Gaming

Bringing back a Commodore 64 – Part 5: The Games

With a fully working C64 now plugged into my TV it was time to get a lot more games into the thing and so I finally made the last steps I needed to get that resolved. Initially I tried to see if I could find additional C64 cartridges to add to the collection but one thing I learned quickly was that they seem to be worth their weight in gold. If you’re lucky to find any cheap ones then congratulations (I found one… see below) but be prepared to fight to the death for any that are listed on auction sites.

The SD2IEC is a cost effective way of loading disk games into a C64.

The alternative to that is of course using an SD2IEC adapter that lets you use emulator disk images via an SD card adapter that plugs into the back of the C64. These devices work VERY well and used in conjunction with the must have CBM File Browser software that allows you to navigate through the SD card you can quickly get a useable setup for your C64 gaming needs. The final piece of the puzzle was a fastload cartridge as disk loads from the C64 (even via the SD card) were tragically slow. Thus I picked up the EPYX Fastload Reloaded that supports the SD2IEC and dramatically improves load times, bringing it down to seconds instead of minutes. Having the two working in conjunction makes playing on the C64 a breeze.

Though the SD2IEC handles a lot of the disk images thrown at it you do tend to find that there will be a number that simply won’t work – mostly games spread across multiple disks. In my case I was able to play the awesome Turrican fine but with the sequel there was no luck at all. Thankfully there are a lot like minded retro fans out there who have converted many of these to a more compatible format which is a massive step towards keeping these games accessible to everyone.

Like they did during the C64’s prime, a fastload cartridge can make a massive difference.

The extra work required to get this right is surprising considering how easy dealing with an SD card reader was on my Atari 8bits. But it’s mainly because the drive emulation isn’t 100% accurate due to the 1541 drives having a lot of hardware inside them, including their own 6502 CPU, which isn’t doable within the SD2IEC hardware design. In other words disks that got creative with the disk drive don’t play so well. However, there is also the 1541 Ultimate II+ which does that an much, much more. It is a much more substantial investment that I may look at in the future but like the same implies, it is the ultimate solution to your game loading problems.

One extra addition to my set up was a dedicated cable to connect the C64 to the TV. Previously I was swapping between one I also used for the Atari 8bits but it seems it wasn’t getting the best output from Commodore’s machine. The difference in quality is enough to have made it a worthwhile purchase.

Now that I had the C64 working the way I wanted and have at my disposal an accessible collection of disk images it was FINALLY time to start working through some games! I already had a few in mind that were going to be the first to be played. You can’t fight nostalgia…

Commando – the game is hard as nails but that soundtrack from Rob Hubbard (see the above video) is sensational and perfectly demonstrates one of the C64’s best attributes. I think I just left the game running for five minutes listening to the music before I even started playing.

Ghostbusters – I’ve played a lot of the Atari 8bit version but the C64 version wins out thanks to better looking sprites and loads more speech.

Impossible Mission – another defining game for the platform that remains as challenging as it was the day it first teleased. The game has aged incredibly well and could easily work as a modern title too.

R-Type on the Commodore 64.

R-Type – it is frightening just how good the C64 conversion Irem’s classic shooter is. Considering the team behind this was also responsible for The Great Gianna Sisters, Katakis and Turrican there really shouldn’t have been any doubts from me.

Pirates! – still one of my favourite Sid Meier games thanks to it being endlessly replayable and absorbing. A testament to how great the original game’s design is that even the remake barely changed a thing except wrap it all in polygons.

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Choplifter – I still find this to be one hard game as the difficulty spikes dramatically each time you successfully complete a rescue. But when I got the chance to get a cartridge copy for a great price I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

With all of this now together I also needed a convenient way to store the C64 so it was easy to access so I built a shelf extension to stand on an old trolley/stand I had put together. Now I have both my 8bit computers together, easily accessible and with enough room for all of the plugs and cabling.

Atari and Commodore… Together at last.

It’s taken me a while to get this point but I’m rapt to finally have a C64 nestled in with my other systems. In my school years when I wasn’t home playing on Ataris I was often at friends and they all had C64s and later Amigas and Macs. After thirty years I finally get the best of both worlds and hopefully I can share that with my son and show him that even the old games can be awesome fun. 🙂

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