Jack Tramiel and Manfred Kapp founded Commodore on October 10, 1958 under the name Commodore Portable Typewriter, Ltd. in Toronto to sell the imported typewriters. Through the years, the company evolved to include calculators and finally computer. In 1981, they released the VIC-20, their first home computer, that included a cartridge port. In 1982, Commodore introduced the successor to the VIC-20, the Commodore 64. The C64, had tremendous success, shipping over 22 million units, making it the best-selling computer of all time.
In 1984 after a power struggle with the chairman of the board, Irving Gould. G, Jack Tramiel left Commodore to create its own company, bringing with him a lot of senior Commodore engineers. Commodore responded by buying the Amiga Corporation while Jack Tramiel acquired the consumer side of Atari Inc. Although the Amiga was a powerhouse, it failed to evolve as quickly as the PC. By 1990, the company was is a difficult financial position and was looking to divert their products.
At the same time, Commodore UK was experimenting ferocious competition in the low-end computer market. With the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC, the Commodore 64 sales were on the decline. One of the main reasons was that the cost of the disk drive made the C64 not viable in the UK so, to reduce the cost, it was sold with a cassette deck. Although cheaper, the cassette as a medium was terribly slow. The C64 had a cartridge port, but this medium was mostly abandoned by that time by C64 developer. They also had fierce competition from the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System. To stay competitive, Commodore UK approached Commodore International for help. Commodore was working on a new computer called the C65, which would have a cartridge port and being backward compatible with the C64. It was a blessing for Commodore UK as the C65 could be the answer they were looking for. In Spring 1990, Kelly Sumner, Commodore UK’s marketing manager met with Commodore International to discuss the C65 timetable. The release of the C65 was planned for March 1991, which was too late in Sumner opinion. His concern was that the Commodore market share was already melting away and that the brand might not survive one more Christmas with no offering. He then pitch the idea of a consolized C64 gaming system.
Although everybody understood that this system would only be a temporary fix, the proposal was deemed a good compromised by Commodore International engineer Jeff Porter which agreed to work on the hardware if Commodore UK could provide the carts. The hardware of the C64GS was fairly easy to create as it only required a small redesign of the motherboard to position the cartridge slot on top. As for the cartridges, the future was also bright. As the RAM was expensive at the beginning of the 80s, the early C64 cartridges were only 16k. This forced developers to use other media such as floppy disks to distribute their games. So the C64 games library on cartridges was less than stellar. And most of the game cartridges that already existed required the keyboard in some form of manner, so they wouldn’t be compatible with the C64GS. But by 1990, memory was cheap and it was now possible to use 512k cartridges which would give the C64GS a fighting chance against the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System, it needed to have a solid line up.
In August 1990, Commodore unveiled that they would release the Commodore 64 Games System for Christmas. Commodore UK started to approach potential third-party developer with a solid sale pitch. If they developed games for the C64GS, the game would also be compatible with the millions C64 already sold and compatible with the upcoming C65. A few publishers such as Ocean jump on the bandwagon. At this point, the future was bright and Commodore expected that more than 100 games would be ready for launch.
Commodore produce 20,000 units at its Germany’s Braunschweig factory with the plan to make more, way more.
Release in December 1990, the launch of the C64GS was a disaster. Sega had just released in September of 1990 the Mega Drive in the UK and it was sweeping the nation. It had sold around 40,000 thousand units in the UK before Christmas and although it was more expensive, the 16-bit era had indeed begun. The C64GS, which was already a relic of the past at its inception, didn’t have a lot going for it. Not only it had a bulky design and it’s a game library which was supposed to be the selling point of the console was just not there. Out of the 100 of games that were promised for launch, only around 25 were available, most of them ports of existing games. To add insult to injury, the cartridges manufactured by Ocean didn’t fit properly into a normal C64 which spun the rumor that the games were not backward compatible. This persistent rumor led to fewer sales which in turn lead to fewer developer wanting to develop for the C64GS.
By the end of the Christmas seasons, the faith of the C64GS was already sealed. With the upcoming release of the improved C65, Commodore didn’t have any intention to put more effort into it. They tried to liquidate the rest of the console, but in the end, they were not able to sell the entire 20,000 units. Ocean continued to release games for the C64GS until 1992 as they were ultimately compatible with the C65, bringing the total to 28 released titles.
Only 28 games were developed for the system. Several UK companies designed the games, with Ocean Software releasing most of them. Only a paltry 9 games were exclusive to the C64 Games System, the rest were ports of older games which had already been released in cassette format. Lots of great games had been released for the Commodore 64 computer prior to the release of the Games System, however, most of them could not be played on the console as they required a keyboard.
- 4 in 1 cartridge (pack-in)
- Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top O’Fun [Commodore]
- International Soccer [Commodore]
- Flimbo’s Quest [Commodore]
- Klax [Commodore]
- Double Dragon (which was only sold at trade shows) [Ocean]
- Navy SEALS [Ocean]
- RoboCop 2 [Ocean]
- RoboCop 3 [Ocean]
- Chase HQ 2: Special Criminal Investigation [Ocean]
- Pang [Ocean]
- Battle Command [Ocean]
- Toki [Ocean]
- Shadow of the Beast [Ocean]
- Lemming [Ocean]
- Batman The Movie [Ocean]
- Last Ninja Remix [System 3]
- Myth: History in the Making [System 3]
- Badlands [Domark]
- Cyberball [Domark]
- Fun Play featured three Codemasters titles: Fast Food, Professional Skateboard Simulator and Professional Tennis Simulator [The Disc Company]
- Power Play featured three MicroProse titles: Rick Dangerous, Stunt Car Racer and MicroProse Soccer, although Rick Dangerous was produced by Core Design, not MicroProse themselves. [The Disc Company]
- Stunt Car Racer [The Disc Company]
- MicroProse Soccer [The Disc Company]
- Bounces [Denton Designs]
This is a fantastic read if you want to go into more details: In 1990 Commodore turned the c64 into a console. This is the story of the C64 GS.