Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 5 Commodore 64 Games

30 years ago this month was the release of the Commodore 64 home computer. The C=64, along with the Atari 2600, is where I got my start in gaming. What was special about the Commodore 64, though, is that it was not just what I started gaming on, but it is also what I started designing on. As young as 5 years old, I was building levels and designing games on a C=64.

I have a ton of great memories of the Commodore 64, and I'm going to share a few them in my list of the Top 5 Commodore 64 Games.

Honorable Mention:

Falcon Patrol 2 is a very good C=64 game. It's not one the best, though, so it doesn't quite make the list. What Falcon Patrol II is significant for is that it features one the first pieces of game music that I truly loved. I would load up this game just so I could listen to the title theme over and over.

I still love this theme, so simple and yet so powerful.


With the Olympics having just wrapped, what better time to reminisce on one of my favorite sports games of all time: Summer Games II, by Epyx.

My favorite multiplayer game on the C=64, Summer Games II had eight different events that you could compete in against your friends. The best was the javelin throw, and I would just play that event over and over trying to beat my records. All of the events were played with a joystick and involved simple joystick motions and timed button presses. The cycling event had you rotating your joystick in a 360 degree motion (not unlike the torturous Mario Party minigames that would come 15 years later!) to pedal your bike in a head-to-head race against your opponent.

Once your finished competing in all of the events, you were even treated to a closing ceremony that included fireworks and a man flying a jetpack! Check it out in all its 8-bit glory:

This is the easiest game to obtain on the list, as it is currently available for the Wii as a Virtual Console title.


It's no secret that platformers are my favorite videogames. I love platformers. I firmly believe that the jump is the single most important game action. Nothing is more fundamental than jumping. So, it is quite fitting that the C=64 has a very strong platformer titled Jumpman, which was followed by a sequel known as Jumpman Jr.

Gaming historians will likely be quick to point out that "Jumpman" was the name by which the hero of Donkey Kong was originally known as (who of course, would later be renamed Mario).

Jumpman Jr. is a really great platformer with solid mechanics and each level features a unique and interesting mechanic. You never know what to expect. You have to quickly figure out what the rules of the level are and react accordingly. Jumpman Jr. is a very difficult game, so don't let the video below fool you:


An amazing and really unique game, Space Taxi is a joy to play. It features a simple premise: fly your spacecraft around several levels picking up a surly passenger and dropping him off where he asks. There are several numbered "pads" in each level. The passenger appears at one and will be asked to be taken to another. When you have dropped the passenger off at every pad, you are then instructed to take him "up" and into the next level.

What makes Space Taxi great, is the variety of gameplay features and mechanics that are introduced in each new level. While things start off simply enough, you'll quickly find yourself in levels with reverse gravity, radar-jammers that mess with your controls, raining meteorites and even puzzles that you'll have to solve before you can drop off your fare.

With so many unique levels, Space Taxi quickly became a fascinating game design study for me. It showed me how you can gradually introduce new rules and game mechanics as the player progresses through the game. This game was quite fundamental in my evolution as a young gamer and budding designer.


While the actual title of the game is Trolls and Tribulations, the command to launch the game was "Trolls Tribulat" as shown above. I called the game "Trolls Tribulat" for the entirety of the 1980's (and much of the 90's).

Laughable title recognition aside, this is not only my second favorite Commodore 64 game, but one of my favorite games of all time. Trolls and Tribulations is an unsung classic. It is a difficult game that taught me the value of practice, precision and patience. The game also features a difficult-to-master technique that is never explained to you, and yet becomes absolutely vital if you want to progress beyond the first few levels. Trust me, though, that's a good thing.

Trolls and Tribulations is an action platformer that requires you to defeat enemies and collect keys to progress. Each level is made up of 5 "mazes". In this case, they are not truly mazes, but more sub-levels (the standard 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 level numbering scheme hadn't be popularized at this point, so the levels are named level 1 maze 1, level 1 maze 2, level 1 maze 3, etc.).

From a game design standpoint, the movement in Trolls and Tribulations is tile-based. This means that whenever you move your character you move one pre-defined tile length at a time. You cannot stop on a half-tile, you can only move in full-tile steps (one tile is also the width of the character sprite). When you jump, you jump over one full tile and land exactly two tiles from where you jumped. You can also perform a vertical jump to get to a ledge directly above you. Every move in the game is predictable and every movement requires precise planning and exact timing. It's absolutely beautiful.

What makes this game brilliant however, is a maneuver I call the "quick turn". I discovered it myself by playing the game repeatedly. I discovered that if you are quick enough you can actually take a half-step in one direction, turn and take a half-step in the opposite direction and wind up where you began, except you are now facing in the opposite direction. It doesn't sound like much, but it is a game changer. Also, when you reach Level 3 Maze 4, the game gives you a scenario that requires you to perform this move. It's not easy to pull off (I cannot reliably pull off the move 100% of the time). I have lost all of my lives and become game over on 3-4 more than any level in any other game, ever. It's that hard. The feeling that I got when I first completed 3-4 is unlike any achievement I've accomplished in a game since. And from that point onward, it only gets tougher. I absolutely adore the deceptive simplicity of this game.

The gameplay video below shows you the first few levels, which acts as a nice introduction to the game.


Well, based on the description of Trolls and Tribulations at #2, you're probably wondering "what could possibly be at #1?" Well, how about the C=64 game that is the most responsible for me being a game designer today! At #1, we have... Wizard.

Originally developed and published by Progressive Peripherals & Software, it was later re-released by Electronic Arts as Ultimate Wizard (which most people know the game as). I own an original PP&G Wizard copy, and it is one my all-time favorite games.

Wizard is a platforming action game that features single-screen levels in which you must collect a key and bring it to a keyhole. By reuniting the key and keyhole you can progress on to the next level. The controls are super tight and there are more than 40 levels to complete (the EA "Ultimate" edition shipped with 100 levels). There is a variety of terrain, including angled staircases and slopes and several enemy types including spiders, ghosts, bats, witches and many more. Some people compare Wizard to Jumpman and Jumpman Jr., but Wizard is far more polished.

Wizard also gave the player special spells that could be used to destroy enemies (fireball, magic missile), avoid enemies (invisibility) or navigate the perilous levels (levitate, feather fall). The spells gave you additional ways of tackling certain levels. It's a ton of fun.

But what is truly amazing about Wizard is that it came with a level editor. At five years old, my little mind was blown at the thought of building my own levels. It was a complete revelation, and I have never been the same since. Simply called "Construction", this mode let you create levels from scratch. You can build terrain, one brick at a time. You can place treasures (and traps) and even create and place enemies around your level. You can alter the color scheme and name you creation. My first level was called: "Jason's haus" (I was five).

I have filled many 5 1/4" floppy disks with Wizard levels. I started making levels in the mid-80's and continued to do so well into high school (mid-late 90's). Wizard is not only an excellent game, it is one of the all-time most important games, to me.

The Commodore 64 was a great time in gaming, filled with influential and important game releases.

Happy 30th, Commodore 64!


  1. Replies
    1. Gyruss just barely didn't make the cut. Same for Lazy Jones, Henry's House, Cops and Robbers, Cohen's Towers (oh man, maybe I would have a tough time even making a top 10!)

  2. Ohman! Commodore...this post brought back so many memories. I can't believe i never questioned a game having as dumb a name as Trolls Tribulat. lol. I remember spending a lot of time on Summer Games and even Winter Games (which was frustratingly hard sometimes).

    All 5 of these are awesome, but I want to mention Ghostbusters, if for nothing more than the title screen with the awesome version of the song and the way it says "Ghostbusters!"

    Great post!

  3. FYI: trolls and tribulations has an undocumented built-in level editor. we used it to create the levels in the game. unfortunately, i don't remember the key sequence to get the game into edit mode anymore.

    1. THAT would have made my LIFE! I can't even begin to imagine how great that would have been. I've spent countless hours sketching out T&T levels onto graph paper.

      BTW, thanks for creating one of my favorite games ever!

  4. It just dawned on me; "Jason's haus" would have been appropriate. 'Haus' is Deutsche for 'house'. Wizard was very popular in Germany and Holland before it became Ultimate Wizard. It was in Lahr, Germany that we first played the C64 remember? If only we could get our hands on that Euro box art. You know which one I'm talking about.

    Some more honorable mentions would be: