New life of EasyFlash as a cartridge format standard

Since my hands-on review of EasyFlash cartridge things have been moving forward. EasyFlash has been gaining popularity in the Commodore community.

At the time of my overview there were only few EasyFlash tailored releases around, and I thought that the most prominent use of EasyFlash cartridge was the possibility to create EasyFlash multicart images from several single load programs using the Draco Cart Maker.

Since that, the EasyFlash tailored game releases kept on coming. These are usually some of the bigger games for C64, or even compilations of them, modified to run from EasyFlash without loading pauses, often including extra graphics, documents or other bonuses, incorporating bug fixes to the originals, and often with game or score saving feature writing directly to the flash memory. These features are sometimes found only in the EasyFlash patched versions.

At the moment there are quite a few EF releases already, and I’m sure new ones keep on appearing. Basically EasyFlash has become a new medium standard for C64.

And even more so with the phenomenal C64 port of Prince of Persia by Mr. SID. It’s a 1:1 port of the original Apple II game and graphically almost on par with the PC and Amiga versions. The famous fluid animation is there and the gameplay is identical to the original game. Not to mention it’s a great game and a classic, now for the first time ever available on C64 and C128. And it’s available only for the EasyFlash cartridge.

Making it EasyFlash-only was not a promotion spoof for the EasyFlash, the game really has to be in cartridge format to be possible at all on the C64. There’s an intriguing developer diary about the making process at the development blog.

These awesome games that make use of the EF cartridge’s possibilities are great, but in a way they also work against the cartridge itself. Let me explain.

One EasyFlash cartridge can hold only one EasyFlash specific cartridge image at a time. So every time you want to run something else from that cartridge, you have to first erase and rewrite it with a new cartridge image. While reflashing the cartridge is the whole point of EasyFlash, the growing library of EF patched games makes the one image at a time feel like a limitation! If not anything else, you would loose e.g. hi-scores saved within the cartridge.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just switch between different cartridge images without having to erase and rewrite them every time?

Luckily, that’s what the hardware developers have been thinking. Or then it’s because there’s a demand for it. Either way, there’s a new wave of more advanced cartridges that support the EasyFlash format.

The first one to appear was the Alien Flash Cartridge. It’s a 16 MB flash cartridge that can hold 16 EasyFlash banks. It also features an USB connection from which it’s possible to flash the EF banks or push programs directly to C64’s memory and transfer D64 images between disk drive and PC. Additionally, it has Action Replay compatibility.

An evolution of the EasyFlash cartridge, EasyFlash 3, is also on the way (In case you’re wondering about EasyFlash 2 – it didn’t go beyond prototype stage). It’s basically 7 EF slots plus configurable KERNAL cartridge in one!

In addition to these, Chameleon supports EasyFlash cartridge images already, and 1541 Ultimate-II will support them in the upcoming firmware version 2.4. Neither of these support writing into the image (e.g. hi-scores) – at least not yet.

Along with these new cartridges EasyFlash has evolved from fairly simple reconfigurable cartridge design into a standard for C64 cartridge releases. To me this direction of development seems the right way to go. The community has received a new platform that makes it possible to have advanced cartridge releases like the PoP C64 or cartridge patched Maniac Mansion + Zak McKraken. Modern disk drive alternatives are well covered (sd2iec, 1541 Ultimate, Chameleon), and even new devices acting as a Datassette exists. Latest now also the cartridge is a well supported modern medium option!

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