1980 reigns VICtoriously in our house! (Written by Stuart Johns)

A reflection on a new machine in my life; the Commodore VIC-20.

All Commodore machines have always held an elusive, golden glow for me. Back in the 80’s I had an Acorn Electron from 1983 onwards, and still have that little beauty now. As Acornified as I was, and still am, I hankered after a C64. Then, towards the late 80’s, Mum and Dad got me a C64 to ‘help with my homework’, which it did! That machine had a floppy drive and GEOS, as well as a Commodore printer, so I was able to happily churn out school assignments nicely word-processed, to my hearts content. I eventually upgraded to an A500+ once I started earning my own dosh, but didn’t have that for very long as I began to move away from computers and towards consoles.

I’ve gone full-circle now and much prefer ‘puters again! In fact, I’ve gone right back in the nostalgia timewarp and it’s all about 8-bit, the earlier the better really. This in mind, the VIC-20 has crossed my sights a few times, but I’ve usually been distracted by something shiny on the Electron….
Recently, however, I’ve been picking up on conversations between some of the Commodore-esq folks on Twitter, in particular the words from @futurewas8bit (aka Rod Hull of www.thefuturewas8bit.com) and he really peaked my interest in this early 8-bit. Acorn-wise, there’s the Atom (also from 1980), but that machine is well out of my price-range. This VIC-20 machine from Commodore was really calling out to me. Rod has been tweeting about a project he has been involved in with Tynemouth Software – the Penultimate cart at https://www.thefuturewas8bit.com/shop/commodore/pu-vic20.html – a truly impressive cart that allows for some nice stuff to be done with your VIC-20 and I liked the look of it,….
vic001So, with Rod to blame, my lovely wife (@Tori1236 on Twitter) went ahead and helped me get some funds together for a nice-looking VIC bundle from a private seller on eBay. The description said the machine was in Very Good condition and it was boxed with several cart games and an early tape deck, so I took a chance.
vic004 In hindsight, the description didn’t actually say the machine worked, despite looking brand new, and there was also the fact that the mains 3-pin plug was missing (why?), but these are minor points! The VIC arrived in good time and I’ve fitted a plug, hooked everything up, and it all works!vic003As I’ve said, I love the idea of Commodore machines but, for one reason or another, my time with them has been but brief glimpses so far. However, this early 8-bit, despite its’ relative lack of ‘technical punch’, is really impressing me so far! It looks like it has been designed very well and that seems to have been carried across into exquisite build quality too. I can see why people like @futurewas8bit, who have grown up with these machines, have such wonderful things to say about them. I was greatly relieved that everything in the parcel has worked like a dream so far and, from what I can tell, the BASIC is a lovely creature not too dissimilar to the BBC BASIC that I’m familiar with. There’s plenty of software out there too, it seems, and with addons like the Penultimate that offer memory expansion and a generous dollop of ROMs to play with, I’m a happy bunny. Looks like quite an active scene for the VIC-20 too; what’s the best place to keep an eye on? I have a lovely early cassette player and some carts, but I’ll tell you what, those game carts are a right bugger to get into the back of the machine!vic005The Penultimate is on pre-order, about a month away at the time of writing, and I have a 1541-II on the way to let me save all those BASIC proggies I hope to write to floppy disk. I’ve heard tell of a USB cable to connect a Commodore floppy drive to a modern PC (one I saw supported more recent Windows systems too), so that could be useful. I’ve even downloaded some of the free Usborne 80’s computer programming books from their site and selected a few VIC beauties to type in. Check out  http://www.usborne.com/catalogue/feature-page/computer-and-coding-books.aspx if you get a chance (and have plenty of ink in your printer).
Can anyone suggest any good Terminal software? I hope to get my Commodore modem working and it would be nice to connect to Nostromo BBS from the VIC (presumably once I have the memory upgrades). Nostromo is one of the only BBS that I know of over here (UK) that are still accepting dial in (it’s on  +44 1582 600882). Mind you, talking about being ‘online’, I did come across the WiModem from CBMSTUFF.com for the Commodore 8-bits that looks incredible!!

IMG_20160803_145042This thirty-six year old, 5K RAM, 8-bit computer has happily grabbed my interest and a permanent place on my retro-desk.

Written by Stuart Johns
Website: http://www.myacornelectron.moonfruit.com
Website: https://www.thefuturewas8bit.com
Twitter: @forgotten_grove @futurewas8bit

Enjoy Life, be kind to others.

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