30 years ago today, the venerable Commodore 64 home computer was released. While it wasn’t my first microcomputer, I was most fond of this little computer.
The C64 and Me
I had been using a C64 in a classroom environment in the 1984 school year. It didn’t take long for me to decide that this was the next computer I’d buy. I bought one that Summer along with a 1541 disk drive.
I began using the computer by buying some Compute! books ( anthology collections of prior articles published in Compute! magazines ). I also bought the Wizard of Wor game cartridge and a 1525 printer.
That Fall, I bought my first modem, a Commodore 1600 dumb modem, which I have written about extensively in the past, at this link:
It’s difficult to think about the C64 by itself … I’ll always associate it with the BBS scene that I immersed myself into.
I was introduced to various machine-language monitors, assemblers, and dialects of BASIC, Pascal, Forth, and C on the C64. Although my hardware hacks were few, I had connected the modem to the SID sound output on the monitor port so that I could tone dial. I also ordered the EPROM programmer kit via an article in an electronics magazine. A couple of friends put the kit together for me. I had intended to get rich by offering software on cartridge. That venture never even came close to leaving the ground 😉 .
I was amazed at the number of printed publications that were available for the C64 in the mid-80’s. Compute! and Compute!’s Gazette magazines were available almost everywhere.
Compute! was a general computing publication that had articles that covered many computers of the 8-bit era ( Apple ][, Atari 400/800, Commodore 64/Vic20/Pet, IBM PC Jr., TI/994a, Coleco Adam, …etc. )
Compute!’s Gazette was a spin-off magazine that focused solely on the C64 family of computers. I had subscribed to the Gazette and always found it a joy to read. Although it was not overly technical, there were usually some pretty good type-in programs … mostly games … in addition to news items and reviews.
I’ve mentioned in another blog post that one of my first type-in excursions on the C64 was entering Bill Yee’s Micromon machine-language monitor from Compute!’s First Book of Commodore 64 … one of a series of books that collected older articles from the magazines. I laugh to think about typing in all of those hex codes to get the software.
Similar magazines included Ahoy!, Commdore Power Play, and Run.
By the time I’d gotten a modem, I’d quit typing in the listings from these mags as they were often available via a quick download.
While the above magazines were all enjoyable, my attention quickly diverted to a magazine called The Transactor … a techie magazine whose focus pertained to programming and building hardware gadgets for the Commodore family of computers.
I had always wanted to publish something in one of these magazines, but the stuff I was tinkering with was often eclectic enough that it probably wouldn’t have had much of an audience.
It’s probably common to “meet” people in online forums, nowadays. In the mid-80’s, I’m not sure that the general public thought so. I thought it was pretty cool to meet people after participating in BBS conversations. I met quite a few local users, programmers, and hardware techies via bulletin-board systems.
I was amazed that professionals were using their C64’s in their businesses, building their own database tools in BASIC or from software packages.
My friends weren’t limited to the local area. I was able to converse with people worldwide via FidoNet forums and via the Commodore-specific network Quantum Link. QLink later became America Online.
I think the experiences that made the C64 most memorable for me were the ones that exploited uncharted potential in the machine primarily through software.
One could obtain software to provide a readable 80-column display, double up disk speeds, increase cassette loading speeds, play music from within the disk drive units, push 300 baud modems to 400 and 450 baud, synthesize speech, push the graphical display beyond the touted limits, …etc.
So, one could open a magazine or see a file available for download and could be off pursuing a new adventure for almost no tangible cost.
One source of many adventures was the book Inside Commodore DOS.
From this book, I learned how to do all sorts of things with the 1541 disk drive, including the until-then-undocumented open-with-append for 1541 files, I learned how to perform I/O via the job queue, and learned a lot about the low-level formats used by copy protection-schemes.
When the 16-bit machines began to enter the market, the C64 community that I was used to began to transition to various machines. The Commodore magazine scene slowly faded into the sunset, often changing their formats to match up to some of the newer computers.
I went on from a Commodore 128 to an Amiga 500 and then finally my first of many Intel PC’s.
A new glossy magazine began publication in 1994 named Commodore World.
A community of C64 retrocomputing enthusiasts began to grow ( as did many other communities tied to 8-bit computers ). The company known as Creative Micro Designs (CMD) began to sell modernized hardware for the Commodore family of computers. Later, CMD obtained the rights to various out-of-print books like Mapping the 64.
They also bought the rights to some older software. I was finally able to try out C Power some ten years after it had originally been published.
I began to participate in the community via the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.cbm. I had gotten ahold of another Commodore 128 and 1541 and was having a pretty good time getting back into the hobby.
At the height of my participation in the community, I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the late Jim Butterfield ( please see Jim Butterfield : The Commdore Guru ). I was able to meet yet more enthusiasts online and was able to meet up with modern Commodore guru Jim Brain at this time.
I followed ( and still follow ) the posts of hardware guru Jeri Ellsworth as she designed a C64-on-a-joystick in the late 90’s ( the “C64 DTV” ).
CMD and Commodore World both left the fan community before the 90’s had ended.
I check in on the community every once in a while, but I’m afraid that I’m nowhere nearly as active as I used to be.
Again, let me wish the Commodore 64 a Happy Birthday. It amazes me that 30 years later, people are still enjoying this machine.