Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Commodore 64 (C64) is 30 years old today (bbc.co.uk)
99 points by petercooper on Aug 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

Wow, great memories.

I got my C64 on 1984. A few (boring games) and all of the English manuals. A problem because I did not speak much English, nor did I know how to properly read ( I was 5 ). But my oldest brother would write down the typical Basic program: 10 PRINT "HELLO" 20 GOTO 10

After about two years of playing around with it, learning how to read a bit more, and watching a ton of TV in English, I was able to start writing down my own little short programs. Then I discovered that I could load and save stuff to a floppy disk. Then after some time, I kept learning and reading some of the manuals (what I understood), and wrote programs that were up to 50 LOC long. Which for a kid who is 7-8 years old is pretty good. Then the damn thing broke, and I was without a computer for about six long years. A 133mhz speed demon that my brother bought to connect to the internet. I did not know what email was, much less the internet. But I sat down with Win 95 and started poking around. I haven't stopped ever since.

I constantly find myself searching ebay for old C64s and 6502 chips. Never have bought anything, but one day I will.

It might be difficult for non-programmers to realize but the first computer that touches you really defines who you are as a programmer. Without you realizing it at the time, it sets up so many paths in the life of a programmer that the single machine becomes like a cornerstone of whatever you do later. And you always go back to your first computer.

Other people might have partially similar experiences with their first car or guitar. Possibly. I wouldn't know.

While I might have had an innate interest in programming, it was C64 that verified it for real. Without C64 I would have turned out to be a very different programmer or worse, I wouldn't have started programming at all. I owe so much to that machine--and all that in terms of what most people can't understand.

What a funny world.

"Without you realizing it at the time, it sets up so many paths in the life of a programmer that the single machine becomes like a cornerstone of whatever you do later. And you always go back to your first computer."

My first computer was a Heathkit, my grandfather brought me. We built it together. I wish I still had it. I miss that machine. Worthless today, except in a collection. And to me.

But my second was a Commodore VIC20. Another machine with a solid place in my heart. Also wish I still had it.

After the VIC its IMB clones, MSDOS, DRDOS, Windows - blah blah blah until the later 90's when I brought my first Mac.

Of course now, it's hard to romanticize a any computer. Since they so common place.

I agree. My first was a Commodore Plus/4 which had no games and barely any programs (at least not any I could get a hold of as a 10 year old boy). So I took up reading the manuals that came with it, learned BASIC, and created my own games. It was probably good that I didn't get a C64 until much later, otherwise I'd have probably just played games the whole time.

Like others I grew up on that machine. Downloading thousands of games from BBSes, learning to program, trying to figure out what a hex editor does.

.. and now I've just spent far too much time looking through old issues of commodore magazine.


Here's far more magazines to look at: http://www.bombjack.org/commodore/

And books.

Wow, thank-you for that! I found a scanned in copy of RUN Special Edition 1989 with the purple color and all. Many great memories just came flooding back. I remember my copy had just about fallen apart but I kept it until just a few years ago when my parents house caught fire. That issue was very special to me.

A good reminder that personal computers existed before Apple made their own (and the C64 was a way more popular machine than the expensive, elitist Apple II). :) (because I have seen the comment in last week that "Apple invented personal computers" I almost choked on that one).

What? You are misinformed. Apple II was introduced in 1977 and Apple III was introduced in 1980, way before C64. It's precursor Vic-20 was introduced in 1980.

Apple definitely was one of the companies inventing personal computers.

The Commodore Pet was introduced in '77. Both were preceded by any number of personal computers of varying capabilities (depending on how you want to define "personal computer" that includes Commodore / MOS Technologies "KIM-1").

Apple invented some aspects, like lots of others.

You are seriously defending the claim that Apple invented personal computers? Do not defend that, it is not true.

The Heathkit H8 hit in 1977 (some say 78, but I remember it under the tree in 77). Of course it was a kit.

I had a commodore 64 and loved it but Apple were one of the pioneers of inventing personal computers and definitely made them mainstream

The key being "one of". The Commodore PET went to market at the same time, and several smaller companies beat both Apple and Commodore to market (though with much more limited machines).

In terms of making them mainstream, both Commodore and Tandy outsold Apple from the start, and the Commodore 64 went on to significantly outperform Apple's combined Apple II sales, despite being on the market a far fewer number of years.

Apple was not first, nor shipping anywhere near the greatest volume.

The C64 spanked the Apple II in every price-performance measure, and in units sold. But Apple are the last man standing from that era; Commodore can't dispute their version of events.

Old skool hackers will remember that the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga were massively superior both in price-performance and raw performance to contemporary Macs. Strange as it may sound today, Apple won on business savvy, emphatically not on technology.

Let's not forget to add that the Amiga was the only computer in the mid 85 with an OS as advanced as it was (multitask, windows manager). It took years before the PC and Mac could catch up on its overall capabilities.

"The Amiga was so far ahead of its time that almost nobody—including Commodore's marketing department—could fully articulate what it was all about. Today, it's obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video. Nine years later, vendors are still struggling to make systems that work like 1985 Amigas. --Byte Magazine, August 1994

The big differentiator was the software. Where the Amiga had Caligari and the Video Toaster, the Mac had Illustrator and Pagemaker (such as they were), and desktop publishing was a much easier fire to light than desktop video at the time. Let's not forget that video distribution in those heady days meant either broadcast (not very accessible) or tape duplication (or, I suppose, you could have imported clips into Director and made a CD-ROM for limited-duration, limited-quality computer-only video). YouTube would have been a very, very different experience on a Hayes SmartModem.

It was also ahead of available display bandwidth. 640x256 non-interlaced was not a display resolution suitable for a business machine, and it was shut-out of the business-use market for anyone who wanted to preserve their eye-function...

Of course, the Amiga was originally conceived as a gaming box, but the initial price and inept marketing scuppered chances of real success.

The ST's 640x400 flicker-free monochrome mode is what made it such a hit with businesses in Germany and Holland. Thanks to the exchange rate it was cheaper to buy an ST than a DEC VT52, and you got a powerful computer "for free"!

The Apple II was amazingly easy to interface to the real world, thanks to its well-documented expansion slots. And let's not forget the system monitor in ROM, that made it easy to debug assembly programs. As a hardware hacker turned programmer, these features made it much better than a C64 or any other "appliance" home computers of the era.

I agree with you about the Amiga, it was a great machine that did not deserve to die.

Apple did have the advantage of opening the Apple II by introducing "expansion slots". Funny that these days they tend to keep their products as closed as possible.

I always wished they had encouraged a clone market.

Check your figures man, the C64 sold much more than the Apple computers of that era. Commodore made the computers mainstream way before Apple.

I recently was looking at computer events from 1983, at that time Apple sold it's 1 millionth apple ][ (released in 1977) and Commodore sold it's 1 millionth VIC-20 (this was a year after the c64 so it hadn't overtook the market just yet). So it took apple five years to sell a million of various apple ][s and ][pluses, and only two for Commodore to sell a million VIC-20s.

Later Commodore got the Guiness honor of producing the most of a single model computer with the Commodore 64, no solid number but its above 12 million up to 17 million.

An interesting read is Brian Bagnall's book Commodore: A Company on the Edge, which has many accounts from Commodore's staff. One interesting tidbit, is Apples marketing at the time though they were third in sales (behind Radio Shack and Commodore) their ads touted "We are Number One!" of course there probably wasn't a mention of what they were number one of...

What Apple got for a time was a foothold on the Business market with VisiCalc, and also Apple Works (this is not the Mac GUI program Appleworks). They also got a solid foothold in the education market. Educational software was a very lucrative market for many companies during the 80s and early 90s.

I was growing in rural area of comunist country when I get this computer more then 20 years ago. I was six years old back then and still remember playing with screwdriver alternating tapedeck to let games load.

I was only person around who wants do to anything around programming and only manual was writen in German, language I was not able understand, so I was just retyping examples and try to figure out how it works.

For those of you who want to relive the days of the Commodore 64 (or the Commode 64 as us spec-chums used to call it) there's a very good emulator[1], as well as a site that lets you play games online[2].

If you want to see just what the C64 demo scene is capable of, then Booze Design's Edge of disgrace[3] is probably a good start. Finally, if you want to try your hand at C64 demo coding there's an excellent resource here[4].

[1] - http://www.viceteam.org/

[2] - http://c64s.com/

[3] - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzvMYE3PUn4

[4] - http://codebase64.org/doku.php?id=base:demo_programming

Thanks for these links. [4] reminds me especially why I used to prefer amber on black instead of green on black in those old days when being able to choose the colour of your display was a real feature!

I was a ZX Spectrum kid, which at the time was a great rivalry. But I have fond memories of the C64 and many other 80s home micros from visiting friends' houses, and I have to admit that C64 music still sounds good today, courtesy of its SID sound chip - not something that can really be said of the Spectrum's feeble monophonic beeper.

Happy birthday, C64!

I was a ZX Spectrum kid, too. A couple of years ago we cleaned out the attic, and mice had eaten the Spectrum's rubber keyboard. So much for the plan to display my first computer in the hallway of my yet to be founded billion dollar company...

I incurred a very high risk to become a Spectrum kid too. But one day my father found an incredible offer for a parallel import C64... and I was saved ;)

The Spectrum looked better though :D

Dragon32 for the win!

Well, that's what got me started, anyway, and the MS Basic it shipped with gave me a head start when I did my final year project at University in VB 1.0.

Just finished reading an article about the Dragon32’s birth 30 years ago this month. Pity I wasn’t old enough to witness this boom.


I was a Commodore/Speccy person myself, but I bought most popular 8 bit computers in the 90s for very cheap (most Speccys/Sinclairs, Commodores, Amstrad CPCs, Oric, BBC, Dragons, MSX, Spectravideo, ... I have 30+ machines counting just 8 bit ones).

My Dragon 32 has a botched key [;]. I hope I can fix it at some point. I had friends in school in the 80s who got a Dragon 32 by collecting biscuit boxes (local offer).

I remember playing Zaxxon for Dragon in my friend's house and thinking it wasn't too bad (similar to Speccy's, remarkably less visual than C64's).

It came with full schematics, it was made to be hacked. Sometimes I wish that kind of thing was possible now.

sometimes i miss the simple world of

the C64 16 colors. life was so much simpler then (and kids had respect for the elders and yada yada yada ....)

Then again you could also make it complex with interleaved colors up to more than a hundred :)

I've got the logo for the Commodore 64 tattooed on my left shoulder. It began my love of computers at a young age that has been with me for my entire life. I turn 30 in 2 weeks. I feel glad and honored to share a birthday so close to something that has affected my life so much. It's fun to know we grew up together.

I'd like to share a story with Hacker News about something so dear to my heart.

When I was just shy of 3 years old, my father brought home some greyish-brown television-looking thing. He had purchased it from a co-worker of his, along with a bunch of games on floppy disks and cartridges, a joystick, and a KoalaPad. He turned on the computer, some sounds happened, and a blue screen eventually appeared with a flashing prompt and the word "Ready."

He fussed through some manuals and papers to find the boot sequence necessary to start something called Jumpman. I watched, in fascination, as he was able to manipulate these things on the screen. Various beeps and boops emitted from the machine and a little stick figure climbed ladders and dodged various objects. He quickly died in the game.

He started to show me other stuff this thing was capable of. KoalaPainter was absolutely wonderful. I could draw and manipulate shapes on the screen as much as I wanted; as if I was using a piece of paper.

He couldn't get me away from the thing. Eventually, bedtime came around, and I cried as I was torn away from something that I was completely enamored with.

Around 2 or 3 in the morning, my father awoke, hearing weird noises coming from the basement. He groggily stumbled down the stairs and into the room to find his 3 year old son, covered with a blinking glow, sitting at the keyboard. After watching him perform the boot sequence only a couple of times, I had it memorized, had gotten up from my bed, and was sitting there playing games.

Silent Service. Kickman. Heist. These kicked off a long and wonderful obsession with technology, computers and video gaming. They defined who I would be as a child; a self-professed and proud nerd and geek. Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering; the whole nine yards. 286, 386, 486. Oak Technologies. Math co-processors. Sound Blaster. Voodoo. Serial cable LAN parties playing Doom. Betrayal at Krondor. Ultima VI. BBS. MUD. The first time I saw a GIF. Links. The Nintendo Entertainment System.

So many absolutely wonderful memories that I wouldn't trade for anything. The Commodore 64 was absolutely integral in defining who I have been and who I continue to be. Without it: I have no idea where I'd be in this world.

I'm a software developer now. I've been programming since I was in grade school. I picked up a software application development degree just because I thought it may be handy someday. I grabbed a theatre degree, because it was my other passion I discovered at a relatively young age.

Computers have always been in my life, through thick and thin. They always do exactly what you tell them to do. Nothing more, nothing less. Humble machines that push electrons around to provide entertainment, fascination, communication and now, connection.

Thanks Commodore. I owe you one. Happy birthday.

EDIT - reproduced on my blog here:


I'm about the same age with nearly the same experience, although I don't remember exactly when the Commodore showed up in the house, it was just always there.

Hours and hours of Jumpman, Ghostbusters, Castles of Dr. Creep, Bruce Lee, Space Taxi, Save New York, Kids On Keys, Asteroid, Impossible Mission, 5-A-Side Soccer.

That tattoo's a great idea...

People still write demos for C64(and for other platforms too, for that matter) and it's been the most active demo platform ever since it's birth. Now, the question stands... Why isn't writing demos(or any code, for that matter) considered interesting or exciting for huge majority of people? I for one have always loved the low-level hacks and creative problem solving needed when programming these 80's machines.

Why, HN, oh why, "none" of you write(or even watch!) demos!?

I used to be an avid consumer of demos. It's just not as much fun to watch when the limits being pushed are completely arbitrary.

Old demos were like watching a guy do world class running on springy blades that you didn't even know existed. Now they are like watching an Olympics where everyone agrees to use only their right foot for all the events.

I grew up with the Oric, Spectrum then the Amiga and 486 PC. This guy reminded me of those horrible load times and why kids today simply wouldn't have the patience to hang around.

Pickup iPad, press game icon, play game.

However, great to see Last Ninja 2!

Congrats! I play C64 games on my Pandora often. Great stuff.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact