Book of Abstracts

Speaker

Title

Abstract

Prof. Dr. Jesper Juul

(The Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen)

Keynote: The Five Lives of the Commodore 64

(Friday, 06.07. – 17:45-19:00)

Why did the Commodore 64 become so popular and live so long? Drawing on extensive studies of C64 magazines, popular software titles, and interviews with Commodore engineers, this presentation argues that though the C64 was not functionally upgraded during its 40 years of history, users imagined the C64 to be many entirely different computers, from a serious computer for BASIC programming, to a game computer, to a demoscene computer for technical tricks, to a computer struggling to keep up with newer competitors, to a now comfortable platform whose limitations are charming.

Paradoxically, microscopic design decisions and hardware bugs collaborated concretely with C64 users in reimagining the C64. The talk not only explores new aspects of C64 history, but also challenges our understanding of computer and video game history.

The talk is based on Juul’s MIT Press Platform Studies book Too Much Fun about the C64, to be released in November 2024.




Aurelia Brandenburg MA

(Confoederatio Ludens, Hochschule der Künste Bern)

Mapping the Past: Possibilities and Boundaries of Creating and Using a Historical DACH Games Database

(Saturday, 06.07. – 15:45-16:30)

In April 2023, I was part of a team publishing a historical DACH games database1, initiated by Eugen Pfister, which aims to collect all games developed in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland until 2000 in a standardized form as a possible basis both for our own research regarding the histories of games and gaming in the DACH region and the research of others. The database was published in a preliminary form with over 1200 records and is an attempt to move towards a somewhat full – or at least larger – overview over games relevant for historical research regarding the DACH region since any comparable existing lists were either not standardized and/or filterable or incomplete. While the database’s current form is far from finished, it still can be used for some first careful research questions, not only but also regarding the history of game development for certain platforms such as the C64. Thus, the presentation will offer some insight both into the database, its data sources, and the motivation and work behind it and into possible use cases for scientific research on the example of records connected to C64-games.

Prof. Dr. Michael Engel

(University Bamberg)

The Search for Perfection. MOS65xx and C64 Emulation Over Time

(Saturday, 06.07. – 17:15-18:00)

Processors from the MOS65xx series and computers based upon these, such as the Commodore 64, are some of the most frequently emulated systems. While the simplicity of the 6502 architecture seems to make emulation an easy task, the ubiquity of the architecture and related systems resulted in programmers exploring and using all sorts of undocumented tricks and side effects for their software, such as "illegal" opcodes, subtle timing effects or hardware glitches.

This talk gives an overview of the implementation and the increasing complexity of emulating 65xx and C64 systems starting from a simple interpretation of opcodes and just-in-time translation of binary code to using reverse engineered hardware models of the 6502 in software and also hardware replacing 6502 CPUs in real systems. In addition to giving insights into some deep technical details, the talk will also analyze the ever increasing effort required to perfectly emulate a system in real time.

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Melanie Fritsch

 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)

Me and my Brotkasten. Addressing Fannish Affect and Nostalgia in Historical Platform Research.

(Saturday, 06.07. – 14:00-14:45)

When investigating the history of platforms such as the C64 one is confronted with a plethora of different materials. Besides the platform itself (if still available) historical material such as manuals, handbooks, fan magazines, documentaries or interviews with creators as well as fan-made artefacts and texts are gathered and evaluated. In addition, re-enacting certain practices of use can help to understand historical production processes and ways of usage. And last but not least, interviewing fans including former as well as still active users and collectors is another method of investigation.

Regarding such interviews some concerns are usually raised: firstly, that (former) fans would lack the distance to their beloved objects, the community that formed around them as well as its practices because of their affective relationship, and secondly – and following from the first aspect - that their view on the history was tinged with nostalgic feelings. These issues are of particular interest in cases when the researcher used to be or still is identifying as a fan themselves, becoming in Henry Jenkins’ terms an “acafan”.

In this talk, I will reflect on how the personal relatedness and involvedness of fans (and former fans) as well as their subjective view on historical platforms such as the C64 and its communities’ history could not only be addressed but maybe also fruitfully included in research by building on approaches from the field of fan studies.

Christoph Hahn MSc

(SRH Hochschule Heidelberg)

Possible uses of retro computers in university teaching: Focus on the Commodore 64

(Saturday, 06.07. – 16:30-17:15)

Possible applications of retro computers with a focus on the Commodore 64 in university teaching are examined. Perhaps the most important symbol of the home computer era, the C64 offers unique learning opportunities in various academic disciplines due to its historical significance, but also due to the technology that is still comprehensible in many areas compared to today's hardware. The use of this classic computer in game design and game development subjects is being discussed, in which students can experience and learn basic programming concepts and game concepts. In addition, the possible use of the C64 in classic computer science lectures is examined, where the computer is able to vividly present the development of computer technology and basic programming principles of practical computer science.
The talk will also address interdisciplinary applications and show how retro-computing can be integrated into other fields of study to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the technical and cultural evolution of computers. The presentation draws on current research and real-world examples to underpin the relevance and pedagogical value of C64 in modern higher education.


Dr. Dr. Stefan Höltgen

(University Bonn)

A Localization of the Past, Present, and Future of Commodore

(Friday, 05.07. – 16:00-16:45)

Distinctive cultures have emerged from the technologies of the historically well-defined era of home computers between 1974 and 1994. This can be seen not least in the computer and computer game museums, which have been very successful for two decades, which focus on this historical period at their core and collect and exhibit all kinds of artefacts and cultural products relating to the so-called home computer. However, the large amount of artefacts from the history of culture and technology makes it almost impossible to bring everything to the exhibition. Much that was already unknown at that time slumbers in the depots and will probably continue to be an exotic marginal phenomenon. In addition, the artifact stock around home computers is growing steadily, as retrocomputing communities keep the systems alive and continuously add new hardware, software, and paperware to them. This is particularly evident in the products of the Commodore company. They are examples of how the view of computer history has changed and what demands this places on museumization. Based on a look at the history of Commodore's company, people and objects, the lecture aims to outline the complexity of the current property inventory and ask the question: How can this be exhibited? Could there be, 25 years after the bankruptcy of the company, a Commodore museum ("muC=um") that does justice to the past, present and future of Commodore computer culture?

Prof. Dr. Christoph Hust

(Hochschule für Musik und Theater »Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy« Leipzig)

Cultures of Home Computer Music: Exploring 1980s Computer Sounds.

(Friday, 05.07. – 17:00-17:45)

This presentation will provide an overview of the project "Cultures of Home Computer Music." Supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and conducted at the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig, the project seeks to chart the emergence of music produced with home computers during the 1980s. While it does not focus exclusively on the Commodore 64, the project aims for a comprehensive examination that includes a variety of platforms and regions, attempting to understand the phenomenon of home computer music from a wide cultural perspective. The presentation will sketch the project's scope, goals, and preliminary results.

Dr. Torsten Roeder

(Universität Würzburg)

Notions about the Past, Present, and possible Futures of Disk Magazines

(Saturday, 06.07. – 11:45-12:30)

Disk magazines were electronic media published on floppy disks in the decades before the era of the world wide web. While multimediality was a defining feature of diskmags from the beginning, and although the first diskmags were produced commercially, a highly creative community, especially on the Commodore 64, accelerated the development of diskmags as a format. Due to their nature as early electronic media and community product, diskmags have not yet been collected systematically for preservation or research by libraries or archives. Are diskmags only a curious digital object or can their contents contribute to historical research in the future?

Prof. Dr. Jens Schröter

(Universität Bonn)

Freeze Frame. Cracking between Practice and Technology.

(Friday, 05.07. – 15:15-16:00)

The “Freeze Frame” was a cartridge produced and marketed by Evesham Micros around 1985. It could be used to make a backup of the whole memory of the C64 and therefore could also be used to make copies of games loaded from tape or disc. In that sense it was a technology that automated the practice of cracking, which otherwise had to be done manually by “crackers”. Thereby it also allowed unskilled users to make illegal copies and devalued the cracking work. In my talk I want to insert the “Freeze Frame” in the longer history of technologies that automate certain potential subversive practices and ask how that fits to certain established media-theoretical narratives.

Malte Schulze BA

(Hochschule für Musik und Theater »Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy« Leipzig)

Music for the masses (not the classes) – Exploration to Synthesizer Soundchips

(Friday, 05.07. – 20:30-0:00)

One of the well-known Synthesizer sound chips of the 80s home computer era is the MOS6581/MOS8580 “Sound Interface Device”, used in all of the Commodore C64 computer series, including SX64, C128 and even CBM610. With its capability to generate and form sounds in a very complex style, it also became interesting for upgrading the 264 series as C16, plus/4 and C116 via the expansion port. With the possibility for dynamic sounds, the SID even could make it to the dancefloors, when connected to a descent PA. So why not proving this by playing some of the most stunning new sound files to a dedicated audience? Some short explanations here and there with a look at the loudspeaker will lead to an audio-visual presentation to close the first symposium day in a convenient way.

Michael Steil

Ultimate Commodore 64 Talk

(Friday, 05.07. – 14:15-15:00)

This 2024 version of the "Ultimate Commodore 64 Talk" is an update to the 2008 talk of the same name, offering a comprehensive overview of the Commodore 64 (C64), a landmark in computing history.

After a historical overview, we continue with a thorough examination of the C64's hardware architecture. We delve into the details of the MOS 6502 CPU and its quirks, the VIC-II video chip and the creative techniques used to extend its capabilities, and the iconic SID sound synthesizer.

On the software front, we explore the built-in KERNAL operating system and BASIC interpreter, alongside the third-party GEOS graphical operating system.

The talk wraps up with a look at the key peripherals that defined the C64 experience, like the 1541 disk drive.

Prof. Dr. Melanie Swalwell

(Swinburne University, Melbourne)

Theorising 1980s Homebrew Game Development

(Saturday, 06.07. – 10:00-10:45)

This talk is drawn from my book, Homebrew Gaming and the Beginnings of Vernacular Digitality (MIT Press, 2021), which takes inspiration from Michel de Certeau’s insight that users are makers, coupling this with archival research and oral histories conducted with 1980s homebrew game creators from Australia and New Zealand. Part of the emerging field of local game histories, the study presents a history not of ‘great men’ in computing, but of schoolboys and girls and interested adults typically with local aspirations, learning, experimenting, and sometimes breaking through to create games or software that was often game-like.

 

I wrote the book as a dialogue between Digital Media, Cultural History and Theory, and Game Studies, on the one hand – where the idea of consumption as production is commonplace – and History of Computing, where mentions of microcomputers are scarce and the domestic use of computers has barely been broached. I am thus less interested in the C64 as a platform than in the uses that were made of this platform and other similarly small, low-end microcomputers by consumers in the early micro period. Amongst other things, the book is a meditation on the sort of history that can result from the collision of the incredible stories of what people did with computers such as the C64 and the Media and Cultural Historical frameworks that seem so well suited to their consideration.

Dr. Patryk Wasiak

(Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw)

The C-64 tools in gamedevs and crackers’ toolkits

(Saturday, 06.07. – 14:45-15:30)

I discuss the type of utilities that were used in making and modifying software generally referred to as “tools.” Tools include not only main categories of programs such as assemblers, machine code monitors, graphics, character set, music editors, and packers/crunchers. There were also many more specialized programs for extracting, or ripping, code and data from existing programs, utilities for copying disks and tapes, and intro/demo makers.

Utilities used by crackers were both commercially available programs, their modified versions, or some more dedicated tools developed within the cracking scene.  The C-64 was also the first platform for which such software editing programs were widely used as packages available on cartridges. In later years a cartridge such as the most popular Action Replay series, was a standard element of a devkit of both game developers and crackers.

I argue that the popularity of the C-64 utilities that were used to make and modify code was a crucial, yet overlooked, factor in the popularity and cultural significance of the C-64 as a hardware platform. In my paper, I outline the use of tools as an infrastructure for both game development and the cracking scene. I focus on programs used to create or modify data and code used during the making of a game or later cracking it.

Dr. Martin Wendt

(University Potsdam)

How the C64 started Point-and-Click adventures. A journey through the history of technical achievements on a guided tour

(Saturday, 06.07. – 11:00-11:45)

What we know today as Point-and-Click adventures such as Broken Sword, Day of the Tentacle or the recent Return to Monkey Island originated in the late 80s and in particular on the C64. Maniac Mansion by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick with others lay the foundation of the whole genre in 1987. In this talk we guide through the historic milestones from text adventures, via still images to the first playable characters on screen and what that meant to the whole game design process. This development was only possible given the evolution of the hardware at the time and we take a more detailed look at some of the innovations that came along with it. Starting with the very Maniac Mansion and its remarkable technical achievements we discuss the further improvements in Zak McKracken and why there were so few adventures on 8 bit computers. We will continue with highlighting some modern attempts at retro Point-and-Click adventures, including our own Caren and the Tangled Tentacles for the c64 again to come full circle.

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