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Why is the Vic 20 so hard to program for?


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#1 Ranger03 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Aug 10, 2018 5:40 PM

Maybe it's me, but the Vic 20 is less of a "Wonder Computer" and more of a stop gap. Poke this, Poke that, no direct access to graphics or sound, The character set is woefully small and cramped and it didn't have a built in monitor.

 

while i can understand some frugal people wanting to buy one to save money in 1980, you have to understand that a coco could give you graphics and sound at a

 

better price, the TI-99/4A allows for easier editing and more ram (around 64k i think) or if you are in  britain, the ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro is a much better choice.

 

my opinion, however most assemblers are easy to use, but 3.5k ram is ridiculous



#2 brain OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Aug 10, 2018 5:51 PM

Not sure where you're getting your information, but your could most definitely not get a coco for cheaper.

 

The VIC-20 was $299.00 or so in 1980

 

https://laughingsqui...illiam-shatner/

 

while the 4kB CoCo1 was $399.00:

 

http://www.radioshac...1_rsc-04_small/

 

None of the other machines was cheaper.  The Atari I think was closest in price.



#3 Ranger03 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Aug 10, 2018 5:56 PM

ok, my bad. but as far as graphics and sound access, the Vic 20 stunk. i can understand for beginning to program though



#4 Arnuphis OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:07 AM

Also the BBC was way more expensive and didn't come out until 1982. Spectrum was comparable in price and had more memory but again didn't come out until 1982. When I got my Vic the other choice was a ZX81 which was cheaper but which had 1k of ram, no sound, no color and no real keyboard. Everything else around was way more expensive. Both Vic and 64 had a basic that was lacking in special commands but in both cases, carts were released that offered more. You could do amazing things with a VIC in 3.5k but you had to work at it.



#5 motrucker OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:22 AM

The TI 99/4A wasn't all that easy to program either, and had only 16Kb, unless you sprang for the expansion chassis - then you could plug in the memory expansion module to get a total of 64Kb. This ended up being rather expensive.

 

 



#6 oracle_jedi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 3:39 AM

I read somewhere on the internet (so it must be true), that Jack Trameil had negotiated a deal with a niave Bill Gates back in 1977, for 8K Microsoft BASIC for the Commodore PET at $1 license per unit shipped.

That is what we knew as Commodore BASIC V2.

The deal had no end date, and did not limit the agreement to any Commodore product line, so as long as they made no changes to the code, Commodore could keep shipping V2 BASIC for $1 a unit as long as they wanted.

Hence the weak V2 BASIC is what we got on the PET, VIC20, Commodore 64 and Commodore MAX. I don't know if the V3.5 BASIC on the 16 and Plus/4 or the V4 BASIC on the later PETs were covered under the agreement or not, but Commodore was more focused on driving down cost than delivering a more adequate BASIC.

As others have stated above, alternatives such as the ZX Spectrum came along later, and even though Sinclair BASIC might be a better option for the new programmer, the god-awful rubber keyboard and single key entry system negated much of that benefit.

In 1981, the alternatives in the U.S. would have been the more expensive TRS80 Color Computer with its chiclet keyboard, the Atari 400 with the touch sensitive keyboard (and extra cost Atari BASIC cartridge) or the TI99/4A. TI BASIC was probably better, but I think in 81 there was a very large price delta between the TI and the VIC, and the double-interpreted TI BASIC is extremely slow, something that was highlighted by reviewers of the time. The Apple II was just too expensive to be considered.

In the UK, the alternatives would have been the ZX81, expensive options like the Sharp MZ80 or the Acorn Atom.

I don't know much about Atom BASIC, but the machine was monochrome only, and Commodore highlighted the VIC's color "graphics" and sound.

For the beginner on a limited budget in 80/81, the VIC20 was really a good option, especially if you added a Super Expander, which added another 3K of RAM and also provided rudimentary commands for color graphics and sound. Commodore planned a Super Expander for the 64, but ultimately released Simon's BASIC instead.

As later alternatives appeared, the magazines of the era often pointed out the poor Commodore BASIC V2. But the VIC continue to sell through 84 as it was cheap and had a good library of games, and the 64 relied on its superior graphics and sound capabilities.

#7 TMR OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 7:19 AM

but as far as graphics and sound access, the Vic 20 stunk. i can understand for beginning to program though


Thing is, it doesn't really stink. Yes it takes some learning - but I'd argue that custom commands do as well, look at all the variations on commands like COLOR, PLOT, DRAW, LINE and so on which aren't compatible between dialects of BASIC - but they become muscle memory sooner or later so you can remember the POKE to set the border and screen colours to black without even thinking about it whilst typing forum posts.

And if/when you make the transition to assembly language, all of those POKE and PEEK values come straight over with you; POKE36879,8 almost directly translates to LDA #8 / STA 36879 where something like BORDER 0 doesn't. I've known people struggle with that, having invested time into learning COLOR, BORDER and SOUND commands only to find they all go away when BASIC becomes too slow for them and everything has to be learnt a second time.

#8 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:47 AM

Maybe it's me, but the Vic 20 is less of a "Wonder Computer" and more of a stop gap. Poke this, Poke that, no direct access to graphics or sound, The character set is woefully small and cramped and it didn't have a built in monitor.

 

while i can understand some frugal people wanting to buy one to save money in 1980, you have to understand that a coco could give you graphics and sound at a

 

better price, the TI-99/4A allows for easier editing and more ram (around 64k i think) or if you are in  britain, the ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro is a much better choice.

 

my opinion, however most assemblers are easy to use, but 3.5k ram is ridiculous

 

The Coco came out later, cost more, and had less RAM. 

 

The VIC-20 hit a sweet spot on price and because of it's PET lineage the software market was quick to support it. Software support and great marketing were the real keys to its success. A ton of publishers put out games and applications for it and a lot of commercial applications supported RAM expanders, which were cheap and plentiful.

 

The Coco, Atari, and TI-99/4 never had the software support that the VIC-20 had. 

 

You could buy a Coco and have a trickle of commercial games and ten more columns of text, or you could have a VIC-20 with a ton of games and applications.

 

The Apple II had similar software support, but the price was stratospheric compared to the VIC-20.



#9 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 11:19 AM

I read somewhere on the internet (so it must be true), that Jack Trameil had negotiated a deal with a niave Bill Gates back in 1977, for 8K Microsoft BASIC for the Commodore PET at $1 license per unit shipped.

That is what we knew as Commodore BASIC V2.

The deal had no end date, and did not limit the agreement to any Commodore product line, so as long as they made no changes to the code, Commodore could keep shipping V2 BASIC for $1 a unit as long as they wanted.

Hence the weak V2 BASIC is what we got on the PET, VIC20, Commodore 64 and Commodore MAX. I don't know if the V3.5 BASIC on the 16 and Plus/4 or the V4 BASIC on the later PETs were covered under the agreement or not, but Commodore was more focused on driving down cost than delivering a more adequate.


It is better than that. Microsoft wanted $1 per copy but Tramiel said something to the effect of I am already married. He negotiated a lifetime license of MS BASIC for somewhere between 25K and 50K depending on who tells the story.

All future versions were included but they made some sort of deal over BASIC 7 on the C128 because they needed MS to write a new version of BASIc for the Amiga.

BASIC 2 actually had better floating point support than many contemporaries, it was good for business.

#10 White Flame OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 3:32 PM

As far as graphics go, the PETSCII character set came from machines that did not have bitmap modes, to quickly code interesting shapes from BASIC.  I personally believe that for a beginner, it's much easier to stamp around character graphics with PRINT than it is to use line/circle/blit commands to put interesting & interactive graphics on the screen.

 

But yeah, sound would be better with some sort of music commands.



#11 Ranger03 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 4:54 PM

why is the vic's character font so damned large?



#12 Casey OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 7:53 PM

I haven't quite figured out what you are trying to do, because so far, it sounds like you've been trying to write programs on at least 7 or 8 different computers all at once without a lot of success on any of them. But a VIC 20 is just an evolution from the earlier PET models which didn't have color or sound.  At the time, no version of Commodore BASIC had support for sound or bit mapped graphics.  You can use the Super Expander cartridge to add graphic and sound commands to the VIC 20 (along with 3K of extra RAM).  Or, work with the Commodore 16, Plus/4 or 128, which all have essentially the same commands as are provided by the Super Expander.

 

The font size on a VIC 20 is big because that's the resolution the VIC chip provided.



#13 tschak909 ONLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:30 PM

If you want to see what a VIC-20 can do when properly programmed, look at Jelly Monsters, or Super Amok, or Gridrunner, or Omega Race. :)

 

The VIC-20 is a fantastic challenge, and the fact that the character set can be reprogrammed into even a bitmapped arrangement means that you have a great deal of flexibility if you're willing to write machine code.

 

-Thom



#14 thetick1 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:37 PM

If you want to see what a VIC-20 can do when properly programmed, look at Jelly Monsters, or Super Amok, or Gridrunner, or Omega Race. :)

 

The VIC-20 is a fantastic challenge, and the fact that the character set can be reprogrammed into even a bitmapped arrangement means that you have a great deal of flexibility if you're willing to write machine code.

 

-Thom

 

The VIC20 was my first computer.  It has some great games for the time:  Radar Rat Race, VIC Avenger, Bandits, Miner 2049er, Super Amok, Spider City, Gridrunner, K-Star Patrol, Aggressor and Omega Race were my favorites!

 

And worst commercial game of all time in my opinion is Aztec Challenge on the VIC 20 ( Note the C64 version is awesome).  Seriously below was a $29.99 commercial game for VIC 20 and worst purchase I ever made in my life:

 

Note in my defense I was a ten year old kid and played the awesome C64 version at my rich cousin's house. My parents would not buy me C64 for a few more years.   I just ASSumed the VIC 20 version would be pretty good.  Wow the horror!

 


Edited by thetick1, Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:06 PM.


#15 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:32 PM

why is the vic's character font so damned large?


Legend has it that the engineers were arguing over whether to put 6K or 4K in the machine. 6K would have allowed for a larger character buffer. Tramiel supposedly solved the arguement by declaring 5K as the answer. This left the VIC with only 512 bytes for the screen, which resulted in the 22 column display (176 pixels wide). That is why the characters are huge.

#16 zylon OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 8:22 AM

I had a VIC-20 and loved it, mostly as a game system. Computing was just beyond me then. I had way more fun playing VIC than on my 2600 at the time, and upgraded to C64 later on.

I remember us having an expansion cart of maybe 8k for use with larger games on the VIC-20. All of ours were on either tape or cart. No disks until after C64.



#17 SpiceWare OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:19 AM

Maybe it's me


It's you, you're misremembering history.  Low cost computing options I looked at in 1980 were:
 
VIC-20

  • $299 ($914 today
  • 5K RAM
  • normal keyboard
  • small 22x23 character display (hence the large font)
  • upper & lower case or upper case w/extra graphic characters
  • full screen editing for BASIC

CoCo

  • $399 ($1220 today)
  • 4K RAM
  • chicklet keyboard
  • 32x16 character display
  • upper case only
  • line EDIT mode for BASIC (not full-screen)

Atari 400

  • $550 ($1526 today)
  • 8K RAM
  • membrane keyboard
  • 40x24 display
  • upper & lower case
  • full screen editing for BASIC

So the question is what tradeoffs do you make.  I didn't like the keyboards on the CoCo nor Atari 400, plus the line edit mode on the CoCo was a major step backward from what I was used to (learned on the Commodore PET at high school).

 

On all of them some of the RAM is used by the system, so RAM available for BASIC was always less than what's listed.



#18 Ransom OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:36 AM

Although it was planned to have 4K, wasn't the Atari 400 originally released with 8K (then later upgraded to 16K)?



#19 SpiceWare OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:41 AM

You're corrected, I've updated the list.  I wasn't that familiar with the Atari computers, so went by the original announced specs.



#20 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:58 AM

For what it is worth, Commodore had developed the 6560 video chip in order to sell it to arcade game manufacturers in the late 1970's. They never found a buyer, which is why it was repurposed into a home computer using leftover 0.5K RAM chips. Supposedly the engineers were working on a 40 column variant, but it required faster, more expensive static RAM to work so they stuck with the ~22 column chip already existing (in NTSC) that didn't need the faster RAM. The VIC-1001 was released in Japan in October 1980, the VIC-20 was released in North America in March (?) 1981 and at that time Commodore realized that PAL is a different beast than NTSC and had to develop the 6561 variant of the chip quickly in order to launch the computer in Europe as well.

 

The 40 column 6562 chip eventually was finalized but the cost of SRAM still was too high to make it feasible. Then came the 6566 VIC-II which uses much cheaper dynamic RAM, as used in the C64, and the rest is history.



#21 oracle_jedi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:39 PM

You're corrected, I've updated the list.  I wasn't that familiar with the Atari computers, so went by the original announced specs.


According to Wikipedia, in June 1981 the revised TI99/4A was $525. For that you got:

 

  • 16K RAM
  • full travel keyboard (albeit rather small)
  • 32x24 display
  • upper case only
  • line editor in BASIC

 

Also, the CoCo and the TI could use any domestic cassette recorder, whereas the Atari and the VIC required dedicated tape decks that added to the cost.

 

The VIC still looks the best value for the beginner.

 

 



#22 oracle_jedi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:49 PM

 

And worst commercial game of all time in my opinion is Aztec Challenge on the VIC 20 ( Note the C64 version is awesome).  Seriously below was a $29.99 commercial game for VIC 20 and worst purchase I ever made in my life:

 

 

I agree with your list of great games, and yes Aztec Challenge was a disaster.

 

Of course it wasn't just the VIC that got lousy ports.  One of my best friends had a 64 and I loved playing Airwolf.  Later I got Airwolf for my 800XL, from the same publisher Elite.  But Airwolf on the Atari wasn't even a bad port - Elite had simply licensed an entirely different helicopter game that already existed on the Atari, and slapped the Airwolf label on it.  Unlike the 64 version with smooth graphics and that catchy Airwolf tune playing, the Atari version was a bad clone of Protector (at least from memory).

 

I had borrowed the game from a friend.  So I didn't lose money on that one, but I did learn the utter cynicism with which many of the software publishers of the time treated their customers.

 

I'd add Jet-Pac, Arcadia and everything by Jeff Minter to the list of great VIC20 games.


Edited by oracle_jedi, Sun Aug 12, 2018 2:41 PM.


#23 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 3:10 PM

But Airwolf on the Atari wasn't even a bad port - Elite had simply licensed an entirely different helicopter game that already existed on the Atari, and slapped the Airwolf label on it.  

 

Yes, it was Blue Thunder re-released as Airwolf:

http://www.atarimani...irwolf_159.html

 

Anyway, if you add a Super Expander cartridge to the VIC-20, you get almost 3K extra memory plus a set of commands for hires graphics, sound and joystick. Unfortunately any program you write using the cartridge won't run without the cartridge, but that also applies to e.g. programs using the TI Extended BASIC on the 99.



#24 oracle_jedi OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 3:43 PM

Circling back to the list provided by SpiceWare, I enjoyed reviewing the Radio Shack catalog from 1980.

 

I didn't know Radio Shack had already retired the TRS80 Model I by this time.

 

The $399 CoCo with 4K RAM came with Color BASIC.  To get Extended Color BASIC you needed the 16K RAM version, and it cost at least $599.

 

Does anyone know the differences between Color BASIC and Extended Color BASIC?

 

Was regular "Color BASIC" significantly better than Commodore BASIC V2?



#25 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:16 PM

Circling back to the list provided by SpiceWare, I enjoyed reviewing the Radio Shack catalog from 1980.
 
I didn't know Radio Shack had already retired the TRS80 Model I by this time.
 
The $399 CoCo with 4K RAM came with Color BASIC.  To get Extended Color BASIC you needed the 16K RAM version, and it cost at least $599.
 
Does anyone know the differences between Color BASIC and Extended Color BASIC?
 
Was regular "Color BASIC" significantly better than Commodore BASIC V2?

Yes it was better than Commodore BASIC 2.0. Bill Gates himself worked on Color BASIC and was quit proud of it.

https://archive.org/...age/n9/mode/2up

Extended Color Was even better with five byte floating point just like the Commodores.

Edited by rpiguy9907, Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:17 PM.





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