Celebrate good times

Debunking Happy 30th Anniversary

I’m as satisfied as I can be that all the facts below are more or less 100% accurate, but any slight errors that may exist don’t change the fact that the Commodore 64 is crap!!!!

And yet there’s the first mistake at the end of that very sentence!

Each of these computers had a different type of thinking behind them, but one thing they didn’t have was a 5 or 6 year old version of BASIC!

No, instead they all had different dialects of BASIC. And many of those machines were using components older than the C64’s BASIC but we’ll get back to that near the end of this post.

Unfortunately, the [Acorn Electron] sound facilities were also cut down to one channel instead of 3, but I heard that it was somehow possible to use three channels of sound with machine code routines.

This was done with a technique that, essentially, swaps the note being played hundreds or possibly thousands of times a second – variations of this technique can be applied to just about any computer.

Of course, you also needed machine code to use more than one channel of sound on the Commodore 64

And of course that’s still incorrect because, as noted previously in this blog, there are BASIC-driven multi channel tunes that prove it can be done including a few from the late Jim Butterfield. These tunes are flagged as being BASIC in the High Voltage SID Collection.

Apple followed up their Apple ][ and Apple ][+ computers with the Apple ][e, where the e stood for enhanced. It could run software for the earlier models, but had an 80 column display, improved motherboard, keyboard, and case, as well as a greatly reduced number of chips.

And those changes meant that existing users couldn’t simply upgrade their current Apple II to give it access to the exciting-looking software for the newer machines; whilst the author presumably sees this kind of forced upgrading as a good thing, your correspondent doesn’t see it that way right now because he’s been writing a machine code game for the Apple II series this week and has noted the sometimes conflicting comments in online documentation about which techniques do or don’t work on specific machines.

Atari were involved in a price war with Jack Tramiel’s Commodore, although Atari computers were superior in almost every way imaginable, including the number or colours (256 instead of 16), number of sound channels (4 instead of 3), and the necessary BASIC commands (82 instead of 71) to control these facilities.

These numbers look great on paper but the story is quite a lot more complicated when you actually look at the hardware; for example, those 256 colours aren’t available to the majority of the display modes and even the ones with support for them can only display sixteen colours on screen from BASIC. The only way to increase that number is to either use POKEs to enable the hardware sprites (since they’re not supported by BASIC) or resort to machine code. For reference, the C64 may only have sixteen colours but they can all be displayed simultaneously from BASIC.

Memotech was a British company which started making peripherals for the excellent Sinclair Spectrum, but then decided to make their own computers with metal cases, high quality keyboards, sprites, 3 or 4 channel sound and the ability to massively expand the RAM even up to 512K, although with the Z80 CPU they chose, this would have required lots of bank switching.

Most 8-bits get around this problem with bank switching for both RAM and ROM since they only have 16-bit address buses.

In Japan, a man called Kazuhiko “Kay” Nishi was running a company called ASCII, which then became ASCII Microsoft after signing a deal with Microsoft giving ASCII the rights to Microsoft software in the far east. He looked at what computer hardware was available and put together a collection of what he saw as the best features from various other computers to use as a new standard for home computers to conform to.

When Clive Sinclair was asked about the MSX machines he commented that the idea was similar to if “all the car manufacturers had got together and said lets all have the same engine, the same gearbox, the same axle and let’s use the one that was designed five years ago”. Your correspondent is sure that the author must despise the MSX series in the same way he does the C64 because it would be almost ridiculously hypocritical to slate the C64 pretty much purely for having a five year old BASIC when the MSX had actual components around the same age…

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