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C128 Missed Opportunities

Posted on

By Kodiak


For the life of me I can't understand how Commodore's engineers - who according to Bil Herd were given free rein over the Commodore 128's development - managed to miss so many opportunities to make it the must-have successor to the Commodore 64.

Here are just a few of the things they could have done to make it so:

  • Have a backwards compatible "VIC-III" chip that did everything the VIC-II did, but at a speed of at least 2MHz and with a minimum of 16 hardware sprites and at least 16 extra colours - the closest we can get to that is the extra 11 colours possible for a small section of the screen via $D030 Test Bit Hack on PAL Commodore 128s, as shown in Risen From Oblivion by Crest (see the new colours in the bottom third of the image below).
  • C128 VIC-IIe colour hack
  • Have a second CPU that could run in parallel with the main CPU to perform true threaded tasks... Imagine the gaming power that would have unleashed, with true dual-threaded performance; for example, you could scroll colour RAM at the same time as scrolling the character RAM, thereby halving the raster time on full colour scrolling.
  • Have a second SID chip, to give more channels for sfx or richer music, or to allow games to play music and bombastic wave-table-based sfx (like those amazing ones in Dropzone) at the same time.
  • Have an expanded instruction set, perhaps with an extra register, to make coding easier.
  • Have a safe way to perform VSP scrolling.


Instead we got an essentially useless Z80 CPU to facilitate the equally useless CP/M mode, with the white elephant-ism underlined by a 2MHz upgrade on the C64's CPU in the form of the 8502 CPU that could only operate at the C64's 1MHz if the VIC-IIe chip on-board was to function at all.

Don't misunderstand me, though... I still love the C128 and intend to create native versions of both Parallaxian and Deep Winter for it, but what a missed opportunity it was.

Finally, have a look at this C128 book on Amazon (I get a tiny commission if you buy via the banner link below!):



This account of Commodore as a company might also be of interest in shedding light on how they managed to foul up the C128:



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