...Love letter book to video games on the Commodore 64...

C64 Memories

The first time I heard (Read, more like.) about Commodore's home / personal computer was in a bi-monthly magazine (Teknik Magazinet) that reported on all kinds of technology that was new and on its way. Plus all the stuff that we're still waiting for. But one theme returned issue after issue. Video games. Something about "playing games" at home instead of at the arcades (Nearly 90 kilometers away!) fascinated me and the imagination ran wild around what the games could be and look like. This was in 1984 and I was an 11 year old shit-kid. That same magazine started reviewing games later that year and the descriptions just made everything so much more attractive - Arcade games, adventure games, simulators, sports, you name it. And in other magazines were all those Commodore 64 ads that did their best to entice the consumers. It worked. It worked extremely well... But the price tag was at least one hundred times higher than what a dumbass kid could afford - Even if the allowance had been saved every week for years. The occasional daytime paper round didn't do much good for the economy either, so motivation faded and died a quick death. A new strategy had to be developed - The one of the notoriously ineffective "persuasion of parents"-kind.

The difficult part was being able to explain why the household needed this machine. It was a battle of losses on all fronts. At the time, two class-mates of mine had the Intellivision and another dude had a Philips G7000, but everybody could see that the Commodore 64-games looked and sounded ("On paper", that is.) far better and way more interesting. And then that 1985 boom happened. And 1986 was the chain reaction. I think it was in late fall / around Christmas '86 when the NES was released over here. Sure, Ice Climber looked a bit nice and everything, but when I saw a C64 in a store window, I fell madly in love. It was showing Summer Games II, and I just felt on a genetic level that I needed that machine in my life. I wanted it close to me. But that price tag... My dad was with me that time, and he didn't look that impressed as usual. He too commented the "ridiculously high price". 1987 crept closer and I read everything I ever could about the C64 - Game reviews, editorials, articles... Just to find out a bit more... I semi-unintentionally probably drove my parents crazy with my ramblings about how great this computer was and how it was everything I needed. They didn't believe me, of course. I'm just saying: If my non-existing kid... Never mind.

That same summer, my dads co-worker bought an Amiga 1000 that cost a fortune. This was relatively early into the C64-craze, so the Amiga had barely taken off. But during one afternoon, he demoed the "technical wonder" and we played some games on it like S.D.I. and Barbarian. But I simply didn't feel the same way about the Amiga as the C64, which almost half of my bloody classmates had started getting for birthdays and such. I made an attempt to explain that the C64 didn't even cost a fifth of what the Amiga cost, plus that the games could be copied on ordinary music cassettes - Forty games on one tape. That too fell on deaf ears for some utterly strange reason. Then, there was that fateful February evening after school when one of the aforementioned classmates invited some of us nurdes for an evening of gaming. He loaded up Ghostbusters, the game that I had read about. And it was even better than I had imagined. And Rambo - First Blood: Part II. Yie-Ar Kung Fu. Commando. For the next days, or even weeks, I could not stop thinking about the magic that I had experienced. The early to mid '87 was getting excruciating, and in a desperate attempt to get closer to the goal, I tried to save up some money. Luckily, all of my friends and acquaintances had a C64 at that point so any time we were hanging around someone's place, we played a few games or ten. Until someone's mom chased us out. But I needed a C64 for myself. I was genuinely unhappy without one and truly felt like I was missing an extremely important part of history.

Later that summer, my mother inherited some money and suggested that we'd finally get... A Commodore 64. I was pretty sure I was dreaming, and I sure as hell didn't object. The following week, which was one of the last of the summer break, I could barely sleep with the excitement. I bought a five-pack of cassettes and so... On August the 14th, 1987, my dad and I went to a small retail store in town and swapped 1495 SEK (Around 150 Euro.) for an oblong white box containing endless joy and glimpses of true happiness. And the money that I somehow had managed to save? They were spent on a couple of original games, of course...

Sleep that following night was absolutely out of the question. Games were played. And copied. (Software piracy? What the hell was that?) Two days into the mania, my dad realized that he needed to buy another T.V., so I got a 14" Luxor, manufactured in Sweden, that lasted 17 years. (They built quality T.V.s here at that time. And we used that daily for a number of hours.) And the game hunt that commenced was legendary in both dedication and scope. Just like everything else I embrace, it became an obsession and it eventually took over my entire existence.

One guy claimed to be able to get 3000 games in one go. (In reality, it was more like 500-600.) More cassettes had to be bought. Or "found". And we copied each others' games like lunatics on smack. The first obstacle was The Last Ninja. The tape version was only one level. (Even if one of the idiots claimed that the entire game was in it.) It wasn't before I bought the original when I realized what multi-load was. Apparently, the disc versions were complete, but there was no way in hell I could afford a disc-drive as well. So there was no other choice than buying the good multi-load games and copy the single-load "Turbo"-copies. It's not like there weren't enough of those. Zzap!64 of course is a part of this era. It's the magazine that I bought a couple of times that year. It was expensive here in Sweden due to it being imported, but it was also light betters than the three or four that we had - Combined. If Zzap!64 recommended something, it was almost always exactly as good as they said it was. When Zzap!64 was 100% right about Hawkeye, those other magazines here were just wrong. (It was at this point I started wondering if some of the reviewers loved video games to begin with. Or if giving a good game a bad review was just simple attention-whoring.)

Around one year later, I had around 30 tapes with Turbo-games and approximately 30 original games. During the summer break, the obsession grew even worse and almost got real ugly. I needed everything. Last Ninja 2 was released around fall 1988, so that day, school was out of the question. As a matter of fact, it didn't even exist. I relocated myself to outside the "C64"-store that would sell it - I couldn't care less if I'd been caught for truancy. Last Ninja 2 was the only thing that mattered... And yes, it was the best game ever.

I stuck with the C64 for over a year after that. Finally, I ended up with 55-60 Turbo-tapes and 40-50-something originals. But just like many other geeks in the early 90's, I went over to the Amiga from the C64. In February 1990, to be more precise. But I had been drooling over one for almost half a year at that point and marveled at games like Xenon II, The Duel: Test Drive II, Hybris, IK+, and Battle Squadron. The first obstacle was obviously getting one or two disks for each game. Pirated, of course. Four 10-packs of discs were still cheaper than one game. I couldn't care less. (Although later, I bought some quality-games like Turrican 3, Another World and a few others.) But... I was maybe one year or so into the Amiga-era when I started missing the sounds of the SID-chip more and more. I just thought the game-music often wasn't that great anymore and more than often, musicians used the same free Soundtracker-samples... It all just felt cheap as hell. I don't even want to name more games than Simulcra, Legend Of The Lost, and that absolute piece of garbage Dynasty Wars. Slowly vanishing was also the variety of fun and well made games. Software piracy of course had something to do with the Amiga-developers abandoning ship, but many of the games weren't exactly fantastic before this escalated either.

^ To the top

And I also began missing the simplistic charm in the games that I had been playing daily before my brother inherited the C64. Luckily, it still worked for a couple of years before it crapped out on us and finally was beyond repair. It was a sad god damn day, for sure. We got a used C128 as a replacement, which only worked for a couple of years, mainly because the previous owner hadn't taken good care of it... Son of a bitch... Another thing that happened on the Amiga more often than on the C64 - False advertising and software houses not delivering what they initially promised in magazines and such. Many games weren't even released. Which, in hindsight, is... Sort of understandable... I lost interest in the Amiga-games altogether and started downloading and spreading demos and disk magazines instead.

So in 1992, I downloaded a C64 Music demo with some sweet tunes, and nostalgia hit hard like a motherfucker. And when the SID-player was released for Amiga, it was a done deal. Because you could download even more tunes. And when I went over to Windows 95 and a short P.C.-gaming era, SidPlay was already available as well as the High Voltage SID Collection... I don't know how many hours were spent listening on the fantastic tunes, but it was barely measurable in minutes.

Flash forward to when I started to get nostalgic and even misty eyed over the games that I just had no way of playing anymore. It was like a part of my personal history had been put in a storage. Which became totally unacceptable. Which made me think about the C64-days and the whole culture around it. The time when we made C64-fanzines in the late 80's / early 90's. Something had to be done. And since there were emulators for SEGA Mega Drive, SNES, and other gaming systems around 2000-2001, I figured that there just had to be a Commodore 64 one. Which there was. CCS64. Which I installed on a Windows XP-machine. Some disk-images had to be downloaded, and while it was fun to see the classics working fairly well, many games just didn't load up. Or they didn't feel like the real thing. And many games that I wanted to download weren't even available. And without a joystick or controller, the whole thing soon lost its charm. I was like teasing the soul. Or torturing, more like.

Flash forward half an eternity. (Or something.)

I tried hooking up my kidney-failure piss-yellow, cigarett-stinking C64 a couple of times only to notice that there was something wrong with it. (The yellow color and the cig-stench came from the months it was at some dude's place for "repairs".) Some keys didn't suddenly work and it had some kind of electrical malfunction that reset the machine at random. I loaded up Hawkeye once only to see if the SID-chip was functional. It was. Then it finally died (From shock?) and just didn't start anymore. Just like our old C128. I removed the SID-chip and threw away the computer along with all the pirated Turbo-games. I also thought about getting a C64 in Mint-condition with a 1541 disk drive and all the games that I needed. Soon, I realized that it wouldn't be possible to achieve - Mainly due to economic reasons. But there has also been shocking reports about original tapes and disks just becoming non-readable. Something that also happened to me in the early 2000s.

Luckily, at this point in time, the C64 preservation project was in full swing. (And Gamebase64 was released in 2003.) And there were more games that could be downloaded - Cracked ones and even multiple versions of them. So I looked up this emulator that I barely knew anything about - VICE.

I did some Googling and forum lurking and found out that the Gamebase64 was a fairly complete collection of C64-games "nowadays" - With a couple of hundred bugged games and around 700 still missing. But every game that I could think of, I could find in the database - Along with a download link. This was the beginning of a dream coming true... Finally. In 2015, and I had been totally unaware of how huge the community was at this point. But the games... Imagine this scenario and the technical possibilities, back in the 80's. You can talk about jizz in the pants as a joke, but it would have become pretty uncomfortable to sit anywhere else than in an impulse shower after a while.

With that, I went balls to the wall with VICE - First on the PlayStation Vita, which could use the PSP Savegame exploit to run a PSP emulator, which in turn could run VICE. It was fairly good, and to be able to use the analog sticks was a blessing. But it also was pretty awkward to get the games loading sometimes, and... I "realized" like a thickie that I wanted to play the games on a big screen. And without having to run an emulator through a game first.

The next step was a chipped OG Xbox that I found at a flea market for around 10 Euro / 10 bucks. And VICE for the platform, i.e. Vice64X that was on version 9, or something. It worked very well - Most of the time. It did have a meltdown at one point when I installed a later version, but the emulator had all the good features, and the games could be played with the Xbox-controllers. Analog stick for the left thumb and the Fire-button for the right one. This step can be considered the first dive into proper Retro-nerding as I started playing these games more and more. And this is where I discovered that last annoyance - The virtual keyboard. You can't play Elite with an on-screen semi-transparent keyboard. It just can't be done. There had to be something else...

And there it was...

The Raspberry Pi. 3. Model B.

That really is another happy story...


For us who grew up in the 80's and paid serious attention during the home computer revolution, most of us still remember the rivalry between the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum quite vividly. I didn't know anybody personally who owned both systems, and I think I heard about exactly one classmate who had a Speccy and only occasionally said that "the graphics aren't as good [as on the C64]". And they really weren't. Smaller pixels meant that some games looked more detailed, but you couldn't call any game "colorful" by any stretch of the imagination.

Us C64-nerds used to laugh at the monochrome graphics and none of us weren't eager to find out if there were any good games at all on the platform. Well, in hindsight, most of the stuff related to either the C64 or the Speccy, rests upon heavy nostalgic values. Through those rose-tinted glasses it's easy to remember that this all was The Shit back then. There are always two sides to any story behind any kind of rivalry. And the fact of the matter is that the foundation for modern gaming was built back then. In modern times, you can't easily explain it properly to anybody who wasn't a more or less of an eli-- enthusiast back then. It gets extremely simplified, and you always need to resort to comparing it with other subcultures that the person in question might be invested in... And now, the mobile market is full of games that may "look" better technically while the gameplay isn't the least "improved" upon. Let's be honest here - There are no mobile games that will be fondly remembered in the year 2040. (The iconic value is virtually non-existent.) No orchestras will play music from them. And who will miss the days when those games were played...?

On with the everlasting 8-bit show in our collective minds... ("Raventown", September 12, 2017)

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