Early Memories: Commodore 64

With the announcement that they're releasing a "C64 Mini" in 2018, they've finally touched the one nostalgic gamer bone in my body. None of that Nintendo stuff ever did, because I never owned a Nintendo console of any sort. The last gaming machine I had before going off to college (and a 10-year lull in video gaming) was a Commodore 64 (an early home computer that was really only good for games), and I skipped right to the Xbox after that. It wasn't my FIRST, that honor belongs to the Atari 2600 (might end up writing some Early Memories about that some time), but the C64 Mini might actually be my NEXT.

This Retro Games Ltd. product - which is meant to retail at about 70-80$ for 50%-scale replica machine, one retro joystick and 64 games - sadly has no release date yet, but it has sparked a lot of memories from my junior high and high school days.

The thing was, with the C64, games were insanely easy to copy and share. So as soon as someone in your gang got their hands on a game, everybody had it. Some were small enough that you could put several on a floppy disc. The big adventure-type games might require several. But regardless, click the right-protect on the floppy, and you have access to the code. The only way C64 could have curbed this would have been to not offer two disc slots. When game companies starting twitching to this reality, they started making it harder with codes and other information necessary to play a game hidden in instruction booklets, but that could also be shared, so the piracy went on and on. I was probably friends with people just because they also had a C64. Some I was happy to be friends with, others not so much, but they were a necessary part of the crime ring. I do remember it was something of a faux-pas to copy a person's game without asking first, but I can't imagine why someone would think "borrowing" a game wouldn't lead to copying and distribution. All without the Internet's help, I might add, which somehow makes it more illicit.

I remember working summers to get enough cash to buy the machine's various components. Might have gotten the Commodore as a gift, but the dedicated monitor was a whopping 500$ that represented a summer's entire paycheck. There was also that time I took out my gaming rage on it, as often happens with frustrated teenagers, by slamming my fist on the keyboard and the machine just stopped working. I'd done it before without such an effect, but well, I took the consequences of my action like an adult and didn't complain. Months later, I decided to open it up just to see what was under there - the chips were all in that fat keyboard, not in the disc reader - and lo and behold, there was this really big chip popped out of its socket. I snapped it into place and BAM, I resurrected my C64. We were cavemen in those days. It was all so... so MECHANICAL.

Now, of the 64 games that will come with the Mini, there are very few that I owned (or owned a copy of, if we're being exact), but you have to realize, more than 2000 8-bit games were produced for the C64, so it's not impossible.
Of these, I do remember a few - We played crap out of Summer Games, Summer Games II, Winter Games and World Games, for example. The console might be worth it just for these Olympic titles, seeing as they play 8 and would make nice party games (twice as many players as stupid Mario Party, though you don't all go at the same time). I mostly played the USSR because they had one of the better midi-file anthems. Otherwise, Armalyte, Impossible Mission, and Pitstop II (played that one a LOT) are just about it. We either never had the others, or I just can't remember them. What games DO I remember playing?

Well my first games (the ones I paid for) were all text-based adventure games. The Zorks, the hilarious Planetfall, the even more hilarious Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and a really hard one where you control robots from cryogenic sleep... Suspended, it was called) occupied a lot of my time early on, like BEFORE the whole piracy ring. You can get all or most of the Infocom games on the Web these days. I've played them again, and they're no easier than they were back then.

But of course I played stuff with graphics as well. As a chess player, I liked Archon (I and II). For a while, there were some cool martial arts games - Bruce Lee was platform game, Karateka a sidescroller, and I know I played a fighting game with guys in red and white gis (research reveals this was called International Karate) - and from time to time, tie-ins with famous franchises, like Ghostbusters ("He slimed me!") and Spy vs. Spy (an odd puzzle game that was cute, but difficult). Other titles I remember distinctly include Beachhead II (which had the first electronic voice emulation I remember - "Medic!") and some kind of strip poker game where the pixelated girl could be frazzed into a corrupt-looking image with the touch of the space bar when your mom came in. Plenty of arcade titles as well, including Time Pilot, Spy Hunter, Q-Bert, Paperboy, Root Beer Tapper, NARC, etc.

And then there were the adventure game, which to a D&D gamer like me, were always more interesting in concept than in execution. Stuff like Ultima just didn't have the graphics. Pool of Radiance was an actual D&D game and was a lot cooler, but its multiple discs made it easy to go buggy, I seem to recall (that one I'm pretty sure wasn't pirated, if we're still cataloguing my youthful crimes). But the real phenomenon was Bard' Tale (or probably Bard's Tale II), which had all its combat done with number crunching. With a static image of the monster you were fighting in one corner, you would just watch as the computer told you the damage made and received by everyone in a fight. It was boring as hell, and yet by all accounts really addictive, the World of Warcraft of its short heyday. I had this friend who was well and truly addicted and who would do the play by play of his Bard's Tale gaming on the phone with me as we shot the shit about this and that. Our phone wasn't close to my computer, so there was no way to reciprocate. Small town, nothing to do, even a boring-ass phone conversation about Bard's Tale was better than nothing. Like spending too much money on comics, this feel under the heading of "well, at least they're not doing drugs".

Let me close by apologizing to my siblings for some of my more irate gaming sessions. Teenagers have a hard time keeping their emotions in check, and sometimes, I just couldn't stand having them right over my shoulder, watching me game as if it were any kind of entertainment. Unlike many of today's games, the stories were never deep and the action often repetitive, so I never got their fascination (at least they weren't doing drugs, I guess). At times, I know I lashed out.

Whatever happened to my old C64? No clue. It was junked, presumably. I just don't remember. Kept that pricey monitor around as a television, maybe, but I may be conflating with other incompatible junk I kept for too long. Did YOU have a C64? What do you remember of those days? Share your nostalgia in the comments.


Radagast said...

Oh, I have many of the same memories. The shared games would arrive by way of my older brother's friends; I keenly remember the Olympic franchise, along with a lawn mowing game, and many others that were not so memorable.

Definitely kept that monitor for a long time (that was a Philips tube in there, great picture quality). Used it as my actual TV (RCA cord from my VCR) well into the 2000s.

Anonymous said...

Our Commodore 64 was a Christmas gift in 1983 due to the urging of my father. At the time, I was both fascinated and intimidated by it. Dad didn't see the point of a disk drive because he had "done just fine" with using a tape recorder with his Timex-Sinclair 1000. As a result, I had the Commodore Datasette peripheral. Dad also forbade games, but eventually relented with Gortek and the Microchips because it's purpose was to teach programming.

My only exposure to C64 games was at a friend's house, and his father was a software pirate of the high seas. They had a ton of games, my favorite being Space Taxi (the digitized "Hey, Taxi!" still cracks me up to this day).

I have memories both fond and frustrating about learning to program in BASIC. Lots of trial and error with hours and hours of work only to realize I'd miskeyed something when the program wouldn't run. Little did I know that being "a techno nerd" would pay off in my adult years. At the day job, I regularly have to dive into the Visual Basic foundation of Microsoft Word to customize templates and get functions to behave.


ShadowWing Tronix said...

My cousin had I think the Amiga but I was more into the Atari 800 or the TRS-80 one of my teachers had in school. There's a show on YouTube called The 8-Bit Guy that is currently doing a retrospective on the Commodore computers and his next episode (or latest depending on how far behind I am) is the 64. You might like it. He's already done the PET and Vic-20.

Anonymous said...

Ah, this takes me back; I still have my C64 boxed up somewhere. My friend had one too so we traded games back and forth. I loved Gateway to Apshai (a cartridge not a diskette). We also played all the Summer/Winter Games (and wrecked a lot of joysticks); I had a Slinky game that was a straight rip-off of Q-Bert; a game called Tome of Aliard, which was text based ... fun enough, but no Zork.

Did you ever play Defenders of the Crown? A pretty cool historical game (with Robin Hood popping up here and there) about the Saxons and Normans in Britain; great graphics.

Mike W.

Unknown said...

I remember spending long weekends typing in program codes for games out of the back of Computer Gaming Monthly and saving it to the cassette drive long before I ever had the floppy disc. Lord help you if you ever made a typo because you'd have to pour over thousands of lines of code to find the mistake.
Summer Games was the bomb. Wore that out (along with several controllers as we got excited to play).


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