. Bother were great machines, but underdogs (at least in Germany).

  3. Dave Says:

    I don’t agree with the Tunnel Look / Ignorancia. Quickshot II Plus by SVI was a great joystick, which I had for my CPC6128 and I could use when visiting my C64s friends. Only bad thing; in a couple of months of playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, you broke all the suction devices at the bottom🙂

  4. ThorN Says:

    Before I got in touch with the Amstrad gang, I only remember that some Joysticks had a switch labeld “on | off | CPC” So I got the feeling, that the CPC was something special.

    Now thanks to the discussion with the Amstrad Forum I know, that the reason for the switch was the autofire.

    So I still ask myself why does Amstrad build in a joystickport, but the standard joysticks at that time: Quickjoy and Competition does not work 100% (only 95%🙂, so that the manufactorers had to add a CPC switch.

    This question is a question that is timeless I think. Why build in a new connection or interface if it would be much easier to reuse an existing one. Or why implement a new protocoll that is incompatitble with the standard but offers nothing new? Hi Steve, hi Bill.

    • Dave Says:

      Maybe it was a Spectravideo (SVI) thing, but I do remember the autofire working on some games on my CPC, and in other games just fire twice when you switched it and did nothing anymore😛 Also I remember SVI releasing special Quickshot for the MSX (those where white colour, instead the normal black). So, maybe each of the 8-bit computers handles the joystick differently?

  5. Simon Sunnyboy / Paradize Says:

    Big kudos to the friendly CPC scene!
    I learned a few things from this discussion and it was great to enjoy the thread at the German CPC-Forum.

    I’m 100% Atarian but I always liked the CPC range a lot!

  6. StickHead Says:

    I had a CPC before my ST, and there are definitely some parallels between being an ST owner in the 16-bit days and being a CPC owner in the 8-bit days. Notably, as an ST owner, we had to put up with many lacklustre ports from the Amiga, whereas as CPC owners we had many shoddy Spectrum ports. We did have the best versions of Batman and Head Over Heels though!

    Thanks for the article, I will have to check some of the CPC demos out, see what Arnold really is capable of!

  7. trophy Says:

    Yes, that’s why I appreciate CPC over the C64. I really like this 8-bit machine. I fell it’s so close to the heart of ST owner.

    I’ll tell you some – I hope – interesting story. Back in time, in 1994 I was on a kind of training, it was a scouts camp in fact. We were the “sailors crew”. We had a lot of lessons on: navigation, theory of sailing, theory of maneuvering, emergency at sea, etc. Including, so called, “lights” – it was very important part for final exam. You had to learn all the things about quickly identifying the lights presented by any ship – or entity – during night time on the sea, including… Everything you can imagine. You can spend days learning form tables in book and… Fail at the exam. But, thanks to the CPC machines, we had beautiful software written by one of the teachers at the local Martime Academy, which helped us very much. Not only we were able to learn how to recognize – so called – lights, we were also able to simulate all the possible situations on the sea. The ships and other entities were even animated to complicate all the things. Much more than in the book, indeed.

    And you know… This was possible due to the great CPC – built-in- one of the greatest Basic interpreters, although, as far, as I can remember, this piece of software was compiled.

    Now, to summarize, sometimes, when I’m on the sea, when we are approaching the port in my city, I used to have a flashback from my memory – come on… This looks almost identically like on these CPCs in this training camp so many years ago…

    … And this is nice🙂

  8. ThorN Says:

    Great story. You are right, first time I come in touch with the CPC, I also had the feeling, that owning this machine must have been the same then owning a ST later. Maybe that’s the reason, CPC and ST owners here in Germany are in such a good relationship.

  9. Optimus6128 Says:

    Hehe, I remember when I wanted to buy a single 3″ disk to keep myself and write basic programs (because we had other disks but were flying around and lost my old programs). I remember the price, 700 drachmas. Hehe,. now this I don’t remember, today 700 drachmas are like 2 euros. But then in 1990? Maybe 6-7 euros (I remember greek gyros was 200 drachmas). It was expensive if you wanted 10 disks, but we have a lot, my father bought some. Then we used to copy games from friends, lot’s of people had the 6128 model with disk and lot’s of games. Sometimes, we could copy better games above old crappy games, reuse the old disks. Hehe.. but disk was common here. I ever never used a cassette then, only looked how slow it was on a C64 of a schoolmate and was terrified🙂

    As for games. No system had much better 3D, because they were all equally slow in 8bits, maybe Z80 had an advantage over 6502 because it had 16bit regs (even if they were just pairs of two 8bits) and more easy and faster to do fixed point arithmetic than with 8bits. Although it depends on the code, I have seen the fastest versions of Rescue on Fractalus, The Eidolon, on Atari65XE, where it was first developed and then ported to other systems. Where C64 shined where 2d games. Even if most many CPC games were crappy Speccy ports and the hardware was not always used, I still find very hard to find smooth CPC scrolling in games (you mostly see it in demos), well there are some exceptions but it’s not the norm. While on C64 there are a lots of nifty examples, even true parallax with transparent foreground, because char-mode + pixel hardware scroll + hw sprites + smaller videoram makes it possible. In the C64 it’s the norm, in the CPC the exception.

  10. Optimus6128 Says:

    I remember I gave my CPC to a cousin to learn basic. She hardly used it, at least she didn’t used the disk drive frequently. Then we got it back after months and I was like “What did you do? You destroyed the disk drive!” but I didn’t know it broke because of not using the drive at all and didn’t know about replacing the belt yet (I had to read about this problem many years letter on the internet). Nowadays, every CPC I have got on ebay, the drive always doesn’t work. I have long years to use the old disk drive, I miss the feeling. But I use 3.5″ PC drive or SDHc hardware (SD Card on CPC).

    As for CPC hardware scrolling, you have 16k videoram, the hardware scrolling pointer increases at 2 bytes a time (so no pixel perfect scrolling), in Mode 0 (160*200) this is four pixels. But if you want pixel perfect scrolling, one way is to pre-store the background four times in four buffers (filling entire 64k) each one pixel shifted to the right. And have pre-stored tiles with shifted pixels, 4 times the graphics (unless you shift those tiles with code, slower). Although there is another way with the CRTC hardware (which makes the screen jump when connected to real TV, so it’s non standard). Quite easier on the late CPC+ with pixel scrolling hardware and combined with the CRTC vram address pointer (I am trying to code some scrolling for a flappy bird parody secretly, maybe I’ll be too lazy to finish, easier on CPC+ but still a bit of a struggle compared to how you would do it on C64 with chars and pixel scrolling). So, maybe it’s obvious why most games, even the ones not being a speccy port, avoided using hardware scrolling properly, why most of the C64 games I try, I am amazed by the smooth scrolling.

    Also, from demos, just watch the recent Batman Forever ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJosZfm560Q ) you will be blown away!

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