Feeds

The Commodore 64 is 30

The most successful 8-bit micro ever

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

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.

Commodore 64 UK advert

On sale in the UK
Click for larger image

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.

Commodore 64 US advert

On sale in the USA
Click for larger image

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.

Commodore Max games console

Too soon: Commodore's Max
Source: Wikimedia

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.

Boost IT visibility and business value

Next page: Building the Vic-40

More from The Register

next story
Apple takes blade to 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display
Shaves price, not screen on mid-2014 model
iPhone 6 flip tip slips in Aussie's clip: Apple's 'reversible USB' leaks
New plug not compatible with official Type-C, according to fresh rumors
FEAST YOUR EYES: Samsung's Galaxy Alpha has an 'entirely new appearance'
Wow, it looks like nothing else on the market, for sure
YES YES YES! Apple patents mousy, pressure-sensing iVibrator
Fanbois prepare to experience the great Cupertin-O
Steve Jobs had BETTER BALLS than Atari, says Apple mouse designer
Xerox? Pff, not even in the same league as His Jobsiness
TV transport tech, part 1: From server to sofa at the touch of a button
You won't believe how much goes into today's telly tech
Apple analyst: fruity firm set to shift 75 million iPhones
We'll have some of whatever he's having please
Things are looking up in Flappy Bird sequel
'Swing Copters' offers the same gameplay but in a different direction
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.