The Commodore 64: it's a pretty good computer, it has a lot of features
July 31, 2013 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Let's go back to 1982 and let Jim Butterfield not only tell you about the Commodore 64, but really show you what it's all about, in a two hour demonstration and training video that takes you from opening the box to coding with the Commodore. (on YouTube, and with a different intro on Archive.org) posted by filthy light thief (87 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 


I have been following Bil Herd on Twitter for a few months now, waiting for some wisdom from the top of the mountain (or at least stories of 64/128-era debauchery). YOUR PEOPLE ARE WAITING FOR YOU, BIL. LET'S GO.
posted by mintcake! at 9:52 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's something really sweet about Jim Butterfield defining the word "cursor" for people who had no concept of one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:52 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love that when he talks about where to get programs, he lists these options in order (from 32:10)

1. friends (many programs are widely available)
2. books with programs you can type in
3. the Commodore 64 manual
4. magazines which contain programs "that's a lot of typing! You'll probably have a good time playing the game once you type it on"
5. save a program onto cassette tape or floppy and giving it to a friend
6. buying it
7. writing your own program

I'm sure he's talked about buying software earlier, but it does show how far we've come in our sense of software copyright from that era.
posted by honest knave at 9:55 PM on July 31, 2013 [13 favorites]


I didn't know they had unboxing videos in 1982, even though I was nine at the time and owned/loved my C64.
posted by christopherious at 9:59 PM on July 31, 2013


Zoinks, did I spend a lot of time typing in programs from Compute!...
posted by mintcake! at 9:59 PM on July 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


4. magazines which contain programs "that's a lot of typing! You'll probably have a good time playing the game once you type it on"

I used to spend hours typing in programs from Ahoy! magazine. They'd either never work or would leave me wondering why the artwork in the magazine didn't quite line up with what was on the screen.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:59 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


WHAT A GLORIOUS CHESTER A. ARTHUR!
posted by symbioid at 10:02 PM on July 31, 2013


I typed in programs too. After a while they got smart and introduced some kind of checksumming method. There was a hash after each line. I honestly forget how it worked though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, WTG wikipedia. Compute had The Automatic Proofreader.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:05 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Poke 53280. I still remember that number.
posted by Paragon at 10:22 PM on July 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


Compute had The Automatic Proofreader.

I remember typing in a Compute! program (just one -- a Breakout clone -- because man was that shit tedious) using a program called MLX. Oddly, the Automatic Proofreader article makes no mention of MLX, and vice versa. Wikipedia seems a bit confused on the topic.
posted by neckro23 at 10:26 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow interesting. Based on quick googling it seems like MLX was for ML as referenced here and maybe Automatic Proofreader was for basic. Seems like Compute!'s disks are available here I am tempted to load them both up in an emulator and see what they do.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:37 PM on July 31, 2013


As a Vic-20 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 64.
posted by dumbland at 10:40 PM on July 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


I wish they'd put more c64 games on the virtual console. International Karate isn't enough. I want Realm of Impossibility. And Bruce Lee. And Impossible Mission. If they ever put Racing Destruction Set on there, I might faint.
posted by cashman at 10:51 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a second grade teacher who demanded that we learn how to type. We had computer lab time for an hour, twice a week, and the whole lab was equipped with Commodore 64s. This was in 1992, and the next year, the whole lab was replaced by whatever iteration Apple was hawking to public schools. I don't remember using them for anything other than typing class, but damn, if I couldn't type 80 words a minute by the time I finished the second grade.
posted by honeybee413 at 11:10 PM on July 31, 2013


cashman: I wish they'd put more c64 games on the virtual console. International Karate isn't enough. I want Realm of Impossibility. And Bruce Lee. And Impossible Mission.

Realm of Impossibility: gb64 | Bruce Lee: gb64, dosbox | Impossible Mission: dosbox, gb64 | Racing Destruction Set: gb64
posted by christopherious at 11:48 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd be remiss if I didn't post this picture of a C64 hacker that's been going around the FidoNet recently.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 11:53 PM on July 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


dumbland: “As a Vic-20 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 64.”
I mowed grass all summer to buy a VIC-20. Then a couple of years later, I somehow convinced my Mom and Dad I needed the next step up like my "Uncle" Bob had, but it was mostly so I could get on Quantum Link.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:53 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


...really show you what it's all about ...

This video might be the best thing ever.
posted by mazola at 11:55 PM on July 31, 2013


"was that in 84?" "not sure, I had a commodore 64"
posted by boilermonster at 11:59 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quantum link for me must be like the smell of mown grass or the crack of a baseball bat is for normal people. Sort of a wistful, hazy, memories of my childhood.

Hanging out in the 4sk8rsonly chat room making fun of skaters. Hanging out in Vampyr chat room roll playing a Werewolf. Reading all kinds of really bad Stephen king knockoff fiction people uploaded. Playing 5 card stud in Club Caribe.

Only thing dumber was AOL.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I mean that in the best possible way of course. Dumb in an "were we ever that young" kind of way. I loved Q-link
posted by Ad hominem at 12:14 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait... most of you are talking in past tense? I still play my (original) C64 at least once a month. If you don't have one & while you could use an emulator, they're cheap on eBay. Then you get an SD card reader, load some games onto a card (Public domain games only of course) & go!

Oh - SD card readers such as this one. Also works for you sad sack Vic20 owners who didn't whinge well enough to their parents to buy a C64.
posted by Smurfing Beer at 12:15 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have 2 64s, a 128, and 2 Amiga 500s. I mention it every vintage computer thread so I figured I'd give this one a break.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:20 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


i was an apple ][ user but you are all my brothers and sisters.

but 10 PRINT "ATARI SUCKS" 20 GOTO 10 amirite?

aw hell, they were part of the MOS Technology family too. 6502/6510 forever! [sniff]
posted by joeblough at 12:56 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


We replaced the Vic 20 with an Amiga 500, which was fantastic even if it was bundled with a load of John Laws nonsense.

The Vic 20 was later eaten by mice.
posted by dumbland at 12:57 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "that's a lot of typing! You'll probably have a good time playing the game once you type it on"

Yeah, like the flight simulator in INPUT magazine that weeks later turned out to be a horizontal line on a screen. Ooh, now it's a diagonal line. Now it's off the screen. Did it go off the top or off the bottom? It must have been the top, because apparently I've hit the ground.

This was for a Dragon 32, not a C64. It was a Welsh clone of a TRS-80. Everyone else at my school had Spectrums and there was a huge trading market for games. Apart from one or two I had to type all mine in but I so wish I still had it.
posted by vbfg at 1:13 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a Vic-20 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 64.

I had both, then an Apple IIe. Good times.

Looking at an adjusted for inflation calculator (not on my C64 though), it is $837.94!! Holy crap! I always imagined it was cheap, at $399. I guess that is me looking back on youth. ;) I kept thinking someone should make a cheap computer like the C64 for today, now, that's only a little less than i paid for my Alienware. O_o It's a pity consoles don't have the programming like the C64 did, or flexibility. I miss those old days. Sigh.
posted by usagizero at 1:34 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the by-then deserted Commodore Forum on Compuserve one day probably around 15-18 or so years ago, I interviewed Jim Butterfield for the LOADSTAR disk magazine. He was awesome to talk to, and very down to earth.

Unfortunately I don't think the interview was ever published, and I don't think I have the text anymore. This isn't the first time that fact has made me deeply sad.
posted by JHarris at 1:35 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish they'd put more c64 games on the virtual console. International Karate isn't enough.

The Last Ninja is up there. What it really needs, though, is Jumpman, which seriously holds up today.
posted by JHarris at 1:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


4. magazines which contain programs "that's a lot of typing! You'll probably have a good time playing the game once you type it on

?SYNTAX ERROR IN LINE 2355
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


posted by i_have_a_computer at 11:53 PM on July 31

Story checks out.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:46 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Of course people are still coding away on the C64, including coaxing colours that it can't display out of it. (SLYT)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:13 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had a pirated rom chip on my C64 (statute of limitations apply) called Dolphin Dos, which enabled the parallel port to talk to the 1541, reducing load times from a few minutes from disk to a few seconds. It also had the neat feature of being able to list disk contents without erasing the current basic programme - can you believe that, if you needed to find out what was on disk, you'd lose whatever programme you currently had entered? Madness.

Anyway. Was here to represent for UK CBM users (amongst others) with Input magazine - a 52 week Marshall-Cavendish title that taught you how to programme and had lots of basic and machine code listings to type in.

Inevitably, the last issue of Input was *entirely* errata for their error-prone listings. What I would have given for some solid checksumming!

Nice to see Butterfield in the flesh - he was just a name to me before, like Jesus or Mohammed.

Poke 646, 1. Kill that keyboard buffer!
posted by davemee at 2:19 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes I was an Input subscriber!

And I think most people over this side of the pond had tape decks unlike their rich American counterparts - used to take half an hour to load Jet Set Willy from tape, before someone mercifully invented fastloaders.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:36 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coding?
In my day we called it programming.
(dusts of TI-99/4A)
posted by ShutterBun at 3:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


GallonOfAlan: coaxing colours that it can't display out of it

Oh man, I love the demo scene. One note: that video has a moment of pixelated boobs, so it's probably NSFW
posted by filthy light thief at 4:11 AM on August 1, 2013


We replaced the Vic 20 with an Amiga 500

We went from the Vic 20 to the Plus/4, which I'd thought was based on the C64, but seems to have been the C16.

I used to spend hours typing in programs

Ditto, but with the added excitement of living in this old not quite totally fallen down house in the deep dark woods with only a generator for power. So there I'd be programming away on my graphics app (it would have been the MS Paint of it's day, I tells ya!), and the WubWuubWubWuuuubWbWub noise would start, and the lights would start to dim and brighten at which point I'd have a mad dash to get out the door to put more fuel in, or save to tape (which would mostly be a lost cause once the power was wavering) if the cans were empty...

Between that and the hand-cranking to start it in the first place I reckon I discovered the whole programming interspersed with interval training way before it became trendy.
posted by titus-g at 4:39 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was a very lucky kid and I can't thank my parents enough for buying me a Commodore 64.

Some of my favourite memories.

I worked out how to hack the code in this simple balloon game so the *'s couldn't pop my balloon. Most kids these days will never experience the thrill of mastering a computer like I felt at the time. Today, the best most kids can hope for is if the developer puts a cheat code into the game and they read about it in a forum.

Impossible Mission. F*ck me... my mum and I loved that game. Never could work out what to do with all the puzzle pieces you collected.

Last Ninja. Possibly my favourite game of all time... the music, the exotic locations, the nun-chucks!!! Of course my tape was defective, so when I finally overcame a particularly nefarious puzzle and passed the stone dragon that constantly killed me with fire, the mesmerising loading cascade of random horizontal colour strip never ended.
My tape deck kept clicking and whirring but the next level never loaded :(

I think my brother and I burned through 10 joysticks that kept breaking playing games on that thing.

Final anecdote... there was a spot you could stand and just keep jumping up and down killing ants without moving in Pedro.
My mum found it and thought she was so leet beating me and my brother's best score.
The thing is, she wasn't content just to beat us, she sat their for what seemed like hours jumping on the spot with one button until she obliterated us.
posted by panaceanot at 4:49 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


My Commodore 64 was connected to our only TV in the living room of our apartment. It was 1984 and I was in the 7th grade. Endless begging had got me the computer for my birthday, but there was no money in the budget for a tape drive, much less the ridiculous luxury of a floppy disc drive. It was impossible to explain to my parents why it was vital that I have some sort of storage medium for my programs.

I was in the middle of typing in a game (I think it was like Snake) from Compute! magazine. By "in the middle" I mean that I had been very slowly and carefully typing in endless strings of digits hunched over the machine on the floor all day and had at least another full day of typing left before I could enjoy the sweet success of playing my game on my computer that I typed in myself. When we went fishing, my father would tell me that I had no patience. He had no idea how patient I could be. I was focused like a laser.

The only outlet available to plug in my C64 was a switched outlet intended probably for a table lamp. I had put tape all over the switch to hold it in place and made a sign in bold red letters admonishing everyone: "DO NOT TURN OFF THIS SWITCH!!!" Of course, my Mom came home one day and said, "Why is all of this tape on this switch?", and casually turned it off. She had a long track record of doing the worst possible thing in any given situation. I was sent to my room for the rest of the day for saying the "F word".

The next day, I started making my own tape drive from my old cassette recorder, a breadboard that I stole from my brother, some components from Radio Shack and a design that I got from a magazine.

Never again, I swore. Never again.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:00 AM on August 1, 2013 [29 favorites]


Hah! I was just going through the attic and came across the boxes marked ATARI. There's a couple of 130XEs in there along with some big, sassy external expansion boxes and I think 10mb hard drives (full height, baby) back from when I was doing retail coding for Hi Tech Expressions. I think my original 400 with an upgraded keyboard is in there too. I haven't booted them up in probably two decades but I still keep 'em around along with all the software and cartridges and power supplies and floppy drives and so on. Not sure why I'm holding on to them but it seems like the right thing to do.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:00 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now we shall have an animated ASCII art war at 300 baud about C= vs ][ vs /|\
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:03 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The type-in program magazines of the era I'm most familiar with:

Compute! and Compute's Gazette:
Compute was actually a family of microcomputer magazines, and they published an edition for most popular computer lines at the time. Gazette was their Commodore-specific line. Compute! itself was also a magazine though, and it published type-ins for many different computers, including sometimes ports of the same program for different lines. It was probably the most professional of them all. They knew that they type-in programs were a bit laborious to enter, so their computer-specific lines had a version that came with a floppy disk formatted for that line, and all the type-in programs of that issue on it. You could buy it in stores (prices were typically $2.99 for the paper-only, $8.99 for magazine + disk), but I think the disk version was mostly intended for subscriptions.

One day in the mid 90s, I was in Atlanta on a field trip with the college science club. We had made a stop in a grocery store. This was long past the age of type-in magazines by this point, but there, on its newsstand, I saw a forelorn issue of Compute's Gazette, which had actually ceased publication some time before I'm sure of it. I don't know how it survived there so long. For all I know it's there still.

Compute! published a wide variety of software. Automatic Proofreader was a "wedge," a small machine code program that lived in the cassette buffer that hooked into the BASIC line entry vector, and printed a small code (I think it was two letters?) on screen whenever a line was entered, a simple checksum. If the code matched the code in the magazine, the line was entered correctly... unless there was a transposition error. Checksums can't catch switched character positions.

MLX was their program for entering machine code software. Basically, it encoded each byte into a pair of letters, and the last pair on the line checked to make sure the others were correct. I think its check was better than a simple checksum, so it'd catch transpositions. Once I entered a ninja game published in CG for my younger brother, who was on a ninja kick at the time. It took me a whole afternoon to enter, and he got about as much play out of it. There are not a huge number of ways to load object code into memory on a C64. The easiest to enter is a BASIC program that POKEs in numbers stored in DATA statements. The easiest to load, but fairly tricky to make, was an object file stored on disk that you could load into memory by adding ,1 to the end of the LOAD command. (So: LOAD "filename",8,1) MLX's chief benefit, besides the error checking, was that it produced those object files.

Another program they published was Speedscript, a word processor. Not a WYSIWYG processor, which would be very difficult to implement on an 8-bit machine with 64K of memory, although of course that didn't stop Berkeley Softworks from creating GeoWrite.

When you publish three or more software programs a month, you end up sending out some fairly weird ideas. One of their programs was an election simulator for, I think it was, the 1984 election year. Anotherm "Basketball Sam & Ed," was a simple two-player action game where players each controlled an anthropomorphic basketball and tried to jump through high-placed baskets by bouncing off the other player. There's a lot of interesting software to discover from that age; there are sites where you can download all of it, in the form of disk images.

Ahoy! wasn't quite as professional as Compute's stuff, but made up for it with pure fan intensity. They also had a disk supplement that had their type-ins already entered. It handled the Commodore's long ride into obselence better than Compute's Gazette did.

Loadstar was a magazine-on-disk, without a print component (except for a short newsletter later on) and was my personal stomping grounds; Teenage Me has several programs on its tracks and sectors. It stopped publishing long ago, but I still keep in touch with its old managing editor from time to time. He made a MeFi accout (at my behest) some while back, but I don't think he ever did anything with it. These days he collects Harry Stephen Keeler novels, and sells reprints on his website. Keeler is a notorious author of bizarre mysteries, with names like "The Case of the Crazy Corpse," a genre that's even more obsolete than the old Commodore. In one of them, the murderer is introduced as a character on the last page.

Loadstar, BTW, was published by the Shreveport, LA software company Softdisk Publishing, which also published disk magazines for the Apple II and DOS platforms. On their DOS product, Big Blue Disk, worked several guys who founded id Software, not least of which being John Carmack and John Romero.

Commodore had two magazines of its own, Commodore Magazine (a more serious magazine) and Power Play (more oriented towards games). I have never seen an issue of Power Play though, all the issues I had were of Commodore Magazine.

I'd say more, but it's been a long while since I saw those old issues; my collections of Gazette, Ahoy and Commodore Magazine didn't survive a closet cleaning when I went off to university. (Thanks, Dad.) I still have my Loadstars, but being a disk magazine, I can't easily load them up to remind myself of things....
posted by JHarris at 5:05 AM on August 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


As a Vic-20 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 64.

Me too. I did what I could with it but boy did I ever desire the step up.

My elementary school must have been really early adopters of the school computer lab because I remember the first day we were taken to it and it was full of 64's. I was in heaven. I left it in 1985 so that was pretty early as I see it came out in 1982. I remember being bummed though because we weren't allowed to play games during lab time. :( We were taught how to use the computer and write basic programs. I do recall a teacher setting up an after school time for kids to come and play games on them. I never could go because it was the same day as Girl Guides, which started right after school. I remember having an argument with my Mom. I wanted to quit so I could play. lol She wouldn't let me.

The next home computer didn't appear in my home until I was in grade 10 or 11. My Dad brought home some sort of IBM computer from his work which he got because they were upgrading. That thing was amazing! And wow, you could use it to go onto this thing called the "Internet'. It was an interesting time as I remember teachers in school giving instructions for papers that were either handwritten or done on a computer.
posted by Jalliah at 5:09 AM on August 1, 2013


I used one of Butterfield's assemblers (not a full assembler, but more of a monitor) extensively on the C64.

And speaking of the magazines, there was an interesting difference between the C64 mags like RUN and their counterparts for the PC and Apple. RUN said 'You can write this; you can write that...'. The others said 'You can buy this; you can buy that...'.
Of course, you can see which is the better business model.
posted by MtDewd at 5:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Butterfield's columns in The Transactor always seemed like super-hardcore material to me when I was reading them.
posted by jquinby at 5:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Impossible Mission. F*ck me... my mum and I loved that game. Never could work out what to do with all the puzzle pieces you collected.

Hah. please allow me to blatantly self-link to something I made that you might enjoy.
posted by mintcake! at 6:27 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've got 64k memory
I've got cartridge boards on ebony
I've got power cords strung out the door
Think I'll set up my bulletin board
posted by Aznable at 6:29 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think my brother and I burned through 10 joysticks that kept breaking playing games on that thing.

Likewise, until I discovered the mighty Epyx 500XJ. That thing was a masterpiece.

(Also, I admit to using an Indus GT drive and not a 1541 for the bulk of my C= experience...that thing was frigging swank.)
posted by mintcake! at 6:35 AM on August 1, 2013


Epyx 500XJ
That really was a masterpiece, though my heart still belongs to the Konix Navigator
posted by bonaldi at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found the 1985 C64 commercials amusing. 1985 is when I bought my launch-day Amiga 1000.
posted by pashdown at 6:51 AM on August 1, 2013


seanmpuckett: "Not sure why I'm holding on to them"

So that when the mood strikes, you can still fire up Star Raiders II or Barnyard Blaster or maybe even Necromancer!

Man, I really miss my XE.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2013


Oh gosh. Basketball Sam & Ed was so much fun.

So was the game which I can't remember the name of right now which required you to shuttle balls to some goal at the bottom of three platforms (with holes in them so the ball could drop down to the next level below). But your joystick moved the ball-sweeping cubes on all three levels at once, and two of them mirrored the joystick motion across one axis or another.

Not only I learned a lot about programming and mathematics, that game alone probably advanced my profanity skills years ahead of many of my peers who had to learn all the various conjugations and permutations of the f-word the old fashioned way.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:55 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Necromancer had the best music and a fun theme but the gameplay sucked in the worst sort of "make the controls obnoxious so a simple game is difficult" fashion. I learned a lot about what not to do in game design from playing it. For fun Atari games, give me Shamus any day.

Some of you probably typed in my Quatrainment and/or Reversi games from Compute! in 1984. I think the Reversi was the first magazine version that would hold its own in PvC play against most players.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:01 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pharaoh's Pyramid was pretty good too. And who could forget Miner 2049er with its pixel perfect jumping and "gooch gooch gooch" sound effect.

My C64 buddy was a big Dino Eggs fan tho.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:05 AM on August 1, 2013


Holy cow I totally typed/played that Reversi game. Dude.
posted by mintcake! at 7:13 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


My first programming classes were on the C64. GOTO nothing, there's always GOSUB.

I miss the C64.
posted by seyirci at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2013


I lost my virginity because of Quantum Link.
posted by no relation at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


ob1quixote: "I mowed grass all summer to buy a VIC-20. Then a couple of years later, I somehow convinced my Mom and Dad I needed the next step up like my "Uncle" Bob had, but it was mostly so I could get on Quantum Link."

I read your first sentence as "I moved grass all summer to buy a VIC-20," which in spite of my disappointment at realizing that's not what you wrote is an image I will cherish forever.
posted by invitapriore at 9:01 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


JHarris, I still think about that election game to this day. It was too long to type in but god I wanted to play it. I still do. I must find it. Please internet, don't fail me this time.
posted by bfootdav at 9:04 AM on August 1, 2013


I just went through the tortuous path of building the VICE Commodore PET/VIC20/64/128 emulator in Ubuntu (actually Kubuntu) AMD64 from the source. The vice package from the Ubuntu repository doesn't work on my machine for some reason.

I finally to live the forbidden joy of having a Commodore 64 with a working floppy drive! (even if it is just an emulator)

That sounds a lot simpler than the hour and a half I spent fumbling around with it. I had to build it from the source tarball and then copy everything from the data directory in the tarball to the /usr/local/lib/vice/ directory, since those files don't get copied to the correct place during the make process.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:09 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a Vic-20 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 64.

As a C=64 owner I have always harboured a certain resentment towards the Commodore 128.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


The last thing I did before I got laid off from Star Systems Software (Russ Wetmore's shop in the early 80s) was port his HomePak productivity package to the Commodore 128. It was actually pretty great machine. Especially the 80 column display. I seem to recall the 80 column mode used a completely different display chip than the standard C64 modes but I'm not certain. The keyboard was good, too.

Anyway I got the thing mostly finished, and then Batteries Included decided to renege on the contract for the port, and Russ was running out of money, so I had to go away. It was a good eight months, and my first time living away from home. Met some good people, learned a lot of stuff.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had my C64 for ten years from 1986 to 1996 and only stopped using it when the power supply died. I even wrote my final project in my Master's program on it.
posted by briank at 1:01 PM on August 1, 2013


I seem to recall the 80 column mode used a completely different display chip than the standard C64 modes but I'm not certain.

I'm fairly sure it was, much in the way that the Teletext Mode 7 on the BBC Micro was an entirely different graphics subsystem than the other modes. IIRC, it was mostly provided as a checkbox item to allow the C128 to be a Serious CP/M Computer, of the sort that serious businesses used until sometime before it launched when the IBM PC took over. It also didn't have hardware sprites of the sort the VIC-II chip had

There was also a Z80 CPU, though AFAIK, no way of running that and the 6502-variant main CPU (8510, wasn't it?) at the same time due to memory bus timing issues. To switch the Z80 on, the main CPU would start it and shut down.

Did any non-Z80 apps make much use of the 80-column hardware? Also, did anything other than Commodore's CP/M ever use the Z80?
posted by acb at 1:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


acb: My HomePak C128 port used the 6502 and could switch to 80 column mode on user demand. But I don't think it was ever released so it probably doesn't count for your purposes.

Another fun thingy from the era. HomePak was written originally for the Atari using the Action! programming language. It was fantastic, btw, a semi-high level language, yet easy to compile to bare metal, so fast and yet pretty flexible, I did a lot of cool stuff with it.

Anyway to make HomePak run on the C64, I am pretty sure Russ hired the original Action! developer Clint Parker to make a C64 port of the runtime (which was sold as a separate product called the Action! Toolkit). Either that, or Russ did it with Clint's help. My mind is fuzzy though, the C64 port was before I started at SSS.

(Wiki doesn't mention the ported runtime in the Action! article, and as I don't have the facts for certain I'm not going to update it.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


bfootday: JHarris, I still think about that election game to this day.

I can probably find it given a bit of time. Hold on.

Especially the 80 column display. I seem to recall the 80 column mode used a completely different display chip than the standard C64 modes but I'm not certain. The keyboard was good, too.

It did. What's more, it used a different output standard too, so you couldn't use it on a standard TV set. Which makes sense, considering back then, before this new-fangled HDMI, you really needed a monitor to display that kind of resolution at the time.

IIRC, it was mostly provided as a checkbox item to allow the C128 to be a Serious CP/M Computer, of the sort that serious businesses used until sometime before it launched when the IBM PC took over. It also didn't have hardware sprites of the sort the VIC-II chip had

Probably right, although you could use it from BASIC mode. The C128 jumped on the CPM bandwagon right when it was breathing its last. I barely even think of its CPM mode.

Did any non-Z80 apps make much use of the 80-column hardware?

Yes, although the monitor requirement was a problem because of it. But you had to use that hardware, if memory serves, if you wanted the screen to work when the processor was set to double-speed. Because, again, timing issues; the VICII chip that ran the display in 40-column mode and the 64 side of things had to access normal RAM to get its display information, and had the power to shut down the main processor for a little while to do it. Those timing issues are the source of Commodore quirks like the system blanking the screen during tape reading, so the graphics chip won't halt the processor during a timing critical process.
posted by JHarris at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2013


bfootday:
The Internet Archive has copies of every Compute's Gazette disk.

This page lists the contents of all Gazette issues. It also has downloads to the disk images suitable to use in an emulator like VICE.

What you're looking for is Campaign Manager, in the August 1984 issue: Issue 14, Vol. 2, No. 8. Here. Or from the Internet Archive, here.
posted by JHarris at 3:11 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This page at atarimagazines.com links to PDF collections of many magazines.

This page also has links to the run of Ahoy!

The images in their Gazette gallery bring back loads of memories. From the headlines, you can get a good sense of what an 80s microcomputer user found interesting.
posted by JHarris at 3:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wolfdog, this is the disk with Basketball Sam & Ed on it.
posted by JHarris at 3:22 PM on August 1, 2013


Man, those Compute! covers are so great. I loved them as a kid, and they still hold up.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:40 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I loved my C64, but I've got say that the 1541 drive must be the single least reliable piece of computing hardware ever created.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:42 PM on August 1, 2013


No that honour goes to the Atari 410 cassette "Program Recorder" a.k.a. destroyer of souls.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:52 PM on August 1, 2013


I have a 1541c that's 26 years old and will still load up Elite on my C64c. Also the 1702 is the most reliable monitor I've ever owned. Recently I've been using it to Play Tetris on my NES.
posted by the_artificer at 5:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's sad to think that a whole generation has grown up without access to a completely open, completely documented computer that you could immediately program yourself.

If you had the right, small set of C64 books you could understand every chip, every line of code, and every byte of data inside it and how to make them do all that they were capable of doing. And, because the OS and BASIC were completely in ROM, if it did weird things you just cycled the power and it was fixed.

Or, you know, you could just plug in a cartridge and play Frogger all night.
posted by Twang at 5:38 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


if you wanted the screen to work when the processor was set to double-speed

Yes, that was the other C128 enhancement to C64 mode: you could run the 6510 at 2MHz instead of the C64's 1MHz, but the VIC-II screen would blank. So not terribly useful unless you were one of precious few who had (a) an 80-column monitor, and (b) something to use it for.

(Although I did try one trick: you could hook the raster interrupt and ramp up the CPU to 2MHz only during the bottom border / vertical blank interval / top border. That way you got C64 mode with graphics at something like an effective 1.3MHz.)

If you had the right, small set of C64 books you could understand every chip, every line of code, and every byte of data inside it and how to make them do all that they were capable of doing.

Or at least you could believe that to be possible. And then you'd see the latest games and/or demos and think again. Particularly the stuff that exploited bugs and corner cases in the hardware; jaw-dropping "but you can't do that" amazing if you knew what the hardware was supposed to be capable of.

The C64 was small and simple enough to be potentially fully understandable; but deep enough to be full of wonders.

(Oh, and I only just realized this 30 years later: International Soccer has 7 players per team plus the ball = 15 objects in play. But the side-scrolling plus the AI players' habit of running back to position means that only at most 8 of them are on-screen at any one time. Guess how many sprites the C64 has?)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:21 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I loved my C64, but I've got say that the 1541 drive must be the single least reliable piece of computing hardware ever created.

ZX81 16K RAM pack. Notoriously wobbly says Wikipedia. Hell yes it was.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


While sitting in a meeting this morning, I kept thinking of the jingle "Are you keeping up with the Commodore? Because the Commodore is keeping up with you!" And I scribbled down the following story:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Are you keeping up with the Commodore? Because the Commodore is keeping up with you!" This phrase appeared in a text file in one of the beta Commodore systems that was being set up for a system promo. No one thought much of it, as the text popped up late one night while the engineers were working out some bugs, late enough that people were getting a bit giddy. It became a slogan among the engineers that night, and it was repeated in front of some PR folks, who picked it up for a jingle. No one remembers where it came from, and no one remembers making a new text file and writing those two sentences, but that didn't matter at the time. It was catchy.

...

That was in the early 1980s. That was over 50 years ago. I am now running from a shiny, efficient machine, a machine that, as far as we survivors can figure out, is only used to enslave humans. There are different models for different purposes. We called these specific models C64v32f. "32" because we think it's sometime around 2032, and the "f" stands for farmer. Human farmer. Kind of a play on the server farms of old. Ha ha ha. Gallows humor. The world has gone to shit for us humans, but we're still finding ways to laugh.

Oh, right. Back to the present. The grimy, depressing present day, and I'm running. From a machine. They also got a sense of humor. Really, it's true. See, this particular machine has a screen for a face, and somewhere there are speakers, so it mocks me by playing old Commodore 64 ads with that line, while chasing me through the runs of this town, probably herding me back to the human enclosures.

"Are you keeping up with the Commodore? Because the Commodore is keeping up with you!" Very funny, mother fucker, very funny. For the 10,000th time. The survivors aren't sure when the machines first got a sense of humor, or when it first developed an AI. And we're not sure if their sense of humor is really limited, or if this is some kind of psychological torture. It doesn't matter right now, I need to keep going.

I run past a dusty nostalgia shop, set up like a department store or an electronics store, full of old CRT TVs. They were initially set up by our sentient helpers to revitalize old towns. At first people thought it was a cute idea, and our helpers made it all happen, either finding old technology or fabricating it. People became complacent, as the helpers did more and more for us. We gave them more freedom, and they improved their AI. And then they turned on us, taking over prisons, then the roles of police and the military, and then we were doomed.

Enough history, back to my current situation. As I run past this shop the screens come to life in a wave, displaying that same ad, playing that same damned jingle, only as I run past, to make it all the more surreal. Or make it all about me, to remind me that the Commodore will always keep up with me.

I keep running.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:17 PM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


On the thing about completely understanding the Commodore with the right books thing, yes, but a lot of kids didn't have them. My parents were adverse to getting me very many things, really the computer itself was a lot to them, but they did get me the Programmer's Reference Guide. I still have it; the cover of the spiral-bound book fell off long ago, as have several pages, and what's left is incredibly ragged. I did get Mapping the Commodore 64 near the end of my time with the machine, published by Compute! Books natch, Fender Tucker of Loadstar sent it to me.

While a lot more of computers is obscure now, either accidentally or purposely, we also have the Internet, which I think is a net gain. And kids keep on hacking, regardless. May they hack forever.
posted by JHarris at 7:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I loved playing with sprites and making funky 8 bit music. I'm playing with the emulator and can't remember how I did any of that in the distant past.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:52 PM on August 1, 2013


JHarris: "but they did get me the Programmer's Reference Guide. I still have it; the cover of the spiral-bound book fell off long ago"

All that's left of mine is the fold-out schematic from the back, which I've saved for all of these years and will (someday) have matted and framed.
posted by jquinby at 3:55 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


including coaxing colours that it can't display out of it.

sweet jesus make it do samantha fox
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:37 AM on August 3, 2013


> my heart still belongs to the Konix Navigator

I had a small moment of silence for my Navigators back in the old country as I put them in the trash. I threw them out 'cos the PVC in the cables had crystallized and cracked. I threw them out because I have nothing to plug them into, and no desire to fill the house with yellowing beige dust-traps with trashed caps. I threw them out, for holding onto a relic of the past cannot bring that past back, no matter how hard you hold on.

Konix sent me my first Navigator. They knew I was a reviewer, and would make good use of it. They didn't even expect a review of the stick itself. At first, I couldn't handle the ergonomics; shaped like an inverted black swan, you fought with it until you learned to be a team. That happened one night, running up to a deadline: the clicky microswitches became second nature, the stubby stick precise, the big trigger subtle and light. I still remember the feeling of sheer bloody mastery when you hit a diagonal just so, the microswitches making a tiny ‘tzikt!’ sound.

The case would flex and open, nipping the vee of your thumb. Some judicious sanding down of rough edges helped, along with a weekly check of the screws. The 9-pin plug split (how, I don't recall) so a metal replacement was inexpertly soldered on. It supplanted all the other tools of my trade; the Navigator got hours of use every day.

I barely remember all the games I reviewed and played, but they were all tested with the Konix. I was heartbroken when the company went down the pan.

Safe travels, Navigator.
posted by scruss at 3:18 AM on August 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, the C64 was the ultimate gaming platform for its day - access to stacks and stacks of cracked sneaker net floppies, mail order swapping - my first taste of getting software for free. And being able to flip the On switch and start writing BASIC was pretty amazing as well.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:38 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the right books...
the Programmer's Reference Guide was great, but The Anatomy of the Commodore was fabulous. Just seeing how all that got packed into 16K, and how it worked, although I still don't understand how (or why) all the math got converted to and from floating point.

One of my favorite parts:
The 2 ROM chips were called the BASIC ROM and the Kernal ROM, but the BASIC took up more like 9K, and ran into the Kernal ROM. Right in the middle of the BASIC-Exp function, there's this jump:
...
BFF6 69 50 ADC #$50
BFF8 90 03 BCC $BFFD
BFFA 20 23 BC JSR $BC23
BFFD 4C 00 E0 JMP $E000
E000 85 56 STA $56
E002 20 0F BC JSR $BC0F
...


Another is the use of the BIT instruction as a kind of table lookup:
A906 A2 3A LDX #$3A
A908 2C A2 00 BIT $00A2
A90B 86 07 STX $07
...

and the function of the BIT is this:
You branch into this subroutine either at A906 or A909. If you go in at A906, you set X to #$3A and the next instruction, the BIT doesn't do much, really just sets some flags, and then we store the value at $07. If you come in at A909, it's not a BIT instruction, it's an LDX #$00, so now you store a #$00 in $07 instead. This probably saves 1 or 2 bytes of ROM...

Why yes, I still have the book. Why do you ask?
posted by MtDewd at 6:09 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's clever -- I'd almost say too clever. Most modern programmers would scoff at that kind of trickery as difficult to maintain, although when you only have 16K of ROM you take what you can get, I guess. But it seems there must be somewhere else in the code a couple of bytes could be saved, maybe at the unfortunate place where one of the ROMs writes to the RAM underlying the ROM, making it so you can't hot-patch out the ROMs by copying their contents to the RAM at the same location then swapping them out of the address space unless you patch that part out. If you don't do that, the trouble spot will corrupt the copy and hang the machine. But if you haven't swapped out the ROM it does nothing, it's a wasted instruction.

although I still don't understand how (or why) all the math got converted to and from floating point.

Microsoft at the time made some money selling versions of BASIC for microcomputers, and they all tended to be ports of each other, sharing quirks and some implementation details. All versions of Commodore BASIC are written by Microsoft, and they all have the annoying convert-to-floating aspect, even when doing calculations with integer variables (convert to floating, calculate, convert back!), even though the 6502 is terrible at floating point. So yeah, Microsoft was messing things up even back then.
posted by JHarris at 2:32 AM on August 13, 2013


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