Pluto is No Longer a Planet - Commodore Needs to Issue an Update!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Visible Solar System (Commodore, 1982) for the C-64: Screenshot from www.lemon64.comVisible Solar System (Commodore, 1982) for the C-64: Screenshot from www.lemon64.comWell, the final decision has been handed down and Pluto is no longer a planet to the chagrin of many and to the relief of others. It was an exciting several days in the world of anstronomy and science when we could have had as many as 12 planets, but in actuality ended up losing one of the 9 we've known for roughly the last century. It actually saddens me that the 12 planet resolution didn't pass, as it seemed to make the solar system a bit more interesting, but based on the science of it all, it's better to reclassify Pluto and its pivotal twin, Charon. Full story here. A rather agressive blog entry here (8/24/2006 entry).

This brings me back to Commodore's "Visible Solar System" (1982) cartridge for the Commodore 64 (C-64). This was one of my original cartridges after I got my C-64 and I still happen to have it. I believe a version for the Commodore Vic-20 was also released at the same time. This was one of the earliest attempts to make what amounts to a multimedia reference work, providing visuals and information on the then 9 known planets. You could also do simple action activities like fly throughs and star maps and what-not, but it was essentially a passive experience beyond directing the software what you wanted to see. Being as it was on cartridge, there was obviously no way to update it, and particularly in regards to things like Jovian and Saturian moons, it became out-of-date rather quickly. Nevertheless, it was an interesting attempt, and we wouldn't see pure reference works much again until the CD-ROM era, losing favor to more interactive educational software that featured quizzes and more hands-on activities, probably fitting the medium better. Certainly the Apple II was the leader in this regard, but the computer systems from Commodore, Atari and TI were no slouches with their masses of educational content either.

Finally, this brings me back to the point in the somewhat cheeky title of my blog entry, that it's fascinating to think how "old fashioned" physical reference works are, be they paper encyclopedias or on physical mediums like cartridges, disks or optical discs. They all have their place, but the beauty of references on a living medium like the Web is that we can update the entries immediately. That's amazing empowerment.


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Cartridges for the C-64

Ha, very funny post, Bill. I agree, this whole business with Pluto just seems misguided. I don't know why these "officials" or whoever they are just can't grandfather-in Pluto. I mean, we've all known for quite some time that it was really more of a planetoid.

Anyway, I was thinking about the bigger implications of the post, particularly regarding the cartridge phenomenon on the C-64. To my knowledge, the market for commercial programs on cartridges died out very early in the C-64's career, replaced at first by the cassette and soon after by the disk drive. At the time, I was always curious why more games weren't issued on cartridges, since they had the great advantage of being instant-loading (particulaly when compared to tapes!) The only games I ever had on cartridge was Tooth Invaders and some kind of Macroids (or some type of educational program; can't remember it). We had many more carts for the Vic-20, including Gorf and Jupiter Lander.

It's interesting how the C-64 so clearly demonstrated that consumers preferred RAM to ROM media, yet the console market has always stuck so stubbornly to ROM. I realize they're just trying to scale back unauthorized distribution, but I can't help but wonder if it's self-defeating in the long run. It seems like the console makers are increasingly drifting towards a hybrid, thanks mostly to the internet, in which certain aspects of the console can be "updated" and small programs downloaded. Of course we can't ignore the really staggering (if you think about it) implications of Microsoft's decision to integrate a hard drive. Of course, it seems that as soon as consumers have a choice to use some type of RAM, they sweep it up, and "homebrew" starts appearing in abundance.

Ultimately, I think it'd be smarter for console manufacturers to allow for even greater freedom, leaving copy protection and the like up to the third-parties making software for the machine. Obviously, no one is going to bother making illegal copies of the pack-in games, and since commercial gaming seems to be headed ever faster towards online-only, pretty soon portable media will be a moot point anyway. Won't do you any good to have an illegal copy of an online game if you have to register and pay up to play it.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Some Reasons behind Cartridge Decline on the Commodore 64

Well, first, we need to separate North American and European Commodore 64 markets for a moment. In the US, for instance, we moved from cartridge and cassette to diskette rather quickly. In England, for instance, they stayed on cassette for most of the life of the system (and most other 8-bit's, actually), only sporadically integrating cartridge and disk (though they also received the cartridge-based C64GS (a consolized C-64 that had its software on high capacity cartridges), where we didn't). Perhaps it was cultural, perhaps it was financial, but the rift was there. Hell, I have a British version of "The Bard's Tale" on cassette! Imagine that, something like "The Bard's Tale", which I only ever saw on disk or imagined as a disk game, on cassette, that's how much demand there was for that stuff over there!

In any case, I suspect cassette and disk mediums, despite their relative ease to pirate in comparison to cartridges (though those were dumped to disk too), were much cheaper even then to manufacture and release games on. Also, there was the read/write aspect of disks and back then there really were no battery-backed cartridges to save anything to. I have a decent selection of Commodore 64 cartridges, but they're all relatively primitive in comparison to many of their roomier disk counterparts (with exceptions being "simple" arcade games). After a while, mostly utilities came on cartridge, most famously fast load cartridges.

I think we saw many more cartridges (ratio-wise) on the Vic-20 because the system came out in a relatively simpler time, where you couldn't count on anyone having disk drives. I have a very, very small selection of genuine Vic-20 disk-based software. I have tons more on cassette and cartridge. Cartridges could target everyone then and saving really wasn't an issue with the technically simpler Vic (though it did see quite a few Scott Adams text adventures on cartridge!). By 1982, with the C-64, the more palatable and usable idea of a disk drive combined with lowering costs to own contributed to the quick transition after a few years to disk mediums. A lot of I guess had to do with timing.

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
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Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Pluto not being a planet - absolutely bagger!

Pluto not being a planet - absolutely bagger! How do these science folk expect us to cope with one planet less? My entire mental picture of the universe around me has shattered. I may need a long time to recover from this....

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

mrCustard (not verified)
pludo ?

One of the reasons Pluto was kept a planet was political. It's the only planet discovered by an American, and a pretty large contingent of US astronomers actively lobbied for Pluto to keep it's frankly unattainable status as a planet. Oh well, you can still call it a planet if you must, it's not as if it's against the law. So anyone's mental picture should be relatively safe. *sigh*

Gamertag: Custardo

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Save Pluto!

That's pretty much what I thought, mrCustard. I blogged a bit about it here.


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