Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Day 67 - happy birthday, dear C64... happy birthday to you!

Ahh, if only this had been three days earlier.  Or I had started my blog three days later.  One of those.  Anyway, in August 1982, the Commodore 64 was released unto the world, and so began a decade-plus of top-notch home computer entertainment.

It was Christmas 1985 that saw me enter the world of home computing, when my parents got me a Commodore 64 as my present.  So I was hardly an early adopter.  I'd used one at friends' houses before then... probably starting around the summer of 1985.  Other computers I'd been able to use through friends included the ZX Spectrum (16K and 48K), Commodore Plus 4 and ZX81.  But the C64 was the one that really captured my heart and has remained my favourite to this day.

Fortunately, I'm an open-minded and level-headed individual, and I'm able to see the good points and bad points of all the systems I've used over the years.  If that wasn't the case, I would have no right starting a project like this.  But for today's purpose, on its 30th birthday (or around, technically), I will indulge my Commodore leanings, if you don't mind.

Mmmm... beigey goodness.
The first time I ever had an experience with the Commodore 64, it was as a tease.  I was walking through the housing estate where I lived, when a mate of mine popped his head out of some kid's window and told me to "listen to this".  He then turned up the volume on the telly to full blast, at which point I heard the music from Master of the Lamps blasting out.

I was floored.  I'm not sure why... I'd heard some great tunes on the Atari VCS/2600.  But that had been some time before then, and I was used to the Spectrum's less accomplished sounds by this time.  To hear this stunning music blasting out of a computer was a revelation.

It made me want one of these machines.  Which was a bit of a problem... I'd already agreed with a mate that I would get my parents to buy his Spectrum from him, for me, for Christmas.  Why was he selling his Spectrum?  He was getting a Commodore 64...

That's my dad on the left. Yeah, he's always been cool.
I was somewhat amazed, then, when my dad sat me down to talk about this Spectrum and asked me "wouldn't you rather have a Commodore 64?".  I'd considered it to be out of our financial range, but I presume he must have asked around before committing to any monetary outlay.  Naturally, I said, "Yes".

Christmas Day that year was a great one.  It didn't matter that I had a black and white telly.  It didn't matter that I only had a handful of games.  It didn't even matter that some of them were dreadful.  I spent all day glued to that telly, playing and loading and loading and playing and then re-loading and playing some more.  That chunky beige power pack was as hot as the sun by the end of the day, and I was as happy as... I dunno.  A sandboy?  Larry?  What makes them so happy, anyway?

My software library on that day consisted of: Fight Night (great fun), BMX Trials (dreadful), Booty (very disappointing after playing the great Spectrum version), The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (well, I'd read the book so it was OK) and educational stuff like The Very First and the Commodore Music Maker.  An inauspicious start, but it kept me going until I could beg, steal, borrow or buy more.

Yeah, alright, I've used that one before.
In the short term that collection grew very rapidly, whether by the purchase of budget games or compilations like Yak's Progress and Off The Hook, or by receiving cassettes filled with copied games.  Yes, back then we were very happy to have as many games to play as possible, without even realising what the consequences might be.

I'd buy games wherever possible, though.  To help me in that regard, there were some great computer magazines out there with reviews of all the latest games.  I'd go into John Menzies or RS McColl and stand there for ages, comparing the reviews in the likes of Commodore User or Computer & Video Games.  But the only magazine I really took notice of was ZZAP! 64.

If you took all the computer magazines that were available then and laid them end to end, you'd just have to pick them all up again.  But if you were in the know, then the one you would pick up first would be ZZAP! 64.  Maverick in every way, there was something special about it that the others just didn't have.  Whether it was the great cover art, the reviewing staff that was made up of gamers rather than journalists, the ratings system (percentages always just sounded better) or the cool awards given to good games, it was a refreshing read when compared to those that were run by (seemingly) old men.

The first issue I ever bought. I didn't own a C64, I just loved the mag!
A big contributing factor to that was the way it gave the reviewers personalities, with each having a series of drawn heads accompanying their comments... you could see at a glance how they felt about a game, before you even got down to reading their opinions.  You grew to trust them, to gravitate towards certain reviewers, to want to be like them!  In fact, I applied for a Staff Writer's job at the age of sixteen... I was (rightly) turned down...

Some of my greatest gaming achievements and memories come from that era.  I completed Monty on the Run without cheating on a black and white telly... something I'm still proud of today.  I completed the cassette version of The Bard's Tale... it took me thirteen months, but I did it, dammit.

I have so many memories from that time.

I remember buying Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax and Bon Jovi's New Jersey album on the same day, and playing them both at the same time when I got home.  I remember spending my youngest brother's birthday money on Bounder when he wanted The Eidolon.

Ahh, Bounder. Where is Christian P. Shrigley now? No, seriously... I've tried to contact him with no luck.
I remember holding a cassette recorder up to the TV to record my favourite tunes.

I remember standing outside The Computer Shop in Newcastle, watching and listening to the whole of the opening of Parallax.

I remember dragging my computer, tape deck, power pack and games down the stairs to play on the colour telly when my parents were out, and then having to drag the whole lot back up the stairs again.

I remember laughing my head off at the traps in Cliff Hanger, at the beat 'em up antics in Street Hassle, at my mate gunning grannies across the entire screen in Death Wish III.

I remember the shock when I loaded Impossible Mission and Professor Elvin Atombender shouted his immortal words at me.  And then his robots did, indeed, destroy me (the devious bastards).

I remember being stunned by every single one of Epyx' Games series.  I remember laughing at friends who had bought Quickshot II joysticks, only to see them break within days.

I seem to remember we called this the "Quickshot Poo".
I remember the amazement the time I transferred from a 001 to a 999 in Paradroid.

I remember buying a disk drive, far too late, and being enthralled by the wonder of Wasteland.

I remember that the Commodore 64 was responsible for a number of important things in my life, too.

It was responsible for turning the lad I sat next to in German into my best friend (well, it was either that or the time I slapped my head in anger at a bald-headed German teacher who'd had a go at me).

It was responsible for the re-kindling of my friendship with someone I'd stupidly fallen out with (I remember being asked if I could go down there with some games as he'd just got a C64... when I got there he had Crazy Comets! Fuck!).

It was probably responsible for distancing me from my brother... he had no interest and just called me "Spacey Boy".

It was responsible for my school grades declining.  Who wanted to study when there were games to play?

It was responsible for some of the best times of my life, and I'll never forget that.  Happy 30th Birthday, Commodore 64.


  1. The first time I saw my mate playing Forbidden Forest I desperately wanted a C64. I had to wait ages to get one.

    And, as if to make the waiting seem even longer, a relative bought me "Ghettoblaster" months and months before I was given my life's dream for Christmas 1985.

    It was just the best thing I ever ever been given. Lamentably, I don't have a breadbin any more. I have toyed with the idea of getting one but I know that this would only lead me to purchasing the games that I never owned but wanted, or the games that I had but were lost, or lent out and returned.

    And I don't think that I am ready to go back to my old addiction. Yet. But if I ever win the Euromillions, I am going to buy one, with all the games, and a complete collection of ZZap!64.

    Since the 64, I have had an Amiga, a PC, a Dreamcast, and Xbox, and an Xbox 360. But no machine comes close to the trusty C64. No other machine has soul like a 64.

    If one computer shall have the gates of Silicon Heaven opened up, it shall be Commodore's finest.

  2. It's all well and good to reminisce about the great games we played in the Arcades, endlessly pouring 20c pieces into until you got good enough that only one coin was needed (except Gauntlet of course). But the Golden Age of gaming for me was definitely the C64 era spending way too many hours playing Lords of Midnight, Elite, Paradroid, Uridium, The Boss, Summer/Winter Games, Alternate Realty, Dropzone, Hovver Bovver, Hardball, The Sentinel, Theatre Europe, Wizball and of course my favourite C64 game, the mighty Iridis Alpha.

    I stupidly sold mine to my next door neighbour who gave it to his son for Xmas. This was after I had an Amiga. The dumb bit was selling all of my games and Zzap issues with it. I went back there 3 years layer to find out it all went in a skip bin a year earlier when he "got bored" with it. I cried. Yep, girly blouse moment no doubt, but so many memories went into a skip bin. I've since bought all of those games above again, plus 3 C64's, 2 disk drives and 2 tape drives. Sadly I play on emulators due to no room for a dedicated setup/shrine to C64 greatness. But I still have my original 1084 monitor. Still works too. It would have to be 25+ years old now - sound is a bit dodgy, but picture still perfect. Happy 30th Commodore 64. I'll go and put my Commodore t-shirt on now. :)

  3. "sniff"... that was beautiful, happy birthday C64! This writing brought back a load of happy memories. Don't know if I'm being selfish, being brought up in the same environment and all, but if this is a hint at what the book will be like then I want my signed copy now! Nice work Paul!
    p.s. the arrogant slaphead deserved it!

  4. I got the exact same C64 bundle as you did - although I had forgotten Adrian Mole came free with my C64 - but instead of Fight Night, BMX Trials and Booty I got Paradroid (lucky me - it's still perhaps my favourite 8 bit game of all time) and Super Zaxxon (decent enough). As best I can remember, we got it from Rumbelows (remember them?).

    Amazingly, I also bought that same Zzap! 64 (issue 7) a little earlier (before I owned a C64), which is why in part I got Paradroid (there was also a glowing review in "Computer Gamer").

    Just one thing though - you are obviously a good writer, and I enjoy reading your blog, but please could you moderate your language, in particular the expletive just after you mention Crazy Comets? Thanks.

  5. @dai_bonehead - you can get the complete collection of ZZAP! 64 (scans of the mag on DVD) at The Def Guide to ZZAP! 64 website. A bargain at £6.99. Not the same as holding the actual pages, but at least you have them. Also go there for Issue 107... I wrote in that one...

    Steve Johansson - I'm close to tears myself. I know how that feels... my parents threw out my Commodore 64 and all my great original games when I left...

    Sonoflen - have a hankie, and a manhug. I think that the book will be partly like this, partly mini-reviews and partly comments from the programmer. I'm not sure which of those will be the bigger parts yet, but I'm getting some great stuff back from the ones that have replied.

    Mousey - Paradroid is probably my favourite game too. I think it's a timeless classic. As for the expletive - apologies if you didn't like it. It was used for emphasis at the shock I felt when I saw (and heard!) that game running. I suppose the equivalent for me is when I want to watch a 12-rated movie with my eldest son (who is just shy of 11), and find it has two or three F-words in there. I don't believe there should be any in a 12-rated movie, myself.

    It's not something I use much at all on this blog (although different outlets see me using different writing styles), so you can rest assured that sort of thing won't pop up here very much at all, and not at all in the book.

    1. Thanks Paul. I know I'm in a minority, but it's appreciated you taking on board my preferences anyway.

      Nice to see your book word count increase to over 10,000. You must almost be finished! ;)