Load 'Great Memories',8,1

The Commodore 64 turns 30 today. Reams of copy have been written in tribute to this machine. It wasn't the first personal computer, but it truly was one that democratized them to millions of middle-class households. Releasing in August, 1982, it stepped into the breach a year later, when console video gaming, as we knew it then, utterly collapsed.

Epyx offered an impressive selection of titles, particularly in Jumpman and its Olympics series (and spinoffs of both.) Activision survived the crash in large part because it leaped from the dying Intellivision and Atari platforms to the 64 and other home computers, producing titles like Ghostbusters, Hacker, The Great American Cross-Country Road Race and Alcazar: The Forgotten Fortress.

For me, though, the best example of the Commodore 64 as both a computer and a video game platform for the masses could be found in the back of Compute!'s Gazette, a magazine that launched about six months after the computer, published not far from where I grew up, in Greensboro, N.C. A spinoff nameplate from the main Compute magazine, the Gazette served Commodore 64 users only. By far its greatest feature was the dozen or so programs in the back of the magazine, many of them games.

These came with a cost. First, you had to type them in. That could take the better part of a Saturday, depending on the size of one (The Enchanted Journey, an extraordinarily sophisticated adventure game for the format, was one. I never finished entering it.) There were also helper programs like "Automatic Proofreader" (for BASIC programs) and "MLX" (a machine-language compiler), that also had to be entered — and themselves subjected to a helper program to verify their code. Sometimes Compute!'s Gazette published with errors in the code printed in the back, which led to agonizing syntax errors with no identifiable solution. Oil Tycon, a kind of inverted Dig-Dug, was another game I never got to work.

But there were so many others that did. Bagdad, Basketball Sam & Ed, The Frantic Fisherman, Sno-Cat, Cabby. And there was also a gaming application to Compute!'s Gazette's finest contribution ever — the word processor SpeedScript, by Charles Brannon. One day when my brother was home from boarding school he showed me how to use it to edit rosters in Hardball!, another title that makes old Commodore 64 gamers swoon.

My brother and I both had 64s. We got ours on discount from our next-door neighbour, the buyer for a catalogue showroom who let us refurbish a couple of returns (learning how to use a soldering iron in the process) and pay half price or close to it. When it was all over, I had a Commodore 64, two latch-gate 1541 drives and a dot-matrix 1526 printer.

I took that rig with me to college and was typing papers on it as late as 1993. It nourished my interest in writing as well as video games, and I know I'm not the only one who came to love both through the Commodore 64. Happy birthday, to a lifelong family friend.


Comments

    Godspeed sweet prince. To you and your legacy, Godspeed.

    Typing in games? And I thought trying to get those cassettes to load was bad enough.

    Ah the 1526! I had one of too, and whenever I printed something my kitten would rush to lay on top of it, jumping everytime there was the jolt of the printer head returning to the other side. Cracked me up every time!

    And for those of us who didn't live in the USA during that period...

    1. Substitute "great console gaming crash" with "Crash? What crash?"
    2. Substitute "Compute Gazette" with "Zzap 64".

    Zzap rocked back in the day. Now THAT was a gaming mag.

      Yeah, that was a great mag. I loved their approach to reviews where they had 2 or 3 different reviewers giving an opinion on each game rather than just a single viewpoint.

        not quite,
        substitute '“Compute Gazette” for "COMPUTE"
        then add 'ZZAP 64' and 'C&VG' for games.
        Compute was a programmer/hobbyist pub, not games focused.
        I miss my VIC 20....

    I'll never forget coming home to start the school holidays when mum surprised us by opening the boot of the car to reveal a brand spanking new Commodore 64 she had just bought. Being our first computer/gamesconsole the excitement of knowing I have the whole holidays to play was pretty special at the time.

    They also printed BASIC programs in CSIRO's "Double Helix" magazine. A page or more of code could get a bouncing ball to appear on screen, or a program to simulate shuffling a deck of cards.

    Ahh, memories.

    I had a Vic-20 and was insanely jealous of the Commodore 64 crowd with all that RAM. The program listings *always* had typos and errors. They would publish the corrections the following month, by which point you'd have spent hours trying to find the error (which was probably just two transposed numbers in a POKE command somewhere) and then given up and forgotten about the damn thing. But some of the listings turned out to be great games - my personal favourite was one called "Speedski" written by Jeff Minter.

    Wow !
    Fun Times back then... C64 Rules!

      I typed in Speedski also. Loved that game.

    Having never owned one myself, but my friends did, I was automatically always at their house haha.

    Played through so many good games, but one program in particular that still stood out
    was the ability to make your own side or forward scrolling games :). Painting sprites with the joystick,
    It was called Blanc 'something'. I remember making a 5 level space invader type of game with
    my friends called Mega Pan. (Like mega man, only hes a frying pan) With impossible boss fights on each level. Ah good times. Wonder if that tape would still exist in someones garage somewhere.

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