After the “nostalgic” introduction to the wonderful Commodore Machine, I think it’s good for the second part of the story to make a journey through the “applications” that made the C64 the real Home Computer of the 80’s: the video games.
At the end of the 70’s and in the early 80’s the arcade places, bars and theme parks were the muster station where youngs and olds met to challenge each other with the arcades. Games like Galaga, Pacman, Centipede were the center of our dreams, and we passed hours and hours like stupids, inserting coins (50, 100 and 200 liras…do you remember the liras?) into the arcade machines to play the video game.
The arcades were that place where you felt at home, where you could spend hours (and books?!?) Carefree, and where you could dream with colors and sounds. But then the Commodore arrived, and spending days in front of a cabinet hadn’t lost its charm, but had become something different. Someone began to say “but I can do that game at home too”? And yes, a new era was opening up for Home Entertainment, and the Software Houses, or rather the very first programmers of the time, did not let themselves be told twice.
In 1982, the year of birth of the Commodore baby, there were already 46 games on the market. Then of course, it wasn’t as easy as now to find them, or “download” them. You had to keep in touch with the trusted store, with your “drug dealer”, pass me the term, of video games. It was just dawn. If you think that consoles like the INTELLIVISION (which I wanted to steal from my cousin) or the Atari VCS didn’t have a great choice at the time, because the cost of a cartridge was enormous, the old Tramiel with the cassette player and the Floppy Disk had effectively created a new market within the home computer. Yes, because in a disk or in a cassette you could put 4, 5 or 10 games, and already spend hours playing. This is because games took up very little space at the time.
As you can see in the photo, this is the listing inside a C64 disk, where each line corresponded to a program, or a game. Just give the command, or move to the chosen line, and write the famous “Load”, to launch the file. And after a while we started playing. Certainly it wasn’t the same with the box, the damned box. On the cassettes games and programs were loaded on the magnetic tape, and the counter had to be set correctly otherwise the program would never be loaded. But luckily … there were Floppies !!!!
As I said at the beginning there were only 46 games, but if you think about it at the time they were a huge amount.
Io ricordo “Tooth Invaders”, “Sea Wolf”, “Logger” (una specie di frogger), e il mitico ed intramontabile “Fort Apocalypse”. I spent whole afternoons on the latter, together with dad and that blessed helicopter.
Everything was inside the floppy disk. You get bored, reset the C64 and choose another game. Amazing. This was my life at the beginning with the C64. It was difficult to find a real Software House, just brilliant programmers with lovely ideas for the little 8-bit. Some toy house like Hasbro or Mattel tried to enter this new market, but without success. But in 1983 things changed, and the new game market has grown until today, becoming a real and huge business over the world.
In short, already in 83 the houses were waking up, and if many products were made “at home”, it was often the conversions from bars that sold. And this was the market that would take hold from then on. 1984 is perhaps a year of transition, even if we already find over 500 games on the market (if you think about it at the time they were enormous). The level is rising and the houses (the Software Houses) are starting to spring up. Do you remember BC Quest? (from the famous SIERRA), or Bruce Lee? And the wonderful Circus Charlie of the Parker Brothers (the one of Monopoly)
It was the year of Decathlon, OCEAN, Activision (did you ever known about that?), and the movie game Ghostbusters, with an incredible voice coming out from the TV, from the Commodore 64. David Crane and Adam Bellin gave the C64 a voice.
So after 1984, in 1985 and 86 the market of the video games was enormous. You could find every type of game, shoot’em up, sports games, action games, car games. Everyone who had an idea could find a Software House ready to pay for it.
In 85 a certain Microprose produced F15 Strike Eagle, by Mr. Sid Meier, one of the most famous programmers of the time, along with David Crane and Jeff Minter. I can also mention “Frank Bruno’s Boxing” by Elite (one of the houses that produced many games for the C64), “Great American Cross Country Road) by Activision, which had the car control system invented by a monkey,” Karateka ” , beautiful conversion from Coin-Op. Finally, how can we not forget “The way of the exploding fist”, which was subsequently copied by System 3 and became “International Karate” (for me a gaming myth). The “Winter Games” of Epyx.
In 1986 things started to get very serious for the C64, and the first video game magazines appeared in the world. I had just moved home, and a certain “ZZap” in England was born to share the videogame world with those who, at home, had an 8 Bit in their hands. Zzap arrived in Italy at the same time, and if at the beginning they were articles translated by the British magazine, soon the Italian newspaper became a body in itself, with people really experts in video games, who every month reviewed news and not. It was the phenomenon of the 80s. I started buying Zzap late, at the end of 87 I think, losing so many reviews of as many wonderful games. But after buying it, Christmas was for me the time for a new game, beautifully boxed and wonderful.
As I said in 1986, many things have changed. But above all the quality of the games, which are starting to get really beautiful, and to take up a lot of space! A whole Floppy! A thing never seen. To name a few games: Asterix and the magic cauldron, Dragon’s Lair (the absurd conversion of the beautiful Laser Game), Ghost’s N Goblins (wonderful), and finally the great IK of System 3, with music by Rob Hubbard and programmed by Archer McLean (a guy I believe bought a Ferrari after the game’s sales). Then there were the nice ACCESS Software Leaderboard and the Marble Madness ball. Other cute conversions were Paperboy and Speed King. But it was also the year of Samantha Fox Strip Poker, Revs, and The Sentinel, an incredible strategy game by Geoff Crammond and Bob Stevenson (the former is also the author of future F1 GPs for PC and Amiga 500).
1987 is perhaps one of the best years for video games, graphics and sound. Houses have now figured out who they are dealing with, and are selling exceptional stocks.
These are some of the titles, inserting them all is really impossible. The Italian Zzap magazine of the time made a kind of “referendum” of games, assigning The Last ninja the title of best game of the year, and giving Defender of the crown the second deserved place.
System 3 was the best Software House in 1987, and Cinemaware was the chaser. Their game were great for graphics and sound.
In 1988 many beautiful games came out for our Commodore, and as much as I love the Ninja series and for me the sequel remains the 88 game, there is no doubt that Cinemaware’s Rocket Ranger is one of the best games ever produced. For the Amiga I think it took 99% in the specialized magazines: a myth. And I can’t fail to mention Samurai Warriors, Wizball, The Great Giana sisters (Super Mario’s Commodore clone), Combat School, Skate or Die, Test Drive; in short, too many games.
And 1989 is also a golden year for video games, made of powerful conversions from 16-bit (Silkworm, Sly spy, Fighter bomber), exciting sequels such as Turbo Outrun and Ghostbusters 2, Ghouls’N Ghosts, but also based video games about movies (Batman the movie which was a huge success). That Christmas, I admit, was really greedy. And to tell the truth, I always set aside the pennies to spend 25 or 50 thousand lire to buy one or two. It worked like this: at promotion and at Christmas. And if it went well, you got 3-4 original games a year. We were satisfied with little.
The 90 was not a very prolific year, but there was always a great choice. Unfortunately the 16-bit but above all the Amiga 500 was climbing the videogame heights and shortly thereafter the C64 would have landed.
But System 3 was very prolific during 1990, with the remix of the Ninja, with Vendetta (the modern 3-d isometric edition of the Ninja with an amazing intro) and with the funny Flimbo’s quest. Other Software Houses, like Ocean, were always present in the market.
Technically speaking, Turrican and Vendetta had the best graphics and sound. Turrican was the best for everything in a game, but Vendetta had the best intro ever seen for a Commodore 64.
In 1991, apart from some nice titles like Lemmings, Hudson Hawk, Indy Heat and a few others, I mention only Last Ninja 3 and Turrrican 2, the apotheosis of the little Commodore family. These two games took 8-bit to another level, and I think maybe that year was at its peak.
In the following years there were no very important titles, perhaps Turrican 3 or Creatures, but I believe that in 91 the maximum was reached, in terms of production and quality. The 8-bits were squeezed to death, and the results showed. A few years later, as we know, Commodore went bankrupt, due to little effort and not following new technologies. The Amiga 500 that had towed the Commodore in the 90s had now been torn apart by PCs that were no longer just office machines, but were becoming the future of video games.
It is undeniable to think that the Commodore 64 has transformed the gaming world and brought it from prehistoric times to modern days. Jack Tramiel gave birth to a baby boy who raised all of us with him, and which I believe will be hard to forget. Now it lives in the Commodore of those who still own them, or in the emulators that we find on the net, or in the videos of the tube where we can find the soundtracks, the Longplay. The fact is that his mark, at least for my generation, is immortal and indelible.
Thanks for the beautiful childhood you gave us, for the afternoons and days with friends, relatives, for making us dream and play. Thanks Commodore 64.