C64

zx spectrum

 

c64COMMODORE 64

VS

ZX SPECTRUM 48k


  



The C64 Banner Exchange
The C64 Banner Exchange


Why create a site called C64 vs Spectrum ? Why did I review and compare two computers from the 80's? Do a search on the Internet for these two computers and you will find a huge fun base that still exist for these machines. They were pioneers in the gaming and computer world. They were to many people in the world their 1st taste of the new digital age. When they were released there were no cell phones, no Internet and no global village. They were the second generation of home computers and possibly the 1st generation of really usable computers. 

 

The Commodore had a windows type operating system in the 2nd half of the 80's. It had floppy disk drives and co-processors to help with the sound and graphics. Something the IBM clones only started using at the start of the 90's.

Intel produced the first 4-bit CPU in the last half of the sixties. They followed this with an 8-bit CPU (Central Processing Unit), subsequently computers, in kit form, were sold to ‘hobbyists’. These computers did not have displays, hell, you had to assemble them yourself. At the same time Commodore transitioned from a calculator company to a computer company. They acquired MOS technologies, the 6510 processor was born out of this acquisition. They launched their own series of computers using this 8-bit processor. Bill Gates sold them a version of DOS that they used in all their products. Jack Tramiel famously bought the rights to use DOS from Bill Gates without having to pay any royalties. It is safe to say that Bill learned from this encounter with Jack!

In the U.K Sinclair research launched a computer, the ZX80, into the hobby market. They followed this computer with the ZX81. The predecessors to the Spectrum were very basic computers sold in kit form initially. The Spectrum was born out of Clive Sinclair's vision of producing a cheap color computer. The computer, launched in the UK market was designed to be as cheap as possible. Jack had the same vision at Commodore, he famously said “Computers for the masses not the classes”.  Commodore however had a huge advantage due to their vertical integration strategy. They designed their own chips, fabricated them and assembled all the computers themselves. Sinclair did not have the pedigree to do the same. In the US Apple computer had the same problem trying to compete with Commodore. They sold computers for up to five times more than their Commodore rivals. The Apple II used the same CPU as the Commodore 64, yet they sold for more but offered less in sound, graphics and memory capability. They however survived by cleverly marketing their supposed user friendliness to people who knew nothing about computers. To this day they are still using the same strategy in their marketing campaigns. In reality Apple screws you by charging you more for something you can get for much cheaper somewhere else. You however feel all warm and fuzzy while they are busy working you over a barrel and stealing your money out of your wallet. That is just my biased opinion on the company, having done business with them I can safely say that they truly believe their own bullshit. A few years ago I told them that we are not interested in their low margin low volume business, a truly blessed day!

People get very emotional when comparing games on the Spectrum and the Commodore. This is only reasonable and expected, everyone has these memories of their first experience with these computers and games. It would be impossible to compare games on the two computers with people’s personal opinions based on their experiences when they were very young. You remember things as being much better than what they really were. With that in mind we have to approach this a bit more scientifically. How do we do that? Firstly lets look at the design of the two computers.

The Commodore 64 had two co-processors, the legendary SID sound chip and the VICII graphics chip. Both these chips were designed by Commodore. The C64 chipset of CPU, graphics and sound was original designed with the arcade industry as the client. When the arcade industry however imploded in the early eighties Commodore changed their focus back to home computers. The Commodore was released to replace the Vic20. The graphics chip was used in the same way as current graphics chip sets are used. The CPU does not perform all the operations, the CPU tells the GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) what actions it needs to perform. You only have to look at every single games console or computer to know that this design philosophy is the best at creating great games. The Commodore GPU had hardware sprites and hardware scrolling. Sprites, generally used for the moving object in a game could be moved over a background without the CPU having to calculate how the final output to the display has to look. The GPU took care of the process. The GPU can move the background and the objects interacting without any input from the CPU. The CPU had to take care of the game dynamics, even collision detecting between object and the background was handled by the GPU.

Most Commodore games used a screen resolution of 160x200 with 16 colors (used in most games) or 320x200 with 4 colors while the Spectrum used a 256x192 resolution with 8 colors. The Spectrum could handle 2 colors in an 8x8 block while the C64 could handle 4 colors in a 4x4 block. Due to these limitations the Commodore graphics could look blocky while the Spectrum had a horrible color clash. Actually, the color clash was just bad design from people who were rushed and did not have enough experience to design a color computer. The Spectrum mostly did not use the full screen as it took to many MIPS to perform all the calculations needed to move and control all the different objects and move or scroll the background. Part of the screen was normally used for a big status display area.

The Commodore had a 3 channel sound chip, that in the right hands, could create awesome music. Today there is still a great following of SID sound lovers. During its life, the Spectrum was available in two incarnations. The second Spectrum, made by Amstrad, al so had a separate Yamaha sound chip and additional RAM. Technically not as good as SID but much better than the BEEP!  Sound played a huge part in making games better, who doesn’t like to hear punches being thrown or explosions? The Commodore 64 was only available in one incarnation, the C128 had backward compatibility but it never had any games of note. I am going to focus on the original version of the Spectrum in these reviews as this is the version that most people owned. Except for much better sound than the original the upgraded Spectrum did not add that much to the quality of the games.

Designers had to be careful to get around the limitations of the machines. Games that fell in these traps would always be used as ammunition by the one group as to why the other computer was crap.

Spectrum games for the most part were flip screen games, if you look at the hardware limitations it is obvious why this was the case. They were al so lacking in color. You usually had a monochromatic display on the Spectrum. Due to the resolution of the Spectrum the objects in games, if you ignored the lack of color, looked better defined than the Commodore. The C64 later got past this problem by mixing graphic modes on the objects between the different resolutions. Due to the higher clock rate on the Spectrum it normally did wire frame 3D flight simulators better than the C64. Later in its life the C64 had full color filled in 3D flight simulators.

When comparing games on this web site I will obviously only compare games that were available on both machines. For the most part the games were arcade tie ins or arcade type knock off games. This is however not fair to the Commodore. It has an enormous catalog of adventure type games that never appeared in the Arcades. In the United States most Commodore users had a disk drive. The Commodore led the revolution in point and click adventure games with the release of Maniac Mansion in 1987. The Spectrum, due to an idiotic decision to use micro drives, never tapped into the market. You had to fit everything into 48k or had tape based multi-loads that loaded complete levels at a time. The Commodore had a bug in the UART which made loading a game form tape an enormous chore, specially if the stupid games stopped loading after thirteen minutes of waiting. Later this problem was fixed in software with so called turbo loaders,but it helped make disk drives a standard on the Commodore. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as some great games from the first true game development companies, Electronic Arts, Accolade and Microprose were developed exclusively on disk.

The Spectrum was never a success in the USA. Jack Tramiel out maneuvered Sinclair in the US and completely out sold them. Spectrum games were therefore mostly developed in Europe where price was the biggest concern. The lack of United States games on the Spectrum however did not seem to hurt the Spectrum too much as it was popular in the Eastern block where many Spectrum knock-offs were available.

If you want to compare games you can go two routes, one is to compare the best games on both systems or to directly compare games. In my mind the first option is open to too many subjective opinions. The Commodore would in this case win easily, my non-biased Commodore opinion, the Spectrum just does not have the range of games that the Commodore had. With the disk drive games from the USA the Commodore lead the revolution of games that were not arcade rip-offs. The best example of these games would have to be Bards Tale and Pirates series and previously mentioned Maniac Mansion. Both games were developed for many different platforms and kept on being developed decades after the computer was not even being made anymore. I am sure many Spectrum owners would not agree, but lets be honest you can only do so much with a tape-drive and 48k!

I will only compare the arcade type games that were available on both platforms. How you have to approach this is to put these old games in front of somebody who never played these games before. Let the person look, listen and play and then make a decision. Nostalgia will make anything seem much better than it really is. If you add the nostalgia factor into this there is no point in comparing games. Take a scrolling arcade type shooter, put the game from both machines on a computer and let an independent 3rd party play the game.  They will not accept slow graphics, bad design or bad scrolling, flickering graphics or bad color with no sound. This is specially true for games where the one computers version of the game was particularly bad compared to the other one. This is not to say that because a game is in monochrome it is bad, Head over Heals is a great game on both machines. It is however a different story when, like in Last Ninnja, theCommodore has gloriously colorful graphics and great music and the Spectrum is stuck in mono world with no sound!

To summarize,

  • Try and remove the nostalgia factor by looking at the technical merits of the games. No matter how much you liked the Manic Miner music, it still sucked and could cause permanent eardrum damage even today! If the arcade game scrolled and one of the computer versions did not it is obviously the inferior version, no matter how much you hated the other computer, it still wins.
  • Only compare games available on both platforms, this includes the availability of the games on emulators. No point on trying to compare based on memory. Knight Rider seemed like a really cool show when you were 13, now you might laugh more watching it then watching Joey, bad example but I think you get the picture.
  • The rivalry between the Spectrum and the Commodore started in the early eighties when the Spectrum did not have 128k and did not include a sound chip. I will therefore compare the 48k Spectrum with the C64.






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Games Reviewed

Verdict

AlienSyndrome

C64

Bubble Bobble

C64

California Games

C64

Dan Dare

Draw

Eduroracer

Spectrum

Exolon

C64

Fairlight

Spectrum

Flying Shark

C64

Frankie goes to Hollywood

C64

Gauntlet

Draw

Ghost 'n Goblins

C64

Head over Heels

Draw

Impossible Mission

C64

Kung-Fu Master

C64

Last Ninja 2

C64

Light Force

C64

Manic Miner

Draw

MYTH

C64

New Zealand Story

C64

Nemesis

C64

Nebulus

C64

Operation Wolf

Draw

Pacland

C64

Rainbow Islands

C64

Robocop

C64

Salamander

C64

Turrican

C64

Uridium

C64

Wizball

C64

X-Out

C64

Yie Ar Kung-Fun I&II

C64

Zoids

C64

 

 

 

Total Games Reviewed

Draw

C64 Win

Spectrum Win

32

4

26

2


Copyright, Philip Koekemoer, 2006


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