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C64 - A reappraisal 2017


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#76 Lord Thag OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:44 PM

I think this is the most civilized vs thread yet.

 

I was lucky to have a plethora of machines back in the day, and this included an Apple II+ & //e, Atari 400/800, C-64, and more. That aside, and ignoring hard marketing numbers in print, and machine specifications, I preferred the Atari and Apple for gaming among many other things.

 

I always felt the C-64 was rather stuffy, almost as if the software had to wade through a lot of "stuff" to get something done. Almost as if there were a lot things getting in the way, or things took too many steps. The next most "stuffiest" would be the Ti-99/4A, especially with its twice interpreted BASIC. Not that the C64's BASIC was fast either.

 

In contrast (no pun intended) I thoroughly liked the more vibrant palette the Atari 400/800 offered. It seemed the Ataris were adept at changing luminances and colors very quickly, almost freewheeling. Less muddy. Fast and responsive. Less lag. There was an ineffable crispness and speed to a lot of the Atari games. They were VCS-like in action.

 

I loved defender for the explosions, and other arcade translations for their color combinations. Games like Shamus, BallBlazer, and Star Raiders, among many others played rather smoothly and fast. Atari was 8-bit was adept at moving things quickly in many different directions at many changing angles.

 

Despite the rig's prowess I didn't like BoulderDash on it. They didn't use appealing colors for whatever reason. The Apple II version would always be my favorite, if just for the contrasting colors. But I *did* like the expansion levels available on the Atari.

 

The Apple II was a different beast altogether in that it had no custom chippery going on. It didn't even have color graphics or a sound chip. More like a sound transistor! You had to make sounds by pushing the speaker cone. No waveform generators, not even a tone generator. It was all software in a tight loop. And the "color" graphics stemmed from "disturbing" the NTSC signal at the right times to make artifacts in what was a black-n-white raster. Color was essentially created by certain bits (in the framebuffer) next to each other.

 

And yet there was a mechanical speed feeling. Like crisp brittle inflexible parts with light machine oil on them. There was no lag. As soon as you did something with the keyboard or controller, the software knew about it instantly it seemed. Very bare metal. You could feel the game timing loops right away. Thus they were easy to fine-tune. The C64 flavor was all a mushbox, rubbery, and that godawful keyboard.. Did they uses sponges instead of snappy springs or what? The Atari and Apple were nice and crisp.

 

And BASIC? I loved it. I had immediate instant access to X,Y graphics. And I could toggle that speaker like nobody's business! It was truly magical when I discovered TASC and EINSTEIN. These compilers would take my infantile BASIC program experiments and totally re-write them in the mysterious god-like superfast "machine language". It was like getting a 3x accelerator in software! This is the kind of magic that makes you get up from your seat and twirl around like and over-excited ballerina. The possibilities were orgasmic. Made me feel like a god!

 

Much of the above opinions are formed from how a kid into (but not fully understanding) how hardware and the platforms at large worked and how well they penetrated their respective markets.

 

Yeah, I felt much the same way. The Atari is *fast*, that's why I still play a lot of arcade games on it. Many of the c64 ports are prettier but sluggish, it does more 'PC' style, graphics heavy games better. I don't like sluggish action games, which is probably why I preferred the Genesis to the SNES as well. 

As to the Apple, it was a terrible games machine from a spec standpoint, and a great productivity one... but it had a great, brute force disk drive design and, like you said, an amazing BASIC interpreter. The disk drive allowed the Apple to excel at complex Strategy/RPG games, and I tended to play those on the Apple over at my cousin's house. It had a ton of them too. I later discovered many of them were also available on the Atari (our local Atari dealer sucked, and never had anything). 

The c64 was a great games machine and a terrible productivity one. The Atari was the best compromise between the two, I always thought. 

 



#77 thetick1 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:53 PM

 

The c64 was a great games machine and a terrible productivity one. The Atari was the best compromise between the two, I always thought. 

 

 

Very well said as same applies to the parent companies not just c64 and A8bit!

 

As Atari was not the best at anything ...Commodore died after the Aimga high and the world all moved to PCs or dedicated consoles.


Edited by thetick1, Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:55 PM.


#78 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:35 PM

I think of the three, the Apple II was clearly best for productivity stuff. None of the three were lacking in depth and breadth of that type of software, though.



#79 thetick1 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:42 PM

I think of the three, the Apple II was clearly best for productivity stuff. None of the three were lacking in depth and breadth of that type of software, though.

 

Yea good point. It was business support for early IBM PCs that drove the PC over the top early on.  Lord knows it was not Monochrome, Hercules or CGA.  PGC was very nice with AutoCAD but over $4K for a video adaptor!  And well 8514 and VGA were much later.


Edited by thetick1, Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:49 PM.


#80 Bryan OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 7:48 PM

Also, even though people discount the Atari's ~1.8MHz clock due to the 50% or so DMA losses during the screen, you have to remember that it was almost twice as a fast other 6502 machines during the blank which is arguably the best place to have it.



#81 Calibus OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:03 PM

As someone who had neither Atari or Commodore in the 80s (TRS-80), I’m finding this topic very informative.
Back then I wished I had an Atari 800 but settled on a 2nd hand TRS-80 for economic reasons.

Thanks to the magic of eBay, I now have multiple commodore and Atari computers and someday I’ll hopefully have time to find space to set them up.

#82 jmccorm OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:06 PM

Also, even though people discount the Atari's ~1.8MHz clock due to the 50% or so DMA losses during the screen, you have to remember that it was almost twice as a fast other 6502 machines during the blank which is arguably the best place to have it.

 

I've know that I've come across precise cycle counts of DMA access in the various modes, but here's a related experiment from Compute! magazine which an author tried to experimentally estimate the overhead from CPU cycles being robbed for video memory access:

 

DMA disabled: 0% overhead (BASELINE)

BASIC graphics mode 0, Antic 2: 46% overhead  (runs 46% slower)

BASIC graphics mode 3, Antic 8 (probably with text window at bottom):  10% overhead (runs 10% slower)

 

Crazy to think that the default text mode for the Atari robs half of its processing power, isn't it?

 

I'm almost thinking that if I was going to run a CPU-chewing binary like a decompression routine, I could keep probably keep the user suitably entertained with only minimal sacrifices to CPU speed if I can manage to dazzle them with a massively retro 4(+) color graphics routine based on 40x24 resolution. I'd rather do that than get 10% faster and try to dazzle them with a few colored lines on the screen.

 

This sort of tweaking and potential trade-offs is what makes the Atari 8-bit so lovable today. Atari went so far beyond building the bare minimum capabilities, and we ended up with a wide assortment of trade-offs and optimizations for all sorts of different situations. There are lots of opportunities (especially in sound and graphics) to just throw CPU at a problem, and interrupts based on timers or vertical screen position which give that precise control of when those resources are injected.

 

There are also many configuration options sprinkled throughout the system which can get you out of a jam in more unusual cases (combining two 8 bit sound channels into a 16 bit channel, trading in all missiles to gain a fifth player, digital inputs lines that are easy to physically connect to and can also be turned into output channels (that would be your joystick port), narrow playfield to decrease graphical costs, etc.

 

Side-topic: I'm really sad to see that we've all got all these machines which support freaking light pens, but almost nobody uses them. I guess that people just aren't demanding a point-and-click interfaces inside their vintage machines that would allow them to use a light pen, mouse, trakball, and joystick all interchangeably. Heck, we might as well add the Koala Pads to that list. Either people aren't creating and sharing these basic routines for others to build upon, or I'm continuing to look in the wrong places for good tools to incorporate.



#83 PFL OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:32 AM

For me, the one thing that sets the C64 apart from other machines (not just the A8) is the SID chip.  That thing still sounds glorious.  That warm, fuzzy analogue synth sound is just lovely and can't be touched by its contemporaries.  Obviously that's a taste thing but what isn't when it comes to these lovely old machines? :) 



#84 _The Doctor__ ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:40 AM

Sorry, never going to love the muted dishrag stuffed instrument sounds. I've heard too few good sid tunes, maybe it needs better supporting methods to bring it out of the computer. No one has implemented a fix in all these years. I'd think there would have been a 'clear sound' mod for it by now...


Edited by _The Doctor__, Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:40 AM.


#85 ilaskey OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:57 AM

For me, the fundamental difference was that the C64 was designed to a price whereas the 800 was architected to a vision. The C64, being a few years newer had better sprites, arguably better colour handling and the SID chip was good for music (FX, less so). On the other hand, it all just feels thrown together. The BASIC was grim, the disk subsystem terrible and there were very few nice touches. On the other hand, the 800 just oozed engineering quality, from the interlocks that cut the power when you popped open the cartridge lid, the loadable drivers in the OS with a fully architected structure, the SIO bus and all the distinct and one way connectors etc. For an early entrant into the home computer field, everything about it was designed to make it easier for the end user, to humanise the experience. Later on with the XLs and then XEs it became more of a C64 in overall physical presentation but the 800 truly is a thing of beauty which always impressed me with its attention to detail and forward thinking.



#86 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:58 AM

Some people tie the very rarely used audio input pin to ground to get rid of buzzing, if that is what muffles the sound for you. Then again an emulated SID shouldn't have the buzz.



#87 _The Doctor__ ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 7:05 AM

Kills the buzz so that helps, sadly still muffled and muddy. I'm curious though, perhaps a more direct experimentation is in order. meh, I'll leave it to the c- crew to do.


Edited by _The Doctor__, Wed Feb 14, 2018 7:05 AM.


#88 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 7:54 AM

I think it's fair to say that the majority opinion is that the SID is a fantastic sounding sound chip and ranked higher overall than the POKEY in that regard (which, to be fair, is usually ranked second in such comparisons against everything else available at the time). Of course, I have a minority opinion of my own in that I think the Atari 8-bit in-game color palettes tend to be too dark and muted for my liking. The consensus is clearly against that idea, though.
 
I also get the idea that the C-64 has been pushed to its limits and has more software that showcases its overall prowess more consistently than the Atari 8-bit has (particularly since the latter often needs extreme memory expansion for its best homebrews versus what the C-64 still does in 64K). Both have good modern day homebrew scenes, but what's been released on the C-64 in that regard the past few years has been next level stuff. Again, I'd argue it has the best recent homebrew development versus any other vintage computer.
 
What's frustrating with both the C-64 and Atari 8-bit for me at times is the need to cater to both NTSC and PAL differences, and make sure I use a particular game on the right format. That's why I have both NTSC and PAL C-64 and Atari 8-bit systems, just to cover all the bases. I don't have to worry about that nonsense with the other vintage computing platforms I still have left in my collection, like the Apple II and CoCo.


#89 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Side-topic: I'm really sad to see that we've all got all these machines which support freaking light pens, but almost nobody uses them. I guess that people just aren't demanding a point-and-click interfaces inside their vintage machines that would allow them to use a light pen, mouse, trakball, and joystick all interchangeably. Heck, we might as well add the Koala Pads to that list. Either people aren't creating and sharing these basic routines for others to build upon, or I'm continuing to look in the wrong places for good tools to incorporate.

 

I've had light pens for a variety of systems (and still do for the Vectrex), but I never found them particularly enjoyable to use (same thing with vintage graphics tablets). They were more promise than actual execution back then, akin to a cool tech demo than something I felt I could create art with better than a joystick or mouse. The other problem with light pens today is that they only work on CRT displays, and a lot of people no longer use those. And of course the thing with supporting the Koala Pad or other graphics tablet is the small number of uses who own one, and certainly it's unlikely for there to be a homebrew solution to help bridge that gap.

 

Personally, I'm OK with just logical joystick and paddle support, and, when applicable as an addition, mouse support.



#90 _The Doctor__ ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:14 AM

Maybe in order to make the washed out color on other machines bearable the mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as a dwarf or tiny bipedal creature forgot to re adjust it for the Atari making it too dark, luckily those that have their own finger and opposable thumbs can adjust brightness, contrast, color intensity, and tint. For those not blessed with a crt one can use the same controls on a menu or remote control. Perhaps the critter has passed on or fell into a 500 year slumber and was unable to do it, lucky for us, we're able to do it ourselves.


Edited by _The Doctor__, Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:16 AM.


#91 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:19 AM

Maybe in order to make the washed out color on other machines bearable the mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as a dwarf or tiny bipedal creature forgot to re adjust it for the Atari making it too dark, luckily those that have their own finger and opposable thumbs can adjust brightness, contrast, color intensity, and tint. For those not blessed with a crt one can use the same controls on a menu or remote control. Perhaps the critter has passed on or fell into a 500 year slumber and was unable to do it, lucky for us, we're able to do it ourselves.

 

Yes, because I'm obviously a moron who doesn't know how to adjust anything. 



#92 _The Doctor__ ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:27 AM

Laughing, still laughing. Perhaps the display device needs a tool to make the adjustment, a tiny plastic alignment blade thru the front or back. I'm sure you'll come back telling me you have a tool, and know how to use it. I am certain no matter where you go, a tool will be available.



#93 Heaven/TQA OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:27 AM

now to my US friends as in Europe (?) except of the Dragon 32/64 I never have seen a Tandy Coco... how is that rated in terms of games etc? I mean Atari 800 must be shocking to industry when presented 1978 at CES...



#94 Lord Thag OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:35 AM

Maybe in order to make the washed out color on other machines bearable the mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as a dwarf or tiny bipedal creature forgot to re adjust it for the Atari making it too dark, luckily those that have their own finger and opposable thumbs can adjust brightness, contrast, color intensity, and tint. For those not blessed with a crt one can use the same controls on a menu or remote control. Perhaps the critter has passed on or fell into a 500 year slumber and was unable to do it, lucky for us, we're able to do it ourselves.

There a reason you're responding like this in what has proven to be a great, thoughtful discussion on this topic for once? Seriously dude, relax. He has every right to like or not like whatever he wants. It all comes down to personal taste, even if I personally like the Atari palette much better than the c64. This kind of response just ruins threads. Agree to disagree. 



#95 jmccorm OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:36 AM

 

I've had light pens for a variety of systems (and still do for the Vectrex), but I never found them particularly enjoyable to use (same thing with vintage graphics tablets). They were more promise than actual execution back then, akin to a cool tech demo than something I felt I could create art with better than a joystick or mouse. The other problem with light pens today is that they only work on CRT displays, and a lot of people no longer use those. And of course the thing with supporting the Koala Pad or other graphics tablet is the small number of uses who own one, and certainly it's unlikely for there to be a homebrew solution to help bridge that gap. Personally, I'm OK with just logical joystick and paddle support, and, when applicable as an addition, mouse support.

 

Vectex? I'm jealous! I got out my light pen and AtariGraphics cartridge again last night. What fun!

 

An expensive tech demo using dedicated IC circuitry, a dedicated handheld joystick port device, and custom OS routines? Sure, but then again, I'm probably not going to be trying to do Serious Atari Business <tm> ever again. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not. Does everyone have one? Nope. So that's why an overlapping set of choices (light pen, trakball, mouse, joystick, koala) make sense for the positional selection of an input device. A smart routine could dynamically load only the required module (or load all and throw the unnecessary ones overboard), so the memory required to support a wide choice of devices (and even a few rare ones like the Koala) doesn't become too much of a constraint.

 

I think that one of the biggest barriers would be a restriction due to the light pen, but for a different reason. To remain compatible with the light pen, you're restricted from using black in any areas where you want the user to be able to point, because the light pen can't read its location if the CRT's gun isn't firing at it. Of course, a positional selection input scheme is best used with a more modern point-and-click style interface, which isn't a choice for all occasions (again, twitch games being the good go-to example).

 

If that library existed, I'd use it in a heartbeat for my current project. Lack that, I'm probably going to revert to joystick, directional keys, and an interface based upon directional choices.

 

So, that's my personal story. I'm sad that we've got some really cool dedicated circuitry and OS code in all of these machines that is still potentially useful, but we don't have the shared libraries that allow us to take advantage of it. (The lack of commonly used libraries seems to be something that affects us in other areas, too.) Without something like that, nobody is ever going to code for the light pen. Or the Koala (or Atari Touch Tablet). We rarely get that trakball or mouse input.



#96 _The Doctor__ ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:36 AM

While Atari had a number of computers already out there, January 1979 was when Atari made a move on CES, and it was shocking. A good response. As for the COCO.... It was okay, had a few games as Radio Shack was behind it. It looked much better as it finally did a 128k version. I enjoyed Thexder or Stryder (spelling?). COCO had a decent following in certain areas.



#97 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:38 AM

now to my US friends as in Europe (?) except of the Dragon 32/64 I never have seen a Tandy Coco... how is that rated in terms of games etc? I mean Atari 800 must be shocking to industry when presented 1978 at CES...

 

The CoCo is a pretty terrible game machine all things considered. It has limited colors and sound. It does have a Speech/Sound Pak that helps with the sound, but obviously that has limited game support. It actually has a great processor in the 6809, but the problem is there are few specialized chips in the system, so most things are run through the processor, making some games slower than their equivalents on other platforms.

 

Of course, while the CoCo 1/2 were limited, the CoCo 3 was greatly enhanced in nearly every area except sound. That's a much better game playing computer, but there still aren't a ton of great games for it.

 

The Tano Dragon is basically the same level as a 64K Coco 2 in terms of capabilities. If you know the Dragon, you know the CoCo 1/2. 

 

I personally still have a CoCo 2 education version (composite out), CoCo 3, and a Tano Dragon (US version, with a processor upgrade).



#98 Heaven/TQA OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:44 AM

yeah the 6809 seems pretty nice CPU what I have seen as source code (same as in the lovely Vectrex which everybody dreamt to have - nothing can beat vector gfx in a vector gfx processor - who needs pixels ;))

 

ps. we are at Page 4 and it did not turn into a burning crusade... ;)


Edited by Heaven/TQA, Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:46 AM.


#99 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:54 AM

yeah the 6809 seems pretty nice CPU what I have seen as source code (same as in the lovely Vectrex which everybody dreamt to have - nothing can beat vector gfx in a vector gfx processor - who needs pixels ;))

 

ps. we are at Page 4 and it did not turn into a burning crusade... ;)

 

The 6809 was used in a few different systems, but most famously in the CoCo series. I'm not a microprocessor enthusiast myself, but it's definitely beloved by those in the know.

 

I'm more of a "show me" rather than "tell me" guy when it comes to vintage systems. In other words, I don't really care if on paper system A can do x, if there's few real world examples of it doing x. That's like me recently setting up Mockingboards in my Apple IIe Platinum. I added two speech chips to one of the boards, but literally found one game that actually used them (and might have only used one). In theory, it would be pretty awesome, just like having two Mockingboards (or one Phasor) in an Apple II can give you 12 music voices, but the few titles that support it, like Ultima V, don't even seem to use all 12. Ultimately, that's why I think I still tend to favor the C-64, because the base configuration with the stock colors, sound, and 64K of RAM could always be counted on for 100% of C-64 series computer owners. On most other vintage computers there were a lot of variables when it came to stuff like that, so the best possible configuration was rarely supported.

 

The Vectrex was the only true vintage console I ended up keeping. That display is just too distinctive to replicate in any other way.



#100 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:57 AM

Didn't Atari early on consider using a Motorola CPU before going with MOS, or have I been dreaming about that? The 6809 was introduced in 1978 so it might've slotted in late in the Atari 8-bit development.






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