The sprite stuff
The 64's graphics were handled by a Vic-II chip capable of reproducing 16 foreground and eight background colours. More importantly for an ever-more game-crazy potential audience, the chip could maintain up to eight 24 x 21-pixel sprites - 12 x 21 in graphics modes sporting more than two colours - moving them smoothly around the screen and automatically ensuring they were drawn correctly over the background.
Many 64 owners spent hours upon hours hand-coding sprite data using Poke commands to try the technology out. The manual had a set they could enter by hand.
The Vic (Video Interface Chip) core would support separate 40 columns by 25 rows text and bitmapped graphics modes, the latter running at 300 x 200 or 160 x 200. It also contained circuitry for bit-level scrolling.
Commodore pitched the 64's sprite handling hard, the key feature, it said, of the machine's superior graphics capabilities. The 64 was good at sound too, with a MOS Technology Sid (Sound Interface Device) chip capable of maintaining and mixing three separate sound channels, with four waveform options per channel and an eight-octave voice capacity.
The 64 gained these graphics and sound chips from a failed Commodore project, the Max. MOS Tech, which was owned by Commodore, began developing the 5µm Vic-II and Sid chips during 1981 while the parent company was pushing the Vic-20. That machine was selling very well over here but particularly in the States, so Commodore decided to use the new MOS chips in a machine intended to be a low-cost games machine that would enter the market below the Vic.
The result was the Max, a machine designed in Japan and sporting a flatter look than the Vic and an odd, moulded-metal keyboard reminiscent of the controllers bundled with the 1979 Intellivision games console system. Not that the keyboard would get heavy use. The Max was intended to be more games console than computer. It didn't even feature built-in Basic. The programming language and all the Max's games would be loaded through plug-in Rom cartridges.
Too soon: Commodore's Max
Initially aimed at the Japanese market, the Max was also earmarked for the US and Germany. It was briefly considered for the UK too, here named the Vic-10 and pitched to take on the likes of the low-cost ZX81. The Vic-10 even appeared in a number of UK retailers' brochures and in mail-order catalogues - which is where I first saw it - but would never ship over here, and may never have appeared in the US and Germany either.
However, the Max did launch in Japan, early in 1982. But it didn't survive long there, and was killed off within the year. By then, the Commodore 64 was in production and seemed to company bosses to pave the way for more lucrative computing markets.
Next page: Building the Vic-40
It's been 30 fucking years?!?!??!??
Ah, the C65, and a minor mistake
I believe there are a couple or few fully-built C65s floating around out there, some that work. They look like really neat machines, could have been to the C64 what the IIgs was to the Apple. I made my jump from the Commodore 64 (actually the 128D) to the Amiga. A great move, IMHO. Though I still look back on my 128 from time-to-time.
I also recall lugging around the SX-64 I bought in high school. Can't remember what I paid for it, but $250 sounds about right. I have two now just waiting to be fixed and modded with smaller internal parts and LCD screen. If I ever get around to that at all *sigh*
One minor mistake in the article. BASIC was not copied into main memory: it was actually bank-switched in to the 6510 address space when the computer was in "BASIC mode." Address $00 and $01 were special ports on the 6510 (direction and data) which were used for bank-switching segments of BASIC and KERNAL ROM and I/O space in and out of RAM (not solely for this purpose, mind you.) In the correct configuration, one could map all 64k of RAM into the 6510's address space for reading (writes always went to RAM under ROM, irrespective of the bank setting.) I believe GEOS did this, and I know I used to map out the ROMs in my ML programs when I needed more memory space.
Man I loved programming the 6510.
Paris, writes always go to RAM.
"The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk." - No, that'd be the Spectrum 48K.
I almost choked on my coffee when I read the article's claim that the OS was "copied into RAM".
You *could* copy the ROM into the RAM underneath it and then flip out the ROM (some of us liked to do this in order to alter system behaviour for nefarious purposes - for example, I altered the behaviour of the STOP vector, for writing autoboot code out to tape.) But the operating system, by default, ran directly from the ROM chip.
The C64 didn't have a "20K ROM chip", either - it had two 8KB ROMs (one for the OS "kernal" - misspelling intentional) and one for BASIC - and one 4KB character ROM which stored two sets of system fonts (one uppercase, with more of those funky symbols - and one mixed uppercase/lowercase, for professional uses.)
To this day I have fond memories of my many Commodore 64's from over the years. By todays standards the games were blocky, small, and unsophisticated but they were so original and fun.
Games today are a pale shadow in comparison, sure they have massive budgets, design teams, gigabytes of graphics resources but for all that they are still just clones of previous games, just a different situation or weapon set, the same soulless drivel just jazzed up, tweaked and repackaged.
It was on the C64 and other machines of the time that the games industry was born. Guys in their garages with extremely limited resources worked miracles with the hardware and came out with something fun and unique.
It's only fitting that to this day the Commodore 64 is the best selling computer of all time, and with the progress of technology these days with models lasting 6 months at best, it will never be outsold.
Happy Birthday Commodore 64. Thanks for the memories.