Commodore 64

Commodore 64According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Commodore 64 still stands today as the best selling computer of all time. Its revolutionary graphic and sound chips combined with an insanely affordable price propelled the Commodore line of computers into the history books. Its 15,000+ game library didn’t hurt, either.

In the early 1980’s, three major companies competed for the exploding home computer market. While IBM marketed their computers to businessmen and Apple infiltrated the school system, the Commodore 64 shined in one very specific area: games. With a video chip (VIC) that produced an unmatched 320 x 240 resolution and 16 simultaneous colors and a sound chip (SID) capable of 3 independent voices, Commodore games quickly surpassed the games available for other computers. In fact, it was not uncommon for Apple and IBM games to feature Commodore screenshots in their marketing materials. Many people never got past the image of the Commodore 64 as a “gaming console with a disk drive.”

The Commodore 64 launched in 1982 for $595 and had dropped to $200 by 1983 (compare to the Apple IIe, which sold for $1395 in 1983). The basic system came with 64k of RAM and had BASIC and DOS built in. The Commodore 64 could be hooked to a monitor or directly to your television through an RF adapter. Games were available in three formats: cartridge, cassette tape (more prevalent in Europe), or disk drive (more prevalent in the US). One of the handiest features of the Commodore 64 was its compatibility with Atari 2600 joysticks.

The Commodore 64 wasn’t without problems. For one, Commodore systems tended to run hot. Really hot. I personally owned two fans for my system, one for the computer’s power supply and the other for my disk drive. Another big complaint early in the system’s life was the slow disk drive access times, a problem that was virtually eliminated with Epyx’s Fast Load Cartridge (and several clones that followed).

The Commodore 64 appeared in several variations over the years. In 1985, Commodore released the Commodore 128 (which could be started in either C64 or C128 mode). The Commodore 64 also appeared in a 25-pound portable version (the SX-64), and in a sleeker case which resembled the C128 and Amiga (called the Commodore 64C). Software and peripherals were completely interchangeable between these models. Later computers in the Commodore line, including the Commodore Plus 4 and the Commodore 16, would not run most Commodore 64 programs – and their sales reflected this.

In 1985, Commodore released the Amiga 1000, a spiritual successor to the Commodore 64. The Amiga contained even better graphics and sound capabilities than the Commodore 64 did, but many loyal Commodore 64 owners refused to give up their little beige boxes. 12 years after the launch of the 64, Commodore closed its doors and was eventually sold off in 1995.

While my dad had both an Apple II and an IBM XT in the living room, I had a Commodore 64 in my bedroom. I spent many nights not only playing the latest games, but talking to friends via BBSs and of course, trading games (which wasn’t nearly the big deal it is today). From Archon to Zork, I set out to play every one of those 15,000 titles. Throughout the 10 years I had my Commodore hooked up, I got through about 4,000 of them.

In an age of gigabits and gigahertz, it’s amazing that a machine that runs at 1 megahertz and holds 180k per floppy still has fans. Not only is new Commodore 64 software constantly appearing, but new pieces of hardware are appearing as well. Did you know you could connect a Commodore 1541 disk drive to your PC and transfer games back and forth? There are also devices available that allow you to connect IDE hard drives to your C64. There’s even a broadband adapter and new operating system that will allow your Commodore 64 to run TCP/IP and access the Internet! Tulip Computers, the current owners of the Commodore brand name, have even released a “30-in-1” Joystick, with 30 classic Commodore 64 games in one easy to play package. The popularity and legacy of the Commodore 64 is undeniable.

The majority of this section of Phosphor Dot Fossils focuses on what made the Commodore 64 so great and what kept it alive all those years – the games. Whether you prefer emulation or the real thing, you owe it to yourself to check out the games on this list. For nearly a decade, the Commodore 64 was the gaming system to which all other computer games were compared, many of which still hold up today.

Commodore 64