Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Best Is Back!

In a world where competition between computers means Windows vs Mac with a tiny but savvy minority using Linux it's hard to remember that back in the early 1980's when home computers were just coming out the competition was between very different names.  Back then the spaces on our desks were reserved for very different machines.  Who remembers the Commodore Pet with its glowing green text on black screen and its interminably slow tape drive?  (And when I say tape drive I mean cassette tapes, not those new-fangled digital things)
Back in the day the two big competitors were the Apple IIe and the Commodore 64.  Together they held the majority of the market with a minority working off the Atari 400 or 800, or the TRS-80.  (The Macintosh also existed back then but it was a computer for the wealthy or very professional, not for the average teenage kid looking to play games on.  IBM also introduced DOS-based computers but who understood DOS?)  The Apple IIe had certain advantages, principally the speed with which it loaded games off its floppy disk drive.  However it also came standard with a green text/black background monitor unless you were prepared to shell out the big bucks for a colour screen.
The Commodore 64, on the other hand, was a truly amazing machine.  Yes the lumbering disk drive, which by itself was larger than many CPU's towers nowadays, was slower than molasses but this did have the advantage of allowing the user to go upstairs, prepare and eat lunch and then come downstairs again while the machine was loading the game.  And anyway, the Epyx FastLoad Cartridge got us around that.  What was more, it could be hooked up to a colour television which meant saving on the expense of a montor.  It also had the largest cachet of games and while the graphics might have been primitive compared to Apple IIe's more advanced card, they were still more than great enough to provide hours of enjoyment.  From Fort Apocalypse to Jumpman and beyond, the Commodore 64 rocked.  And all on a 1 MHz processor and 64K (not M, not G) of RAM.

And then suddenly one day everything changed.  The MacIntosh, now Mac, became far more ubiquitous.  Bill Gates's Microsoft appeared with a Mac ripoff called Windows 3.1 and then Windows 94.  PC's were cheap, powerful and connected to the Internet.  While the computer world evolved around it, Commodore continued to rely on its staple product.  There were spinoffs like the C-128 and the C-16 but they offered nothing new.  It was only when it was too late that it tried to branch out by introducing the Amiga which, while a great machine, was swept away by the new PC tide.
The great news is that the Commodore 64 is back!
No, it's not the original but it seems to be the next best thing.  On the outside it looks almost completely likely the original, beloved CPU.  On the inside it has the guts of a modern computer along with the requisite DVD player, memory card slots and USB ports on the sides.  One can boot up into the native OS or an original C-64 emulator.  The nostalgia!  The joy!
At this time I'm still not ready to purchase.  A careful reading of the site shows that while units are shipping, the eventual native operating system, the Commodore OS 1.0, is not yet ready.  The new C-64 is shipping with a relatively unknown Linux-based OS right now and apparently you could even install Windows 7 onto it if you want to.  Me, I'm going to wait until the new Commodore OS 1.0 is ready.
The only other question I have about the project is whether or not the C-64 emulator will be joystick compatible.  Having used other emulators in the past that relied on keyboards I couldn't quite get into the games the same way.  I'v e-mailed the company and will hopefully have an answer soon.
After generations of 3-D, on-line interactivity and all the other stuff that's come over the last few years, I hope that soon my desktop will be adorned with one of these and I can go back to enjoying the best games ever made for the home computer!

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