While visiting this weekend, my Dad mentioned that while cleaning he had run across some “old Commodore games.” He then handed me three old homemade cassette tapes full of games.
Out of the box the Commodore 64 only supported cartridge-based games, but most owners quickly upgraded by adding either a cassette-based Datasette drive or a floppy disk drive. Back in 1985 when I got my first C64, Datasettes cost around $40 while floppy drives were $200 — about the same price as the computer itself. By the time I got my Commodore, anyone who had previously owned a Datasette and had upgraded to a floppy disk drive would have gladly given you their old Datasette for free.
And while Commodore’s disk drives were notorious for being slow, the Datasette was unbelievably slower, transferring data at a whopping 50 bytes/second. To put that in perspective, a 5 megabyte mp3 file (5,242,880 bytes) would have taken 104,857 seconds (just over 29 hours) to load. So while Commodore’s floppy disk drives seemed (and were) slow, they sure seemed fast to previous Datasette owners. Of course, 5 megabyte files were unheard of to home computer users in the 1980s. As a matter of fact, Commodore cassette tapes could only store around 100 kilobytes of data, which means to store that one single mp3 you would have needed 420 cassette tapes to do so (technically only 240, if you used both sides).
I didn’t personally use a Datasette for more than a couple of weeks back then. I got my Commodore sometime during the summer of 1985, and got a disk drive for my birthday that August. In later years there were advances in tape-loading technology (speed loading techniques and the like), but in 1985 loading from and saving to cassettes was akin to digital masochism. While I have read that especially overseas there were Commodore users that primarily used the Datasette, in the US I didn’t know a single person who did.
Based on the program names handwritten on the sides of the cassette cases, it appears these tapes are filled with small, public domain games. Still, I think it might be fun to dig out my old Datasette and see if these tapes still work. I was under the impression that cassette programs could be transferred to mp3 format and loaded via emulation, but I can’t find any reference to that online. Assuming all the programs are written in BASIC I should be able to load them into memory and save them onto floppy disks. It’ll be fun trying.