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Commodore 64

Updated on March 8, 2017
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

The Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 was the flagship of Commodores 8-bit fleet.

Who would have believed that the Commodore 64 (or C64) had originally been developed as a video game engine to be used in amusement arcades?

The idea was that the machine could be constantly re-programmed with newer and more exciting games, without the need to change the cabinet.

Change the software, keep the hardware, keep things fresh.

This idea goes a long way in explaining how this 8-bit machine had such good sprite generation capabilities along with fantastic music and sound capabilities.

No wonder it would go on to be one of the foremost classic games machines of the 1980s which enjoyed a fierce rivalry with the ZX Spectrum in the UK.

Released in August of 1982, Commodore changed tack and the machine was marketed to supercede the VIC 20.

The rest as they say, is history.

The Commodore 64

The 'Bullnose' in all it's glory
The 'Bullnose' in all it's glory

A fully kitted out C64

A C64 complete with external drive and monitor
A C64 complete with external drive and monitor

TV Advert For The C64 - Enormous Memory!

C64 Hardware


The machine itself resembled the VIC 20.

However; compared to it's ancestor (apart from the built in BASIC), it was a far superior piece of kit.

It sported a large (at the time) 64KB of RAM allowing 38KB to be available to the built in BASIC Version 2.0, and the sound and graphics capabilities that were better than even any IBM compatible machine of the day.

The machine itself was powered by a MOS 6510 CPU running at just under 1MHZ (In the UK anyway). But the real kudos of the machine was the sounds and graphics, which really set it apart from any other home micro of the era.

The graphics chip (the VIC-II) featured 16 colors and eight hardware sprites per scanline, which could allow up to 112 sprites per PAL screen. Not bad!

It also had in-built scrolling capabilities, and two bitmap graphics modes. Now these sort of features were the kind that turned games programmers on!

These hardware capabilities led to the smooth non-parallax scrolling achieved by arcade games such as Uridium and Armalyte, which were to become a new high standard in home video gaming. 8 layers of graphics could also be created with the chip, which led to a lot of new and interesting visual effects.

Perhaps the only down side to the sprite generation was that sometimes games characters (generated as sprites) would have a 'blocky' look to them and lacked the smooth edges that the likes of the ZX Spectrum could produce.

Despite this slight shortcoming, the VIC-II graphics chip allowed the machine to be a highly capable platform for playing arcade style games in the comfort of your own home.

Has anyone seen SID?

The C64 sound is truly legendary.

The sound chip (known as 'SID') had three output channels, each with its own ADSR envelope generator. With several different waveforms, ring modulation and filter capabilities, this piece of hardware really was highly advanced for 1982.

The SID was designed by Bob Yannes, who would later go on to co-found the synthesizer company Ensoniq. As more and more software titles were released on the machine the music capabilities were really showcased.

Quite often the music within a game became a hit of its own among C64 owners.

Composers and programmers of game music on the C64 reached almost legendary status for their superb games soundtracks and menu music.

C64'ers will hold in reverence names such as Rob Hubbard, David Whittaker, Martin Galway, Ben Daglish, Chris Hülsbeck and David Dunn.

Some of the music in the C64's classic games library is as well remembered as the game itself! Who could forget the famous 'Ocean Loaders' from Ocean Software?

Uridium on the C64

Armalyte on the C64

Some Of Rob Hubbards Classic C64 Music

The legacy of SID

Even to this day, the SID chip has a distinctive sound which has retained a dedicated following.

There are many classic pieces of music on the C64 by the likes of Ben Dalglish, Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard.

SID devotees wordwide love the music, and tunes continue to be composed on this older yet fine hardware.

In 1999, Swedish company Elektron actually produced a SidStation synth module which was built around the 6581 model SID chip.

They managed to achieve this by using remaining stockpiles of the chip, and several bands even use these devices in their music. How's about that then for longevity of hardware?

Wizball Commodore 64 music by Martin Galway

A selection of Commodore 64 Ben Dalglish music

The style of the Commodore machine

On a visual level, the machine did look pretty cool.

It was nicknamed 'breadbox' or 'bullnose' due to the shape of the outer casing.

The light brown box with the CBM logo emblazoned across the top was appealing, and the the darker greyish brown keys finished the look off nicely. It also had four function keys down the right hand side of the machine which made it look more like a professional machine.

The machine was well advertised in magazines and on TV which no doubt helped the machine to sell superbly.

These adverts tended to ensure that we all were aware that the machine was a great 'all rounder'...

But we all know it was mainly used for games and not for homework, right?

TV Advert For The C64

Another Advert For The C64 - Quite Funny Actually!

Commodore 64 Extras

The machine could be enhanced (like most other machines) by adding extra hardware to it.

For those all important games digital joysticks were available, as were light pens, the CBM 1351 mouse, and the C64 was could also be used with the KoalaPad, which was a graphics tablet. All cool stuff.

Parallel printers and modems could also be attached to it making the C64 a very good all round machine.

Come on, who tried to find a mysterious mainframe via a modem that asked you to 'logon'?

Due to it's large games base (with thousands of games available and monthly magazines such as ZZAP 64 covering them) and versatility, the C64 went on to become more popular than me on a night out.

It had a production run of roughly 11 years, from it's release in 1982 right through to it's final days in 1993 (it even outlasted the more powerful Commodore 128) when more and more people turned to the likes of the Commodore Amiga, Amiga 1200 (with plenty of quality Amiga Games) or even an IBM PC or Apple machine.

The popularity of this machine was only ever rivalled and equalled by one other: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum had more titles than any other 8-bit computer.

The archives of Spectrum Games are chock full of quality titles that provided stiff competition to the C64.

Playground arguments would regularly ensue over the merits of each machine, its games, graphics....

It is one of the factors that made computing during the 1980s such fun.

Way Of The Exploding Fist on the Commodore 64

The Greatest Ever 8-bit Martial Arts Game On The C64
The Greatest Ever 8-bit Martial Arts Game On The C64

Beating The 10th Dan Opponent On Way Of The Exploding Fist

Gaming on the C64 today...

Games are still being created for this machine today.

Chronosoft are a well known supporter of many retro machines, and the Commodore 64 is one of them. Chronosoft titles are always worth a look - check out their site if you fancy a 'modern' experience on your C64.

Joe Gunn on the Commodore 64

The Massive Memory of the Commodore 64

Marketing and advertising the Commodore 64

This is a machine that was very well advertised back in the 1980s.

Many TV adverts and commercials were made for it and it was always well advertised in weekly and monthly computing publications.

A lot of the adverts tended to focus on the 'large' 64KB of RAM that the computer contained - which in 1982 when it was launched was pretty impressive.

Below is a selection of some more television adverts that were shown in various countries for the machine during the 1980s.


A Mouse For Christmas on your Commodore 64!

I Adore My '64!

It All Starts With The Commodore 64

Any C64 fans out there?

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    • RetroBrothers profile image

      Martin Allan 7 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Yep, you are right.

      Whilst there are lots of quality games to play these days there is less creativity on modern platforms.

      Hubbard was a musical genious!

    • profile image

      uridium5 7 years ago

      Well, how could I not comment after you included the game I took my user name from lol

      Well, I say that the 64 was the best computer ever (hopefully not getting into another battle of Spectrum vs 64 argument he he). This machine was well ahead of it's time and had some of the most original games ever. Nowadays, software houses have to play it safe!

      Thanks for a great article - good to hear the Zoids tune again, Hubbard was amazing!