The Commodore 64 has turned 30 this year! First showcased in January 1982, and selling from August, the Commodore 64 was the first computer for a whole generation of 80’s kids.
Unlike the neighborhood cool kids with their Nintendos Entertainment Systems and their Sega Master Systems, my parents would never consider buying such a ‘toy’ console system that can only play games. Why would they, when they could just as easily get a whole computer, which is bound to be more educational.
So the Commodore 64 is what I got, and 25 years later, I have to admit, my parents probably made the right choice. Although I was on the sidelines during the birth of some of the most enduring video game franchises of all time (Sonic, Mario, Zelda?), and was instead stuck looking at this blue-on-blue “Ready” prompt, all was not lost!
To get a game to start, you had to put in the disk (or tape!) and then type in an exact sequence of characters. As an added bonus, exactly what you needed to type varied from game to game. Helpfully, this was usually printed on the disk or box that the game came with. A typical sequence looked like: LOAD”*”,8,1 (enter). Then wait for a few seconds or minutes, and after it says “READY” (we only had caps in those days, kids) you type the magic: “RUN”.
It wasn’t long before I began wondering why I needed to type these exact sequences, and stare at the cryptic messages I would get if I mistyped a character, or used the wrong command sequence to load a particular game. This lead me to figuring out (through slow discovery) how to program in the C64’s built in BASIC to create really terrible games, or even really terrible mods of existing games, since some of those were also written in BASIC and could be edited directly.
But enough about me. I wasn’t alone in this experience. Many of the game developers working today on the latest Call of Duty or Might and Magic game, began by playing with the Commodore 64. From the older crowd, some of today’s game industry leaders (like Sid Meier, Will Wright, and Peter Molyneux) got their start by programming in 1- and 2-man bands on the Commodore 64. The C64 literally taught a generation of geeks how to create games.
Unlike Nintendo and Sega, Commodore were not game ‘publishers’, they just sold the hardware. Nor did they restrict or control it’s game market. Despite hundreds of fantastic games over it’s lifespan, interestingly (and I have been racking my brain for a couple of hours over this), I can’t think of any enduring characters that are still around today (ala Sonic and Mario) that began on the C64. In fact, there are barely even any franchises – the only one I can think of is SimCity.
That’s not to say there weren’t characters on the C64. We just don’t see them in new games today. I went and tracked down the star of one of my favorite games, just for you: Monty Mole.
I find this fascinating, and certainly serves as an insight into why “1st party publishing” is so important on the consoles today: companies like Microsoft and Sony still want to be generating profits on their entertainment divisions 25 years from now, and by looking 25 years in the past, they’ve seen that 1st party IP has the most enduring power.
It’s nostalgia time. I have saved the best for last. The Commodore 64 has far too many fantastic and unique games for me to discuss here, although I will list some of my favorites – Archon, Paradroid, Valhalla, Lode Runner, Ghostbusters, Mission Impossible, Pirates!, Bruce Lee, Way of the Exploding Fist, Defender of The Crown, Raid over Moscow, Snokie, …. I could go on.
Youtube, however, is fantastic for reliving the nostalgia of some of these classic games. I highly recommend taking your favorite game, and searching for the “C64 longplay” of it. It’s time well spent. Especially if (like me) you were very very young when you played some of them, and never saw past the first couple of screens! I will leave you with a classic “100 Commodore 64 games in 10 minutes” montage. How many do you recognise?