Robert Hampton

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20th January 2013

Game, Gazette and Match

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am something of a fan of the Commodore 64 8-bit computer.

The C64 was an all-round home computer with a wealth of productivity software – at least, it was in America; in the UK it always seemed to be primarily marketed as a games machine. There was also an active hobbyist computing scene, with many people trying their hands at writing their own programs using the built-in BASIC.

For reasons too dreary to go into here, I have been researching C64-related matters and have stumbled across the wealth of old computing magazines available on – including the magazine which was considered something of a bible for US Commodore users: COMPUTE!’s Gazette.

COMPUTE!'s Gazette

Thanks to the Internet Archive’s diligence, the entire collection of the Gazette is now online. It’s a fascinating time capsule giving an insight into the US computer industry, as it stood in the early 1980s.

Inside each issue there are a wealth of articles, ranging from software reviews to technical guides. Many pages are dedicated to long program listings, which had be typed in manually.

BASIC program listings

Some of the programs run to two or three pages of quite small text. Even with the assistance of a special “Proof-reader” program (which itself had to be typed in), entering and debugging this code was not an experience for the faint-hearted.

I think my favourite bit of the magazine is the screenshots, which are quite clearly done by pointing a camera at the computer screen. None of yer fancy digitising technology here, thank you.

C64 and VIC-20 screenshots

The real fun, though, is in the adverts. Hundreds of software companies were producing programs for the new machine, and used the pages of the magazine to tout for business, often slamming their competitors’ products in the process. You bought Multiplan for the IBM PC? You LOSER. Check out Vizastar’s 10 kilobytes of memory!


Elsewhere, Pik ‘Em promised to help you analyse and predict the outcome of American Football games. Presumably to enable you to bet on them successfully – or at the very least, become the worst kind of statistics-quoting sports bore.

Pik 'Em

What is really interesting is the number of ads for “backup” software, each ad proudly and unashamedly boasting of its product’s ability to circumvent more copy protection schemes than the others. Given the slightly dodgy reliability of Commodore’s disc drive, it was perhaps wise to have copies of important discs handy. It does, however, reflect a different attitude to copyright infringement at the time – an attitude which looks decidedly odd from the perspective of 2013, where computer users are subjected to all sorts of digital rights management and face penalties for trying to circumvent the restrictions.

Fast Hack 'Em Mr Nibble


Final word comes from the venerable online service CompuServe. This advert comes from a 1985 issue of the Gazette, and proudly boasts of the “Electronic Mall” offering goods and services from a wide variety of businesses. “By the year 2000,” it predicts, “The world may catch up with the way CompuServe’s Electronic Mall lets you shop today.”

Compuserve Ad

Shopping from your computer? Nah, it’ll never catch on.

Technology has moved on, but computing has never seemed as exciting as it did back then.

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One Response
  1. Pingback by Techno techno techno techno « Robert Hampton
    15th March 2013 at 10:01 pm

    […] was that you could easily get your hands dirty with amateur coding. Earlier this year I took a look at Compute’s Gazette, an American magazine for Commodore hobbyists, which was chock full of coding tips and type-in […]