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Which is better, Atari 400/800 vs. Commodore-64 (GRAPHICS ONLY!)

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Which is better, the Atari 400/800 vs. Commodore-64? With only one catch. This discussion is to be limited to the graphics aspect of the 2 systems. No discussion of sound, or disk drives, or add-ons or anything else. Please limit it to the stock on-board graphics chips and architecture.

 

I was studying the two systems (at the layman's level of course) and had a lot of my previous assumptions and preconceived notions overturned. And now I want to get others' insights.

 

You might also say a small but vocal lot had at one time persuaded me to think one system was significantly better, but now after a couple hours of reading I clearly see otherwise.

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I used to think the C64 was a lot better. However, the only 64 advantage I see when playing games on the systems is that the 64 seems to have more detailed/higher-resolution sprites. Atari has more colors and seems able to move objects faster. Hard to pick a winner using only graphics as the criteria...probably 64 just because of those detailed sprites.

 

As an example of what I mean: one of my favorite games -- MULE. On the opening screen....the 64 shows a nicely rounded mule walking slowly across the screen. The MULE logo shows limited colors. On the Atari, the MULE is pretty blocky, but moves a lot faster. The MULE logo shows a beautiful rainbow color effect.

Edited by RickR

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From a purely subjective and aesthetic viewpoint, I like the appearance of Atari 400/800/XL/XE graphics more than C64. The Atari color palette is vibrant and balanced (like an artist's color chart). In comparison the C64 palette appears diluted into tints and shades with none of the colors looking pure. I have the same response to NES vs. SMS graphics because the NES color palette does not appear balanced to my eye, making the SMS my winner in a graphics comparison.

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Historical Atari 400/800/XL/XE user here, and happy about it. But everything has advantages and disadvantages, of course.

 

To be fair, the C64 not only had MORE sprites, but more colors per sprite - 2 instead of one. This gave the C64 an advantage of bringing more colors to the screen at once, and "players" that could be more arcade-like. But the palette was quite limited, with the same 16 colors recycled, as opposed to the Atari's 256 colors.

 

Toss-up. I don't see a clear winner. Depends upon the game. They're both very strong graphical machines for the time, especially compared to the Apple. Keep in mind the Atari design was 3 years older - a significant period of time in computer advancements - but still held its own nicely.

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For those that want to read about the graphics chips in both machines (on a semi-technical level) I linked to some resources here. But I think we'll all form an opinion that revolves around direct experience with the machines, especially when playing favorite games.

 

Commodore-64

http://en.wikipedia....ore_64#Hardware

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIC-II

http://unusedino.de/...lors/index.html

http://www.cebix.net/VIC-Article.txt

http://www.studiosty...ry/gfxmodes.htm

http://www.bombjack....PHICS_AND_SOUND

 

Atari 400/800

http://en.wikipedia....ri_8-bit_family

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANTIC

http://en.wikipedia....i/CTIA_and_GTIA

http://www.atarimani...-books_1_8.html

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So the 64 has 8 24* 21 single-color or 24 * 12 multi-color sprites, while the A8 has 4 "Player" (8 * height of graphics mode) and 4 "Missile" (2 * height of graphics mode) -- single color and stretchable. Advantage to 64 IMO for sprites anyways. I'm guessing the A8 lets you use the same p/m for multiple uses so long as they aren't on the same vertical level (just like the 2600).

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From an aesthetic standpoint, I prefer the generally brighter colors of C-64 games over the more muted colors of the Atari 8-bit. I like the fact though that you can usually identify a particular platform's games just from screenshots. That's true of most classic systems and part of their "personalities" that we lost somewhere along the way with the newer stuff...

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It is interesting to note the different marketing forces behind each chipset.

 

The C64's VIC-II chip was descended from the VIC chip which was initially a failure. The VIC chip was designed by Commodore to be used in terminals and vertical industrial applications, or other never-to-be-realized home gaming consoles. No one bought it because it required costly SRAM. For a while, the VIC chip was a product without a market.

 

So Commodore buffed it up and stuffed in the wildly popular Vic-20. And the VIC-II, a descendant of VIC chip, powered the C-64 on to even greater recognition.

 

On the other hand, Atari had the 2600 rolling along in 1977. Atari had figured a 3-year life on the VCS. And they began designing the ANTIC-GTIA combo almost immediately. This chipset was destined to go into the 2600's successor, whatever it would be. Their plans got interrupted by the home computer explosion, and thus the ANTIC-GTIA set ended up in the 400/800. Intellivision & ColecoVision came out, and Atari revived the console idea to compete and put ANTIC-GTIA in the 5200 too.

 

While the 400/800 was a marketing success, the 5200 was not.

 

Since the beginnings of its design the ANTIC-GTIA was engineered for gaming. The VIC and VIC-II chips were modifications built upon even more modifications, and that it was a success is amazing as the efforts that went into making them. The VIC-II chips was good enough that it survived many cost-cutting activities on the production line and slacking in the foundries that made the chip itself.

 

Each VIC-II chip has slightly different resistors in its color-phasing circuit, and thus each Commodore-64 outputs slightly different colors compared against a different lot number. And commodore never provided a way (a trimmer capacitor or potentiometer) to adjust this.

 

It should also be noted that original palette of the C-64 was not very carefully chosen. It was assumed (or hoped) that the programmers would adjust saturation and luminance to get a pleasing display.

 

It was also an interesting way of doing things, keeping the VIC-II chip a single device unlike the ANTIC-GTIA combo, which was spread across 2 separate packages.

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Nemesis the Warlock on C64, a graphic mess and unplayable. Quite a few games on C64 are like that

 

What's your point? Some people thought the graphics were rather good on that game. Every platform has games beaten with the ugly stick, though.

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Commodore-64. For the same reasons (graphically) I prefer the ColecoVision to the Atari 5200. In fact, I will even go so far as to say that some C64 games "feel" like some CV games. Plus, there is a little nostalgia -- the C64 was my very first gaming system as a kid :) .

 

The Commodore-64 is to the Atari 400/800 what the ColecoVision is to the Atari 5200.

 

C64 & CV: better-drawn (more "rounded") sprites/graphics, smoother animation, "limited" 16 colors.

 

A8 & 5200: overall blockier sprites/graphics, choppier animation, big palette of 256 colors.

 

 

 

It's all personal preference... Both the C64 and A8 were/are great gaming computers :!:

 

 

*bump*

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Ohh but you couldn't be more wrong. I think you made a mistake and wanted to say:

 

The Commodore-64 is to the Colecovision, as what the Atari 400/800 is to the Atari 5200.

A8 & 5200: better-drawn (more "rounded") sprites/graphics, smoother animation, seemingly unlimited 256 colors.

C64 & CV: overall blockier sprites/graphics, choppier animation, small palette of some number of colors.

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You are joking, right? :lolblue: The CV and C-64 have noticeably more rounded, higher-definition graphics than the A8/5200. The animation is also smoother. The A8/5200 has choppy animation and the sprites/graphics always look kinda blocky. Just about anyone (other than Atari fanboys) will tell you that.

 

Compare Jungle Hunt on the CV and 5200. Look closely at the swinging vines, jumping and croc movements. On the CV they are butter-smooth, on the 5200 they are choppy and rough and the sprites are blockier. I know this is an Atari-biased site, but you have to face reality.

The CV and C64 also do much more with those "limited" 16 colors than the A8/5200 does with their 256 colors.

 

Mr Do's Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RENkNVe9ePA

 

Jungle Hunt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1rfla7MeJA

 

Whoever programmed the graphics of Jungle Hunt for the A8/5200 obviously did it for C64 too, but the C64 was capable of higher-definition (more rounded) graphics.

 

 

Mario Bros. (CV): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=698xEDjTXhQ

Mario Bros. (C64): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCtYtrTLR28

Mario Bros. (5200): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-LM0gEh_M4

Mario Bros. (A8): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxPc2JKwHsg

 

 

 

You will not find this amount of smooth gameplay and detail in the A8:

 

C64 games: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl42QVO4MG8 ;)

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ANTIC's display list is a brilliant concept. What programmer doesn't love the idea of a graphics chip that can execute its own program independently of the CPU?

 

Sure, VIC II has more of this and less of that, but it came four years later. ANTIC/CTIA still has the more elegant design.

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I grew up with the C64, and there is little doubt in my mind that it has the more advanced graphical capabilities useful for games. Good sprite capabilities and great multidirectional scrolling.

 

However, opposite to Bill Loguidice I feel that the C64's color palette is terrible. I can''t stand to play it nowadays, and prefer the look of systems like the Atari 8-bit and Amstrad CPC. Even if the level of detail is more limited, as are the effects, they have such clear, vibrant colors.

 

The C64 has a palette full of only "dirty" colors. It looks like someone took the CPC palette and urinated on it. You can try to make the brightest feel-good jump'n run, and thanks to the color palette it still looks kind of depressing to me.

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However, opposite to Bill Loguidice I feel that the C64's color palette is terrible. I can''t stand to play it nowadays, and prefer the look of systems like the Atari 8-bit and Amstrad CPC. Even if the level of detail is more limited, as are the effects, they have such clear, vibrant colors.

I think a lot of it depends on the specific TV or monitor that you're using (and how the color is adjusted). C64 games look fine on the TV I'm currently using, but I will agree that they always seem to look fairly dreadful when looking at emulator screenshots online.

 

Although the Atari 8-bits don't exactly have the greatest color palette in the world either, with games sometimes looking worse than their 2600 counterparts (Pitfall, for instance). The colors are bright but often a bit too bright, and the specific hues of certain colors are odd and just plain ugly. Again, this judgement is being made mostly by looking at the "natural" colors in emulator screenshots. I don't usually have much trouble adjusting the colors to suit my taste on a real TV or monitor.

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Mmm.. I agree that C64 emulator screenshots in general are pretty drab. What would you expect from someone running an inaccurate emulator out-of-the-box? Snap snap snap snap post post post? Sure they're going to be pretty bland (and just plain wrong). I spent an entire evening tweaking the video settings and color palettes on VICE, Altirra, Atari800 EMULATOR just so. After such activity both C64 and Atari 400/800 emulators look very good and accurate when compared side-by-side against real hardware.

 

I am *NOT* an emulator developer. But I can tell you that every emulator I've every tried for these two systems has not gotten the colors correct. My pet peeve is Star Raiders. Altirra, for all its greatness and prowess in carrying the flag for 8-bit emulation, does not render them correctly. I was not happy until I did my own custom palette.

 

I used a real machine, youtube videos, commentary from doug neubaurer and my personal photos from way back in the day - in direct side-by-side comparison. I had much less tweaking to do on Atari800 Emulator - but still had to do something. Same thing with Stella. And of course Vice too, naturally. And once adjusted properly, the Star Raiders colors were now accurate.

 

I mean you can argue with me if you like and all that. I don't really care. Stock-included emulator color palettes are not accurate. Understand that emulators must not only calculate the correct color, they must also do it in a way that takes into consideration the host platform's video pathway behavior. In the case of PC videocards, things might be too perfect, displaying the game image exactly like the emulator generates them. With a real NTSC system, you've got losses and shifts in phase, distortion, and all that. This affects how a color is presented.

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I think the emulator colors are the correct ones actually. What you do with your TV can always change that, every TV has adjustable color intensity etc. If you had a more saturated image on your TV that is of no consequence, because you can adjust that. Every users TV is tuned diferentlyand thus shows the colors differently.

What you see in an emulator is what the colors are actually supposed to look like. The colors a chip outputs have fixed values of red, green and blue, there can be no mistake to that afaik.

The different palette settings in VICE for example are mostly to make up for the differences between PAL and NTSC, and to enable you to get richer colors without screwing around with your monitor (which would make everything but C64 look bad) I would guess.

 

Also I have never had the color problems with any emulators but the C64. All systems I emulated appear accurate in that regard. So my bet is that the difference is just due to the settings people used on their TVs to play C64, not due to the emulator displaying inaccurately.

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Nevertheless, today's emulators require adjustments to get them to display their output correctly.

See this thread http://atariage.com/forums/topic/182394-variation-in-screen-color-for-8-bit-star-raiders/page-2

 

It must also be pointed out that the VCS, and Atari 400/800 have variable resistor (pots) to adjust the palette. The C64 has factory-chosen "fixed" resistors that require soldering in the field to change adjustments.

 

Typically we'd adjust our colour TV's tint/hue with baseball games and news broadcasts to get a good flesh tone and overall color rendition. When we'd play Star Raiders on this correctly set television everything looked as the author intended.

 

Any emulator today does not consider the digital-analog RF and color adjustment pot. Ohh sure you can adjust the palette values, but that yields incorrect results.

 

Even Stella needs to be ever so slightly tweaked to get the correct shade of blue/violet for Video Pinball and the background for Combat.

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I like the C64 when it comes to pixel art. The limits of it's palette and ability to offer square pixels in color make for interesting picture. Great artists can do a lot with that to imply detail. I also like the C64 when it comes to character games. Again, the square (or roughly square) pixels can render characters better than the 2:1 pixels can.

 

I like the Atari better for more abstract games. The additional colors are fun, and the larger color pixel sizes, combined with scrolling and the PM graphics have a distinctive feel I really enjoy. Another thing about the Atari I like better is the ability to do nearly full frame graphics. It was not always used well, due to increased cycle costs from the DMA needed, but it's a nice feature to be able to eliminate the border. On modern HDTV displays, this combined with the aspect or "size" button can yield nice results. My Apple 2 just sorts of occupies the center. C64 does too, but for some tricks used to push the border out. (and those are clever)

 

Overall, Ataris have half the color resolution of the C64. This results in stable, no "dot crawl" graphics on composite displays. The look is very appealing to me, and something I think of as "better' but it has it's limits as mentioned above. The C64 has a better video output and improved color resolution, and when viewed on an S-video or C= display, offers more detail for characters, icons, etc...

 

As a user of the Atari and Apple machines, where I didn't program on the C64 too much, I really enjoyed the Atari graphics, particularly full frame. Back then, I had build up my color displays from scrounged color TV's, and ended up with this hybrid one, using a CRT from a smaller set on a larger one. Creative yoke placement, and some serious convergence work gave me a full frame TV in the mid 80's! Used to look for things like the boom mic on newscasts, etc...

 

Better graphics in this case went to Atari and for one reason only: Full frame made me a lot of money, which I poured into better Apple computers and some add-ons for the Atari! Spent two summers tuning up TV's after I got good at the ones in my home. Using the full frame graphics on that hybrid TV, got me a near pixel perfect display. I had also tuned the RF, so that it was pretty solid, improving both broadcast TV, and the Atari display. Anyway, that setup was cassette, and I lugged it from house to house, doing my thing. They each paid at least $20. Over the two years, I made a few grand, which got me the MAC/65 assembler cartridge (YES), some electronics gear for HAM Radio, an Apple, disk drives, etc... I would load programs from cassette, then run them. They included the usual test patterns and some references, like where the "safe area" frame should be. Most TV's back then often over scanned a lot. I could usually improve that and people noticed.

 

Honestly, that impacted me with "better" being what I could make money with from then on. So that Apple was "better" graphically for quite a while due to the 80 column display and double-high-res graphics and productivity software. Made more money and used it all in college, until I got a crappy DOS PC in the mid 90's, maybe 93 or so.

 

After that, the Atari was and remains very fun to game on. I really like the look and feel more than I do the C64. Simple titles like "Star Raiders" just ooze retro, and I like that a lot. A C64 just isn't quite the same feel, so there is a subjective "better" for you too. I strongly suspect this opinion would vary some toward the C64 for people who got started on NES instead of VCS. Maybe true for ColecoVision gamers too.

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I have owned and still own both systems in various versions, my own personal take is pretty much the same as has been mentioned previously -C64 has the edge when it comes to detail but trails a poor second in terms of colour, there would also seem to be a marked difference in speed of operations-the Atari seems to edge it here also.

 

Good side by side comparisons are Attack of the Mutant Camels, Dropzone, Elektraglide and Rescue on Fractalus.

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I have owned and still own both systems in various versions, my own personal take is pretty much the same as has been mentioned previously -C64 has the edge when it comes to detail but trails a poor second in terms of colour, there would also seem to be a marked difference in speed of operations-the Atari seems to edge it here also.

 

Good side by side comparisons are Attack of the Mutant Camels, Dropzone, Elektraglide and Rescue on Fractalus.

 

Again, I'd argue it's difficult to do side-by-side comparisons with games that originated on one system or another, or that were programmed differently or by different people on one or the other. I'd say it's far better to pick the best-of-the-best if you're going by audio-visuals, and do comparisons like that. There are two many variables in multi-platform games back then. Heck, BOTH Atari and C-64 users knew all too well when a game was ported from an Apple II, for instance. The same can be said (and has been said in this thread) when games have been ported to or from an Atari 8-bit and C-64. They're very different machines, and simple ports won't do, but that was often the reality back then.

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I think it's worth looking at demos today for some of the answer to this question.

 

One problem with that is more Atari demos are needed. Or, I'm not seeing them. Something... Does somebody have a quick link or links to the latest Atari productions?

 

In any case, given the ones I know we've all seen, and the "better" problem depending on definitions of better, I much prefer comparing strengths...

 

Totally agreed on game ports. It's rare to see a game really changed to incorporate the strengths of machines other than the one it was authored on.

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Nevertheless, today's emulators require adjustments to get them to display their output correctly.

See this thread http://atariage.com/forums/topic/182394-variation-in-screen-color-for-8-bit-star-raiders/page-2

 

It must also be pointed out that the VCS, and Atari 400/800 have variable resistor (pots) to adjust the palette. The C64 has factory-chosen "fixed" resistors that require soldering in the field to change adjustments.

 

Typically we'd adjust our colour TV's tint/hue with baseball games and news broadcasts to get a good flesh tone and overall color rendition. When we'd play Star Raiders on this correctly set television everything looked as the author intended.

 

Any emulator today does not consider the digital-analog RF and color adjustment pot. Ohh sure you can adjust the palette values, but that yields incorrect results.

 

Even Stella needs to be ever so slightly tweaked to get the correct shade of blue/violet for Video Pinball and the background for Combat.

 

at some point you are being anal, there is no such thing as correct color in NTSC or PAL, which is why you have the adjustment knobs in the first place. What you remember as being correct will be different on the exact same model, but different unit TV.

 

emulators have the advantage of actually bringing you correct colors, not mutilated by TIA versions, weather its buffered or not, or depending on how awake the hong kong slave worker was when when adusting pots with a 40% margin * all the same on your tv set.

 

remember, the golden age was preformed by a worker holding a screw driver to get a dot between two lines by eyeball, 100+ sets an hour, you cant even take two sets produced within seconds from eachother and expect anything close to right. But yet the exact binary RGB values sent totally digital to your screen is "wrong"

Edited by Osgeld

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In pursuing the perfect nostalgic moment through emulation, one must be able to adjust the colors as one remembers them.

 

All the variances in the television sets produced at the time is the one reason why we used Baseball games and newscasts to tweak the colors.

An emulator today should be able to vary its palette easily and be "de-tuned" just like the original hardware.

 

But yet the exact binary RGB values sent totally digital to your screen is "wrong"

 

Yep. It's not how the games are remembered. Who is god enough to say what is right and wrong anyways..

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