It’s a common misconception that today’s computers and games consoles are better than the ones from the Eighties. Anyone who owned a Commodore 64, Amiga, Spectrum or Atari ST will testify that playing video games 20 years ago was a lot more exciting. And I can think of lots of reasons why.
For starters the feeling of getting a game to actually load off a cassette after half an hour of waiting was infinitely more pleasurable than just putting a disk in and expecting it to run. Also, it was easier for games developers to get their products to market than it is on the major consoles of today, hence you got to choose from a selection of the most bizarre and creative games ever made. Would you ever see stuff like Bionic Granny, Revenge of the Mutant Camels, or Gerry the Germ goes Body Poppin’ released on PS3? I doubt it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, games didn’t have the luxury of being able to hide behind plush 3D graphics and cinematic soundtracks. Instead, they had to concentrate on providing innovative, thought-provoking gameplay that required patience and savvy in order to master.
With this in mind, I decided to revisit the golden age of videogames by installing the VICE Commodore 64 emulator on my PC. This free app allows you to play C64 games in Windows, via an interface that matches that of the classic home computer system. Here’s how you get it to work:
First, download VICE and unzip the files into a directory of your choosing. You’ll notice there are a few different emulator versions to choose from in this containing folder. Perhaps the most reliable of them is the x64 emulator, so open it by double clicking. You’ll now be faced with that oh-so memorable home screen.
You’ve probably noticed that this window is rather small, at just 320 x 240. Don’t worry, because you can make this bigger by going to the Options menu and selecting Double Size. Here, you should also ensure that the Maximum Speed is set to 100%, and that True Drive Emulation is turned off. If not, you’ll be waiting as long for games to load as you would’ve on the original C64 system.
Now it’s time to go get some games! A lot of old Commodore 64 games have become released as public domain, meaning they’re free to play legally. Others are still covered by piracy laws though, so be careful what you install. The Almighty C64 page is a good place to go to download free, legal, disk images, as is Lemon 64.
The disk images are normally contained within a Zip file. Unzip this file to a suitable directory on your hard drive, then return to VICE and choose Autostart disk/tape image from the File menu. Browse to the game image and click on it. Note that the Image Contents window shows you the original loading contents of the game! Click Attach to launch the game straight away.
After a couple of seconds waiting your game will be loaded in its original format.
Just like on the original C64, you can play the games using your keyboard or joystick. You may need to fiddle around with the Joystick Settings to get the controls working properly. Use the Config Keyset A or B buttons to set the keys you want to use, or the Calibrate Joystick option to set up your joystick or gamepad. There are many more settings you can tweak in VICE, but this is enough to get you started. So, happy gaming and let the good times roll!