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Commodore 64: Remembering the computer that gave birth to PC gaming

The Commodore 64 – one of the best-selling computers of all time – reached the ripe old age of 35 this year. US reporter Chris Smith, a man of the same age, looks back on his earliest gaming experiences…

The other night I was having a right moan about modern gaming. Coming home from the pub and wanting to play video games, yet having to wait for a 6GB file to install, neatly summed up my frustrations.

Contrarily, my wife was half way through Super Mario Bros. on the Raspberry Pi by the time I’d finished installing the Rise of the Tomb Raider disc.

The truth is, it wasn’t much better in 1991, when I received a Commodore 64 for Christmas, a little after its heyday had come and gone.

Back then, it was slide a copy of Dizzy into the Datasette tape deck, hit Shift+Run/Stop on the keyboard, and go downstairs for dinner in the hope it had loaded by the time you’d cleared the plate.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thankfully, rather than staring at a PS4-style loading screen while the MBs slowly tick down, leaving the room was pretty much your only option in the C64 era. Those seizure-inducing coloured load screens and awful static sounds only served to amplify the agonising, interminable wait.

“Beeeeeeeeeeeep… NAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRR… Beeeeeeeeep… NARRRRRRRRRR…”

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Commodore 64 – 35 years ancient

The Commodore 64 has now turned 35, having first gone on sale in August 1982 for a then-remarkable $595. That was less half the price of the Apple II, which boasted the same 64KB of RAM.

It was the first truly affordable personal computer and probably deserves more credit for spearheading that revolution than it’s currently afforded. Over time it would sell more than 20 million units, incredible even by today’s standards.

To help replenish my own affections for the C64, I typed “Commodore 64 memories” into Google. The top result was “20KB of read-only memory”. Funny Google.

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It’s still incredible to think what developers like Ocean and Codemasters were able to do given so little resources. And some of those title themes were don’t-make-’em-like-that-anymore unreal.

Despite the especially ungodly loading times, Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager (which actually came on two tapes) was probably my favourite C64 game. With the need to go all the way from the 4th division to the 1st division, it was certainly the one I spent most time with.

In many ways it was a brilliant precursor to what was to come within that genre; from the way it organised the menus and used scouts to find players, to the ongoing indications of job security in-match highlights.

It would spawn a dangerous obsession with Championship Manager and then Football Manager, to which entire summers were lost, and I dare not go near these days.

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Elsewhere, I think I went through about three joysticks absolutely hammering them with Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, another game where speed of hand (that 400m was an endurance test for the ages) and perfect timing helped to overcome the visual shortcomings.

However, as a gaming machine (which is how I exclusively used it), the C64 remains in the long shadow of the Sprectrum ZX. Many of the best games for the system were ports from the Sinclair machines.

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Commodore 64 at 35 – memories of a pirate’s life

Of course, amid these moans about the Datassette, the cassette format did have one monumental advantage over its floppy drive counterpart – the consummate ease at which tapes were pirated.

Between your mates, you only really had to buy one copy of any game. It didn’t really seem like stealing at the time – more like swapping. It appeared to be more like recording something off the telly using a VCR, rather than sneaking a camcorder into the cinema.

Back then you could get loads of games on a single tape, accompanied by handwritten liner notes telling you precisely where to wind the Datassette’s counter digits in order to find them.

Eventually, karma would catch up to me for playing pirated games. My own C64 would succumb after I dropped a can of Lynx Oriental body spray, the official fragrance of ’90s pubescence, onto the said Datassette mid-load.

It would never recover to load another game, no matter how long I waited. That didn’t stop my dad selling the C64 for £65, the rogue.

That cash funded a Sega Master System purchase and I’d never endure a proper wait for a game to load again… until buying a PS4 Pro, that is.

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Do you have golden memories of the Commodore 64? Drop us a line @trustedreviews on Twitter.

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