Saturday, 21 April 2012

8 bits, 1 byte - Part 2 (1/2) Ud 17/08/12

*This isn't really a proper update as all I've really done is improved the English, amended stuff and hopefully eliminated spelling mistakes as I did notice some.  It does read a lot better now.

Due to reasons beyond my control, the games now exist in another post.  Oh and I'm working on fixing the spaces between paras too.*

Sorry :)

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’m finally back to do the sequel to my epic Speccy feature.

This was also an important aspect of my childhood and personally for me, was the final slice of 8-bit I ate, before I put a lovely dollop of HP on 16 bits.

To me, one of the most important and influential games machine ever created.

I know it’s a computer (a personal one at that) but that’s what it’s remembered as.

It was the Commodore 64, the C64, the Commy or to some, the CBM 64.  CBM was used to represent Commodore Business Machines.

The technology would be quickly outdone by its senior (the Amiga) and others but wow, the games on this thing could be nothing short of extraordinary.

However, those 16 bits didn't arrive until years later and in the 80s, this baby would happily fight it out with its main rival – the Spectrum.

As I’ve said, I loved and still love the Speccy, but the Commy was unquestionably better on each and every level.

One of those levels was mainly graphics and colours.

The Speccy largely had that undeniably classic and cult monochrome look but with the C64, as well as being extremely colourful, would banish the in-joke of colour and/or attribute clash.  But many games would still glitch and have all sorts of fits when action got a bit hectic

Go baby, go baby, go – don’t upset the rhythm, don’t you dare.

It, like the Speccy, was released in 1982.  Its name was uncomplicated and also had various models such as the C16 and C128.

There were some pointless models too.  This would be in the form of a console which was a perverse idea in itself.  This was a desperation measure to fight against consoles such as the NES and came out in 1990 (when the C64 began to flat-line).

It was called the C64 GS (Game System) and was cartridge only.  This was, and unfortunately proved to be an instant and doomed failure.  As it was a console, you’d assume it would be a more powerful machine, but instead it remained just a good old C64, but just slightly redesigned.

This was a ridiculous premise and idea as there wasn’t many cartridge games out there.  I'd say probably less than twenty, so what were they thinking?

Going backwards, a hardware peripheral would be a lot more popular, the chunky Commodore 1541 floppy disc drive.

Yes, floppy discs.

Later 16 bit computers would also use such storage mediums but take Viagra.

Damn, the history and sometimes depressing subplot to this cream coloured beast nearly led me to slide down the slope of digression but no more, the C64, the games and my recollection of it – all in one epic super extended, POTY edition.

What’s that I hear you mutter, what the fuck is POTY?

Well of course, it’s Post of the Year.

I will do my level best not to keep mentioning the Speccy, but I can’t promise this.
I got mine quite a few years after my Speccy and was not shop bought, but given to me by my Uncle, via my Dad with a whole bunch of games.

The first game I ever loaded was Ikari Warriors, don’t ask me how I remember that, I just do.  Will I go back over old ground with this one, dunno as I heavily covered this in my SNK war feature.

It had a switch on side (near its joystick ports) and once fired up, you were presented with this curious screen.



When it came on (which wasn't always guaranteed) – ah primitive technology eh, the block below Ready would be flashing and then what next?

Well to load up a game, you would need to do this – Hold Shift and then Run/Stop would result in Load, Press Play on Tape and bingo.

So not too stressful or cryptic.

There were other combinations such as typing  the word Load and using the Commodore key with Run/Stop.

The games (in the past at least) came on tapes and usually contained information on both sides.  For Microprose simuations, you're missing a tape if there was only one.

The essential piece of hardware used to play C64 games was the 1530 datasette.  This was a farily small (for the time) object and looked decent.  This was the clever bit, years before memory cards and internal memory, the only way to save a game was to use a blank tape and when activated, a red light could be seen.

Again, Microprose should have provided blank tapes with their games...
Anyway, after doing as you were told, the screen would go blue, the tape would be whirring and after a few seconds, the tape would pause and it would display Searching, Found [insert game]. 

It may even just display the name of a game in a brilliant white against a blue square, but the principle remained the same.  Other changes would also evolve like [Game] Now Loading... in a Word style border box.

How nice of that game to tell you that progress is been made...
Oh, make sure you reset the counter as this would be important on the common multi-load games.

You could then, leave it to automatically continue, or use the space bar or Commodore key to achieve the same effect.  Whatever you chose, back to the blue screen.

Loading would be very, very briefly displayed.

You could also crash a game on purpose using Run/Stop.  Each to their own.

All through this, the counter (using any combination of numbers from 000 to 999) would be cycling though numbers (unless it was faulty) and then you’re fucked.

What I mean is that when on multi-load games, it was difficult to remember what number you need to rewind to reload the game and of course, when continues had ran out - to the game's main title screen.

It's great nowadays, as you can afford to be lazy as any console does it for you.
As mentioned, many and most were multi-loaders so that’s when the pause function really helped but that still didn’t cancel the need to make a note of when a level ‘loaded’.

So when attempting to continue, it would tell you something like, Please Rewind To Tape Position X.  You can see the advantage of writing equipment and a working datasette....

Trust me - that counter was your friend.

So after a further few seconds, psychedelic loading lines could appear across the screen.

Games used many different forms, ranging from fat multi-coloured ones (some covering the entire screen and others would surround a loading screen), some horrible looking primary coloured mess and also small thin lines covering a differently coloured screen.

Like these:




Not stopping there, sometimes loading screens were surrounded by squares of colour – like Bubble Bobble.

To really fuck your head up, sometimes nothing – no music and just a loading screen which inevitably led you to doubt that it was actually loading at all.

Creatures – I love you but you were guilty of this....

Wait - there was no insane, high pitched bleeping.  This silent approach was so much more comforting and instead, your ears were usually treated to some kind of loading music.

This loading music was a massive deal to me in the 80s....

Even though all seemed well, the games could crash, and sometimes for no apparent reason.

This was more annoying when playing a game as when this happened, there was no other option apart from turn-off time.

Imagine this happening when you were at a point and/or level you'd never reached before, how fucking selfish.  Although, it never stopped me going back for more.

The Azimuth screwdriver was (as it was with the Speccy) an essential unwritten tool as you sometimes needed to adjust the heads and/or volume in order for a game to work.

Just imagine needing a CD or Blu-ray screwdriver for the consoles of today?

One of the single most brilliant things (apart from the games) was that when a game loaded, the tape deck stopped, as opposed to the Speccy that just kept on running.

Now you could go for a comfort break in the firm knowledge that it wouldn’t ruin multi-load situations.

I’m sure you’ll agree, very useful.

Nearly forgot, some games even featured a playable game while you was waiting for that game to load.  OMG, what an amazing idea and as far as I’m concerned, it remains unique.

As far as I can remember, you had Pac-Man clones and this strange drawing block ‘em’ up.  I think the latter involved you drawing blocks around shapes to make them complete, while avoiding chasing ‘sparks’.

I seem to remember Players using the Pac Man gimmick and there may have been others but I don’t know.

Strangely, when I played these games, they tended to crash.  Maybe it was a psychological jinx I created in my own mind...

A tell tale sign of a game crashing was loading music sounding very different to what it should be like 


If you was a C64 junkie, you could evenget to know when a game was due to load (via the tape counter) and although that sounds extremely sad,  take a second why ahem I did this.

Don't know?  Okay I'll explain.  If you knew this game loaded at [Insert Counter Number here] and didn't, it's a dead cert your C64 has had another accident.


So when a game finally loaded (which to be fair, happened often) and providing you had a joystick slammed into Port 2, you was ready to rock.

I always found that odd, as you’d think for a 1P game, it would be Port 1 as in for 1 Player.  Instead, this Port was used for a second player.

Of those games, the boxes were nice and compact and even featured many goodies (only in the original big box releases of course).

When you paid for a C64 game, you really felt you were getting your money’s worth as apart from the box, the contents were sometimes insane.

The best examples were Microprose simulations and I’ll use Pirates as the best example.  You got a mega instruction manual with an actual history lesson on Piracy and best of all – an authentic looking map.

Other Microprose games had an obligatory cardboard qwerty layout fold-out thing that fit snugly around the C64’s qwerty.  These first appeared in Elite... as I’ve previously mentioned.

Last Ninja Remix was perhaps the most controversial of all as you were generously given a cloth ninja mask and a plastic shuriken.  Nowadays – imagine the controversy and newspaper headlines?  It would automatically be banned as there would be a sudden spate of muggings by amateur ninjas....

Creatures gave you a free fuzzy wuzzy with amusing adoption instructions.... Brilliant!

It had to come with a PSU, and as far as I know, there was a brick and a strange triangular thing.  I owned the earlier model so I had the latter.




The missing part of the Giza Pyramid got very hot after a few hours play but was dead handy for keeping your feet warm.  I swear, I thought on many occasions that it would start snoking and blow up.

The newer brick didn’t have this central heated luxury.

Now we come to loading screens and music that usually accompanied them.

The C64 used VIC-II and SID chips for its graphics and sound respectively.

So much C64 music is now considered classic (and rightly so) and SID was exploited by many musicians.

Very famous composers of so many lovelies were Rob Hubbard and David Whittaker. Geniuses in their own right.

While brilliant, the graphics took a back seat to the sound – even now, it’s still ‘pretty’ good.

The loading screens mostly looked awesome and they sort of scrolled as they were created.  I got so excited as it made me think “If this was just the loading screen, what’s the game gonna be like?”

‘Cyberload’ made a regular appearance...

I usually wasn’t disappointed, but sometimes pretty loading screens masked a very shit game.

Of course, some games didn’t have a loading screen and that could be a double-edged sword.

I’ve mentioned how awesome the music was and still is, and it didn't stop there.

There would be many variations but the most famous to me (and hopefully to others) was the Ocean loader by Jonathan Dunn.

It had such a memorable beat and is still brilliant.

Okay, some Ocean games were shit but at least you could be virtually guaranteed in hearing ‘that’ music.

Audio and visuals isn't as important as the game itself and even if some didn’t have the wow factor, or in some cases - lack of it, that didn’t matter as it’s all about the in play.

Let’s not beat around the bush, any C64 game only used a single fire button.  Classic sticks were many variations of the Quickshot made by SpectraVideo and the Competition Pro.

Many also had suction cups that with a touch of saliva, allowed you to stick it securely to an appropriate surface.

Sounds yucky but the option was there.

These came in many bizarre designs, shapes and sizes, and there was one which looked like it was ripped from a fighter jet cockpit.

This was the Megaboard by Quickjoy.  This thing had to be seen to be believed.

Okay, I’m not gonna tease you, so here it is:



I mean look at the thing - it had a digital display and more buttons than a Jaguar controller.  I believe the digital display was used for stopwatch, slo-mo and autofire functions.

Why would you need a stopwatch to play a C64 game, in fact – why would you need a stopwatch function for any sort of game?

It had so much irrelevance and was really, a right royal waste of time.

Batteries were not included so that caused extra and unnecessary expense.  If you were that way inclined, you'd be regularly spending some extra cash.

Many joysticks were micro-switched which not only sounded hi-tech but more annoyingly, caused no end of problems.

Many tended to break easily, which of course wasn’t an immediate problem as you only needed a single button but if you used that particular button or wanted to look cool, you could take it apart and fix that button by swapping a working microswitch.

You could repeat this x amount of times but when the movement stick itself started to go, you were in real trouble.

As with any joystick, as you moved the stick or pressed a button, a small bit of plastic connected with the switch and sent a signal to the computer telling it you wanted to perform that action.

Taking these unnecessary button hungry beasts back was a real bitch and I had real problems achieving a replacement so in the end, I just used sticks that weren’t hi-tech and they tended to be much more durable.

Joystick wars ensued amongst friends but we all found that bigger was not better.

Of course, many joysticks were compatible other computers but I only used them with the C64.
A Megadrive pad was even compatible.  Amazing eh!

So that’s your fill in the C64 itself, the troubles you needed to overcome and some titbits on peripherals.

The games are next and you're just a few clicks away.

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