Superior artistry on the Commodore 64

Filed under Musings;

My recent blog post about Jeri Ellsworth produced an unexpected response on Facebook: it stoked the feud between Apple II and Commodore 64 users. "I didn't know Jeri was also interested in Apple II computers as well. I thought she was just a Commodore girl," wrote one of her friends. "I absolutely hated Apple systems when I was a kid. I thought they were so inferior to Commodore and overpriced. Plus they were ugly." Although this particular fan matured to appreciate both platforms, it underscores the rivalry and intense passion that platforms of the Eighties (and Apple products today) inspire.

I've never used a C64 so don't understand any antagonism that may have once existed or still does. But I have noticed what appears to be a difference in motivations among modern retrocomputing enthusiasts: Apple II users are more technically inclined, making their machines perform technological feats such as putting it on the Internet; whereas the output of C64 users is more artistically inclined. At least, that's the conclusion I've come to after observing something as amazing as the C64's own music video, courtesy Press Play on Tape:

There's also a "Happy Computer" mashup that's a bit stranger but still creative. More impressive is this gallery of pixel art, depicting amazing works of art recently drawn on a Commodore 64.

Even their sense of humor is remarkable, as demonstrated by this spoof of how Apple would market the C64:

I don't mean to discount the Apple II's impressive demo scene, but that is largely the work of decades past, with nothing recent to compete against the C64. I don't know that I prefer C64 users' approach to the more practical applications to which Apple II users dedicate themselves; each is its own kinds of art. But is there something about the Commodore 64 and its users that better lends themselves to these amazing visual and musical accomplishments? Will the Apple II ever have its own music video?

  1. Of course, when talking about the demoscene, I like to split up the 8-bit and 16-bit Apple IIs – the IIGS wasn't really competing against the C64, after all, more the C128 or (stretching, here) the Amiga.

    I actually find it rather surprising that the 8-bit Apple II didn't get much of a demoscene, given that the demoscene grew out of cracktros, which began on the Apple II.

    That said, there's three reasons that I can think of for why the Apple II didn't get much artistic attention:

    1. The C64 had better (for artistic purposes, anyway) graphics and sound. For graphics, DHR did close a lot of the gap as far as static image quality, but the C64 still had sprites, the Apple II didn't. And, as much as I like to rag on the SID chip, it did have pretty good sound for the time. (Yes, you could shove a Mockingboard in an Apple II, but they certainly weren't universal.)
    2. Most C64 owners were home users, whereas many (most?) Apple IIs were sold into schools (because personal owners couldn't afford them). Therefore, the personally owned install base of C64s was far higher, and that meant that more artistic projects could be done.
    3. The Apple II wasn't a huge success outside of North America, although it certainly wasn't a flop – many markets were highly cost sensitive, and Apple couldn't ride on their school reputation, because other companies (such as Acorn) had local school markets locked up already. The C64 was wildly successful in Europe, though, and most of the demoscene is in Europe, for whatever reason.

    Also, one thing to remember is that the 8-bit Apple II wasn't aimed at the C64 at all – it competed against the PET, and by the time the C64 came out, the Apple II was already an elderly platform.

  2. Exactly — the Apple ][ was a much earlier system than the C64, and really didn't get a serious upgrade (the //e doesn't really count as major) until the GS in 1986 — by which time the whole computing market was beginning to move towards IBM PC-compatible systems at the expense of Apple, Commodore, and the rest.

    That being said, I *do* remember how we (USA) geeks in the 1980s were divided between Apple ]['s and C64s (with a few CoCo and Atari 800 fans in the mix) — pretty much like the Windows/Mac rivalry of today.

  3. All art is born out of limitations. And the Apple II has plenty of them. Its biggest strength and limitation is the reliance on software. In contrast, the C64 has much more dedicated hardware. I think the Apple II's time will come.