Commodore 64 obsolete in 2008? Yeah, right!

Matt Barton's picture

CNN of all places is running an article called What can you do with a Commodore 64? The article has some great quotations from folks who seem to know a few things, such as this great one from Daniel Mackey of NY:

"The current state of computing is crazy. Any time you buy a system it is already outdated. Back in the days of the Commodore you really didn't have to worry about that because the C64 was what it was -- other than expansion devices."

You tell'em, Daniel. We've talked incessantly here about the benefits of giving the software a little more time to catch up to the hardware. The article outlines several uses for a Commodore 64 (past and present), which range from music machine to emergency response. Definitely a fun an engaging read for anyone who loves the C-64.

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Bill Loguidice
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Nice photos, decent text...

I was enjoying it until this incorrect line: "Still, the C64 had an uneven reputation. It was widely considered clunky, its BASIC outdated and graphics weak in comparison to the Apple II and Atari 800, according to McCracken." The first two parts of that sentence were correct, of course, but you can't use "graphics weak" in comparison to either of its competitors, particularly the Apple II, which it demolished. The Atari 800 was weaker or about even depending on memory used and care taken, and only occasionally better in very specific cases. They then go on to accurately describe the slow disk drive...



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Matt Barton
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Uneven

LOL, yeah, as usual the article itself is "uneven." Still, at least it wasn't a travesty like some of the other things I've seen on the C-64--or, worse, articles that fail to mention it at all even when it's obviously highly relevant.

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Mark Vergeer
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Geeks that know facts and people who remember a brown bread box.

Perhaps it's all in the difference between computer geeks who known their facts on their beloved c64 and people in general who remember a brown bread box that was called c64 and it played International Soccer.....
It is surprising to see how many have grave errors in their memories of the c64. A good c64 moment for me just was the other day when I was driving home from work. In a radio show 'De Koen en Sander Show' the c64 was mentioned a young woman (my age, thirty someting above 35) calling-in for a contest to win an xbox360 mentioned her old c64 that used to give her load-errors on her tapes. She mentioned some of the old time classics that I remember well. Funny thing is that the cool radio show hosts Koen and Sander all got their facts wrong and got nothing further than something that sort of resembled a non-existent mix of 8bit computer systems.

The girl won the X360 and Asassins Creed. She was going to give it a spot next to her Wii and Ps3 ;)



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Matt Barton
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C64

I can understand it to a large extent. I think it's safe to say the majority of people who owned C-64s (and remember, there are millions upon millions) didn't use them very much. One such owner was my own grandmother, who purchased a C-64 to help her with her income tax business. She only used the computer during tax season, and when she quit doing taxes, gave it to me (my dad had sold our old one for the Amiga 1000; now I had both a C-64 and an A1000 to play with).

Anyway, I seriously doubt if she knew anything about the computer apart from that tax program. My guess is that if my dad hadn't pressured her so much to buy a C-64, she'd bought an IBM instead, since its keyboard is vastly superior for that kind of work; though come to think of it I'm not sure if she were a trained typist or not. I guess if you're not a trained typist it matters little.

My point is that only a very small percentage of C-64 owners actually knew what the machine was capable of; they are the ones who went beyond a few necessary programs/games and really explored the machine's potential. I can remember spending weeks in the summer programming a space sim game (in all text, of course), and playing hundreds of games (all on generic disks with the names written in magic marker, hint hint).

It's sort of strange how games touch people in different ways. My dad, for instance, played many games, but never seemed to really become a "gamer." What I mean is that it's probably been twenty years since he's sat down and wiled away an evening playing a game, and as far as I know there's not even a computer in the house anymore. On the other hand, my father-in-law (who's about the same age, maybe older) has gotten really into Bejeweled far past the casual level, and my grandmother and mother-in-law are both seriously into Bespelled. Still, in none of these cases do they seem to care about the machine itself; it's strictly a means to an end. For me, the C-64, Amiga, even my present computer are not means to ends, but rather fun in and of themselves. It's sort of the difference between someone who buys a car and drives a car and likes the car, but is still not in love with it. Then there are people who love their cars, collect them, can tell you about their history and development, etc. Those people are rare.

Then there are those latent games that you feel pissy about if someone starts hitting you with the details. For instance, Magic the Gathering. I was heavily into that game for about a year in college, mostly spurred on by friends who were into it ten times more than I was (to the point of spending literally hundreds of dollars buying cards). At some point, I introduced the game to my younger brothers, bought them starter packs, etc. A few months later I had abandoned the game. Years later, I returned home and somehow the subject came up, and then I found out that both of them were heavy, heavy Magic gamers--indeed, far more than I was. What was scarier was that they even remembered the cards I had in the decks I brought when I first showed them the game; a whole legend had risen about these invincible decks, and they assumed I still had them and had been improving them in the meanwhile. Lol! Hell, I can't even remember where those cards are, and several of my friends gave me all their cards just to get rid of them. I'm sure if I played against them today I'd lose instantly.

I don't know what it is, but the whole situation kinda bugged me. I guess what bugged me was that it was I who had introduced it to them, but I had moved on, and they hadn't (the opposite, in fact). Made me wonder if maybe I'd missed something, or they had--just confusing.

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adamantyr
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Old grudges

For me, the C-64 was the "enemy" as a kid... after all, it was Commodore's price war that led to the TI-99/4a being orphaned. Still, it would have been kinda nice to have one, but my parents could just about afford the TI ($150 at Jafco, a store chain long gone now) and little else.

However, two of my brother's friends had C64's, and when they visited they'd usually bring them with them so we could try games out. I definitely noticed the LONG load times... the old disk drive was terrible. Frankly, the C64's real strengths were the video chip (good resolution and color availability), the sound chip (undoubtedly the best available at the time), and the 64k of RAM. (Largely a result of RAM chips going down in price at just the opportune moment.) Everything else on the system was pretty much crap. I remember cracking one open and laughing to find a layer of cardboard for RF shielding!

Still, it was THE game machine, prior to the classic Nintendo's revitalizing of the console industry. I remember playing and enjoying a lot of good games on it. Ghostbusters, Wizard, Jumpman Jr., Conan, Cinemaware games, Strip Poker (ahem)... We never got much into programming them, as our friends weren't into them for that either. I don't think we ever saw it used for anything productive either...

I do remember one thing though... most old hardware was pretty flaky, something that the gilded nature of nostalgia tends to obscure. My trusty TI had a bad weak point where the interface to the Peripheral Expansion box hooked up; a slight nudge could often cause a serious lock-up. The C64 was worse, though. I remember one neighbor's machine that would only run for about an hour and then lock up, no explanations or reasons. (Probably heat-related) And there were plenty of urban myths at the time of C64's catching on fire or even exploding... maybe I should drop that one on the Mythbusters forums, but I doubt they'd find many classic C64's to do tests with; you usually can only get the reissue version of it now, because the original first run machines weren't very durable.

The C64 definitely earns a place as the most popular home computer of its era... but I think the Apple II deserves the crown for keeping the market sustained by keeping a strong presence in schools and in homes thanks to VisiCalc. The crash made most people think that computers were a "passing fad", and I don't thank Commodore for that.

Bill Loguidice
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C-64 stuff

I never had a Commodore 64 go back on me for legitimate reasons as far as I can recall. I had my original breadbox C-64's video chip go wonky when my system was hit by lightning (still have it - it's sprites tend to be a bit broken up) and I think I even replaced the power supply once, but once I replaced it with a C-64c, no issues. Same thing with my 1541 disk drive. I still have my original and it still works great, despite seeing tons of use and abuse (things like "Drive Music", where the disk drive head was manipulated in software to make music!). I've had good luck with most systems I guess, save for the Coleco Adam, which was very susceptible to bad power strips and of course mis-aligned data drives. I think I have that under control now and try to rely on the disk drive as much as possible.

Yes, the C-64 had a poor keyboard and a slow disk drive, but it was quite cheap and was a legitimate game machine, unlike the Apple II, which if you take away the nostalgia and the handful of gems that truly optimized the best systems, was not competitive as a videogame system for many game types.



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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