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What would you do if you were the CEO of Commodore Computers?


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On 9/8/2021 at 12:40 PM, OrionTEX said:

How would Commodore manufacture their Neo-Geo competitor exactly?

 

And how would Commodore make their VHS VCRs, LaserDisc and CD players? (Especially LaserDiscs as they're niche format)

To remain competitive and innovative, and along with their own MSX computers, Tandy 1000-compatible computers, C64 cards, better CP/M cards, Amiga and etc., so they would be budget-ready for the 'X16-like successor to C64 and Plus/4 in mid-range and low-end markets' and eventually the arcade machine below.

 

Commodore arcade system would be based on AAA (which would eventually be for Amiga), but with even better graphics and sound. It can support cartridges, CD-ROM discs with CD-DA support for low-cost alternative and LD-ROM for FMV games a la NEC PC-FX.

Just imagine, it would include YM2151+YM3012 DAC, YM2610B, 8-channel Paula and Enhanced SID with 15 voices with surround sound, more waveforms (more variations of Mix, an NES-style 4-bit pseudo-triangle in addition to real triangle wave and pseudo-sawtooth in addition to actual sawtooth), better manufacturing methods and backwards compatibility to original SID. How cool would that be, especially with Z280 and Intel i8232 for sound CPUs and RAM, and the main CPU being Intel i980 RISC.

We could hire game developers who are ex-Electronic Arts (or license EA to port games to Commodore Arcade), ex-Atari, ex-Konami, ex-Capcom and ex-SNK to work for Commodore. We could even hire mangaka (manga and anime artists) to help Commodore establish their very own IP arcade video game series, as they would have their own fighting games (in similar vein to King Of Fighters, etc.), vertical shooters in style of those from Sharp X68000, puzzle games featuring cute anime-style magical girl characters, racing games, sport games (football/soccer, rugby, basketball, etc.), a hybrid 4X/god game/city building game (4X twists of SimCity and god games), theme park building games, ports of multi-platform games like Tetris, RPGs, etc.

Edited by xanthrou
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On 9/7/2021 at 1:25 PM, Scott Robison said:

It is interesting to me that they were willing to buy Z80 for C=128 but not 65816. I realize why: it was probably cheaper and 65816 didn't offer CP/M library access. Still, their hesitancy for so long to avoid using anything but their own chips is sad.

I read something interesting a couple days ago that had not occurred to me. Another reason why z80 was okay to use and not a 65816 is that they probably had a lot of stock at their disposal after the C=64 CP/M cartridge didn't sell very many units. No new old stock 65816s were lying around.

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  • 2 months later...

The C64 was designed to be simple home computer and game machine aimed at 12-year-olds. For its purpose, I think it was the perfect machine. When they decided to make the C128, it really did not have a clear direction. The C64 had already maxed out the 64k address space and they just used an available video chip that they were working on for another project. In 1985, I would have liked a 65816 system at with 256k or 512k base memory and enhanced VIC and SID chips and a basic compiler like QBasic.It would have been fine if it is not C64 backwards compatible.

As for the Amiga, it is a much more powerful machine but comes at a much steeper learning curve. I ended up going to the PC about a year after owning one because programming for DOS was more simple.

If I was the CEO of Commodore, I would have released a 16 bit successor to the C64 instead of the C128 in 1985, still produced the Amiga but immediately released a console game system like the CD32 right after with unique titles.

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On 11/28/2021 at 7:30 PM, TheNinja said:

The C64 was designed to be simple home computer and game machine aimed at 12-year-olds. For its purpose, I think it was the perfect machine. When they decided to make the C128, it really did not have a clear direction. The C64 had already maxed out the 64k address space and they just used an available video chip that they were working on for another project. In 1985, I would have liked a 65816 system at with 256k or 512k base memory and enhanced VIC and SID chips and a basic compiler like QBasic.It would have been fine if it is not C64 backwards compatible.

As for the Amiga, it is a much more powerful machine but comes at a much steeper learning curve. I ended up going to the PC about a year after owning one because programming for DOS was more simple.

If I was the CEO of Commodore, I would have released a 16 bit successor to the C64 instead of the C128 in 1985, still produced the Amiga but immediately released a console game system like the CD32 right after with unique titles.

It would have been nice to have had a 65816 successor, but it wasn't Commodore's chip so they weren't willing to pay for it. I disagree about the backward compatibility not being important. I think it would have sold far fewer units if it hadn't had C=64 compatibility. After all, Amiga wasn't backward compatible with C=64 and it sold fewer systems.

Ultimately management at Commodore was just incompetent. I think a better idea would have been to invest some money to encourage third parties to write Commodore 128 specific software. Once there was a larger library of native software (not C=64, and certainly not CP/M) I think it could have completely replaced the C=64 in production.

But I could be very wrong. Just some thoughts...

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On 11/28/2021 at 10:34 PM, Scott Robison said:

It would have been nice to have had a 65816 successor, but it wasn't Commodore's chip so they weren't willing to pay for it. I disagree about the backward compatibility not being important. I think it would have sold far fewer units if it hadn't had C=64 compatibility. After all, Amiga wasn't backward compatible with C=64 and it sold fewer systems.

Ultimately management at Commodore was just incompetent. I think a better idea would have been to invest some money to encourage third parties to write Commodore 128 specific software. Once there was a larger library of native software (not C=64, and certainly not CP/M) I think it could have completely replaced the C=64 in production.

But I could be very wrong. Just some thoughts...

The C128 was better suited for productivity software but it did not offer enough improvement when it came to the gaming market. Games played a large part in what made the C64 successful. Being backwards compatible ended up providing a greater incentive to make C64 games that would take advantage the C128 features when present instead of creating exclusive titles. If it had a more advanced video upgrade then things might have been different.

You might be right about the Amiga selling less because the lack of C64 compatibility. My brother works in a computer store during that time and one question he got asked a lot about the Amiga was: "Will it run my C64 games". Bit the price tag was also a factor.

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On 11/28/2021 at 11:22 PM, TheNinja said:

The C128 was better suited for productivity software but it did not offer enough improvement when it came to the gaming market. Games played a large part in what made the C64 successful. Being backwards compatible ended up providing a greater incentive to make C64 games that would take advantage the C128 features when present instead of creating exclusive titles. If it had a more advanced video upgrade then things might have been different.

You might be right about the Amiga selling less because the lack of C64 compatibility. My brother works in a computer store during that time and one question he got asked a lot about the Amiga was: "Will it run my C64 games". Bit the price tag was also a factor.

You should compare Attack of the PETSCII Robots for the C64 vs the C128 port. That extra 64K of RAM, dual monitor capability, MMU, and burst mode can all come together to make a great game. 

In the interest of disclosure, I wrote the C128 specific code for that port.

The reason companies didn't make games for the C128 wasn't because they couldn't make a better game. it was because they didn't want to spend more money for the customized version. No more no less.

That's not to say they made the wrong decision. 15M C64 + 5M C128 means you can potentially sell to an audience of 20M with a C64 version. Investing more money in a C128 specific version "only" gives you an audience of about 25% of that size. So I don't necessarily blame them for making that decision, but the technology definitely existed to make better versions of games for those who were so inclined.

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My apologies if I'm repeating other's statements...  I read several posts, but not all three pages.

Summary of my thoughts:

  1. Keep the C64 as your holy grail machine / biome until the Amiga comes out.
    1. Keep development and expansions active
    2. Learn why it is succeeding so well and use those lessons going forward
    3. Do not pointlessly divide and dilute your message (C16 and Plus-4 both?  Why?)
    4. Make _one_ super cheap computer (break-even or slight loss pricing) to capture the home market with something that has a clear upgrade path TO the C64 biome
    5. Do something like @BruceMcF's ideas for the polished C128 to give people a real reason to upgrade FROM the C64 when they need more power (without losing their investment, and while getting an improvement even for their older software)
  2. Put out the A500/A1000/A2000 more or less as they did.  This seemed to work well
  3. Don't try to be PC compatible (see reasons below).  Be BETTER than the PC.  It was still early enough to pull that off, if you were dedicated...
  4. Don't sit back and pat yourself on the back for so damn long.  Keep pushing forward and design some new hardware expansions to provide meaningful forward paths
    1. Specifically, DO NOT LET the IBM PC-compatible market surpass you in audio/visual capabilities, when that has been your one indisputable knockout capability
    2. If you can't come out with AGA until it's so late that you could've bought a random $25 video card to do the same job, then just admit that you're incompetent and sell all the rights to somebody who actually cares about the Amiga while there's still at least a slim chance of turning things around.  Don't wait and drive the name 6 feet underground and then sell it when the whole line is already dead...

(Sorry if my anger at Commodore in the later years gets too hot.  I loved my Amigas, but I spent years furious at Commodore for just letting things slip away...)

 

Extended discussion / explanation:

I don't see any way to have improved the success of the C64 itself.  It's productive lifetime was insanely long in a period of mass incompatibility (between vendors, between models, between upgrades -- basically anything you bought was a lock-in).

I do really like @BruceMcF's suggestions of giving the C128's C64 mode access to the other 64kB of RAM, making it look like a GeoRAM or REU or other "standard" C64 RAM expansion.  Building in a fastloader would have been wonderful as well.  Both would need a way to turn them off for troublesome programs, just like you would sometimes not be able to use their true C64 equivalents with some software, but that could be as easy as GO64 vs GO64+, or GO64 vs SAFE64

I don't think that Commodore could have maintained any meaningful market share by adding DOS or Windows compatibility.  Even IBM couldn't do that 😁.  And especially on non-Intel CPUs -- Microsoft themselves tried that with NT, and they couldn't swing it either.  If I think of the C128 as having been properly polished, I would see that as a bridge towards the Amiga and moving forward into more powerful machines.  This still being early enough that a lot of people still didn't understand the true value of a computer, I can also see the wisdom of making _one_ model of super cheap entry computer -- possibly even to sell at break-even or slightly loss-leader prices, with the intent to saturate the market and get as many people interested as possible.  But only _one_.  Not three.  Or even two.  That only serves to dilute the market, confuse your customer, and complicate your manufacturing/distribution chain.  And compatibility should have been seriously considered.  Not hard-core compatibility -- there's no way that a C16 could reasonably be expected to run C64 software, but for the love of all that's holy, why would you change the joystick port connector?  There was a healthy 3rd party market for joysticks, and everybody had their own favorites, so it was fundamentally stupid to cut that entire market and try to lock people into Commodore-only joysticks (and then to release such a horrible painful one at that...)  OK, so they wanted to emphasize business use -- again, kind of blind.  Yes, some people (like the video rental store in my home town) used the C64 for business, but if you're looking to saturate the mass home market, that's going to be game-centric, and that should have been obvious by the 90s.  So make a little gaming machine that could also be used by the curious to program their own little games, and make it clear what the path forward to C64 or C128 would be.  Let them keep their investment of external hardware and BASIC programs (so BASIC has to be compatible, and as much AV IO as possible), even if they can't migrate assembly programs (or maybe strongly encourage all C16 software to be BASIC software to make that transition possible for the majority of software (you can't block out assembly, obviously, but put the argument forward towards software creators)).

Once into the Amiga world, Commodore held its own for awhile.  TV signal compatibility made it a shoe-in for video production work, and it was a good game machine as well.  The primary failing I saw as a user was that Commodore seemed to just be resting on its designs.  A500/A1000/A2000 were OK -- starter system with floppy and little RAM, medium system with more RAM, and professional system with RAM expansions, hard drives, and the possibility of DOS through the Bridgeboard (though, honestly, designing the Bridgeboard around an 8088 at that point in time seemed really stupid -- my friends had 286's minimum, and I think I had a 386 sitting on the side).  Sound and video as good as and generally better than any competing system.  It's all good and a great start.  But then it took seemingly forever to improve any of those things.  Video cards coming from 3rd party manufacturers who had to provide their own APIs because there was no standard to implement, so even if you wanted a 24bit video card, each one could only support a couple of programs.  7MHz CPUs across the board, and an OS that would crash or lock up if you put a 14MHz CPU in it (I had an accelerator and I had to remember to downclock it before doing any disk access).  Eventually the A3000 jumped to a 32-bit core and 25MHz (IIRC), but still on the old audio/video hardware.  I am aware that the original Amiga design was done out-of-house, originally pitched to Atari and rejected, then sold to Commodore.  This makes me suspect that Commodore did not have the design talent to design hardware that would expand on the Amiga's capabilities, and by the time they could, everybody had passed them by.  Amigas didn't get significant visual upgrades from Commodore until after everybody on a PC was already above and beyond what the AGA could do.  The official Amiga hardware (and thus the software/OS support) was just stagnant for too many years.  I'm not sure how they could have fixed this, other than to get better designers in-house.

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I think Commodore lost its vision and went nuts.  Tramiel at least had a vision (and almost by definition a vision is an official business direction that other people will disagree with).

Quote

Make _one_ super cheap computer

Tramiel's vision again was the C16 to be that Sinclair competitor.  It seems to me though that the C64 was already a Sinclair "suppressor" by the latter 80s.

The C64 was the right system at the right time to "clean up" the 80s: to wipe out early competition and then mop up on the cheap computer market later.  We all know the future wasn't eight bit.  Even the market knew it in the 80s.

Edited by rje
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On 11/29/2021 at 9:06 AM, Scott Robison said:

That's not to say they made the wrong decision. 15M C64 + 5M C128 means you can potentially sell to an audience of 20M with a C64 version. Investing more money in a C128 specific version "only" gives you an audience of about 25% of that size. So I don't necessarily blame them for making that decision, but the technology definitely existed to make better versions of games for those who were so inclined.

I also think this is very true. I'm just a bit surprised that there happened to be no enterpreneur in old days to show the world what C128 is capable of.

And I'm really happy to see that you showed it after so many years of C128 release!

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On 12/2/2021 at 11:29 PM, Cyber said:

I also think this is very true. I'm just a bit surprised that there happened to be no enterpreneur in old days to show the world what C128 is capable of.

And I'm really happy to see that you showed it after so many years of C128 release!

Thank you very much. I'm not a huge gamer, though I enjoy certain games. Games are what attracted me to computers in the first place, just like so many others. For me, writing software or finding solutions to problems is often the best game, personally. But I don't personally know if any comparable game that received both 64 and 128 versions that show such a difference  on stock hardware.

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