Developer tools · Voltmace

Speedy assemblers

I have been working on building a development system for my Voltmace Database for the past few month. The assembler is nearly ready to release for beta testing if anyone cares to have a look at it. It shouldn’t really surprise me, but it does, just how fast a program can be assembled these days. Back in the day I would have time to go to the White Lion for lunch while 4k of code was being assembled. Now it’s done in the blink of an eye.

The assembler I had at Voltmace had been made specially for them by some local consultants. It was a Z80-based machine running CP/M with a pair of floppy disc drives. I’m fairly sure they were of the 5¼” variety. Apart from the low speed of the processor back then, things were really hampered by its memory capacity. Even if the system had the full 64k of memory that the Z80 could address, what space the operating system and assembler program left was not big enough to hold a whole assembly file. The result was that the program would load small pieces of it at time from the disc drive to work on. I don’t recall for certain, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t save a list file either. If you wanted to see what it had produced, it would churn out a listing on a dot matrix printer. So I would start an assembly and leave the disc drives and printer clunking away while I went for a pint and hope there were no errors that would prevent the assembler from completing.


First Basque Radofin 1292 Tournament   

Sunday 20 June saw the First Basque Radofin 1292 Tournament. Five players gathered in Bilbao, Basque Country, in the pub called “Bar Barria” in Santutxu. The owner of the pub is kind enough to allow them to meet there to play their retroconsoles and retrocomputers.

The Radofin console is very similar to the Interton but the cartridges are different and the players have different games for each, so they plan to organize tournaments of both. During this tournament they played Spider’s Web, Invaders, Air/Sea Battle, Olympics (football), and Grand Prix. Luis was the best and most regular player, achieving several partial victories. The results:

1-Luis Getxo 5 points (55)
2-Monica Vaqueiro 4 points (40)
3-Javi Cetina 3 points (19)
4-Egoitz Campo 2 point (9)
5-Daniel Barrientos 1 point (2)
Air/Sea Battle  
1-Alberto Romero 6 points  
2-Daniel Barrientos 5 points
3-Javi Cetina 4 points
4-Monica Vaqueiro 3 points   
5-Luis Getxo 2 points  
6-Egoitz Campo 1 point
Spider´s web
1-Egoitz Campo 4 points (320)
2-Javi Cetina 3 points (233)
3-Luis Getxo 2 points (111)
4-Daniel Barrientos 1 point (39)
Gran Prix (Rally) 
1-Luis Getxo 6 points 
2-Egoitz Campo 5 points 
3-Monica Vaqueiro 4 points 
4-Javi Cetina 3 points 3 points 
5-Daniel Barrientos 2 points 
6-Alberto Romero 1 point 
Olympics (Football)
1-Luis Getxo 6 points 
2-Egoitz Campo 5 points 
3-Javi Cetina 4 points
4-Monica Vaqueiro 3 points
5-Alberto Romero 2 points
6-Daniel Barrientos 1 point

Classification of the First Basque Radofin 1292 Tournament
1-Luis Getxo 21 points (Basque Country)
2-Egoitz Campo 17 points (Basque Country)
3-Javi Cetina 17 points (Basque Country)
4-Monica Vaqueiro 14 points (Basque Country)
5-Daniel Barrientos 10 points (Basque Country)
6-Alberto Romero 9 points (Basque Country)

They plan to return for another Radofin tournament, possibly with a different format, in December 2021. I must say that it is great to see these consoles and games being used in tournaments. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a few other groups did this, then we could organise an international tournament.

Joysticks · Voltmace · Voltmace Database

Voltmace Database adverts

I’m starting to find some adverts for the Voltmace Database console and will add more here. Please let me know if you find any others. I hope that they might tell us a bit of a story about the company and perhaps help us date the vintage of individual machines.

Computer & Video Games 1981. Voltmace had now moved to Park Drive but were still advertising this under the Videomaster brand. Had those three cartridges only just been released? B.E.A.B. was the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board. I wonder if that has anything to do with the power supplies being bolted to the back of some consoles as shown in this advert? Also notice the shiny bright joystick handle and the square recess for it.
A few months later, January 1982 (Computer & Video Games) the advertising has changed quite a bit. Gone are the colourful cartridge boxes to be replaced with boxes similar to those I think were used for VHS tapes in libraries. The Videomaster logo on the console has been covered up with a Voltmace logo, and the cartridges now carry the Voltmace name. The joystick handle is all black and the recess for it is round. I think the black cardboard box was for the power pack.
Voltmace going head-to-head with Atari in this advert from Silica Shop, January 1982 (Computer & Video Games) a retailer in Sidcup, Kent. Quite a steep reduction in price.


The Rolling Stones, nylons, and Voltmace

When Voltmace moved from Church Street to Park Drive, they moved into what was the former recreation center of the Kayser Bondor factory. This factory had made hosiery here since 1928 and during the war had been requisitioned to make parachutes.

The recreation centre was built in 1956 and known as the Commonwealth Centre after the company’s expansion into South Africa and Australia. In 1961 it was renamed The John Goodenday Centre following the death of the founder of the company. It served many functions and included dining rooms, games room and a reading room. The main hall which became the production floor for Voltmace could seat 284 for dinner and over 700 for evening entertainment. It was here on 21 December 1963 that the Rolling Stones performed a concert. This was just a few months before they released their first album.

Photo: The Rolling Stones – Spring 1963 From “The Rolling Stones Complete”

Other bands that played here included The Swinging Blue Jeans, Johnny Kidd, The Mersey Beats and Joe Brown.

The main room during construction


Videomaster box

One of my consoles came in a six-sided box, the other in a four sided sleeve. The original artwork on the box was branded for Videomaster, the sleeve for Voltmace.

The Videomaster box has some interesting detail, most noticeably that the back carries marketing blurb in six languages, English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Swedish (according to Google translate). I wonder if they ever sold these consoles in those countries?

Lots of imagination needed!

Other details:

When Voltmace took over from Videomaster, they obviously got a good stock of boxes and slapped their own labels over some details before they got around to designing their own packaging. This must have gone on for some time as it shows their address as Park Drive not Church Street. This is somewhat odd as both the consoles I have carry stickers with the Church Street address. It is going to be difficult to truly determine the vintage of these consoles.

Video circuits · Voltmace Database

A/V mod for the Voltmace Database

I finally succeeded in modifying the Database for composite, and scaling with an Orei XD-940 for HDMI. It’s a simple mod with no extra components needed. At some point I should probably remove the modulator altogether and disable the final stages of the audio conditioning amplifier circuit to reduce interference and noise. I pulled R74 and took video from there and audio from C25/R59. I have identified these points on the schematic.

Red is audio, black is video, orange is ground.

Video quality is terrific with just a little bit of blurring. It is better than in the photo below where I think the camera is capturing more than one frame.

Joysticks · Voltmace

Voltmace Joysticks

One of the strong points of the Voltmace Database was the self-centering analogue joysticks with keypad. As the console market dried up and home computers became more popular, Voltmace adapted and started producing joysticks for these, including the BBC micro, Acorn Electron, Spectrum, Dragon, Archimedes, Atari, Commodore, MSX, Memotech, Amstrad 464, Tatung Einstein and the Sinclair QL. They also branched out to make a 16 key datapad for the BBC and Commodore 64, as well as ROM and RAM cartridges for the BBC housed in the same package as their games cartridges.

The best source of information is this leaflet which I found on and was allowed to copy. There are also several magazine adverts on the web which I include below.


THE DELTA-CAT mouse eliminator is a sprung return to centre, light-
weight, light action joystick which plugs in to the mouse port of any
Archimedes series computer and will immediately operate mouse-
driven software.

Moving the stick a little will simulate moving the mouse slowly in the
direction that the stick is pointing. The greater the movement of the stick
the faster it will move. Thus you can move the pointer anywhere quickly
around the screen and slow down for accurate positioning.

All three mouse buttons are on the facia plus horizontal and vertical
sensitivity adjustments.

The real benefit of the DELTA-CAT comes with custom written
software such as the new INTERDICTOR jetfighter simulator from
CLARES MICRO PRODUCTS which by determining the rate of pulses
coming from the joystick can give a truly proportional action, realistically
controlling the jet.

The DELTA-CAT is available from the major Archimedes dealers at just

VOLTMACE, Unit 9, Bondor Business Centre,
Baldock, Herts SG7 6HP. Tel: 0462 894410

Acorn User 1989 Magazine

Dragon User, March 1984
Example of the box they were sold in. Photo courtesy of Sanxion


Dual joystick control

I was chatting with Chris at Dead Flesh Retro recently about the possibility of using two joysticks to control both movement and action for a character in a game. Unsurprisingly its not a new idea and I just stumbled across a game that was written for the BBC Micro / Acorn Electron that featured a dual joystick option and was designed to be used with the VOLTMACE 3B style of joysticks. The fact that people were writing games with these joysticks in mind is a good indication of their popularity at the time.

Arena 3000 was written by Roger Jane in 1983 and published by Microdeal of  St Austell, Cornwall. Keyboard or single joystick options only allowed you to shoot in the direction you last moved, but the dual joystick option lets you control movement with one joystick and fire direction with the other.

This gives me hope that the new game I have been working on might just work with two joysticks.