The Utter History Of The Commodore 64.
The story of the Commodore 64 begins with MOS Technology, producers of the 6502 CPU, and taken over by Commodore in 1976. After the release of the VIC-20 in early 1981, MOS had no idea what to do next. The decision was made to create chips for "the world's next great video game", and these became the VIC-II (graphics) and SID (sound) chips.
However Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore Business Machines and a survivor of the Nazi WWII concentration camps, decided not to go with the video game idea and instead wanted to use them in the next home computer - a computer to be introduced at the Las Vegas CES in January. A computer that, at the time, had no design. Stuff like that didn’t seem important in the days of the 8-bit pioneers – promise was what counted.
The machine was then designed around a 6510 CPU running at a breakneck 1Mhz and made general release around August 1982 at $595. Atari couldn't figure out how Commodore was selling it at that low price. They would have been gob smacked if they knew Commodore were operating a 400% mark-up. That was part of Tramiel's style: if two parts could do the job competently, the lower cost unit would always get the nod. Plug a joystick into port 1 and wiggle it about; you should see some characters on screen. Why? In order to streamline part of the input interface, tracks of the joystick reading combine those of the keyboard. That’s Tramiel cost-consciousness right there.
Not a man you'd mess with in business.
The C64 design team broke-up just as the machine itself was earning big bucks for Commodore: by early 1983, Albert Charpentier who authorised the project, Robert Yannes who designed the SID, and Charles Winterble who headed worldwide engineering had all left. Tramiel himself left the following year and later, incredibly, bought CBM’s arch rival Atari.
By the time 1987 came to an end, Commodore had built and sold an astonishing 10 million C64 units - an event marked by the production of a limited number of gold coloured machines.
Commodore go bling. Pimp my computer?
In late 1990, buoyed by the runaway success of the C64 Commodore had the bright idea to try to muscle in on Nintendo and Sega within the games console market. So they took the basic C64 motherboard, moved the cartridge port, removed the keyboard, put it in a lozenge shaped case and called it the C64GS (or Games System). New cartridge based games were made and the unit was launched at £100. It flopped. The games were too expensive for those used to paying tape prices (and could not be pirated easily) and the machine had a tendency to break down.
Lockets for giants.
By 1992 production of all forms of the C64 ceased completely. By 1994 Commodore had gone into liquidation and was bought by Escom. In the end, no one really knows for sure how many C64 units were sold. Conservative estimates put it at around 16 million, but it could be anywhere up to 30 million overall, making it the most successful home computer ever built. That Commodore as a home computer company only really existed for little more than fifteen years but is still so loved and remembered is remarkable.
So the C64 then. Breadbinny and a bit loose at the seams. But we loved it, and here, care of the
team are 64 things you never knew about our old friend:
1. I heard that the original colour was supposed to be red, but Peter Ebdon who later went on to become World Snooker Champion 2002, was in charge of the manufacturing process and he can't distinguish red from brown.
2. There's a rumour that the bread bin moniker is actually a slightly confused urban myth. Carla Lane wrote her highly rated sitcom about Liverpudlians on the dole on her Commodore C64 and lovingly referred to it as the Bread Bin.
3. In 1984 an administrative error lead to Jack Tramiel receiving a Grammy on stage for the Commodores number 3 hit "Nightshift".
4. The c64 actually had 64mb of memory, not 64k. However, only 64k was available to the programmer, the rest of the memory was dedicated to storing every shade of brown.
5. 'The C64 was of course the first 64Bit home computer. The reason the software didn't appear to be that much of an improvement over the lesser 8Bit machines was purely down to the rather lacklustre performance of the SID Chip'
6. "The SID chip was actually designed by a retired harpy. It is rumoured to enlighten the listener to their true sexuality whenever its can be heard.
This phenomenon would explain why there are many haters of the beautiful SID based music; perhaps they are not happy with what it tells them?
We managed to track down a SID hater for his comments whilst sanxion loader is playing in the background: "get it away from me!!!! ARGHHHHHHHH!" *runs to leather shorts shop*
7. "The c64 was originally going to called the "commodore > Spectrum 5u><0rs!!!1ONEELEVENTY" but despite hiring a crack team of designers (many of whom responsible for the reward winning design for the hole that the ET cartridges were dumped) they couldn’t come up with a badge logo that was effective enough.
That and the fact that no-one had a clue what it meant, apart from a young man who made the tea, a young man called "Sandy Mcl33t"."
8. 'The C64 was originally designed by Nestlé as a replacement for the Toblerone, but was rejected because it wasn't Swiss enough'.
9. Each Commodore 64 only had 64 random working keys out of the box. Completists would meet in secret at secluded car parks to swap their 2 non-working keys in an attempt to create the Holy Grail: the Commodore 66. Incidentally, dogging grew out of that particular scene.
10. 'The C64 was in fact developed well before the VIC-20 but at Commodore didn't think people were ready for it.'
11. At its height in the 1980s, the games magazine industry in Britain was worth a massive £64 billion. Zzap! alone took in £8 billion for its legendary 'Christmas 1985' issue.
12. Incidentally, the C64 is incapable of making the Zzap! sound effect.
13. I think you'll find that they paid off Tangerine (makers of the Oric) for exclusive use the word in the UK given the Oric was only every popular in France, where of course Zzap means chien-turd.
14. A C64 placed on a radiator will melt to base plastics and metal swarf within seventeen weeks.
15. The C64 was so-named because it was 64 times more powerful than the Spectrum, created by multi-millionaire egg-head, Sir Clive Sinclair.
16. The C64 had many celebrity owners, including a young Donald Trump, who used it as one of the foundation stones for his magical ' Trump Tower'.
17. When Johnny Ball thinks of a number, he never thinks of the number 64.
18. All 'true' Commodore 64 owners owned 64 shoes - or 32 pairs - the same number as their hero, Jack Tramiel.
19. The arcade game, Q-bert, is named after one of Jack Tramiel's sons: Kevin Tramiel.
20. 'The C64 was supposed to be a business computer, but people in suits at most companies decided the box simply wasn't big enough to hold all the financial records in it. Of course we all know how well used the Xbox has been for just this purpose.'
21. In the East End of London a Commodore 64 is known as an "Albus Dumbledore".
22. The Commodore 64 is virtually unknown in South West London. As is the colour grey.
23. In 1986 Roy Castle had to abort an attempt at tap dancing the theme tune to Ghost n Goblins live on British TV wearing a pair of Commodore 64s on his feet. He was quoted afterwards as saying, "I didn't really feel up to it today. Maybe tomorrow."
24. The word 'commodore' means "a commissioned naval officer who wanks above a captain and below a rear admiral".
25. There are, in fact, sixty-four ways to leave a lover. It doesn't scan as well as fifty though.
26. Its a little known fact that the Commodore Plus/4 was named in honour of a pair of plus-fours owned by Jack Tramiel's wife, Gertrude - a keen golfer. However, the original design, which included Campbell tartan livery and a joystick shaped like a nine-iron, had to be abandoned due to copyright issues. Tramiel learned from the experience and made all subsequent computers, including the C64, as bland as possible.
27. Evil Knievel's initial plan to leap the Grand Canyon included an idea to use a commodore 64 as the ramp. That's definitely true that one.
28. The C64's cartridge port was designed by Givenchy.
29. If you pour a pint of Guinness into a Commodore 1541 disk drive, it improves loading times by 15%.
30. Sid Little helped with the preliminary design of the SID chip.
31. Imagine's hastily constructed expansion pack for the Spectrum version of Bandersnatch is actually the innards of a Commodore 64.
32. In 1987 Tiny Timothy Nugget became so obsessed with Little Computer People that he actually lived inside his Commodore 64 for a week. Under oath, his mum said that he was "such a lonely boy. He thought he'd made a new friend."
33. Gay magazine, Attitude, is still to this day entirely produced using Commodore 64's. The editor actually has a modified C64 on his desk that has been re-badged as a Commodormardi Gras.
34. Famous C64 owners include Anthony Perkins of C2D2 fame, Samuel L Fishburne out of films, TV presenter Anton Dec, and woman-destroyer Fred West.
35. 'All chess fan will remember the day that reigning world champion Gay Kasparov was famously beaten by a C64 with one hand tied behind its back. Kasparov claimed foul when he realised that the C64 was using a floppy drive for storage of tactics when the rules clearly stated that only cassette based media was allowed'
36. As was common at the time, the Russians designed their own ‘tribute’ to the Commodore C64. The two machines were identical in every respect with the single exception that the ‘N’s were all back-to-front (on the Russian model).
37. The subtle radiations from a Commodore 64 have been clinically proven to increase penis length, girth and even heft due to muscular density by up to 40% in men. Women have yet to show conclusive results, as it is impossible to get them from the bedroom to the lab.
38. Andrew Braybrook decided upon the title of his C64 opus, Uridium, after mis-hearing a Graftgold colleague shout instructions to their security guard when a drunken and drugged up Matthew Smith attempted to storm their office in 1986.
39. Martin Amis wrote the first draft of the 1530 Datasette Unit Operating Instructions, but omitted the word 'screw', so was sacked.
40. The SID chip was originally called the Sidney Chip.
41. The SID Chip is so monikered as its first design was drawn on the back of a potato chip – had the design process taken place in the UK it would have been called the SID Crisp. Or the SID Wotsit.
42. Ben Daglish is Kenny Dalglish's son.
43. Many people are aware that Paradroid is a neologism formed by combining the words 'paranoid' and 'droid' - but few outside the industry know that Head Over Heels' working title was 'Arse Over Tit'.
44. Renowned Commodore musician Rob Hubbard founded the Scientology movement. He gave all that up and turned to computers on the exact day Tom Cruise became a Scientologist.
45. Hubbard's chief rival, Martin Galway, was known for his flute playing and dancing eyes, which earned him the name of "The Sparkling Flatulence".
46. Its a little known fact that the "dead pixel problem" was actually an issue as far back as the release of the Commodore 64. Many early adopters attempted to send their televisions back and Commodore were rushed into a press release explaining that whilst the pixels were very grey, they weren't quite dead.
47. The haunting spectacle that is River Dance is only possible thanks to a grant obtained from the Commodore Foundation for the Furtherance of Crazy-Legs Dance.
48. Lionel Richie, of course, invented the Commodore 64. But how did it get its name? Well, he wanted his bandmates to concentrate on their vocals, and so invented the now-legendary SID chip to use in his new computer as an all-purpose backing band. Because of the complex filters in the SID chip, it took him many attempts to get it just right, and the final approved version was his sixty-fourth version, hence "Commodore 64".
49. Three Times a Lady was the result of a stack overflow.
50. Tron, the 1982 science fiction masterpiece starring Jack and Gertrude Tramiel, was entirely created on a souped-up Commodore 64.
51. Incidentally, slightly off topic I know, the makers of Wargames initially intended for the WOPR to be a Sinclair Spectrum. However, preview audiences where turned off by the machine asking if Matthew Broderick would like to play a game of Pud Pud.
52. Commodore 64 games were often said to have "blocky" graphics. The little-known reason for this is that Jack Tramiel insisted that all games were first designed with Lego. Translating these to computer was so time-consuming that programmers didn't have time to round off the edges.
53. Impossible Mission features an exact replica of Epyx' headquarters. Programmer turnover was enormous.
54. After emigrating to America, Jack Tramiel enlisted and served four years in the U.S. Army. At Fort Dix Jack showed a talent for un-jamming typewriters.
55. Egghead sonic pioneer Brian Eno abandoned lost ambient project "Music For Adolescent Bedrooms", composed entirely of SID warbles and 1541 grinding sounds, when David Byrne gave his MiniMoog back.
56. Murdering children and hearing the voices of dead relatives is mad. Playing the Ocean loader tune while wearing a hat: less so.
57. Rod Hull is buried in a Commodore 64-themed coffin.
58. A Commodore C64 with a picture of Shigeru Miyamoto taped on it, was the only childhood friend of current Xbox head Arthur Mullard.
59. Activision's Little Computer Person was real, and came bundled inside every piece of C64 hardware, and not just the computer itself. The machine-gunning noise that came from a 1541 disk drive was actually a Little Computer Person hammering fuck out of it, trying to get it to work faster.
60. One of the first ever Commodore 64 games was Jack Attack. But did you know it was actually named after Jack The Ripper? And today they say Grand Theft Auto is bad?
61. It is possible to fry an egg on C64 transformers – however, this practice was banned in 1987 after some kid got yolk onto the Dutch National Grid.
62. During the Gulf War, late-model C64GS units were used by the Iraqi army to provide targeting data for the launching of SCUDS in the Western Iraq desert.
63. Commodore is an anagram of paedophile.
64. 64 is the exact number of years that the C64 will be remembered for. In August 2056 a device will flower for but the briefest second wiping clear the Commodore memories of every human being. The Amiga will still be known and loved but nobody will be able to actually remember who made it.