Saturday, February 11, 2006

Geek - The Commodore 64 - Coding in the hood

As geeky as this may sound, there was probably no larger influence in my life during my adolescent years in the ghetto then my introduction to the Commodore 64 (C64) computer. I was first given the Commodore VIC-20 as a present and then one of my friends got the C64 and then all hell broke loose. We all start getting the C64 - probably a group of 5 of us including my older cousin - we'll call Junior.

One day Junior and I went to the Gaming store in the Gallery located in Philadelphia (across the bridge from Camden, NJ). We were checking out all the games on the wall for the C64 and we knew that we'll only be able to get one - if that (I think they were $10 at the time) until the friendly store clerk - a black man probably in his late 20's - named Will Hines, looked at us and said "You can either get 1 game for $10 ... " as he motioned to the wall of games - "... or you can get them ALL for $10 ... " --- I had no clue what this guy was talking about but I knew I wanted to know more but my cousin, a street-wise opportunist, engaged in a conversation with Mr. Hines and 250 games and 12 months later, the entire ghetto crew were copying and bartering games amongst themselves and others at a furious pace - we called ourselves the Camden Commodore Crew or CCC.

My cousin's tagline was "Cosmic Kid" and I was "The Master" along with "Karate Kid", "Vidd Kid", the "Boy Wonder" and a couple of others. Cosmic Kid was always a couple of steps ahead of us, he learned how to crack games and read & write in Assembly language and before we knew it - we were loading up games to play and a big splash screen with awesome graphics and calligraphy text stating


will splash across our screen. We were in absolute awe and couldn't believe he actually altered the code of the game itself to show his name and tagline. My cousin was soon writing his own games while another crew member Raymond Searles (his tagline escapes me at the moment) was providing the code for the sound effects and music. Ray was an expert on the C64 sound chipset and astonished us all when he authored "Who's that Girl" using Music Shop for the C64 and his keyboard. One of the absolute funniest guys you can ever meet.

One of my best friends "Boy Wonder" was poorer then the rest of us (raised by his grandmother)-- so he couldn't afford the 1541 floppy drive that u needed to play the games on the C64 - so he did what any other poor, motivated computer geek wanna-be in the hood would do - he stole the 1541 Floppy drive from our high school - Camden High. Once the C64 got popular amongst the general public - Drug addicts were coming up to me at my parent's grocery store - where I worked at night throughout most of my teenage years - trying to sell me 1541 Commodore drives for $10 (retail was around $250 dollars).

I was amazed to see how many hood-rats were involved in computer gaming and hacking. One of the most vivid memories I have is being in this guy's house somewhere in some West Philly neighborhood while he was hacking apart a C64 Fast Load cartridge and wiring a special reset button. This reset button allows anyone who was loading a game using the 1541 floppy drive while using the Fast Load cartridge to enter straight into a "disassembler" program allowing the hacker to alter the actual machine code of the game.

By the time I hit high school (1985), I was constantly playing dozens of games on the C64 when one game by a young company named Electronic Arts changed the way I thought about computers, gaming and life.
The Bards Tale. I never experienced such an overwhelming addiction to anything (sex was still a couple of years away for me) then the game play, the music, the story, the maps and the overall sensory experiences of playing this game. I could not stop playing and I used to put a large metallic cup of ICE on top of my power supply so that it wouldn't overheat - especially during the 24 or 36 hour gaming sessions I would sometimes have playing The Bards Tale.

The Bards Tale">

This game came at a critical time for me personally (and for my friends), I was 14 years old and already losing my interest in being a "good student" - I was hanging on the streets ALOT - don't get me wrong - I was generally a good kid but most of my street friends were already making money selling cocaine to the line of cars driven by subarban professionals that were always camped out near the hot drug corners, or they were smoking weed or were involved in sticking up (robbing) people or playing with weapons and I didn't want to be part of that bullshit - I just wanted to play with the C64, play sports and "play" with the great group of girl friends I had at Camden High. I sincerely believe if the C64 wasn't such a big influence in my life at this critical time I would have gone down a more perilous path growing up in Camden, NJ during the mid 80s.

Where are they now ??
  • The Master (me) - Successful software consultant and .NET architect
  • Cosmic Kid - Successful software engineer and Computer Science graduate of Rutgers University
  • Vidd Kidd - Successful financial analyst with a Bachelors degree and a law degree from the University of Nebraska (also played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers)
  • Karate Kid - Successful software engineer for Comcast Corporation and Computer Science graduate.
  • Boy Wonder - Successful tugboat captain and aspiring Docking Pilot
  • Ray Searles - Deceased.

No comments: