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A History of Gaming Platforms: The Commodore 64

October 24, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Some of the most popular games for the C64 include Electronic Arts’ hybrid action strategy game Archon and multiplayer strategy game M.U.L.E. (both 1983), First Star Software’s Boulder Dash puzzler and Epyx’s Impossible Mission platformer (both 1984), Rainbow Arts’ Great Giana Sisters platformer, Elite’s Commando arcade conversion, Microprose’s Pirates! action adventure, System 3’s IK+ fighting game and Last Ninja action platformer, and Lucasfilm Games’ adventure, Maniac Mansion (all 1987). These 10 games demonstrate the diversity of the C64’s game library, which truly had something for everyone.

Indeed, anyone who grew up with the system could easily add another 20, 30, or even 50 more games to this list. For sports fans, there was Epyx’s impressive Games series, like Summer Games (1984) and Winter Games (1985); shoot-‘em-up fans had Synsoft’s Blue Max (1983), Elite’s 1942, and Electric Dream’s R-Type; and even the “adult” genre was well represented by games like Artworx’s Strip Poker (1984). Role-playing fans could choose between several prominent franchises: SSI’s Gold Box Dungeons & Dragons games, Interplay’s Bard’s Tale series, Sir-Tech’s Wizardry series, and Origin’s Ultima series.

There were even open-ended or, “sandbox,” games like Firebird’s space simulator/strategy game Elite (1985), and strategy games like Wil Wright’s legendary Sim City (1989), which was the only version that came standard with a terrain editor. Incidentally, Wright’s inspiration for Sim City came while he developed game-play maps for his first game, the innovative overhead-perspective action-strategy game, Raid on Bungeling Bay (Broderbund, 1984). He had so much fun creating these maps that he thought it would make a fun game by itself!

Epyx was a prime supporter, not only with classics like the Games series (1984+) and Impossible Mission (1984), but also with unusual licensed games, like G.I. Joe (1985), shown via direct screen capture

Although much is often made of the C64’s relative graphical capabilities, others point out that SID, the system’s powerful sound chip, was even more impressive for its time. Indeed, the C64 was where “chiptune” maestros like Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, Martin Galway, David Whittaker, Ben Dalglish, and so many others got their start. Rob Hubbard’s music in the otherwise-forgettable shooter game Sanxion, released in 1986 by Thalamus, caused the game to be praised for its distinctive loading music.

At a time when most computer games contained no music or, at best, a melodic sequence of beeps and bloops, Hubbard’s tunes demonstrated the potential of the C64 as a truly musical instrument. The work of Hubbard and many of his contemporary SID composers has been remixed and updated for modern audiences, though the original tunes are available on any number of fans’ websites. Just like any other musical instrument, the SID chip can sound slightly different depending upon the system model from which it is used and the version.

Another benefit of the SID was that quality speech synthesis was a possibility without external add-ons (though both those and speech input devices were readily available), found in many popular games such as the aforementioned Impossible Mission, Kennedy Approach (Microprose, 1985) air traffic control simulator, Beach-Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back (Access, 1985) multi-screen action game, Jump Jet (Anirog Software, 1985) flight simulator, Ghostbusters (Activision, 1984) movie translation, and Transformers: Battle to Save the Earth (Activision, 1986) platformer, which filled the entire side of a game disk with an unprecedented fully narrated intro story.

Of special note was the release of Quantum Link (Q-Link) in late 1985 exclusively for the various C64-compatible systems with modems, allowing for multiplayer online games via its proprietary service. What made Q-Link different from other online services at the time, like CompuServe and The Source, was not only the graphical interface, but also Lucasfilm Games’ revolutionary Club Caribe (aka Habitat), where users could control an onscreen avatar that could chat with other users, carry and use objects and money, and travel around an island. Club Caribe inspired LucasArts' successful adventure game series that began with the aforementioned Maniac Mansion and was the forebearer to today’s graphically rich, massively multiplayer online games. Q-Link itself ended in late 1994, but not before morphing into America Online (AOL).

Text and graphics adventures, like Activision's The Tracer Sanction (1984), shown via direct screen capture, were a staple on the platform

In short, the C64 was a powerful gaming platform for its time, and it was heavily supported by some of the most innovative and talented game developers of all time. There is no doubt that along with the Apple II, Atari VCS, and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it represents one of the most influential game platforms ever built.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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