Golfyssey 08 – Commodore 16 & Plus/4

Remember when I said that Commodore took a lead in the home computer market and turned it into bankruptcy in a rather short time?  1984.  Exhibit A in this “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” strategy is The Commodore 16.

Commodore_16_002a

Also the Commodore 116:

Commodore 116

And the Commodore Plus/4:

Commodore_Plus_4

Confused?  Commodore sure was.  The original idea was to compete with low-end cheap computers from Timex and Texas Instruments, so that’s why the C16 was designed.  But by the time it was released, the cheapie computer makers had left the market.  Also around this time, Commodore had ousted Jack Tramiel and he had moved on to manage Atari.

So instead of doing the sensible thing, which would have been to kill off the C16, Commodore decided to expand the line.  They also decided to add some features and re-brand it as the Plus/4.  It’s hard to keep track of what they were trying to accomplish with all of this.  The Wikipedia articles linked above explain it much better than I could.  But the short version is that they really only ended up competing with themselves.  Remember this theme for later (Sega, I’m looking at you).  The Commodore 64 was still a juggernaut, and not only did it have a massive software library, but it had built up a huge peripherals business around it.

The C16 and Plus/4 pretty much chucked all of this to the side.  They sold very poorly and were discontinued in short order.  Still, lots of them had been manufactured, so there was a glut of product that had to be gotten rid of.

I remember seeing infomercials in the late 80s with an excited bearded man telling me that I could have a brand new personal computer from Commodore for just $99.  I’m still pissed off that my father wouldn’t give his credit card number out over the phone so I could have one.  I would have gotten a Plus/4 and I would have been quite disappointed by it, but I would have continued to learn how to program in basic as this was around the time my Commodore 64 died.

But back to the C16 & Plus/4.  No one really wanted them.  They technically had a better version of BASIC and a faster processor than the Commodore 64, but they couldn’t handle graphics as good and they sounded absolutely horrible because they lacked that wonderful SID chip.  The TED chip that handled graphics and sound was a fucking joke and it played music out of tune.  My god, I haven’t heard out of tune computer music since the Atari 2600!  Anyway, Commodore was able to sell off their remaining inventories of these things dirt cheap in Mexico and Eastern Europe, mainly Hungary.

And I have managed to download a lot of amateur games that have been programmed for the Plus/4.  There is an excellent emulator called Yape, based out of (you guessed it) Hungary.  It looks like it’s based off the open source VICE emulator with some modifications made to it to work nicely with C16 and Plus/4 programs and features.  I’ve been using this emulator for quite some time, and it’s gone from crashy and buggy to mature and stable.

So let’s play some golf games.

“Atari Golf”… released 198?

Atari Golf 01

A poszt-szovjet Magyarország, golf játszik neked!

I doubt that Atari had anything at all to do with this game.  It’s far too good for that! (zing!)

But seeing as how this game is entirely in Hungarian, it’s kind of a wonder that I was able to pick up on the controls as quickly as I did.  It’s keyboard controlled, but it’s a lot more intuitive than the games I played on the Apple II.  It’s actually a good thing I did play those games, because the question that’s being asked in this screenshot:

Atari Golf 02

roughly translates as “In which direction will you shoot the ball?”  Thanks Google Translate.  I also translated it into Ozark and it came out as “Whatcha dun way yer gunna swing it, Abner?  You gonna eat dat possum?”  So to give the game a direction, 0 degrees is up, 90 is right, 180 is down, and 270 is left.  You can also have any integer betwixt.

Your invisible golfer (we’ll pretend he’s invisible because he works for the ÁVH) makes his swing when you hit the space bar.  And I was pleasantly surprised that the longer you depress the space bar, the more powerful your shot will be.  So this alone makes it a cut above those Apple II golf RPGs.  The programmers that adopted the Plus/4 proved to be quite resourceful when they got their hands on these computers, and I’m sure they made the hardware do things that this line of computers was never meant to do when Jack Tramiel wanted something to go up against the likes of Timex and TI.

After you make it onto the putting green, you get the now standard zoom-in, which looks like this.

Atari Golf 03

This is actually kind of anti-climactic, because all you really need to do is gauge the space to shoot and enter a number.  I entered the number 7 and sank the ball on my first attempt.

Not bad for an amateur golf game with Atari’s name stapled onto it.  The Plus/4’s often horrendous sounds are kept to a minimum, so they’re not really that obtrusive.  Let’s see if we can scare up another golf game, maybe with some other publisher’s name attached erroneously to it.

“Golf Royal”, 1989.

Golf Royal 01

Now would be a good time to mention that because the Plus/4 had such terrible sound, the community of users found a way around it.  What they did was to cram a SID chip into the bloody thing and use that for sound.

hungarian_sidcard

And some games take advantage of SID card hardware so that they pump out that glorious C64-style music.  The Yape emulator has a setting to allow SID sound when present.  “Golf Royal” uses SID sound, so it actually sounds quite nice compared to most Plus/4 games.

And you’ll notice something else borrowed from the world of the Commodore 64 when you load this game:

Golf Royal 02

It’s a pretty straight port of “Leaderboard Golf”.  But the Plus/4 still can’t handle all the graphics and processor features that a game like Leaderboard has.  This is a very pale imitation, but the basics are there.

You select your club with joystick up & down.  You aim with joystick left & right.  The power meter works in a simplified way.  You hold and release the button, and that’s it.  Like the Plus/4 compared to the C64, the golfer in this game appears to be hunched over and kind of crippled.  But lets humour him and follow his shot all the way to completion.

Golf Royal 03

Here he is making a put.  All those little extras that added realism to Leaderboard couldn’t be fitted into this one I suppose.  But still, it is very impressive for a computer this crappy.  This line of computers was not meant to play games.  They were meant to do the other things that cheap computer manufacturers sold home computers to people to for back in the early 80s.  The name of the plus/4 even directly refers to a suite of productivity software preinstalled on the machine in ROM form.  And that definitely ain’t games.

Golf Royal 04

Well, look at me.  I am rather terrible at these golf games by the way.  This is a pretty good score for me.

For all the grief I’ve given “Golf Royal”, it is actually a decent game, and it would have some replay value were a Plus/4 one of my only computers.  The fact that this game exists at all is quite a testament to the community that grew up around these machines, and the determination of its users to get more and more from the hardware.  This is probably the best looking game I’ve seen for this computer.

“Master Golf TIT”, 1987

I don’t know where the TIT part comes in… but I don’t like the looks of this game already.

Master Golf TIT 01

That guy looks like an alien.  And I definitely don’t want the terrorists to win!

Master Golf TIT 02

This must be Hungarian again… is it asking me for my name?

Master Golf TIT 03

Well, I hope I’m happy, I broke the fucking thing.  Google Translate tells me that this is German and it’s asking me for number of players.  COME FUCKING ON!  This is basic BASIC!  Anybody who even thinks they know how to program a “Hello World” program should know about string values.  This shouldn’t crash a program.  Let’s give it another try.

Master Golf TIT 04

That’s better.  Let’s see if we can figure out the controls.

Master Golf TIT 05

Um….

Master Golf TIT 06

We’ll mark that down as a “no”.  But it does look like I had more than one ball.  I’m going to have to change my opinion of this game from broken to broken and crappy.

And that’s that as far as golf games that I have for this computer.  I’m actually surprised that one of them is of fairly decent quality.  Other than that, there’s nothing to see here.  The original Commodore 16 case sure would make a great casemod project though… If I could get one dirt cheap and stick a Raspberry Pi into it…