I was about 4 or 5 years old when my dad decided to buy a computer. I didn’t know anything about computer; for me it was simply a magic box, with images and sounds. Connected to a 14 inches TV (luckily a color TV) by a 3 metres cable and 2 joysticks, I used to stay in front of it with these easy stupid lovely games. This is one of my best memories with my dad. If you don’t mind, I would like to dedicate this novel to my dad.
The Commodore 64, the only real videogame machine of the 80s, perhaps the first real Home Computer that “forced” millions of people to forcefully enter a computer in their homes, and that made children and adults happy, a whole generation of people who, now 40 years old, fondly remember the famous 8 bit; that’s why I’m proud to be part of the famous “8-bit generation”.
The story of the little monster of the Commodore house starts from Mr. Jack Tramiel, a Pole who survived concentration camps and became very good at repairing typewriters. His adventure began in America, in the Bronx, where in 1953 he opened an electronic repair shop. But he was not only good at repairing, he was an excellent manager, and so he also began selling his appliances, not only in America but also in Europe. His “Commodore Portable Typewriter Company” immediately began to fly, and from 55 to 60 he made excellent deals. Some wrong choices and investments made our Tramiel lose ground, who later understood that the world of the Rising Sun, with its cutting-edge and low-cost production, was becoming the new industry of the century. Returning from a profitable trip to Japan, he abandoned the production of typewriters to devote himself to electronic calculators, the future in that historical period.
Tramiel’s calculators, which purchased components from Texas Instruments, made a fury, giving him a turnover of about $ 50 million a year. Not bad for a Pole who emigrated to America repairing typewriters. But afterwards Texas Instruments began to produce the calculators with its chips independently, and this actually cut the legs of Tramiel and his Commodore.
All this happened in the 70s. But our entrepreneur was far from giving up, and he again changed course by acquiring electronics companies, including the famous MOS Technology, where a certain Chuck Peddle worked.
This synergy, this union, would have given birth to our beloved little C64. And not only. Towards the end of the 70s (it was 1977), the famous PET 2001, the Personal Electronic Translator, a machine considered by all the first Personal Computer, appeared in the world of computers. It was a single block, with monitor, keyboard and cassette player to load and save programs; its computing power was guaranteed by the CPU 6502, with 4K of RAM (measures so far ridiculous and unthinkable, but at the time great), a 9-inch 40X25 character screen. Together with the Italian Faggin’s Zilog Z80, the 6502 was one of the most powerful and cheapest CPUs on the market.
With a price that was less than 1000 dollars, the PET 2001 was the best seller at the end of the 70’s, sending Commodore in the olympus of the great electronic manufacturers.
But the problems for Tramiel were returning to be felt. Despite the success of its calculator, large houses such as Apple and Atari were offering home machines to the public with the possibility of connecting to the TV, thus overcoming the problem of small monitors with few characters that can be displayed on the screen. Apple II and Atari 800 were actually outclassing the Commodore baby. The technicians of the overseas house therefore decided to make a new technological leap forward, disassembling the old idea of ”all in one”, and thus designing the VIC 20.
With the power of the 6502 Processor, the new machine had 5k of RAM and 20k of ROM memory. And the very innovation for a calculator machine, the chip VIC (video interface chip) from MOS Technologies, a dedicated microchip for graphics and sound. Finally you could connect you machine to your TV-SET or to your monitor, at home. The price was so competitive (about 230 dollars) for a powerful machine like that, and no one could compete. With the initial sale of 1.000.000 units, the VIC 20 sold in the world 2.500.00 pieces. With this success, the Commodore machine opened the door to a new important market: the videogame market.
This new market oblijed the Commodore engineers to think about a powerful Personal Computer, capable of reproducing high-level images and sounds. It was the period of the arcade places, where millions of guys put a lot of coins inside the lovely arcade game machines.
In 1981, MOS began designing the new graphics and sound chips for the future Commodore gaming entertainment machine, and although the project was completed in November, Tramiel was disappointed because he claimed that the amount of RAM was 64K, despite the costs of the memories were high for production costs. He then forced the designers to run 100 meters to complete the prototype which was presented at the January ’82 International Winter Consumer Electronics Show. The aggressive managerial and marketing techniques, as well as the subsequent production costs dropped drastically, would have allowed the VIC 30 …. what ?????? what are we talking about ???? Well yes. Sadly, the newcomer of the Commodore family had to be called VIC 30, but fortunately they finally decided to call it 64, in honor of the installed memory.
He was finally born. The long-awaited C64 had come into the world, and its success still echoes to the present day. In Italy it appears at the 1982 SMAU (what do you remember !!!) and is distributed by Commodore based in Italy (Tramiel had struck again). Within a short time, it outlasted all the 8-bit competition, including the Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. Do you remember the Atari 800 and Apple II? Fully landed by the new C64 chips.
And it was not just a personal computer, but a wonderful gaming machine that thrilled us throughout the 80s and that still lives on in the Commodore kept alive and thanks to the emulators that allow us to play all the titles of this wonderful technological monster. .
These two accessories were one of the “genius of the Commodore house.” Cassette player but especially floppy disk. The richest even to say it (and thanks to my dad I became a happy owner) took home a 1541 drive, capable of reading the famous 5 1/4 floppy disks, and having a loading speed significantly higher than the reader. cassette. And, amazingly for those times, the ability to play for two simultaneously, thanks to the 2 Joystick ports.
Two joystick types, sold in the early 80’s. No autofire and no microswitches, but there were so lovely.
From this point on, the Commodore 64 became the gaming machine of a decade, outclassed only by its successor, the Amiga 500. In its lifetime it sold about 12-17 million units, but there are those who say that the little Tramiel family (ahem Commodore) has sold 20 million “biscuits”. On an aesthetic level it was “re-edited” a couple of times, to have a more streamlined and modern line, but on the HW level it remained the same. The floppy drive was also modernized and shrunk, but the capacity of the floppies never changed. All the success of the gaming machine was accompanied by the birth and growth of the so-called “Software House”, computer companies that developed video games. But I’ll talk about this next time, in the second part of my article, dedicated to Commodore games and software development houses.
The Commodore 64 raised an era of young, and not so young. He brought children and adults together. In a historical moment like the present one, where the “game machine” no longer exists, outclassed by any electronic device on the market today, that gray box made us dream. And if today we are amazed by amazing graphic effects and real-time rendered graphics, I will never forget those colored pixels and that incredible sound that came out of the TV. It still lives in our memories, with events, t-shirts, gadgets and retro devices that try (in vain) to take us back to that era. Too bad that with the advent of digital, those exceptional resolutions and the sounds that came out of the “SID” chip ended up in the drawers of oblivion or in those of our homes, in the cellars. I hope that the children of now and our future can appreciate an “old” technology, which, however obsolete, has given us hours, indeed years of real play, turning on old cathode ray tube TVs, in black and white and in color, and cursing waiting for a cassette that never turned, or a floppy that loaded, to the sound of Load “*. *”, 8,1