Commodore LIES by claiming that their first computer to offer built in colour, graphics, and sound was somehow FRIENDLY, although it had no built in BASIC language commands to control these facilities!!

I decided to do this post because TMR of the rival blog has recently confessed to owning and programming a VIC-20 before he ever got a Commodore 64. This gave him an unfair advantage when later getting a Commodore 64, compared with people unlucky enough to get a Commodore 64 as their first computer. David Simons, the programmer of the C64 extended BASIC interpreter Simons’ BASIC, also owned a VIC-20.

As for me, I’m firmly on the side of high level languages, as opposed to low level languages, and the higher level the better! I like the languages LOGO, LISP, and advanced dialects of BASIC. I don’t like Microsoft Visual BASIC, because it hardly seems to have anything of BASIC left in it. I’m not too keen on C or Assembly Language, either. I hate Commodore BASIC V2 as on the Commodore 64 and Commodore VIC-20. Commodore had no right to lumber unsuspecting buyers with this crap without warning them and getting their consent. This was like rape! For more details about this, watch the Star Trek: Enterprise trailer for the episode “Fusion” on . I should explain further that in this episode, during the 22nd Century the Enterprise NX-01, commanded by Capt Johnathan Archer, meets some unusual Vulcans whose philosophy involves not suppressing their emotions, as well as eating meat, and practising a technique called the mind meld, which has been abandoned by other Vulcans in this time period. One of the Vulcans mind melds with T’Pol and forces her to experience some kind of feelings and fantasy that she doesn’t like, then she ends up in sick bay, so obviously this is a kind of rape. The Commodore 64 caused me a whole load of stress and anguish, although I had no warning this would happen when I bought it. For more information read the episode summary on .

In 1980 Commodore decided to build a computer that would display colour text, some form of colour graphics, and even some sound which went beyond just a beep, unlike their original PET 2000/4000/8000 range of computers. They called this computer the VIC-20, although it was known as the VC-20 in Germany because VIC in German pronunciation sounds like “fick”, meaning what the built in Commodore BASIC V2 language could do to your brain, so they shortened it to VC which the packaging said stood for Volkscomputer, meaning people’s computer, based on Volkswagen meaning people’s car, but it could just have easily stood for “Vergewaltigt von Commodore”, meaning “Raped by Commodore”. It was called the VIC-1001 in Japan and I’m sure people living in the year 1001AD would have loved it, if they’d discovered how to generate electricity! Perhaps they’d already found out by chance how to make batteries from lemons, copper, and zinc, who knows? The VIC-20 was released in 1981. Jack Tramiel’s famous quote about this project was “The Japanese are coming, so let’s be the Japanese!” I think this is an insult to the Japanese, because also in 1981, or possibly as early as 1979, in Japan, NEC released the PC-8001 computer. Not much has been known about this computer outside Japan until recent years, but I think various models with improved graphics and sound may have been released, often called the NEC PC-8801/88XX or just NEC PC-88. A short video of an NEC PC-8001 computer running N-BASIC V1.1, Copyright by Microsoft 1979, can be viewed on , while a video of some of its games running under an emulator is on . This seems like a proto MSX computer, with 5 pre programmed function keys, and it draws a line across the screen using the command PSET in a FOR…NEXT loop! There is no equivalent command in Commodore BASIC V2 on the VIC-20 or the Commodore 64. Of course, there’s no command to program the function keys in Commodore BASIC V2 either! It may have been possible to detect a keyboard code or a PETSCII code that these keys had been pressed, but other computers such as the NEC PC-8001 could be used or even reprogrammed by the user to input whole BASIC commands by pressing one of these keys! I think this was by using the command KEY n,text. I wonder how Microsoft thought up the name, or even the idea that users of their computers should be able to program their own function keys? ROTFL!!

The VIC-20 came with only 5K of RAM and only 3.5K RAM free to BASIC. It was a simpler system to understand than the Commodore 64, although the dialect of BASIC was the same.

When Commodore released the VIC-20 in 1981 they thought it was important to sell this computer for under $300 in the USA, so they started selling it for $299. Little did their unsuspecting victims know that for $399 they could have bought a far more advanced Tandy Color Computer, including the graphics command SET and the command SOUND!

The Commodore PET 2000/4000/8000 range of computers came without colour, graphics, or any sound apart from a beep. Commodore later produced a graphics card for them. As the VIC-20 had colour, graphics, and sound already built in, potential buyers may have thought or even probably assumed that it came with a version of BASIC which allowed them to use these facilities. Unfortunately, it didn’t! Commodore produced a cartridge called the VIC Super Expander, which added commands for colour, graphics, and sound, as well as some more RAM. This was the very beginning of Commodore BASIC 3.5, as on the Commodore 16 and Commodore Plus 4, called the Commodore 116 and Commodore 264 in some markets. Unfortunately, there were other RAM expansions available which didn’t contain these extra commands! This meant it was no good just producing software which required more than 3.5K or 5K, assuming that these commands would be available.

The totally pathetic 20 column VIC-20 startup screen

The VIC-20 had only a 20 or 22 column text display, compared with other computers which could display 32, 40 or even 80 column text. This made the VIC-20 look PATHETIC compared with these other computers! It had no sprites/player missile graphics/movable object blocks either, although the Atari computers, and Texas Instruments TI99/4A already had them.

The VIC-20, according to different sources, either did or didn’t have a bitmapped graphics screen, but a CHARACTER mapped graphics screen! The VIC-20 Programmers’ Reference Guide describes on pages 88-92 some way of plotting a sine wave and a circle. There’s also some crap about there being a way to use a bitmapped screen without a RAM expansion and another way to use it WITH a RAM expansion! There was a method which required users and programmers to use built in graphics characters or user defined graphics to generate something like high resolution graphics on the screen. This was, according to one source, how the VIC-20 Super Expander BASIC seemed capable of drawing some high resolution graphics using its own redefined graphics characters. Of course, instead of all this crap, Commodore could just have installed the ROM it used in the Super Expander cartridge onto the VIC-20 motherboard, or agreed to pay Microsoft or some other company $3 or even as much as $10 per VIC-20 sold for a new version of BASIC!

An Atari game about Star Trek which claims to have been written in ATARI BASIC! More details on Try doing this in BASIC V2 on a Commodore VIC-20 or Commodore 64!!

Commodore recruited William Shatner, alias Captain Kirk of Star Trek, to appear in TV commercials for the VIC-20. I think this was a devious ploy to make people think that the VIC-20 was somehow sci fi come true. I don’t think he realised that if he’d tried to run the Starship Enterprise with a VIC-20 his ship would probably soon have been destroyed or at least boarded by Klingons or Romulans with a more advanced computer even if it was only as powerful as an Atari 400, or a Tandy “Coco”.

The amazing, groundbreaking Atari 400 computer

“Prepare to be boarded, Captain Kirk!”

Obviously, being a simpler and more limited computer than the Commodore 64, there were far fewer memory locations to PEEK and POKE, so this helped prepare some people, including TMR, for the more complicated, total mind blowing crap that was the Commodore 64. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the PEEKs or POKEs for colours, or most other things were to the same memory locations as on the Commodore 64, so there was a whole new list of memory locations to learn for people who had used the VIC-20 before they could program a Commodore 64! Some similarities were the BASIC language and the ROM “Kernal”.

BTW, while living in my first flat, I noticed that one of my neighbours had thrown out a VIC-20, by leaving it in the communal entrance, but I didn’t bother trying to salvage it, because I knew it was crap!


Posted August 29, 2013 by C64hater in Uncategorized


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  1. I laughed when you mentioned you only use high level languages. Your later (clearly biased) technical opinions are worth much after a statement like that.

  2. You’re wrong! I started studying Z80 Assembler as well as Locomotive BASIC before I bought an Amstrad CPC664, to prepare me for that computer. This was because the Amstrad CPC models had a comprehensive version of BASIC, but Machine Code enabled programmers to do things faster, as well as more things not supported by BASIC, such as removing the border, giving a full screen display like the BBC Micro, which used the same 6845 video chip. The whole point of this article is to make people consider whether the VIC-20 is better or worse than the C64. I think in general that it’s easier to program, so better in that way, but its facilities are less advanced, so worse in that way. The VIC-20 has fewer memory locations that programmers have to PEEK and POKE than the C64.

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