My first computer was a Commodore 64. I think my father bought it with a friend of his to build a joystick. He was the electronics guy, his friend (I think) was handling the computer side of the things. My reader part wants to imagine it like WILLIAM GIBSON’s BURNING CHROME – Automatic Jack and Bobby Quine. But I doubt it was that epic.
I guess the project fell flat after creating a boxy, super boxy, prototype. But that made me an owner of a breadbox C64 in my tender age of 6 or 7. I remember myself playing platform games like GREAT GIANNA SISTERS, STORMLORD, MYTH and a weird game called WORK. I can’t remember the last one’s name exactly but it was a working simulator that’s what I hazily remember.
At that time, and for a very long time, the gaming equaled piracy. It’s not that you had another choice. In Istanbul I think few shops sold boxed, which we called “original”, games. As long as I owned 64 I owned 5-6 games in their boxes as I recall. Usually you went to a computer shop, look at the cassettes and their covers on the cassette box. These covers showed the poster of the game and nothing more. I also recall they are photographs, like developed – honest to God – film photos. That little detail seems ludicrous in hindsight. Because, I guess, creating those photos took more effort than recording the actual game.
Before you play, however, you need to set your datasette’s reading head. The main reason for this is the recorder using to copy the game had a different reading head level. My mind’s eye portrays me an image whenever I think about this: a gigantic asphalt and the reader head as a spaceship dropping containers. So you gotta take your small screwdrivers and modify your head to that level to make the machine recognize it is reading data, and not garbage.
To do it we used a software called “Head Level Setup Programme”. You loaded it up, then change cassettes, press play and watch the screen. Initially it’ll show a very disorganized pattern of data. You turn your screwdriver to make it organized in three columns of data. After that you rebooted and loaded up your game.
I don’t know if users in other countries experienced such a thing. As I’ve said, original – boxed – games was a minority in imports at that time but I want to imagine people grabbing some games with cool documentation and feelies and don’t think about any screwdrivers before playing them.
For that very reason the very existence of 1541 diskette drive was a miracle to us datasette players. Imagine a device which didn’t require any shenanigans like this and loaded games MUCH faster. But its price was astronomically high for that time so I never had any experience with it. But you can be sure that it was in my dreams in addition to rooms full of MAJORETTE and MATCHBOX cars and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES figures and Technodrome.
Games of that era were technical wonders now I realize. They often involved simple mechanics but this was an era where there were no ready made game engines, no save game mechanic (with the exception of a few late games offering codes to start your game from a later stage) and you were stuck to a limited datasize. I guess a cassette held less than a megabyte so you had to program it such a way that it would fit with all the bells and whistles you proposed.
Speaking of programming, every C64 owner dabbled in it. In those times magazines often gave a “Programmer’s Booklet” which included several programs’ source codes. You wrote them and after it runs you began to tweak them to your needs. I also think its manual was a good learning experience – considering I was often referring to it when I’m writing some tiny program and didn’t remember myself bored. That is a huge thing – an 8 years old child not getting bored from reading a manual. Kudos to whoever translated it to Turkish.
I switched to COMMODORE AMIGA after C64 and boy was it a change! Tiny diskettes holding breathtakingly beautiful and complex games compared to 64! But that should be the topic of a different day.