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Why is the Vic 20 so hard to program for?


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#26 Casey OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:31 PM

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.

 

 

A small correction - the 99/4A had upper and lowercase characters.  Granted, the lowercase letters were just short uppercase ones, but they were there and usable.  



#27 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:15 PM

In July 1981, COMPUTE! magazine published 16 pages specific to the VIC-20 under the headline "Home and Educational COMPUTING!". However it was a one time occasion, and not until January 1982 they had a regular VIC section.

 

The magazine intended to start covering the CoCo in May 1982, but I can't spot a single CoCo specific article until August 1982. The TI-99/4A fared even worse, the first article I found is from January 1983 and even then COMPUTE! didn't bother to mention it in their legend at the bottom of the index, rather they would point out articles related to the ZX-81 (!) than the TI.

 

Of course the Atari 8-bit range was covered all the time, so was the Apple, PET, OSI etc but the latter definitely weren't colourful home computers. Now perhaps COMPUTE! wasn't the magazine for home users in the early years, perhaps Creative Computing would be better to look up.



#28 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 1:02 AM

 

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.

The CoCo came out the same year as the VIC 20, it was available with 4K or 16K RAM at that time.
 



#29 Nukey Shay OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 3:46 AM

In July 1981, COMPUTE! magazine published 16 pages specific to the VIC-20 under the headline "Home and Educational COMPUTING!". However it was a one time occasion, and not until January 1982 they had a regular VIC section.

 

The magazine intended to start covering the CoCo in May 1982, but I can't spot a single CoCo specific article until August 1982. The TI-99/4A fared even worse, the first article I found is from January 1983 and even then COMPUTE! didn't bother to mention it in their legend at the bottom of the index, rather they would point out articles related to the ZX-81 (!) than the TI.

 

Of course the Atari 8-bit range was covered all the time, so was the Apple, PET, OSI etc but the latter definitely weren't colourful home computers. Now perhaps COMPUTE! wasn't the magazine for home users in the early years, perhaps Creative Computing would be better to look up.

 

Compute!'s published programs were nearly always reader submissions...with it's staff offering conversions of featured programs for other platforms.  It goes to follow that those systems with the largest user bases ended up with the majority of original titles from that magazine.

 

I'd suggest Ahoy!, Commodore User, or Run.  Keep in mind that many of them (including C= specific pubs) largely abandoned the Vic a year or two after the C64 was introduced.



#30 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 4:00 AM

Yes. My point was that if the VIC-20 was such a poor investment compared to the others (as the original poster seems to suggest), at least the part of the market that was trying to be brand independent seemed to bet on the wrong horse. I'm fully aware of brand specific magazines like ANTIC and I'm sure there were magazines catering specifically to CoCo and TI users as well. Perhaps those magazines contained so much useful material that nobody needed to look at another magazine. As you note, there were several Commodore specific magazines as well, and eventually even COMPUTE! published their own Commodore oriented Gazette to cover the VIC and C64 part of the market.


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#31 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 4:30 AM

After a brief look through Creative Computing, issues January 1981 - June 1982, I conclude that they had a semi-regular section on the TRS-80 CoCo (perhaps shared with the Z80 based TRS-80), had a few features on the TI-99/4(A) but only like twice mentioned the VIC-20 over that time period. That is in contrast to COMPUTE! which treated these three brands the exact opposite way.
 
David H. Ahl writes something interesting in the September 1981 issue of Creative Computing:
 

The VIC-20 was formally announced on January 8, 1981 at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show. It was promised that it would be on sale in quantity by March 1981. However, we have learned from previous experience to take such announcements with a grain of salt. It was not until the National Computer Conference in May that we were able to pick up an "advance" VIC-20. However, by this time you read this, production units should be reaching retail stores.
 
Which retail stores we are not quite sure. Commodore has been making a good deal of news lately in the trade press by first rescindling and then reinstating distributorship agreements with various personal computer distributors in the U.S. Some months ago, Commodore announced its intention to go 100% to company-owned stores, however, they seem to have backed off this position and so you may well find the VIC available in both Commodore stores as well as other retail computer outlets.

 
https://archive.org/...tember#page/n43
 
You also have a contemporary comparison chart between the VIC-20, ZX-81, Atari 400 and TRS-80 CoCo (no TI-99/4A in this one). Something else that is interesting with Ahl's article is the suggestion that no secondary storage devices were available at the time of writing the article - no C2N tape recorders, no 1540 floppy drives (which I know didn't arrive until later). On the other hand, I saw advertisements in COMPUTE! from June/July 1981 advertising both the VIC-20 and C2N, so something is not entirely correct here. Now the VIC and PET share the same type of cassette recorder (in particular for the later PETs that didn't have one built-in) so it would seem to me that Commodore sold cassette recorders intended for the PET as peripherals for the VIC-20. Much later on, the new, flatter design arrived but it might not have been until the C64 generation.

 

According to other sources, I read that the VIC-20 went for sale in Europe by September - October 1981, though in small quantities and were not readily available until early 1982. Now if it barely was available in the US even by the summer of 1981, the difference in availability US/Europe shrinks from 6 to 3 months. Even more interesting that COMPUTE! printed a 16 page special on the VIC-20 in July if it barely had been made available to buyers.



#32 tschak909 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:07 AM

It is worth it to point out, The VIC-20 at launch could already use the external datasette drives that were available for the DRAM PETs (and this was pointed out in Commodore's own sales lit).

 

-Thom



#33 Ranger03 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 4:41 PM

I have a Panasonic Tape recorder. could that be used with either a c64 or Vic 20?



#34 tschak909 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 5:01 PM

No.

 

-Thom



#35 zylon OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 5:08 PM

C2N tape drives are cheap and plentiful still. TI99 4/A had a cable for use with regular tape recorders, but I've never saw one for C= machines.



#36 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 5:10 PM

There were a bunch of 3rd party interfaces to use a regular tape recorder with the Commodore computers, but for most part those were novelties, in particular as there also were 3rd party tape recorders that may have been a little cheaper than Commodore's own. One benefit with a custom recorder is that you never have to worry about playback volume, it doesn't have a setting for that and it converts data between analog and digital so the computer doesn't have to that.

 

Actually I found a DIY guide on making your own interface, which I tried to do in junior high. The teacher ordered special, somewhat expensive relays and everything, but I never got it to work.


Edited by carlsson, Mon Aug 13, 2018 5:11 PM.


#37 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 6:55 PM

Compute had a group of programmers that would port games between core platforms they supported.  I'm not sure when that started, but almost all of those games were based on user definable characters and printed graphics.  At least the ones I've looked at.
The CoCo support was horrible.  They refused to support Extended Color BASIC. 
To make matters worse, someone (them?) bought a good Color Computer Magazine, cancelled it immediately, and then fulfilled the remaining subscription issues with Compute!  
It was like going from a highly tuned sports car to a AMC Pacer.
The original magazine had excellent articles and games for the CoCo, while Compute! barely covered the machine and what coverage they had sucked.


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#38 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:08 PM

After a brief look through Creative Computing, issues January 1981 - June 1982, I conclude that they had a semi-regular section on the TRS-80 CoCo (perhaps shared with the Z80 based TRS-80), had a few features on the TI-99/4(A) but only like twice mentioned the VIC-20 over that time period. That is in contrast to COMPUTE! which treated these three brands the exact opposite way.
 
David H. Ahl writes something interesting in the September 1981 issue of Creative Computing:
 

 
https://archive.org/...tember#page/n43
 
You also have a contemporary comparison chart between the VIC-20, ZX-81, Atari 400 and TRS-80 CoCo (no TI-99/4A in this one). Something else that is interesting with Ahl's article is the suggestion that no secondary storage devices were available at the time of writing the article - no C2N tape recorders, no 1540 floppy drives (which I know didn't arrive until later). On the other hand, I saw advertisements in COMPUTE! from June/July 1981 advertising both the VIC-20 and C2N, so something is not entirely correct here. Now the VIC and PET share the same type of cassette recorder (in particular for the later PETs that didn't have one built-in) so it would seem to me that Commodore sold cassette recorders intended for the PET as peripherals for the VIC-20. Much later on, the new, flatter design arrived but it might not have been until the C64 generation.

 

According to other sources, I read that the VIC-20 went for sale in Europe by September - October 1981, though in small quantities and were not readily available until early 1982. Now if it barely was available in the US even by the summer of 1981, the difference in availability US/Europe shrinks from 6 to 3 months. Even more interesting that COMPUTE! printed a 16 page special on the VIC-20 in July if it barely had been made available to buyers.

I just read that article linked to above.  The article says the VIC 20 was the only one expandable to 32K, then it says the Atari 400 could be expanded to 32K with 2nd source memory, and then the chart shows the CoCo could be expanded to 32K.  Did they even have an editor check this?
 



#39 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 14, 2018 1:04 AM

In the same issue, on page 34 (PDF page 36) there is one more comparison with additional systems. It suggests only 6502 based computers can be programmed in machine language. The way they describe sound capacities also varies, the VIC-20 is said to have "1 Sound Generator" while the TI-99/4A has "5 octaves, 3 tones and white noise" and the Atari 400/800 both have "4 synthesizers, 4 octaves". Thanks to the anticipated Mattel Keyboard Component, the Intellivision is listed among the computers.

 

Out of the few early magazines I've browsed through, in the case the VIC-20 is advertised at all, it is the base unit. No reseller bothered to mention any form of expansion or software. Perhaps neither was available in the first few months, or that it was insignificant to spend advertising space on that. I strongly doubt there was any 32K expansion cartridge until at least a year later, perhaps even two years later though I suppose those specs were theoretical, what the manufacturer had announced.



#40 jhd ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Aug 17, 2018 2:58 PM

 I'm sure there were magazines catering specifically to CoCo and TI users as well. Perhaps those magazines contained so much useful material that nobody needed to look at another magazine.

 

That would have been me. I had a Coco, and I read Hot Coco and (occasionally) Rainbow -- the latter had very limited newsstand distribution.

 

I had the occasional issue of Compute and Creative Computing, but neither magazine had enough Coco coverage to justify the cover price. I wanted type-in listings for games,and neither magazine really delivered.

 

I have since come to appreciate the more technical coverage (and product reviews) in Creative Computing. 



#41 rpiguy9907 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:59 PM

Commodore marketing did a great job of marketing the VIC as a more serious computer than it actually was. See the attached chart.

Commodore Interface magazine covered the VIC20 extensively, though interestingly most of the advertising was for PET products through most of 1981.

Attached Files



#42 gozar OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 21, 2018 6:11 PM

Commodore marketing did a great job of marketing the VIC as a more serious computer than it actually was. See the attached chart.

Commodore Interface magazine covered the VIC20 extensively, though interestingly most of the advertising was for PET products through most of 1981.

 

They played fast and loose with the 400 pricing, in March of 1980 it was listed at $549. Also, Atari had a 48K upgrade board for the 400, but I don't know where they are getting that 26K ROM max.



#43 Ranger03 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 21, 2018 9:36 PM

I hope the kids had fun with all the Poke's



#44 tschak909 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Aug 21, 2018 9:38 PM

We did. 

 

Even those of us who had access to large computing hardware, were enthralled with the insane freedom of microcomputers,  and the possibilities they offered, despite some of the awkwardness.

 

-Thom



#45 TMR OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:20 AM

We did.


Indeed. What people forget when looking back now is that, at the time, the POKEs become second nature with practise just as easily as bespoke, sometimes cryptic BASIC commands.

#46 Casey OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 6:34 AM

An article in COMPUTE at the time the VIC-20 was fairly new had a good article around the use if DEF FN to calculate the proper values for 36879 (the color register for the VIC chip), which went something like:

10 V=36879
20 DEF FNC(stuff to calculate the color values)
30 POKE V,FNC(4)+6, (something like that)

Which tried to show how BASIC could help the POKE command be a little easier to understand. Same thing with the SID chip in the 64 - it started at 54272, and each part of it was offset from there. You could do something like:
10 S=54272:POKE S+24,15: REM set SID volume

And it was easier to remember than all the different numbers. After a while, you just knew them. Probably every person who ever worked a 64 knows what happens at 53280 and 53281 when you POKE there. Same thing with the VIC.

#47 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 8:20 AM

Yes, using a base offset for the VIC-II and SID was standard practise, just like setting a base offset for screen matrix and colour memory. You can do it on the VIC-20 too, but it has fewer registers to alter.

Given how many magazines and users of competing brands looked down on the Commodore computers where you had to use those kludgy POKEs all the time, it is amazing how many users got used to them, often remembering part of entire memory maps and hardly ever use BASIC extentions, mostly because you would have to plug in or load that extention first in order to run the software.

Also as someone (TMR?) indicated, once you wanted to progress to assembly language, you already knew all those memory addresses and exactly how to use them. Much less stuff to relearn compared to other brands with the beginner friendly commands to handle graphics, sound and input. I strongly believe it was a much bigger step between BASIC and assembly language on other computers, where nearly nothing of what you previously had learned was meaningful anymore. Another fact is that many BASIC dialects limit your access to graphics and sound to a fraction of what the hardware is capable of, while in the case of Commodore you have access to it all, minus what the speed of BASIC is capable of doing (i.e. raster tricks).

 

But if someone is averse to using POKE and PEEK to achieve desired results, it is up to them. Sometimes there may be other solutions - though less practical or more cumbersome - and sometimes it is POKE or nothing.



#48 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Aug 22, 2018 9:37 AM

I rather viewed Peeks & Pokes (single or multiple) as new commands above and beyond what BASIC offered. With a few of them I could turn on disk motors and move the heads, and I was flabbergasted!



#49 White Flame OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:41 AM

Another fact is that many BASIC dialects limit your access to graphics and sound to a fraction of what the hardware is capable of, while in the case of Commodore you have access to it all, minus what the speed of BASIC is capable of doing (i.e. raster tricks).

 

Yes, when it comes to graphics, most BASICs loved throwing in Line, Circle, Arc, Fill, etc, which are all but useless for fun, fast, good looking interactive graphics.  I'm not aware of any of them that supported tilemap objects or font definitions well.  Sprite positioning commands could have been handy, though that's low-hanging fruit that doesn't get you very far with the rest of graphics.



#50 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:49 AM

I suppose TI BASIC with its CALL CHAR("xxxxxxxx") syntax is one of the few that come close to UDG definitions done in a nicer way than POKE. Even the ZX Spectrum has to POKE the characters to memory, so it doesn't gain any points in that regard. Generally working in a bitmapped hires mode isn't that useful for action graphics, perhaps for drawing still images in an adventure game.






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