Are you keeping up with the Commodore 64?
Are you keeping up with the Commodore 64? Because it’s keeping up with you, even on its 35th birthday.
Much like a first love or a first car, some people never forget their first computer. For many Australians that first computer was the Commodore 64 (C64), a revolutionary machine that took computers from being “something parents used to do work stuff” to being the go-to computer for the general populace, spawning a generation of programmers, musicians, artists and gamers. Thirty-five years later, that first brush with computer addiction is as strong as ever.
Let’s celebrate C64’s birthday by taking a look back at what is coined “the machine for the masses, not the classes”.
Commodore: The birth of personal computers
Commodore International was originally known for their successful range of calculators. However, as the story goes, when Commodore’s lead designer told owner Jack Tramiel that calculators were dead and computers were the way of the future, Tramiel told him to go ahead and build one – simply to prove the point.
Amid the strong competition in the personal computer market, Commodore achieved a spectacular series of firsts. They beat the likes of Apple and Radio Shack, becoming the first major company to launch a personal computer – the Commodore PET 2001 (Personal Electronic Transactor). They were also the first to sell a million computers before anyone else. No single computer model, including the MacBook and all of its offshoots, has sold more than the Commodore 64 model. And the first true multimedia computer, the Amiga, came from Commodore.
Despite these impressive milestones, Commodore doesn’t receive the credit it deserves for being a pioneer of the tech world.
The revolutionary mechanics and features of the C64
- VIC II graphics chip – a dedicated piece of graphics hardware that allowed (then) arcade quality visuals and is still being pushed to new limits today
- SID music chip – an early sound synthesiser that allowed for three notes to be played at once, and could even be coerced into playing digitised samples – the start of electronic music for many people
- 64k of RAM – this was much more than the competition offered, and allowed for more complex programs including games, office applications and even desktop publishing
- Affordable price – much cheaper than the competition and offered more value
- Thousands of excellent games – with even more coming out every month for the last 35 years as enterprising developers take on the challenge of making something fun that will run on a very (very) low spec machine.
Inspiring the masses
The humble Commodore 64 was equal parts tool, entertainer and teacher, and those who grew up using it went on to shape the music, art and gaming world. Coders from the 80’s will often point to the C64 as the machine which helped catapult the demoscene, while budding computer artists loved its raw power and would collaborate to crunch code, pushing the system to its ultimate limit.
The demoscene was not so much about creating narratives or art, but more about using the code to enable audio visual immersion. Many demoscene musicians such as Jeroen Tel, Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard also worked on many video games and are still active in the industry today.
By 2017 computing standards, the C64 seems like a dinosaur. But the Commodore 64 isn’t dead. More new games are being made for the C64 every month now than there were in the ’90s. The scene is still alive through gaming websites, in music (new and old), magazines and in the memories of those who owned (and still own) them.
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Image credit: By Bill Bertram (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
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