Vic-20 FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

VIC-20 Classic Game & Home Computing System

Release 2b (Ver 1.3) July 1997
Copyright 1997 Ward Shrake


This entire document is a copyrighted work owned by Ward F. Shrake. All
rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by Ward F. Shrake.

You may distribute this document freely under the conditions that (A) it
is transmitted to all parties unmodified and (B) in its entirety. No
renumeration may be accepted for this, by anyone other than the author.

What I want in exchange for my generosity is your respectful treatment. I
have worked very hard on reviving this “dead” computer system. I hope that
you’ll do all you can to insure I get the credit I have earned. (Please be
fair and honest if you make any derivative works based on mine. Thanks!)

TABLE OF CONTENTS (Section 1.1.)

Section one: INTRODUCTION.

1.0.) Title, copyright and disclaimer notices.
1.1.) Table of contents.
1.2.) Brief notes from the author.
1.3.) A history of the Vic20 home computing system.
– A pre-history leading up to the Vic20’s birth.
– A timeline of the Vic20’s life.
– End of an era or just a new beginning?
1.4.) Sales pitch time. Why would anyone like the Vic20 system?
– The “Classic era” was a great time, worth revisiting.
– One of the best systems to play “Classic era” games on.
– A perfect system to develop new classic-style games.
– Other good reasons retro-gamers may like the Vic20.
1.5.) How does Vic20 compare in popularity to other older systems?


2.1.) What support currently exists for Vic20 users?
– Online support; many free electronic text documents.
– Online support; World Wide Web sites currently known.
– Online support; Commodore-related Usenet newsgroups.
– Newsletters and/or other offline support.
2.2.) What Vic20 software is (or once was) “out there”?
– What types of software were once common?
– Where can I find Vic20 software these days?
2.3.) Did any magazines or books exist for the vic20? (Yup, lots!)


3.1.) What do I need to have, to use an emulated Vic20 system?
3.2.) What hardware would I need, for a “real” Vic20 system?
3.3.) Description of individual peices of Vic20 hardware.
3.4.) How do I hook up this “real” equipment, once I have it?
3.5.) How do I load and use software for my Vic20?
– Using cartridge-based software.
– Using cassette-tape based software.
– Using diskette-based software.

Section four: WINDING THINGS UP.

4.1.) What other information is available about Vic20 computers?
4.2.) What can you do to help your fellow Vic20 users?
4.3.) Acknowledgements and credits.

Section 1.2. — Brief notes from the author

As is the case is with all FAQs, this document is a work in progress.
Additions, corrections and comments are welcome. Please send them to:

Snail mail:
Ward Shrake, P.O. Box 4699, Covina, CA 91723-4699, USA

As this is merely the 2nd edition of the “Vic20 Gamer’s FAQ” ever
released to the public, there could be lots of changes made later.
For instance, most of this was written before Vic20 emulators had
become available. As such most of it reflects information about
the “real” Vic20 system even when the emulator’s arrival changed
some things, either a little or a lot. Maybe next time more will
be revised, to more accurately reflect these new situations?

It’s probably fairly good right now, but things are seldom perfect.
Your input is appreciated both now and as time goes on. Any FAQ
contributors will be listed in the acknowledgements. (Thank you!)

While the author would love to have the time to “hold hands” with
new fans of the system, he simply doesn’t have that luxury. I hope
that this FAQ answers most of your questions, at least enough to
get you started. Effort on your part is always a requirement to any
learning experience. If you have new questions, I suggest you post
the questions to the Commodore-related Usenet Newsgroups (addresses
found later in this FAQ.) I am sure someone will help you that way.
If it becomes plain that certain questions are being asked often I
will of course include that info in later editions of this FAQ.

Writing and upgrading a FAQ takes a huge chunk of time and effort.
Because my resources are limited, I thank you in advance now for
your cooperation in this so that I can spend my time doing things
that will benefit many users instead of just a few. I don’t say
this to be rude or mean. It is simply the truth. My resources ARE
few! And supporting new users SHOULD be a group effort, after all.

Having said that, I hope you enjoy the FAQ … and your Vic20!

— Ward F. Shrake

Section 1.3. — A history of the Vic20 computer and its times


As is true with many of the now-commercially-extinct video games and
computing systems, the Vic20 has a fairly interesting history that not
many people know about.

The Vic20 fits into computing history somewhere between the first
arrival of kit-built home computers, which were never intended for mass
public consumption and today’s assumption that “everyone has to have a
computer at home”. As such the Vic20 represents an entire way of
thinking and has a significant place in an entire era of computers.
Some people might say the Vic20 came from the early or “good old days”
of computing history; just primitive enough and just advanced enough.

But we are gamers. This is the part I like best; the Vic20 was also out
in a very popular time period for retro-gamers. Home computers were
quick to echo what the “real” arcade coin-op machines of the time were
doing. For me, I’ve determined that most of my favorite arcade games
came from a time period that ended in about 1983 or 1984 with the video
game “crash”. Guess what? Most of the Vic20’s games are right from that
era! So most of the Vic20 game software is of very high interest to me!

I can remember the original arcade “Space Invaders”; “the game that
started it all”. I can still remember playing Space Invaders in a local
pizza hangout, right next to two or three pinball machines. I was told
that videogames were a fad and they’d soon die, but pinball would last
forever. Not quite! Pinball is still popular, sure. But I could tell by
the rate I was pumping in quarters that videogames were here to STAY!

The Vic20 echoed what the arcades were doing then, in the early 1980’s
and even in the seventies. To me the ultimate arcade games came with
buttons labeled “left, right, thrust and fire”! Home computers after
the Vic20 echoed what was current in the arcades at the time … to me
the decision was an easy one once I saw the Vic20’s software library!

This author thinks that era was an interesting one. With “retro-gaming”
becoming increasingly popular, other people must also like visiting that
era. Our reasons for the trip back may differ but the end result is the
same; entertainment and amusement. What’s wrong with that?

So lets take a quick look back at the interesting times the Vic20 was
born into….

Let’s start with Commodore Business Machines. That company had been in
business before handheld electronic calculators were even invented and
way before the public had any chance of owning a computer in their home.
Computers took up whole rooms then, if not most of a building. They were
much too expensive for any real home uses. At the beginning of computer
history, only governments and huge businesses could own one. Or even had
any real use for them, for that matter!

However, time went on. The feild of electronics was itself changing
radically, advancing from the use of vacuum tubes to smaller, lighter,
more reliable components called transistors. These in turn spawned
microprocessors, which were miniaturized computers on a silicon “chip”.
This made many things that were not possible before both practical and
within financial reach.

Near the middle of the 1970’s kit computers began to become available
to a few users who knew how to assemble the units and who were willing
to bear the hardships of programming them. These first kit computers are
not very useful by today’s standards but enthusiasts loved them anyway.
These were the first publicly-accessible computers.

Next came the advent of pre-packaged, ready-to-run computer systems
towards the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Many companies all tried
valiantly to take over large parts of the suddenly huge market that was
created. Some are still around but most have since breathed their last.

For instance, Apple computers sold many of their very early computer
models (the “Apple II”) in this era. It was credited with being the first
‘color’ home computer. Other companies, including Commodore Business
Machines, all had their models representing this still somewhat primitive
period. Commodore had the PET series, which preceeded the Vic20. Some
books credit the PET with being the first all-in-one home computer; ie, a
“CRT+keyboard+computer”. (For more, see “Your own computer”, ISBN 0-672-
21860-7, Howard W. Sams & Co. Inc., Copyright 1977.)

Home video gaming was also rapidly advancing and gaining wide levels
of acceptance by the buying public. The PONG units hooked to virtually
everyone’s home TV sets started it, along with some very early models
that represented incremental evolutionary steps from those PONG units.

Home gaming, at about the time the Vic20 arrived, was on simple machines
like the Atari 2600 VCS, the Intellivision and the ColecoVision. These
were good times for gamers; store shelves were glutted with more gaming
stuff than any kid could reasonably hope to buy!

And at the same time, the coin-op arcade machines were maturing. More
to the point, they had gone from being fun time-wasting machines found
in bars and restaurants, to actually HAVING a dedicated arcade to be in!

Now THAT, to me, was heaven! I’m sure many older retro-gamers feel the
same wave of nostalgia hit when they think of their favorite games in
their favorite arcades! It was a phenomenon … no other way to put it.
Arcades were springing up all over the country in response to this
rich new industry. I can still remember where every hole-in-the-wall
one of them was in my local area. Songs about video games were being
played on the airwaves. Books were abundant. Gaming magazines started
to appear all over … the bookstores were filled with videogame items!

And just to give you a better feel for the times, Pac Man had just been
born. (Doesn’t *that* memory make you feel old!) Machines had been made
as early as 1972 but had taken awhile to spread nationwide and to
become the huge industry we take for granted nowadays.

Its hard to remember for most of us, but arcade games previous to
this early time period may not have even had color screens! Or joysticks
for input; many machines only had pinball-style buttons to press. The
original shape of modern arcade games evolved from the much earlier and
better established pinball industry. Even today the glass over an arcade
video game screen is often called a “backglass” just as it was in pinball.

Look at pictures of an original “Space Invaders” cabinet. They weren’t
yet sure how to make such a strange new contraption at that time! A
lot of copying went on in these years as the new arcade gaming industry
borrowed ideas heavily; from each other and from outside sources.

In short, the entire industry was just forming. Home games, arcade games
and all the rest were entirely new at the time. Computers allowed games
to be “translated” into home versions with enough clever programming.

Gaming used to be “of gamers, by gamers, for gamers”. The hippie types
that once ran companies and created the first games, eventually made the
market huge. Then others joined in, just to make a quick buck. The gaming
market died, as gamers rejected this latest wave of junk; it wasn’t for
them, but for some imaginary bunch of people who would buy anything. I
feel that a lot of the blame for the gaming crash, got misplaced. I feel
that a lot of the possible lessons to be learned, were missed by most.

Gaming regrouped, and came back. The Nintendo NES brought life back into
what most business types then thought was the cold corpse of a failed fad.
They did it by combining respect for gamers, respect for the parents who
would end up paying for all of this, and respect for sound business models.
But this planning, this necessary business caution, killed some of the
spirit of early gaming, in my opinion. (No offense, but tourism games just
aren’t my cup of tea. I generally prefer fast, intense games, myself.) Any
game that will only appeal to a small part of the marketplace, simply will
not show up in the marketplace, under such a business model. What a shame.

Nintendo did bring gaming back, even if it was along a new path entirely.
The hippie types that created the market in the first place, finally lost
out to the corporate types that took over. They understood the likes and
dislikes of gamers, and were willing to take chances. But corporate types
don’t understand the gaming mindset, and won’t take chances. Even if a
good game results from such practices, it comes along only rarely. Then it
will be copied extensively, maybe for years, until the next original idea
comes along. In the meantime, the games that result may be deep, may be
high quality in terms of being bug-free … but do they have any soul?

Marketing is “me too” and very unoriginal. Without the hippie types, the
real artists who made gaming great in the first place, gaming is becoming
stagnant again. I note with interest that Sony may have figured this out;
they are introducing a user-programmable system, to troll for game ideas.
They seem to be applying that very early concept; that any user who took
the time to know his system well, could create the next really “big” game.
Time will tell how it works out, but I applaud the move in that direction!
The marketing types need outside ideas, to keep gaming fresh and fun.

Gamers like me tread water, waiting for a mythical video game renaissance.
But until then, I enjoyed the “pre-crash” era the most, so I’ll still call
those early home and arcade games my all-time favorites! And collect them!


JUNE OF 1980: The Vic20 was born. It first sold at a retail cost of
$300 or more. This was for the main “keyboard+cpu unit” only. All of
its accessories were considered optional; each cost you something extra!
Depending on where you shopped, price must have varied wildly for some
time. I have seen and heard quotes of around $600 dollars for the
Vic20 at the start! (But remember that this was still considered cheap
compared to most other computer company’s offerings of that era.)

SUMMER OF 1982: Commodore unveiled its next offering; the soon-to-be
wildly popular Commodore 64. This offering was part of intense industry-
wide competition at the time. Everyone was trying to dominate the very
profitable home computer market then. (Interesting times indeed! The
Vic20 was barely two years old when its end was already in sight.)

DECEMBER OF 1982: the Vic20 was now available in Department stores
nationwide at a little over $200 dollars for the “CPU & keyboard” unit.
This was “more like it” as far as most consumers were concerned.

JANUARY OF 1983: “Commodore Business Machines Inc” had sold their one
millionth Vic20. Advertised as “the friendly computer,” the Vic20 was
well on its way! And the market knew it, too. Quite a few third-party
software developers and book publishers made products that catered to
the large and growing Vic20 market of the early eighties. But were they
adopting too late? Had the wave already peaked when they jumped in?

MEANWHILE: The 64 was now out for about six months and it was rapidly
“catching on”. The Commodore community was blown away by it. The C64
represented a very large technological jump forward and we all knew it.

The end of the Vic20’s commercial success was all but over. It was just
a matter of time at this point and we all seemed to know it, even then.
However, as our favorite company seemed to be winning the battle for
the low end of the computer market we mostly cheered it on happily.
Any sadness over the Vic20’s death was more than equalled out by the
low (and dropping) price announcements. It was even good for some users
who wanted a Vic20 but could not afford one before the price cuts.

One smart move on Commodore’s part were their low prices. The C64
was priced way out of reach for most of us at first but did drop to
about the same price the Vic20 used to sell for … why buy a Vic20
when you could get a C64 for the same price? Smart move for Commodore
but a death blow for the now-outdated Vic20. This is one reason I feel
the Vic20 died such a resounding but undeserved death. To make a buck,
Commodore was treating the whole Vic20 line like it was a mistake on
the road to their putting out the Commodore 64. Or a stopgap at best.

I bet that most new Commodore 64 users felt so much pride in their new
machines that they belittled Vic20 users. Kids will do that, sometimes.
But that may have helped bury the Vic20 in our long-term memory, too.
Who wants to remember something that once got you ridiculed, right?

The C64 represented a brand new era in computing. It made most other
companies’ offerings look sick in comparison, especially at its much
lower price. Commodore sales flourished and many rival companies died
off or were forced into huge price cuts. Depending on whose estimates
you read, the Commodore 64 computer eventually sold between 10 and 12
million units. The industry was in a free-for-all, a shake-out period,
and I suppose Commodore was as desperate as any other manufacturer …
so I won’t hold it against them how they dropped the Vic20 so harshly!

As time went on the Vic20 got less and less magazine coverage while
the C64 gained more and more. Ditto for coverage on store shelves. And
we all had the distraction of all those other pre-crash systems to be
buying games for, while the feeding frenzy was going on in the stores.

EARLY 1984: older magazine ads show us that the Vic20 was being closed
out via mail order, often at $69.95 or less. (Remember all those mail
order ads from “Protecto” that were in the magazines then?) Many formerly
rare or prized Vic20-only accessories were also closed out, as nearly
the entire market shifted its allegiance.

MID-1984: The last Vic20 software review I can find in my collection
of old magazines is around mid-1984. “Compute!” printed their last one
then and if I recall correctly, they were one of the last holdouts.
It was probaby being too kind to say the Vic20 was still popular then.
The Vic20 had been slowly replaced in our minds, month by month. As
soon as the mass-market had fully embraced the Commodore 64, the Vic20
was all but forgotten by most folks. But some of us still remember it
and miss those interesting “pre-crash” times the Vic20 was born into!


The Vic20 died for more than one reason; technical obsolescence does
not explain everything. The Atari 2600 was far less capable from a
hardware standpoint but remained popular among some groups well into
the mid-1990’s. Other machines are still in active use by retro-gamers
and hardcore system fans, that are far less powerful than the Vic20 is.

Just because something with more impressive specs comes along does not
mean a particular peice of hardware is useless. This is true in many
feilds, not just videogaming. In the upper reaches of the audio hardware
hobby, for instance, some people are paying thousands of dollars for
audio equipment that still uses vacuum tubes … and what’s more they
say they are right that it “sounds better” than modern equipment does!

We retrogamers are in a similar position. We feel that just because a
new system comes out and is heavily hyped by its manufacturers, that
is a poor reason to do without an earlier system that we truly like.

The industry wants you to throw out everything you had before and to
start over fresh every few years. This keeps their profits high but
do YOU gain anything from it? (Aside from having your pick of everyone
else’s ex-favorite games once they arrive at garage sales and thrifts!)

But seriously, do you as a retro-gamer GAIN anything by this switching?

I personally have taken a hard look at most all the games that ever came
out in the arcades, through lists such as the “Killer List of Video Games”
and my old magazine collections. I saw for myself that I lost interest in
the “modern” style of games a long time ago. So have many others.

For me, I realize that the games I get the most pleasure from were made
prior to 1984. And if you realize what you like and what you don’t like,
why switch if you’re happy with what you have? The industry may not like
that, as they can’t profit from it. But are you on YOUR side or theirs?

I did a lot of work to find out what era or type of games I liked best. I
found out that while I tend to like one or two new games each year in the
arcades, that the only time I liked more than that amount of new games was
from 1979 to 1984. The best arcade years, IMHO, were from 1980 to 1983.

I went looking for all the old games I had once loved in the arcades. I
did research on each of them. I looked at all the classic gaming systems.
I looked at remakes of classic games on very modern systems. I finally
found a system that echoed at home what the arcades had been doing then.

That’s why I’m into the Vic20 today. It plays all my favorite games and
it does it as well or better than most other systems, before or since!

In some cases, ports of certain games are not really even recognizable
on other less powerful classic gaming systems. If you knew what the
original arcade game was like, the early home conversions were usually
truly disappointing. The new versions may as well be another game.

At the same time, most newer systems had so much more power to spare
that those who rewrote the original arcade games could not resist the
temptation to “upgrade” these older arcade games. In my opinion, they
usually screwed them up instead of improving them. I wanted the originals!

I will, however, say a hearty “bravo!” to companies that have decided to
create game emulators which run original arcade game code. However, while
I like the idea quite a bit, it usually takes thousands of dollars worth
of computing equipment to allow that to be done. (Or hundreds at least; I
see the Playstation console is priced around $200 now. But for myself I
will wait awhile; original arcade board sets (the brains of games) sell
for maybe $40 apeice nowadays and I can/have bought the “real thing” in
the past, thanks to other hobbyists on the Internet. But I digress….)

In some cases the Vic20 did a better job than the arcade did or at
least as good a job. (Not all technical advances are bad!) But in other
cases the games just have the right mindset, the right combination of
look, feel and gameplay that makes me like them the most.

Games changed radically, after the “crash”. Both in the arcade and at
home. The entire industry went through its “crash” period around late
1983 or early 1984. This also helped contribute to the Vic20’s demise
as a large chunk of the Vic20 market was heavy into video games then.

The consumer market at the time, guys like me, loved every bit of the
crash at the time. It meant we could finally afford games we’d had
our eyes on, seemingly forever! We were in hardware and software over-
load. There was so much to choose from, and all at rock-bottom prices!

I (and many other retro-gamers I’m sure) remember constantly going to
toy stores and department stores to check out all the cool stuff that
everyone had for sale … oh, the memories that brings back! All the
software sold in plastic baggies; remember those? The quick turnover,
the rapid growth of the industry. Man, were those cool gaming years!

Die-hard Vic20 users snapped up many items they could never afford
before … but most of them also bought a C64 or were planning to. You
see, Commodore, in a fluke of still unexplained good sense, had made
sure that all the major Vic20 peripherals still worked on their newer
C64 … including tape and disk drives! A Vic20 user only had to buy the
main “CPU & keyboard” to switch over! This very rapidly accelerated the
C64’s acceptance among many former Vic20 users. (Note however that it
also makes it easy to switch back to a Vic20 system from a C64 system!)

Along with everything else, Commodore’s “friendly computer” was then a
washed-up “has been,” forgotten and neglected, rotting on store shelves.
The newer machines like the Commodore 64 had already replaced it. Vic
software was closed-out everywhere you went, or so it seemed. (Some of
us couldn’t wait for it to leave the shelves fast enough then, although
we sure wish we had stocked up on it now!)

Ah, those crazy “crash” days … man, were they ever fun to live in! I
bet some of us can trace our retro-gaming roots right to those moments!

But the Vic20 has “died”. And many years later, so has the Commodore 64.
Indeed even the Commodore company itself has croaked. RIP, Commodore.

Sad? Perhaps. Especially if you consider that all this happened right
when the Vic20 software market was maturing. In other words, many
commercial (and hobbyist) programmers had plenty of time and experience
with the Vic20 by then and their software was becoming very good indeed
towards the end, before the bottom fell out of their market….

But don’t be too sad. From a modern collector’s point of view all this
means is that all that righteous old stuff is still out there just
waiting for us to dig it up and put it back into use! I don’t see this
as an end, really, but as a second chance to relive those heady video
gaming “crash” days I loved so much. Its all out there; good hunting!

Section 1.4. — Sales pitch time. Why should anyone like the Vic20?

Although you’d be hard pressed to find many people who are still actively
involved with the Vic20 home computing system — besides a few collectors
gamers and historians here and there, of course — this is also true of
nearly all the “classic” or “pre-crash” era game machines. I feel more
people would like and use the Vic20 again, if only they knew more about
it. So, here are a few good reasons for wanting to use a Vic20… feel
free to sprinkle these bits of wisdom on gamers in need of conversion!


Retro-gaming is becoming widespread and popular. Lots of people are
involved in it now. Big companies are spending lots of money, re-pushing
their old games. Why? There must be some reason for all the excitement,
right? Hype only goes so far without substance to back it up, right?

One reason is that gamers are rediscovering that there were distinct
“eras” of games. Arcade games set the pace. Home games followed it.
When the arcades went through any major changes in mindset, the home
systems echoed what was going on. It still goes on today. Always has.

In other words, to play certain types of games (games from a certain era)
you need to find the hardware that supports that era. This is true for
all gaming systems; from the first primitive cartridge-based gaming
machines to the current crop of 32 and 64 bit home gaming consoles or
PC-based games.

Certain machines only play certain types of games and I don’t think many
people consciously realize that. You have to find out what types of games
you like best. Then decide what system best represents that era or that
mindset. And only then, go out and buy that system. Certain machines play
their type of games just fine. But if that’s not what you want, why bother?

I happen to really like the arcade-gaming era the Vic20 supported. IMHO,
the best games in the arcades came out from about 1978 to 1983. Guess
what? That’s exactly the era the Vic20 best supports! Most arcade games
then took a year or two to be ported over to a home system(s). So the
Vic20 perfectly fits my ideal, best-loved arcade era. What’s more, the
Vic20 was sophisticated enough to handle conversions of those early
arcade games, with no problem. The technology wasn’t as important then
as creative imagintion was, coupled with great programming talents.

Games then and games now use entirely different sets of assumptions.
There are entirely different ways of thinking that goes along with both
old and new games. Partly caused by hardware but also caused by time and
social forces.

Games then were 90% gameplay, 10% graphics. Some people would argue that
modern games have 90% graphics and sound but only 10% in gameplay. This
may not be 100% true, but a lot of gamers do feel there was a better
“feel” to the older games. I would say they involved the user at a higher
level. In other words, games then were based on you becoming a part of
the machine, of interacting quickly in a process that required you to
think in micro-second intervals. To become one with the machine, if only
you were good enough.

Look at it this way. Classic games gave you minimal input; very simple
graphics and sounds. You were required to analyze that input quickly,
react correctly based on it and then get feedback from the machine on
how you did. That loop repeated, over and over. You HAD to become an
intimate part of the process or your games were over very quickly!
Their assumption is that to get higher scores, you and the machine had
to merge together well. In other words the experience was immersive.

Modern games require many decisions but not in the same way. Quantity
over quality in a sense. There are much larger gaps of idle time where
you are not doing anything for fractions of a second. I would say you and
the machine were almost taking turns. So you are more distracted, less
one with the machine.

I think that is one reason classic era players are not fond of newer
machines; the pace and style of interaction is so totally different. They
can’t adapt and don’t want to. I am tempted to compare playing a
classic era machine to flying a jet plane in combat. I am tempted to also
compare most modern games to driving a truck, or even a freight train!

One other thought along these lines; some games may more naturally use
the “right side of our brains”. Scientists say that our brains are split
into two halves; the left handles logical step-by-step sequences better
and the right handles non-verbal, spatial relations and such. Herein
lies some serious food for thought … what if certain games tap into
that right brained mode and others rely more on entertaining the left
hemisphere of the brain? This could perhaps explain why Tetris was (A)
so addictive to (B) so many people, while (C) seeming to our logical
left brains to be so simple that it could not possibly be any fun. Your
mileage may vary, but I suspect that earlier games tapped into that same
spatial, non-verbal mode, while more modern games nearly ignore all that.

Nowadays most games fall into one of a few preset “formulas” and people
are getting bored with it. The industry taught us to continually crave
the newest, the latest stuff out. But then they stagnated and ran out of
ideas! Some of us are going back to our roots, because in a way, its so
old that its new again. Younger gamers get a chance to see the so-called
classics and older gamers get to relive a very cool time in history. And
once you’ve experienced that right-brained “one with the machine” rush,
look out! You may never again see games in the same way, “old” or new.


But since most of its former users simply switched over to the
Commodore 64 almost overnight instead of some more gradual switch, I
think most of its former users have forgotten just how good the system
really was. Commodore themselves heavily pushed the switch to the C64.
They did their best to make it easy for us to decide. Plus much time
has passed. So most ex-users simply forgot all about the Vic20!

Back then we all bought into the “new hardware is good, old hardware is
bad” hype. Now, with the entire industry saying retro-gaming is good and
perhaps we all abandoned things too quickly, what better time is there
to re-evaluate? Learn from the past, so we can do better in the future.

In other words, isn’t it somewhat ridiculous, or even hypocritical to
accept one “has been” retro-gaming system but to then to reject another
one? Why? Solely because it is old? Be consistent. Good is good, period.

Most of us who still remember the Vic20 days recall that later machines
(like the C64) made the Vic20 look sick by comparison. True, later
computers were more powerful. But that is true with every single retro-
gaming platform out there! The argument therefore becomes invalid in a
retro-gaming context. (Furthermore, the Vic20 was only two years younger
than the Commodore 64 … and in many ways is remarkably similar!)

How easily we have also forgotten that the Vic20 was technically superior
to most of the other GAMING PLATFORMS it was then competing with! Not
other computers, mind you, but the cartridge-based console systems.

This is an important point. Most of the competition (gaming consoles like
the Atari 2600, Intellivision and the like) had less RAM memory, fewer
built-in graphic features and no keyboard or external program storage
available. Please recall that each of these systems once promised to
“grow up” to be what the Vic20 always was!

The Vic20 is technically FAR superior to these early cartridge-based
systems! What’s more, that is not my opinion alone, but the opinion of
the entire industry in the classic era! Why settle for a cartridge-only
retro-gaming system when you can have a user-programable, expandable,
technically superior retrogaming system?


Some users want to be able to create new games for these old systems.
For most other early “classic era” game machines, especially consoles,
it is nearly impossible to program them yourself. With the Vic20 its easy.

In most cases, hand-built hardware and software development systems are
needed to do it. Take the still-popular Atari 2600 console system for
example. It took 15 years or so to get to this point, where now that the
hardware is built and usable by the masses, who can really program it?
Only very, very good machine language programmers. So I would argue that
its still not *really* user-programmable, in a hobbyists sense.

Don’t get me wrong; I do like the Atari 2600 also. I just think it has
obvious, serious limitations. In the hands of a few demi-god programmers
it was really impressive! (I’m thinking of the Starpath conversion of the
game “Frogger”, for example.) But as this is the exception not the rule,
I’m concentrating on the greater bulk of “normal” games which were more
representative of each system on the whole. (No offense to any 2600 fans!)

But lets face it; everything you need to program a Vic20 is right there,
built-in. Or is easily added by way of plugging in a cartridge. And it
always was there. We just forgot about the system! You can even create
your programs on say a C64 or C128 machine, then port them on down.

An ideal retro-gaming system, yes? And its virgin! Think of all the cool
new ideas and techniques that could be applied … and the cool results!
Imagine using all 32K of expansion memory, instead of merely 8K or 16K?
That alone would push it FAR beyond anything done in the good old days!

I think programmers and develops will soon discover that most of the
Vic20’s apparent limitations, aren’t. The reason more software isn’t as
good as the best software is more the fault of lousy early development
tools. As the tools got better and programmers got more experienced, I
think its easy to see the Vic20 isn’t anywhere near as limited as most
of us first assumed it was. Remember; its basically a C64 minus 2 years!
Using all those sophisticated C64 development tools, is the sky a limit?


Keep in mind that most of the arguments against owning a Vic20 “in the
good old days” came down to too much expense or too many parts. Neither
of these are true today. And the user confusion factor is decreasing
too, with things like this FAQ and help from CBM Internet Newsgroups.

Expansion RAM is dirt cheap; exactly like any other cartridges found at
yard sales or thrift stores. Plus, dedicated Vic20 users have designed
their own retrofit 32k RAM systems complete with write-protection
features and many other cool things.

And now that we have an excellent (and improving!) Vic20 emulator, those
RAM expansion questions and worries go away fast! This is a big deal.

Datasettes are a dime a dozen now, but they were expensive then. Disk
drives aren’t too far behind them now. These also worked on the C64 and
the C128, so newsgroups and places that catered to later Commodore models
should still have all these peripherals available for you to buy used.

And that’s just counting the common accessories: the Vic20 also had a
voice add-on, lightpens and many other accessories that make other
classic games systems collectible. The Vic20 had it all at one time.

Collectors will quickly find that there are many things to search for and
own. Some people enjoy the collecting aspect of things (the thrill of the
hunt) enough to justify ownership right there. Give it some thought…

But there are other reasons too. Persons who are interested in game
history will find the machine overflows with it! Some of today’s top game
programmers learned their trade by programming for the Vic20. Jeff Minter
of “Tempest 2000” and “Defender 2000” fame, to mention just one example,
did very well on the Vic20. Magazines of the times held interviews with
such persons. I find that sense of history fascinating! Don’t you?

Dabblers in retro programming may be interested to learn that the Vic20
used the same processor (65xx series) as many contemporary consoles.
Sharing compatible disk drives with Commodore’s later models means that
one can do some work on the more powerful machines and simply port it
down to the Vic20 later. In other words, “cross assembly” systems exist!

Many memory and storage limitations (then) are no problem now. Can you
imagine a truly classic era computer game, programmed to use up all the
space on a disk? Or a “huge” cartridge multi-loader game? I shudder to
think of all the cool Vic20 games and stuff that would fit on one CD-ROM!

And just in case anyone thinks I am being too heavily biased in talking
up the Vic20 as being a superior system for retro-gaming … if you read
through magazine ads of the time you’ll see that even the manufacturers
of classic games considered the Vic20 superior to the console machines of
the time! If it was better then, it is surely better now!

In cases where classic games came out on computer and game console alike
the Vic20 version was sometimes FAR superior! In fact I myself got back
into this system when I saw a few well-known console games, converted,
that just blew me away! Imagic, for instance, did a wonderful job of
programming the Vic20 versions of Atlantis, DragonFire and Demon Attack.
You just have to see those games once on a real Vic20 to see what I mean.

The Vic20 has another big plus compared to other classic gaming systems;
it is currently neglected among collectors. It is a “cheap” and easy
system to collect for … at least for now! For those of you tired of
how the more “mature” retro-gaming systems have turned out, come have
some fun over here! Over 160 game cartridges (and counting) were once
made for the Vic20. Rarity and game play lists do exist for those games.

And that’s just game cartridges; there are many more games when one
considers disks and cassette tapes. God only knows how many tape games
there were ever “out there”! That list has barely begun….

There are still plenty of “unknown” Vic20 games to be found, too. I think
that alone is very exciting! Lots of rare games no one has ever heard of
are re-surfacing often. In the other retro-gaming or “cart collecting”
interest areas, everyone already has a set list of all the games known to
exist and no new ones have been found and/or confirmed in ages. Game
prices are sky high, when they can be found at all. What fun is that?

The few games that are surfacing in those other groups are usually so
rare that only a handful of people will ever get to see them. Or worse,
the games were never fully finished or are probably about as playable
as the stereotypical magazine type-in game. That is also very frustrating!

I like to think of the Vic20 scene, right now, as being where the Atari
2600 and other systems were a few years ago. The Vic20 scene is just now
getting organized. Lots of exciting things are happening. It is new and
unexplored territory. A “New World” of gaming, in a sense. Bigtime FUN!

If you like retro-gaming the Vic20 truly has a lot to offer! Try it!

Section 1.5. — Current Vic20 popularity

How popular is the Vic20 now, compared to other game systems?

That’s hard to say. Right now the Vic20 has a dedicated following
among a few people, here and there. But there has been no large
push to get these people organized and into some sort of unit,
aside from the various World Wide Web sites around the globe now.
The system’s fans like it a lot. The rest have forgotten it exists.
(This may change more quickly now that emulated systems are here.)

Sad to say, but right now the Vic20 game system rates as an after-
thought with most game cartridge collectors. However, an informal
poll once taken on Usenet suggested that the average collector did
not “have a clue” as to how many games were ever produced for the
system. Nor did they know much else about the system. This author
is taking that to mean more people would be interested, if only
they knew more about the system. (Hence the need for a FAQ, right?)

But if you want to know how the established game systems rank
against *each other* for right now, that I can tell you easily
enough. I once did a statistical study for my own amusement
which showed the following… (but keep in mind that this is
only an idea of how *CARTRIDGE COLLECTORS* rated these systems!)

Apparent rank order of systems, by popularity among collectors:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
(a) Atari 2600 Most cart collector’s first-choice system;
87% of those polled collected games for it.
That’s nearly nine-out-of-every-ten people!
(b) Atari 7800 This system is fully compatible with the 2600
which may account for it begin in second
place. 66% of those polled collected for it.
(c) ColecoVision Just under the Atari 7800 in popularity at
62% … but a drop-off of 25% from the 2600!
(d) Intellivision Nearly tied with the ColecoVision at 56%.
(e) Atari 5200 Just under the Intellivision at 54%.
(f) Odyssey 2 Taking another 20% jump downward at 34%.
(g) Vectrex Staying consistent at 32% of those polled.
(h) Fairchild Taking another large jump down; now at 18%.
(i) Bally Astrocade Tied with the Fairchild Channel F at 18%.
(j) Emerson 2001 And dropping down to 11% to hold last place.
(k) Any other systems? Hard to tell … usually not listed.

Where the Vic20 will eventually fit into this list is anybody’s
guess. (Info based on a study of two documents: (a) the Digital
Press’ “Classic Videogame Collectors Guide” 3rd edition and (b)
a large list of videogame collectors compiled by Doug M.) Results
should be accurate enough to show a picture of classic gaming at
the time this study was originally done. (Around 1995 or 1996.)

| |
| |

This section should be pretty simple to figure out. Basically
I just listed lots of other places where you can find more
information about the Vic20, classic retro-gaming in general
or whatever. It would be pointless and inane for me to try to
duplicate all their information in this one document, so I’m
telling you where it is located and telling you to go for it!

Section 2.1. — What support currently exists for Vic20 users?

World Wide Web sites
Search engines may come up with more active sites than those I will
list here. That’s good. I’m just mentioning a few to start you off.
See or some similar site, to do additional searching.

– Jim Brain’s Commodore page.
This is a HUGE site, covering just about every possible computer
that Commodore ever made. Including, of course, the little Vic20.
Be prepared to be overloaded with choices … which is a good
thing, says I. If you’re looking for Commodore-related info, and
it can’t be found here, I’d be very surprised. Check out his list
of links, too. All in all, I’d say Jim’s site takes the cake. (Jim
used to run a mail server service, but this superceded it. See the
section after web sites for more info on how this evolved.)

– Rick Melick’s “Vic20 Tribute Page”
It contains (besides Jim’s page) the largest collection of Vic20
related stuff. A must see. I especially like Rick’s interviews with
some of the people who originally made the Vic20, or who programmed
videogames for it, back in the day. Way cool; a top notch site!

– “The ROM image archive”
This is where all the games are. This site contains the ROM images
that we worked so hard to save. You’ll have to have an emulator to
run the images (or be pretty technically-inclined with a real Vic),
but once you download the emulator and ROM images, you can play
virtually any game ever made for the Vic20 on tape or cartridge.
(The site can also be reached via FTP access, if you don’t have any
access to the World Wide Web.)

– “Vic20 unofficial home page”
This site has technical information on it, along with links to some
people currently involved with programming the Vic20. This is sort
of a techie / demo coder’s page; more advanced than for beginners.

– Jerry Greiner’s site.
JerryG is one of the largest and best known “dealers” in classic
videogames. Besides the stuff on his site, at times he has many of
the actual classic game carts themselves to sell. His page is one
of the nicest looking, from a graphical standpoint, too.

– Bill Frandsen’s site.
Bill has been involved with the Archiving Project since back when I
first began the Vic cart list, around 1995. His time may be limited
now for outside projects, but that shouldn’t impact his web site
too much. He may have real Vic20 carts for sale, from time to time.

Jim Brain’s (now defunct) mailserver
Jim Brain used to run a mailserver, to send out text files via email.
I am taking the liberty of quoting a portion of Jim Brain’s own text
here … I’ll let him explain how his old mailserver has evolved.

“So, the time has come to move the file retrieval functionality of
MAILSERV off to a more capable program. Presently, the address points to a service that allows users to
retrieve files from any FTP site, including BII’s site. For the most
part, the commands are the same, although we suggest doing a ‘help’
on the new service to see what has changed. For more information
about the FTPMAIL service, email
To retrieve files from Jim Brain’s site, simply open a connection
to: The advantages are multiple. For one, the FTPMAIL
service is more robust than the earlier system, and the distinct
email address ensures that we won’t be bothered by extraneous email
that didn’t set the subject line perfectly or contains some other
subtle bug. So, please take advantage of the new service, but please
use it wisely.”

USENET newsgroup: comp.sys.cbm
– This newsgroup was made to discuss the Commodore brand of home
computers. This includes the Vic20 although most of the discussion
is on the Commodore 64, the Vic20’s “bigger brother” in the line.
– Many items are bought, traded and sold here on a regular basis.
All of these are related to the Commodore home computing line but
if you are looking for videogame cartridges try posting both here
and in the newsgroup “” for best results.
(Non-cartridge items will most likely be located here, not there.)
– Various FAQ’s exist on this newsgroup and are posted regularly.
These FAQ’s cover just about everything you would want to know
about the Commodore brand of computers EXCEPT about the Vic20.
(Hence the need for this FAQ dedicated solely to the Vic20 system.

USENET newsgroup:
– A newsgroup founded to discuss home video gaming on classic systems.
Most of the discussion is about the Atari 2600, as that system is
the most widely popular among the retro-gaming community. However,
other systems are welcome and the newsgroup caters (in differing
amounts, based on system popularity) in things related to nearly
any system that preceeded the Nintendo NES home console system.
– Many items are bought, sold and traded in this newsgroup. The focus
of most trading is to find videogame cartridges. If you are looking
for something else you may be better off asking in “comp.sys.cbm”.
– Various FAQs and information about the subject of retro-gaming on
a wide variety of home game consoles of the “classic era”. These
generally include the Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800, the Intellivision,
ColecoVision, Vectrex, Bally Astrocade, Fairchild Channel F, Vic20,
Microvision, Odyssey2, RCA studio II, Aquarius and so on.

USENET newsgroup:
– Lots of folks who really know about the arcade originals; be wise
however and don’t discuss anything but that! The newsgroup for
these folks is not meant to discuss *home* versions of arcade
games. Some of these guys get really PO’d over anything off-topic.
– KLOV or “Killer List Of Videogames” … lists about 950 arcade
coin-operated videogames, with a small entry to describe each one.
Very interesting if you are really into gaming or its history.
– Various other FAQs that may be of interest to retro-gamers, but
which are primarily intended to serve the needs of the newsgroup.

USENET newsgroups: “other”
– caters to a wider group of gamers; they are not
specifically a “classics” only group. See their FAQ for more info.
– newsgroups exist just to discuss various emulated systems. Try a
search engine to find them. They and comp.sys.cbm are generally
your best bets on getting questions about emulators answered.
– Other newsgroups cater to specific home computing systems. Search
on newsgroup titles if you wish to find out more about groups for
the Apple II system, the Atari 8-bit series, the Vectrex or others.
Each of these newsgroups have their own series of FAQs also. Some
“mailing lists” also exist to serve other home game systems; see if
you can’t find a pointer to one of them through the sources above.

PAPER NEWSLETTER: “Denial, The independent Journal of the Vic20”
Currently only two issues have been released. The newsletter does
look very promising, and I truly hope the author keeps putting it
out. I enjoy it a lot. It’s always neat to see a personal take on
things, which this has. Give the author your support and who knows
where it may lead? Author is Jeff Daniels. His snail mail address
is: Jeff’s Ink Press & Deli, PO Box 477493, Chicago, IL 60647, USA

PAPER NEWSLETTER: “The 2600 Connection”
OK, OK, so it has zip to do with the Vic20. It is cool, it is
from the same era, so it gets included. Its my FAQ, so sue me.
(The Atari 2600 system was one of the Vic20’s main competitors,
back when.) Tim Duarte, the editor, has done a wonderful job
from the first issue on. I ordered all of them and subscribed.
This is what I hope the young Vic20 newsletter scene becomes!
Contact Tim via email at: or snail him at:
The 2600 Connection, 8 Jenna Dr., Fairhaven, MA 02719-5123, USA

Section 2.2. — What Vic20 software is (or once was) “out there”?

Programs found at various sites on the Internet
This is where the bulk of modern Vic20 software can be found.
Both original programs written in the early eighties and some
software written more recently can be found on the I’net.

Some of it is questionably legal, due to copyright laws and
such, but it does exist. Most of the software that once was
published for the Vic20 will likely end up being saved for
posterity through this means. While some people may have
moral problems with this concept (“archiving” someone else’s
software without getting their expressed permission first)
so far some very “big” original Vic20 programmers have said
(publicly) that they didn’t mind this as long as it was done
in a non-profit manner. Some of these same authors, in fact
all of them that I’m aware of, have even publicly praised the
efforts we’ve made to preserve this software from extinction!
Most of them seem glad to see revived interest in their works.

It really would be a shame, we Digital Archeologists feel, if
this software was no longer available anywhere … which is
the only real alternative. Real archaelogists face many of
the same criticisms and moral dilemnas, by the way. Some who
see an archeologist’s work will say he’s a hero who is simply
rescuing the past. Others may say that same person is just a
grave robber. I hope future historians will choose the former!

Also available are good quality “emulators”. That is, a way
to use Vic20 software on a more modern computer like an IBM
compatible, without having to own a real Vic20 system. Even
some of the “big” original Vic20 authors seem to like this
idea just fine. They can play their old games on their work
computers or view what their contemporaries had done, too.
Which, with any luck, will inspire them to write new stuff
or to revise some of their older games using modern tools!

Programs on ROM cartridges
Many programs once existed on ROM cartridges for the Vic20.
We counted between 150 and 200 known so far. These programs
were generally games but a few “serious” programs also exist.

Due to the higher cost of manufacturing them, ROM cartridges
usually contained only the highest quality software programs.
Cartridge software was usually written in machine language,
which is widely considered to be the “best” computer language.

Today these cartridges can usually be found at thrift stores,
garage sales and similar places. They are usually inexpensive
as most of the people selling them figure these system “died”
a long time ago. From time to time, people also sell their
local finds via Internet Usenet newsgroups or offer to trade
them for other carts. Most users on the classic gaming groups
want Atari 2600 carts or something similar. Some “dealers”
will sell Vic20 (and other) cartridges when they have them.

This form of software is more durable than most other ways
used to save programs. However, even it is not perfect. Over
time the edge connectors (gold “fingers” or stripes) get
dirty and worn, resulting in software that either doesn’t run
well or doesn’t run at all. This is easy to correct, in most
cases. Simply clean the edge connectors, then use the cart.
The other parts (inside the plastic box itself) can usually
take quite a bit of abuse and will still work fine. In other
words, if you “take a chance” on buying used cartridges, aside
from perhaps having to clean the edge connectors, these will
generally work fine. Buying carts used is a fairly safe bet.

The author (Ward Shrake) and Paul LeBrasse spent a summer (or
more) “archiving” ROM cartridges. What this means to you is
that thanks to our hard work, the vast majority of cartridge
games have been saved for posterity. These “cartridge images”
(as they are called) work as-is with Vic-20 emulator programs
or can also work within (modified) RAM memory expansion carts
on a “real” Vic-20. (See the appropriate sections in this FAQ
for more information on these subjects.

Programs on cassette tapes
Software on cassettes is generally dirt cheap but may not
be of comparable quality to software found on ROM cartridges.
These cassettes can be found in the same places as cartridges.
Machine language was sometimes used but most often cassette
games were written in BASIC, at least in part. The best of
the cassette games bragged about being “100% ML” in their ads.

These are far less durable than software on ROM cartridges
but are still far more durable and reliable than cassette
software for other computers of the Vic20’s era. This is due
to the extra care (or paranoia) that Commodore took when they
designed their tape system. They built in a lot of redundancy
and over-emphasized reliability in the short term. This helps
us out, now, in the long term. There are no guarantees, but
most used cassette software that passes your careful visual
inspection will most likely work fine when you get it home.

Archiving efforts are under way to save all the cassette-
based programs from extinction. However, this effort is going
slowly, due to its extremely time-consuming nature. (Most of
the process has to be done by hand, by experts.) As of this
writing the author’s personal list of known tape software
titles has exceeded 450 seperate units. There are many, many
programs still “out there” somewhere on cassettes! (This list
of known titles will be released to the public eventually.)

Program listings, printed out in computer magazines
This form of software publishing was widely in use around
the time the Vic20 lived. The popular magazines printed out
program listings, which the users typed into their computers
and saved using their own tape or disk drives. This method of
software publishing was very cost effective. You could get a
number of program listings into one magazine. Magazines were
fairly cheap. You got the rest of the magazine almost free
if you looked at it that way. However, the programs that were
distributed this way were generally very short, which meant
that they were very simple as well. The game programs that
came this way were generally perceived as being lower in
quality than cassette games, but this wasn’t always true. As
with most anything else, you generally get what you pay for,
but you can sometimes get great bargains with some effort.

Programs on computer diskettes
These are mentioned primarily just to say that this form of
publishing was rarely used in the Vic20’s day. The disk drive
units were still very expensive then. It took some time before
enough people had them and before companies started to release
software for this format. A few commercial disks exist, but
for the most part only users themselves put programs on disks.
The few programs that were commercially released on diskettes
were usually very expensive business or utility programs.

TPUG software collection
A large collection of games and utilities were once available
to members of the Toronto Pet Users group. What happened to
this software, only time will tell. It would be really neat
if some person(s) were to upload that collection to an FTP or
Web site somewhere. (Hint, hint!) The TPUG group is not as
large as it once was and Vic20 software hasn’t been in large
demand in recent years. So, archiving the collection now is a
good idea, I think. The collection was all public domain so
questions of copyrights are largely irrelevant. Someone with
copies of the software just needs to find willing site(s) to
upload them to. (Someone please check into doing this, OK?)

A quote from their 1985 Vic20 Library catalog: “Commodore
discontinued production of the Vic20 in 1984, and the little
machine may disappear altogether. TPUG intends to support the
VIC as long as there is interest….” (Including now? -Ward)
“… But we can’t do this without your help. Supporting the
library by buying tapes/disks keeps the library solvent, but
it does not keep the library growing. This can only happen if
people continue to program the VIC.”

I couldn’t resist quoting that! It makes a nice, dual-purpose
guilt trip! (One, for helping to get the complete TPUG Vic20
library uploaded onto the Internet, somewhere. And two, to
put a little fire under today’s would-be Vic20 programmers!

Section 2.3. — Books and magazines published about the Vic20

For the most part, you’ll have to really search for these. My own
copies were hard won and I won’t part with them! There are a few that
are currently available, but only a few. Good luck in finding them!

If you have info about ones I missed, please write them up like I
did and send them in, so that I can include them. Thanks a bunch!

No promises that these magazines always had lots of Vic20 coverage!
If you ONLY want Vic20 related stuff, keep the Vic’s life in mind;
most magazine coverage of the Vic20 died out around 1984 or so. All
of these mags had lots of Commodore coverage in general, however.
Many of them ran regular features of type-in programs each month.


Ahoy! Very technical magazine, catering to very
advanced users. I would put this one right
up on a podium with the Transactor, for that
reason. A long running magazine? (1984-1987)

Commander Content similar to Compute!, perhaps. But the
issues that I have seem to have a bit more of
the hardcore techie stuff. Lots of cool ads!

Commodore magazine Articles for a wide range of user levels. They
did some interesting hardware and/or technical
stuff, sometimes. Lots of reviews, too. This
was put out by Commodore themselves. It used
to be called Commodore Microcomputers before.
The two seem to have run during most of the
1980s. My ’83 issues call themselves Volume 4!

Compute! -and- Compute’s Gazette
Articles for users at most levels. They often
had reviews of software, interviews with some
programmers and more. However not many people
have really old back issues; most folks threw
out the Vic20 issues when they got their 64’s.
(Or so it seems to me.) Game ads are cool!

Power Play A magazine put out by Commodore themselves.
Not the most unbiased mag out there, by a
long shot! But it had inside information that
others did not, including some interviews
with Commodore’s own programmers for example.

RUN magazine A wide range of articles, for a fairly wide
range of users. One of the best known and
longest running Commodore magazines. (One of
my personal favorites, since I sold them most
of my original programs, around 1990-1992!)

The Torpet Looks like an early version of TPUG magazine.
Subtitled the Independent Commodore User’s
magazine. I have a number of back issues that
I bought on the Internet. The Mar/Apr 1983
issue notes that an international competition
among 7 computer magazines had then just voted
the Vic20 the “Home Computer of the Year.”

TPUG magazine This was put out by a (largely Canadian) user
group; the Toronto Pet User’s Group or TPUG.
I only have two issues, but it looks good.

The Transactor Magazine for Commodore enthusiasts. It still
commands respect, even today, among techs. It
was aimed more towards PET and C64 users than
Vic20 users, but it is still very interesting.
If you can find back issues, snatch them up!
Five bucks per back issue is not unreasonable.


Commodore Inner Space Anthology
This is a reprint of technical documentation
on virtually all of the Commodore line of home
computer hardware. Karl Hildon is selling it.
He was the editor of Transactor for one thing,
which should highly recommend him among techs!
(Email: for more info.)

Mapping the VIC By Russ Davies, for Compute! books. 423 pages.
ISBN 0-942386-24-8. This book exhaustively
covers what every single byte in the Vic20’s
memory is for and how to use it. A must for
serious programmers; I highly recommend it!

Mastering the VIC-20 By John Herriot, for TAB books. 216 pages.
ISBN 0-8306-0612-2 or ISBN 0-8306-1612-8 pbk.
“An instruction manual comes with the computer
as it does with any appliance. In addition,
Commodore produces a programmer’s reference
guide. The aim of this book is to both comple-
ment and compliment each of those texts in much
the same way that a cookbook complements the
manual that comes with a microwave oven.”
(Taken from the book’s own introduction.)

Master Memory Map By Educational Software Inc.
“A reference guide to computer memory…. The
book included sections on PEEKing and POKEing,
paddles and joysticks, color locations, single
and multiple sound registers, graphics regist-
ers.” (Press release, page 141, Oct83 Gazette)

Personal Computing on the VIC-20
(Subtitled: A friendly computer guide.) 164
pages. This is the actual owner’s manual that
came packed with every Vic20 computer system.
It covers how to initially set the machine up
and get familiar with how it all works. There
are some programming lessons. Generally well
written. A great book for Vic-20 beginners.

Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames
ISBN 0-9643848-8-4. 310 pages. From their ad:
“From Spacewar on mainframe computers to
Tetris on pocket organizers, Phoenix is the
ONLY book available concerning the history of
videogames. Within its pages you’ll find Atari
to Sony and everything in between. You’ll go
deep into videogaming’s past and find the
history of computers and then travel to the
future of videogames and virtual reality. You
will see how the videogame industry reigned,
collapsed and returned even stronger than
before.” (A second edition is now available
for $19.95 US. Contact them at: Rolenta Press,
PO Box 3814, Union NJ 07083-1891.)

Programmer’s Reference Guide
By Commodore computers, Howard W. Sams & Co.
(A. Finkel, N. Harris, P. Higginbottom and M.
Tomczyk were credited as authors.) 289 pages.
“An all-purpose reference guide for first-time
computerists as well as experienced program-
mers!” says the blurb on the book’s cover. (I
think this one needs no intro from me, for
any long-time fans of Commodore’s computers!)

VIC Graphics Hayden Book Company, Inc. 192 pages.
“A detailed explanation of the high-resolution
graphics capabilities of the Vic20. The book,
written by Nick Hampshire, includes 38 Basic
program listings on applications from art to
education and business. The programs require
the use of the Vic Super Expander cartridge.”
(From press release, page 141, Oct83 Gazette)

VIC-20 Interfacing Blue Book
By V.J. Georgiou. 52 pages. This is more of a
user-written booklet than a highly polished,
professionally written book. However, it is
still quite interesting. It covers 19 or more
electronic projects you can build and hook up
to your Vic20 computer. Examples are: a voice
output, PWM motor controller, a capacitance
meter, expansion port buffer, 8k or 16k RAM &
ROM expansion, 8k RAM with data retention,
an A/D converter, a 128K paged ROM, and more.

VIC 20 Programmer’s Notebook
By Earl R. Savage, for Blacksburg Continuing
Education Series. 254 pgs. ISBN 0-672-22089-X.
“This notebook is dedicated to the proposition
that program writing on the Vic20 can be both
easier and better.” (From the introduction.)

VIC Revealed By Nick Hampshire, for Hayden Book Company.
267 pages. “This book is a collection of
discoveries about the Vic, how and why it
works and how to use these facts to write
better programs and perform more interesting
functions.” (From the introduction.) This is
a very technical book for advanced users. It
covers the 6502 microprocessor (41 pgs), VIC
system software (68 pgs), 6561 video inter-
face chip (40 pgs), 6522 VIA / user port (36
pgs) and I/O functions (51 pgs). Appendices
fill out the rest of the book. They include
chapters on the codes used by the (VicMon?)
machine language monitor program and full
technical schematics of the Vic20 computer.

| |
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Notes: this section of the FAQ was originally going to be much
longer and more indepth. However, reevaluation may be necessary,
to consider the effects of the availability of emulated Vic20
systems as opposed to the “real” thing. I originally had every
intention of covering “the real thing” in great depth. Now I
feel that perhaps I should just concentrate most of my efforts
on the use of emulated systems in this document. Yes, no, maybe?

I strongly suspect that most people will end up using an emulated
system more often than anyone will still use the real thing. I
am basing this notion on my own experiences, along with some of
the comments made by the people who once wrote games for the Vic.
(Even some of the original programmers for the Vic20 now use an
emulated system on their laptop IBM’s to see their own games.)
If even they prefer to stick with emulated systems, who knows?

Perhaps I’ve covered the “real” thing well enough here already?
Do I worry too much? Who knows. Probably….

I expect I’ll cover the real thing in some depth, somewhere, but
I just don’t know if this is the best place to do it or if a
separate document would be a better idea? Your comments (or lack
of them) will help me to make my final decision on this. Thanks!

Section 3.1. — What do I need, to use an emulated Vic20 system?

You need an IBM PC and the emulator software itself. You will
also need programs in a form that the emulator can recognize
and use properly. If you have an IBM compatible computer, all
of these other things are easily available via the Internet.
(See Section Two of this FAQ for more information on that.)

The IBM PC emulator that is currently the most popular is
called PC VIC by B.W. van Schooten. It is a truly *excellent*
program! Virtually all the cartridge images that Paul and I
spent so much time saving from oblivion, work just fine on
his emulator. It is fast, easy to use and just kicks butt!
What’s even cooler is that he barely started working on it.
So the future bodes very well indeed for emulated Vic20’s!

There is little need for me to go into the instructions for
how to use the PC VIC emulator because that program’s creator
went to such trouble to write it, that it is very easy to use.
Further, he wrote excellent documentation for it as well, so
I see no need to repeat that information here. My advice is
to (A) get ahold of a copy of the emulator through one of the
online sources listed in Section Two, then (B) just enjoy it!
His text instructions will probably be all that you need to
figure out how to run his software to your best advantage.

In all fairness, other Vic20 emulators do exist. They have good
and bad points, I’m sure. I’m just concentrating on this one
emulator because it’s the one I myself use. To tell the truth,
once I got ahold of this emulator, I stopped looking for one.

I have to assume that most people either own or have access to
some form of an IBM compatible computer. “PC VIC” will run on
just about any IBM compatible … my 386sx25 even runs it well
and the program’s author claims it will even run on 286 machines.
He also claims that more recent computers won’t run things too
fast, due to the clever programming techniques he chose to use.
My recent upgrade to a Cyrix P150+ shows this is true, assuming
you play with the internal settings a bit, to adjust things.

I think emulation is great, and so do many of the people who
originally made or promoted the original, “real” Vic20. So now
that you know all this, run out and get yourself one, ASAP!

Section 3.2. — What hardware do I need, for a “real” Vic20 system?

This is much more complicated than using an emulated system
but it has some advantages. Finding one used, for instance,
might be much cheaper than buying an IBM computer if you
had neither. (But then again, you’re reading this FAQ, so
you must have *some* type of computer, right? Or you know
someone that does, which may be nearly as good at times.)

Basically, until I am sure I’m not wasting both our time on
this, I’ll keep the description short and sweet. Fair enough?

Remember that one or more of the books listed in Section Two
do have complete instructions. The owner’s manual that came
with the system, for instance, covers this subject completely.

What actual hardware do you need? That depends on what you
hope to accomplish with it. You can have a bare-bones system
but it won’t do much more than allow you to see letters and
such on the screen. (I *meant* bare bones, obviously!) A less
bare system will add accessories as you decide you need them
but even a bare bones system will let you play cartridge games.

The Vic20 was designed so that these extra parts just plug
into the outside of the main keyboard unit. In other words,
you don’t have to unscrew anything or take anything apart.
(With IBM’s and such, you have to do that. For everything.)

For a bare-bones Vic20 system, capable of running cartridge
game software, you need the following peices at a minimum.
(The next section describes these parts and many others.)

Vic20 “Core System” component list
– One Vic20 keyboard unit.
– One Vic20 power supply box.
– One output device, such as a TV or monitor screen.
– One set of appropriate cables, to hook to your screen.

Optional items:
– One or more software cartridges of your choice.
– “Datasette” tape drive, if you wish to use games on tapes.
– Your favorite Atari 2600 compatible joystick.

Section 3.3. — Description of individual peices of Vic20 hardware

Vic20 keyboard unit.
The actual computer is inside it. Everything else just
plugs into one of the holes on the rear or right side.
Couldn’t be simpler. (And it is quite humorous to see
that the industry is now touting this concept as new!)

Vic20 power supply box.
This is a fairly heavy (but small) black box, with two
cords coming out of it. This is the thing you plug into
the wall AC outlet, to give it power. The other end, of
course, goes into your Vic20. (On its right hand side.)

There are two versions, so be careful. Choose the one
that *your* Vic20 needs, if you are shopping for single
parts to assemble a system. The oldest Vic20 hardware
used a two-prong cable to plug into the Vic20’s side.
The more recent version has a rounded plug with many
(seven?) tiny pins inside it. The power supply from a
Commodore 64, by the way, works fine for these systems.
(In fact, I myself use a heavy duty C64 power supply
from a third party without any problems. As many old
time Commodore C64 users can tell you, the normal C64
power supply was often accused of fatal unreliability.)

An output screen device, with all the appropriate cables.
In other words you need a TV or a monitor as a screen.
You also need all of the cables that go between that
screen and the rear of the Vic20’s keyboard unit.

This can be a bit complicated in some cases. Check
to make sure that all these parts are included, if
you plan to buy a used system. It is much easier than
tracking down unfamiliar parts later on. (Hint: some
thrift stores have pegs or what not, where all their
cables end up, if they don’t know what they go to.)

If you have another Commodore system already you may
be able to use some of the same parts. The popular
computer monitors, including the Commodore 1702, all
work fine. TV output requires a special RF converter
box/cable (orinally sold with each system) which may
turn out to be very hard to find, if it is missing.
For TV output, you also need the standard type of TV
switch box most console games once had. (These can
still be found for $5 dollars or so at Radio Shack.)

Your basic choice revolves around what parts you have
already. Do you have a TV or a monitor? Do you have
any cables at all, or do you have to go and track
some down? (I’m going to wimp out a bit here, due to
the many possible combinations available.) Your best
bets when making your final output device decisions
will be based on one or more of the following. You
can (A) refer to your original owner’s manual if you
have one, to see what is available and how to hook
it all up. Or you can (B) find a Commodore-familiar
buddy locally that can help you out with this part
of things. Just show them the parts you already have
and bribe them to hook it up for you. Or you can (C)
go online, and get much the same help from the folks
who inhabit the various Commodore newsgroups. Just
leave the group a clear message, and wait for a reply.

Very advanced folks can (D) build their own cables
based on the pinout diagrams found in the manuals.
(Some companies do exist, which custom-assemble any
type of cable you want … for a price, of course.)
Hint: if you end up making your own, first look at
the cables made for modern systems. The SEGA Genesis
system has A/V cables that may or may not work out
with some minor rework. (I haven’t compared pinouts.)

Remember that you can also leave “wanted to buy” ads
online, to get the parts you need. People do it all
the time. Here’s a bit of advice to get you started:
The RF box device (TV hookup) that came with the Vic
is a Vic-only part. But the 5-pin DIN cable that is
used to hook a Vic20 to a monitor was also used on
the early models of the Commodore C64 computer, so
you may be able to find one of those easier. If you
have a monitor cable, but only a TV for display, you
can still do it. In this case you have to plug the
monitor cables into the back of a VCR first, then
to the TV, but it works out fine. One of the RCA-type
connectors on the monitor cable will plug into the
“video in” VCR connection. Experiment until you find
out which one it is. (Remember to turn the VCR’s
channel to 3 or 4, whichever your VCR uses. Or some
VCR’s have seperate “input” buttons on the remote.)
Once the picture works, find out which of the other
RCA-type monitor cables hooks up to the “audio in”
connector on the rear of the VCR. (Now you can also
record videogames being played, watch them later on
slow-motion, and figure out ways to cheat! Hee hee.)

Whatever you end up using, you will need a screen and
the appropriate cables to connect the Vic20 to it.

Cassette tape device. (Called a “Datasette”)
This is a special device made just for the Commodore
brand of computers. Regular tape recorders will not
work! The cassette units are generally reliable, if
slow. They can be used both to load pre-recorded
software into your Vic20, for instance to play a game
on tape, or they can be used by you to save your own
programs or data on a normal, blank cassette tape.

Disk Drives.
The same disk drives that work on other Commodore
computers, work fine on the Vic20. I regulary use
a Commodore model 1581 disk drive (with the newer
style, much higher capacity 3.5 inch diskettes) on
my Vic20 system. All the standard models work as
well, including the venerable 1541. (Don’t be led
astray by bad assumptions; even though the earlier
1541 disk drives came in a white case to match the
Vic20’s colors and even though these early ones
say “Vic 1541” on their cases, there is no internal
difference.) One works just as well as any other,
assuming both the units are in operating condition.
(These units need their own power supply boxes, as
well as a “Commodore serial” cable for hookup.)

Joysticks, various.
Any joystick that works with the Atari 2600 system,
the Commodore 64 system and perhaps even those
that work on the Amiga, will also work on the Vic20.
So you have your choice among many good joysticks.
(My favorite is a microswitch model sold by Epyx.)

Paddle controllers.
Again, standard Atari 2600 paddle controllers will
work just fine. Only a few games use them, however.

Light pens.
These are much rarer than joysticks and paddles but
they did once exist. I assume that C64 light pens
will work but that is just an assumption. Only a few
programs ever used light pens for input anyway. (I
would be curious to see if Nintendo or Atari light
guns could be made to work? Seems likely, if someone
went to the trouble to write some software to use it.
But again, count this as just a rambling assumption!)

Voice box.
Good luck finding one, but they did exist. Some of the
existing software will use it, if you have one hooked
up. The Scott Adams (text) Adventure series, for one.
(These took text input and gave audible “spoken” output.)

Printers, modems and other user port compatible devices.
These all existed at one time. They are mentioned here
mainly just to have done so. Most printers of the time
needed some sort of adapter or interface to work with
the Vic20. CardCo and others made popular interfaces.
(Interfaces were necessary on most computers back then.)

Section 3.4. — How do I hook up this “real” system once I have it?

This is where I’m going to refer you to your owners’ manual
for now. Maybe I’ll type up part of that book later if anyone
feels it is necessary for me to do so? (And tells me so.) So,
sorry if this seems like I’m wimping out this time around!

If you read the sections above about the individual devices
and you take the time to study the ends of the individual
cables, I’m sure you’ll figure out where to plug stuff in. The
cables were designed so that they only go into one place. No two
plugs or cables are exactly alike; if you think they are, look
again! Count the pins, on both cables and holes, if you have to.

Aside from cartridges, you should never have to force anything
else to fit. If you do, STOP, because something is likely wrong!

Most of the cables plug into the rear of the Vic20 keyboard unit.
This includes cartridges, printers, disk drives, a screen output
device (TV or monitor) and cassette drives. Joysticks, paddles and
light pens plug into the right side of the keyboard unit.

The first thing that should be plugged in should always be the
power cord itself. And you should remember this … never, ever,
under any circumstances should you plug anything into anything
else, without turning off the power switches on the Vic20 computer
unit first!! Only after you’ve turned off the power switch on
the right side should you attempt to hook anything up. Doing
otherwise risks permanent damage to your Vic20 computer system!
(This is just good preventative maintenance on any electronics.)

Section 3.5. — How do I load and use software for my Vic20?

How do I load and use software for my Vic20?

*Using it* is generally quite easy. Loading it up? That’s harder!

Commodore, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make many of their
loading instructions (A) unique to their computer systems and (B)
fairly non-intuitive. (Typing “GO” won’t do a thing for instance!
And commands that work on other computers, also won’t work.)

The good news is, if you’ve already worked with the Commodore 64,
the Commodore 128, the Pet series, or some other early computer by
Commodore, you probably already know how to use the Vic20. After
all, the external devices are identical; only the computers them-
selves differed. So try what you know already. It may work fine!

If that didn’t help, the owner’s manual will. (You had to know that
was coming by now, right?) Or you can read the main FAQ’s for the
Commodore newsgroups, if you don’t have an owner’s manual. If you
are using the emulated system described here, complete instructions
are included in that package. Many sources do exist, even today,
for this information. You’ll have to do some work on your own to
find and read them, unfortunately. I can’t do everything for you!

“No, really,” you say. “I need help. This is a FAQ, right?” Sigh,
OK. You got me. I’ll quickly summarize the most important stuff.

Using cartridge software:
Simplicity itself. You just do the following steps….

(A) Hook the computer system up, if you haven’t already.
(B) Turn the computer’s power switch “off”.
(C) Carefully insert a cartridge into the rear of the
keyboard unit, face up, on the side near the power
switch. (Which *is* turned off now, isn’t it?)
(D) Turn the computer back on. The cartridge will start up.
(E) Read and follow the instructions on the screen. Enjoy!

Using cassette software:
Still fairly easy, but not quite as easy as using cartridges.

(A) Hook the computer system up, if you haven’t already.
(B) Turn the computers power “off”, pause for a short time
(five or ten seconds will do), then turn power “on”.
This (“power cycling”) will reset the computer for you.
(C) Press the EJECT button on the cassette drive unit.
Insert a cassette tape into your tape drive unit. Close
the door on the unit. (This assumes you have a cassette
that actually has Vic20 compatible programs on it.)
(D) Rewind the tape if necessary, using the drive’s buttons.
(E) Type the word LOAD into your computer. Now press RETURN.
(F) The computer should answer back with “Press play on
tape”. So, press the PLAY button on the cassette drive.
It should then say “Searching” and later on, “Loading”.
(G) If the screen goes blank, don’t worry about it. It’s OK.
(H) After waiting for what may seem like years, the Vic20
will probably say it found some program or other and/or
you will see the first screens of the program itself.
(If it finally just says “Ready” and then just sits
there, type in the word RUN and press the RETURN key.)
(I) You may have to wait awhile longer to get to the first
real screen of the program itself. But if you got this
far its probably working fine. (Optional is to go out
for coffee at this point. Also optional at this point is
to really begin to appreciate your hard drive’s speed!)
(J) Read and follow the instructions on the screen. Enjoy!

Using disk based software:
Now we’re into a much harder category! You either need to find an
owner’s manual for the disk drive unit, the owner’s manual for the
computer itself or some similar form of printed instructions. Or
you can ask the folks on Usenet (comp.sys.cbm) to help you out. But
one way or another, each of us had to expend some effort to learn
how to use Commodore’s disk drives. And so will you. I’ll tell you
the simple way that most commercial Commodore 64 disk software was
loaded up. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to do some research or
find a friend who’ll make you a copy that will work with this method.

(A) Hook the computer system up, if you haven’t already.
(B) Turn the computers power “off”, pause for a short time
(five or ten seconds will do), then turn power “on”.
This (“power cycling”) will reset the computer for you.
(C) Insert a diskette into the drive unit. Close its door.
(D) Type the following instruction into your computer,
exactly as it is printed here. (And I do mean “exactly”!)

LOAD”*”,8,1 (and then press RETURN)

(E) Wait. A light on the drive should turn on and the drive
will make some noise. If you got an error message, try
these complete instructions again. But be patient; the
tape and disk drives Commodore used are generally slow!
(F) If this worked, congratulations! That means that whomever
made that disk in the first place (1) put some sort of
menu or loader program on your diskette and (2) that it
was the first program on the disk. This is the only way
Commodore programs on disk can “autoboot” themselves.
(G) If that did something, but the computer just sits there
with a message that say “ready”, then type RUN and press
RETURN. Sometimes that will start a program up after it
has been loaded into memory. (Some start up automatically
and others don’t. Your mileage will vary on every disk.)
(H) If this did something, but not what you wanted, you can
type in the following and see what happens. (But you’re
quickly approaching the time you’re on your own!)
(I) Type in the following, exactly as shown here. (Exactly!)

LOAD”$”,8 (and press RETURN)

(J) When the disk drive stops and you see a READY prompt,
type LIST and press RETURN. Assuming this worked, you
just asked for, received and listed the disk directory.
In other words, you have its table of contents now.
(K) Next (if you got this far) is to try replacing the
“*” part of step (D) above with one of the names that
is now listed in quotes on your screen. Try the ,8,1
method and the ,8 method both, until one works. You may
have to type RUN after it loads up, to get it to start.
(L) At this point, if you carefully followed all these steps
and nothing ever worked, you’re stuck. Only an expert on
the Commodore computer system can help you now! (But one
of these days, I may rewrite a program I made years ago,
that read a disk automatically and let you choose from
an onscreen menu. “VIC Automenu,” I’ll probably call it.)

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Section 4.1. — What other information is available about the Vic20?

Most of the information that is “out there” somewhere can be found
in the sources listed above in Section Two. However, just to give
you a taste of what’s out there, here is a short list. Much more
is available out there in Internet land, believe me! I seem to find
new stuff myself, on a regular basis. My suggestion, since this FAQ
will be updated less often than things will change on the Internet,
is to use a search engine (like to find current stuff.

This has various pointers to other electronic mags or E-zines
of interest to any Commodore fans. This single document, as
it is the main Commodore FAQ, is of course very important to
all users of “outdated” Commodore computers!

– FTP sites for Commodore enthusiasts.
This regularly updated list lets you know where things are
available for download, using the File Transfer Protocol
feature of the Internet. And offers tips on what is where.

– “C= Hacking” electronic magazine
Jim Brain puts out an E-zine called “C= HACKING” which might
be of interest to technically-inclined Commodore enthusiasts.
Back issues can be found on Jim’s web site and elsewhere.

– “Vic20 Cartridge Rarity & Gameplay List”
A list of all the known or rumored cartridges once made for
the Vic20 computer system. In this document are the names of
software titles, company names, part numbers, years, memory
sizes, and our ratings for relative gameplay and rarity.
(Most of them have been archived now; only a handful remain.)
Besides the carts that we know for certain do exist, there
are also sections that mention carts we aren’t sure of. In
other words, carts we found some mention of, but not a cart.
This section might be helpful in helping track these down,
eventually. Other system fans have had great progress in this
area over the years, thanks to much persistence and patience.
(This list was written by Ward Shrake and Paul LeBrasse.)

– “Vic20 Cartridge Software Review” document, aka “Cartzilla”.
A huge text document (about 275k) that describes 180 Vic20
cartridges. The list above is just a list. It’s fairly short.
Cartridge collectors might use the list as a checklist or
for quick reference. However, this review document goes into
much more depth about each game: its historical significance
(if any), its place in the overall evolution of the video
game industry, comments on the progression of game authors
and so on. This may be interesting reading just for the heck
of it, if I do say so myself. In any case, this text document
should allow every serious Vic20 user to learn about software
they may like. I wish every system had something like this,
but even the “biggies” usually don’t. This should help to make
collecting carts a “friendlier” task. (Written by Ward Shrake.)

– “The Vic20 Cassette Tape Software List”
A list of all Vic20 cassette-based games now known to exist.
This list was just recently released. Paul and I sort of gave
up or lost interest in tracking down the remaining info. This
has its share of blank spots that need filling in, but it is
much more comprehensive than any other cassette tape list we
have seen to date. There are 450+ programs listed on it now.
That’s 450+ titles *besides* all the carts we listed before.
Finished or not, Paul and I decided to give this one to the
I’net, so that others can work on it as well. Our sources of
info are dry. (Written by Ward Shrake and Paul LeBrasse.)

– A technical text to help prolong your Vic20’s useful life.
I once came across a document that was written to give
some helpful advice on how to prolong the useful lifetime
of most computer hardware. While it was written for the C64,
the concepts apply to most other electronic hardware as well.
Basically, the document describes how to keep parts cool
using heat sinks and the like. Hot parts equal dead parts,
sooner or later! For the technically inclined, this was a
great idea, which could use more widespread exposure. (It
was written by Raymond Carlsen, for comp.sys.cbm users. I
sent it on to Jim Brain, for inclusion in his mail server.)

– Some technical utility programs, for helping to archive cartridges.
I wrote a few programs that were useful to Paul and I when
we archived the Vic20’s cartridge collection. Because not all
the carts ever made have all been found, but Paul and I can’t
seem to find any more ourselves, I decided to release all the
tools and text info we used ourselves, so that everyone can
now have access to it. Hopefully, this helps keep ROM images
of super-rare and obscure carts coming in, until the last of
them is found and archived. (I released these in July 1997.)

Section 4.2. — What can you do to help your fellow Vic20 users?

– Find more software authors! The interviews found on Rick Melick’s
home page kick serious butt as far as this author is concerned. But
there are still many original programmers, magazine editors and
others who could contribute to our knowledge about the Vic20 and
its times. If you know of anybody that was involved “back then,”
see if you can convince them to talk about it publicly. You can
point them towards Rick’s Home Page and encourage them to speak
up, so the rest of us can read about it. Those who were personally
involved generally admit that they forgot a lot already, so move
now or risk losing all that cool information, forever…

– If you have any leads on where the TPUG software library (all or
a part) may now be, hook up with someone capable of uploading it
for all of us to use. (See Section 2.2 for more details.) There
has to be more than one copy of this library, somewhere, right?

– If you can program, write new software for the Vic20! If you are
good at demo coding, impress us all … we’d love to see new and
“impossible” stuff done on the little Vic20! It’s incredibly tiny
memory size, by today’s standards, could be used as a testing or
proving ground to teach programmers that FatWare is a bad thing!
See what you can do; either within the Vic20’s unexpanded (5k)
limits or see just how far you can go beyond what was done before?

One specific idea along these lines that a few of us think might
be cool is a clone of the game “DOOM”. The Vic20 library has a few
“3D” maze games already … maybe start there and just impress us?
(These games were generally 4k, maybe 8k. 24k or so still remains.)
Perhaps a semi-official contest among coders would be ideal, yes?

– If you have the talent and the inclination, you might consider
“improving” some of the already existing software programs. One
example would be to write a better version of Pac-Man or to fine
tune some of the sloppily programmed classics, like Q*bert. (I am
speaking of non-profit stuff, of course. And the originals should
be kept exactly as they are for posterity’s sake!) But it would be
neat to see competitions amongst the software available for other
classic gaming machines. (You guys aren’t gonna let the Atari 2600
versions of some software make us Commie fans look bad, are you!?)

Remakes do exist today, of some of the best of the old arcade games.
For instance, the arcade game “Tempest” semi-recently inspired the
Atari Jaguar game “Tempest 2000”. (By Jeff Minter of Vic20 fame!)
That in turn inspired the Playstation game “Tempest X3”, after the
Jaguar died off. Jeff’s “Defender 2000” also kicks major bootie.

Each of these had incrementally more “improved” versions; a part of
the evolutionary development process. But each package also had the
original, unmodified version included, along with more modern ones.
It would be cool to see “2000” versions of Vic20 originals now that
we’ve saved them from extinction via the Vic20 Archiving Project.
The idea that the name would soon be literal is rather amusing, too.

– People with certain skills (ahem) could put them to good use on
the Vic20, making “cracked and trained” versions of games. I don’t
want the originals changed, as noted above; its just not right to
do so, for historical reasons. But some peice of software similar
to the Game Genie ™ device or the Atari 2600 “Cheetah” software
would be nice to have on the Vic20. Especially with the emulator!

– Do you have programs that are most likely rare? If you can’t find
them on the existing lists that are out there, but you do have one,
its probably rare as hen’s teeth. (Or is for another game system.)
Not all the software has been rescued from oblivion just yet….

We archivists *know* some very cool stuff is out there, waiting to
be found. Cartridge collectors could be instrumental in helping us
all this way, while also helping themselves to some cool stuff. I
myself have traded for cassette games marked “demo” in the past.
To me that is cool as heck. I’ve also found rare cart games; ones
that Commodore hand-assembled in small quantities, either for pre-
production sales use or to send as “prototypes” to get reviewed.
The idea that a cart might be “the one” that got reviewed … cool!
And I’ve traded for similar carts from other companies as well.
(The cart image for MasterType, for instance, was definitely proto.)
So get busy out there, all you cartridge collectors! Our cartridge
rarity list shows what we already have archived. But we want more.
And the efforts to rescue all the software on tape has just begun.

Section 4.3. — Acknowledgements and credits

– The author: as stated before, the author of this document is Ward
Shrake. Yes, I typed this whole thing myself, came up with it all
by myself, etc. Its a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. (This
seemed like a lot of typing at the time, but after I finished up
“Cartzilla”, this 110+ kilobyte FAQ seemed like a mere warm up!)

– Paul A. LeBrasse helped quite a bit. With the FAQ, his involvement
was mostly moral support and final proofreading. With other stuff,
Vic20 users have no idea how much they owe Paul! He has worked
long and hard to help archive ROM carts, to co-write our “Cartridge
Rarity & Gameplay list” and much more. Well deserved Kudos to Paul!

– My friend John “Izzy” Israel unwittingly helped to inspire my
initial interest in the Vic20 computing system. I say unwittingly
because Izzy passed away years ago of diabetic problems. Izzy was
a Vic20 retro-gamer long before this was popular! His love of the
system always made me wonder what he saw in it. When I got around
to checking it out, years later, well, here we are with a FAQ….
At the time, I was too busy with the Commodore 64 system. Oh well!

– Many folks helped us to find and archive ROM cartridges. Most just
sold us carts and didn’t care what we did with them, so long as
they made a profit. (Thanks nonetheless, guys!) A few folks were
more actively involved in the process, acting within my and Paul’s
stated goals of saving all the Vic20 ROM carts from extinction. We
appreciate the loans that some collectors made, from their highly
prized personal collections. Thanks for the trust in us, fellas.

For now, I’ll just say “thanks to the group; you know who you are”.
But later on, if no one objects, I may try to release a document
that details the archiving project’s history to date. If I do that,
I will try to go through my voluminous notes of the time, and peice
together who loaned us what carts, and so on. A few names that come
to mind are Russ Perry Jr., Jim Agar, and Bill Frandsen. Thanks!

– B. W. van Schooten deserves many thanks for making his excellent
Vic20 emulator. (It runs on just about any IBM PC compatible.) I
have several “real” Vic20’s myself, of course, but I still dearly
love my emulated Vic20 system. (All those games, on my hard drive!)
Considering that he says that he has just barely begun, WHOA! I’m
impressed! Seriously. Many thanks and keep up the excellent work!!

– Some people weren’t really instrumental in the early stages of this
resurrection of the “long dead” Vic20 system, but have recently
contributed very valuable services to the Vic20 community. Rick
Melick, for instance, managed to find and interview a number of
the original Vic20 game programmers. As someone interested in the
history of this (and other) “classic gaming” era machines, I’d
like to thank Rick for helping to re-popularize the little Vic20!
Keep it up, Rick, you’re doing great! (Keep them interviews coming!)

– Various retro-gamers all over the world, for making all this seem
like a legitimate activity. (I’m half-joking, but thanks, anyway!)
Many people who are bigshots in the industry today, were once avid
gamers back in the days. For instance, did you know that Ed Semrad,
current editor of EGM magazine, once was busy setting high scores on
his home Atari 2600 system to submit to Electronic Games mag? True!
He had High Score honors, many times back then. I’ve always enjoyed
reading what he and folks like him have to say about this industry,
since they’ve pretty much “been there and done that” the whole time.
Next Generation mag and others seem to remember the classic days.
Keep it coming, folks! Some of us feel the same way you do. Good is
still good, whether or not something is now commercially available!

– You. Yes, you. Welcome to retro-gaming in the nineties! Isn’t it
great!?!? Bet you never thought you could own hundreds of cool game
programs, hear from their original programmers, etc? Your interest
helps push the little Vic20 in the right direction … out of its
former obscurity and out into everyday use! Enjoy!

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