Thanks to Marty Goldberg and his post on the Facebook group, Vintage Gaming (& Computing), we were given the heads-up on John Feagan’s photo and commentary on some early Commodore Vic-20 history. Here’s John’s commentary:
So there you have it, history from the source. You’ll note in the photo that the Vic-20 prototype is styled similarly to the original Commodore PET from 1977, complete with funky calculator-style keyboard. Naturally, upon its actual retail release, the Vic-20 would receive its own, larger case, the iconic “breadbox” design and a full stroke keyboard, both of which would also be found in the best selling Commodore 64 just a few years later (and similarly found on all PET computers after the original models).
History of the Vic-20 development has been rewritten by the non-participants–but I have the pictures. Here is the real deal developed at the Commodore Advanced Moorepark development center in San Jose, CA in July 1980. It took another year of production engineering and a launch in Japan before it made it to the US. My wife translated the users manual to English from Japanese.
Interestingly, having a full stroke keyboard on a low end/budget computer like the Vic-20 was actually something of a coup for Commodore, as most such releases from other companies featured lower cost chiclet or membrane-style keyboard parts (and in fact, one Commodore Japanese-only release featured just such a compromise). As detailed in books like our own CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy’s Underdog Computer, even penny savings were often the difference between one part being included in a production run of a computer over another, since even the smallest amount saved could translate to big money over tens or hundreds of thousands of units (if not eventually millions).