Before I get to my article about the actual Commodore Amiga computer, I thought I’d dive into something more fun before the winter holidays: the inevitable article about all those great games from back then as a sequel to my C64 Games post from last year. When I had switched from the Commodore 64 to the Amiga 2000 in November 1990, the 16-bit-computer was already an established force in the video games industry and easily the best gaming machine next to the consoles of the day. I discovered that there were a lot of really crappy games, but the then very powerful hardware of the Amiga allowed the developers to realize many ideas that had not been possible before. So apart from my favourite genre, the adventures, there were a lot of other games to discover. Here are my favourite games from the early 1990s that I first encountered on the Amiga – this is, of course, a highly biased and personaö list that may raise some eyebrows and is be missing some entries, but I still like those games even until today.
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In 1986, the Commodore 64 got its own graphical user interface system, capable of running only on 64 Kilobytes RAM and a 170kb floppy drive. GEOS, the Graphical Environment Operating System, was like having Windows on an 8-bit computer. At that time, the venerable machine had already been on the market for about four years and was starting to get overshadowed by its 16-bit successors like the Amiga – but the computer was still popular, because it was now very inexpensive and lots of games and software were still being released for it. There were many good serious programs, but most of them limited themselves to the C64’s text mode and only few graphical interfaces like Commodore’s own MagicDesk had emerged. But this was all about to change in 1986 and it was all the fault of the airline industry.
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On July 23rd, 1985 the Commodore Amiga was first introduced to the world in a huge launch show demonstrating the then unheard of capabilites of this new 16-bit generation of personal computers. It could do things that are totally common today, but were almost utopic in 1985 – not even the first Apple Macintosh, released a year before, was able to deliver what the Amiga did back then. Although this marked the commercial release of the Amiga 1000 and the later, much more popular Amiga 500 and 2000 only appeared two years later, it was the start of a revolution – the first true multimedia computer was born.
The video embedded below is a recording of the famous show at the Lincoln Center in New York exactly thirty years ago – it was a somewhat pompous event, but it delivered the goods. Andy Warhol painting a digitized image of Debbie Harry is maybe the most memorable part of the show, but everything else is actually a very fair and unexaggerated demonstration of the computers abilities. Remember, this was 1985, only three years after the Commodore 64 was introduced!
I think it may be time to write a big Amiga article soon. My own Amiga 2000 is still in good working condition, although the second floppy drive and the harddrive are broken – but the computer itself still works!
So, should I or should I not? I’m still not quite done with the 8 bit era, but I’ve taken a little break with the Vintage Computing series and soon I will have to change over to 16 bit and write about that wonderful computer that was built around this chip. It’ll be a lot of fun, but it will also take some time.
The Commodore 64 was one of the best 8-bit gaming home computers of the 1980s and although I had never used it exclusively for playing games, I certainly made no effort to avoid them. There was a huge amount of garbage out there and the old preconception that computer games were only violent and nothing else was at least a little true, but there were also a lot of exceptions. Of course everybody back then traded some games via the schoolyard exchange and while I had a lot of original games, some others were only available via slightly illicit means because at the end of the 1980s many older games were already out of print for a long time. I tried many of the different genres and while there were a lot disappointments, I still found some real jewels in the relatively short time the C64 was my main computer between 1989 and 1990. Here are some of these games, which continue to be my favourites until today. I’m really happy that the games themselves and even the hardware to play them on still exists.
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The last Vintage Computing post was more about the Commodore 128 in general, but there was more than just the one machine – the C128D variant was even more amazing, transforming the 8-bit-machine into a real personal computer. This is the story about the “big” C128 and how I ended up with not only one, but two of them. Long after I had graduated from the Commodore 64 to the Amiga and even the PC, I discovered that my 1541-II floppy drive was broken, but I almost accidentially found a surprising replacement with one computer I always wanted to have in the C64 era.
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After three articles about the different incarnations of the Commodore 64, it’s now time to talk about Commodore’s flagship 8-bit-computer, the amazing Commodore 128. Some may notice that I have completely skipped the C16/116/Plus4 series, but since I only want to write about the computers I own myself and those have never found a way into my collection, I’ll just suggest the respective Wikipedia articles instead. There are three different C128 models: the standard C128 you see in the top right image, the C128D with its integrated 1571 floppy and detached keyboard and the C128DCR, which is basically the same, but with a part metal case and some inner modifications. But this first of two articles is mainly about the original C128, which was introduced in January 1985 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, three years after the debut of the C64 and a breakneck development time of only five months.
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Last week I wrote about the original Commodore 64 in its breadbox shape, which was almost, but not fully retired in 1986 when the C64-II with the new modern case designed after the C128 was introduced. While the new C64-II was overall a success, there was some backlash about the new case which was not liked by everyone. Commodore listened to its customers and in 1987 brought back the old breadbox case, but now in a slightly different colour and with the same mainboard as the C64-II. The look was a hybrid between the two generations of Commodore computer design from the brown tones of the early 1980s and the new beige cases first seen with the C128 and the Amiga in 1985.
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In the previous post, I had written about my own original Commodore 64 from 1989, which was actually the very last model sold, a C64-II. Many years later, around 2003, when I already had acquired a C128D as a replacement for my broken floppy drive, I decided to get some more of the Commodore hardware I never had, specifically an original C64 of the first generation. In those days there were plenty of C64 auctions on Ebay to choose from and finding specific models like the one in this photo was not difficult, but this computer still needed a little work to be museum-worthy.
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Instead of continuing my Commodore story in the Vintage Computing series, I’m going to take a break this week between the holidays and write about some fantastic books and other material, both new and old about the computers of yesterday.
The first entry is a book I found about one year ago through a Slate article – the seemingly cryptic title 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 refers to a tiny BASIC program running on the Commodore 64 that produces an instant maze line by line on the screen, like you can see it in the image on the right (click on it to enlarge). This program is why I love the simplicity of the old Commodore computers – you just can’t do something like this on a modern PC! The book is not strictly about programming, but about programming and computer culture – it takes the one-line program as a basis for a stroll through the computer history of the 1970s and 1980s. Sometimes things get a little too overanalyzed, but on the whole 10 Print… is very fascinating. The PDF is thankfully free to download on the website of the book, but a very pricey printed version is also available.
Another interesting free book is again not solely about programming, but about the games industry of the 1980s is It’s Behind You: The Making Of A Computer Game from Bob Pape. It’s not even Commodore-related, because the author was responsible for the port of R-Type, a popular shoot’em’up console game, for the ZX Spectrum, but for his very interesting and fascinating tale I’ll gladly make an exception even if I know next to nothing about the innards about that other 8-bit machine.
Those are the two newer free books, but if you are looking for more vintage computer books and magazines, I also found some great places on the web. Note that these digital republications are technically copyright violations, but considering their age the downloads at the following links can probably be seen as fair use nowadays.
DLH’s Commodore Archive has literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of old books about just every Commodore computer ever built. The collection is awesomly extensive and even contains a vast archive of manuals for all sorts of software and hardware. There is also a fair amount of software in the form of diskimages including a collection of disk- and tape-magazines. The primary language is English, but there are also a few books available in other languages like German.
64’er Online provides a near-complete PDF archive of the German 64’er Magazin with the blessings of the publishers, or more exactly their successors. The original Markt & Technik has long ceased to exist and the name was even eradicated this year when the parent company chose to give up publishing. But this website has almost every issue of the 64’er Magazin from April 1984 to January 1999 – the only drawback is that for legal reasons all the wonderful vintage ads had to be blurred out. But the articles are all intact and are today of great historical value, providing an exciting chronicle of the Commodore 64 and 128 in the 1980s and 1990s. A similar archive can be found here, which also has the Sonderhefte, which are missing on the 64’er-Online website.
The C64 Base is hosted by a pecuilar storage site, but I found the link while searching for old manuals – and this site has them aplenty. There are also tons of books, magazines and advertisements in many languages and even a huge software archive is somewhere inside the directory structure. I’m not entirely sure if this can still be described as completely legal or if it was even meant to be public, but I’m willing to take the risk of linking to it because there is so much amazing history in there. I can’t guarantee that there is not something dubious hidden somewhere in there, but to me it looks like a legitimate endeavour to save historical documents which otherwise would be lost forever.