I still hear the song from the commercial every time I see one.

The Commodore 64 is 30 years old.

I still hear the song from the commercial every time I see one.

I owe my career as a tech support wizard to my Dad and his decision to purchase a Commodore 64 way back when I was but a young teenager. He intended it to be used by everyone in the family, but it wasn’t long before I was monopolizing the machine. The love affair started off slowly because in the beginning all we had was the tape drive for loading software and it was an agonizingly slow experience. I’d often start a program loading and then go off and make lunch, watch something on TV, play with some friends, and then come back to find it was only halfway through the process. Things improved dramatically when he brought home a 1541 floppy disk drive and load times went from infinity to mere minutes.

Things opened up even more when someone, I don’t recall if it was my parents or myself, bought the 1660 300 baud modem for the machine and I discovered the world of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). Long before I ever started SEB I used to run a BBS on my trusty Commodore 64 (later Commodore 128 and eventually Amiga) with just two 1541 Disk Drives (170K each!). Later I added a Buscard II IEEE which allowed me to utilize four Commodore SFD 1001 floppy drives that could hold 1.02 megabytes each! Yes, back in the heady days of 1983 my little C64 BBS could store a massive 4.08 megabytes at once!

Introduced in January of 1982 for $595 (roughly $1,110.26 in today’s dollars) I was reminded of this event by the BBC which did an article about it the other day because it officially hit shelves in August of that year. Go check out their article as it contains a video clip where an old-timer shows his vintage C64 to some kids to get their reaction to it. You’ll note that he’s loading games from a tape drive instead of a 1541 floppy drive. I can recall seeing C64 magazines imported from the UK that often had free games on tapes long after everyone I knew in the U.S. had moved up to floppies. Turns out they came up with all manner of ways to compress the hell out of programs on tape which made loading from a tape drive a little more bearable so they kept using them. While the 1541 floppy was faster it had its own problems that kept it from being as fast as it should have been which led to Epyx games putting out the wildly successful FastLoad Cartridge which pretty much everyone in the States who gamed on a C64 ended up buying.


Turn on captions to see game names. Though two of them are incorrect (e.g. M.U.L.E is listed, but wasn’t the game shown).

Speaking of gaming, the Commodore 64 was a large part of the reason I’ve never owned a Nintendo game console of any kind. When the video game market crashed in 1983 it looked like the end of console gaming until Nintendo’s NES game out in 1985 and revitalized the market. By that time I’d been gaming on the Commodore 64 for a couple of years and there wasn’t a whole lot on the NES that appealed to me. In fact, had the market not crashed I don’t know if I’d have gotten as into the C64 as I did. Games on the Atari 2600 pretty much dried up after the collapse and that moved my attention to the Commodore (we picked up an Atari 5200 just before it all went to hell, but I never owned more than 5 games for it).

By the time I moved to an Amiga in late 1985 I had owned at least three Commodore 64s (one for the BBS, one for general use, and a replacement when one of the two died) and a Commodore 128, which was largely a C64 as very little software was ever made for 128 mode. I shut the BBS down in 1986 until I picked up an Amiga 2000 and started it back up for awhile only to turn it off for the final time in 1996 as the Internet started to come into general usage by the masses, but the C64 was where I cut my teeth on computing and first dabbled in programming.

Yes, the nostalgia is strong with this one. Watching the clip above of old games makes me want to fire up an emulator and see if I can’t track a few of them down. I don’t think I ever finished Impossible Mission. Which means the name was probably correct. Happy Birthday Commodore 64! You not only gave me hours of education and entertainment, but a career.

12 comments

  1. Ah yes I remember those years! Especially “Les for crying out loud come and eat your dinner!!!!” But I must admit having Momma’s Corner on the BBS was a lot of fun!

  2. Les… way to go to make me feel old.

    I started off with the Atari 400. Couldn’t stand the keyboard and eventually got the 800 with a tape drive. My final 8-bit computer was a 1200XL with 2 floppies. 300 bps and having my modem on redial to get on the popular BBS’s was fun. I have my Atari 1200XL in a box.

    Then moved on the Atari-ST series instead of the Amiga. I will admit I should have went with the Amiga. Topped out at 19.2 kbps dial-up Internet. I sill have my Mega-ST in a box with a whopping 52 MB hard disc!!!

    After several used Macs (not paying full price of Apple stuff… I’m not rich)… I am now writing this on Mac OS X running on PC hardware I built myself. I run Windows 7 on the other hard disc. However, Apple is pushing me towards PC because its latest stuff is REALLY dumbed down. I liked Mac OS X because of the option to fooling around with its flavor of BSD Unix, but now they are turning Mac OS into a giant iPad. I’m not sure if Windows 8 will be any better though, so I heard they are also trying to unify desktop Windows with handhelds.

    It’s hard to believe it’s only just a bit over 3 decades. Look how long vinyl records stayed on the market compared with CDs. Things move so fast nowadays.

  3. I was in Costco the other day and saw 3 TERAbytes for $120.
    Does any one else remember the hype when the estimated world storage capacity passed 1TB?
    Robert (very old) Estrada

  4. I started with Atari 8-bit, (Used) better chipset, insufficient memory, and the same people who designed the Atari 400/800 worked on the Amiga for an encore. When Jack Tramiel was shown the unwelcome mat at Commodore, he bought the husk of Atari from Time-Warner and poached some engineers, so the 520/1040ST was C-64ish. Back in the late 80s, a clever programmer wrote a bouncing ball demo that looked like Amiga’s, but ran on a 48K 800, of course, the 800 was doing nothing else while the demo ran. Home computer history seems very much clever folks, building on the work of others, “Ooh, look what the Steve’s did, I bet that if I did this a little different, it would be better.”, over and over again. Now writing this on a two year old Mac mini, with a million time more memory than that first, second hand Atari.

  5. I still have a Vic 20 with homemade wire wrapped 5K ram expansion.
    A C64 computer 1541 floppy drive and an Amiga 500 that I eventually got a 5 megabyte scsi hard drive for it and I was in heaven!
    The first MS DOS machine I owned was a Commodore Colt 8086 based with I think a 16MB mfm 5 1/4 full height hard disk, monochrome /amber display. I still have that too!

  6. We were a C64 family as well. I used it for my university essays, which was a hell of a lot easier than trying to write stuff on a manual typewriter. We had a copy of Impossible Mission, but I’m not sure whether we actually bought it or not. I think my brother got it from a friend, and given what copy protection would have been like in those days it may have been a copy. Amazing that you could get “realistic” voices out of it. We also had some game on a cartridge whose name escapes me. The actual cartridge came apart pretty soon after we got it, but you could still stick the enclosed circuit board into the C64′s card slot and play the game.

    The machine’s SID sound chip was popular enough that it was used for a stand alone instrument, Elektron’s SIDstation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elektron_SidStation

  7. You said above “I owe my career as a tech support wizard to my Dad and his decision to purchase a Commodore 64″. How come?! Please write and post a short program in Commodore 64 BASIC which draws a single line on the hires or lores graphics screen. No machine code allowed, only Commodore BASIC V2. On Atari 400/800/XL/XE computers this can be done quite easily using the commands GRAPHICS [number], POSITION [X,Y] or PLOT [X,Y], COLOR [number], and DRAWTO [X,Y]. Other computers have similar commands, but NOT the Commodore 64!

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