The History of Video Games #11: Gaming on the Commodore C64

Updated: Feb 26


Turrican 2: The Final Fight Commodore C64
Turrican 2: The Final Fight Commodore C64

In the last article, we investigated the impressive (for the time) audio-visual abilities of the C64, which were made possible thanks to its dedicated graphics chip, sound chip and 64K of RAM. We will now take a look at the games on the C64 and what this technology could achieve in-game.



Games



The C64 had an extensive library of games, with some sources stating a figure upwards of 2000 titles. These games covered almost every genre created at the time. As with all systems, these games varied somewhat in their quality. The best of them were among the best games released on any of the 8-bit home computers.

NB – the 8-bit home computers were sometimes referred to as ‘home micros’.

Let’s go through these games by category, starting with…


Coin-Op Conversions



Throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, Coin-Op video arcades were extremely popular. As such many popular arcade games were ported to the home systems, the C64 included. Although none of the home systems could match the graphics and sound of the arcade cabinets, the C64’s impressive hardware enabled coin op conversions that were more faithful than most.


These conversions varied considerably in quality. Rainbow Islands was one of the best…



Rainbow Islands Arcade


Video by Al82 Retrogaming Longplays



Rainbow Islands C64


Video by Al82 Retrogaming Longplays



Whilst Rygar was one of the worst…



Rygar Arcade


Video by Media Pool



Rygar C64


Video by phoenix1291



For a comparison of almost every Arcade-to-C64 conversion take a look at these videos by Laird's Lair;




One Button Complications



Being limited to a one-button joystick was occasionally a challenge. ‘Up-to-Jump’ solved the problem for most two-button arcade platform games, whilst pressing the spacebar took care of smart bombs in shoot ‘em ups. Unfortunately, arcade games that used a three-buttons-or-more control scheme usually couldn’t be ported satisfactorily. As you can imagine, the arcade conversion of Street Fighter 2 with its six-button control scheme was particularly problematic - as it was for all home computers that were limited to one-button joysticks.



Street Fighter 2 - Commodore 64 - Ryu Playthrough


Video by SoulSnatching



If you would like to find out more about just how bad the C64 Street Fighter 2 port was, take a look at Nostalgia Nerd’s video here.



Multi-Platform Games



The market for games designed for the home computer was arguably even larger. With several different home computers on the market, it made sense for developers to create versions of their games for as many systems as possible - platform exclusivity was a rare thing back then. As a result, the games library for the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC were broadly similar.


One particularly good example of this being Turrican 2: The Final Fight which was released on nine separate systems. The C64 version was considered by many to be the best of the 8-bit versions, partly due to it featuring gameplay elements that even the 16-bit versions lacked.



Turrican II: The Final Fight C64


Video by Al82 Retrogaming Longplays



The C64 versions of multiplatform games tended to be superior (perhaps arguably) in terms of graphics and sound compared to their Spectrum counterparts. Judge for yourself in the video comparisons below.



ZX Spectrum Vs Commodore 64 (Vol. 1) - Let's compare 50 games!


You might notice some games are completely different on the two systems – Kwik Snax (1:20:21) and Rebel (2:33:09) in particular

Video by Modern ZX-Retro Gaming



ZX Spectrum Vs Commodore 64 (Vol. 2) - Let's compare another 50 games!


Note how the Spectrum’s colour palette makes the games look garish, whereas the C64’s colour palette is more subdued.

Video by Modern ZX-Retro Gaming



8-Bit Home Computer Exclusives



In addition, there were a wide variety of games that were released exclusively for the 8-bit home micros. Ultimate Play the Game was a notable 8-bit video game company that created many highly-rated games for the ZX Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC.



Night Shade C64


Note the ‘Attribute Clash’ - AKA Colour Clash. This was (thankfully) a rarity on the C64

Video by einokeino303



C64 Exclusive Ports



The C64 was more powerful than the other 8-bit micros. As such it received ports of 16-bit games which were not even attempted on the other systems. Armalyte is a good example which was released for the 16-bit Amiga and Atari ST and the 8-bit C64. It should be noted that the C64 game differs considerably from the Atari and Amiga versions. It could be argued that they should be considered separate games.



Armalyte C64


Note how smooth the game runs. Armalyte makes good use of the C64’s hardware.

Video by Al82 Retrogaming Longplays



Armalyte Amiga


Note that the differences are not merely cosmetic

Video by World of Longplays


C64 Exclusive Originals



There was no shortage of games developed exclusively for the C64 either. Some of these games looked noticeably better than multi-platform C64 games. This was due to these games being designed from the ground up to take full advantage of the C64’s hardware. The aforementioned Mayhem in Monsterland is a standout example, as was Creatures 2.



Creatures 2: Torture Trouble Longplay (C64)


Video by Al82 Retrogaming Longplays



Mouse Driven Games



Due to the C64 being compatible with the 1351 Mouse, games such as Lemmings were able to take full advantage of mouse control. Ports of Lemmings to systems that lacked mouse control were often frustrating affairs.



Lemmings C64


Video by Commodore & Amiga Constellation



3D Games



Although the C64’s hardware was well suited to 2D scrolling and sprites, it struggled with 3D rendering. Its VIC-II graphics chip was not optimised for 3D. As a result, the C64’s relatively underpowered 1MHz CPU had to do much of the polygonal ‘heavy lifting’, resulting in frustratingly low frame rates. Driller, released in 1987, is an excellent example of this.



Driller (1987)


Check out that frame rate

Video by Ultimate History of Video Games



3D games with wireframe graphics - such as Elite - fared somewhat better due to their less demanding graphics.



Elite 64


Compare this with Elite Dangerous. 3D games have come a long way

Video by DerSchmu



Online MMORPG



The C64’s internet capabilities allowed for the world’s first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Habitat (also known as Club Caribe). Although primitive by today’s standards its success proved the viability of the MMORPG concept. This ultimately led to modern-day MMORPGS such as World of Warcraft and online virtual worlds such as Second Life.