Pushing Hardware to its Limits (Commodore 64)

I decided to try playing Commodore 64. I somehow started to admire this product of computer industry. It started as I tried to figure out something new, again, something new that I yet haven’t discovered as a gamer or player. I was born in the 80s. But you would have to be a teenager back then if you picked a Commodore 64 up and really started fiddling with it.

There were just so many possibilities for a person. You could just play or you could learn BASIC and ultimately if you were good at it and had some sort of flow and interest in this technology you could go real far. You could actually learn how the thing works and program it to do whatever you wished to. This can be accomplished with Assembler programming.

My minor experiments are nothing compared to what some witty persons have accomplished. With this in mind I am going to begin. First I watched a video on YouTube that introduced me some games. It had 30 games on it. I picked the ones I found most interesting. Then I did a Google search and found this site . Just to give you a clear picture of what Commodore 64 is capable of doing I am giving you some names of some of the best games that I tested. The games are Amalyte, Bubble Bobble, Commando Arcade, International Karate, Katakis, Lode Runner, Prince of Persia, R-Type and Wasteland.

I have stumbled to Prince of Persia and Bubble Bobble way back when I was using our family’s PC so I already had a picture of what these games are like. They definitely didn’t look visually bad at all. You have to consider what kind of a device was in use. What were it’s capabilities of running games. I could just state here its specifications like processors speed and memory, ROM and RAM, that it had but that isn’t going to tell you much.

Commodore 64 was not so powerful. It is mind blowing how engineers and designers used everything they had to deliver games to consumers. There were many limitations to be taken in consideration. This made it a tough job for graphics designers, programmers and even hardware electronics professionals. They had to split the work depending on their own field of expertise. This is important also today when someone is trying to bring a product to the markets and available.

How did I feel after I tried to play some 1980s games? The limitations are there. As I was playing Commando Arcade I figured out some basic tactics and I find it to be real close to some modern shooting games. The action was fast. I had a modern game pad so it helped a bit. Bubble Bobble was nice. It is almost too familiar to me. And then there was R-Type which is a very nice space shooter. You can forgive the poor graphics because the playability is very good…and also fast.

If you are interested to find out more I suggest you use first your favorite search engine and find an emulator. I really didn’t have any hardware to test these games with. I am not sure if these games are available anymore and I think it’s okay to try them out. Later you can get familiar with hardware and you can actually also build your own C-64 if you have time and knowledge or maybe even both. I find even a small possibility of developing some or any software to Commodore 64 very interesting.

What exactly is chiptune music?

What means chiptune? Chip reminds of electronic component while tune brings in mind a simple musical melody. This even now popular genre became known when game developers, back in 80s, needed music and sound effects for their games. First very popular system that had decent music was Commodore 64 which came to markets in 1982. It had a chip called SID (“Sound Interface Device”) that was responsible for producing the sound for this system.

You can find chiptune also on NES (“Nintendo Entertainment System”), that was released in 1983. 16-bit systems that were later released also could produce music that would be categorized as chiptune althought they were of higher quality as systems moved from 8-bit to 16-bit. First very popular console that had sound quality very close to CDs was the first Sony PlayStation. You can argue for hours about which has better sound – vinyl or CD, but we are not going to go there. So chiptune was originally popular in video games from 1980s to, I think, 1995.

Today chiptune is still very popular. You can find artists that have been strongly influenced by this type of music. Usually chiptune is strongly associated with retro games or the games that originally had chiptune as their background music. As retro gaming is popular chiptune is alive even today. Some artists are producing chiptune with modern tools such as software synthesizers that are just basically virtual instruments with some presets and the ability to create various sounds, your own presets, and can run inside any kind of DAW (“Digital Audio Workstation”) you can imagine.

Since I started with this topic I have to write also more about so called tracker music that first made its way to home musicians sometime in 1980s. So tracker is simple application that runs on computer that allows you to make music. Amigas computers were first devices that made this functionality available for music production. Inside tracker you can define your songs tempo, basically just how fast the track is flowing, and add drum sounds and melodies that are created using small digital samples of audio. Trackers are used also today but they are not as powerful as music applications such as FL Studio for example. Some now popular trackers are Renoise, a very good one, Mad Tracker and OpenMPT. Some older ones are Scream Tracker, Fast Tracker and Impulse Tracker. You can find many great trackers and please comment and let us know if you have a suggestion for readers of this blog.

You can listen to some chiptune songs for example here:

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